LGBTQ Magazine

Bridge-Building with the Catholic and LGBTQ Communities, and the "Both Sides" Argument: More Critical Responses

Posted on the 20 September 2017 by William Lindsey @wdlindsy
54 years ago today, four black girls were killed by white supremacist terrorists in a bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) September 15, 2017

I'm sure there are many sides to this story. Many, many sides. Good people on both sides.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 15, 2017

I very much like Robert Shine's response to Bishop Robert McElroy's wake-up call. Robert Shine applauds Bishop McElroy's wake-up call regarding the "cancer of vilification" seeping into American Catholicism as a response to people like Father James Martin who discuss building bridges with the LGBTQ community. As Shine notes, as welcome as Bishop McElroy's call is, it ends on a disappointing note of false equivalency, which claims that "both sides" are at fault in this situation. Robert Shine writes writes,
McElroy's essay ends on a disappointing note. In his concluding paragraph, he wrote that it is "judgmentalism on both sides" which has created the divide between LGBT people and the institutional church, rhetoric similar to the "on all sides" phrasing so sharply criticized in recent secular conversations on race. Martin has been criticized for likewise saying both sides are to blame without acknowledging the power differential between marginalized LGBT people and the powerful church leaders who allow or even enact such marginalization. 
McElroy's essay, which you can read in full by clicking here, is a strong defense of Fr. Martin and a welcome acknowledgement of the prejudice and abuse that LGBT people in the church face. The dialog over LGBT issues in the church must also address power dynamics at work in the discussion.  If church leaders claim that there is "judgmentalism on both sides," the extremely necessary "wake-up call" to expel the "cancer of vilification" that McElroy calls for won't happen.

When I hear that false equivalency argument from Bishop McElroy, I hear the church saying to me, "Well, you got yourself hated on, didn't you? If you had handled things differently, been more meek and mild — and silent and hidden — you wouldn't have been beaten up. You see? I told you this would happen if you made a fuss and came out of the closet."
In his infamous 1986 "Halloween Letter" defining LGBTQ people as intrinsically disordered, Cardinal Ratzinger (later, Benedict XVI) said this outright. He said that violence against gay folks is unacceptable, but it's understandable when they insist on coming out of the closet.
This is obscene. This is no help at all to LGBTQ people. This mirrors and replicates the violence of one sort or another — very often, violence from our own family members — that we encounter on a constant basis in the world around us, for which the church should be a solution and refuge, not a mirror and replicator of violence.
The sad reality is, church is the last place most of us who are LGBTQ can turn for support and healing when we're beaten up — just as family is the last place to which most of us who are LGBTQ can turn for support and healing. The combination of church and family when the two intersect, at weddings, funerals, other family-oriented events, is especially toxic for many of us who are LGBTQ. It's precisely at family-oriented church events that we are most dramatically told we do not belong, do not count, should be meek and silent and hidden — as Rev. Tawanna Gause was reminded recently when she married Rev. Vanessa Brown, and Tawanna Gause's father Rev. Samuel Gause used the occasion to condemn and preach against his daughter, refusing to attend her wedding.
Churches need to do a much, much better job of listening carefully to the stories of LGBTQ folks about what we endure in family + church contexts — if churches really do care about being agents of bridge-building and healing in the world, that is. We who live through these experiences have much to say that would be of value to churches if they chose to listen — and to family members who tend to meet our testimony with raised eyebrows and to insinuate that surely we're imagining or exaggerating all of this, and are being overly dramatic and trying to cause waves when we should be making peace.
If you really love people, you side with them as they're being unfairly brutalized — you don't undercut them and second-guess them. You roll up your sleeves and fight alongside them. 
Admittedly, this will not happen in churches in which 8 in 10 members voted for Donald Trump. Those churches have given a loud and clear message to LGBTQ people about what they consider us to be. The churches I'm addressing here are the ones that say that they want to heal some deep wounds that should never have been inflicted on LGBTQ people by Christian churches.
If those churches are serious about this, they are going to have to listen respectfully to some painful stories told by LGBTQ people — and they're going to have to wade into family mess and take sides. We do not deserve what has long been done to us by families with the churches looking over the shoulders of families and giving an approving nod.

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