Part 3 | Finding Common Inheritance with the LGBTQ Community
Are you a half full or half empty person? “I still have half left!” or “I only have half left.” Quite often, I’ve seen us Catholics be “half empty” people when it comes to the secular LGBTQ space. We’re quick to point out the ways something falls short from Gospel ideals or God’s full vision for the human person. Are we equally quick to point out common ground? The truth is, a half empty glass is a half full one. Philosophers have long said that we wouldn’t chase after something if it didn’t have an inkling of good in it. We seek the fullness, the perfection, for which we were made. So, no matter who we are, there are existential cries of the heart that we share. I think we’re far enough past High School Musical that we can unironically say “we’re all in this together.” Cue an ear worm that will be with you for the rest of this blog. You’re welcome.
This blog attempts to explore just a few places of overlap between our Catholic heritage and the heritage of the LGBTQ movements in the United States. Many pundits have been quick to critique “Pride Month” by associating it with a capital vice (though, as this blog notes, that isn’t entirely what’s going on). Still, if that’s what some would wish to point out, I can only hope that we would respond with a complementary virtue: humility. As you read this, I encourage you to pray for the spirit of humility, and to recognize your brother or sister as a beloved child of God chasing the good. And there really is something of value in their cup.
We share an inheritance of AUTHENTICITY & CREATIVITY
“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit…now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body…The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” | 1 Corinthians 12:6, 14-15, 19-22
As Catholics, we’ve recognized for centuries that there is great diversity in the Church’s unity. While we honor objective realities about the human person, we also emphasize individuality. At Eden Invitation, we love the quote from St. John Paul II: “For God and before God, the human being is always unique and unrepeatable, somebody thought of and chosen from eternity, called and identified by his [or her] own name.” In the Catholic Church today, we emphasize the discernment of personal vocation. We encourage attentiveness to the inner life and exploring unique gifts. We want sincerity from our leaders, and love when faithful people show a flare for individuality—like skateboarding, backpacking, or breakdancing priests.
Catholics are proud too of our creative heritage. We love our cathedrals, our great art, our liturgical music, and the inventions that took place in Europe under our watch over a thousand odd years. Young adults are embracing the idea of a new renaissance. How about in the LGBTQ space? Whether or not you agree with what is happening, you can’t look at a drag queen and not acknowledge, “damn, you’re creative.”
From the ball and dance culture of the 1980s, to innovative artists, to really any creative sphere, LGBTQ persons have brought a unique perspective to all sorts of fields. This isn’t a blog to explore the link between artistic creativity and the LGBTQ space (this website does that if you want). I merely hope we can acknowledge that it exists. For many people, that secular LGBTQ space offers an atmosphere of welcome, celebration, and embrace of individuality. It’s a space to safely explore questions and new forms of expression. People of faith haven't always provided that space.
Of course, we Catholics recognize that creativity happens within the raw material we are, given by God and unalterable. There are ways the LGBTQ space attempts to circumvent that. Yet—even when accepting Church doctrine—LGBTQ Catholics might feel particularly self-conscious about ways they don’t “fit” in standard men’s and women’s ministry cultures. Often this can be a source of shame. We hide particular traits, switch up our wardrobes, try to adjust our voices, or deny certain hobbies or interests. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve seen growth in Catholic circles, voices starting to reassert that masculinity and femininity can’t be boiled down to a certain style of dress or stereotypical personality traits. Edith Stein makes some notes on this in her essay Vocations of Man and Woman:
“The strong individual differences existing within both sexes must be taken into account. Many women have masculine characteristics just as many men share feminine ones. Consequently, ever so-called ‘masculine’ occupation may be exercised by many women as well as many ‘feminine’ occupations by certain men…The further the individual continues on this path [of holiness], the more Christlike he [or she] will become. Christ embodies the ideal of human perfection: in Him all biases and defects are removed, and the masculine and feminine virtues are united…That is why we see in holy men a womanly tenderness and a truly maternal solicitude for the souls entrusted to them while in holy women there is manly boldness, proficiency, and determination.” (found here, described here)
We need to recognize that—when it comes to expression, interests, talents—there is a great diversity that can occur among men and women. Can we celebrate one another’s unique offerings to the world together? Can we look at a piece of fabulous creativity and see the glass half full?
Ask your LGBTQ friend: How do you see your life as creative? What have you learned about “being yourself” in different aspects of your life? What does that mean to you?
We share an inheritance of SUFFERING & JUSTICE
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” | CCC 2358
Behind every movement is a history. For the LGBTQ community, this history includes misunderstanding, discrimination, and violence. A well-known case is Alan Turing in the United Kingdom, inventor of the World War II codebreaking machine “Engima,” essential to the Allied war effort (you may have seen the award-winning film depicting the story, The Imitation Game). He was later prosecuted for homosexual acts and underwent chemical sterilization as punishment. He eventually committed suicide. In the United States, the decriminalization of homosexual acts began in the 1960s. Still, the stigma surrounding homosexuality contributed to the growth of a subculture. Some bars were considered safe havens, since few establishments served openly “out” individuals. These bars often faced police raids to disperse activity. In 1969, a riot occurred at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, galvanizing the gay rights movement.
An overt connection between same sex desires and mental illness remained until 1973, when the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality as such from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This is not to say that real psychological and relational wounds do not exist in LGBTQ persons, as they can (and do) exist in anyone. Professional counseling can be of help in those situations to resolve areas of distress. When considered a pathological problem, “cure” attempts varied from talk psychotherapy to aversion methods, like electric shock. The AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s again broadly associated homosexuality with disease. It’s worth noting here that Catholic apostolate Courage International emerged in this time period as compassionate pastoral support for a radically marginalized population.
Broader American culture continues to have a complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community. Advocacy movements have pushed for changes in law, like the legalization of civil marriage for same sex couples. Organizations like the Trevor Project exist to combat the rash of teen suicides related to sexual orientation or gender discordance. Violence still continues intermittently, including the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016—the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history—or the increasing murders of transgender persons of color. Abroad, in 11 countries homosexual acts are punishable by death.
Christians are no strangers to persecution and violence throughout our history. At the very least, we should be able to lament ill-treatment, and to be prophetic witnesses for justice. We may have a differing vision of the grander vision of justice and the common good than the wider LGBTQ space, but I hope we can empathize with the “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Jesus sets the tone for us here. In John 8, He saves a woman from being stoned to death for adultery. The passage is often quoted to support the adage “love the sinner, hate the sin,” since Jesus tells her to mend her ways at the end of the story. But let’s back up a moment. When the story begins, the Pharisees have dragged this woman into the temple area, the most sacred space for the Jewish people. Jesus is present for the scene. The crowd only knows the deeds she has committed, nothing more. According to Jewish law, adultery was a capital crime, and they were poised to execute the sentence—literally—in the heart of the temple.
What does Christ model in this situation? Jesus stands on the brink with this woman. He defends her, risking His own life and reputation. Notice that, in doing this, Jesus could have been considered “pro-adultery” or “pro-sin” by the religious authorities of the day. But He does it anyway. Only after the stones hit the ground, only after the crowd trickles away, only when Jesus and the woman stand alone…only then does Jesus speak with authority into her life.
Calling out the sinful injustice of the crowd does not imply a blessing over the sexual sin of the woman. It’s simply saying, “nobody should have to die over this.” Speaking out for mental health for LGBTQ youth doesn’t imply a blessing over choices they may or may not be making. It’s simply saying, “nobody should have to die over this.” The Catechism notes that “unjust discrimination must be avoided.” We can and must speak truth about sinful behavior. This includes all sinful behavior. Verbal abuse, violence, and other inhumane treatment is contrary to a consistent ethic of human life and dignity.
Ask your LGBTQ friend: What causes are you passionate about right now? Where are you experiencing stress or anxiety? How can we help each other?
We share an inheritance of LOVE & COMMUNITY
“[The human person] cannot live without love. [We] remain a being that is incomprehensible for [ourselves], [our] life is senseless, if love is not revealed to [us], if [we do] not encounter love, if [we do] not experience it and make it [our] own, if [we do] not participate intimately in it.” | Redemptor Hominis 10, St. John Paul II
Every human person is made in the image of God. And our God is love. Our God is a communion of persons in eternal relation. That is the image we’re made in. Our desire for love is part and parcel of our personal identity. So it should be no surprise that every human being is crying out for love! When talking about the LGBTQ concerns in the Church, a lot of focus is on the romantic and sexual relationships people pursue. Most of our catechetical emphasis has been on the uniqueness of marriage and spousal love. I get it! Ministry professionals are working to correct the imbalances of the sexual revolution. But that isn’t the only kind of love people are seeking.
The concept of “chosen family” is widespread in the LGBTQ space. Many LGBTQ youth experience rejection from their birth families, sometimes in very dramatic ways, including being kicked out of the house and experiencing homelessness. You move to the big city, find “your people” through shared hobbies and interests, and start sharing life together. These small communities don’t necessarily live under the same roof, but create a network of support.
For Catholics, this should sound familiar. This is what our parishes aim to do. This is what young adult groups and small faith communities try to shore up all across the country. It’s probably fair to assume that the vast majority of people you meet are looking for multiple layers of love and support in their lives. They’re also looking for those people to be committed and to show up. This is especially important in the lives of disciples attracted to the same sex. A lot of our social and legal “goods” are attached to being a couple—emergency contacts, moms and dads ministries, couples social nights, airport pickups, hospital visits, etc. Disciples choosing to be single for the Lord will need uniquely robust networks of support and community. We saw the hierarchical church engage in highly publicized, highly funded campaigns around same sex marriage. Imagine if the same amount of funds, time, and attention went into robust systems of communal support for LGBTQ persons! There will always be people that don’t “fit” in nice, neat models of family life. Let’s start thinking creatively about how we can be loving community for one another.
Ask your LGBTQ friend: What is one of the most meaningful relationships in your life? Why? Where do you find community?
Questions for Prayer & Discussion
What traits are easy to celebrate in myself? Which are more difficult? How do I image Him in my own unique personality?
How has God called me to love and serve creatively in different periods of my life?
Where in my life have I experienced social or cultural suffering? How did God speak to me in the midst of it…or what does He have to tell me now?
Have I ever committed a sin of omission by not standing up for someone’s dignity in a moment of crisis? How is God calling me to grow in the future?
Where do I find community? How do I offer community to others?
Who has loved me well? Who in my life needs love…and how can I resolve to offer it?
This blog made possible by: scraps of preparation for Tuesday’s “Solidarity” talk, several friends’ knowledge and enthusiasm for creativity & advocacy in LGBTQ culture, and the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit removing a beam from my eye. Dang that thing has been in deep.