Category: Religion

A Message to These People: Get Out

Dear Mom,

What a great season it is here in Seattle! Our warm and sunny weather has continued well into October, and I’m writing from the office in our new home, taking a break from unpacking and settling in to get ourselves back on track with these letters.  This fall seems full of contentment, new possibility, and change.

Also, what a great season it is to be gay! The Supreme Court dished up a great treat, and it feels like every few days another state decides to put the cherry on top and dig in.  More and more same sex couples in more and more states are giddy, tripping over themselves to the altar.

If you’re Catholic, though, you might want to wait a minute before you run down to the courthouse to sign your papers.  Getting hitched can get you kicked out of your job in a Catholic school, as we saw here in Seattle recently, or ostracized from your parish, as a gay couple in Montana found out over the summer.

This should surprise no one, of course.  The attitude in the Catholic Church towards gays is frosty at best, and any movement towards acceptance, welcome, or apology has been glacial.  In fact, I think you were as surprised as I was when the Vatican received praise from many quarters earlier this week when it issued the blandest of affirming statements:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

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Are they kidding? Is that a real question that the bishops are posing to one another?

I have a few questions of my own for the bishops: When you talk about gifts, do you mean all the paintings and sculptures that adorn your churches and cathedrals created by artists like Caravaggio, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, all of whom had (or were at the very least strongly suspected of having) sex with other men?

Also, you mention that gays want a “welcoming home,” and yet you choose to refer to us as “these people”? Do you really think that strikes the right tone?

Finally, it seems that JP II’s reiteration that homosexual orientation is “objectively disordered” (a phrase lifted directly from the Catholic Church catechism which identifies homosexual sexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity”) is pretty much the last official word from the Church.  Are we really to believe that the welcome mat is out?

Not really, as it turns out.  By week’s end, bowing to pressure from Conservative bishops, the Church had backtracked, realizing that despite what the current Big Guy may say (“Who am I to judge?”) they still wanted to make it clear just what they think of “these people.”

The Catholic church was, as you well know, a huge part of my youth; the community and the commandments and the scripture helped to reinforce the way of life you and dad passed down to Mark and me.  For many of my formative years, I found solace in prayer, guidance through life’s challenges from my Catholic school teachers, and community in the friendships I made with others who were raised like we were.

Despite the consternation that it caused you and dad (and my grandmothers), I had the good sense to get out.  But thank God (or thank the Divine Eternal Spirit of the Earth Mother Goddess Head) that I did.

Back to that couple in Montana that I mentioned earlier for just a moment. They were told by their parish priest that they needed to stop receiving communion until they were willing to get a divorce, stop living together (which they have done for over 30 years), and sign a paper saying that marriage was for one man and one woman. One of them has stopped going to church, but the other continued, saying “This is my home.”

Really?! Your home? A place of comfort, respite, and renewal? A place to let your hair down and be yourself? How can a place that clearly and repeatedly refers to you as a sinner because of an intrinsic, genetic characteristic as essential as eye color or a predisposition to heart disease be considered home?

I am astounded that many in the LGBT community continue to seek trusting relationships with institutions that offer such tepid welcome. Clearly we have drunk the Kool-Aid ourselves, believing we are sinful, we made some choice, and we don’t deserve better than the crumbs. Too often we gays suffer from our own internalized homophobia.  I think it’s time we stopped.

Nothing is going to change in the Church until every single gay member says “Thanks but no thanks! It’s not right, and you don’t get the value of my gifts, my perspective, my example to others about the value of love and commitment until you change.”  Some would posit that the best change comes from within, that the Church is more and different and better than its leaders.  I think that just encourages stability, when what is needed is a radical but clear message: We are done.

To all LGBT Catholics, I say go. Leave now. Don’t wait a second more. Find a church—there are many—that accepts you. Fully and completely.  No qualifications.  [Let the first litmus test be this: if they call you “These people,” run screaming.] We deserve so much better.

Change is happening, and more is on the way.  To hasten it along, we must demand a place at the table.

Love, Christopher

He Who is Without Sin…

Dear Christopher,

Did you hear about this on NPR? Dr. Willie Parker is one of two doctors who practices at the only women’s health clinic in Mississippi where abortions are willie parkerperformed. Parker, a devout Christian, is the subject of a profile in Esquire magazine called, “The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker” by John Richardson.

I am astounded. What an inspiration! The faith and commitment of this gentle doctor has come to his work to help poor women get health care in one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. Here is someone who does not take a doctrinaire approach, but who practices basic Christian compassion in providing services to women in the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. Wealthy women can go out of state, but the women who end up at this clinic are poor women who get harassed by the protestors outside as they enter.

This reminds me of the anti-gay rhetoric and the horrible anti-gay legislation propounded in Uganda with a great deal of help by some American churches. It made me wonder how American and English Christian preachers can promote laws that not only criminalizes gay behavior, but also even promote the death penalty or life in prison. It seems to me not far from the behavior of Islamic fighters in Iraq who are forcing conversion on the Yazidis. They either must convert or die.

As a Catholic it seems to me that all I was taught and all I continue to believe is that religion should be a force for compassion. Doesn’t it say in the New Testament “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone” among many other citations that instruct believers not to judge others? It seems we need to be reminded that faith-filled people can and do choose to use their religion to make principled decisions that go against what others may take as doctrine.

Listening to Dr Parker’s interview I was so impressed by his deep faith, by his struggle to work with poor women, by his courage when he knows that there are those who would even kill to enforce their twisted sense of what is right. To me, these so-called Christians are compatriots of the ISIS terrorists in Iraq, and compatriots of those who promote the death penalty for gay people in Uganda. They do not have any right to claim religion as their motivation. I believe their motivation is the will to have power over others—the will that has caused so much destruction and so much suffering in the world.

Love, Mom

Pants and Comic Books

Dear Christopher,

“Pants and comic books” Sister Catherine roared as she waved the chalkboard pointer over our terror stricken heads. We 50’s girls in our Catholic school were shivering with fear. Sister was furious that those distractions took us away from conjugating Latin verbs. Back then it was not unheard of for a teacher to whack a student. In the Catholic boys’ schools priests were known to beat the stuffing out of recalcitrant boys. Yes, in the bad old 1900s (as your daughter characterizes them) using physical punishment on children was common. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the prevailing belief. My mother was an enthusiastic proponent. Aunt Judy and I knew the wooden spoon on our backsides and even slaps wherever she could reach. She was not alone, since it seemed common in other families as well.

All JoyParenting styles change, thank goodness. In the 70’s when we were raising you kids we certainly did not believe in physical punishment, but on occasion I think we slipped. You can tell us how often. Today parenting styles have changed even more. In Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun she finds today with children coming later in life to middle class parents they are more treasured. They permanently “highjack your heart” (but that was true in the bad old 1900’s too). Now there are so many societal pressures on parents to engage and celebrate children, to make sure they turn out happy and well adjusted. (As if anyone knows for sure how to do it at any time in history.) She calls it “concerted cultivation.” Just a quick glance at the vast number of parenting books in any bookstore can tell us this concern with raising children exactly right. We just had good old Dr. Spock back then.

I can see it in the parenting styles of you and your brother. You both are more active with your children than we ever were. You played with them more when they were younger and you plan more activities together than we ever did. You and Patrick especially work so hard at parenting. Of course your children’s issues surrounding their adoption require more care. However, I can see how being gay dads seems to add tension. Certainly the lack of a mom in the house adds a strain, especially for primary school children where a great deal of discussion involves Mommy. Somewhere I read that being a minority in a culture adds stress to one’s life. I wish it were not so, but I can see that it is. Because of being on the cutting edge of openly gay men raising children you have more pressure than others have.

As a grandmother I worry about all our grandkids. The vast explosion of technology has created a bewildering world for us to navigate. I see how you try to limit the screen time your children have. They know so much about the various media sources that have burgeoned in recent years. It continues to grow exponentially. I worry how this evolving technological revolution will impact your children, will impact you, as they grow older and are less under your protection.

Sr. Catherine could not have imagined what else would prevail for the girls of the 50’s grandkids. Threatening violence and occasionally carrying through mitigated the distractions in her students’ lives. Fear and shame were her very effective tools. Thank goodness that is not the solution today. But I wonder how she would handle students with so many more distractions at their fingertips like texting and video games. In addition parents now must decide how young people should interact with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram among other media sources. Pants and comic books seem mild in comparison.

Love, Mom