Over the course of the summer, the Catholic Jesuit order in the United States released a series of videos in which they tell LGBT people they are welcome in the church.
This appears to be a recurring theme; just this week, I also posted about a new video campaign called The “Not All Like That” Christians Project in which LGBT-supportive Christians record videos basically telling LGBT people that some Christians are actually okay with gays. (The issues with that messaging are a whole other story.)
This project, led by the Jesuit Ignatian News Network and officially called the “Who Are We To Judge — Gay Catholics” series, features interviews with prominent gay Catholics and supportive clergy.
Here’s one example:
The Catholics interviewed in the series have all kinds of messages to share, from their own methods of reconciling faith with identity to their thoughts on the Catholic Church’s reputation as a homophobic institution.
In one of the videos gay Catholic author John Paul Godges tells the Ignatian News Network that his sexuality in relation to the Catholic Church is like his relationship to his country — he doesn’t have to agree with everything it does to still belong to it.
‘I often tell people that being Catholic is a lot like being American,’ Godges says. ‘Just because some politician prosecutes a misbegotten war, I’m not going to renounce my citizenship and flee to Canada. I’m going to stay and fight and communicate and converse and speak at retreats and do whatever I can to promote the best that is in the Catholic church.’
The series was also supposedly inspired in part by a now-famous statement Pope Francis made during a trip to Brazil back in July, when he earned his reputation as perhaps the most LGBT-affirming Pope to date:
Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word “gay.”
It’s interesting timing, considering news reports also popped up this week claiming the Pope had phoned a young gay man to help him come to terms with his identity. (The Vatican now denies this ever happened.) Still, between all these events, one thing is clear: Catholics (and Christians, more broadly) are becoming increasingly aware of their reputation as proclaimers of hatred and bigotry. And they feel bad about it.
Godless Poutine of My Secret Atheist Blog points out that some of the campaign’s messaging is a bit problematic; namely, it doesn’t actually say that being gay is okay. Merely tolerable.
Nowhere in the series does it say it’s actually okay to have a homosexual relationship and get married to your partner. Nowhere does it say it’s okay to have sex with your same-sex partner or even to be intimate in other ways. I’m certain these things are forbidden and I can’t help but feel a little sorry for people who are so desirous to make their Catholicism work that they deny a part of what makes them human, their sexuality.
Indeed, campaigns like this one might just be a self-serving way to make Catholics feel better about the wrongs their brothers and sisters in faith are perpetuating. Godless Poutine adds that these videos could also be indicative of guilt-ridden Catholics trying to save face for the sake of the Church:
It’s more Catholics — including some clergy it seems — trying to salvage the Church from the inside. They’re sticking with it to change it and make it better. Because God’s church is all busted and screwed up. Because the Pope is infallible. Because transubstantiation. Because Catholicism is true.
No wait, because in the end, isn’t the whole thing just entirely made up by people anyway, through and through? Yes, I think it is.
As I’ve said before, it is always appreciated when religious communities with histories of oppressing people take a step back to acknowledge what they’ve done. This is especially true of the rift between Christians and LGBT people, as religion (primarily Christianity) remains one of the driving forces behind legal inequality for LGBT people in the United States (even if some people don’t want to admit it).
That said, we’ve got to work on the messaging at play here. It’s not enough to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” I applaud genuinely LGBT-supportive Christians for their efforts, but until they say outright that there is nothing morally wrong about being gay (and perhaps remove the phrase “intrinsically disordered” from the Catechism’s section on homosexuality?) there is still much more to be done.