The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.
Faced with criticism of a parish LGBT outreach ministry, Fr. Joe Muth’s homily in early Julysent a message relevant for all Catholic parishes about welcome, diversity, and the Gospel. The pastor heads up St. Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, which recently particiapted in their city’s Pride parade. Fr. Muth was also recently quoted in the news for his support of gay and lesbian Catholics.
Fr. Muth drew on the readings to warn against literal interpretations of Scripture, often used in discussions of sexuality, before holding up the Gospel message for that Sunday. He uses Scripture to introduce the ministry’s place in their parish:
“Rejecting one another is rejecting God, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the gospel today the 72 returned in jubilation not because they had divided the communities where they preached, deported all the immigrants, and discriminated against people of color, but because they preached the word of God and rid the community of demons. Our internal demons are divisive, but we have to face them and rid ourselves of them…
“Two years ago when a Gay and Lesbian Outreach group, called LEAD, started in the parish, I supported this new organization. Why? Because some Gay and Lesbian people asked me if it was ok to go to church here. Can you imagine that? They had to ask. It wasn’t obvious because of my attitude or the church attitude that they were accepted. So I told them the same thing I have told other individuals and groups who wanted to join St. Matthew, “You are welcome!” Sometimes, as soon as I talk about our Gay and Lesbian outreach group, I feel some tension in the church. I hear it and I see it.”
This localized tension around the LEAD Ministry, as the LGBT outreach group is known, is why Fr. Muth felt compelled to explain his process in allowing the ministry. He continued by explaining that if gay and lesbian parishioners are asked to leave, than so will all others who are considered “against the teachings of the church.” He asked:
“So if we lump all of these people considered immoral and against the teachings of the Church and the Will of God together, and ask them to leave….then…….Who is left?????
“Isn’t it better to reach out to people, rather than to be divisive and judgmental?? We heard in the scriptures today that the harvest is plentiful….that there is work to do. If we attempt to throw everyone out, is that our work? Is our work to throw people out?”
Answering in the negative, Fr. Muth then drew from the American bishops’ 1997 document, “Always Our Children,” to affirm the Church’s call to incorporate LGBT members into communities of faith and actively oppose discrimination. In summary, the priest asked the question many seemingly asked him – what does he want with this LGBT ministry? He answers:
“I want the children growing up in this church to hear their first words referring to Gay and Lesbian people to be words of compassion, acceptance, and kindness, not words of judgment, discrimination and hate….
“My criteria, as your Pastor, is the following: If you are human, and you want to get to know Jesus, and you want to live in a church community, and you want to learn compassion, acceptance, and kindness, and you want to share your gifts——-
“I have one thing to say———
“YOU ARE WELCOME HERE IN THIS CHURCH!!! God Bless You!!”
New Ways Ministry thanks Fr. Joe Muth and St. Matthew’s Parish for being a gay-friendly Catholic community and continuing to welcome all. It would be a pleasure to hear many more priests tackle LGBT issues from the pulpit with such Gospel-rooted calls to love inclusively.
You can read the full homily text on the St. Matthew’s Facebook page. If you have heard a welcoming homily lately, please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry