I’m traveling in Europe for a few weeks this summer. A few days ago, I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, where a small vial is said to contain Christ’s blood. For centuries, pilgrims have traveled here for prayer and veneration. Legend says Joseph of Arimathea preserved the blood in rock crystal while washing Jesus’ body, and it remained liquid until 1325. Whether the legend is true or not, passing by this vial caused me to pray deeply. The following is a reflection based on my prayer at that altar of Christ’s blood.
Since I’ve been abroad as Americans celebrate nationwide marriage equality, I’ve been learning what I can mostly from headlines (and my daily Bondings 2.0 update!). Without negating the importance of the Supreme Court decision, another reality came to mind in prayer — the tremendous amount of LGBT blood–which is Christ’s blood–is still being poured out in our world today.
In 2015, a record number of trans* women are being murdered, the latest being Mercedes Williamson of Alabama. Many LGBT youth still abuse substances, inflict self-harm, and commit suicide because they are unable to find affirming voices and loving families in which to come out and live authentically. Church workers are losing their jobs at unprecedented rates because of LGBT issues. Internationally, more than 75 countries still criminalize homosexuality and eight allow a death sentence. Just last week Turkish Pride marchers were attacked by police, merely the latest incident where wearing a rainbow attracts violence. I could go on.
What is the Catholic response to all of this injustice, particularly now that civil marriage is settled in the U.S.? The truest answer is complex and nuanced, but here’s one attempt: to end the shedding of Christ’s blood, poured out from LGBT communities.
For more than a decade, America’s bishops focused an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy on opposing civil marriage equality. Opposing LGBT justice is, sadly, the hallmark of the bishops’ collective voice. For far too long the U.S. bishops simply echoed negative messages which came from Rome. I have seen several writers and a Catholic publication or two note how hard it is to accept the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and how they are struggling to follow the bishops’ articulation of God’s revelation about sexuality, and their message to respect LGBT people at the same time. But now the matter is settled. It is time to move on.
In moving on, there is far more room for Catholics divided over issues of sexuality and gender to find common ground, to reach out and build bridges. Certainly, sacramental marriage and the recognition of same-gender relationships in ecclesial settings still remains important and divisive. If you’re following the Synod proceedings focused on family life, this is eminently clear, and the news is not all bad.
Still, no one should oppose loving youths who, while journeying to find their truest selves, often suffer deep pain and face rejection. No one should support criminalizing homosexuality, even if they consider same-sex acts morally wrong, and certainly the church has a clear voice against the death penalty. No one should think discriminating against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is consistent with Christ’s inclusive witness. And no one, anywhere, should justify the murder or rape of a trans* person as consistent with God’s will or the church’s teaching. No one.
Opposing these injustices is not only acceptable for Catholics, it is a mandate of the Gospel to do so. Moreover, opposing these injustices is necessary to rectify our church’s long history of endorsing and fomenting violence against marginalized communities. I am not the first to call for a more inclusive LGBT agenda; many voices have done so for decades. What I am proposing is a shift for American Catholics. Let’s move on from marriage and come together around matters of justice ,wherever we fall on what constitutes marriage.
I am proposing that with a loud, confident voice, the Church, as one Body, condemns anti-LGBT atrocities. We must actively resist them at parish, diocesan, national, and global levels, conscious of the intersectional concerns like race and class playing out in our communities and in our churches.
The Catholic response to Obergefell v. Hodges can be a simple one: celebrate if you’d like (I certainly am and will!), but regardless start walking the path of reconciliation so those God loves most will know the church’s tender love and saving care in new and newer ways. In this way, we can tend to Christ by ending the shedding of His blood in the lives and sufferings of our LGBT siblings.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry