Martin Luther King's Words Call LGBT Catholics and Allies to Action

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 4.38.03 PMRev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored today in the U.S. for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. His many stirring words and ideas provide a lens through which to reflect on how we set Catholic LGBT issues in a broader context while re-committing ourselves to LGBT justice in our church.

Bondings 2.0 covers news on Catholic LGBT issues, but in preparing posts I often come across the tensions over sexuality and gender experienced in other Christian denominations and faith traditions.

For instance, headlines last week suggested that the Episcopal Church here in the U.S. had been suspended from the Anglican Communion by the denomination’s Primates Meeting, the body of senior bishops from the Communion’s member churches. While talk of suspension is overblown (see this post from gay Episcopal priest Mike Angell for an in-depth explanation), the Primates’ statement remains painful because it was sparked by U.S. Episcopalians’ affirmation of LGBT people and same-gender relationships.

In another case, after the government of Greece approved allowing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta in the Greek Orthodox church called for Greeks to “spit on” and “beat” gay people, and saying “they are not human.” Metropolitan Chrysostomos Savvatos of Messinia responded by saying LGB people, “like all humans are a creation of God and they deserve the same respect and honor, and not violence and rejection.”

What is the relevance of these stories and other faith communities’ experiences for Catholic LGBT people and their loved ones and advocates? I offer three points, guided by Rev. King’s words (in italics).

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

First, these two stories set Catholic LGBT issues in an ecumenical and global context. We understand that religious leaders of all types can be prone to promote anti-LGBT sentiments in their words and in their deeds, just as others in their denominations promote equality. Homophobia and transphobia are rooted in human prejudices common to all people rather than being specific to any religious tradition. The divide about homosexuality that exists between Western and African Catholic bishops is present in the Anglican Communion, too. Disputes between individual bishops about civil unions trouble the Greek Orthodox church, too. Yet, people of faith worldwide also are prophetically witnessing for communities to respect and affirm LGBT people–and, at times, prophetically suffering for that witness. Liberation’s path is a universal journey, playing out locally, meaning there are many commonalities despite the differences.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Second, because the quest for LGBT equality is a universal journey, we must keep a broad perspective in mind for our local work. Rev. King’s exhortation for an ecumenical and global perspective can be easily lost if we don’t intentionally cultivate it. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican, our deeper belonging is to the Church of Christ which extends beyond any particular church’s parameters. This greater Church, rather than our own denominational churches, is what we must ultimately make fully affirming and inclusive of all sexual and gender identities. Injustices against LGBT people in any faith community hurt all faith communities.

Parallels also exist with LGBT advocacy being done in Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu, and other faith communities. The movement for civil rights which King helped lead united those of all faiths and no faith behind a common cause. There are parallels, too, with other justice movements like Black Lives Matter or fighting injustices facing immigrants and refugees. King’s desire for racial justice meant he opposed the Vietnam War and also sought economic justice. It is poignant to remember that he was assassinated organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, a racially-unified call to action on behalf of all who are poor.

When our Episcopal siblings hurt because they face exclusion, we must reach out with prayer and companionship. When a religious leader promotes prejudice, we must stand in solidarity against such messages. When police violence brutally afflicts black communities, LGBT people must stand against these crimes. When undocumented trans women are housed in unsafe detention facilities, LGBT and Latina/o advocates must act united. Intersectionality demands collaborative responses oriented towards global justice for all. Solidarity actions are a constitutive part of our LGBT Catholic advocacy.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Third, this call to an ecumenical and global perspective is concurrently a call to recommit ourselves to the existing local work we are doing in the Catholic Church–and to make our Catholic work fundamentally about reconciliation as the means of creating just conditions. Catholicism remains conflicted when it comes to LGBT issues. Splits exist between the hierarchy and laity, between different geographical regions, between generations, and between ecclesial camps. While these divisions remain in the church, there can never be true LGBT justice. Therefore, our work must balance positive outreach and necessary challenge, always with an eye to reconciling people. Expanding parish LGBT ministries, meeting with church leaders, protesting church worker firings, deepening LGBT-affirming theologies in Catholic circles are the day-to-day ways by which we contribute to healing and to universal liberation–and we must do them all with love.

As we remember the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by reading his words and recalling his witness, it is a moment to look at our own lives and our current efforts. We must ask if we live up to Rev. King’s call for a universal perspective in our local work.  If we fall short, we need to ask where we can build and grow towards that goal. Today is a day of remembrance, but equally for advocates of justice it is a time of re-commitment for the coming year.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

1 reply
  1. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    Yes and it is still unclear where and how King applied his commitment to justice for all given the most unfortunate capitulation to his advisors to ask Bayard Rustin to separate from the SCLC group because of Rustin’s sexuality. Albeit Mr. Rustin succumbed to public behavior that often results from rejection and shame as Dr. King also had his flaws in that aspect of his life. To his credit, King invited Rustin back into the fold to organize the famous March on Washington. The sense is that King eventually followed his dream that we would all judge a (person) ” by his character and not by the color of his skin.” May they both rest in peace.


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