Creating a Church Revolution By Making Friends and Allies

Recently, a panel discussion on LGBT issues and Catholicism was held at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.  The event, sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and PrismND (the LGBT and allies student organization), was covered by the campus student newspaper, The Observer. The article ended with a quotation from one of the participants, Dana Dillon, a theology professor at Providence College, Rhode Island.  Dillon said:

Dana Dillon

“I want to suggest that however you identify — gay, Catholic, both, neither — try to find ways to actively give people permission to be your friend and ally without agreeing on everything.”

This idea struck me as eminently helpful advice, especially when LGBT and religion issues can cause so much division among people from differing opinions.  I thought it was a good new year’s resolution to adopt.

Dillon’s advice struck me in another way, too.  Using different language, she seems to be expressing the teaching that Pope Francis has been promoting for the church.  The pope, especially this past year, has been so hard to pin down on LGBT issues.  He’s said some good things and some bad things.  But one idea has come through in even his most ambiguous statements:  we need to treat each other with respect, even if–maybe especially if–we disagree with each other.

That’s a hard thing to do.  Many of us here in the United States are trying to learn that lesson in the past month, following the results of what was probably our most divisive presidential election in history.

Politics, religion, sex.  Three of the most explosive topics for any group to discuss.  And LGBT issues always involve all three.  It seems that in each of those three areas,  it takes a tremendous effort to see an issue from an alternative perspective.  It just seems impossible to imagine that someone could possibly think differently than we do.

But, I think that is the key to Pope Francis’ strategy.  He wants Catholic people to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and maybe walk a mile or two in them.  Granted, Pope Francis does not always do this himself.  Despite questioning himself about his authority to judge, in fact, judge he often does.  To me, that’s a human quality.  Pope Francis himself is a work in progress, as are we all.

His message of accompaniment and encounter with people we disagree with seems to be a simplistic and unsubstantial way to deal with complex issues.  But, I think there is revolutionary power in such actions.  Allowing oneself to enter into a dialogic encounter with someone opens a person up to the possibility of change.  And when people change, institutions change.

The Notre Dame panel also included Dr. Patrick Beeman, an Air Force gynecologist and obstetrician, who underwent a personal transformation because of an important event in his life. The Observer article stated:

Patrick Beeman

“. . . Beeman talked about how his initial ‘knee-jerk reactions’ against gay marriage and other LGBT issues changed when he went through a divorce, another act formally condemned by the Catholic Church.

” ‘I ran in circles that were uber-Catholic and I thought, “What am I going to do?” ‘ Beeman said. ‘Then I realized that it doesn’t matter; I’m still called to be a Catholic.’

“Beeman said he was able to apply this same logic to those in the LGBT community, who he said could still seek Christ despite the Church’s official opposition to their actions. He said he moved more toward becoming an ally of LGBT people as a result of this experience.”

Beeman went to say that supporting LGBT individuals (and, really, all individuals) means supporting them even if we disagree with them.  The Observer article reported:

“Beeman said he thought Catholics ought to be better in helping gay or lesbian couples when they choose to start a family.

” ‘Yes, we don’t think that artificially produced pregnancies are a good idea for lesbian couples or for anyone, but couples who are going through pregnancy … we must be supportive of their health,’ he said.”

That kind of support can be difficult to express, but I think our challenge as Catholics is to work at it in the best way we can.  Of course, many readers of this blog find it easy to support LGBT people.  How willing are we to support people whose actions disagree with, though?

I admit I’m not great at that last challenge.  Maybe in the new year, I can work at it a bit more. Imagine if we, as a church, became a community of friends and allies who don’t always agree on things.  That would be a revolutionary community.  And I think it is the vision that Pope Francis has for the church.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01To learn more about how the Church is responding–or not–to Pope Francis’ new vision, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.   For more information and to register, click here.   Early bird discounts for registration are in effect until December 31, 2016.  So don’t delay!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2016

3 replies
  1. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    The import of this blog could be expressed pithily: unity in diversity. It’s not a new idea and is one the institutional Church has traditionally resisted, with its controlling insistence on doctrinal monolithism: everyone’s heading in the same direction. This has been an abysmal failure historically, witness, for one, the Protestant Reformation.

    The unity that is most important is love, in all its manifestations: respect for others, kindness, gentleness, tolerance, etc. I think it is this kind of unity that Pope Francis has been trying to promote over doctrinal consensus, though, as you said, not always very well.

    In the end, we’ll be asked how much we loved, not how much magisterial teaching we swallowed.

  2. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    I am called to love all people, even my enemies. I must always find the common humanity in all. I am not called to be complicit with blatant discrimination. It is difficult to navigate the overt discrimination that is the official doctrine of the church. My church calls an entire group of people “intrinsically disordered.” They are firing long time church and Catholic school employees who dare to marry in civil ceremonies, something that is legal in every state. Name calling and firing is not respect. There is no way to sugar coat this. It is aggressive and deeply harmful discrimination. I agree that the goal of “getting along” and being in dialogue is important. For me, it is even more important to raise awareness that it is hurtful and destructive to call people “intrinsically disordered,” to fire them, and to marginalize them. It is destructive to have as a backdrop for our “religion” the “belief” that LGBT people are less than, wrong, and living in sin. By virtue of the Holy Spirit, I know that LGBT people are children of God. The are NOT disordered. They are NOT living in sin. They are human beings worthy of support, full participation in all sacraments, and full membership in the church and society. It is impossible to “agree to disagree” when some are aggressively harming people and calling it doctrine, religion, or any other positive spin. Discrimination is wrong. I know this because I am Catholic, not despite it. So when I am told that, to keep the peace, I must stand by and watch the discrimination be normalized, I have to say, NO! No, no, no. I must stand up for the harmed person.

    If people want to talk, fine. Dialogue? Great. We should be able to share our ideas and beliefs, especially on a college campus. But some in the church would even ban conversations about the discrimination. Some have censored art and theater, saying it is “anti-Catholic.” Some want to ban speakers with whom they do not agree. They want to ostracize individuals who do not fall into line. It is not a matter of “agreeing to disagree.” It is a matter that our doctrine is tainted with heinous discrimination. There is the power of “the law” in the discrimination. THAT is the problem.

    I was shocked and deeply saddened to realize that a majority of Catholics voted for Trump. Catholic women voted for him. Educated Catholics voted for him. I am still trying to process this. More than ever before in my lifetime, I am being asked to “agree to disagree” with people who would deport Mexicans who have lived in the US for their entire lives. I am being asked to “agree to disagree” as social supports are being threatened and overturned. These issues are not academic exercises. They are issues that have direct and overwhelming negative consequences on human beings, children of God.

    The only thing to do is to show with actions and words that I will NOT participate in the discrimination. I will NOT normalize it. I will always, always say it is wrong. Period. Make no mistake. I do not do this for LGBT people. I do this for my own immortal soul. Because discrimination against LGBT people or any other people is a grave sin. And conscience is with us for a reason. Most people know that the discrimination is wrong, they just don’t engage with every comment, every slight. But engage we must.

  3. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    The Universal Church
    When I was in Philadelphia for an unexpected three month medical journey, as a gay man, I felt exceedingly uncomfortable going to a Catholic parish because of the rhetoric of archbishop Chaput concerning LGBT persons. Therefore, I sought out a church in the ELCA community. Their celebrations of the Sunday liturgy are very similar to that of the Catholic church. I was welcomed and ministered to by this denomination that is part of the universal church. The priest was female and we had multiple personal meetings. She anointed me with oil for healing. She came to the hospital and we celebrated the Eucharist together. We did the Gospel reading and broke open the word. Then the bread and wine were consecrated and we received Eucharist together.

    I tell this story because it related to the topic of this blog. Just before I left Philadelphia the Lutheran priest and I had lunch together. The topic turned to forgiveness. I started the conversation by saying that I had to find some way not to judge archbishop Chaput and to forgive him. She agreed whole heartedly with me. That was July and I am now still struggling with my task. To the point that I will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation this advent at a communal celebration of this sacrament in my home Catholic parish.


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