As Jesuit Father James Martin launches his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” he explained in a Washington Post essay why he wrote the book in the first place. Also published in the Post a few days later was lesbian Catholic writer Eve Tushnet’s review of the book.
Martin began his essay by noting that, after 49 people were killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year, there was near silence from the United States’ 250 or so bishops about the victims’ LGBT identities. Martin said this silence was “revelatory,” continuing:
“The fact that only a few Catholic bishops acknowledged the LGBT community or even used the word gay at such a time showed that the LGBT community is still invisible in many quarters of the church. Even in tragedy its members are invisible.”
Martin lamented the “great divide” he witnesses in the church between LGBT Catholics and institutions, suggesting his ministry has included ways to heal the divide. He continued:
“But after the shooting in Orlando, my desire to do so intensified. . .So when New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and advocates for LGBT Catholics, asked just a few weeks after the Orlando tragedy if I would accept its ‘Bridge Building Award’ and give a talk at the time of the award ceremony, I agreed. The name of the award, as it turned out, inspired me to sketch out an idea for a ‘two-way bridge’ that might help bring together the institutional church and the LGBT community.
“My aim is to urge the church to treat the LGBT community with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (a phrase from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and encourage the LGBT community to reciprocate, reflecting those virtues in its own relationship with the institutional church.”
To read about Fr. Martin receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, where he spoke first about this latest LGBT venture, click here. You can also watch Fr. Martin’s video explanation of why he wrote Building a Bridge below or by clicking here.
But Eve Tushnet, in her review for the Post, says Martin’s work “is not the book I’ve longed for” on Catholic LGBT issues. Her main criticism is that Building a Bridge never addresses sexual ethics, and a corollary critique that there is no mention of lesbian and gay Christians who are celibate. Tushnet wrote:
“For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? ‘Building a Bridge’ doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.
“I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.”
While Tushnet may have wanted a book that dealt with sexual ethics and celibacy, that is not the intended scope of Martin’s book. His focus is on the process of dialogue, not theological questions. The relationship needs to improve to even begin to address the thornier questions.
Tushnet does rightly point out that more should be asked of church leaders than just respect and sensitivity. They should offer as well, “repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.”
Having stated these criticisms, Tushnet also acknowledged the value Building a Bridge has for the church. The priest’s “Prayer for When I Feel Rejected,” based on Psalm 139, is very moving for her, and she believes it can help LGBT Christians know God’s love for them more deeply. Tushnet concluded her review:
“If Martin’s book, with its biblical reflections on God’s loving creation of us and Jesus’ unconditional welcome, can help LGBT people and our families experience and trust God’s tenderness, he will have laid the foundation stone for social change and spiritual renewal.”
For more information about Building a Bridge, or if you would like to order a copy, visit Fr. Martin’s website by clicking here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 6, 2017