Fr. James Martin’s new book on LGBT issues, Building a Bridge, has created quite a buzz in the Catholic Church. It is currently the #1 bestseller in the category of Gender & Sexuality in Religious Studies category on Amazon.com. The book is based on an address Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last fall. With the current buzz has come many reviews, three of which Bondings 2.0 will feature this week.
Today’s post engages theologian David Cloutier’s review in Commonweal. His piece is titled “The Ignatian Option,” a reference to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” that proposed opponents of LGBT equality begin to remove themselves from the secular world as equal rights expand.
Cloutier applauded Martin as someone who has “consistently sought to convey the riches of Catholic Christianity in both a style and a language that is as accessible as possible in a pluralist, post-Christian culture.” In doing so, Martin “does not sacrifice sophistication in aiming at accessibility.” About Building a Bridge specifically, Cloutier commented:
“Lest this approach be taken as a mere plea for more civility, Martin insists that the greater end is that each group will actually get to know the other. ‘You can’t be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them,’ he writes. Similarly, Martin insists on prayer from the LGBT community for the bishops. His book is not meant to outline where the conversation might go but to set the necessary conditions for a conversation. This seems a reasonable initial goal of ‘accompaniment,’ allowing for an ecclesial practice that is faithful to the church’s basic claim that gays and lesbians are ‘always our children’—and always children of God.”
Cloutier also named three ways by which, in his words, the bridge was “shaky.” First, he disagrees with “Martin’s initial characterization of the LGBT community as a ‘group,'” given the problems which arise in generalizing discussions and the differing issues facing transgender people. Cloutier continued:
“This overly tidy solution about naming leads to the second concern, which is whether this book is written for a socio-political context that no longer exists. At times, I imagined myself reading Building a Bridge in the early 1990s, when as a young Catholic at a very secular liberal arts college, I was learning to negotiate (hopefully with respect, compassion, and sensitivity!) LGBT issues for the first time. But on this issue, the early 1990s seem like ancient history. The idea of generous bridge-building is more difficult when anti-discrimination lawsuits lurk in the wings. Moreover, Catholics have observed decades of church-dividing strife among Protestant churches unable to make this sort of a bridge work, and Martin never hints at why Catholic bridge-building won’t end up in the same place.”
Finally, Cloutier criticized Martin for not forthrightly addressing sexual ethics, writing:
“[H]e elides the fact that the issue at the core of the LGBT community is the challenge to church teaching. I presume this omission of the question of sex is intentional, but there is a sense of ‘let’s pretend’ that seems bothersome. . .Proponents of both sides might point out that the core problem is not how to bring together a marginalized group and an awkward church leadership. It’s really about two clashing views on the fundamental truths of justice and love. Each side has core beliefs about what these claims should mean, and we need to confront why those claims are at odds.”
Cloutier, who trends conservative, called for a conversation on the bridge that would involve chastity and involuntary celibacy, to “come to discern it as a potential gift, rather than an obvious curse.” Interestingly, he wondered whether church leaders should ‘come out,’ but do so only towards the end of “communicating the possibilities of holiness in following the path of Christ” because of their celibate state. He concluded:
“Again, [the clash between Catholics] is no different from what Catholics should expect from tough conversations on issues like economics and the environment: there is a clash of fundamental moral visions that must be engaged. If we’re going to have a conversation, we might not start with that clash. But any bridge is going to have to cross these troubled waters at some point. And perhaps then we’ll see if we need a new St. Ignatius or a new St. Benedict.”
You can read coverage of lesbian Catholic author Eve Tushnet’s review by clicking here. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here. You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2017
Publisher’s Weekly, “In New Book, Priest Urges Church to Welcome LGBTQ Catholics”
Religion News Service, “The necessity of LGBT bridge-building“