Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

Amid the flurry of reviews and interviews surrounding his new book, Building a Bridge, Fr. James Martin, S.J. has responded to critics as a way to create greater dialogue. Today’s post features one review along with Martin’s responses. To read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of previous reviews by David Cloutier and Eve Tushnet, click here and here respectively.

y450-293Martin responded to Cloutier’s review in America by addressing the three problems which Cloutier believed makes the proposed bridge “shaky.”

First, Martin argues against Cloutier’s critique that LGBT people are problematically lumped together as a singular group in the book. Cloutier claimed that, in reality, there is tremendous difference among LGBT persons. He also stated that LGBT people differ from other groups in the church because their identities directly challenge church teaching. Martin replied:

“[M]y point was not that L.G.B.T. Catholics are all the same (or that that label is comprehensive) but that many have faced similar problems in the church: prejudice and exclusion based on sexual orientation and identity. . .

“We have an unfortunate tendency to view L.G.B.T. issues purely through the prism of only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality—its prohibition on sexual expression—rather than through the experiences of L.G.B.T. people as human beings. We tend to view them as a category of people who present a theological problem rather than as individuals with a graced history. I know that Prof. Cloutier does not wish to negate their pain, but it is important to see them as not inherently presenting a ‘problem.'”

Second, against Cloutier’s claim that the book seems more fitting for the LGBT conversation of the 1990s than the 21st century discussion, Martin said what has changed in the church is the number of LGBT Catholics who have come out:

“As more Catholics are affected, more parishes will be. As more parishes are, more priests will be. As more priests are, more bishops will be. And so on. I believe the explosion of L.G.B.T. Catholics ‘coming out’ and claiming their identities will lead to a growing desire among the entire People of God for welcome, and for what Pope Francis calls ‘encounter.'”

Encounter, Martin explained, is the work of the Holy Spirit and has no expiration date. Widespread social acceptance of LGBT persons “has been drive largely by encounter,” and within the church coming out “would still be quite novel, even radical in some circles.”

Third, Martin tackles Cloutier’s critique that the book never addresses sexual ethics. Martin said the omission was “intentional” because church teaching is already quite clear, but:

“At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on the matter is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the relatively small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that this teaching has not been ‘received’ by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom it was directed.

“So I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Another review came from Sally Kohn, a lesbian essayist writing in The Washington Post, who offered an outsider perspective on the book. A secular Jew, Kohn said the book was “a lovely glimpse at church-community relations buttressed by an enlightening collection of uplifting scripture.” But, she continued:

“The problem is that Martin doesn’t adequately address the deep ecclesiastical and theological roots of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay antagonism. And so his book reads like a solution to a problem he fundamentally misunderstands.”

Kohn also questioned whether the question of homophobia in the Catholic Church could be adequately dealt with if not also addressing misogyny in the church. She added:

“Beyond the most superficial gestures and rhetoric of respect, compassion and sensitivity, Martin doesn’t address the sorts of lives he envisions for LGBT Catholics. Should they be celibate? Not marry? Exactly how welcome does Martin think they should be? Absent these details, Martin risks promising merely the illusion of equal dignity. LGBT Catholics don’t just want the lip service of respect, they want actual equal treatment.”

Martin responded to Kohn on the America website, saying her review “downplays [LGBT Catholics’] religious convictions and the mystical nature of the church.” He continued:

“To be sure, the onus is on the institutional church to reach out, to take risks and to take the first steps along the bridge of reconciliation. Why? Because it is members of the hierarchy who have marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. . .

“Moreover, the question of dialogue between L.G.B.T. Catholics and the institutional church cannot be seen strictly in ‘political’ terms, as Ms. Kohn seems to do in her piece. Granted, our ‘intrachurch’ discussion has ramifications beyond the Catholic world, but the discussion cannot be separated from questions of faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit. A critique that does not work within this framework is going to come up short.”

Martin has a bigger message beyond answering the specific objections of this first round of reviewers:

“I hope the book shows how much in our Catholic tradition, particularly the Gospels, points us forward to a culture of radical welcome. The central assertion of the book—that for Jesus is there is no us and them, there is only us—does not need approval.

“My overall goal was not to win an argument but to help start a conversation and create a space for church officials who want to reach out to L.G.B.T. people, and for L.G.B.T. Catholics who want to know that they have a place in the church.”

Given the book’s high profile, and how contentious LGBT issues in the church can be, the conversation over Fr. Martin’s work will  surely continue, just as he intended.

Have you read Building a Bridge? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below. 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 12, 2017

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6 replies
  1. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    Building a Bridge
    A Primer on New Beginnings
    by Fr James Martin

    I received my copy of Building a Bridge the day it was released from my local book seller. I read it in a single gulp; it is an easy read.

    One critic of this book, David Cloutier, chided Martin for considering the LGBT community as a group. While Clouthier’s concern is valid, in the scope of Martin’s essay, it strikes me as officious. Martin explains in great detail:

    “By the way, my use of LGBT as an adjective is not meant to exclude anyone; this is the most common nomenclature at the time that I am writing…Perhaps someday we might settle on a shorter acronym or inclusive name, but my goal is to include all people who may feel that their spiritual journey and their welcome in the church have been made more difficult by their sexual orientation.” (Emphasis in the original.)

    Martin goes on to say:

    “This essay, then, is not a complete road map, but rather a starting point, an occasion for reflection and conversation. Feel free to disagree. Please reflect on what you find helpful in this book and leave the rest behind.
    “So my brothers and sisters, I invite you to join me on a bridge.”

    Another reviewer, Eve Tushnet, in her review was disappointed that Martin’s book did not address sexual ethics. Building A Bridge is not a theological document; it never claims to be—rather it is an essay aimed toward starting points for dialogue and conversation between both sides of the conundrum.

    The text has three major divisions. In the first part—A Two-Way Bridge—Martin looks at the three virtues of compassion, sensitivity, and respect—the virtues in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on how the Church should treat homosexual persons [CCC #2358] beginning from the LGBT community’s point of view, followed by a similar analysis of the Church’s understandings.

    Part two offers many and varied ways for reflection and meditation on selected biblical passages. I was much buoyed up by the suggested passages. One can even do a personal scriptural Rosary based upon these passages.

    The third and final part presents a prayer-poem, “…[C]omposed for all who feel excluded, rejected, marginalized, shamed, or persecuted, in any way or in any place, religious or otherwise.”

    Questions for reflection.
    What does this all mean?
    What might it mean for the LGBT community…the Church?
    What might be the gifts of the LGBT community to the Church?

    Don E. Siegal

  2. FrAnthony
    FrAnthony says:

    Who cares. There are those of us in the non Roman tradition of Catholicism that are welcoming all people on their spiritual journey. Human sexuality has been overly discussed in this church. it is only a part of who we are as people and we are all children of God on our road to discovering the Lord’s presence in our lives

  3. Peter Beacham
    Peter Beacham says:

    In his defense of his book against some criticisms leveled at it, Martin unwittingly justifies those criticisms and condemns his own book by stating that LGBT identities challenge church teachings which, he claims, are based on faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit.

    Martin’s response to David Clouthier’s critique:

    He attempts to wiggle out of the predicament he finds himself in by meekly claiming that LGBT issues are focused on only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality – its prohibition on sexual expression – he conveniently overlooks the Catechism’s labeling all LGBT people as objectively disordered. (section 2, chapter 2, article 6, 2358). He then claims to disagree with the Catechism in saying that LGBT people should not be viewed as theological problems but as “individuals with a graced history”.

    Martin immediately does another flip saying that the Catechism is clear on the “sexual ethics” of LGBT people (that their sexual attraction is grave depravity and intrinsically disordered – section 2, chapter 2, article 6, 2357 and the only problem is that this “teaching” is not received by the LGBT community.

    Marin’s response to Sally Kohn’s critique:

    He implies that her criticism is uninformed because she is not a Catholic and does not understand the Catholic faith in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

    He calls for the institutional church to take the first steps toward reconciliation as it has marginalized LGBT people but he also implies that the institutional church’s teachings are correct. Perhaps his notion of reconciliation is that LGBT people will be brought by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to recognize the validity of the church’s views through dialogue.

    All in all, Martin utterly fails to address that criticisms of his book and thereby gives them more credibility.

  4. Lorenzo Mancin
    Lorenzo Mancin says:

    I know there are many faithful and admirable clergy; however, my diocese has a significant number of hypocritically “gay” priests. As a person of same-sex orientation and in contact with that environment, I know that as a fact. Unfortunately, I believe that such clergy are trying to infiltrate Church teaching and belief in order to assuage their own consciences and justify their personal lifestyles.
    I admire and support clergy with same-sex attraction who respect Church teachings and are as faithful to their vocations as are those of opposite-sex attraction. Although I know the word “gay” is used in today’s society as a label for same-sex orientation, I do not use it as such, because to me “gay” signifies a “lifestyle” not an orientation. And, it is a lifestyle I once followed and found wanting. There are a number of persons of same-sex orientation who do not follow the “gay” lifestyle and who do not believe in all LGBT views and methods. However, it seems that there are clergy who, in order to be “politically correct,” will ignore those individuals, as they do not have the organization, monetary affluence or media support.
    To define one’s self only by sexual orientation is to view the world with wide limitation. Like any lifestyle, the “gay” one is not perfect. It, too, is equally filled with fierce competition, hatred, materialistic greed and other human faults. To believe that all minorities or majorities contain only good, wonderful, loving, innocent people is extremely naïve. There is good and bad in all—we are human. All races, genders, nationalities, religions have those who are good and true and those who are not. People should be accepted and treated for “who” they are and not only for “what” they are. I believe that all peoples should have equal rights and not be discriminated against. That is, I believe in “toleration,” but that does not mean that I must “accept” what another person believes or prefers. I do not have the right to deprive them of their beliefs no more than they have the right to do the same to me.
    In our culture, the organized division of persons into groups, categories, “victim lobbies” is politicization and not of moral, religious or social concern. I believe that in order to be inclusive and have equality, one must not file people into “mail slots.” That only separates us and creates tensions. A human being should not be seen exclusively as a race, a gender, a sexual preference, a nationality, a religious or non-religious entity. They should be accepted for who and what they are as a person.
    I have friends of every race, creed, gender, orientation, and economic status. They have—and I have— no problem with my sexual orientation. I think that is because I have learned not to flaunt it or to force its acceptance on others, as it is only a facet of “what” I am and “who” I am.


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