Evangelical leaders in the U.S. released “The Nashville Statement” earlier this week to make clear their opposition to LGBT equality. A prominent Catholic priest has responded by affirming the goodness of LGBT people. The contrast between these two statements reveals just how far Catholic LGBT issues have come.
“The Nashville Statement,” drafted by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, issues a series of affirmations and denials about sexuality. These include rejecting marriage equality and denying that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge, this summer’s new book on LGBT issues in the church, responded in a series of tweets with his own affirmations, coupled with denials. He tweeted:
- Re #Nashville Statement: I affirm: That God loves all LGBT people. I deny: That Jesus wants us to insult, judge or further marginalize them.
- I affirm: That all of us are in need of conversion. I deny: That LGBT people should be in any way singled out as the chief or only sinners.
- I affirm: That when Jesus encountered people on the margins he led with welcome not condemnation. I deny: That Jesus wants any more judging.
- I affirm: That LGBT people are, by virtue of baptism, full members of the church. I deny: That God wants them to feel that they don’t belong
- I affirm: That LGBT people have been made to feel like dirt by many churches. I deny: That Jesus wants us to add to their immense suffering.
- I affirm: That LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know. I deny: That Jesus wants us to judge others, when he clearly forbade it.
- I affirm that the Father loves LGBT people, the Son calls them and the Holy Spirit guides them. I deny nothing about God’s love for them.
Such a supportive response coming from such a voice as prominent as Martin’s is welcome, and follows from Building a Bridge in which he calls for the entire faithful to show one another respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
His affirmation in response to “The Nashville Statement” is especially poignant given the Catholic church’s own history of harm to LGBT people that sometimes has mirrored the actions of those Evangelical leaders behind the statement. LGBT people and their loved ones know too well the exclusionary acts and discriminatory words that have come from church leaders at all levels and lay people next to them in the pews.
Thankfully, Fr. Martin’s tweets about “The Nashville Statement” reveal just how divergent the Evangelical and Catholic approaches have become. The contrast between “The Nashville Statement” and Fr. Martin’s tweets (which were written in the form of propositions to mirror the evangelical document) is a helpful reminder that, for most Catholics the conversation about LGBT issues is generally not reductionist–especially not to the point of absurdity.
While there has been progress, many people still feel that the institutional church continues to cause harm against too many people. We need to live in the tension of acknowledging past and lpresent harms, while we try to create a future of dialogue. Where each Catholic lands in this tension differs, and each person must decide how much acknowledgement of the past must happen while looking into the future.
What is undeniable is that within Catholic community a small space for dialogue is growing. Where dialogue happens, the church is moved beyond condemnatory propositions into a space of complexity which admits both difference and grace. The Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015 is a prime example of the beginning of a dialogue.
Fr. Martin’s book, and the many and varied responses to it, has also definitely enriched the conversation on LGBT issues in the church to a deeper and more dialogical place. For that we can all be grateful.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 1, 2017