QUOTE TO NOTE: On MLK Day, Challenging the Rhetoric of Inferiority

In the U.S., today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday commemorating the birth of the great civil rights leader and apostle of non-violent resistance. Those of us in the Catholic LGBT and allies community have a lot to learn from this great man and his legacy of peacefully creating social change.  His steadfastness and resolve not to sink to the tactics of his oppressors are shining examples for us.

For Christmas, I received as a gift a copy of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.  I just started reading it, but so far it a real eye-opener to the ways that oppressive racist ideas have been justified by seemingly rational ideas throughout the history of the U.S.

A sentence from the prologue of the book jumped out at me last week as I was reading.  It’s a simple sentence, but one that has stayed with me and caused me to reflect on how it applies to Catholic LGBT issues:

“. . . [T]o say something is wrong with a group is to say something is inferior about a group.”

In the context of the book’s argument, this sentence occurs in a section discussing how people convince themselves they are nonracist, while holding on, however sympathetically, to a belief that Black people are inferior.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The logic behind the sentence quoted above is the logic of all of us who think that Catholic magisterial language about lesbian and gay people having an “objective disorder” or participating in “intrinsically evil” acts simply does not jive with Catholic magisterial thought that lesbian and gay people need to be welcomed and affirmed and that their human rights and dignity must be protected.

Because “objective disorder” and “intrinsically evil” denote that there is something wrong with a group of people, the implicit message is that there is obviously something inferior about the same group.

So, when bishops criticize initiatives like marriage equality, arguing for the special place that heterosexual marriage has in society, they often add the proviso that lesbian and gay people must be respected.   Such statements always ring hollow for those who believe that LGBT people have a right to equality because such statements imply that something is wrong with lesbian and gay people, and therefore something is inferior about them.   Bishops would do better not even to add the proviso because it only makes them sound insincere.

The other day, Bondings 2.0 reported that a leading German bishop has called for a debate in the church about marriage equality.  While that debate will certainly involve the definition of marriage, it must also involve this illogical disconnect in church teaching about lesbian and gay people.  The teaching cannot simultaneously use language like “objective disorder” while also saying that lesbian and gay people are equal in human dignity.  Something has to change.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 15, 2018


8 replies
  1. Richard Boyle, OSM
    Richard Boyle, OSM says:

    Francis, you’ve hit the nail on the head, as the saying goes, with the insight provided in your article, so…THANKS! You so correctly outline the doublespeak in the Church’s words, and the attitude inside the words.

  2. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    In the past I have written bishops the same sentiments: how painful it is to continue reading “the church teaches that our beautiful LGBTQ family members and friends are “intrinsically disordered.” At the same time as gay church musicians and other employees are being fired, statements are made about how welcome they are. What kind of a welcome is that? What holds promise is that a number of bishops worldwide are beginning to understand. It is a first step. Open discussions with medical experts on the subject should be instituted now, resulting in a true learning experience. God bless each and every one.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    In a larger sense, at this time the Church is called to review/change its view on the status of women and equality of all members – not just a debate on marriage equality. The kernel of the discussion about so many of the challenges the Church faces about what it is start with the quote that caught Frank’s eye to see a problem with the other is to mark them as inferior. If an ostensibly straight male organization whose core should be equality of all members can’t get over that hump then all of the other issues that challenge it will just keep boiling up again and again – women priests, sexual repression of and abuse by clergy, acceptance of homosexual members, diminishing numbers of clergy and religious, financial improprieties, etc. The days of a patriarchal monarchy should be over. Vatican II nudged us toward a priesthood of the people and we need to focus on that becoming a reality.

  4. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I am reading that book as well. Let me add that the author speaks of assimilated racism, that is, persons do not see themselves as racist and they don’t recognize that their attitude of superiority is racist. Kind of like not realizing that they’re buying into the stereotype. A little honest self-reflection goes a long night way. An example, “ it’s okay if two gay people love each other and want to commit, just don’t call it marriage.”


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