Reviewers Offer More Varied Reactions to Fr. James Martin’s Book, “Building a Bridge”

Jacob Lupfer

More than a year after first publishing Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, Fr. James Martin, SJ’s book continues to stir conversation. Today’s post highlights a few more reactions with links provided for further reading.

First up, journalist Jacob Lupfer wrote about his attendance at a book talk by Martin which left the journalist not wanting to ask questions, but to simply listen instead. He shared his experience at Religion News Service:

“After his talk, I hoped to ask Father Martin to say more about his pastoral recommendations for LGBT Catholics. . .But the moment after Father Martin ended his presentation with a brief, fervent prayer, the stage began filling with men and women of every age. They all had stories to tell, and they needed a priest to hear them.

“The moment seemed wrong for ‘gotcha’ questions from a heathen journalist, though I suspect Father Martin will have to answer them sooner or later if he has not already.

“I milled about at the wine reception, contemplating how I as a nominal mainline Protestant can believe whatever I want about the divisive theological questions of the day. There is always a church where I can receive Communion. My own conscience is all that stands in my way. How different it must feel for these Catholics! . . .

“After a while, I walked back into the auditorium, hoping to ask the famed Jesuit my questions.

“He was still there, listening to stories.

“Maybe more priests and bishops should do likewise.”

Fr. Shannon Kearns

Fr. Shannon Kearns, a priest in the Old Catholic Church who is transgender, criticized the book and other bridge-building Christian approaches in a post titled, “You Cannot Build a Bridge Between LGBTQ People and the Church.” Kearns identified the distinction between two sides as problematic because there are plenty of LGBTQ Christians. He continued:

“For us [LGBTQ Christians] there can be no bridge because there is literally not two places for that bridge to span between. Because we are both. You don’t set up a bridge unless there are two distinct places that need to be joined (and a chasm between them). When you use bridge language you are make it sound like there are no LGBTQ Christians anywhere, ever and we know that is simply just not true. . .This idea of the bridge is predicated on a fiction that there is a chasm between the Queer/Trans and Christian identities. It’s a fiction because for many, many people those identities aren’t separate. They are integrated and whole and holy. . .

“So instead of building bridges, let’s talk about wholeness, about health, about vital community. Let’s talk about multiplicity of identities and how you should always be able to show up as fully yourself.”

On CatholicPhilly.comDavid Gibson of Catholic News Service wrote a review of Martin’s book and another book by a priest who uses “same-sex attraction” languageGibson said the books differ greatly, but he opted to focus on similarities, including a common desire for respect between LGBT people and the institutional Church. In comparing the two books, he concluded, “I do not assume they must be set off against each other, nor do I presume they could not enter together into dialogue on the church and the LGBT community.”

Fr. Brendan Callaghan, SJ

Elsewhere, Fr. Brendan Callaghan, SJ, paired Martin’s book with Mark Dowd’s Queer and Catholic for a review at the Jesuit blog, Thinking Faith. He named the two books as helpful tools for discernment, writing:

“Such a pastoral approach [of discernment] requires us to listen – to the echoes of the working of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but also to what the Spirit is saying in and through the lives of God’s holy people. This has very simple and practical implications for us all: if I am to hear what your life is saying about the workings of the Spirit, I have to be close enough to listen. . .

“These two books can, in different ways, help me listen to God speaking in the lives of people who may appear to be very different from myself. In the areas of our living addressed by these books, that apparent difference may seem to be rooted in their sexual orientation or in their theological stance. Depending on my perspective, my concern may be that ‘they’ are not living according to the teachings of the Church, or that ‘they’ cannot recognise graced relationships that do not fit neatly into the norm. . .

“And that brings us back to James Martin’s Building a Bridge and the need for us to listen to each other with respect, compassion and sensitivity. If we need an articulate ‘LGBT voice’ to which to listen, they don’t come much more articulate than Mark Dowd. But truly to listen to such a voice, we need to do so with respect and compassion and sensitivity: only in that way will we be able to hear and recognise the always-surprising workings of God.”

Jonathan Alexander, a gay man raised Catholic, offered his thoughts on Martin’s book for the Los Angeles Review of Books. While noting positive aspects, Alexander sharply criticized Building a Bridge for not engaging the institutional Church’s past treatment of LGBT people. He wrote:

“Such an enterprise [of bridge-building] is difficult, however, when so much history is ignored. . .I want to believe that such respect is possible. But I also want to say, ‘No, Father Martin; the Church doesn’t feel like an enemy. It is the enemy.’ And even if there are signs that it’s changing its views, those changes have been too long in coming and have too far to go. . .[C]alling for an end to aggression isn’t quite yet acknowledging the aggression and violence already perpetrated in the name of your god, Father Martin. Start there, and I’ll start listening.”

Martin himself has kept the conversation going, publishing articles in America Magazine that argued LGBT issues are pro-life issues, that explained Church teaching on homosexuality more fully, and that shared insights from Jesus’ parables relevant to LGBT Catholics. The priest has been interviewed widely. In an ecumenical move, he gave an interesting interview to the journal Orthodoxy in Dialogue. You can read Martin’s interview with Bondings 2.0 by clicking here and you can find this blog’s full coverage of Building a Bridge by clicking here.

With interest in Catholic LGBT issues only increasing, it is certain that discussions of Building a Bridge and the LGBT ministry of Fr. Martin will increase, too. Join the conversation by ordering a copy onAmazon, your local bookstore, or visiting

Have you already read Building a Bridge? What were your reactions and reviews? Leave a thought in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 13, 2018

1 reply
  1. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Although grateful for Fr. Martin’s attempt at reconciliation, my gut reaction to the concept of “bridge building” is that the wording is superfluous. As a Dignity activist for nearly 30 years, I can honestly say we have painstakingly maintained the infrastructure of that well-worn “bridge” between the GLBT Community and the Catholic Church for decades. Inferring that he is somehow beginning to build that bridge is a bit insulting. We have courageously, consistently and publicly stood up to homophobia in the Institution, calling for respect and dialogue at every opportunity.

    Considering the gravity of teenage suicides and other atrocities perpetrated by hateful teachings, it is time now to move beyond words and into action. Remove the obstacles on our well-established bridge” to Mother Church. Open the toll booths. Acknowledge our sacredness. Talking and writing is important for progress, but people’s lives are at stake. Instead of writing and profiting from theological treatises, we should be opening the gates. Let our Dignity chapters meet again in Roman Catholic churches, not Episcopal or Quaker worship spaces. Allow us to gather and pray and worship in our true home. That would be an authentic gesture of welcome and dialogue.

    The bridge is already here. Allow the traffic to move.


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