Fr. James Martin, S.J. recently testified before a U.S. congressional committee on the role religious actors can play in combatting hate crimes, and suggested, “the most effective thing they can do is to get their own houses of worship in order.”
Martin gave his video testimony (available here or see below) to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency which monitors human rights as part of their mission. Several leaders from other faith traditions also addressed the commission during the hearings.
Martin, author of Building a Bridge on LGBTQ issues in the church, began by invoking the 2016 massacre at the LGBTQ nightclub Pulse where 49 people were killed and church leaders’ failed response in its aftermath. He explained:
“The Catholic Church’s difficulty in ministering to, and even trying to understand, LGBT people has led to Catholic magazines and websites that vilify them, priests who single them out in homilies as the world’s worst sinners, and even statements from cardinals, archbishops and bishops overseas siding with repressive anti-gay laws that provide for the arrest and even execution of gay men and women.
“Why bring this up? Because when it comes to the role that religious actors and organizations can play in combating hate crimes, the most effective thing they can do is to get their own houses of worship in order.”
The racism, sexism, and homophobia present in Christian churches and proclaimed from pulpit spills over into society, Martin said, potentially leading to hate speech and crimes:
“What does such tacit support for prejudice by church leaders end up doing? It excuses hate. It fosters hate. It blesses hate. And it unintentionally encourages the violence that this hate leads to. And make no mistake: Some Catholics who treat LGBT people with contempt think they are doing so with the church’s blessing. Thus, these people think they are being prophetic. They don’t see themselves as haters. They see themselves as prophets. Because they feel the support of their churches. . .But any actions or speech that mock, stigmatize, dehumanize or otherwise target specific persons or groups of people is completely opposed to the Christian worldview.”
How do faith communities work against hate that may be emanating from their communities? Martin offered three suggestions: look at how organizations speak about marginalized people, reach out to such people so they know they are welcomed into faith communities, and, perhaps most importantly, express public solidarity with them, “even at the risk of losing some parishioners.”
The shooting at Pulse nightclub like the more recent shooting in El Paso, Texas targeting Latinx immigrants show the deadly outcome when hate speech goes unchecked. Fr. Martin’s call for faith communities to stand prophetically against homophobia (and I would add transphobia), racism, sexism, and other unjust structures remains timely. But most Catholic leaders around the globe have largely been unable to offer unqualified solidarity with LGBTQ people in recent decades. Their qualifications, silence, and harsh language is why Martin’s call is especially timely for the Catholic faithful who must take up this work for themselves in their own communities.
Where can Catholics begin or intensify this work? One option is working to develop LGBTQ-friendly parishes. For resources on doing so, click here. Another step is speaking out against laws that criminalize LGBTQ people. To take action, click here. A third possibility is contacting the bishops and asking them to offer stronger, more urgent support for communities facing marginalization. For a database of bishops’ contact information, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 13, 2019