Gay Priest’s Coming Out Prompts Us to Adjust Image of God, Say Journalists

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Two journalists, one from South Africa and one from the U.S., have recently responded to a pro-LGBTQ talk that theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale gave earlier this summer. Both journalists agreed that Massingale invites us all to adjust our image of God.

In a deeply moving article, South African journalist Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya said Massingale’s talk helped to reveal Moya’s own homophobia and to awaken to his own identity. Tom Roberts, editor of The National Catholic Reporter, found that Massingale’s talk revealed our society’s distancing from people perceived to be different and marginalized.

Moya is a black South African living in a post-Apartheid reality. He resonates with Massingale’s own identity as a black theologian aware of the impact of slavery and the need for civil rights. Yet, his own heterosexuality limits the ways in which he can truly empathize with Massingale. Moya realizes that he is, in fact, participating in oppressive structures that keep Massingale’s homosexuality hidden, marginalized, or at the very least, different. Moya writes:

“I transitioned from sharing his ‘victimhood’ and became part of the ‘perpetratorhood.’ I questioned Fr Massingale’s motives. So much for thinking of myself as open-minded and a proud product of the liberation and contextual theologies that informed my politics for most of my life.”

Massingale confirms that who he is is whole:

“…for my emotional and spiritual health I cannot, and for my moral and ethical integrity I will not, bracket my ‘Black’ self in order to be ‘gay,’ so you can take what makes you comfortable. You have to take all of me, or none of me. I don’t want to spend my energies building a church or world where only part of me is welcomed, valued, and loved. Because if you accept only part of me, then you are not accepting me!”

For maybe the first time, Moya considers the complicated nature of his own intersectionality:

“I do not assume to speak on behalf of anyone other than myself. Fr Massingale’s declaration of who he is asks me to look at who I am… I am a homophobe. If I were not a homophobe, another person’s sexual orientation would be as irrelevant as the shape of their ears or their star sign.”

This exploration of “perpetratorhood” resembles the inner work of dismantling the impacts of our privileges.

Moya’s confession liberates him and compels him to choose this journey of discovery:

“Fr Massingale has started a conversation that will go on for a long time. Nobody can know for sure how the story will end. For me and my homophobia, I hope to live out Pope Francis’ simple yet powerful five words: Who am I to judge?”

Moya’s image of God becomes merciful. His accounting of his own power and subsequent previous dismissal of other marginalized identities is both personal and inspiring. He has the courage to examine his own categories and biases, and encourages a South African audience to moments of self-reflection that could benefit and enrich their entire society. 

Tom Roberts suggests that Massingale’s “coming out” got the attention of American Catholics. He writes:

Tom Roberts

“His personal story of growing awareness and self-discovery is filled with the fury and anguish of someone answering a call to a vocation that, from the outset, simultaneously invites him to engage a deep yearning for God while setting him up for an inevitable rejection at the core of his humanity.”

Roberts maintains the status quo in his innocent assumption that Massingale was coming out in this panel discussion. He acknowledges Massignale’s correction:

” ‘I didn’t do this because I felt the need for some grand announcement,’ Massingale wrote in an email. ‘As I said in my reflection, the headline is not “Priest Comes Out.” … For many years I have been out and honest about my sexuality to those I love and who love me. Also, my orientation is not “breaking news” to many others who know me more casually.’ “

Roberts’s reporting leaves crumbs of curiosity to the ways American heteronormativity repeatedly forces an explanation of difference from the perceived outsider. Straight is still held to be the most normal human condition. Yet, he reflects on how the conversation is shifting from the ethics of sexuality to how we must image God.

So herein lies the rub: if our society requires repeated “coming out” for gay people, how and when can those glimpses of God’s goodness and image begin to become the norm and therefore the most dignified way of understanding the complexity of God?

Both journalists suggest Massingale’s personal and theological reflection changes the conversation from personal morality to a deeper, truer challenge to practice our faith through an active re-imagining of our image of God.

–Jocelyn Sideco, New Ways Ministry, October 12, 2019

3 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Just a few thoughts.

    If there is life after death, I hope it allows for endless travel throughout – and exploration of – the universe. Our home planet has been a place of so many forms of life, and of material elements, and its exploration alone, could take up many lifetimes. So many species with forms, and sexual and gender varieties. (It’s not surprising that humans should also have sexual and gender varieties.) And the explorations our telescopes and vehicles have done thus far of planets, moons and other objects in our home solar system, and in the wider universe, have revealed yet more diversity and splendor.

    Are there other life forms elsewhere in the vast expanse beyond our own planet? If so, what are their forms and what varieties do they display?

    And what being (which philosophers and theologians have not been able to begin to really name, let alone begin to comprehend) is responsible for such diversity? Or is that being/non-being an intelligent creator, or some kind of animating force? Is that being totally spiritual, or are all material beings the material manifestation/body of that being we call God?

    So many questions. So many thoughts. And so tiny, limited minds to think of and imagine such things.

    It occurs to me that our human attempts to classify our world, and to attribute to a God beyond and within our world, are feeble and halting. How can we know the mind of such a being, and be so dogmatic about the will and demands of such a being? My own thoughts (for what they are worth) are that the only way we can understand the best principles for the world in which we live, is to study, and understand who and what humans and other living beings and non-animated beings on our planet are, and how they connect to each other in the most productive way for all together. My own thoughts are that any morality for human actions on this earth must be guided by the principle of what actions best preserve and further the good of each and all. Any morality that destroys individuals and the environment, is immorality. Any morality that furthers the good of all, is moral.

    I think the realizations of these two journalists are realizations that diversity in human sexuality and gender is a reflection of the God animating humanity. Bryan Massingale, by his openness, is revealing a bit of the expansiveness of that God. The limited beliefs that gender and sexuality must fit into certain categories (boxes) are mistaken.

    And to take the realization to a further level – one must see that the writings of Pope Francis about the connection of humans to the living environment of our planet earth also lead us to a deeper and broader awareness of our responsibility to the future of our related species and the health of our planet. We are interconnected with other life forms and with the environment. We are connected with our fellow humans, and with their wellbeing and suffering. Our actions have consequences for good or ill. Without that awareness, and without our actions to be good stewards (whether we claim to be believers or not), we could be participants in bringing an end to many forms of life and indeed ourselves on this, our only home.

    Reply
  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    WOW! That reflection is something closer to a mini-thesis than it is to a few random thoughts. It’s extremely eloquent. If I were to add an additional layer of explanation, it would be to point out that we presently exist in a conventional 3D Domain — but immediately beyond it is a much richer and more illuminated 4D Domain, which is the abode of ascended beings who have gone on ahead of us, and who know a lot more about the incarnation process than we do. There’s something in St. Paul to the effect of: “Now we see only in part, as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face”. Blessed are those who have already ascended, who now see face to face, and whose abiding love for us motivates them to do everything possible to lift us up to join them in this glorious 4D Domain.

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