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:
“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