Theologians Condemn U.S. Bishops’ Continued Opposition to LGBTQ Civil Rights

Michael Lawler, left, and Todd Salzman

Two Catholic theologians have condemned the U.S. bishops conference’s defense of discrimination against the LGBTQ community as scientifically and theologically flawed.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, both Catholic theologians at Creighton University, shared their assessment of the scientific, theological, and moral failure of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) lobbying against LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation, as well as the conference’s disapproval of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace.

The theologians’ critique, published by the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) with the headline “Can U.S. bishops’ support of discrimination against LGBT be sustained?”, challenges Archbishop José Gomez, current president of the USCCB, to see the contradictions and hypocrisy in his position on discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Central to that contradiction is his assertion that Catholic teaching demands valuing the dignity of each person and that LGBTQ people are to be shown “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” to avoid any unjust discrimination.  Yet, in the same statement, Gomez goes on to insist that LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation would redefine “human nature” and “ignore the glory of God’s creation and harm the human family.”

The theologians take the USCCB to task for its suggestion that LGBTQ people do not face discrimination, and therefore do not need non-discrimination legislation. In their letter to Congress opposing the Equality Act, the bishops suggest that LGBTQ people “are often held in high regard in the market, as well as the academy, local governments, and media,” suggesting that LGBTQ people earn higher incomes than the national average.

Salzman and Lawler argue that this claim “flies in the face of the manifest American cultural sin of homophobia that leads to the rejection of LGBT persons and discrimination and violence against them, especially transgender people, more than half of whom are women of color, with the American Medical Association has declared an ‘epidemic’… Far from being a negligible issue, discrimination and violence against LGBT persons remains a social issue demanding legislation to protect them.”

Further, they argue that the bishops themselves contribute to the discrimination of LGBTQ people, by refusing to accept scientific and anthropological norms in favor of antiquated church teaching that ignores science and the lived experience of LGBTQ people. The theologians say the bishops’ failure to understand social sin as it relates to sex and gender “contributes to attitudes and actions that directly or indirectly perpetuate the social sins of homophobia, violence and discrimination against members of the LGBT community.”

To aid in the USCCB’s growth in this area, Salzman and Lawler outline a fourfold critique of the church’s male-female sexual binary:

  1. The reality of intersex people fundamentally challenges the sexual binary that grounds Catholic teaching on sexual orientation and sexual ethics.
  2. An internal tension exists within the Catechism: calling homosexual acts intrinsically disordered is neither respectful, compassionate, or sensitive, and it “demonstrably” leads to discrimination against LGBTQ people.
  3. The scientific consensus points to biological determination of sexual orientation, rather than social. The two quote James Allison as saying, “There is no longer any reputable scientific evidence of any sort: psychological, biological, genetic, medical, neurological—to back up” the bishops’ claim.
  4. The church has not and cannot defend the claim that homosexual acts are immoral, nor can they articulate how such acts would fundamentally threaten the family and common good.

The theological duo also argue that Gomez’s insistence that non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people would harm children is not only flawed (based on dubious studies), but it also leads to discrimination and violence against human beings. Arguing against allowing same-gender partners to adopt, Gomez says such a decision would damage “children’s best interest,” citing three studies that say children of married one-man, one-woman households flourish in relation to their same-gender parent counterparts, and ignoring the countless studies claiming the opposite.

Salzman and Lawler cite, instead, the American Psychological Association’s 30-year research that directly contradicts the church’s argument, and acknowledge that both the APA and the American Association of Pediatrics oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation:

“It is reprehensible and deceptive for the U.S. bishops to cite studies so much at variance with the majority scientific evidence, thus perpetuating discrimination and violence against LGBT persons and [same-gender] parents.”

Using the Catechism to call the bishops to conversion, Salzman and Lawler argue that the bishops’ insistence that they are preserving “not ‘unjust discrimination’” is not only oxymoronic, it is sinful. They quote from the Catechism:

“Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

Rather than defending God’s intention for humanity, the bishops “[violate] human dignity and the truth of God’s unconditional love for all people.” They are driving people away from the church while causing irrevocable harm to the LGBTQ community. Salzman and Lawler’s analysis provides the bishops a pathway for the future to help them out of the anti-LGBTQ corner into which they have painted themselves.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2020

3 replies
  1. Anthony Durante
    Anthony Durante says:

    God bless these brave, knowledgeable, and faithful theologians who are confronting the “blind guides” who callously refuse to tend to their flocks. Jesus had strong words for such heartless religious “leaders.” Faithful and loving Catholics, let us pray for the conversion of all our bishops and support our bishops who are good shepherds (there are quite a few)!

  2. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Excellent article. Points 1 and 4 are particularly fundamental.
    The term “unjust discrimination” flies in the face of the meaning of discrimination.

    DON SIEGAL says:

    Theologians Condemn U.S. Bishops’ Continued Opposition to LGBTQ Civil Rights

    As soon as I read the headline for this blog, I immediately thought of Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman before I scrolled down and verified my initial impression. At the time of the pendency of the marriage equality cases they also publicly defended the right of same sex couples to marry.

    All this led me to check out their publications. Among their voluminous textbooks was one titled: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology; Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C. 2008. Chapter seven addresses homosexuality. Each chapter of the textbook is an exhaustive review of Catholic theologians’ beliefs both the traditionalist and the revisionist views on the chapter topic. This was followed by the theological opinions of the authors and their conclusions. (Spoiler: this textbook is a scholarly presentation that is a difficult read.)

    Chapter seven concludes that what is morally chaste for heterosexual couples may not be moral for homosexual couples and what is morally chaste for homosexual couples would not be moral for heterosexual couples. That was the first time I had ever heard of any analysis like that, and I immediately felt very comforted by that thought. At that, Lawler and Salzman became some of my Catholic theological heroes.


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