Is An Obsession with Stopping LGBTQ Equality Preventing Bishops from Saying “Black Lives Matter”?

In recent months, more and more people in the United States and around the world have proclaimed that Black Lives Matter. These three words represent a truth too often buried and a movement for justice too long denied. But notably, bishops in the U.S. have overall been unable to utter these words, and part of their reluctance can be traced to their obsession with stopping LGBTQ rights.

Two commentators have recently questioned whether the bishops are serious about racial justice. Olga Segura wrote a must-read essay in the National Catholic Reporter commenting upon the weak statements of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the anti-Black Lives Matter statements of New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Likewise, John Gehring, the Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, writes in Commonweal about the backlash to Black Lives Matter (BLM) that has included many Catholic bishops.

In Gehring’s piece, he notes that gender and sexuality issues are at play when “a growing number of conservative Catholics are speaking out against BLM, arguing that its positions on LGBTQ issues, gender, and abortion mean Catholics should not support the organization.” What does this look like in practice? Gehring offers the example of Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly who wrote in a recent statement:

“BLM is in conflict with Church teaching regarding marriage, family and the sanctity of life. Moreover, it is disturbing that BLM has not vocally condemned the recent violence that has torn apart so many cities. Its silence has not gone unheard. One need not stand with BLM to stand for Black lives.”

Gehring also cites Tyler’s Bishop Joseph Strickland who tweeted that there was a “REAL BLM agenda” that was “deeply disturbing.” Elsewhere, Strickland tweeted a link to the Black Lives Matter organization’s beliefs page, commenting, “Please educate yourself on this! Toward the end of this statement 2 points are made that are contrary to FAITH…#1 opposing the nuclear family (where is dad?) and #2 opposing God’s plan for sex as a union of male & female. This agenda is DANGEROUS!”

Such messages have been echoed by the right wing media and by prominent conservative Catholics, including gay Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan who described BLM and Christianity as “fundamentally incompatible.” Dioceses like Denver and Cincinnati have published articles in their diocesan newspapers that Catholics cannot support Black Lives Matter, in large part because of BLM’s agenda on sexuality and gender.

So what exactly does Black Lives Matter believe? Well, for one thing, BLM signifies a wider, decentralized, global movement. This movement for racial justice is not a reiteration of the more centralized civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This point is often lost in critiques. But there is an organization called Black Lives Matter Global Network, and its beliefs are often what the bishops and conservative Catholics have targeted. So what does this organization believe. Here are a few LGBTQ-related points in their statement of beliefs:

“We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.

“We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.

“We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. . .

“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

“We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).”

The rest of the beliefs are well worth reading and reflecting upon, too. This agenda is intersectional and unapologetic in both its insistence that Black people be centered and celebrated, while recognizing that the pursuit of liberation is a common effort. To quote Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

But in addition, there is almost nothing to which Catholics should object in this agenda. The Black Lives Matter organization’s beliefs on sexuality and gender are entirely consistent with Catholic teachings on prejudice, human dignity, and non-discrimination. Treating people equally regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression–or any kind of diversity–is the Christian’s call. Centering transgender people makes a preferential option for one of society’s most vulnerable groups. Dismantling all privilege and seeing beyond the limits of heteronormativity and the gender binary are uncomfortable, but they, too, are necessary for true discipleship.

And despite some bishops’ claims to the contrary, the Western nuclear family model is not an eternal truth. Indeed, wider conceptions of family are found throughout history, especially in the Bible, and including the family in which Jesus was born into and participated in.

It must be said that not all bishops have been unable to state Black Lives Matter. Even worse, many, if not most, have either been critical or silent about it. Segura and Gehring issue their challenges to the bishops to move beyond an obsession with sexuality, gender, and abortion that stymies them from doing the real, difficult work of racial justice. Gehring writes:

“But can Church leaders be full participants in a national reckoning with racism if they admonish a movement that is widely credited with playing the most important role in elevating the reality of police brutality in the public consciousness?”

Segura concludes:

“This alignment [with Black Lives Matter] would not mean that the church would become a pro-abortion institution or change its teaching on marriage, as many critics believe would happen if there were any kind of relationship between the Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter movement. If a church leader can sit down with and praise a president [Donald Trump] seen by many people of color as racist in the name of the ‘sacred enterprise of accompaniment,’ then our bishops should be open to engaging with members of the Black Lives Matter movement, which many marginalized groups within our church see as Christ-like.

“If they are calling on ‘state and national leaders to examine the generational and systemic structural conditions’ that have harmed black Americans, as they say in their May 4 statement, then I implore our church leaders to begin with a self-examination.”

For too many years, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has been a hostage to right-wing voices in the hierarchy that subvert its public witness for justice in favor of a politically conservative agenda that favors forces antithetical to the Gospel, most notably opposition to LGBTQ equality. It is time for that to change. It is time for the bishops’ anti-LGBTQ obsession to end. It is time the bishops say unconditionally that Black Lives Matter.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 10, 2020

6 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    The key is “intersectional.” What has been remarkable during the Trump Administration is the intersectionality of the people fighting his policies and pushing for justice. From the Women’s marches, to pro-immigrant marches, pro-LGBT marches, pro-science marches, pro-Muslim marches, and the massive Black Lives Matter marches. All these marches and movements and more have been remarkable for the intersectionality of the members.

    There was a day when the US Catholic bishops were in the forefront of justice and peace movements. Unfortunately, so many of them have been so stuck with attacking certain groups under the guise of “Catholic doctrine,” “religious liberty,” “just discrimination,” “man-woman marriages and families,” attacks on LGBT people and Black Lives Matter people that the core Gospel values of justice and an option for the oppressed and the poor have been cast aside.

    So the Black Lives Matter movement – demanding equality and just treatment – has been criticized by those whose eyes are blind, while the majority of people in this country now see what has happened and continues to happen to our Black brothers and sisters each and every day.

    We are all in it together. No one is disposable. That is the strength of the movements that are moving us forward and are succeeding. But can we really expect a hierarchy that by its very composition is exclusive – excluding women, and LGBT people, and so many other groups of people – to be able to rise to the occasion? The hierarchy’s very composition is blatantly unjust.

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Just what exactly do the bishops fear? Antogonizing deep pocketed republican Catholics? Ruffling the feathers of long cultivated political allies? Maybe they failed to notice ordinary white people who also protested the monstrous public murder of George Floyd. Maybe the bishops are afraid to recognize their own failings when it comes to promoting fairness , equality and anti discriminatory positions. What the bishops were clearly not afraid to do was accept more than one billion tax dollars in the covid PPP give away. Surely some of those tax dollars came from black Americans, gay Americans and atheist Americans. Jesus caused a small scandal by not only speaking to the woman at the well, but asking her to serve him water. It would serve the bishops well ( yes, that ws intentional) to remember that.

    Reply
  3. Michael Pettinger
    Michael Pettinger says:

    I’d be less inclined to say that the bishops are too obsessed with sexuality and gender that they can’t allow themselves to say “Black Lives Matter.” I think it’s more likely that the positions of BLM on gender, sexuality, and the family provide them with an “easy” pretext to avoid taking a position that might make White Catholics “uncomfortable.” Either way, they once again fail the test of Gospel.

    Reply
  4. Sarasi
    Sarasi says:

    If Strickland’s going to tweet, you would think that either he or the diocesan office would keep an eye on the conversation that develops in response. When we click on “more replies” from followers, we see racism minimized or denied, contact tracing called “communist tracing”* and BLM referred to as a “cult” and “diabolical”. At the very least, it’s uncharitable–and foolhardy from a public health standpoint. You would think a bishop as a leader would not want to encourage such reactions.

    *It’s interesting how in the minds of the bishop’s followers, BLM and contact tracing are part of the same ungodly agenda, and they seem ready to jump in with the usual blanket condemnation, evidenced by this tweet: “Thank you, Bp. Strickland! BLM feeds off racial division to attain its pro-abortion, anti-family, Marxist driven goals that will ultimately hurt black (and all) communities.” (Nothing like the straight white dude who knows what’s good for Black people.)

    This makes me think that opposition to BLM is not coming just from the top but represents cooperation between the hierarchy and ultra-right Catholic social media. I saw Michael Voris on there protesting masks as well. Had no idea he was an anti-masker!

    I hope New Ways keeps investigating this.

    Reply
  5. Sarasi
    Sarasi says:

    I want to add that NCR also has an important piece reminding us that BLM was founded by three WOMEN following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and stands for the rights of all. (“Catholic discourse on Black Lives Matter must amplify women founders”) The article notes that most Catholic commentary fails to mention the three founders–or the way in which the group coalesced across many networks early on.

    Reply
    • Sarasi
      Sarasi says:

      Ooops. I actually think the piece I just referenced has been referenced in New Ways’ article. Sorry for any confusion. The important thing is that Olga Segura is writing a book about BLM and the Catholic Church. That should be interesting.

      Reply

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