NEXT STEPS: What Do LGBTQ People BRING TO a Parish?

Today’s post is the seventh installment of New Ways Ministry’s online series, “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry.” To find out more information and a registration form for this multi-part series, please click here

To find the first six installments, please click here.

All of the resources in this series are copyrighted to New Ways Ministry. Permission is granted to use them for educational and ministerial purposes provided that you cite New Ways Ministry as the source.

It has been a while since we published the last installment of our series Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry. Mea maxima culpa! To be quite honest, our work happily was derailed last October by Pope Francis’ statement of support for civil unions, and by the time we finished recuperating from that, we were way behind on other projects, most of which are now underway or over.

So, we resume where we left off.

The previous installment of this series was “What Do LGBTQ People Want—And Not Want—From a Parish?” Today’s post takes the opposite point of view: “What Do LGBTQ People BRING TO a Parish?”

When I first became involved in LGBTQ ministry in the 1990s, parish leaders that were reaching out to LGBTQ people were often motivated by the idea of welcoming people who have been alienated from church structures. They often saw LGBTQ people as a group who had been ostracized by the church and were thus missing out on the real blessings of a faith community. By reaching out and welcoming them, they were giving LGBTQ people an opportunity to benefit from the parish’s outreach.

Thirty years later, many of those same parishes continue LGBTQ ministry programs, but they look very different than they did back then. By welcoming LGBTQ people into their parish, it wasn’t just the LGBTQ individuals who benefitted, but the parishes also received spiritual gifts from those who were thought of as outcast. Many of those same parishes now have a different motivation for reaching out to LGBTQ people. They now recognize that the unique spiritualities, experiences, and talents that LGBTQ people experience and share with parishioners helps the entire community grow in faith.

What are the spiritual gifts of LGBTQ people? Before answering, a caution must be raised. When speaking about the spirituality of any group of people distinguished by an identity feature, we end up speaking in generalities that do not always hold for every particular person. In fact, sometimes such generalities veer into stereotypes which can be offensive to some. LGBTQ people are quite diverse in many ways, so their life experiences and their experiences of God—two factors which shape spirituality—are going to be very different from one another.

Yet, one thing that almost all LGBTQ people experience is that they came to an awareness of their sexual or gender identity through a process of discovery. For many (and until recently, most), this discovery was made in an atmosphere where heterosexual and cisgender identities were not only assumed, but sometimes, to a greater or lesser degree, encouraged and even enforced. And for many who were raised in a mainstream Christian faith tradition, the negative messages they received about the identities they were discovering in themselves were amplified by religious overtones.

So, the gifts that will be listed here, will be gifts that were likely to have risen from the experience of overcoming the dominant norms of heterosexual and cisgender identities that have often been upheld by religious language.

Some spiritual gifts that LGBTQ people bring to a parish:

  • Truth-telling: Because many LGBTQ individuals have had to struggle, or at least discover, the truth about themselves in atmospheres that were denying or denigrating the existence of these identities, many have become very adept at telling the truth—even when the truth may be uncomfortable for some people to hear. That is a gift that many Catholic parishes—or any organization—can benefit from.
  • Courage: Telling the truth is not always easy. Forces of hostility are often lined up against people who want to tell the truth. So to proclaim an honest reality many times takes courage. LGBTQ people often discover a hidden well of courage in themselves when they come to accept, affirm, and celebrate the special way in which God created them. Courage like this is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and others in the parish can benefit from the example and witness of LGBTQ people.
  • Relationship with God: Many LGBTQ Catholics have experienced faith-based bigotry and negative messages from church leaders and institutions. But despite this kind of treatment—or maybe even because of it—many, thought certainly not all, develop a strong relationship with God. When faced with discrimination and hateful messages, they turn to the God of love which they were taught was their rock and source of strength. They come to know that even if religious institutions reject them, God will not.
  • Conscience: The Catholic Church officially does not approve of same-gender marriages or committed sexual relationships, and is increasingly negative about gender transitions. This quandary has forced LGBTQ people to make choices about whether or not they should follow church guidance on these matters. In doing so, they have come to inform and develop their conscience much more than other Catholics do. The church teaches that an individual’s informed conscience is the highest moral law and must be obeyed. Few Catholics know this teaching, and even those who do know it, don’t always feel compelled to rely on conscience.
  • Challenging Problematic Gender Norms: LGBTQ people, whether it be because of the way they express themselves, their identities, or the relationships into which they enter, often do not fit into the gendered categories favored by church and society. Because of this, LGBTQ people can feel freer to ignore other gender expectations which may not fit with their particular personalities. In doing so, LGBTQ people invite others to explore more authentic ways of expressing oneself and being in relationship with others.
  • Focus on Diversity: While LGBTQ people may share many commonalities with fellow parishioners, they are obviously different from the majority of people in their sexual or gender identity. Having experienced this difference in their lives—and sometimes being marginalized because of it—has allowed many LGBTQ people to become more sensitive to and aware of how others may experience similar forms of marginalization because of their race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, appearance, gender, and marital or relationship status. LGBTQ people can help a parish learn to celebrate diversity on many levels, building a more welcoming community for all.

The list above is certainly not exhaustive and, as mentioned, not all LGBTQ people develop or offer these spiritual gifts. Every individual’s spirituality is unique. And every special identity group has their own spiritual gifts to contribute: young people can bring the gift of enthusiasm; older people often provide the gift of a wisdom borne from experience; different racial and ethnic groups bring their own unique forms of worship and devotion.

Focusing here on the gifts that LGBTQ people might offer should be a reminder and a prompt for parishes to realize that in reaching out to LGBTQ people, the whole parish stands to gain by their presence.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What spiritual gifts have you observed or identified in yourself as an LGBTQ person or in the LGBTQ people you know that seem to arise specifically because of a diverse sexual and/or gender identity?
  • Of the gifts listed above, which ones do you think that your parish needs the most at this time?
  • The first two gifts, truth-telling and courage, are often ones that Catholics growing into their personal identities through complicated situations need to acquire. The example of authentic, honest, and brave LGBTQ people in a parish can often be powerful testimony for those who are learning to accept themselves in a variety of areas. What other particular groups in your parish could benefit from these spiritual gifts of LGBTQ people?
  • What ways can your parish institute to allow the spiritual gifts of LGBTQ people to become more apparent to others?

To find the first six installments of the “Next Steps” series, as well as more information about the program and a registration form, please click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 12, 2020

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