This MLK Weekend, I Still Have Dreams

Fr. Bryan Massingale

Today’s post is from guest contributor Father Bryan Massingale, a theology professor who holds the James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics at Fordham University, New York. An openly gay priest, Fr. Massingale has written and preached extensively on racial justice, and also on LGBTQ topics. For a previous reflection Massingale wrote for Bondings 2.0, click here. For more coverage of his advocacy for LGBTQ people, click here.

A friend shared with me pictures of his recent marriage to his husband.  As I gazed on the faces of the beaming couple – one black, the other white – it gave me a new perspective on today’s gospel reading.  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ first public sign of God’s love among us happened at a wedding.  His first miracle was to bless human love by joining the joyous celebration.  His first public act as Radical Love Incarnate was to multiply human love by gifting the couple with even better wine than they could ever obtain.  Jesus’s actions affirmed that where human love is found, God’s love abounds.

This weekend, we celebrate the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is a time for remembering how courageous people challenged their nation (and its churches!) for ostracizing children of God by branding them as inferior, treating them as outsiders, regarding them as subhuman creatures unworthy of basic decency and undeserving of equal justice. Without doubt, we will hear recordings this weekend of King’s dream of a nation where “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  It is a dream that is still more aspiration than reality.

It is easy – perhaps too easy – for members of the LGBTQ community to see deep parallels between our dreams and those of civil rights activists of a time still in living memory.  Despite the legal recognition of our committed relationships, and new protections (at least in the United States) against employment and housing discrimination, some of us still must fight for the simple courtesy of being addressed by our correct pronouns.  Some of us fear for our lives if we leave our homes wearing clothing that reflects our gender identities.  So many young queer students endure debilitating isolation and vicious harassment in their schools and families.  Many priests and vowed religious women and men mask their sexuality out of fear.  And my Catholic friends’ marriage was celebrated in a Protestant church because, in the words of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “God cannot bless sin.”

Despite the gains and progress of recent years, the struggle of LGBTQ persons for decency and equality remains, in the words of the poet Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, with Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was a colleague of King’s, and the main organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington at which the famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered.

But I want to warn against moving too quickly to see the deep parallels between King’s quest for racial justice and LGBTQ strivings for equal justice.  Because the sad and difficult truth is that so many white LGBTQ spaces are not welcoming to queer folks of color.

The truth is that many in the LGBTQ community would look at my friend’s wedding pictures and, instead of seeing joyful love, regard their union with bemusement, snide jokes, and racist speculations about their sex life.  Too many Black gay men and lesbian women have been told that we are not objects of loving desire but only an exotic taste or fetish.  When folks of color tell their experiences of racial harassment and injustice in LGBTQ spaces, we hear that these are not this organization’s concern or the places for such discussion.  Indeed, some readers of this blog might wonder why I am discussing King and race in a column devoted to reflections on the Sunday liturgical readings.

The all too prevalent attitude is that there are queer spaces and there are Black spaces – and never the twain shall meet.  Too many queer people of color experience Catholic spaces as magnifying their struggles to love themselves in a world that values whiteness and straightness when they are neither.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus as Radical Love Incarnate blessing and affirming human love.  Jesus’ first miracle reveals God’s dream for humankind, that is, a world where human beings recognize each other’s equal beauty, dignity, worth, and value.  Yet as King recalled near the end of his life, at times he saw his dream turn into a nightmare, as the nation continued to obstruct Black people’s access to the voting booth, deny equal housing and educational opportunities, and treat their lives with callous indifference.

Yet, he said that he still had a dream: “Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I still have a dream, because you know, you can’t give up in life.  If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that helps you go on in spite of it all.”

And so, I, too, still have dreams.  I dream of a time when the LGBTQ community will see racism as their issue because it already is our issue.

I dream of a day when two men and two women can stand before our Church, proclaim their love, and have it blessed in the sacrament of marriage.

I dream of a Church that enthusiastically celebrates same-gender loves as incarnations of God’s love among us.  I dream of a Church where gay priests and lesbian sisters (and, one day, lesbian priests!) are acknowledged as the holy and faithful leaders we already are.

I dream of a world where queer young people in Honduras, El Salvador, Ghana, and Afghanistan can step out of hiding and live without fear.

I dream of a Church where LGBTQ employees and school teachers can teach our children, serve God’s people, and have their vocations, sexuality, and committed loves affirmed.

I dream of a community committed not only to respect for sexual diversity, but also for immigration justice and equal voting rights.

I dream of a LGBTQ community that is as passionate about justice for Black and Brown trans people as it is for justice for white cisgender men.

I dream of a Church that claims King Day as its own feast, and not as something we celebrate for Black people.

I dream of an LGBTQ community that embraces its diverse palette of skin tones as a marvelous reflection of God’s own interior life of diversity.

And finally, I dream of a Church that reflects the joy of the wedding banquet at Cana, where people of all races, genders, and sexualities rejoice at the presence of love – and commit themselves to make a world where people of every gender and race live the fullness of life that God desires for all.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, January 16, 2022

6 replies
  1. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Dear Fr. Massingale,

    Your “I dream petitions” are something to ponder for our synod. For us: May we dream of a Church that claims King Day as its own feast, and not as something we celebrate for Black people, we pray to the Lord. Our Church still has a long way to go to deal with it’s own endemic racism, and that includes me.

    Reply
  2. Julie Nichols
    Julie Nichols says:

    The first time I listened to Father Massingale talk about racism, I was entranced with him and have been ever since. I love this man!

    Reply
  3. Sr. Philonise
    Sr. Philonise says:

    Dear Fr. Brian
    Thank you so much for stepping away from the closet and into the arena to speak out for LGBTQ in general and LGBTQ people of color in particular. Your voice has enabled me to find my own courage to be fully black, lesbian, and consecrated in my religious community. I would love to work with you on bringing queer women and men of color in religious life together for dialogue and prayer. We need each other, we to create safe space, and we need to empower.

    Reply
    • Sonia
      Sonia says:

      God bless you, Sister. It gives me great joy to see religious life of color and LGBT diversity. My heart is so full and it reaffirms that God really has created us all in His image and Likeness. It gives me hope. I will keep you in prayer. God bless you.

      Reply

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