It is no secret that Christianity is on the decline in the United States, even if the root causes of this trend are not always clear. In the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM examines this decline and suggests that in the Catholic Church, anti-LGBTQ+ policies and statements from dioceses and institutions continue to drive more people further away.
Horan argues that not only are these discriminatory stances impractical for attracting new members of the church, but they are inherently sinful and opposed to the example of Jesus the church claims to follow.
A study by the Pew Research Center published last month revealed that in just a few decades, Christians are likely to be less than half of the population in this country, compared to 90% just 50 years ago or even 64% in 2020. Horan quotes Stephanie Kramer, the lead researcher of the Pew study, who posits that the decline in U.S. Christianity can partially be traced to young people leaving the church. “[A]ffiliation really started to drop in the 90s,” Kramer told NPR. “And it may not be a coincidence that this coincides with the rise of the religious right and more associations between Christianity and conservative political ideology.”
Increasing anti-LGBTQ+ stances from Catholic leaders and institutions are examples of this link between religion and ideology, argues Horan, and as a result, more young people, especially queer youth, are driven away. He writes:
“[M]any of the supporters of these statements and policies are also those most inclined to lament the decreasing presence of young people at church or the dropping enrollment in Catholic schools. So, from a pragmatic perspective, it makes little sense to embrace such harsh and discriminatory policies and then complain that the very people you vilify or dehumanize–alone with their loved ones, family members, friends and neighbors–are not interested in participating in your church.”
But more importantly, discrimination is antithetical to the Jesus of the gospels, who was quick to condemn the hypocrisy of religious leaders, particularly as they oppressed those already marginalized, Horan points out. Contemporary Catholic officials who persist in anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes miss the point of Jesus’ message.
“How quick these church leaders are to forget that Jesus was executed in part precisely because he was so inclusive,” Horan chides, citing the “pastoral malpractice” of those further oppressing queer Catholics by even refusing to hear their stories and experiences. He continues:
“This truth about about the inherent goodness and dignity of queer people generally and the reality of transgender experience is best known by those who identify as LGBTQ. . .All these church leaders and pastoral ministers need to do is exercise the virtue of humility and genuinely listen to and learn from them.”
Horan is confident that anti-LGBTQ+ policies will eventually be a product of the past in the church, falling into the same ecclesial failures as the condemnation of Galileo and the anti-religious liberty ideas of a pre-Vatican II church. But it is time now for Catholic leaders to hear this truth and build communities that practice it. Until then, he argues, we remain “a church that purports to preach the love of Jesus Christ, but in practice regularly serves only a conditional love skewed by hatred and discrimination.”
—Angela Howard McParland (she/her), New Ways Ministry, October 21, 2022