As state legislatures in the U.S. begin new sessions, one Catholic bishop’s exhortation from last fall to focus more on helping people’s material conditions and less on fighting LGBTQ+ equality seem prescient.
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington addressed the Kentucky Council of Churches last October in an address reprinted by the National Catholic Reporter. Stowe opened by noting that his state ranks low on indicators like health and poverty, to which he asked:
“[W]ouldn’t you think that lawmakers would be concerned with something more beneficial than banning books, or creating more secrecy about the funding of public agencies?
“Do you think that the pronouns a student chooses for themselves is the priority to get under control or that placing limits on the union dues collected is the best way to improve the quality of life for workers? . . .
“We, as a Council of Churches, have from the beginning been committed to fulfilling that requirement and have been consistently asking ourselves what it means and how are we to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God in our day and age and present circumstances.
“Perhaps it is easier to begin with what it doesn’t mean. To act justly cannot possibly mean to cause young people who are already suffering from gender dysphoria and the accompanying higher rates of suicidal ideation and mental illness to be further alienated by denying their experience and any references in literature or otherwise to people with similar experiences of life, and forcing them to use restrooms and changing rooms that make them uncomfortable, or denying their ability to consult a counselor in confidence.”
Stowe continued by expounding on what acting justly means: not denying people healthcare or meaningful work, not allowing the Earth to be abused by corporations, not abiding by white supremacy. And the bishop then reflected on what walking humbly means, explaining:
“And to walk humbly with God cannot mean that we discriminate against those who do not share our beliefs. To walk humbly with God cannot mean that Muslims are to be treated with disrespect or kept out of the nation altogether. To walk humbly with God cannot mean that we quietly accept rising incidents of antisemitism.
“To walk humbly with God cannot mean that we leave the LGBTQ population without basic rights of equal protection under the law and permit discrimination on the basis of gender. To walk humbly with God cannot mean that we leave the traveler beaten up in the road without help because they are undocumented, the wrong color, or of ambiguous gender.”
Stowe exhorted that following this path “means recognizing and affirming the dignity and worth of each human person,” and he concludes:
“Fr. Greg Boyle, the Jesuit pastor of Dolores Mission, the poorest parish in Los Angeles, located at ground zero of the gang warfare in that city, uses a provocative line from a well-known Christmas carol to describe his work and what he believes is the mission of all Christians: ‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.’
“Helping souls feel their worth: gangbanger souls, poor souls, black souls and white souls, undocumented souls, Muslim souls, Jewish souls, atheist souls, LGBTQ souls, racist souls and all kinds of souls all have inestimable value.
“Can we commit ourselves, as we work for a more just and equitable commonwealth, to help the souls we encounter, to feel their worth … their worth in Christ Jesus who laid down his life for them and for us? Maybe, above all, that’s what the Lord requires.”
As U.S. legislators take up the work anew of making law and directing policy, may Bishop Stowe’s words resound not only in Kentucky, but across the country.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2024