Not The Time Or Place: An Open Letter to Elliot Milco

Not The Time Or Place: An Open Letter to Elliot Milco June 16, 2016

prayer and pride

It was less than 24 hours after the Orlando shooting that I saw the first Catholic in a combox complaining about LGBTQ identities. In that case, it was someone scolding my friend Joe Prever for replacing his profile picture with the US flag/rainbow graphic that is currently being used on FaceBook to show solidarity for the victims. The rainbow, it was argued, represented a symbol of an oppressive LGBTQ regime that is undermining the true identity of God’s people.

Today, First Things decided to take up the anthem in a more formal way. Responding to Father James Martin, SJ’s, video criticizing  the Catholic bishops for failing to express solidarity specifically for the sufferings of the LGBTQ community at this time, First Things’ deputy editor, Elliot Milco, wrote, “He’s asking, whether or not he realizes it, for the bishops to recognize and tacitly endorse the sexual identities promoted by the LGBT Community—identities bound up fundamentally with the gender ideology promoted by the Community.”

The arguments are painfully familiar: the Church “refuses to mistake the mirage of sin and ideology for the reality of the people it encounters. What it sees is only each child of God: suffering, waiting, longing for absolution, created for the possibility of eternal union with God.”

If a person identifies as LGBTQ, they are identifying with sin, with a false anthropology, with a political enemy with “beliefs, practices, politics, and morals…[that] are fundamentally inimical to the primary end of man.”

I’ve dealt at length, in multiple places, with the question of why a Christian who holds to a traditional sexual ethic, and a traditional Christian anthropology, might identify as LGBTQ. (Here, for example.) I don’t intend to re-present those arguments again now. Rather, I want to point out that there is a profound failure of charity in the fact that this particular line of argumentation is being trotted out at this particular time, in this particular context.

Imagine, to draw an analogy, that a Hindu Temple had been the target of the massacre. Would anyone in the hierarchy have hesitated, for even a moment, in offering solidarity and support to all people of the Hindu faith? Would they have shrunk back from acknowledging Hindus as Hindus, or from recognizing the importance of people’s religious identity in an attack on sacred space?

Obviously, this would not be an issue. Nobody (with the possible exception of a few RadTrads) would be deceived into imagining that an outpouring of sympathy and support would imply, in any sense, that the Catholic hierarchy was now tacitly endorsing the worship of Ganesh. We would all understand the gesture for what it would be: an expression of genuine sympathy and understanding for the suffering that a community endures when many of its members are struck down in cold blood.

Nobody would argue that recognizing Hindus by name would somehow suggest that Catholics are now adopting a Hindu anthropology, that we acknowledge the godhood of Brahma, or espouse the doctrine of reincarnation. When it comes to the First Commandment we are able to recognize that people who worship what we believe to be “false gods” may be people of good will, and that their morality, behaviour, practices, beliefs and communities are legitimate – even though in many important respects they are not compatible with Catholic belief.

So why is it that when it comes to the Sixth Commandment (which is certainly way less essential to Christian anthropology and belief than the first), suddenly it’s a complete non-negotiable? Why is a Hindu allowed to be both a Hindu and a “child of god,” but we can only think of a gay man as one or the other?

Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. The Bishops could simply quote from the Vatican’s 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

Such a reference would have acknowledged the grief of the LGBTQ community. It would have meant putting the recommendation of the Letter – to condemn violent malice against gay people – into action. And it would have referred to the established teaching of the Church in a way that would have avoided all possible confusion. The Bishops and the Pope might have said something like this:

The Church wishes to affirm Her continuous teaching, that “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.” We offer our condolences and our sympathy to the LGBTQ community in this time of mourning.

Nobody would have misunderstood that, and it would have been classy.

More than just classy, it would have been tremendously important and meaningful to LGBTQ people – especially those who are Catholic, who accept a traditional Christian anthropology, who follow the teachings of the Church, and who are none the less grieving over the deaths of our gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer and ally siblings.

Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.

This is tacky, folks. Uncharitable, callous, “puffed up” to borrow a turn of phrase from St. Paul, but most of all tacky. We’ve heard these arguments before, and we mostly found them harmful. Now that we are grieving, it’s not the time, or the place to bring them up again.


Image credit: Composite, source images courtesy of Pixabay.
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