Building a Bridge: The Church and the LGBT Community Deserve Better

Building a Bridge: The Church and the LGBT Community Deserve Better June 29, 2017

First, a more succinct review.

My trouble with the book began on page five. Fr. Martin describes an award he receives from New Ways Ministry and the acceptance speech he gave that night focusing on the Catechism’s call for respect, compassion, and sensitivity in regards to LGBT people and issues. He then tells us, “The bulk of the book is that talk, which has been expanded into a longer essay.” Really? You couldn’t be bothered to write an actual book on this immensely important topic? Instead, you just found an old speech, upped the word-count and turned it in to your publisher?

Toward the end of his intro he qualifies, “Feel free to disagree. Please reflect on what you find helpful in this book and leave the rest.” It’s not exactly a grand vote of confidence in his own work. He then proceeds to give two sets of suggestions: encouraging first the institutional Church and then the LGBT community to act with more of that titular respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

The bulk of the book, indeed, sounds like it originated as a speech to an audience so ideologically friendly to you, they just gave you an award. Fr. Martin states that he is trying to build a bridge between these two different camps, but all he ends up doing is making poorly-framed arguments to each side, using the vocabulary and reasoning of the other side.

For example: Fr. Martin opens by telling members of the institutional church that a key component of respecting the LGBT community is actually calling them “the LGBT community” as opposed to something like “Our brothers and sisters suffering from same-sex attraction”. He states that a person or a group has the right to be called by the name they chose, and it’s a good point.

The problem is when he tries to go to the Bible to back his point up.

He goes throughout the book of Genesis and Exodus to the various points that God either names a person (Adam and Eve) or changes their name (Abraham and Sarah). Of course, special care is taken to note that God names Himself. He uses this as examples of the importance of names and, therefore, the importance of being able to choose what one is called.

Except the Bible is full of the opposite of that.

Throughout the book of Genesis, God is the only one who bestows a name on another. If anyone in Genesis changes his name, names a city after himself, or otherwise “tries to make a name for himself”, it is an easy indicator that this character is a prideful enemy of God. God is the one who changes names, and only God can name Himself.

Look, Fr. Martin. I’m not saying your point is invalid. Language is important. Respect in language is important. But you’re not going to prove your point by using names in the Old Testament. Actually, you’re going to completely ruin your argument and prove the opposite point. And when that argument is brushed aside, the only thing you have to make your point is the vocabulary, ideas, and logic of the “opposing” side. That’s no way to build a bridge.

Later in the book, the good Jesuit similarly undercuts his argument when he begs the LGBT community to treat the Catholic hierarchy with more respect and compassion. Telling them to listen to what they say with an open heart, with a respect to apostolic authority. This would be useful information, if many in the LGBT community didn’t see themselves as an oppressed minority within the Church. But they do, so they use an increasingly legitimized theology to help them fight the battle toward liberation–a Theology of Liberation, if you will–a theology that you subscribe to.

An oppressed minority is not called to respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Yes, they are called to christian love, but christian love shown from by the oppressed to the oppressor looks quite different than christian love shown between two friends. If you want to promote respect, compassion, and sensitivity, you either have to show that the LGBT community is in fact not an oppressed minority within the church, or you have to actively move away from liberation theology.

I am not saying the point Fr. Martin makes is wrong, nor am I knocking liberation theology, but you can’t make an argument knowing that the very first rebuttal is going to completely dismantle what you say.

I’m going into detail for two small segments of the book to talk about one thing: Fr. James Martin SJ did not put enough time or effort into what could have been a very thought-provoking and important book.

Fr. Martin notes that there seems to be a lack of charity and trust between these two groups but does nothing to actually address the issues at the roots. Many in the LGBT community see the institutional church as the prudish group of celibates who are mad that only most of them died from AIDS instead of all of them. Many in the institutional church see the LGBT community as the curators of a radical sexual ethic that aims to vaporize christian marriage. Neither of these fears are entirely unfounded. Both of these would be MASSIVE barriers to a person taking even some of the best of Fr. Martin’s advice. So why does he completely ignore them?

Actually addressing these concerns with the language, ideas, and vocabulary of the parties involved would do much more to build a bridge.

I’ve seen Fr. Martin speak twice. I’ve read his first book, A Jesuit Off-Broadway, which is wonderful. I’ve read his magazine. Fr. James Martin the priest, Jesuit, celebrated author, hierarchical Catholic, beloved minister to the LGBT community, and consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications can do much better.





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