Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2017
Part Two of Two
Guest Columnist Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego
The attacks on Building a Bridge tap into long-standing bigotry within the church and US culture against members of the LGBT community. The persons launching these attacks portray the reconciliation of the church and the LGBT community not as a worthy goal, but as a grave cultural, religious and familial threat. Gay sexual activity is seen not as one sin among others but as uniquely debased to the point that LGBT persons are to be effectively excluded from the family of the church. Pejorative language and labels are deployed regularly and strategically. The complex issues of sexual orientation and its discernment in the life of the individual are dismissed and ridiculed.
The coordinated attached on Building a Bridge must be a wake up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the LGBT community. If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and LGBT men and women and their families. Even more important, we will build an increasing gulf between the church and our God.
The second corrosive impulse against Building a Bridge flows from a distortion of Catholic moral theology. The goal of a Catholic moral life is to pattern our lives after that of Jesus Christ. We must model our interior and exterior selves on the virtues of faith, love, hope, mercy, compassion, integrity, sacrifice, prayerfulness, humility, prudence, and more. One of these virtues is chastity. Chastity is a very important virtue of the Christian moral life. The disciple is obligated to confine genital sexual activity to marriage.
But chastity is not the central virtue in the Christian moral life. Our central call is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Many times, our discussions in the life of the church suggest that chastity has a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character or our relationship with God. It does not.
This distortion of our faith cripples many of our discussions of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. The overwhelming prism through which we should look at our moral lives is that we are all called to live out the virtues of Christ; we all succeed magnificently at some and fail at others. Those who emphasize the incompatibility of gay men or lesbian women living meaningfully within the church are ignoring the multidimensional nature of the Christian life of virtue or the sinfulness of us all or both.
The third impulse behind the campaign against Building a Bridge arises from a rejection of the pastoral theology that Pope Francis has brought into the heart of the church. Regarding the issue of homosexuality, in particular, many of those attacking Father Martin simply cannot forgive the Holy Father for uttering that historic phrase on the place: "Who am I to judge?" The controversy over Building a Bridge is really a debate about whether we are willing to banish judgmentalism from the life of the church. Pope Francis continually reminds us that the Lord unceasingly called the disciples to reject the temptation to judge others, precisely because it is a sin so easy for us to fall into and one so injurious to the life of the church.
The gulf between the LGBT community and the church is not primarily based in orientation; it is a gulf created by judgmentalism on both sides. That is the real starting point for a dialogue between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community in the United States today. Father Martin should be thanked for pointing to this reality, not shunned.