After a popular Catholic Youth Ministry speaker posted a link to it on Facebook, I recently watched Catholic Vote’s “Not Alone” campaign video. It begins with black and white vignettes of young, racially diverse men and women sitting down as if about to be interviewed, like some kind of Dove® Real Beauty campaign ad. Initially the subjects express sentiments that seem to allude to the fact that they are about to come out of the closet. I have to admit, I hoped that is what would happen. (To some of you this may be a newsflash, but there are people who identify as both openly gay AND Catholic.)
But that’s not what happens… They come out, not about being gay, but about being openly against gay marriage. The video goes on to show how these individuals feel like social outcasts and feel ostracized, not knowing who they can feel totally safe revealing these true feelings to. They continue on to plead sentiments like, “I have gay friends” and “I’m not afraid of them” and go on to even express how they believe that obviously The Creator loves gay people (almost as if they might still need to convince themselves?). Ultimately it ends with the would-be encouragement to fellow Catholics that they are not alone if they feel that they are against gay marriage, and that they should feel emboldened to “Speak truth with love”.
My reaction: “Oy vey Maria…” (I’m half-Jewish on my dad’s side, or as some would call me, a Cashew).
I subsequently watched a parody of the video. The parody aptly takes the line of reasoning in Catholic Vote’s video (“I should be able to believe whatever I want and not be social outcast for my different views”) and applies it to thoughts about racial inferiority, likening believers in “traditional marriage” to bass ackwards bigots who bemoan that they ought to be free to express their views on how women should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, and how white people are better than all others. They conclude with a recap of the slogan “you are not alone”, promoting solidarity amongst their “underdog” white supremacist sympathizers. I’m sorry Catholic Vote, but based on how you tried to frame your viewpoint, this was an easy shot.
After viewing both videos, I was really stunned that Catholic Vote put out this video and I wondered who they consulted before releasing it. I felt compelled to write something from a Catholic perspective that challenges the direction Catholic Vote decided to take, as a way to illustrate to some fellow Catholics why that video is problematic, and to also illustrate to non-Catholics that not all Catholics think the same way.
My Catholic Critique of the “Not Alone” Video
The main issue I take with the video is its premise which centers on painting Catholic opponents to gay marriage as victims. It appeals to ethos (queue sappy instrumental music, dramatic black and white cinematography) in an effort to make the viewer feel bad for these poor victimized Catholics, and even to encourage a sense of self-pity in Catholic viewers: poor us and how misunderstood we Catholics are. It’s weak in it’s effort to be persuasive or affect any kind of real change in perception of Catholics or even of the Church’s teachings on love, marriage, and sexuality. It propagandizes the notion that straight Catholic people are the real underdogs.
I have to admit, that on some level, the antics got to me. Seeing the interviewees crying at the end… I’m an empathetic person. Additionally, being a devout Catholic myself, I have had firsthand experience with isolation for my religious beliefs before. I attended a college with the slogan “Communism, Atheism, Free Love”, so it was bound to happen. In today’s American society, being a devout Catholic, aligning with ALL of the Catholic Church’s teachings, is actually highly unpopular, and I would argue, more unpopular than being or supporting LGBTQ rights/individuals. Has it always been that way? Certainly not. And does this mean that oppression of gay and lesbian and trans people is over? DEFINITELY not.
The tides are just beginning to turn, and I DO believe, this is a good thing. If our society is moving towards the normalization of fair treatment and access to rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, then that is a good thing. Catholics and all of society SHOULD support and love LGBTQ individuals and uphold their basic human rights because we shouldn’t discriminate between how we treat people based on their sexual orientation. Also because, hello, Jesus would not have treated them differently, and we are called to love like Christ did and to love Christ in each person we encounter.
And we as Catholics REALLY shouldn’t try to co-opt an oppressed group’s oppression in a convoluted way to “love” those people. Suffering with them, aka compassion, is one thing, but to try to overshadow their persecution with your own is really self-righteous. Likening the feeling of being outcast for your views on traditional marriage to being outcast for your sexual orientation is a completely disproportionate and insensitive analogy. You are a lot more likely to be thrown out of your house, beaten, and possibly killed for being openly gay. There is plenty of research out there about the significantly higher likelihood of being the victim of hate crimes as an LGBTQ person than as a straight person. If you came out to your parents or friends about believing that gay marriage is wrong, you might be disagreed with or even socially shunned, and that might hurt your feelings, but you wouldn’t have to worry about your basic human needs (a roof over your head, bodily integrity) being violated.
This isn’t to undermine the very real presence of religious persecution in the world, and even in America. Obviously Christians are largely the targets of ISIS terrorist violence. Domestically, we mourn the loss of the lives of the nine African-American people who were shot in their church during a bible study session in Charleston. And we’ve seen numerous instances of religious violence towards Islamic people as well throughout our country. But, with regards specifically to the issue of persecution of openly gay individuals and the persecution of those who are openly opposed to gay marriage, I think the ramifications are incomparable, and I think it’s insensitive to co-opt a sort of comparative martyrdom or to play “oppression olympics”.
A Future Direction for Catholic Media
Overall, Catholic Vote really missed an opportunity to make a good point or shed a new light on this very divisive issue. I think what failed to happen was constructive dialogue with gay and lesbian people about the issue, or even with other straight Catholics who may wrestle with the Catholic Church’s teachings, who have questions, and who have gay and lesbian loved ones. It was such a one-sided video, with one of the featured interviewees even saying, “I know what marriage is.” Even if you believe that to be the truth, do you really believe any gay person considering entering the Church is going to hear that and feel welcomed or invited into dialogue?
One alternative that could have actually been very powerful, would have been to have openly gay people who are also Catholic be represented. The gay Catholic demographic is one of the most oppressed groups because not only are they trying to find their place in a Church that is only very recently rethinking their approach to being pastoral towards them, but also, they are often rejected by fellow LGBTQ communities because of their religious affiliation. They are ostracized from both sides! How do devout gay Catholics respond to the SCOTUS decision? What are their struggles? What are their points of view? Their voices offer an insight that heterosexual Catholics simply cannot understand. You cannot know what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin unless you’re that person. A straight person simply cannot project the narrative of a gay person’s lived experience. That’s why it’s important to dialogue.
I’ve seen so many pseudo-pastoral approaches on the part of Catholics to try and being more loving towards LGBTQ people. But the problem is how we’re conceptualizing these issues and other-izing gay people. For example, LifeTeen, an organization that does a lot of great work for Catholic Youth Ministry, recently published a blog post entitled, “7 Ways To Love Our Brothers and Sisters Who Experience Same-Sex Attraction“. The blog post actually has a lot of good pastoral approaches in it, but the title is actually kind of condescending and practically characterizes the persistence of homophobia in the Church. The post does explicitly discourage homophobia, but simultaneously isolates people with SSA as “other” or in need of a special prescription of love. Benevolent homophobia is still homophobia. The fact that many Catholics still see having same-sex attraction and acting on those attractions as the same thing is the problem. You probably wouldn’t see a Catholic blog entitled “7 Ways to Love Our Brothers and Sisters Who Are Black” or “7 Ways to Love Our Brothers and Sisters Who Are Paraplegic” because we can see that those titles are condescending and imply intolerance that we need special instructions on how to love “those people”. The blog isn’t about the identity of the person, but about the actions that person might take. If it’s about loving the people who engage in homosexual acts, then ‘re still classifying those sins as so distinct from other heterosexual sins. Similarly, they wouldn’t have written a blog called, “7 Ways to Love Our Brothers and Sisters Who Engage in Pre-Marital Sex” or “7 Ways to Love Our Brothers and Sisters Who Masturbate”, so why focus on one particular kind of sin? And if it’s just about seeing same-sex attraction as an inherent struggle and praying for people who experience that struggle, it still exoticizes that struggle because you don’t see blog posts entitled, “7 Ways to Love Our Brothers and Sisters who are stressed at work” or “…who are recent grads looking for a job and have a lot of college loans to pay off”. Ultimately, it shouldn’t have to be any different, the way we as Catholics love gay people or any other people. As much as Catholics may want to try to go above and beyond to be “loving” to gay people, by treating them differently, it still highlights a belief that they are an “other”.
Taking an empathetic approach, rather than a “feel-bad-for-me” or “it’s-so-hard-being-one-of-the-only-people-who-really-knows-the-truth” approach, would be something for Catholic Vote and other Catholic media sources to consider. Jesus didn’t go around Eeyoring about how misunderstood he was, feeling sorry for himself. Yes, he did get frustrated, and he also did speak definitively about morality, but his approach was always patient and loving. While at times he tailored his reproaches to specific people, other times, he was gentle and forgiving, not self-righteous. He was God, so he knew who would receive what he said and who wouldn’t. We are not God, and while we are called to do our best to speak truth, as the Catholic Vote video encourages Catholics to do in one very specific (and I would argue misguided way), we also need to focus on how best to love and serve others, how to be pastoral, and how to LISTEN rather than making our works about ourselves and refusing to see outside of our own perspectives and experiences. One thing the video got right was when one woman says that we really need to bring the issue into one-on-one conversations. That’s true! But that doesn’t mean one-sided conversations. It means really listening to one another.
Dialogue and Inquire Fearlessly
Ultimately, those of us who are Catholics, whether we are gay or straight, no matter our intersecting identities and personal struggles, are called to go outside ourselves, to be Christ’s hands to those on the margins, and to wrestle with our faith and Catholic teachings. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll arrive at a black and white conclusion. We may in fact remain in tension, in mystery, in the gray. But our faith also calls us to have trust in a loving God that is bigger than all our uncertainties and ultimately sees the intentions and goodness of our hearts. And it is that same faith that emboldens us to ask “why?” with regards to Church teachings. If we believe that our faith’s teachings truly come from God, then we must be unafraid in seeking to understand God’s love in those teachings. We can trust that if we are open, then God will put truth in our hearts and convict us. It may be what you’ve always known, and it may be different. But we can trust God will be with us. Meanwhile, all we can do is try to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. And we can be confident that God will not abandon us in our uncertainties, that we need not be afraid.
Whether you are gay or straight or trans or queer, you need not be afraid that God does not love you. The Church acknowledges that we all sin. Anytime we veer away from doing what our conscience tells us is truly good, innocent, pure, selfless, loving, and pleasing to God and we do what might be more momentarily pleasing or comfortable for ourselves, we sin. It’s as simple as that. We are tempted by so many things, sexual and otherwise, and no one is perfect. This doesn’t mean we excuse sin or redefine it to suit us, but we can place our trust in a God who is infinitely merciful and unconditionally loving and just wants to be with us. In order to understand what sin is, each of us must take the time to form our conscience (pray, read Scripture, read reflections and studies on various interpretations of Scripture, talk to be people you trust and regard highly). Often what one person may consider a sin, another may not. This is the tension we are all called to wrestle with. We trust that God will love us regardless of the conclusion we arrive at, and he will even love us regardless of whether we wrestle at all.
Even when we don’t have all the answers, God does, and God is with us in the tension of not knowing, so because of that, we know that no matter what, we are not alone.
Other Useful Links/Resources
Article in National Catholic Register, “Gay and Catholic”: http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/gay-and-catholic-two-views-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-ruling
Interview with Arthur Fitzmaurice by America Magazine: http://americamagazine.org/media/videos/lgbt-catholics-interview-arthur-fitzmaurice
Eve Tushnet’s book Gay and Catholic: http://www.amazon.com/Gay-Catholic-Accepting-Sexuality-Community/dp/1594715424
Ignatian News Network: Gay Catholics Series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLaaVes-rPoONj6SUTXuCTDX5RWWZRYOlZ
A Gay Catholic teen’s personal blog post: http://lifeteen.com/blog/gay-catholic-and-doing-fine/
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care: http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/homosexual-inclination-guidelines-page-set.cfm