Last week I encountered this charming commercial for the same-sex marriage campaign in Ireland that went somewhat viral (I found it through slate.com):
The video features family members accepting the invitation from their LGBT family members to go vote in support of the gay marriage initiative on the ballot this May. At the end, the voiceover explains, “On May 22, we can change forever what it means to grow up LGBT in Ireland. Ask your family to come on this journey with us.” A soft folksy song in the background chants “If you love me, why’d you leave me,” softly implying that staying at home or not supporting the referendum means turning your back on your LGBT family member. The ad seems pretty successful; it has only slightly fewer views than Hillary Clinton’s official campaign announcement video, and it has a later post date. It is interesting that the chosen angle is not one about rights, about “equality” or “fairness,” or even railing against “bigotry.” It points to a deeper need: one for people to feel supported and loved by their family members. My reading of this commercial is that mainstream western discourse now equates supporting gay marriage as the antidote to the things that have traditionally made growing up LGBT absolutely miserable and dangerous–high rates of substance abuse and suicide, rejection, subjection to thoroughly discredited ex-gay therapy, and being kicked out by (often religious) parents. I would like to posit that we are at this point of only one widely conceivable option for supporting our LGBT friends and family (voting for gay marriage) largely because of an absolute failure of Christian discourse in the western media to offer love and a positive outlook on growing up for an LGBT person (granted, I know little about Ireland, but will assume for argument’s sake that it is generally similar to the US in this regard). The Church did not, and still needs to, offer a compelling alternative to what is now the obvious, easy, feel-good option for telling our queer youth that we love them, can offer a valued place for them in society, and desire their well being above all else.
The Church can (and in many ways and places has and does!) offer LGBT people this love, a valuable place in society, and promotion of their holistic well being. But for my adolescence (the last 15 years), the bishops and mainstream Christianity as a whole shouted a firm stance in the culture wars far and wide, ignoring the suffering and drowning out the popular perception (if not the actual existence as well!) of any opportunity for the aforementioned affirmations within their ranks.
Could your parish make this loving of a commercial about how it has not and will not leave behind its LGBT youth, and how it understands and affirms their dignity, truly desires to open a place for them, and that they should never be on their journey alone? If not, I posit that traditional churches are failing in both the culture war, and the mission entrusted to them by Christ to preach his Gospel. I hope that our abject defeat in the former might make us self-critical enough to see our failings and endeavor to improve in terms of the more important one.
San Sebastiano, Roberto Ferri. Italy. 2005-2009.
In the last couple posts I’ve been wrestling with a way to interpret the Synod on the Family and attempting to frame the two “sides” in the debate about homosexuality (and other issues) which the media has encouraged and often exaggerated. This week I’m introducing a
3 4 post series* to show how the exaggerated portrait of each side can cause trauma for gay people–because that is exactly what has happened to me. Forgive me for only teasing you with an introduction this week.
As a brief recap of the controversy that has come to light throughout the synod:
- So-called-conservatives are frustrated that so-called liberals talk so much about mercy and love without sufficient reminders that certain acts like remarriage and gay sex are sinful. This could lead more people to doubt or ignore these moral teachings, and therefore damage souls and society.
- So-called-liberals are battling back so-called-conservatives who talk so much about the sinfulness of remarriage and gay sex without sufficient reminders that the Church’s core is mercy and love. This causes people to doubt or ignore these central realities of our Church and therefore leave or stop taking it seriously, which damages souls and society.
*These two points are basically a better version of last week’s post–where I emphasized the need for so-called-conservatives to be more mindful about their own media representations.
Both sides consist of people who share the same beliefs about remarriage, gay sex, mercy, and love. Their debate treats the search for a rhetorical balance that builds the Church in Christ’s image. Both sides appear to be reactionary in a sense: one side reacting to the widespread perception of the Church as homophobic and unloving; the other reacting to the widespread perception of the culture that Church teachings on sexuality are antiquated and silly. Both social realities are worthy of some reaction/response (we don’t want to be silly, antiquated, homophobic, or unloving!)–but doing all that at once is a tightrope act with few to no masters–at least at the global level. A big part of getting the balance right is knowing your audience–Which extreme is more prevalent? More problematic? Who’s doing a good job of this already? Doesn’t the answer depend on who you’re talking to? I imagine that the message for LGBT Christians in Uganda and San Franciscio need to be different. Francis has repeatedly emphasized the role of pastors in using their pastoral judgement to work with individuals according to particular situations and needs. But we are also immersed by a global media and global platform (the Pope, the Vatican, the Synod documents, etc.) that should be leveraged to speak the Truth. So again, the question is how to leverage these tools to share the fullness of Truth to everyone without further damaging souls and society?
That kind of thinking leads me to appreciate Pope Francis’ inspired decision to invite Catholic families from various parts of the world to share their experiences, so that the Synod on the Family will listen to the voices of people who experience the challenges of the family today firsthand. Because the synod has been sidetracked by the issue of “irregular unions” (at least somewhat–even if the media has exaggerated the prominence of these debates), I think it would be rather helpful to actually highlight the voices of gay and divorced Catholics as well… but I digress.
What hit me like a brick wall on the bus this week (I spend a hideous amount of time on the bus) is that the two equally false extremes (“it’s okay to ignore the Church’s moral teachings about sexuality because God loves you anyway” and “the Church judges and rejects gay people because it cares more about its rules than human persons”) have both taken hold of my life at different moments, and both lies have done serious harm. Each of the next two posts will be a flashback of sorts to provide one concrete example of what can happen in the life of a gay Catholic who falls into one extreme line of thinking. It hasn’t been pretty, but I’ve learned a lot.
I decided to add a conclusion to these three, and called it One Extreme is Worse than the Other.
My mother had a wise parenting philosophy regarding what my siblings and I saw on TV and in movies, and even books. I cannot remember her ever censoring a program, book, or movie outright. But that does not mean she turned a blind eye to the media we were consuming. Instead she drove conversation. “Why do you want to watch that?” she would ask. Or, “Do the people in this TV show act very mature?” My mom quickly pulled up the (awesome!) USCCB review for a garbage movie some of my brother’s friends wanted to see with some girls from their class, and then bluntly asked him, “That movie is about a group of boys who are trying to convince a girl to have sex with one of them… is that a movie you want to go see with that group?” He decided to pass. When my sister got into “Glee” as an entire episode dedicated to high schoolers loosing their virginity came along, my mom watched too and they talked about the choices the characters were making.
Mom’s critical engagement with media has stuck with me, and came racing back as I binge watched “Transparent” this weekend. The Amazon original TV series follows Maura (formerly Mort)– a transgender father of three adult children who each face their own sexually charged crises, occasioning ample nudity, sex scenes, and drug use. No way would my high-school self have been willing to watch (and therefore discuss) all that under my mother’s parameters. Is there something to be gained from exposing ourselves (as adults) to this sort of television? My mom would say that it depends why we are watching and whether we are having a conversation about both the good and bad that we find.
1. I will write and publish some sort of post on Tuesdays during the school week. Why? Because there is a running club that I joined which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and today is Tuesday, and I find myself bored.
2. The ideal format will be a thoughtful mini-essay of no more than 500 words about a pointed topic, or (better) spiraling out from a particular inspiration like a news item, piece of art, scripture, recent experience, etc. Continue reading