Wanted: A Church that listens

By Tom KamArcus Foundation My love for my Church is inspired by people whose lives challenge us to bear witness … Continued

By Tom Kam
Arcus Foundation

My love for my Church is inspired by people whose lives challenge us to bear witness to God’s truth to our world. As a child, these people were the saints of my Catholic faith–Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila– prophets and mystics whose very lives challenged the Church’s hierarchy and inspired thousands to serve God through prayer and ministry to society’s outcasts. As a young man, there were new heroes of faith to admire — the Berrigan brothers, Catholic priests whose Vietnam anti-war actions reflected the extreme convictions of their faith, and Jean Donovan, the young American Catholic lay missionary who was raped and murdered during the 1980 Salvadoran civil war. These men and women were religious leaders who possessed the courage to enter into the lives of everyday people, and in the midst of religious and political turmoil, proclaim God’s unrelenting call of love, truth, and justice.

These voices and lives stand in sharp contrast to the present day leadership of my church. In November, 14 Catholic bishops, along with a group of Evangelical and Orthodox leaders, issued The Manhattan Declaration, in which they announced plans to disobey any civil laws that ensure a women’s right to choose, or provide legal rights to same-sex couples in committed relationships.

That same month, the Archdiocese of Washington let it be known the Church would cease providing shelter to the homeless and care for the sick if the D.C. city council approved the civil law that would provide same-sex couples in committed relations the same legal benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts (despite this, the D.C. city council approved the civil law). U.S. Catholic bishops spent more than half a million dollars to defeat efforts in the state of Maine that would have ensured the same civil protections for same-sex couples in committed relationships that are enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter on marriage which began by stating that gays and lesbians should be treated with “respect” and “sensitivity,” then immediately violated that statement by encouraging gays and lesbians to express their attraction to their partners in chaste “friendship,” and finally went on to emphasize that no matter how strong and beautiful their love is, the sexual expression of that love is always sinful.

The ugly truth behind the legislative and theological language of these statements is that the leaders of my church teach that gay people are by their nature morally suspect and incapable of true love. This false teaching denigrates the entire gay and lesbian community as less than fully human. This teaching is used to justify violence, discrimination, and the denial of our basic rights as individuals, committed partners, and parents.

Despite the surge in anti-gay activity by Catholic Bishops, data reveal that the majority of Catholics in the U.S. do not share these views. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2009 shows that 53 percent of Catholics believe homosexuality is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue and 62 percent of Catholics support the recognition of same-sex relationships through civil unions. In 2007, the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of Catholics believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. In that same year, research conducted by the Human Rights Campaign found that 58 percent of Catholics believed it should be illegal to discriminate against people in the workplace based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

From my experience inside the Church and over the past three years of working for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians within our religious communities, I know there are many Catholic Church leaders who do not agree with the recent actions of the bishops and some leaders. It is obvious to them that the Church’s teachings on masturbation, contraception, and homosexuality are based on outdated understandings of human sexuality and reproduction.

Unfortunately, what remains painfully obvious is that in the midst of this very public debate opposing voices within the church’s hierarchy remain silent.

In this vacuum of leadership, and in the tradition of those who came before us who took action in the face of injustice, it is our obligation as Catholics to lead. We must challenge the words and actions of the leadership of our Church and acknowledge the great wrong that is being done. In doing so, we must remember that we speak as good and faithful Catholics bearing witness to God’s call to truth and justice. For those of us who are gay and lesbian, we must also remember that we speak as moral equals, and that we speak with the strength of conviction that comes from our recognition of God’s presence in our lives, in our love, and in the sexual expression of that love.

As we begin the New Year, let us invite the leaders of our Church to join with us as we bear witness to the continued revelation of God—in the lives and love of the gay and lesbian community.

Tom Kam is a former Roman Catholic priest and the deputy program director for LGBT Programs and director of the Religion and Values Program of the Arcus Foundation.

About

  • garoth

    It is a shame, isn’t it, that the most forward-looking person in all of history is so often represented by the most backward-looking and narrow-minded. My own church, the ELCA, seemed to take forever to finally come to the conclusion that gay pastors in committed relationships can be good pastors, committed to the Gospel, and are capable of leading communities of faith. Still, we included a “conscience” clause in the decision that all but undoes what has become plain to many – that the church has outdated ideas about homosexual relationships – as it does about sexuality in general – more reminiscent of the Elizabethan Age than of the 21st century. The church needs a new examination of sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage, based both on scripture and on 21st century understandings of these issues.

  • nrhicks

    my question is what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Is God for sin or against sin? Is homosexuality a sin to God or to the church. I believe that the Church position must be what God spoke. Even though people may disagree but to God it is sin and God ask us to turn away from sin. If we are to answer to anyone it should be to God and not to man. The bottom line is the choice is yours

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Mr. Kam:It is dishonest to accuse the Catholic Church of refusing to provide “shelter to the homeless and care for the sick”–that is simply a lie and you ought to be ashamed to tell lies in order to advance your point.The truth is that the city–not the Archdiocese–changed the rules regarding how city funds could be used by the Archdiocese. The city said, follow our rules or no more money; the Archdiocese said, your rules violate our conscience–keep your money. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese continues helping the poor with its own money; and the city is free to find some other way to help the poor with its money.If the poor receive less help it’s the fault of the city that changed the rules, and stopped giving money to effective programs.You said you admire the Berrigan brothers–I recall they were willing to defy government in obedience to conscience. Yet you now demand the Archdiocese and all faithful Catholics in Washington sacrifice their conscience in obedience to the city. In the Book of Daniel, the king ordered that everyone was to fall to their faces and worship the golden statue of himself. Daniel refused and for that was cast into the lion’s den. Aren’t you ashamed to be on the side of the king and not the prophet of God?

  • schaeffz

    Biblical literalists, and those a bit more liberal but who continue to pick and choose certain interpretations of Bible references to define what is “sin” and not, will continue to focus on things that do not matter like homosexuality, while things that do matter like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the elderly, visiting the prisoner, etc., go by the wayside. Imagine an international church organization spending parishoner-donated dollars to defeat same-sex legislation instead of using those dollars in feeding the hungry. Jesus never said, “Fight the homosexual”, but did say “Feed the hungry.” Imagine tens of thousands of “Christians” spending money on transportation and lodging to march against homosexuals, instead of applying that money to the ministries that Jesus actually verbalized in, of all places, the Bible! It is a blessing that Episcopalians and ELCA Lutherans who decide to remain anti-gay have viable options to maintain their views and their church by moving on to alternative church bodies. This is sadly not possible for Catholics, unless they forsake the Pope and join with “protestant” churches. I’m an ex-Catholic and I know even ex-priests and nums who have become protestant for various reasons. We ELCA Lutherans would welcome “Father” Tom!

  • bpai_99

    Kam sets up a false comparison right at the outset of this piece. Granted, the Berrigans and Donovan are heroes worthy of praise and emulation. However, to say “These voices and lives stand in sharp contrast to the present day leadership of my church” obscures the fact that the Berrigans and Donovan were not leaders of the Church when they were alive. The leadership then was as tone-deaf to reality as the leadership today.

  • Manwolf

    If Church officials had a “conscience”, they wouldn’t resort to such tactics in order to prop up their disgraceful prejudice. And besides, what does the reality of same-sex marriage in D.C. have to do with feeding the poor?

  • Manwolf

    Furthermore, given the disproportionate number of ordained Catholic officials who perpetuate such antigay prejudice and hatred, in my mind it serves only to highlight the Church’s teaching on homosexuality as an onerous and pitiful expression of self-loathing. If it were benign, that would be fine, but because of this teaching of the Church, gay young people die — because they are forced to internalize that same self-loathing driven into them by the Church, and too many of these resort to suicide. Now why can’t these men of God work THAT into their “conscience?

  • Manwolf

    Fr_Martin_Fox wrote: you ought to be ashamed to tell lies in order to advance your point…the same to you and those who propagate antigay lies and hatred in your Church and then dress it up as “God’s Word” to advance your point.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    “…the same to you and those who propagate antigay lies and hatred in your Church and then dress it up as ‘God’s Word’ to advance your point.”What lie? I didn’t say one word about gays or God’s Word. I’m focusing my comments on the right of the Archdiocese, and all the people it includes, to opt out of the mandate the city imposed regarding “same-sex marriage.” (I’m not even addressing whether the city was right to pass the law creating same-sex marriage in D.C.)The mandate goes with the use of tax dollars–that was the city government’s decision, which is how it works: he who pays the money calls the tune. And the Archdiocese opted not to continue to take the money, because it found the compliance mandated conflicted with its beliefs.So as I see it, the options are:1) Archdiocese keeps taking money, but defies the city. 2) Archdiocese keeps taking money, and goes along with city’s mandate–even though it violates the conscience and beliefs of the Archdiocese.3) Archdiocese stops taking money because it cannot comply with mandate in good conscience.The Archdiocese actually chose option 3–and now is being attacked for it.Since it is impossible the critics wanted the Archdiocese to take the money and defy the city, that only leaves capitulation as the acceptable response; which means tying it to receiving funding was disingenuous. Which means that Mr. Tam and others agreeing with him advocate forcing Catholics submit to the city’s definition of marriage, conscience be damned. But they don’t dare try to go that far, because the pesky First Amendment stands in their way. But it’s good to be clear about where they’d And just a reminder: the justification for compelling Catholics to submit to others’ new definition of marriage–their conscience nothwithstanding–is because the refusal of Catholics to agree is “oppressive.” Saint Thomas More, pray for us.

  • Manwolf

    @Mr. Fox: You’re the one being dishonest, trying to cover up your prejudice — and that’s a sin, remember? No one has required that your Church perform gay marriages. But if you’re going to take public money, then it’s only reasonable that you should follow the public rules. And if you cannot, who really cares ? As far as I and many other are concerned: good riddance! When all is said and done, your organization is a detriment to society.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Manwolf:You are so busy attacking me personally, accusing me of things (lying, prejudice–without anything I’ve said to point to), you aren’t noticing either what the city did or what I’m saying.Yes, it’s true the city hasn’t mandated Catholic clergy perform same-sex marriages–how generous of them!–but the city did say that with accepting funding would come other requirements–in effect, the Archdiocese treating same-sex marriages as if they were marriages in the sense always understood universally till fairly recently. And this the Archdiocese cannot and will not do. So, yes, you are correct, the right thing to do was for the Archdiocese to forgo the funding! I agree! Get that? It was Mr. Tam, author of the article, whose incoherent point would seem to be an That is a lie. The Archdiocese continues to serve the poor with its own money; and presumably the city money, now back in city hands, is being used

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: the Archdiocese treating same-sex marriages as if they were marriages in the sense always understood universally till fairly recently.Again, if you are taking the public’s money, then you answer to the public — which, whether you like it or not, now includes legally and civilly married same-sex couples. For a religious institution to try to politically extort the local government in order to push their discriminatory and prejudiced religious agenda on the public is against our laws. The Church’s active engagement in attempting to manipulate our laws means the Church should no longer enjoy its tax-exempt status.

  • bjmonda

    Pretty Heated Comments!

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Manwolf:You really aren’t interested in what I actually say, are you?”Again, if you are taking the public’s money, then you answer to the public — which, whether you like it or not, now includes legally and civilly married same-sex couples.”Right–so that’s why I said, “you are correct, the right thing to do was for the Archdiocese to forgo the funding! I agree!”"For a religious institution to try to politically extort the local government in order to push their discriminatory and prejudiced religious agenda on the public is against our laws.”What do you mean by “politically extort”? Against what laws?Are you referring to the Archdiocese speaking out in opposition to this proposed change in the law? The Archdiocese has the same right as anyone else–protected by the First Amendment–to speak out and seek to influence public policy. Funny how you–in the name of liberation–want to use the power of government to punish those who exercise their rights in ways you disapprove of! Instead of fulminating about this, you might want to check the law: the tax-exemption religious and charitable organizations enjoy does not mean they give up their rights which the Constitution protects, including the right to speak out on public policy matters. And you are kidding yourself if you think that somehow our society would be better off if those tax-exemptions were removed. Would the people of Haiti be better off if Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services were not tax-exempt? Would the poor in D.C. be better off if the Salvation Army and So Others May Eat and untold other charities were no longer tax-exempt? I find it hard to believe even you would like to see all the Catholic schools close, but if they did, do you really think the students and the taxpayers of D.C. would be better off? What happens if on Tuesday, every one of those students in Catholic schools showed up at their nearest public school? Do you really think they have a desk, a set of books and other supplies ready for them? Clearly you want to silence those who disagree with you. Too bad. Freedom isn’t just for you, it’s for everyone.

  • bjmonda

    Pretty Heated Comments!

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    BJMonda said:”Jesus if he were here today would be the first to stand for all L/G/B/T persons!”How can you be so sure? There were certainly “L/G/B/T” persons around when he walked the earth, and being God, he understands this subject perfectly! Even if you believe he isn’t God, do you really suppose folks in his time didn’t know about same-sex attraction?Jesus is a faithful Jew, and as such he either accepted what Moses brought from Sinai (from himself if you believe he is God) or he did not. If you read the Gospels, you will see several times where Jesus said, “Moses said…but I say…” In particular, Jesus shocked everyone when he was asked about divorce, and he was being asked to decide between two schools of thought on when a divorce was allowed. He ruled it out! His disciples said, if this is how it is, it’s better not to marry.My point being, we know that Jesus was well aware of the Mosaic Law, we know he was willing to modify it, we know that he was not afraid to say and do things that were shocking to his contemporaries. (They ultimately killed him after all as he predicted.)So we are left wondering why he did not say anything to endorse same-sex relationships.It seems to me rather clear from the Gospels that while Jesus is certainly compassionate toward outsiders and sinners, he is hardly someone to appeal to as taking a broad view on sexual relationships. After all, he kept saying, “take up your cross and follow me”; and with the woman accused of adultery (John 8), he did refuse to cast a stone, but he did tell her to be chaste. He told his disciples, when they didn’t like his strictness on marriage and divorce, that some people become eunuchs for the kingdom of God. He didn’t mean castration, he surely meant celibacy.So let me ask you: if Jesus had embraced every gay person who approached him, but told them, be chaste, take up your cross and follow me, would you call that “standing up” for L/G/B/T people?Funny, when the Catholic Church says exactly and precisely the same thing today, it is labeled “hate.”

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: You really aren’t interested in what I actually say, are you?This is what I’m interested in: What you are actually saying amounts to dishonesty. Somehow, you’d like for everyone to believe that church officials objected to marriage equality in DC sole on the allegedly lofty grounds of some kind of conscientious objection or Constitutional integrity or some other BS like that. Despite the hate speech directed at gay people coming directly from your organization, despite the fact that it contributes to the suicides of young gay people, despite the fact that it contributes to legal efforts like those seen in Uganda recently… you’d rather dress it up as something conscientious and lofty. You bring up Catholic schools — there are gay students in every Catholic classroom. So why aren’t you doing something about THAT? For that matter, why aren’t the many self-loathing, closeted homosexual church officials conscientiously objecting to themselves? The abuse crisis in your organization and particularly the manner in which it has been handled reveals the emptiness and complete lack of integrity at the heart of your organization. The DC marriage thing is no different. Sanctimonious, lying skunks!

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Manwolf:The only one expressing hatred and contempt in this thread is you.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Manwolf:I might also add, 100% of the moral superiority is also coming from you. I have not commented unfavorably on your moral character once, nor that of anyone else. But your moral judgments are absolute and without shades of grey. So who is sanctimonious here?

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: 100% of the moral superiority is also coming from you.Thanks for recognizing the obvious! It is absolutely contemptuous and hateful for you to claim the moral high ground while your organization has yet to come clean for raping countless children and leaving them and their families in the cold.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    Manwolf:Now you are becoming a parody, and you don’t even see it.So it’s clear now: you are fine with sanctimony and raw hatred, as long as you get to be the one who is sanctimonious and dispenses the hate.Absolutely amazing.

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: it’s clear now: you are fine with sanctimony and raw hatred, as long as you get to be the one who is sanctimonious and dispenses the hate.Not accurate. What’s clear to me and many others is the hypocrisy, sanctimony and hate at the foundation of your organization’s propaganda on homosexuality, which precipitated the DC Church officials’ threat-making in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage there. And it also seems to me that a pastor, in this day of dwindling human resources in the Church, would not have the leisure to troll online looking for authors such as Mr. Kam to insult. I hope you have a confessor who is more patient with your sins, because I’m certainly not.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    “Mr. Fox wrote: it’s clear now: you are fine with sanctimony and raw hatred, as long as you get to be the one who is sanctimonious and dispenses the hate.Not accurate. What’s clear to me and many others is the hypocrisy, sanctimony and hate at the foundation of your organization’s propaganda on homosexuality, which precipitated the DC Church officials’ threat-making in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage there. And it also seems to me that a pastor, in this day of dwindling human resources in the Church, would not have the leisure to troll online looking for authors such as Mr. Kam to insult. I hope you have a confessor who is more patient with your sins, because I’m certainly not.”It’s very accurate.I haven’t attacked you once, you have not ceased to attack me, over, and over, and over. You accuse me of “hate” and now “sins” and the only one spewing hate and contempt is you. Period.And this is rich: “and it also seems to me that a pastor, in this day of dwindling human resources in the Church, would not have the leisure to troll online looking for authors such as Mr. Kam to insult.”"Troll”? “Insult”? I don’t recall giving you the privilege of sitting in judgment of me, and I’m curious who did give you that privilege. It’s a lie that I’ve “insulted” Mr. Tam. I have not insulted him; I’ve taken serious issue with his assertions. But in your world, that’s not allowed, I guess. At least not from priests, who should shut up. I’ll let you have the last word, however, because it’s obvious that your 100% certainty of your own, complete moral superiority to me–by your own admission! (see comment below)–makes any further attempt at dialogue impossible. I think trying to talk with people you disagree with is a good thing. I hope, someday, you can see the value of that too.It’e sad that you can treat another human being with utter contempt–and rich with irony under the circumstances–there it is. That you proceed to congratulate yourself for it…then call me the one who is “sanctimonious” and hateful. Remarkable. I genuinely wish you well.

  • bjmonda

    Again Thank you Tom Kam for the insightful Blog.

  • FrJimS

    I do not hear much listening going on in the responses to Tom Kam’s article. Easy to judge and find fault; a challenge to listen to the pain and alienation felt by those who are not listened to and welcomed.

  • Fr_Martin_Fox

    BJMonda:Thanks for your comments! I certainly need all the love I can get, we all do! I made a commitment to celibacy, and I’m happy with that, because when one is vowed to someone, you wait for that person, that’s what fidelity means, I’m sure you can understand that. I am vowed to Christ, so for all other offers, I politely decline, saying, “no thank you, I’m waiting for someone.”As far as “hostility,” I don’t see what you consider my “hostility.” I’ve been on the receiving end of repeated attacks by Manwolf, calling me a hater and liar and prejudiced and sanctimonious and so forth. Those repeated charges–made against me, not by me–sound like “hostility” to me! My frequent comments have been addressing his. Yes, I did finally say, in effect, who’s hating whom? I don’t hate you or anyone. I don’t claim to be morally superior to anyone, but Manwolf asserts he is morally superior to me. I think the charge of sanctimony against him has merit, in light of that. As far as Mr. Tam, I do object to his claim that is flatly untrue: the Archdiocese is not refusing to help the poor, that is a lie and yes, telling lies is something to be ashamed of.

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: I think trying to talk with people you disagree with is a good thing.Considering your simplistic, condescending take on this issue, that’s just cheap pastoral pablum, something at which you guys seem to excel. And I don’t think the archbishop in DC took your advice, did he?

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: I don’t see what you consider my “hostility.” HELLO? You called Mr. Kam, some who loves his Church at least as much as you do, a liar. Is that how you try to “talk to people you disagree with”?

  • Manwolf

    Mr. Fox wrote: In the Book of Daniel, the king ordered that everyone was to fall to their faces and worship the golden statue of himself. Daniel refused and for that was cast into the lion’s den. Aren’t you ashamed to be on the side of the king and not the prophet of God?TRANSLATION: “I, and those who believe what I believe, am obviously pleasing God — you, on the other hand, are of Satan and abhorrent to God.”

  • melopata

    We affirm Tom Kam’s call for a church that listens, and would add a call for church leaders – hierarchy or not, lay persons and religious—to model Christ’s message of love and compassion, and to bear witness to the wholeness and holiness of the LGBT people in their lives. As Catholic parents of a gay son, we are keenly aware of the hurtful language, duplicity, double talk, and hypocrisy practiced at the top levels of church hierarchy and too frequently all the way down the chain of command. Those who know the real lives of LGBT people, especially their parents, “…have the right and the duty to manifest [their] knowledge [and] competence” to church leaders at every level. (Canon Law 212.3) It has become abundantly clear that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church does not welcome LGBT persons, indeed the institutional church would be most happy if LGBT persons would all leave. However, they should not be surprised when others leave too. i.e. parents of LGBT daughters and sons , other family members, friends, all who experience LGBT persons as fully human, and morally and spiritual equal. LGBT people are children of God who bring a wealth of gifts to the church and to society at large. The life of the church is poorer without them.

  • citygal1500

    The Archdiocese, rather than provide benefits to married same-sex couples who might work in the diocesan shelters and so on, chose to close them, citing conscience. This would be noble if it were motivated by conscience.A well-developed conscience,one would think, would prompt the Vatican to censure severely Cardinal Law and others who covered up the scandal of pedophile priests. Cardinal Law, however, enjoys favor in the Vatican – no punishment whatsoever. So I can’t really accept the conscience argument for the actions of the DC archdiocese. The church is wrong, in so many ways, but it compels blind obedience and silences those who would call it back to obedience to GOD via truth, not lies and misrepresentations, and service, not picking and choosing who to serve and when.Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me. Mt. 25. Jesus is crucified daily by those who are vowed to his service and instead serve Mother Church.

  • Manwolf

    cityhgal1500, if I were straight, I’d propose traditional marriage with you (presuming you are straight, too…). :-)

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