Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost: Divine Polyculture vs. Imperial Monoculture

By Ched Myers

Note: This commentary was first published May 21, 2015 at Radical Discipleship, and is part of an ongoing series of Ched Myer’s brief comments on the Revised Common Lectionary during Year B, 2015.

How is it that we heard, each of us, in our own native tongue? (Acts 2:8)

Since the dawn of colonization, the Americas have been defined by the struggle between dominant culture ideologies of conformity imposed by those in power, and grassroots cultural diversity among those on the margins. This tension between fantasies of racial supremacy and realities of racial diversity remains one of the supreme challenges facing the U.S., and thus our churches, today. The future of North American society depends upon our ability to live peaceably and justly with human diversity — and the same can be said of the human experiment as a whole. The question is whether we can, in church and in society, forge models of coexistence-with-congruence rather than unity-by-uniformity.

This question is as ancient as our scriptures. In particular, two related texts, one from each Testament, articulate key issues of cultural heterogeneity, social health and human freedom. One is the divine deconstruction of imperial homogeneity represented by the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The other is the multicultural insurrection against Roman imperial monoculture on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

In the former tale—one the oldest in the Bible—the divine “council” that created human beings (Gen 1:26) and that had to expel them from the Garden (3:22) intervenes against the centripetal, homogenizing project of Babel: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language” (11:7). This is the closing warning tale in the overall narrative arc of Genesis 1-11, concluding that the way to resist social and political forces of centralization is to reassert the Creator’s original intention that human communities be “scattered abroad over the face of the earth” (1:28; 9:1). The divine antidote is a re-dispersion of peoples (11:8), symbolized here by both linguistic/cultural variety and geographic diffusion.

This “scattering” is portrayed in Genesis not as the tragic result of God’s judgment, as is usually preached in our churches, but rather as an act of centrifugal liberation from urban monoculture and superconcentration. This is archetypal movement from center to margins finds further articulation in two foundational stories in Torah: that of Abram (Gen 11:31-12:5) and Exodus.

The ancient Hebrews, repeatedly displaced or colonized by urban civilization, seem to have developed a paleo-psychic impulse toward such centrifugality, summarized in the Psalmist’s later reiteration of Babel’s lesson: “Truly, I would flee far off; I would lodge in the wilderness… Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city” (Psalm 55:7ff). Israel’s survival was predicated upon resistance to successive empires through a stubborn maintenance of its own cultural, linguistic and religious distinctiveness and nonconformity. Centuries later, Jewish Christians surrounded by the dominating architecture and homogenizing social forces of the Roman Empire renewed this ancient tradition of resistance, as narrated in Luke’s story of the birth of the Christian church that we celebrate at Pentecost.

Acts 2 narrates the inauguration of the church in the power of the Holy Spirit—though what sort of practices the Spirit empowered has been a divisive issue among Christians ever since. Today ecclesial debates about what it means to be “Spirit-filled” usually focus on individual charismatic gifts, rather on the church as an alternative social model. But in Luke’s narrative, the Spirit ignited a multilingual eruption at the heart of cosmopolitan Jerusalem and in the face of Roman social control, in the long tradition of Jewish centrifugal challenges to centripetal empire.

In this multilingual insurgency Luke is affirming the diverse cultural contexts in which the new Christian movement would soon take flesh as the gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean world. But the echoes of the ancient Babel tale are unmistakable: “And at this sound the multitude came together and were confused because each one heard the apostles speaking in their own language” (Acts 2:6; Gk sungcheō is the same root word used in the Septuagint text of Gen 11:7,9). This is not, as it is usually misconstrued, a reversal of the alleged “curse” of Babel. Rather, Pentecost re-iterates that tale’s polemic, and the divinely-sanctioned strategy to deconstruct pathological imperial homogeneity by reclaiming cultural diversity. The gift of tongues communicates across linguistic differences without suppressing or eradicating those differences. That is what distinguishes true gospel mission from cross-and-sword conquest in the service of empire that has characterized Christendom all too often. Unity through the Spirit does not mean monoculture, but the celebration of human variety.

The local cultures around the world that are carried by today’s immigrant poor have been eroded by centuries of colonialism, and are in danger of being extinguished by the onslaught of global capitalism’s drive for commodified homogeneity. The church must reassert the Genesis wisdom of a “scattered” human family by nurturing diversity, and must reaffirm the Pentecostal vocation of native-language empowerment. For in the great narrative of the Bible, God’s intervention is always subversive of the centralizing project of empire, and always on the side of the excluded and outcast, the refugee and immigrant. The Spirit has busted up business-as-usual many times since Babel and Jerusalem, and she is waiting to do the same in our own time—if our tongues would but dare to loosen.

Note: This is an edited excerpt from Chapter One of Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice (Orbis, 2012). See also the longer reflection here. These themes will be discussed in Radical Discipleship's next webinar on June 16, 2015.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Transgender and Catholic

By Nick Stevens

Note: This commentary was first published by The New York Times.

Transgender and Catholic. These two words often aren’t used in the same sentence (at least in a positive way), but these words best describe who I am.

Yes, I'm a Roman Catholic in an increasingly secular world. But I'm also a Catholic in a transgender community who has often experienced religion as a mask for bigotry or even violence.

So when I came out as a transgender male at my small Catholic college in St. Louis I feared my peers would not respond well. Whether it was reactions of hesitation or outright exclusion, I knew things would change.

And things did change. But for the better.

My Catholic peers not only tolerated, but embraced me.

Even my grandmother, who is a traditional Catholic, gave me her blessing. In her words and actions, she communicated to me the fundamental truths of our faith: that God made us to be who we are, and if we aren't being true to ourselves, then we aren't being true to God.

Her acceptance was a testament to God’s unfailing love, and it allowed me to be true to myself.

I now work with a Catholic non-profit that promotes the social mission of the Church in public life. My co-workers affirm, respect, and support my gender identity. I also live in an intentional Catholic community committed to the values of social justice, simple living, and peace.

Those who believe the Church will never include LGBT people are blind to a Church that already does. Catholics who include and embrace the LGBT community aren’t acting contrary to the faith, but in accordance with the faith’s highest values.

My Catholic faith provides the moral foundation of my life. It’s taught me the value of radical inclusivity, particularly towards those who are discriminated against because of where they came from, how they identify, or who they love.

I've witnessed for myself the home that the Catholic Church can provide to the LGBT community. So it pains me to see headline after headline of transgender people who have been victims of violence, particularly in the name of religion.

And I won't stop working towards a Church that welcomes all and excludes none.

Why? Because this is my faith. And this the faith of the Church.

See also the previous PCV post:
Sub Secretum

Monday, May 18, 2015

Twin Cities Catholics Respond to Pope Francis' Invitation and Speak Out on Sexual Issues

By Mary Ellen Jordan

NOTE: This commentary was first published May 18, 2015 at MinnPost.

Every Catholic knows that the Catholic Church’s stance on sexuality comes across to many people as basically negative — a series of no's and prohibitions. The traditional stringency of Catholic sexual ethics has ostracized many Catholics and pained many more.

The Council of the Baptized, a 21-member panel of Catholics chartered in January 2012 as part of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (a group that is not officially recognized by the Archdiocese), is giving voice to the conscience concerns of a growing community of Twin Cities Catholics. The disconnect between the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality and people’s lived experiences has prompted its members to issue a position paper titled “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality.” The position paper is being distributed widely throughout the Twin Cities.

The position paper is timely. Pope Francis, believing in a more compassionate Catholic Church, has called for an international conversation on sexuality and the family in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family to be held in Rome, in October 2015. These local Catholics are responding to the pope’s invitation to the faithful worldwide to contribute their lived experience to this conversation. “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality” centers on the important issues of artificial contraception, homosexuality, and cohabitation, divorce and remarriage. The position paper summarizes Church teaching on these topics, and then outlines opposition from theologians, health organizations and world opinion. It points out promising new directions that are already appearing.

Large and small groups are discussing “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality" in living rooms and around kitchen tables. Participants are telling stories about how their experiences, and those of their family members and friends, have brought them into conflict with official Church teachings on sexuality. These often heartfelt stories, written anonymously in very short paragraphs, will be sent to Archbishop John Nienstedt and to all the American bishops who will be attending the Synod on the Family.

Mary Beth Stein and I, the major writers of the paper, will appear on The Mary Hanson Show tonight (Monday, May 18) at 9:30 on TPT MN (check your local listings for channel). Both of us are faithful Catholics who love the Church. We understand that Church teachings develop over time in the light of new understanding and information. One of the most important points we make in the interview is that Church teachings are reformable. We acknowledge that change is often hard, and sometimes it is slow in coming, but that the Catholic tradition is a living tradition. We agree with theologian Paul Lakeland that “incompleteness is an inescapable facet of history,” and “what is not open to change is already dead.”

We mention instances where the Church has responded to new information and reformed many of its teachings. For instance, the rise of the capitalist economy led the Church to stop its condemnation of the charging of interest (usury). When scientific evidence became overwhelming, the Church formally, if belatedly, recognized Galileo’s contribution to an understanding of our sun-centered solar system. We point out that despite the ongoing controversy over evolution, Catholic theologians have begun to mine rich insights into the human condition from Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“Toward a Healthy Theology of Sexuality” is available as a free PDF file here. Catholics who would like to host a Listening Session on the position paper can learn more by checking the Council of the Baptized website.

Mary Ellen Jordan is a retired educator, having taught at St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit to Proceed Despite Chancery's Misstep

By Michael Bayly

Sadly for some, this post could appropriately be titled: How to ensure our youth join the documented exodus of Catholics from the church.

Why? Well, let me explain by first noting that the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition is a student-run initiative that describes itself as "a group of individual students from Catholic schools in Minnesota, and Catholic identified individuals who attend public or non-Catholic private schools, who are interested in advancing LGBTQ+ equity in their schools and local communities."

The inspiring mission of this student-led coalition is to "create genuine, open conversation about LGBTQ+ issues at Catholic schools for faculty, staff, administrators, and students in Minnesota, and a safer, more equitable Catholic school environment for all students, particularly LGBTQ+ identified students."

Members of the coalition come from four of the eleven Twin Cities metro-area Catholic high schools: Benilde-St. Margaret's, Holy Family, Academy of Holy Angels, and Totino Grace.

Creating safe spaces

This Saturday, May 16, 2015, the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition, with support from OutFront MN and the Justice Office of the Sister's of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates – St. Paul Province, is hosting an event that's being billed as the "first annual LGBTQ+ Catholic student summit."

Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people of faith is the main goal of the summit, one that the coalition describes as "a day of conversation, learning, and action to improve the climate for LGBTQ+ individuals in Catholic environments, and the lives of LGBTQ+ Catholics in LGBTQ+ ones."

The day will begin with Mass, followed by a keynote address by Kristen Ostendorf, who, in 2013, was fired from her position of English/religion teacher at Totino-Grace Catholic High School after she came out to colleagues as gay and "happily in a relationship." (Ostendorf now teaches English at Highland Park Senior High in St. Paul.) The summit's afternoon session will be devoted to a series of student-led workshops on creating safe spaces in Catholic schools, the experience of being LGBT and Catholic, and how to talk to people of faith about LGBT issues. The coalition and its partners expect more than 200 Catholic students from around the state to attend Saturday's summit.

The chancery responds

The young people who comprise the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition are quite impressive, wouldn't you say? I mean, they and their efforts are "signs and wonders" of the good news of Jesus, of God's transforming love breaking through into the world via the actions of people mindful and responsive to this love both in the depths of their being and in all aspects of creation. These young people are clearly embodying the gospel values of concern for the marginalized, compassion, inclusion, and justice. Also, their efforts to facilitate respectful dialogue reflect the leadership style of Pope Francis. Given all of this, one would think that these students and their efforts would be supported by the clerical leadership of the archdiocese. Not so.

You see, Saturday's LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit was originally scheduled to take place at Christ the King Catholic Church in Minneapolis. However, earlier this week the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition posted the following message on its Facebook page:

The LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition regrets to announce that on orders from the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Christ the King Catholic Church is no longer able to host the LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit.

Fortunately, Edina Community Lutheran Church (4113 W 54th St, Edina) has graciously agreed to host the event this Saturday, May 16.

While we are deeply disappointed that we are no longer able to host this event at a Catholic parish, the decision from the chancery clearly demonstrates the need for this event and the conversations we will be having on Saturday at the summit.

Now more than ever it’s important to come together as a community in solidarity! Can’t wait to see you all there.

In a statement to The Column, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt said he “intervened” in the decision of Christ the King to host the event because the forum is being “led by a speaker who has publicly dissented from Church teaching. . . . We are concerned that the content of the proposed presentation will contradict Church teaching, leaving those in attendance, especially young people, confused about the truth of the teaching long after the May 16th presentation.”

Another egregious misstep

Of course, this type of action from the chancery is not new; in relation to LGBT issues, it dates back to October 2007 and the banning of 82-year-old “cradle Catholic” Robert Curoe and his lesbian daughter, Carol, from speaking at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church about their book, Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story. (For my thoughts at the time on this action by the chancery, click here.) Indeed, when it comes to questioning voices and differing opinions around issues of sexuality and church reform, the general response of the chancery under Archbishop Nienstedt (who, it should be noted, remains under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct with adult men) has been to censor, denounce, and ban. In the context of our shared journey as Catholics, such actions are egregious missteps on the part of our clerical leadership.

One can only speculate on the impact that the chancery's banning of the summit from official Catholic property will have on the young members of the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition. Their Facebook statement puts a positive spin on things, but I'm sure that many of the young people involved are nevertheless feeling hurt and rejected by the message that's been sent by the chancery's directive.

This is significant, not to mention relevant to the alternative title to this post: How to ensure our youth join the documented exodus of Catholics from the church. For as Jane C. Timm notes in her MSNBC article of last year:

One third of young people who left organized religion did so because of anti-gay teachings or treatment within their churches, according to a new study.

While not surprising—it’s no secret that younger Americans are more accepting of gay people—it puts a number on the cost anti-gay policies can have on organizations.

A full 31% of young people (ages 18 to 33) who left organized religion said “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay people was a “somewhat important” or “very important” factor in their departure, as surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute.

A strong majority (58%) of Americans also said religious groups are “alienating” young people by “being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” A full 70% of young people said the same.

In response to the chancery's latest misstep, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform is encouraging the members of its lay network to "write to Archbishop Nienstedt and tell him what you think of his decision to order Christ the King parish to cancel a GLBTQ youth event."

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
226 Summit Avenue
St. Paul MN 55102

Phone: (651) 291-4400
Email: archbishop@archspm.org

For more information about the LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit, including how to register, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Students Organize Youth Summit to Be Held This Weekend – Grace Gyolai (Knight Errant, May 14, 2015).
First Annual LGBT Catholic Student Summit to Be Held Saturday – Andy Birkey (TheColu.mn, May 12, 2015).
America’s Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow – Pew Research Center (May 12, 2015).
Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian – Nate Cohn (New York Times, May 12, 2015).
Study finds Significant Decline in Minnesotans Identifying Themselves as Catholic – Joe Kimball (MinnPost, May 12, 2015).
How the Church Can Get Millennials Back – Christopher J. Hale (Time, May 14, 2015).

NOTE: This commentary was first published on Michael's blog, The Wild Reed. For related Wild Reed posts, see:
Choosing to Stay
GSAs and the Catholic High School Setting
Dave Navarro to LGBT Youth: "We Need Your Voice"
The Two Editorials that Benilde-St. Margaret's Catholic High School Doesn't Want You to Read
How Times Have Changed
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis – Part 3: Archdiocese Defends CPCSM's Efforts on Behalf of Gay Students
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis – Part 4: More on the Archdiocese's Efforts to Defend the Addressing of Gay Issues in Catholic High Schools

Friday, May 8, 2015

What is This Furor About Religious Liberty?

Religious liberty in the U.S. is under dire threat! The sky is falling!

Catholic bakers will have to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages!

Here are some situations that are not in issue:

• People having to marry other people they don’t want to marry—not an issue

• People having to like, speak to, look at, or invite to their house same-sex married couples—not an issue

• Religions having to marry same-sex couples—not an issue

• Religions having to curb their speech in private or in the public sphere—not an issue

• Religious individuals having to curb their speech in private or in the public sphere—ditto

What is at issue?

Is the state justified in requiring you as a person doing business in public to serve all customers? Generally business people want customers, but if you do not want to serve a particular person, should the state be able to tell you that you must? You don’t have to serve everyone. Let’s say they are underage. They don’t have on a shirt or shoes. They are inebriated, disorderly, or dangerous. No service required.

But as a member of the public, benefiting from public protection and laws and from the trust of the community, can you turn away anyone you want? Over the years, we as our own law-makers have said we want to protect certain groups of people whose lives are made difficult by business people refusing service for no other reason than that the business person doesn’t like them. They have an “animus” for some reason. In the case of skin color that “animus” was making life difficult for a significant number of people. As a matter of public policy, we don’t want to stand by and let that happen.

Now we face this question: What if the customer is not complying with the laws and beliefs of your religion? Is that a good reason to refuse service, like no shirt or shoes, or is it an “animus”? Does the customer’s not believing as you do deprive you of religious liberty? You are Muslim, and a woman comes in to your store without a head covering. Is your religious liberty violated if the law requires you to sell her groceries? A traveler with a shopping bag from the liquor store hails your cab. Should you be allowed to pass him by? You are a Catholic, and a same-sex couple comes in to buy groceries. Can you refuse to sell them groceries? How about a wedding cake?

Is it a violation of your religious freedom for the state to require you to serve people who believe differently from you? Is selling goods and services a religious practice? And even if it is, do we as a matter of public policy want to allow business people to make life difficult for others because of religious differences? Does it foster peace and the common good to have religious strife in a pluralistic society?

What do you think of all this?