Yes, here in Minnesota

/ 7 October 2010

Again, I weep.

From a friend's blog comes the story of a student assaulted last week on the Augsburg College campus for being gay. Ellie teaches at a Catholic high school, and she adds to her telling of Justin's story, that

I could teach Laramie and tell Justin’s story at my Catholic high school because even in the most conservative Church teaching, it is absolutely not ok for someone to be the victim of unjust discrimination because of her or his sexuality. Justin was not doing anything wrong by standing on his campus. He did not deserve to be assaulted, and even conservative Catholics can agree we need to work to ensure all people’s dignity and safety.

While I think Ellie is right about even the most conservative interpretations of Catholicism condemning violence and hatred, I can't help wondering to what extent the actions of our Archbishop inadvertently contribute to such hatred. When the central teacher and authority figure of the RC church here in the Twin Cities refuses communion to students for the act of wearing rainbow colored signs of affirmation of gays, is it such a long step to imagine that other college students, other young people on another college campus, might hear such an act as implicitly authorizing the dehumanization of gays, and even violence towards them?

While I believe the Archbishop is earnestly and faithfully attempting to refuse the "politicization" of the mass, I think he completely fails to see the ways in which liturgy is already a highly political action. So while he believes he's upholding church teaching, I think the meaning people could make of his actions is that since church teaching supports highly public acts such as refusing communion only when the person serving communion knows that the person seeking to receive it is in a state of grave sin (cf. Canon 915), and since he has taken this action against people who -- for all that he or we know -- are simply affirming their support for gay friends, ipso facto, being friends with gays is a grave sin.

The Archbishop surely believes it is his right and duty to convey church teaching, and most likely also believes that it is not appropriate for me to draw these conclusions from his actions. But authority does not work the way it used to, and meaning is not simply an instrumental "thing" that can be imposed from "on high."

I'll go back to the confession of sin that Gareth Higgins offered a couple of days ago, and in which I share:

On the basis of what we know thus far, I think we can guess this: Tyler Clementi died as a direct result of a culture of sexual shame in which institutionalized religion is the major investor. I am angry, and I am going to say something harsh and direct, but I am willing to take responsibility for it. Please feel free to respond if you wish.

If you have ever affirmed homophobia by not intervening to challenge the snide remarks that all of us have heard, you may be part of the reason that Tyler Clementi is dead. And most of the time, I myself have not intervened.

If you have ever used ‘us’ and ‘them’ language to divide sets of people into ‘normative’ heterosexual cultures, and ‘others’, you may be part of the reason Tyler Clementi is dead. I spoke of ‘us’ and ‘them’ for most of my life until a friend challenged me; I still find myself slipping into old rhetorical habits, for our culture is so deeply wedded to the myth that our identities depend on dividing and conquering.

If you have ever disrespected, dehumanized, or belittled a person because of their sexuality, you may be part of the reason Tyler Clementi is dead.

I think I am part of the reason that Tyler Clementi is dead.</blockquote>

Which is why it's important for me to state that I think the Archbishop, most likely in ways he cannot understand or would refuse to acknowledge, is contributing to a cultural context in which his actions at liturgy teach in ways that he surely does not intend.

I do not know how to communicate to our hierarchy on these issues. I do not know how to make clear that the actions they are taking are not communicating what I have to presume (from church teaching) they believe. Meanwhile, I watch our commercial popular culture provide more engaging and profound kinds of reflections on religious identity and sexuality (cf. "grilled cheesus" episode of Glee).

What if the Archbishop, instead of refusing communion, had sat down with these young people after the liturgy and engaged in a respectful conversation with them about church teaching? What if he had taken the time to hear why they felt they needed to communicate with him in this way? Would that be so impossible? What might he have communicated, then?