Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ireland's 'Yes': Converting the Church to Christianity

It won’t come as a huge surprise to regular readers that I’m absolutely delighted with the results of Ireland’s referendum to amend the Irish Constitution to legally affirm same-sex marriages. The scale of the vote- 62.1% in favour- was, in one way, unbelievable, and in other ways, what anyone watching closely would have expected.

Many figured that rural Ireland- and there’s a lot of it- would be close run, with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ battling over ever inch; in the end, rural Ireland swung ‘Yes’ by a wider margin than any ‘Yes’ campaigner could have hoped.

Many thought Evangelical immigrants from Africa and Asia- barely ever noticed by the media, but often the most populated churches on any given Sunday- might have come to the ‘No’ campaign’s salvation; this didn’t materialize.

Many thought that it’d be close; it wasn’t even close.

Only Roscommon/South Leitrim- the one constituency to scrape out a ‘No’- kept it from being a clean sweep. I’m a ‘Rossie’ by way of my gran’s family and her people, so that was a very personal disappointment… But trust me, I’ll get over my grief!

Make no mistake: this was a loss in every way for the Irish Catholic Church. The church that bore us, baptized us, confirmed us, raised us, taught us… and taught us… and taught us… They told us to vote ‘No’, and we said ‘no’ and voted ‘Yes’.

The Church’s reaction has been as deaf-eared and thoughtless as ever, summed up in two of its most senior figures.

The Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin declared himself ‘deeply saddened’, going as far to pronounce the result not just ‘a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity’.

His solution? ‘The church must take account of this reality’, he said, ‘but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization.’

More of the same, just with more emphasis, then…

Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, was, to his credit, a little more nuanced and circumspect. ‘The Church needs a reality check right across the board’, he said bluntly.  ‘We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial.

‘Have we drifted away completely from young people?’ he wondered aloud. ‘I ask myself, most of these young people who voted “yes” are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.’

Both of these men are working from a flawed premise. They both seem to think that the problem is that the Catholic Church has failed to adequately get its message across. Somehow, they seem to believe, the message- gay people are ‘intrinsically disordered’; gay people are a social and theological problem; gay people must be instructed, managed, regulated, and above all else, kept in check and in their place- simply needs to be stated more lucidly, more clearly.

What neither man seems able to grasp- though Martin does come closer- is that Irish young people have indeed gotten the message.

They have heard it loud and clear… and have rejected it.

They heard the endless rhetoric about the danger that marriage equality posed to ‘the family’ and, in the end, they just didn’t buy it.

Why? They simply know too many gay people.

LGBT issues are no longer an abstract issue for them. They are friends with gay people; they are the brothers and sisters of gay people; they are the nieces and nephews of gay people.

They now know that gay people live, dream, feel, buy furniture, have birthdays, hate pickles, borrow your pen and don’t return it, make incredible pasta sauce, play their music too loud, are brilliant at helping with the difficult maths homework, pick thoughtful Christmas gifts, can make them laugh, cry, be incredibly silly…

… and yes, they can fall in love.  

The Catholic Church repeated endlessly that LGBT people were an existential threat to our families; but most Irish people have known for a very long time that LGBT people were our family.

There is also a dark side to all of this, and the fact that the Church still doesn’t get it shows how spectacularly thoughtless they can be.

It eventually threads back to the Ryan and Murphy Reports and the systemic, organized, and structured abuse the Church visited on the Irish people.

The clerical child abuse scandal within the industrial schools run for decades by the Catholic Church in Ireland have for years been an open wound  for many Irish people, whether they be Catholic, lapsed Catholic, never-Catholic, or would-be Catholic.

The Ryan and Murphy Reports finally threw official, detailed light onto the devastating full scale of the child abuse:

over 800 known serial abusers;

over 200 Catholic institutions;

over 35 years;

abuse not accidental, sporadic, or opportunistic, but methodical;

not a tragic failure of the system, but, horrifically, the system itself-

We now understand why the scandals are referred to, I believe without an ounce of hyperbole, as ‘Ireland’s gulag’ and ‘the map of an Irish hell’.

Reading those reports- and I have read them- is like staring the antichrist full in the face.

Reading them finally confirmed to me why someone as compassionate as the Jesus of the biblical text would ever suggest such a cruel and unusual use for a millstone.

Reading them left me sad, sick, and enraged.

Beyond that, the Church’s reaction was- and continues to be- I believe the very embodiment of the word ‘inadequate’. First, there was silence, and where there wasn’t silence there was noise- obfuscation, platitudes, and rationalization.

So make no mistake, this referendum was indeed about looking the Church squarely in the face and saying, 'Don’t you ever again tell me what is right, good, or appropriate for my life, my nation, or my family, ever.’

In spite of it all, it does not mean that there is no God. I care deeply for my faith and my Church. I believe in redemption, in salvation, in conversion.

What does that look like, in an Ireland with a church and a populace so thoroughly alienated from each other?

My work exploring the legacies of Latin American liberation theology leads me to believe that we need to think about the process of evangelization and conversion differently. In the midst of systemic oppression and marginalization of the people of Central and South America, the relationship between the people and their Church needed to be re-imagined. Brazilian priest and theologian Frei Betto described the relationship thus:

After (Vatican II and MedellĂ­n in 1968)... It wasn’t so much a question of the Church’s opting for the poor as of the poor’s- forced by the repression of the people’s and trade union movements- opting for the Church. In other words, the poor turned to the Church in order to remain organized, articulate, conscious, and active... the poor invaded the Church (and) Catholic priests and bishops began to be converted to Christianity.

What I believe this means in our context is that, wittingly and unwittingly, the Church has damaged LGBT people and their families. That is the ‘reality check’ that the Church must explore.

Beyond that, the Church needs to be converted to Christianity, to the Gospel of Jesus- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless.

The ‘Yes’ result can be the beginning of that conversion.

LGBT people of faith, along with their families, friends, and allies, can be part of that conversion, as Betto suggests, by invading the Church and converting it to Christianity;

It might not happen, and that would be perfectly natural. The social and political situations are completely different, maybe even divergent. The oppressed and the marginalized of Central and South America ‘needed’ the Church; LGBT people in Ireland have achieved any liberation they’ve achieved without the Church; indeed, they’ve achieved it in spite of the Church.

Most poignantly, there are the experiences of LGBT people who have suffered immeasurably from the myriad of cruel and unusual processes of trying to square a gay circle, the endless bogus therapies designed to 'fix' them, 'repair' them, blasphemously referred to as 'conversion'.

It is not they who need to be converted; it is the Church. 

But there is a chance. There are devout Catholic people, gay and straight, who care about our Church and are concerned for its soul.

The Church is our mission field. We feel the need to be her ‘Easter people’.

We wish to see her evangelized, to see her converted to Christianity, to see her repent, so see her raised from death to life, to see her sin set aside, and her life restored.

The Church does not deserve this. She does not deserve our love. She does not deserve salvation; she does not deserve Christ’s love. She despised and rejected the very least among us, and has therefore despised and rejected him.

Simply put, the Church doesn’t deserve grace. She doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

But that is part of the Gospel of Jesus as well. St. Paul saw it as the heart of the Gospel: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…

Against all my thoughts, feelings, and maybe even my better judgement, I’m willing to extend grace, to begin that forgiveness process, and to be part of the evangelization of the Church.

It’s my way, I suppose, of saying ‘Yes’…

Friday, 1 May 2015

St. Joseph the Worker: A Reflection for International Workers' Day

Today is 1 May, the 125th International Workers' Day.

Today is also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

The feast was decreed by Pope Pius XII in 1955, specifically to counteract International Workers’ Day, a day
 originally declared to commemorate the Haymarket tragedy in Chicago in 1886, which came out of the fight for the 8-hour working day, and now a day of international solidarity for workers, trade unionists, and activists struggling for safety, security, and justice for all working people everywhere.

Unfortunately, Pius’ decree had little to do with commemorating the struggles of the past or those of his own day; as ever, this was about controlling, regulating, directing.

Joseph, from the hierarchy's point of view, needed to serve as the ‘patron of workers’ the ‘model of workers’.

And what was that model? 

Teachings and stories tend to stress patience, persistence, the value of hard work.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but if Joseph- or Christ, Mary, or any other saint- simply becomes a cipher for dogma and social control, the true meaning of their lives are lost. 

Joesph was a worker, yes.

He was also, like many other workers before and since, a victim of organized state terror who became a refugee with his family- as do many workers today,

the same people drowning daily in the Mediterranean,

or dying of thirst in the Southwestern deserts of Mexico and the US,

Politicians and populists demonize them, raving to ‘their’ workers about how ‘these’ workers will steal 'their' jobs and rob 'their' taxes.

One slogan of the international labour movement declares, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’;

In the biblical text, Jesus declares, ‘if you have done it- or not done it- to one of the least of my brothers, you have done it- or not done it- to me.’

Jesus spent the vast majority of his life- over 90%- as a worker, a tradesman, living in a small village.

What most of the anti-immigrant (should I say ‘anti-worker’?) rhetoric fails to consider is that most people want just that; 

to live in their own country, in their own community, working in safety, security, free from state terror, war, and poverty.

Just what Jesus and his father did for most of their lives…

Does the wealthy West really have the ego to think that people uproot themselves, pay exorbitant fees to traffickers, and take long, potentially- deadly journeys because they are lazy?! 

Because they want 'our' jobs, 'our' benefits', 'our' livelihoods?

The tendrils of domineering foreign policy, global economics, and environmental collapse all work to make life where they are un-liveable for many...

Joseph is the patron saint of these people. He is not the calm, quiet, patient, dutiful, compliant ‘worker’ of the Church hierarchy;

He is the uprooted worker, the fleeing worker, the worker from a small village, occupied by a foreign power;

The worker seeking to raise his family in peace, yet always at the mercy of the whims of governments and officials;

The worker who is part of an empire and an economy he did not create, and over which he has little or no influence.

The Church has very often fostered a theology of regulation and control, but the majority of the world- Catholics, other Christians, other religious groups, and secularists- have rightly rejected such theology.

We owe it to Jesus and Joseph to foster theologies of solidarity and resistance;

Theologies not just of work, but of workers.

Holy St. Joseph, pray for us…