Jesus’s Prophetic Solidarity with Outsiders
Gathering of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics
Author: Miguel H. Diaz Ph.D. , Ambassador to the Holy See, Ret. , The John Courtney Murray Chair in Public Service at Loyola University Chicago
July 4-7, 2019. Chicaho, USA
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The theme of this year’s global network of rainbow Catholics is proud and prophetic. For LGBTQ+ Catholics, being both proud and prophetic comes at a great cost, and both, are often indistinguishable from one another. Demonstrating pride for being queer and Catholic is a prophetic act that oftentimes renders one as an outsider within the Church and society. This socialization mechanism through which LGBTQ+ persons become “othered” often starts early in life, and remains an experience that many re-live throughout their lives. At the root of this “othering,” which threatens millions of human lives worldwide, is heterosexism.
Heterosexism, while related to homophobia, is not primarily an emotional or visceral response. In the case of heterosexism, it represents “a reasoned system of bias regarding sexual orientation.”1 While homophobia “finds appropriate analogies in bigotry and misogynism,”2 heterosexism “is analogous to sexism and racism.”3 Heterosexism is not the spontaneous and oppressive gut reaction that LGBTQ+ persons experience in homophobia. Instead, heterosexism points to a more fundamental way that all of us (LGBTQ+ persons included) have been socialized to see and interpret the world, oftentimes uncritically and sometimes unconsciously with respect to the ways heterosexuality dominates and determines our daily interactions. Heterosexism is an epistemology, if you will, a way of standing from a particular point in the human landscape and judging everything from that particular perspective as if no one else stood anywhere else in that landscape and thereby experienced and saw things differently.
Heteronormativity or heterocentrism as is sometimes also called, is responsible for birthing this myopic and unjust reasoned understanding of human experiences. As Patricia Jung has pointed out, heterocentrism “leads to the conviction that heterosexuality is the normative form of human sexuality…” and “the measure by which all other sexual orientations are judged.”4 Heterocentrism is inhumane and sinful and must be challenged and dismantled. It lies at the root of theologies and religious practices that have caused and continue to cause mental and physical illness and threats to human lives.
Like all ideologies heterocentrism is about maintaining privilege and unjust power relations that set some human beings above other human beings. This “cognitive constellation of beliefs about human sexuality”5 constantly shapes “our legal, economic, political, social, interpersonal, familial, historical, educational, and ecclesial institutions.”6 It is so pervasive that until we consciously make an effort to raise critical questions regarding the presuppositions that shape societal notions of gender and human sexuality, it continues to spread like a virus. Heterocentrism creates an “insider” club. Membership in this club requires conformity and adherence to what has been socially constructed as normative, holy, and natural with respect to gender identity and sexual orientation. In turn, those who deviate from heteronormative ways of being, thinking, and acting become labeled as “outsiders,” non-conforming persons with respect to the established religious and cultural norms of human behavior.
The Gospel of Mark provides a prophetic biblical tradition from which to critique this tribal and un-evangelical way of fragmenting the human family. This Gospel turns to the complex social notion of insider/outsider, at times depicting Jesus as an insider, and at other times depicting him as an outsider depending upon his various human interactions. Above all, however, Mark portrays Jesus as the one who engages in various “border” crossings. Jesus “crosses to the other side” and leaves his comfort zone. These interactions with persons who do not share his cultural and religious background enable Jesus to grow in self-knowledge, wisdom, and expand his “catholic” mission to preach and make present the reign of God.
The story of the Syrophoenician woman found in Mark 7:24-37 provides a clear example of how an outsider with respect to Jesus’ cultural and religious practices, a Syrophoenician and a woman, challenges and expands Jesus understanding with respect to the insider/outsider separations that characterized Jesus’ world. The Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus begging him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Jesus’ reply is shocking. Instead of responding to the woman’s needs with compassion, Jesus offers a sharp reprimand: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (7.27). But the gentile woman, the first person in the Gospel of Mark to call Jesus “Lord” will not be silenced by his response, nor will she give up on her desire to see her daughter heal. She quickly rises to the occasion and challenges Jesus: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (7.28). Clearly, this outsider outmaneuvers another outsider who enters her turf. Her wisdom prompts Jesus to reverse his initial response and address the life-threatening experience that her daughter faced. Jesus heals her daughter and for many biblical scholars, this incident provides evidence of how a gentile woman’s word, an outsider, challenges Jesus to come to the realization that the beneficiaries of the reign he has come to proclaim are not just the children of the house of Israel.
This story teaches us much about the role of outsiders in Mark’s Gospel. Those on the periphery, those on the outside and not Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, more often than not, are the persons who understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about. Nowhere else in this Gospel is the focus on the outsider as the true insider made clearer than when a Roman soldier, an outsider with respect to Jesus’ inner circle of friends, becomes the person who properly identifies Jesus as Jesus wishes to be identified in this Gospel, namely, as the suffering Messiah: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 27.54). We might recall that earlier in this Gospel, Mark portrays Peter, the insider closest to Jesus as clueless and unable to understand the meaning of Jesus’ suffering. This tension between Peter and Jesus comes to a climax when Peter tries to stand in the way of Jesus’ mission and Jesus rebukes him with the following words: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” That was then, what about now?
Who are the persons who been marginalized and made to feel like outsiders among us? Consider for amoment the fate of gay man or women in one of the 70 remaining member States of the UN where criminalization of sexuality is still in place.
Consider the queer Catholic employer working for the Church in the US or elsewhere in this world who gets fired and suffers financial loss and emotional trauma simply because of sexual orientation and/or marital commitment. Consider one of the countless homeless LGBTQ+ youth in the streets of Chicago or in the streets of the cities where each of you come from. Many of them will bear the wounds of the shame-based trauma and familial rejection brought about within heterosexual marital relations. Now consider a different type of homelessness, one that many LGBTQ+ persons often experience within a Church that professes baptism into Christ as a means to become part of a new family, a body that knows no borders. How many times have we heard horror stories of priests and other ecclesial ministers failing to offer adequate care to LGBTQ+ persons, at times even refusing them and their children assess to the sacramental life of the Church. Finally, consider how all of these persons share the common experience of being “othered,” and have all undoubtedly been made to feel like outsiders within the various communities they inhabit.
Tragically, religion, and this is certainly true when it comes to our Roman Catholic faith, Roman Catholic theological perspectives, and Roman Catholic pastoral practices, has contributed and continues to contribute to “othering” and the socialization process that pushes persons into the margins. Religion can be a powerful force for good to shape values, cultural, and political points of views, but sadly, we know that in many parts of the world, religious perspectives and religious leaders have contributed to the criminalization and persecution of LGBTQ+ communities.
While studies have shown the positive role and protective function that religion play in a person’s life and in society as a whole, ilowering rates of mental health issues, depression, and suicide, research in the United States and elsewhere offers scientific evidence that members of the LGBTQ + communities do not reap the positive benefits of religion. In fact, again and again, research suggests that unfortunately, “LGBT persons who mature in a religious community context report experiencing increased discrimination and internalized homophobia (i.e., negative attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and stereotypes about LGBT people that is directed inward by someone with same-sex attraction or feelings of discontent with one’s biological gender.”
It is unacceptable and unethical for our Catholic faith, our Catholic leaders, and our Catholic theology to play any role in scarring, psychologically or physically speaking, the lives of LGBTQ+ persons, especially when there is mounting psychological evidence that exemplifies the life-threatening risks associated with this practice. Increasingly, an especially in light of the sex abuse scandals in the Church, we have heard Catholics worldwide call for an end to the culture of silence and secrecy, an ecclesial closet that keeps many within the Church, especially Church leaders, from transparently encountering those who suffer and allowing for truths to set us free. Since his election, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently of encountering God in the peripheries and has reminded us that the Church must be from and for the poor. In that Franciscan spirit of care for all God’s creatures the Church, like Jesus did, must listen to and learn from the voices of those who have been forced to stand outside. The faces of the poor are also LGBTQ+ persons who beyond suffering familial and ecclesial rejection are also victims of “economies” that kill their lives, when they suffer social marginalization, homelessness, and the inability to work for a living.
Like the Syrophoenician woman who expanded Jesus’ vision by standing for her daughter’s inclusion, LGBTQ+ persons can also teach and expand the vision of others within the Church. Like the Roman centurion, who unlike Peter, properly identified Jesus as the Son of God in his suffering, the LGBTQ+ children of God have properly identified with Jesus in his suffering and remind us all of the solidarity we must share with the crucified Christ and with “crucified people” of human history.7 The life of Matthew Wayne Shepard the young gay man whose body was left hanging on the fence in 1998 here in the United States serves as a powerful symbol of the ongoing “crucifixion” of innocent lives throughout the world simply on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In his first trip outside of Rome to the island of Lampedusa, Pope Francis preached on the indifference nations increasingly practice toward immigrants. I found his preaching significant not only because of the challenge he presented to the world in terms of the ongoing threats to life that migrants face and the growing crisis of migration many nations face, but more importantly I found refreshing his theological reading of the creation narratives (Gen 1-3) and theology of original sin. The Pope argues that the fundamental sin of Adam and Eve resulted from the dis-orientation or what he terms the “loss of place in creation.” As I pointed out in one of my other writings examining this homily, the pope argues that:
As a consequence of sin, persons fail to recognize their God-given orientation toward their neighbors. More significantly, in this state of disorientation humans put themselves first and above others, creating a false sense of human greatness and power. “The dream of being powerful, of being as great as God” the Pope warns, “even of being God, leads to a chain of errors that is a chain of death, leads to shedding the blood of the brother!”8
How fitting and liberating for Pope Francis to associate dis-orientation with privilege, power and greatness, for these are precisely the central issues that LGBTQ+ persons face and critique with respect to structures of sin at work within the Church and society. Seen from the perspective of LGBTQ+ persons and where we stand on the human landscape, the only intrinsically disordered, unnatural, and un-Godly postlapsarian condition (after the Fall of Adam and Eve) worthy of theologically investing our energies on is the increased dis-orientation and global indifference practiced toward one’s neighbors. Surely, as the Pope suggests, this failure to be other-oriented, choosing instead to “other” persons whose humanity we have failed to understand is not part of God’s original and grace-filled plan for creation. Heteronormativity, heterosexim, and homophobia all reflect the fallen and dis-oriented state of humanity that fosters the misuse of power and privilege and declares one sexual orientation to be normative over another. In so doing, this dis-orientation produces a chain of errors that leads in varying degrees to being killed and being killed off. Or to paraphrase Pope Francis, this leads to shed the blood of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, both near and far away.
Thank you for the privilege and honor to address the Global Network of rainbow
Catholics on this important gathering here in the Windy City.
1 Ibid., 13
2 Ibid., 14.
4 See Patricia Beattie Jung and Ralph F. Smith, Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge
(New York: State University Press, 1993), 14. Emphasis in original.
6 Ibid., 14.
7 On the notion of the “crucified people” see Ignacio Ellacuría, “The Crucified
People,” in Mysterium Liberatiionis: Fundamental Concepts in Liberation Theology,
Ignacio Ellacuría and Jon Sobrino, eds. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1993),
8 Miguel H. Díaz, “Who is my Neighbor: Catholics and the Trump Administration,” in
Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump, Ed. Miguel De la Torre (Maryknoll: Orbis
Books, 2017), 92.