Within many civilizations throughout history, members of sexual minorities have frequently been met with exclusion and even violence. I recently read a passage from a book written by two respected authors who noted, “[LGBTQ+ persons] have often been thought of as embodiments of evil, creatures of darkness, or carriers of the worst traits of humanity.” Evidence abounds, both past and present, in official church doctrines and civil anti-sodomy laws in many countries that these persons are condemned. Thousands were imprisoned and murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In February 2014, Washington Post writer David Gibson reported that the leader of the Nigerian Catholic hierarchy fully supported that country’s new harsher antigay laws, which unleashed a wave of violence against gays when the laws passed. Over seventy countries have criminal laws against sexual activity by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals. Four countries impose the death penalty for those convicted of engaging in same-sex acts. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey indicates that people who identified or perceived to be transgender experienced much higher rates of physical and mental trauma, murder, loss of employment, homelessness, and suicide ideation compared to the general population. According to the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 75% of bisexual women and 46% of lesbians within the United States report experiencing sexual violence as compared to 43% of heterosexual women.
Two 2018 news items exemplify more recent violence or threats of violence aimed at sexual minorities in the United States. One is about the violent attacks, both physically and emotionally, against Aaron Bianco, a gay married man, who had been part of the pastoral team at St. John the Evangelist parish in San Diego, California. After more than a year of harassment by anti-LGBTQ+ people who identified as Catholics, Bianco arrived to work one morning to find the message “No Fags” spray-painted on the side of a building. He eventually resigned his position, but vows to continue his work in confronting such evil in the Church.
The other item concerned the burning of a rainbow liturgical banner at a Catholic Parish in Chicago by the pastor and several parishioners, in spite of previous order from the Archdiocese to stop this planned action. The banner was created in the 1990’s to be hung in the church’s sanctuary as a sign of the parish’s welcome to members of the LGBTQ+ community. The pastor who led the burning revealed that they said a prayer of exorcism over the banner, cut into seven pieces, and was burned over stages in the same fire pit that is used for Easter Vigil mass.
It is little wonder then, that LGBTQ+ people, who live counter-cultural lives, often feel alienated, are fleeing oppressive homelands, and are increasingly leaving any type of organized religion behind. In the United States, for instance, a Pew Research Center 2013 study reveals that 48 percent of the LGBTQ+ population identify as having no religious affiliation compared with 23 percent of the general population.
I often wonder what is within the human psyche that cause individuals to have such visceral negative reactions when it comes to encountering people whose lives are outside of cultural norms, particularly in sexual identity and expression. It is even more appalling when there is violence perpetrated by people who identify as Christians. This is true in cases such as Bianco’s and the burning of the rainbow liturgical banner (a banner which was created to symbolize the very people being welcomed). Should violence and hatred be the appropriate Christian response? Would Jesus recognize this behavior?
Within Catholic liturgies, how often do we say the words “peace” and “love” each time we gather? How many times does Jesus say these same words in sacred scripture? The answer, of course, is many times. The basis of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of and respect for the human person. In the case of gay persons, Church teaching (Always Our Children, USCCB 1997) tells us that:
“God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation . . . the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them.”
In his major writings during his papacy, Pope Francis constantly admonishes us to sincere encounter and to engage in genuine dialogue. It is through these actions that we will be able to recognize our common humanity and to build bridges of understanding, which lead to peace and life.
Are we even paying attention?