“Accept the Welcome in Church.”

A few days ago, I wrote about a statement by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who said in an interview that he understood that gays might find some part of the Gospels hard to accept. My response was to point out that it is not the Gospels we find difficult, but the words and teaching of the institutional church, and the false claim that it is based on the Gospels. A series of comments by a reader in reply to my post have left me increasingly irritated, even offended (to the point that I cannot sleep). I have been grappling with these feelings, trying to work out their origins.

The heart of David’s objections appears to have two components: an insistence that in picking up on what could be a slip of the tongue, I am ignoring the wider context of the bishop’s argument in the interview, that “all are welcome” in the Catholic church; and that the concept of welcome goes two ways. The Church must offer welcome to all, but it is incumbent on all to accept that welcome. By frequently criticizing some actions and pronouncements of the church or its spokesmen, David seems to be implying, I and other outspoken queer Catholics are not “accepting the welcome”.

If you read the whole of what he said, in context, his intent was to be welcoming, to dismiss the importance of a single issue (whether for gays or others), and to read the Gospel in a spirit of welcoming and hope, instead of seeing the Church as being unwelcoming and hopeless because of something which may seem disagreeable.


The welcoming goes both ways. Even if the person is a hopeless bigot, the gay person is still called by the Gospel to eat with that person. The Love of Christ will win out over the bigotry, as it has for 2000 years.


Welcoming is more than a proclaimed intention of the Church; it is our duty whether we are spokespersons for the Church or laity in the pew. As I said, it goes both ways – to be welcomed, one has to let oneself be welcomed, and to welcome others, even bigots. One doesn’t have to tolerate bigotry, but we are certainly called to love the bigot. I think there is enough real bigotry without trying to parse language to try to find it.


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I really do not understand what David is implying by his  concept of  “accepting the welcome”, and his implication that in my posts I do not. It could be that he believes that I am encouraging queer Catholics to disengage from the Church (in which case he is very much mistaken), or it could be that he simply believes that I and others who find ourselves on the wrong side of orthodox doctrine should simply shut up and accept the welcome quietly. It is this (possible) meaning that disturbs and angers me. This is the possible meaning I address below. If I am mistaken, then the exposition will in any case show how the other alternative interpretation is also mistaken.

In trying to find a reply, I first thought to look for a suitable analogy, outside of the emotional topic for my readers (and their critics in Church) of sexual orientation. The closest I could think of was the situation in South Africa of my youth. At that time, the Catholic Church was beginning to be outspoken on the moral evils of apartheid, insisting that the Gospel message was one of justice for all. The Church’s own practice, however, did not reflect that. While insisting that the Church was welcoming to all on a basis of equality, appointments to the leadership positions in the church were overwhelmingly to White men. Catholic schools were racially segregated, and Black worshippers in Churches in the White residential areas routinely took their seats in a few rows at the back of the Church. Black Catholics (and a handful of prominent White clerics) became increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the South African practices in Church. For years, they were frequently under counter-attack as troublemakers. Was this justified? Should Black Catholics have simply buttoned their lips in “accepting the welcome” that was clear from the formal statements of the Church, but conspicuously absent on the ground, and in less guarded comments  by Church spokesmen?

In fact, church teaching and Scripture both confirm what South African history has demonstrated. Among many other examples, the Bible commands that we “set the downtrodden free”, and “speak the truth in love”. Canon law states that we must speak out the actions of pastors that offend us. The prophetic witness of South Africans against the practices of the local church gradually led to important changes in those practices, which in turn contributed significantly to the wider evil of apartheid in the country as a whole. Speaking out against hurtful words or practices in Church is not rejecting the welcome, but being true to both Scripture and to Church teaching.

Then my thoughts turned to quite a different analogy: instead of looking for one removed from the contentious one of LGBT Catholics, I thought of bringing it closer to home – by bring it right here, to the context of this site.

David was concerned that in picking on one part of Bishop Soto’s interview, I was ignoring the broader context of welcome for all in church. But by picking on my criticism of the bishops words, David in turn is ignoring the wider context of my site as a whole. David insists that the Church is a place of welcome for all, and that gay and lesbians should accept the welcome. From the day I began writing at Queering the Church, promoting that message has been my primary purpose: my opening post was titled “Welcome! Come In, and Come Out”. At other times, I have explicitly described how those who are so easily offended by some actions and doctrines of the church, should balance them against the many riches that are undoubtedly contained in the rest of the church. I have acknowledged that many people at some stage in their faith journeys find that they need to move away from the sacramental church, literally or figuratively – but I have urged them to follow any such movement away with a return in prophetic witness. These explicit statements of encouragement to stay in are numerically outnumbered  some posts that are critical of selected statements or actions by church spokesmen – but the point of these critical posts is always to show that the hostility that we too often experience from the Church is not central to either Scripture, or to Church doctrine, and is usually contradicted by experience at parish level. The purpose of the criticism is always to remind my primary readers that it is worth dealing with the negativity, and remaining broadly within the Church, even in dissent.

My “primary readers” brings me to a specific analogy for the problem of “accepting the welcome” and what it means. Here at Queering the Church, I have a very clear conception of my primary audience, mu Queer Church congregation, if you will. These are people who identify as Catholic and are committed to the Gospels in particular and the Bible as a whole, but who find themselves to be defined by orthodox Catholic doctrine to be of one or another sexual minority inside the Church – the people that I mean by “queer”. In all my posts here, these are the people I am primarily addressing (and, by extension, similar people in other denominations). It is not my intention here to address anyone else, or attempt to change Church teaching. (That change is eminently desirable – but is way beyond my power, and so I leave it to other processes). However, in parallel with the wider Church, I fully endorse the Gospel message of inclusion, and so all are welcome.

David has frequently made it clear that he is a declared heterosexual, and also a declared admirer of the Catholic catechism. On that basis, it is clear that he is not a member of any sexual minority in the wider Church – and so is an outsider here at Queering the Church, where he is nevertheless welcome, as are all my readers. I also know from his frequent comments that he is often in strong disagreement with my views. What does “accepting the welcome” mean for David?  Should he, as an outsider, simply keep quiet? Or is he right to voice his disagreement?

The answer is obvious. If David is truly welcome (as indeed he is), then of course he must speak up and voice his disagreement. So must any other reader. (This too, I stated clearly in one of my earliest posts. I fully acknowledge my ignorance, and if anybody can fault either my facts or my reasoning, I urged, please speak up. If you can show me my error, I will acknowledge it and if necessary adjust my conclusions). So, I have frequently accepted David’s objections to my posts, and attempted to reply, sometimes at length. I do not remotely see that David’s objections or criticisms are a sign of rejecting his welcome – quite the contrary. In my eyes, it is a sign of his confidence in his welcome that he feels that he can speak up, without being ostracized or shouted down.

So it is in the wider Church. If all truly are welcome, then accepting the welcome includes accepting all the freedoms and responsibilities that come with full membership. Speaking out where appropriate is both a right and a responsibility.

I still do not understand David’s intent in speaking about “accepting the welcome”.  If he means that we should simply hold our tongues  (and I don’t in fact think he does, although this is not clear from the remarks themselves), I hope I have refuted the suggestion.

If all he meant was that gays and lesbians (and others in dissent) should not remove themselves from the church, I hope I have shown from the wider context of this site as a whole, that I agree with him – and ask forgiveness for using his name and circumstances to illustrate my argument on speaking out in welcome.

And now, after working through these thoughts,  finally I feel ready to sleep again.

(This post has been prepared at a completely ridiculous time of the early morning. Proper editing, and links to the early posts I refer to above will follow later. Possibly much later)

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8 comments for ““Accept the Welcome in Church.”

  1. December 4, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Thanks, Etienne. One of the difficulties I have with my present system of dual domains is that one piece cross-posted at each generates independent comment threads. Your earlier comment was placed here, David’s was placed at the other site. Many thanks for double posting your comments, too.

    Ah, the difficult art of bilocation! Some of the saints allegedly mastered it – I find it extremely hard.

  2. John
    December 5, 2010 at 7:56 am

    If all are welcome, in Bishop Soto’s local church, then I assume that homilies in the Sacramento diocese mention gay people when various accepting statements are made (e.g. we are glad to have with us today x, y, and z folks…), and that examples in homilies include gay people, and when bigotry and prejudice are preached against that we are included, and that his diocese lobbies for bills protecting gay people from abuse, dismissal at work, and promoting fair housing. I also assume that his diocese publishes guides or holds workshops for parents and others about how to treat their gay children.

    Of course, none of this is likely to be true. So we are left with platitudes about everyone being welcome, and the one reference to gays being that we might find some of the parts of the Gospel to be hard.

    Of course every gay person finds some parts of the Gospel to be hard. And every straight person too. If we treat the Gospel life seriously, it will be hard. But the bishops sometimes get in the way of the Gospel, and that is exceedingly hard.

    • December 5, 2010 at 9:16 am

      Bravo, John. Without the application of the genuine welcome in practice the words are empty. And indeed, sometimes the bishops (and other Catholic apologists) get in the way of the Gospel.

  3. David Ludescher
    December 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Terence,

    Thank you for considering this topic. I think you captured my main points. But, you have missed my intention. My goal is to unite the “gay community” (whatever that is) with the “Catholic community”. I see no reason why that can’t be done even under the present Catholic doctrine.

    Etienne makes the point best through the use of the Eucharist. In my archdiocese, gay community members used to show up at Mass wearing rainbow sashes. The idea was to force the presider to either provide Eucharist and thereby implicitedly support the gay community or to deny them Eucharist and thereby prove that they are being excluded. This was not fair to the presider, nor to the rest of the community.

    There was, and is, a third way – the way that others – divorcees, fornicators, adulterers, and others have been handling the matter for years. That is to accept the Eucharist without any strings attached, without disrupting the celebration, and without trying to create a division in the Church, or causing a distraction for everyone.

    “Accepting the welcome” means recognizing that many, if not the majority, of Catholics support gay rights, and that on a day-to-day basis, the gay cause has very little to do with an active Church life, being part of the Church community, and our call to serve.

    As you yourself have pointed out, the gay issue and human sexuality plays such a small part of the Christian and Catholic doctrine, that this should not be a divisive issue.

    Being gay is not, and cannot be, more important than being Christian or even being Catholic.

    Accept the welcome without reservation, if not because the Church offers it, accept it because Jesus offers it directly. Though the welcome may be offered imperfectly, accept it nonetheless. We are all sinners. As sinners, we don’t have the luxury of demanding a certain type of community before we will agree to join.

    The Church accepts murderers, thieves, and prostitutes. Why would you think that it wouldn’t welcome gays?

    • December 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      David, the issue of a genuine welcome is far more complex than you seem to think. I am not promoting the Rainbow sash strategy of forcing anything – but nor do I endorse the idea that accepting the welcome means that we must quietly hide anything, in an attempt to pass for straight.

      I must also say that your combination of murderers thieves prostitutes – and gays in the same sentence is totally offensive to me, as it presupposes that gays are necessarily sinners, just like the others named. This is not so. There is only sin if the person is sexually active (not all gays are), and if this is so in contravention of conscience. Even Pope Benedict has made it clear in the past that the demands of conscience must be set above the demands of the church, even of the pope himself. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster has made it clear that the priests of his diocese are not to assume that any gay man or lesbian presenting for communion is a sinner.

      I know that you mean well, but the words you use illustrate precisely the way in which the intended welcome by the Church quite often is simply not reflected in our actual real world experience. Would you see any sense in a sentence like:

      “The Church accepts murderers, thieves, and prostitutes. Why would you think that it wouldn’t welcome heterosexuals?”

      • David Ludescher
        December 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm

        Terence,

        It occurred to me that I didn’t respond to your highlighted question.

        Yes, I see much sense in the question you asked. Substitute any word you want in the question – adulterers, fornicators, abortionists, saints, sex abusers, etc. The answer is always the same. All are welcome.

        Look at it from another point of view. Is it necessary for the Church to change its doctrine before you will feel welcomed? To what would you have the doctrine changed so as to feel welcomed? And, what about all those people who wouldn’t feel welcomed if the doctrine were changed?

        Here’s another thought. Most of us, regardless of our individual beliefs want “the Church” to welcome us. I suggested that you “accept the welcome”, to which you had some strong reactions. Perhaps you want to “be the welcome”. I know that a number of people at my church have said that they didn’t feel welcomed, as if welcoming were someone else’s job. My standard response is to tell them to be welcoming; act as if they were the one who needed to welcome. In welcoming, one is welcomed.

        • December 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

          David, there is another way of putting the question, too:

          The church accepts librarians, sportsmen, nurses, mothers, and grandparents. Why would you think that it wouldn’t welcome gays?

          The problem is that constantly bracketing the word “gay” with concepts of sin is to remind us that in the eyes of the church, we are sinners as a class, by the nature of who we are, in a way that is simply not done for others.

          I fail to see why you seem to believe that I personally do not accept the welcome. The whole point of this blog from the start has been to encourage gay men and lesbians to do precisely that, and to stay in the church, rather than turn their backs on it, as many have done or are inclined to do.

          However, there are many sides to a welcome. To be real, it must be revealed in actions, not mere words. I do not see that pointing out the discrepancy that often exists between words and actions is somehow rejecting the welcome.

    • David Ludescher
      December 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

      Terence,

      Welcoming is a complex issue. But, it is also a simple issue.

      The Church should not set any criteria for people to belong, nor should those wanting to join set a criteria for accepting the welcome.

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