Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fear not...

A constant refrain in the Bible, from Isaiah to Luke, is "Be not afraid".

The latest kerfuffle springing from the archbishop’s DVD is the censoring of editorials in the Benilde-St. Margaret's High School newspaper the Knight Errant. I was interviewed by a student reporter for a story titled “Church releases DVD that makes waves”. Published alongside this article were two editorials: “Staff finds DVD unsubstantiated” and “Life as a gay teenager” (also reprinted as “For gay teens who have considered suicide”).

The censoring of these very worthy editorials was done by the school, as MPR reports: “Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis said, 'We were not involved in this process, but we are supportive of the decision by school authorities.'"

Funny, those were almost his exact words about my suspension from the Basilica. We didn’t do it, but we support those who did.

As a friend who works for the Church said to me, “when you create a climate of fear, you don’t have to do your own dirty work”.

The Knight Errant student editors did an excellent job of scrutinizing the claims on the DVD. For example, in dealing with one of the most offensive falsehoods, the editors wrote:

The DVD also aimed to reject the notion that the issue of gay marriage is an issue of civil rights. They did this in the most subtle way imaginable: by having a black man quote Martin Luther King Jr. The quote in question was from “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and stated that for a law to be just it must be in line with natural law.

What the speaker fails to address is the very next line of the letter that states, “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul.” Clearly this omitted line proves that MLK would not have supported discriminatory policies against any group, including homosexuals. The fact that the Church would go as far as to evoke MLK in an issue, which he clearly wouldn’t have supported, speaks volumes to the argument which the DVD presents.

Coretta Scott King--who should know best-- has been quoted as saying MLK would support gay rights. She stated: "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage." I think it is safe to say these students’ claims are on very firm ground.

But dissent, even when speaking the truth, is no longer tolerated in today’s Catholic Church. The student reporter told me that while students wanted to talk about the DVDs, the school staff was very afraid and wouldn't speak openly. They rightly feared for their jobs if they dissented.

Since I was suspended, multiple people have contacted me to say they (too) lost jobs with the Church through direct interference or indirect fear of the archbishop. For a variety of reasons, these people have mostly chosen to go quietly--but with very heavy hearts.

The DVD to ART opening took place in a space surrounded by large plate glass windows. A number of people who worked for the Church risked attending. A friend, who knew some of these folks, was startled by how paranoid they were. Some of them asked him to patrol the street to make sure no one was photographing them entering or leaving the exhibit. They were afraid of being spotted and reported. But they are the brave ones... I give them credit for showing up, because their fears are legitimate.

No Church employees are present in this photograph.

At the start of the project, when I was collecting DVDs outside the Basilica, a woman I’d never met before came to drop off her DVD. Since there was press around, she shielded her face with her hands and the DVD, so she wouldn’t accidently get caught in a photo. “My husband works for the Church,” she sheepishly explained.

The Church of not that many years ago was talked about as a big umbrella, where family--who didn’t always agree--sheltered together. Now instead of hearing “all are welcome”, we instead hear talk of “a smaller and purer Church”. Our own archbishop responds to letters by suggesting dissenters might be happier in other faith traditions--as well as questioning their salvation.

Over and over lately, I find myself saying, “you know something’s wrong when the Church is ruling with fear instead of guiding with love”.

I applaud the student newspaper staff at the Knight Errant who dared to speak out. When I was their age I was proud to be Catholic because I knew my Church let me think for myself and ask big questions. I didn’t see the point of having a faith that was so limiting that it couldn’t withstand dissent. A God constrained by that kind of faith felt too small for me then, and still does.

I hope we can return to days when we were proud to say "catholic means universal"--and felt it held true not just for the "little c" catholic of the creed but for the "big C" Catholic of the Roman Catholic Church. Over-quoted, but true: "we are the Church" and "we need to be the change we want to see".

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine."

Isaiah 43:2

(Words in blue-gray are live links.)


Anonymous said...

Ok, your 15 minutes are up. Go away!

DVD to ART said...

I guess my 15 minutes aren't up if people who disagree are still bothering to read and monitor my blog. Thanks for the interest.

Teresa said...

Great post! My husband and I appreciate all you have done. You have helped us feel as if we are "doing something" while weighing our options for the future. We are choir members and cantors at our church so it's hard to just up and leave, but we don't want to hurt our gay son further by appearing to accept the arch-bishop's statements. Blessings!

Joel and Teresa Anderson

Fresca said...

Anonymous's comment illustrates your point nicely:
If we don't like what you say, we'll tell you to shut up.

And, like the person who paid for some of the cost of the DVDs, we won't even use our names.

I say, we are all better when we all get to speak--even, as the bumper sticker says, when our voices shake.
Thanks for your voice

Karen W. said...

Indeed! I feel for the teachers and administrators at the school as well. I suspect that they felt a responsibility to protect the students - especially the gay student who wrote of his experiences, and especially in light of recent press around bullying and suicide. But while I feel for them, I can't agree with them. Those of us in library work often say "Sunshine is the best disinfectant" and "The answer to hateful speech isn't censorship, it's more speech." (Sorry for the lack of attribution...).

Difficult discussions are just that - difficult. And I applaud the Benilde-St. Margaret Student Newspaper for taking on a difficult discussion. And I applaud you for keeping the discussion going. More speech!