Brandon Ambrosino is a freelance writer in Delaware, who has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC and The Economist
If you had to guess by the angry reaction to Rev. James Martin's book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, you'd probably assume the Jesuit priest condemned Catholic teaching on homosexuality or argued a theological case for the goodness of homosexuality.
He did neither.
Instead, as he explained to me earlier this month at Villanova University, where I'm a graduate student, Father Martin wants to foster respectful, compassionate dialogue between the Catholic church and LGBT communities, despite the very real theological differences between them. In fact, as some critics have charged, his book was virtually silent on these theological differences. His only plea is for these two communities, which have traditionally been at odds with one another, to find a way to show each other love.
And for this – literally, only this – Father Martin has been condemned as a "homosexualist" (whatever that means), viciously attacked on social media, and disinvited from several speaking engagements, including one at Catholic University of America.
Even though he doesn't address Catholic teaching on the ethics of homosexuality, Father Martin does address another teaching, this one as old as its founder: Love. It's a theme he comes back to time and again. Don't understand someone's sexual or gender identity? Love them anyway. Don't like feeling excluded by someone in your church? Love them anyway. Someone disagrees with your politics? Love them anyway.
Wow. If Catholics dislike Father Martin, then they're going to hate Jesus. Building bridges, reconciling irreconcilables, holding together oppositions, commanding his followers to love their enemies – what controversial concepts! You really have to wonder why Father Martin has hit such a nerve. He's being as much of a biblical literalist as possible: he is taking the New Testament witness of Jesus seriously. And like a good priest, he is inviting us to join him.
Yes, all of us – LGBT people included.
I'm a baptized Catholic and engaged to be married to a man. Father Martin told me during our interview that I am as welcome in the church as the Pope or any angry, tweeting Catholic. In a time when resisting has become about loud and public demonstrations, I've found my own quiet way of resisting homophobia in the Church: simply by showing up with my soon-to-be-husband, smiling, and participating in the body of Christ.
I've learned that the most effective answer to "But you can't be a gay Christian" is this: Watch me. I encourage all of my Catholic LGBT brothers and sisters to join this peaceful resistance. I understand this issue makes some people angry (even though it's sometimes difficult to understand why). But as the Catechism teaches, we all, regardless of our sexualities, bear the image of God, and as such, each of us deserves and owes our neighbours "respect, compassion, and sensitivity." (Careful readers will recognize those virtues from Father Martin's subtitle.)
Conservative Catholics must realize that orthodoxy requires them to love their neighbour. In fact, this is such an integral part of Jesus's message that the Catholic interpretations of the New Testament positions it as something of a litmus test for escaping God's final judgment: mistreat your neighbour and Jesus might send you "into the eternal fire."
And to Catholics who would redefine those virtues to align with political ambitions, I'd like to modify a phrase popularly attributed to Pope Francis: "You say that you love somebody, and then you actually love him. That is how love works." It won't do to twist "love" and "compassion" to mean something like "offensively but truthfully spew theology at someone." Love is a verb. It is embodied – just like the God who is love itself.
I will always be amazed how a few lines written thousands of years ago about homosexuality must always and everywhere be strictly applied, but the consistent Christian witness of love, beginning with Jesus himself – well, that one is open to careful, nuanced interpretation.
But it's not. Jesus's command to love everyone you encounter is binding and absolute. And Father Martin, faithful to the Catholic tradition, takes Jesus seriously.
It's his critics who seem like they are preaching a different kind of Gospel.