Following the Good Shepherd’s Example

Fr. Joe Palacios, who teaches sociology at Georgetown University and whom many of us know, is quoted in an online article from Religion Dispatches about immigration reform proposals and the rights of same-sex couples.

In addition to referencing Fr. Joe’s advocacy work, the story also quotes Sr. Jeannine Grammick speaking very clearly about the opposition of US Bishops to “Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)—which would close a loophole that currently prevents US citizens in same-sex, committed relationships from sponsoring their undocumented partners for citizenship.” Says Grammick, “I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous.”

What is most heartwarming, however, is the reference to two Catholic women who seem to have found a Catholic parish and pastor that welcome them and accept them — and their family — as they are.

Fr. Piers M. Lahey is the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic parish in Pacifica, California. Fr. Lahey lived up to the name of his parish when he went out on a limb and wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in supporting her efforts to seek legislation that would provide individual relief to one of his parishioners, Shirley Constantino Tan. Tan and her partner of 24 years are active members at Good Shepherd, but she was subject to deportation after her appeals for asylum were denied. Fr. Lahey wrote that Tan and partner Jaylynn Mercado are “wonderful Christian partners, parents, role models for their two boys, and, as Scripture says, ‘living stones’ helping to form and build up the Church, the Body of Christ, in today’s broken and violent world.”

God bless Fr. Lahey for following the example of the One True Shepherd.  His example of supporting those entrusted to his pastoral care speaks volumes when viewed next to those who claim the title of “shepherd,” but whose actions seem less than shepherd-like.

"Let’s start at the very beginning…"

One of the most familiar songs from “The Sound of Music” can be used to teach youngsters about the notes on the scale that get “mixed up” to make music.  “Do-Re-Mi” is catchy, fun, and easy to remember. Its opening words — “Let’s start at the very beginning…” — also have application far beyond music hour at the local elementary school.

Failing to start at the beginning can lead to all sorts of trouble. Anyone who’s ever followed a recipe, read a book, or built a house knows this intuitively. Unfortunately, failing to start at the beginning (i.e. the complete beginning) is the fundamental intellectual failure of all those who “oppose homosexuality” and thus oppose any rights, including marriage rights, that society might accord its gay and lesbian citizens. Today’s Washington Post has an article about the family-friendly-sounding National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and its apparently likable and talented executive director, Brian Brown (who, by the way, is a devotee of Mass in Latin). As the Post reports, NOM is good at providing its supporters information and talking points that “support” heterosexual marriage, saying that they should avoid speaking about “banning same-sex marriage,” and that they should only speak positively about how heterosexual marriage is the way it’s always been, and that this is what’s best for families, and that there’s no reason to change.

Mr. Brown is presented in the Post article as a well-educated and intelligent man (though, he does seem to be ignorant of much of history, with such statements as, “‘I think it’s irrational that up until 10 years ago, all of these societies agreed with my position” on same-sex marriage,”). Despite such historically sweeping and inaccurate statements, Mr. Brown and those who share his view have the intellectual part of this discussion only half right. The “half right” part is that they do “start at the very beginning” when addressing the lived experience of most of the world’s inhabitants who are heterosexual.  All of NOM’s arguments that support marriage for straight men and women — individuals whom God created with an opposite-sex attraction, and all the hormones and urges that come with it — are perfectly valid for those who are straight.

Their intellectual shortcoming is that they fail to recognize that for those whom God has created gay (and, being an apparently good Catholic, I’m sure Mr. Brown wouldn’t suggest that one “chooses” one’s sexual orientation), there’s a different starting point. Gay men and women are created as such by God.  Same-sex attraction is part of the gay person’s very being, in the same way that opposite-sex attraction is in the genes of straight people.

Supporting the rights of gay men and women to form socially-recognized unions, allowing them the same rights and privileges of all heterosexuals, is the only logical and reasonable conclusion one can arrive at if one “starts at the very beginning” of who gay men and women are.  As persons created by God, is not their lived experience just as valid as their straight brothers and sisters?  As persons created in God’s image and likeness, isn’t it possible that their hopes and dreams, desires and longings, might have something to say to all of us about God’s hopes and dreams, desires and longings for His people?

The strugle of gay and lesbian people to have their legitmate relationships fully-recognized by society (and, hopefully one day, by the Church) is a struggle to ensure that the full humanity of all God’s children is recognized and supported. The only way this will be achieved is when straight men and women are able to step back and recognize that their gay brothers and sisters don’t experience human relationships and interactions in exactly the same way, that for them there is a different starting point, a different beginning. This beginning is not of human creation or will, but is part of the “givenness” of all of us, reflecting the beautiful diversity within humanity that is part of the divine plan.  I pray that Mr. Brown and those who currently share his perspective will come to realize that their gay brothers and sisters have a lived experience that may be different, but that is no less worthy of equal respect and rights within society. 

And, as Maria von Trapp would say, starting at the very beginning is indeed “a very good place to start.”