There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity (2017) by James Martin, SJ.  Martin has had to cancel a few book talks due to protests, earning him the title “The Scariest Catholic” in the New York Times.

I’m impressed with the way Martin has handled himself throughout the controversies.  He has not lashed out, instead continuing to write, speak, and represent his position.  After all, his book is about building bridges between the LGBT community and all members of the Church.  This is perhaps the most surprising insight of the book—Martin is calling all people to build bridges.  This requires all sides of the issues surrounding the LGBT community to listen and respect each other.  If anything, his words should be as unwelcome in the hard-core LGBT community for asking for respect and compassion toward right-wing conservatives who have mercilessly criticized community members as it is in the faction of our church who have protested Martin’s talks.

The book is essentially a long essay with recommendations for action spurred on by the Orlando massacre.

The relationship between LGBT Catholics and the Catholic Church has been at times contentious and combative and at times warm and welcoming.  Much of the tension characterizing this complicated relationship results, I believe, from a lack of communication and a good deal of mistrust between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy.  What is needed is a bridge between that community and the church. (17)

Perhaps the most relevant piece of the book is his take on the firing of gay employees in the Church.  There have been instances of volunteers, church ministers, paid employees, teachers, and others who have been fired due to their sexual orientation.

Of course, church organizations have the authority to require their employees to follow church teachings.  The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way.  Almost all firings in recent years have focused on LGBT matters… But if adherence to church teaching is going to be a litmus test for employment in Catholic institutions, then dioceses and parishes need to be consistent.  Do we fire a straight man or woman who gets divorced and then remarries without an annulment?… Do we fire women who bear children out of wedlock?  How about those living together without being married?  Do we give pink slips to those who practice birth control?… Do we fire all Protestants who work in a Catholic institution, because they do not believe in papal authority? (28-29)

These are all good points and are all aligned with church teaching.  Martin’s arguments challenges out thinking and actions surrounding LGBT issues.  It does make me wonder why LGBT issues have occupied so much of the oxygen in all the morality debates.  It seems like we all fall victim to the creation of the “other” in debates and the LGBT debates are no different.  Where is the compassion?  Sensitivity?  Nuance?

Other resources:

  1. The publisher’s website with resources.
  2. National Catholic Reporter
  3. Martin’s interview with America magazine.
  4. Crux article about the book.