In October, the Catholic church almost made a monumental leap toward greater respect for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.
On Oct. 5, Pope Francis called together the Synod of Bishops, an advisory assembly of bishops from all over the world, to discuss the church’s teachings on marriage and family.
The Catholic church currently teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful, that we LGBT people are “intrinsically disordered” and that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman.
But, last month, the eyes of the world turned to Rome, the seat of the church that claims 17 percent of the world’s population among its adherents, as the synod released a draft report that could be described as nothing short of game-changing.
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the report said.
While it stopped short of any change in doctrine, this working document signalled a new respect for LGBT people. It moved beyond the empty rhetoric of forgiveness and love for sinners, to the point of recognizing that we are actually humans, inherently valuable and able to contribute to our communities.
But, it was just a draft. In their backlash, the conservative bishops stripped almost everything revolutionary from the final report, as if it had never existed. But they could not change the impact the draft had on LGBT Catholics.
This hiccup proved just how controversial the Catholic church’s strict anti-gay stance is, even at its highest levels.
It signaled the inevitability of a change in the church’s treatment of its LGBT members, thus marking a tiny step in the right direction from one of the world’s oldest and largest institutions — the baby step of an ancient giant. From the perspective of ordinary Catholics, it seems the leadership is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.
According to a Pew Research survey published in June, 60 percent of the U.S. Catholics that attend mass at least once per week believe that homosexuality should be fully accepted by society, and 45 percent support legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
According to Reuters, Pope Francis closed the synod with a sermon urging the Catholic church not to fear change.
“God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways,” the pope said at a mass at which he beatified Pope Paul VI.
Paul VI is best remembered for bringing together the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which reformed the church’s relationship with other religions now that pope is one step closer to sainthood. Catholics may well be honoring Pope Francis 50 years from now for a similar groundbreaking change in his church’s relationship with LGBTQ people.
But why does this matter, and why do some LGBT people choose to persist in the tension of religious communities steeped in bigotry and ignorance?
As a gay Protestant Christian myself who was raised as a Southern Baptist, I don’t have a good answer for that question. I stayed because the stories are still important to me, and I believe Christianity is still a good framework for my personal values. I can’t speak for anyone else.
I know there are many other people like me who’ve stuck around for the sake of faith or family or a desire to change our communities for the better. This controversy signals a first small step in that direction.