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Father Martin: ‘They want to see who Jesus is’

Famed Jesuit author engages Little Rock audience on LGBT community in Church

Published: November 18, 2017   
Aprille Hanson
Father James Martin, SJ, author of the 2017 book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,” spoke to Pax Christi Little Rock members via Skype Nov. 9.

The short Zacchaeus, the hated wealthy chief tax collector, considered a chief “sinner,” wanted nothing more than to see Jesus. Luke 19:1-10 recounts him climbing a sycamore to get a better glimpse of Jesus, as the crowd was blocking him.

“I’d like you to think of the LGBT person as Zacchaeus,” said Father James Martin, SJ. “… How often does the crowd get in between LGBT people and Jesus?”

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and chooses to stay at his home above all the rest.

“That’s all LGBT people want. They want to see who Jesus is, like we all do.”

Father Martin, a renowned author of 12 books, consultant to the Vatican’s secretariat for communications and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, was the guest speaker via video chat to Pax Christi Little Rock members and others who came to hear his presentation on his 2017 book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.”

For two months, members of Pax Christi, a chapter of the national Catholic social justice organization that promotes peace, completed a book study on “Building a Bridge.”

The book focuses on welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Father Martin acknowledged the book has drawn controversy, when “people on the left said ‘not far enough.’ People on the right said ‘too far.’”

“That’s the point. Each group has to take a step to meet in the middle, but I think we can do it because there’s a deep desire for reconciliation in the Church,” Father Martin said. “And as Jesus says, he prays that we all might be one.”

His hour-long presentation followed by a Q&A to a filled room in Fitzgerald Hall at St. John Center, which was also attended by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, focused on first understanding that the LGBT community in the Catholic Church exists, and how people of faith can respond with compassion rather than judgments. Father Martin said LGBT Catholics in the Church deserve respect, which means being called by what they choose.

“If you met me and you called me Jimmy and I said, ‘Please call me Jim’ and you persisted in doing that in front of other people, people would think that’s a little rude,” he said.

Just as black people are not referred to as “negros, how “people with disabilities” is preferred rather than “disabled people,” so should Church leaders and parishioners, “be attentive to the names we give to the LGBT person.”

“So let us finally lay to rest phrases like ‘afflicted with same-sex attraction,’ which no LGBT person I know uses. Or homosexual person, which deems overly clinical to many,” Father James said. “We need to listen to them and what they want to be called. That’s simple human respect. And frankly if Pope Francis, this 81-year-old Argentine Jesuit, can use the word ‘gay’ so can everybody else.”

Just as every baptized person in the Catholic faith brings individual gifts to the Church, so do Catholic LGBT people. Father Martin said because most have “endured misunderstanding, prejudice, hatred, persecution and violence,” LGBT people tend to have a heart for those on the margins and those gifts should be celebrated.

“They persevere. I’ve been saying this more and more lately. I think often the faith of the LGBT person is stronger because they have to really push back and persevere and find their own place in the Church in the midst of real persecution.”

Listening is key when it comes to understanding the journey of faith for an LGBT person. Father Martin pointed to questions Catholics can ask including, “What was it like growing up as a gay boy? A Catholic boy who is gay, what was that like? What was is like growing up as a girl who is attracted to other girls? What’s it like, very important question for Catholics to ask today because we know so little about it, what’s it like being a transgender person? … What’s your experience of the Church like? Who is Jesus for you? How do you see Jesus, whose God for you … how have you been treated in the Church?”

Ministry to the LGBT community also reaches to Catholics with LGBT relatives and finding out “what does that do to you in terms of your idea of love and acceptance,” he said.

LGBT people should “respect the bishops as teachers … treating them with dignity, which sometimes LGBT people don’t do,” he said.

Erin Frost, a junior with the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, attended the presentation with fellow college students. 

“I think it was very much important how we need to be open to them … to listen,” Frost said. “To be honest, I’m very happy to see someone like Father Martin and the Catholic Church as a whole start to accept the LGBT community.”

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