Catholic Sexual Diversity Conferences Serving the Life of the Church
The recent legislative endorsement of same-sex marriage here in New York, and the tension between the official Catholic opposition to it and what appears to be fairly strong support for it by lay Catholics, has me thinking about what it takes to do theology from non-normative, if you will, perspectives in Catholicism about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered lives.
Most theology of “homosexuality” in contemporary Catholicism is focused, for good reasons, on interpreting official teaching and its many avowed sources (scripture, natural law, and the like). But Catholicism has very little sexual theology “from below."
There are, in truth, more than a few resources that can inspire Catholicism to take grassroots LGBT theologies more seriously, but one recent book that I hope will inspire a new kind of theology "from below" of Catholic sexual diversity is sociologist Dawne Moon's book God, Sex and Politics: Homosexuality and Everyday Theologies (Chicago, 2004). Moon looks at how everyday theologies appear in Methodist congregations trying to talk about homosexuality, and she builds a case along the way for everyday theology as the theology that matters most in people's ordinary lives. It seems to me that Moon agrees with theologian Jeff Astley's argument about the existence of an "ordinary theology" that motivates people on a day-to-day basis (see his book Ordinary Theology (Ashgate, 2002)).
Both Moon and Astley show that in "real life," theologies come from and return to very personal experiences, and do not change by intellectual force alone, or even foremost. They have to do with the faith-sense people make of what they have endured in their lives. Importantly, Moon devotes an entire chapter to the significant but ambiguous role of emotion in everyday theologies. The importance of feeling and emotional history in the generation of theologies, and in the consideration of the plausibility of officially proffered "normative" theologies, is probably a more important consideration than many theologians or bishops have thus far been able to officially acknowledge. Moon and Astley argue that the emotional lessons and residue from people's significant relationships play a crucial role in everyday theologies.
Moon's book shares in a more general turn over the last decade to "lived religion," qualitative approaches to religious research, and a proliferation of practice-based theologies. In Catholic pastoral contexts, we have begun to learn just how great a deceleration of affiliation the Catholic Church is facing. While sexuality is not the only reason, few doubt that it is a contributing factor to the distance between "normative" Catholicism and "lived" Catholicism.
The conference series this fall on LGBT Catholicism, More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church, is one way to help address this deceleration of affiliation and the distance between normative and everyday theologies. As America readers may already know, there will be four daylong conferences at Fordham University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, and Fairfield University. (Disclosure: I am on the planning committee for the Fordham conference.) Each conference will address the realities of LGBT Catholicism from various angles: How LGBT persons and their allies experience the Catholic environment on homosexuality (Fordham); the crisis of youth suicides in relationship to Catholic education (Union); same-sex marriage (Yale); and sexual diversity in Catholic ministry (Fairfield).
I hope the conference series will prove even more timely given the news of late, and advance the conversation that a great many of those who have called Catholicism their home, for however long, have already undertaken.
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York