The Mueller investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has introduced the general (and perhaps older) populace to online lingo. Just as every profession accumulates its collection of terms that only insiders understand, the internet has generated its own glossary of language. One vocabulary word in the public crash course is “troll,” which Urban Dictionary defines as “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
For those of us who came of age in the last century, trolls exist only in fairy tales. They are the misshapen troublemakers, usually male, who live under the bridge. They may be giants or dwarves, but they are ugly, and they have an ugly ax to grind with the innocents hoping to travel over the bridge.
For those of us who came of age in the last century, trolls exist only in fairy tales.
This common noun for Russian disruptors also describes some of the online spite and malice that Catholic trolls have directed at Father James Martin, the Jesuit priest, author and editor at large at America. (Full disclosure: Father Martin blurbed my book in 2008.) Whether they insult, provoke, inflame, misinform or offend, just like haters gonna hate, trolls gonna troll.
Hence the aptness of this label.
Father Martin has written a treasure trove of spiritual books over the past decade or so that have enriched and enlightened his readers. But the groundbreaking book that has lately made him the target of the underground Catholic trolls is called Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.
Oh, dear. Let the trolling begin. Many of us have learned the hard way that “L.G.B.T.” is a trigger for some Catholics to become very un-Christian, very rapidly. People have lost their ministries and their jobs with the church when they have come out or been outed. People have been driven from their parishes, denied the Eucharist, refused a Catholic funeral. In this black-and-white mindset, which is actually against the teachings of the church, L.G.B.T. = SIN. This equation has also driven many Catholics, especially young Catholics, to become former Catholics and to distance themselves from a church that, in their perception, offers more judgment than welcome, and more condemnation than love. As my lesbian daughter told me flatly, when she stopped practicing the faith in which she had been raised: “I didn’t leave the church. The church left me.” At the time, in 2003, I could only agree with her. I had no evidence that the church had not left her. If Father Martin’s book had existed then, it may have helped us.
Many of us have learned the hard way that “L.G.B.T.” is a trigger for some Catholics to become very un-Christian.
Of course, this book could not have been written 15 years ago because our Catholic concept of respect, compassion and sensitivity to our L.G.B.T. loved ones was still evolving, at least institution-wise. We Catholic parents have always understood that our L.G.B.T. children are loved and worthy in the eyes of God. This is actually affirmed by the 1997 pastoral message called “Always Our Children” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but we have often struggled mightily with our local church’s seeming blindness on the issue. In my case, I quit my church job soon after my daughter came out so that I could write about the church and L.G.B.T. issues without unleashing the Catholic trolls on my parish. Even so, several of the Knights of Columbus petitioned the pastor to ban me from volunteering in any ministry at the parish. All because I did not believe that God had made some sort of mistake in creating my daughter.
Needless to say, I am no longer involved in parish ministry. My ministry, the written word, is a little lonelier, but I am not alone. Many Catholic parents are so grateful for Father Martin’s book, which articulates what we have known all along: we are all God’s children, and our sexual orientation is also a gift from God. Father Martin’s image of a two-way bridge between the church and the L.G.B.T. community as a way for us to come together in dignity and love and respect is a powerful one.
The trolls are busy and threatening and loud. And they get results.
But under the bridge, the trolls are ever agitating. I am distressed to read about the scheduled talks by Father Martin that have been canceled or relocated due to pressure from these Catholic trolls. Amazingly, some of the talks being canceled deal not with Building A Bridge, but with the topic of Jesus. Jesus, for cripes sake. The trolls are protesting talks about Jesus by a Catholic priest.
Mother of God, help us.
The trolls are busy and threatening and loud. And they get results. They seem to have a lot more time for vilification than we regular folks who are pretty busy with jobs and responsibilities and balanced, normal lives. It is time, though, for us quiet Catholics, the ones who love our L.G.B.T. children and friends and neighbors, to answer the online crusaders. Not all Catholics are cruelly, completely anti-L.G.B.T. Not all Catholics want to silence loving voices like Father Martin’s. We agree with him. We learn from his talks. We love his book.
We basic Catholic parents don’t enjoy confrontation. We don’t relish the online spotlight. We don’t seek out arguments. We don’t keep a ready arsenal of glib tweets. But without the support of our voices, however halting or reluctant, other more prophetic voices like Father Martin’s are in danger of being silenced. We must challenge the trolls. The bridge must remain open to all.
The thing about fairy tale trolls is that, although they are intimidating, they are not very bright. Even billy-goats can outwit them. These online trolls are scary in their righteousness, but they are short-sighted. They are religious bullies. Even so, we must be as relentless in spreading love as they are in preaching hate. Trolls gonna troll, but lovers gotta love.