In political campaigns and religious statements, we spend a lot of time talking about our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, and pew-mates who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and about what they do. We spend significantly less time listening and speaking to and with one another as brothers and sisters. The questions we are addressing as a church and a society relate to the core questions of what it means to be human: how we must act, what rights human beings have, and who we are called to be. The questions involve our profound human desire to communicate oneself in intimacy to another, the fulfillment of which is not necessary for survival but the desire for which is essential enough to warrant description in our primordial memory of creation (Genesis 1-3). And the questions involve the relation of this desire to the ultimate happiness of human beings. But the questions are secondary; the people are primary.
We face these questions in a context of sin. Just over fourteen years ago, on Friday, October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered. He was gay, and he was apparently tortured and murdered for this reason. There is something profoundly disordered, evil, and false in every part of the chain of events that have created the environment in which this particular instance of evil is imaginable, let alone actual.
And the chain of events that creates this environment implicates all of us. We as twenty-first century people — in light of modern philosophy and in the wake of bloody 20th century – know that sin has both personal and social aspects. Sin, that which separates us from God, is not merely something an individual person chooses. It is also something that a social body “chooses” in constituting itself through a particular pattern of thought and relationship: a pattern of that makes it easier for people to be good or a pattern that separates us from God, a pattern that either dignifies or objectifies people.
The core of the social sin related to the murder of Matthew Shepard is the choice of our social body to dehumanize a group of people in both hidden and public ways. This is intolerable. We the church must be the prophetic witness that points out, by our words and by our life, that what allowed Matthew Shepard to be killed also kills the rest of us because it hurts the Body of Christ. We must not be divided in the sense that we must not let the questions we face prevent us from proclaiming the Gospel through our unity in love. What is primary is that all of us are created in the image of God and beloved by God.
There is so much we collectively — ecclesially, societally, culturally — are still learning about homosexuality. But we do know the ever-new Good News and that our context demands its proclamation once again in new terms. We know Christ and we know our brothers and sisters. We know many among us are struggling and suffering profoundly. And on the whole, we must more urgently listen and proclaim to one another what we agree on by virtue of our baptism into Christ:
Only by having you in our community, sisters and brothers, with your unique experiences and struggles, are all of us, the Body of Christ, capable of understanding and proclaiming the Good News most perfectly and authentically, which is our whole purpose (and there is no need to generalize as to “how”). In knowing you, we know Christ. Period. Because of who you are, you can serve in a way that others cannot. And we cannot specify what that way is, because to specify what your purpose is would reduce the mysterious depth of your personality and your vocation. Christ seeks you out and has found you. He desires that you belong to him in a personal, profound, life-giving and beautiful way and that you continue daily to become a sign of his love for his people.
Thank you for being who you are. We love you. May we accept the grace to grow in holiness together.