Monday, April 2, 2012

"An Inspirational and Energy-Filled Event"

Catholics for Marriage Equality MN co-founder Lisa Vanderlinden
shares her experiences of "From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics & Relationships,"
New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality

On March 15-17 I attended New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore. It was an inspirational and energy-filled event. When I arrived in Baltimore, the city was already in the midst of spring. The trees were dressed in white and pink blossoms, reminding me of early May in the Twin Cities. There were many daffodils along the highway.

The hotel with the conference was across the street from the harbor, in the midst of a revitalized downtown. The airport cab drivers were obviously very proud of their city and its vibrant downtown area. “This used to be a slum, when I was a kid,” one said. I wondered where those inner city dwellers moved when the high rise hotels went up, but I didn’t ask.

As soon as I arrived at the conference, I put up our Catholics for Marriage Equality MN table and immediately had visitors.

“We are fighting an amendment in Minnesota” I would say.

There were two types of frequent responses. The first was surprise or even shock. “Oh, no! I thought Minnesota was a progressive state," was one comment made by many people. Over and over I heard a variation of that phrase . . . I thought Minnesota was an open-minded state . . . I thought Minnesota was a nice place to live . . . What happened to you?” I said that conservative Republicans got into the majority in the state Senate and state House.

“Oh, so you turned from progressive into reactionary?” was the exact response of several people.

 These conversations helped me understand the concerns of businesses and why many major Minnesota businesses have come out against the amendment.

Other symposium attendees knew about our amendment fight. They knew about the bishops’ DVD. It had made national news, after all. They knew about the “return the DVD campaign” and knew about the artwork made by returned DVDs. These people were all too familiar with the money spent by the archdiocese to further discriminate against LGBT people in our state constitution.

Richard Rodriquez was the Thursday evening speaker. He spoke of the great joy and liberation he felt to be able to speak openly of being gay. (Often at speaking engagements, he has been asked to not mention his homosexuality.) Richard talked of the importance of welcoming all. He went to school with Sisters of Mercy as his teachers and said that because of them, he almost felt Irish as much as Mexican American. He was welcomed by them and it has enriched his life. He said that the sense of tragedy common among Irish writers is frequently evident in his work. He mentioned the unholy union of Catholic bishops and Mormons fighting marriage equality in California with millions of dollars, when one side still discriminates against women and the other side had practiced polygamy. There is great irony, he said, that Mitt Romney’s grandfather moved to Mexico so that he could practice polygamy, but Mitt speaks loudly against both marriage equality and immigrants from Mexico.

Friday speakers included Patricia Beattie Jung and Bishop Geoffry Robinson, as well as numerous options for breakout focus sessions. Both plenary sessions were fantastic. Jung has written several books, including Sexual Diversity and Catholicism: Toward the Development of Moral Theology and God, Science, Sex and Gender: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Christian Sexual Ethics.

Jung spoke of the importance of fidelity in relationships. Fidelity allows us to focus on the other and give them the time and energy they deserve as a child of God. Fidelity does not require partners who are of the opposite sex, but partners who are of the “apposite” sex. Apposite - from apt - meaning someone perfectly suited for you. She discussed the importance of marriage equality for many reasons, but one important reason will be that as GLBT relationships are respected and normalized, hate crimes may be reduced. She reported a 52% increase in hate crimes reported by LGBT people in Kansas City between 2009 and 2010. Jung mentioned numerous reports that children of LGBT families are flourishing and legal protections for these families are important.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (right) was introduced by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Robinson was a powerful speaker. He said that “there is no possibility whatsoever of a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts.” He continued with a very strong case that there is a necessity for these changes. He is the author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. I strongly recommend reading his entire speech. It can be found here.

Another highlight of Friday was a visit by the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. The crowd gave him several standing ovations because he has recently signed marriage equality into law. He said that he respects the freedom and liberty of all people of Maryland. After his brief speech he answered many questions by reporters. I had the change to give him a Catholics for Marriage Equality DVD and he accepted it warmly. I hope he has time to watch it! You can find many articles about the Governor online. If you go to, you can find photos of the symposium and one of the photos is O’Malley shaking hands with me after I gave him my video. Although I have it, I cannot publish it here. But it is a great photo!

The last two speakers, Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, were both on Saturday morning. Johnson's presentation was titled, "Doing the Truth in Love: Eros, Relationships and the Communion of Saints." He spoke of Paul's letter to Galations and how Paul said, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." Johnson added, "There is neither gay nor straight in God's eyes. We are all one. And if a church does not manifest God's reconciliation among all humans, it has no reason to exist as a church. We are all called to agape, complete love and acceptance of each other."

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (right) was a lively speaker and full of stories. She said that treating gay, lesbian and transgender people as second-class citizens “because it says so in the Bible” is no different than earlier generations treating women as second class citizens because of Bible verses. The Bible also was used to defend slavery. She told about her father’s visit to South Africa and how apartheid was defended because “slavery is in the Bible.” When politicians in South Africa told her father, Robert F. Kennedy, that apartheid was acceptable to God, he responded by saying, “Well, if people are made in God’s image, then what will happen when you get to heaven, go through the pearly gates, and God is Black?” Townsend said the same thing could be said today . . . what will happen when we get to heaven and God is gay? If we are made in God’s image, male and female, gay and straight, we are all made in God’s image, then truly God will ask us how welcoming we are to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, also made in God’s image.

Townsend spoke of the fight for civil rights for gay and lesbian and transgender people as similar to the fight for women’s rights and civil rights for African Americans. The fight for justice for all people is a fight that Catholics understand. Townsend wrote a book, Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way.

The closing ceremony was a blessing for the union of Barbara Johnson and her partner Ruth. I had to leave a bit early to get to my plane, but this article tells all about it. Barbara was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. Since then the priest who denied her communion has been put on leave.

In addition to powerful speakers, high energy participants and inclusive prayer, I enjoyed the many tables of information. I talked to people from Call to Action, Fortunate Families, DignityUSA, PFLAG, Catholics for Equality, Future Church, Roman Catholic Women Priests, and many others.

There were great book stores present and I brought home some books to read. One of these was The Gay Gospels by Keith Sharpe. It is an enlightening book.

I can’t wait until the next New Ways Ministry Symposium!

Images: Lisa Vanderlinden.

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