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Faith, The Vatican And The Harm From Within

The Pope: The bait and switch OG…

By Tristan Coolman

In October 2020, while many were counting their chickens as news broke about The Pope  having a change of heart about Same-Sex Unions I remained critical. The feeling I had at the time is a feeling queer folxs encounter and all of us really from time to time know all to well…that feeling of “its too good to be true”. Well, here we are March 2021 and in the shadow of The Vatican reaffirming their own sinful and inequitable attitudes towards queers I can officially confirm I’ve counted our hatchlings and it just doesn’t add up. Daytime TV Icons Maury and his lie detector have determined it was a lie all along.

But we, of course, knew that all along. For some of our more casual allies, it will be yet another outrageous news story we’ll get tagged in on social media or sent via text.

This bait and switch is incredibly harmful to a few notable groups. Forgive me in advance for perhaps not encompassing everyone, but the first groups which come to mind are current queer and allied Catholics and those closeted of all ages navigating their journey – especially queer students within Catholic school boards.

This is yet another example of the hypocrisy practised by many faiths. One which leaves followers with having to reconcile what they know is true in their hearts with what their faith leaders preach.

These individuals get enough resistance within the queer community from individuals who don’t understand the incredibly strong connection some within the community have with their faith. To them it’s an identity which is just as strong if not stronger than the others they carry with them every day. It’s a struggle many queer people can relate – thinking you’ll find safety and acceptance within a community whose messaging and culture can sometimes make you feel left out. Except in this case we’re talking about all the terrible repercussions that follow living a sinful life in the eyes of The Vatican.

With Catholicism and other faiths, these individuals are asked to completely hold back in carrying out what only comes natural to them. From pursuing romantic interests to literally wearing the clothes of their choice and living as their true-authentic selves. They are asked to lock away the liberating characteristics of confidence, identity, reverence, love, justice and integrity – many of which are characteristics used to guide lessons every month in Catholic school boards across the country.

Recent clashes between different faith followers who claim to correctly interpret the wishes of scripture and queer communities show how out of touch some truly are with the faith they claim to practice. Toronto’s queer community experienced frequent attacks and threats from self-proclaimed pastor David Lynn whose actions resemble more of a zealot than a missionary. Then the excommunication of Junia Joplin of a baptist ministry in Mississauga after she shared her lived-experience as a trans women for one of her sermons. Let’s not forget about the recent actions of the Toronto Catholic District School Board against LGBT Youthline.

In Saskatchewan Terry Van Mackelberg also known by his Drag persona Flo Mingo (don’t we love us a punny drag name!) launched a human rights complaint against a local church. In defence of his sermon that in his eyes was “misinterpreted”, Pastor Terry Murphy said “I spent my life working with people, loving people and trying to help families in distress and help young people”. In the same interview however, Murphy says “Our services are our services. You don’t go into a bake shop and ask them to fix your car. Then you can’t come into a Christian church and expect us to convey messages that we don’t agree with. We have our philosophy and ideology just like they do”.

And here I thought love and acceptance was suppose to be unconditional. My bad?

As I write this article I also came across an incredibly moving story on Instagram of all places via @theaidsmemorial account. Today’s memorial featured Clair Harward of Utah who was excommunicated from the Mormon faith after seeking guidance from his pastor when he discovered he had AIDS. Though they claimed it was for the homosexual act and not Clair’s medical condition. Both reasons however, are deplorable.

Though the last few examples are not reflective of the Catholic Church directly, as I’m sure some would be quick to point out, they are reflective of how many who are agnostic, atheist, or of another faith view institutions who offer this cruel and sadistic form of bait and switch. Except this isn’t the Bait Bus, this is real life with real people. Institutions of faith have been carrying out this cruelty and downright sinful and oppressive behaviour for centuries.

It would however be equally as sinful, oppressive and cruel for us queers and allies to treat those within our community who practice faith with similar prejudices. Our community is full of individuals who are examples of how faith leaders can affirm queer identities and culture: Rev. Cheri DiNovo, Brent Hawkes and Jeff Rock to name a few.

For me, in York Region, it’s James Ravenscroft of Richmond Hill United. It wasn’t much more than three years ago, just before I joined Pflag York Region where I was definitely one of those queers who looked at people of faith differently. One of my first community events as a Pflag YR board member however was participating in an event James and his team put on exploring queerness and faith. One session which I sat in on was about folks sharing their past experiences as queer people with their faith. After sharing some of my journey James was incredibly reassuring and his messaging and leadership in that moment allowed me to forgive, but also accept faith in a different way in my own time. It certainly wasn’t immediate, but it gave me plenty to contemplate.

I’m not a regular at church by any means, in fact the last two times I’ve attended a sermon of James’ to be honest would have been the last two pride-themed sermons where other partner agencies were invited to recite a line from a poem about our Pride Flag – sorry James! But my first community event with Pflag was one that had an immeasurable impact on me. It certainly guided me into the lens I use today and it is the lens that inspired my article in October and this one months later.

Anyone who uses faith, whether it be Catholicism or any other as a shield for their own bigotry is by no means a person of faith. They spew hate and discrimination into the world and provide rhetoric that is weaponized against many marginalized groups. Heck, Canada itself was born out of that very hate used and weaponized against indigenous folxs to this very day. The easy way out is to make our our faith-based allies and queers feel guilty by association as they continue to fight for change from within.

Us queers, our allies, we’ve hardly ever taken the easy way out and this should be no exception. We need to see the hurt and anguish caused by their faith leaders and we should welcome them in with open arms. We should do what their faith leaders fail to provide; unconditional love, the greatest blessing of them all.

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