On Tuesday, Fr. James Martin, the Jesuit journalist and editor-at-large of America, posted a video on Facebook about the recent massacre in Orlando. In his video, Fr. Martin expresses his dismay over the responses of the American Catholic bishops, not because the bishops failed to express sorrow, outrage, and solidarity with those suffering, but because they did not (except for Chicago’s Blaise Cupich) direct their condolences explicitly to the LGBT community.
Note well—Martin’s complaint is not about any lack of sympathy or solidarity, but about the language with which the bishops chose to identify the suffering. “All those affected” (Abp. Kurtz) isn't enough. “The people of Orlando” isn't enough, either. We need to stand with the identity group of which those affected were mainly members, because they were targeted neither as residents of Orlando, nor as random bystanders, but as members of that identity group.
Fr. Martin's video is a great example of his thoroughgoing humaneness and care for words. He says what he means, and makes clear as always that he deeply means what he says. He is nonetheless wrong, and I think his statement is misleading and uncharitable to the bishops in question.
What does it mean to be “gay” or “LGBT”? This question could be answered in many different ways: according to sexual preference, behavior, orientation, identity, psychology, biology, lifestyle, etc. There can be no question, though, that at present the label “LGBT” and its components represent more than simply a fact about the dispositions, lifestyles, or biologies of various individuals. They represent a highly developed political and anthropological ideology, which makes hard claims about human nature and desire, morality, the structure of the family, and the proper use of bodies.
To be clear, everyone who identifies with any of the labels that go into “LGBTQ...” is worthy of our love, our sympathy, and our solidarity in their quest (with all Christians) for the truth, for justice, and for eternal happiness. But what we share with our brethren on account of our common humanity does not nullify what divides us in terms of our choices and beliefs about happiness, justice, and the truth.
And so, here's the rub: The Catholic Church and the LGBT Community have divergent understandings of human nature, personal identity, the proper use of bodies, and the requirements for happiness. As Fr. Martin rightly points out, Catholics treat the LGBT Community as “other”—not because the Church wishes to exclude members of the LGBT Community from the mercy of Christ, induction into the Church, or eventual participation in the Sacraments (on the contrary, this is one of our great hopes), but because the beliefs, practices, politics, and morals proposed by the LGBT Community as an ideological bloc are fundamentally inimical to the primary end of man.
Those on the other side recognize the divide perfectly well. This is why defenders of traditional family structure are eo ipso “bigots” in their eyes. It's why dissent from the political demands of Gender Ideology and its current linguistic usages is so severely punished. What, then, is Fr. Martin asking for when he chides the bishops for not expressing solidarity with the LGBT Community, or with “our LGBT brothers and sisters,” as Archbishop Cupich expressed it? He's asking, whether or not he realizes it, for the bishops to recognize and tacitly endorse the sexual identities promoted by the LGBT Community—identities bound up fundamentally with the gender ideology promoted by the Community.
This, of course, would be deeply misleading on the part of the bishops, since the Church cannot endorse this ideology. It would also be an evangelical failure, and a failure of charity. The mission of the Church with respect to the LGBT Community is to oppose the fetishization of gender identity. The bishops' duty is to tell LGBT people that they are known and loved as more than just exemplars of a sexual type.
Fr. Martin says that gay people are “invisible” in the Church. To an extent, he is right—the Church, like Christ, refuses to mistake the mirage of sin and ideology for the reality of the people it encounters. What it sees is only each child of God: suffering, waiting, longing for absolution, created for the possibility of eternal union with God.
Elliot Milco is deputy editor of First Things.