It has been a few weeks now since the rainbow firestorm over the firing of Rev. Warren Hall for his support of the NO H8 campaign on his Facebook page hit the media. The now openly gay Hall was the Director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. He recently outed himself in an interview with Outsports. Hall’s coming out along with his dismissal from Seton Hall provides Roman Catholics an opportunity to look at issues of social justice. These are issues the current Pope purportedly embraces, although his stance on homosexuality remains murky at best. Whom does the church exist for? Is the design of the church to “other” people?
What are the implications for a religious organization when promoting acceptance of a targeted population becomes heresy? By firing a gay person for taking a social justice stance on LGBTQ rights, has the Catholic Church now implicated itself as part of a system of oppression? Is it then in part culpable for homophobia and violent crimes committed against this population?
Not only are the people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community adversely affected by the church, but I think about all of the friends and family members also feeling estranged from the Church. Church officials have said that they want to ensure “accountability to the university and the archbishop” from Hall’s former position as director. There seems to be a disconnect for me. Shouldn’t church officials be accountable to the populations they serve?
Father Hall stated on May 15 via Twitter that he was: “Grateful for all the support. Don’t be angry!! Turn this into an opportunity for open/reasonable discussion on LGBT issues on a Catholic Campus.” Sadly, Seton Hall is shutting down the conversation with their behavior. To make things even messier, the university just drafted basketball player Derrick Gordon, the first openly gay Division I player. Not a very good message to send to Gordon about his identity. Or perhaps it is okay to be gay if you are bringing in money for the school?
Back in March, Father Hall took a stand against the legalized bigotry in Indiana and stated that: the NCAA “should move the Final 4 out of Indiana. Legalized discrimination against anyone is wrong.” His whole approach resonates with inclusion. That this resulted in his dismissal is rather nonplussing for me, as I hope it is for others. Am I to assume that the Catholic Church, Seton Hall in particular, is for legalized discrimination — that they support denying LGBTQ people services and resources?
I’m curious as to how this stand is then consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Students have sponsored a petition for the reinstatement of Father Hall stating that: “The archdiocese’s decision was in line with neither the teachings of Jesus, nor the words of Pope Francis.” Seton Hall has not responded to the petition. Does that mean the Archdiocese believes that discrimination IS in line with church policy?
Do they believe that Jesus and Pope Francis support legalized discrimination? If so, there seems to be a legacy of hate being passed down with Jesus’ name attached to that message.
While I am not a biblical scholar, I do not recall anywhere in the bible where Jesus preaches hating gay folk. Is that in an edition I missed? I guess I must not understand how to read the Gospel of Mark: “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH ….YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ (12:30-1) There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Perhaps the editor nodded off to sleep while proofreading Mark’s work, as maybe it was supposed to have read: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, if that neighbor is heterosexual only?”
This challenge is certainly not reserved for the Catholic Church. Many — perhaps most — organized religions and denominations struggle with LGBTQ rights. How is anyone who feels drawn to a place of worship to resolve this disconnect? How can a message of love be heard when it is delivered in an envelope of “not for all”?
A great social benefit of the work of religious institutions is a mission of help and hope, an intent that all are welcome. When practical action calls that intent into question, those who seek that help and hope feel confused and isolated. This flies in the face of the goals of equity and inclusion — what I would call a lens of social justice — implicit in a teaching of universal love. Those in power — like the Archbishop of Newark and the officials at Seton Hall — should be careful to look to the central tenets of their faith as they take action. The firing of Rev. Hall didn’t just deprive him of dignity and livelihood. It told millions of Catholics that they and their families are not welcome.
Michael Hulshof-Schmidt teaches at the Portland State University School of Social Work. He is also the Executive Director of EqualityWorks, NW, a company that provides workshops on racial equity and how to stand in solidarity with targeted populations. Follow this link to read more of his work.