Late in high school, I got into an argument with my sister about gay marriage. I was opposed, since I believed it went against the “natural order.” I didn’t know anyone who was (openly) gay. My sister told me, “Just wait.”
As a sophomore in college, my closest friend on campus called me and said he needed to talk. He showed up in my dorm room with a Bible. He handed it to me, opened to Romans, chapter 1, and asked me to start reading at verse 26.
“God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” And so on.
My friend told me that he’s been attracted to men for seven years, and for seven years he has asked God to take this attraction away from him, but God has not answered this prayer. A tortured soul sat before me. He was self-loathing. He believed he was being punished by God for some sin he committed.
Immediately and instinctively, in the deepest part of myself, I knew it wasn’t true. I knew God wasn’t punishing him. I knew he was created in love and is called to love, and I wanted him to be free from the terrible burden he felt.
His willingness to call me, to come to my room, to sit with me and to share what made him feel such shame – this honesty and vulnerability totally transformed me.
I felt compassion. I wanted him to experience agency and freedom. And I felt angry that anyone would be made to feel this way. I felt angry at religion, and religious leaders, for promoting the lie of heteronormativity. I wanted a revolution, so that no one else would ever again experience this kind of pain and sense of rejection.
It all happened in one moment.
This story, in different forms, has repeated itself in my life.
At age 18, a childhood friend started a five-year prison sentence. Throughout college, I visited him. Eventually, he was notified that the U.S. government had started a process to deport him. When he was two months old, he had been adopted from Mexico into a U.S. family. He was never made a citizen. He spoke no Spanish. At age 24, he was deported to a country he knew nothing about.
I’m still angry at the U.S. government. I’m still angry about imprisonment and deportation.
After college, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and I worked as a legal advocate for people who suffered from mental illness and were incarcerated. On the psychiatric unit of that county jail, I can still see “correctional officers,” dressed in riot gear, forcibly “extracting” people from their cells. I can still see a man, drenched in his own urine. I can still see a man lying naked, face down, after being medicated against his will. I can still hear a woman wailing, because she faced a “third strike” and life imprisonment.
I asked, “What kind of society do we live in?” I wondered, “Why them and not me?”
For three years, I made weekly visits to a juvenile detention center, where I listened to the stories of children who were locked in cages.
What kind of society do we live in? Why them and not me?
At my Catholic parish in Chicago, a woman presided at our Good Friday service, and I was in awe of her graceful liturgical presence. I came to know her as faith-filled, compassionate and prophetic. And I came to know that she experienced a call to ordained ministry.
Since Catholic leaders rejected this call, she pursued ministry with Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Just five weeks after her ordination to the priesthood, she died from colon cancer at age 45, and the local archbishop refused her a Catholic funeral and burial.
What kind of church do we live in?
I can’t live in a society or a church where this oppression goes unchallenged. It goes against our highest values and deepest convictions.
I dream of a church that radiates the revolutionary love of Jesus Christ in everything we say and do, thus helping transform our society.