Arts / Faith and Humanities

Bridging Troubled Waters

Written by Jerry T. Cobb, S.J.

October 17, 2018

Building a Bridge book cover

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James Martin, S.J., Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT community can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion and sensitivity.

Pope Francis recently named James Martin, S.J., a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. And communicate he does, with more than 220,000 people following his twitter posts. He acquired celebrity status by serving as chaplain to the comedic political show The Colbert Report.

Father Martin is the Jesuit equivalent of an anti-inflammatory drug—he publishes and speaks widely on topics around which intense disagreement and heated rhetoric flare up. He has a calm, philosophically balanced approach to controversial issues. His latest book stands out for its cool-headed, warmhearted approach. The book’s title says it all: Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

Fr. Martin’s choice of bridge as a central image has important echoes in scripture. Jesus showed himself to be a bridge when he proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The extended arms of Jesus made bridges across the social chasms of his time. He refused to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery; he touched the ostracized sick and preached to crowds from the unconventional pulpit of a boat bobbing on the Sea of Galilee. Fr. Martin applies this pastoral compassion of Jesus to the historically fraught relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church.

He describes a bridge with two-way traffic, focusing as much on the challenges the LGBTQ community faces within itself when contemplating a rapprochement with the institutional Church. He writes, “My goal is to include all people who may feel that their spiritual journey, and their welcome in the Church, have been made more difficult by their sexual orientation.” He adeptly analyzes biblical passages that provide consolation and prophetic challenges based upon Jesus’ words and example.

Fr. Martin points out unique gifts LGBTQ Catholics bring to the Church. For example, they have a deeply felt empathy for others who have experienced exclusion or discrimination. They are painfully aware that there are still parts of the world where people are jailed or executed for being gay. Fr. Martin also asserts that the Church must not only suffer with but must also celebrate with the LGBTQ community.

Fr. Martin urges readers to consider the experiences of LGBTQ people—what was it like to grow up and how have you grown into your awareness of God’s gift of your sexuality? How might you show the Church the respect and sensitivity that you hope and expect the Church will show to you?

The Society of Jesus historically has sought to bring an enlivened gospel to new communities and contexts. It is the nature of a university to break new ground in teaching, scholarship and service. Fr. Martin believes now is a time for the Church to make healing gestures of outreach to members of the LGBTQ community and for the community to have an attitude of respectful dialogue with the Church. Next June Father Martin will deliver Seattle University’s undergraduate commencement address.

Jerry T. Cobb, S.J., teaches in the English Department at Seattle University.


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