Author, activist Greg Bourke discusses new memoir “Gay, Catholic, and American”

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During his time at Notre Dame from 1978 to 1982, Greg Bourke’s identity as a gay man was something to be discussed only through student-run hotlines and covert off-campus meetings.

Now, almost 40 years later, Bourke is in the midst of a book tour for his new memoir “Gay, Catholic, and American: My Legal Battle for Marriage Equality and Inclusion” — and he said one of the most surprising parts things to him is that the book was published through Notre Dame Press, the University’s official publishing house.

“This is really significant for [Notre Dame Press] because I don’t know that they’ve ever had a queer-friendly title before,” Bourke said.

“Gay, Catholic, and American” is the first book about LGBTQ identity to be released through Notre Dame Press, soon to be followed by Darrel Alejandro Holnes’ “Stepmotherland” in February 2022.

Author and activist Greg Bourke speaks to The Observer about his new memoir “Gay, American, and Catholic,” published through Notre Dame Press.

“Gay, Catholic, and American” follows the history of the American LGBTQ rights movement through the lens of Bourke’s personal life. After being dismissed as a troop leader from the Boy Scouts of America in 2012 on the basis of his sexuality, Bourke began a life of activism with his husband Michael De Leon, with the two eventually being named plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case decided in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage across the nation. Both devout Catholics, Bourke and De Leon have also advocated for LGBTQ liberation within the Church, and their efforts earned them the title of 2015 persons of the year by the National Catholic Reporter.

But before he made strides for equality on the national stage, Bourke started small. Throughout his four years at Notre Dame, he worked with other students to sustain and expand an underground network of solidarity — despite the administration’s oppositional efforts.

“Back in 1980, when I started at Notre Dame, being gay was still against the law,” Bourke said. “So the University certainly would not grant any kind of recognition or resources to a gay student group. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have one.”

Bourke was an active member of the Gay Students of Notre Dame (GSND), the student-led coalition of gay students throughout most of the ’70s. Under specific circumstances, the group was able to meet freely on campus — Bourke recalled the solidarity and fellowship that formed over shared meals in South Dining Hall.

“Suddenly, I discovered this community that got together every day and had meals together, and they talked and they shared information,” he said. “It was really a wonderful experience for me.”

But in most other instances, GSND’s attempts to organize on campus were met with resistance. In addition to anecdotes of students tearing down informational flyers and the University refusing to provide meeting spaces, Bourke recalled a particular incident of administrative antagonism. In hopes of reaching and recruiting gay students without endangering their privacy, the group set up a “gay hotline” that connected interested students to organizers over the phone, allowing gay students to learn more about the GSND and its events while maintaining anonymity.

But after the group advertised the hotline’s phone number in The Observer, Bourke said his rector shut down the hotline, citing that students cannot use campus phone numbers for “anything like that.”

“It was kind of a harrowing experience for me personally,” Bourke said. “So that was the culture that we had to deal with in 1980 — it was very different from what you all have there now.”

But despite his vivid remembrance of certain details, Bourke said that much of the LGBTQ student experience of the ’70s and ’80s remains unremembered. This ignorance of history, he said, was one reason he chose to write his book — because “a lot of gay history has not been captured.”

“I don’t think a lot of people today appreciate what it was like to be queer in the 1970s,” Bourke said. “I came out in 1976, and lived through a lot of change. I saw the sodomy laws beaten down; I saw the AIDS crisis come and go. And I think a lot of people today, in the gay community, don’t really have an appreciation of that history. So I do think it’s important for people to try to remember — there are other books that are out there, and there are other attempts to capture history.”

Honoring October’s observance of LGBTQ History Month, Bourke will continue his memoir’s promotional tour through a visit to his alma mater, holding a book-signing event in Notre Dame’s Hammes Bookstore on Oct. 1 from 3:30-5:00 p.m.

Complete Article HERE!

Young evangelicals are leaving church. LGBTQ bias may be driving them away.

By Yonat Shimron

For Ethan Stalker, the break unfolded in a now familiar way.

On March 18, 2019, Stalker announced on a blog post he was gay. The next day, he got invited to a coffee meeting with a pastor at the evangelical church in New York City where he was serving as a lay leader. The pastor told him he no longer qualified to be a small group leader.

His life choices, he was told, were not “God’s best” for him. The church allowed the 25-year-old, who works in marketing for healthcare companies, to continue to volunteer on its broadcast production team.

Three months later, Stalker quit the church.

“They loved to tell me my sexuality doesn’t define me,” Stalker said. “But they shoved a handful of verses down my throat that completely sexualize me as a gay person and put a cap on what I can do. It dismissed who I am as a complex human being. That was a huge problem for me.”

Stalker’s story is one shared by thousands of LGBTQ young people who grew up in evangelical churches that deny them full participation. LGBTQ people are typically excluded from serving on church boards and from leading worship or other church groups. They are not ordained or allowed to marry same-sex partners in the church. That’s causing many younger evangelicals — gay and straight — to question the integrity of their church’s theology and the consistency of its biblical interpretation.

Amid widespread acceptance of LGBTQ people, evangelical church attitudes toward the group have not budged, and the consequences have been dire

A study last month by the Public Religion Research Institute found the number of Americans who identify as white evangelicals has declined dramatically, from 23% in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020. Those leaving in the greatest numbers are younger evangelicals whose attitudes toward sexual minorities are starkly at odds with their elders. Take same-sex marriage: While only one-third (34%) of white evangelicals age 50 and over favor same-sex marriage, 51% of younger white evangelicals ages 18-49 now favor it — a majority, another PRRI study found.

To be sure, evangelicals, like people of all faiths, leave church for many reasons: changing politics, shifting cultural tastes, spiritual restlessness. But among younger evangelicals, the church’s attitude on sexuality is emerging as one of the big causes for the decline.

“Most people know and love someone who’s openly gay,” said Julie Rodgers, a Christian writer, activist and lesbian whose story is featured in the new documentary on Netflix, “Pray Away.” “It causes them to wrestle with the implication of teachings that say, ‘We’re bad and wrong and sinful.’ It creates a significant conflict for them in a way that (evangelical allegiance to) the Republican Party more broadly feels like an abstraction, and they don’t see the effect of that on human beings they know and love.”

In contrast with most mainline Protestant denominations where LGBTQ members are routinely ordained and their marriages solemnized in church (the United Methodist Church being the exception), white evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Anglican Church in North America and dozens of others have resisted offering gay people equality. LGBTQ people are allowed to attend church, to be baptized and in most cases to take Communion — but not much else. All three denominations doubled down on their opposition to fully affirming LGBTQ people at their annual conferences this summer.

In evangelical circles, LGBTQ equality has become the litmus test. Churches that stray from those policies risk losing their evangelical bonafides.

“If you make space for marrying or ordaining queer clergy or parishioners, you’re now decidedly out of the evangelical world,” said Michael Rudzena, pastor of Good Shepherd New York, a non-denominational church that is welcoming for LGBTQ people, many of them fleeing evangelical congregations.

One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is its high view of Scripture. Evangelicals take the Bible to be the literal or authoritative word of God. That leads them to highlight a handful of passages that condemn gay sex.

Yet many evangelicals have found a way to embrace and minister to divorced people, even though the Bible, and Jesus, specifically, frowns on it.

“There’s some selective literalism that ignores divorce and remarriage but can’t make the adjustment on this yet,” said the Rev. Fred Harrell, pastor of City Church San Francisco, a Reformed Church in America congregation that fully affirms LGBTQ people.

City Church decided in 2015 to be a fully inclusive church. Overnight it lost 300 members. Its $5.8 million annual budget shrunk to about $2.8 million today. It laid off staff, cut other people’s salaries and had to shut down one of its campuses. Yet, Harrell said he has no regrets. About 15% of the church’s 336 members (with another 360 who attend but do not belong) identify as LGBTQ. Harrell said they’re among the most active and dedicated members.

“They’re really solid people who have been an enormous blessing to the church,” Harrell said. “I tell my non-affirming friends, ‘You’re really missing out.’”

City Church is one of a handful of churches once considered evangelical that have offered LGBTQ full inclusion. GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake Community Church in Seattle are two others that broke from the evangelical pack at the same time. The toll was steep. In the four years that followed — years that coincided with the Trump administration — few others made the move.

That’s not to say there have been no shifts on the part of evangelicals.

Conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, has increasingly come under fire, as the documentary “Pray Away” reveals. At least 20 states have banned the practice among minors. Once a common approach embraced by many churches, conversion therapy has even been denounced by evangelical elites such as Russell Moore, formerly the Southern Baptist Convention’s top ethicist.

In addition, more Christian publishers — such as Convergent, HarperOne, Broadleaf and Eerdmans — are willing to publish books affirming LGBTQ Christians.

Those changes have been too little, too late for some.

Jake Dawkins, a 26-year-old software engineer from Greenville, South Carolina, who growing up attended evangelical churches, dropped out over the churches’ view on sexuality. A straight man, he lived for a while in New York City where he met lots of committed gay Christians.

“Meeting people with different viewpoints opened my mind up to what Christianity could be,” Dawkins said. “That started separating me from more traditional Christianity. That disconnect or discomfort that I felt with the church gave me the opportunity to recognize other things about the church I wasn’t a fan of.”

Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist at Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic, who recently came out as gay, said he foresees a gradual evolution in evangelical circles.

Churches might begin treating LGBTQ people as they do divorced people, directing them to support groups and allowing them to take on service-oriented projects.

“At the end of the day, the history of evangelicalism is a history of pragmatism,” Merritt said.

Just as the churches once opposed rock music — now ubiquitous in the form of Christian rock or praise songs — so, too, evangelical resistance to LGBTQ people may soften.

The question is whether that will happen quickly enough for the people who are fed up with the homophobia still tolerated in evangelical circles.

Elliot Rossomme, a 26-year-old gay man who had been attending a nondenominational evangelical church while studying for a graduate degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, made the break two years ago.

He had grown up in an evangelical church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he got to Berkeley he noticed the church he was attending never discussed sexuality. So he proposed leading a support group for LGBTQ members. He was told he could start the group, so long as he forswore dating, promised he wouldn’t disparage the theological position of the church or advocate for other positions. (Some evangelical churches have accepted the reality of same-sex attraction but require gays to be celibate if they are to serve in leadership positions.)

“That day, I realized I couldn’t go to that church anymore,” Rossomme said.

Two years ago, he decided to try City Church San Francisco. At the end of the first service he attended, as the Eucharist, or the bread and the wine, was about to be celebrated, he said he cried.

“There was a sense that I don’t have to fight for my place at this table here, and they want me to come forward and don’t have qualms about me participating in this meal,” he said.

Here, he no longer felt like a theological outsider and could dedicate positive energy toward building a community he believes in. He joined the church

Ethan Stalker, the New York City marketer, has also found his way to a church — Good Shepherd New York, which welcomes a number of LGBTQ refugees.

But after volunteering all his life for various church projects (he was a theology major at Anderson University in South Carolina, a Christian school) and finding all his social connections through church, he’s more tentative now.

“I’m still recovering and working through the hurt and trauma I experienced being in leadership roles at churches,” Stalker said. “I’m not sure if I will ever be ready to step back into a leadership role. I’d like to think one day I will be able to, but only time will tell.”

Complete Article HERE!

How personal is politics?

Irish Americans expose allegedly gay priest

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How much do you really want to know about your parish priest?

Well, that depends on a number of factors. It might depend on who you voted for in the 2020 election.

It also might depend on whether or not you can get your hands on his cell phone. Or his cell phone records.

Such is the debate scorching up religious and tech circles these days. It was initiated by two Irish American lawyers-turned-crusaders (if you will), which sounds like nice work if you can get it.

Unless that work prompts one of the most respected voices in Catholic American circles to say, “What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? And where does it end — when we have a church where no one has ever sinned? The church will be empty.”

That’s James Martin, the best-selling Irish American author and commentator, and regular guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.

Martin, quoted in The Washington Post, was responding to the work of Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the ex-lawyers who now run The Pillar, which is billed as a Catholic “newsletter.”

Well, boys, you wanted attention. You got attention!

This all began earlier this month with a special “Pillar Investigation.” For the sake of fairness — or decency, or karma — we’re going to explain this story but leave out the name of the priest at its center, even though it is very much out there.

“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to (the priest) emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020,” the investigation notes.

It adds: “An analysis of app data signals correlated to (the priest’s) mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using (the) location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment…”

Where to begin?

As you can imagine, this has elicited a broad range of angry responses, and not only because of the personal behavior of this priest who is not a mere parish priest, but also a rather big big-wig.

There is also the issue of these two Irish Catholics, who both attended very respectable schools and have held lucrative jobs, essentially crawling through the 21st century equivalent of a stinky trash can to dig up secrets about a prominent American religion official.

Who, by the way, resigned his various positions in recent days.

“The case of the high-ranking Catholic cleric who resigned after allegedly being tracked on the gay dating app Grindr quickly became a Rorschach test Wednesday for Catholics already mired in tension over politics, theology and culture,” The Washington Post noted.

Since Flynn and Condon are loud and proud church “traditionalists,” their cheering section has pointed to these findings and declared that gay priests and other post-1960s dogma-ignorers are ruining the U.S. Catholic Church.

But those on another side see little more than “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests,” in the words of America Magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin.

If it smells like and looks like a burning-stake, well, that’s probably what it is.

It seems appropriate, though, that I confess something else here.

It took me a few minutes to make heads or tails of this story. For a moment I thought perhaps that the priest was actually being pressured, in the name of social justice, to proudly proclaim and embrace the private details of his romantic life.

There have, after all, been many times so-called progressives felt it was entirely appropriate to expose the private lives of culture-war opponents. Or divulge personal details to turn enemies into “allies.”

We are approaching the end game of the oft-chanted belief that the “personal is political.” That what you wear and drink, share and think, either saves or ruins the planet.

What you do when you take off your clothes is the inevitable next skirmish.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church bankrolling opposition to biz-backed LGBTQ rights expansion

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

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The Michigan Catholic Conference has contributed nearly $240,000 to a campaign committee opposing a business-backed initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Campaign finance reports filed on Monday show the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, which bills itself as “the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy,” has made $238,874.80 in direct and in-kind contributions to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, an organization formed in April that has actively opposed the LGBTQ initiative. The MCC made up nearly all of the committee’s $204,175 in direct contributions this funding cycle.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign launched the ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to enshrine protections in employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ individuals and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously on Monday to reject Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition signatures, claiming the campaign didn’t have enough valid signatures to advance the proposal.

Fair and Equal Michigan officials have vowed to appeal the Board of Canvassers’ vote to the state Court of Appeals.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has received widespread support from some of Michigan’s largest employers, including Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and General Motors, to name a few. Executives have said expanding the civil rights law is not only a human rights issue, but also a key component to attracting and retaining talent to the state.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice filed a challenge against Fair and Equal Michigan before the Board of State Canvassers, as Michigan Advance previously reported. The newly formed committee had ties to attorneys who had previously fought LGBTQ measures, but it was unclear at the time who was funding the organization.

Campaign finance reports show the Michigan Catholic Conference directly contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice on July 2, and gave another $38,874.80 in in-kind donations on July 7. The committee has also received $3,000 from issue advocacy group Michigan Future First, and $1,000 from the Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum. The committee reported $80,389.55 in expenditures, leaving nearly $124,000 in cash on hand.

Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice Treasurer Daniel Wholihan declined to comment for this story, referring questions to committee spokesperson and Republican political strategist Patrick Meyers.

Meyers said in an emailed statement to MiBiz: “The Board of State Canvassers got it right: the so-called “Fair and Equal” petition clearly submitted an inadequate number of signatures for their initiative. They got a fair and equal review by the Bureau of Elections, but fell well short, and we’re pleased that their poorly drafted, misleading proposal is now off the table for 2022.”

Officials with the Michigan Catholic Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization issued a press release Monday about its effort to support challenges to Fair and Equal Michigan.

“The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person’s individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square,” MCC Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik said in a statement. “The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor.”

Fair and Equal Michigan Spokesperson Josh Hovey told MiBiz: “When we have every major business group in the state … endorsing us, it’s not necessarily suprising but it’s transparent to see who’s out there funding the opposition. And unfortunately it’s the opposition.”

Complete Article HERE!

The outing of a hypocritical priest is actually cause for alarm. Anyone could be next.

A right-wing outlet weaponized Grindr data it obtained to target a prominent, hypocritical priest. It’s a disturbing extension of the religious right’s attack on any LGBTQ people in the Church.

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When the news broke that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill had been caught trawling for hookups on Grindr, the immediate reaction for many was one of disgust at his hypocrisy. Burrill, who had served as secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) before resigning, was right in the thick of all the Church’s attacks on LGBTQ rights. At the same time that he was promoting anti-LGBTQ attacks, he was also having apparently sex with other men.

But the story is a lot more complicated than just outing a hypocrite. It’s also a lot more frightening.

Related: Anti-gay priest on trial for allegedly having sex with men to help “heal” their homosexual desires

Burrill was outed by The Pillar, a right-wing Catholic outlet that says it obtained anonymous Grindr data legally, and then reconstructed it to identify signals coming from Burrill’s phone.

Grindr denies that this is possible, but the app has been criticized for years for its security practices, and they were fined $11 million by a Norwegian agency last January for privacy violations.

For its part, The Pillar was vague about how it got the data, other than to say it was “commercially available,” suggesting that they paid for it. It also didn’t say who conducted the analysis of the data.

Presumably, it wasn’t done by the site’s founders, JD Flynn and Ed Condon, but both of them previously worked at the Catholic News Agency, a conservative outlet, where they developed a reputation for taking aim at the hierarchy.

“Both regularly sprinkle their tweets with references to church law and confidently — some say cockily — tout their own interpretations as the most pure and accurate,” the Washington Post reported.

That sense of moral superiority permeates the reporting on Burrill. The Pillar didn’t target Burrill just for being a hypocrite. They targeted him for (presumably) being gay.

The column outing Burrill — which carries no bylines — is riddled with the language of high moral dudgeon. Burrill engaged in “serial and illicit sexual activity” and “serial sexual misconduct,” it reads.

The column even goes so far as to link Burrill hooking up with men with pedophilia.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr,” the article stated, “but any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies, as Church leaders have called in recent months for a greater emphasis on technology accountability in Church policies.”

The article then went on to cite instances of other priests using hookup sites to solicit sex with minors.

Fr. James Martin, the Jesuit priest who has been advocating for the Church to adopt a more compassionate approach to LGBTQ people, noted the article “repeatedly conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, all under the guise of a journalistic ‘investigation.’”

The Pillar article raises two important issues in its fallout. The first is the weaponization of data to target individuals on ideological grounds. Fr. Martin has been the focus of conservative ire for his pastoral work, for which he was recently commended for by Pope Francis. It’s virtually a sure thing that The Pillar writers are working feverishly to find data that they can tie to Martin and others.

The second is the ongoing attempt by the Catholic right to rid the Church of even celibate gay priests, and thus try to pin the blame for the Church’s ongoing pedophilia scandal — enabled by many of the figures that the right admires —on gay priests.

The Church says celibate gay people are fine. It’s gay sex that’s the sin. The right doesn’t care about such distinctions. They want all LGBTQ people, priests or laity, gone. They’d also like to oust any of their allies or supporters, including Pope Francis, whom they view as a fellow traveler.

Fr. Martin rightly points out that data mining could be used to target virtually anyone the right disagrees with.

“Why stop at priests?” he asks. “Why not spy on unmarried lay teachers at Catholic schools? Perhaps they’re sexually active.”

But the right has shown no inclination to go after anyone other than LGBTQ people. The dozens of teachers and choir directors fired has no parallel among any other group.

Flynn and Condon are promising that more revelations will come from the mining data they obtained. They have turned it over to the Archdiocese of Newark citing “patterns of location-based hookup app use at more than 10 archdiocesan rectories and clerical residences.”

The witch hunt is already well underway.

Complete Article HERE!