Fr. Bryan Massingale: ‘I come to this conversation as a Black, gay priest and theologian.’

Bryan N. Massingale is a Catholic priest who holds the Professor
James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics at Fordham University.

Tom Roberts has written an excellent opinion piece in National Catholic Reporter titled It’s not about ethics, it’s about how we imagine God, on preeminent theologian Bryan Massingale’s July address in which he shifts the conversation on LGBTQ Catholics.

“I come to this conversation as a Black, gay priest and theologian,” said Massingale at a July 4 talk titled “The Challenge of Idolatry for LGBTQI Ministry,” at the 50th anniversary conference of DignityUSA, a group that self describes as “Celebrating the wholeness and holiness of LGBTQI Catholics.” DignityUSA also hosted a four-day gathering of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics prior to the conference.

Here is an excerpt from Massingale’s email and phone conversation with Tom Roberts:

The major challenge we face as sexually minoritized persons is not a problem of sexual ethics. We tend to think, and we are told, that our problems in church and society stem from our nonconformity with the church’s moral code. 

But the church has a solution for that issue. If you sin, you can go to confession. You receive forgiveness and absolution. … Our deepest problem — the one that causes us the most pain, alienation, and self-estrangement — is that we’ve been told a false story about God and have been given false images of God. That’s our problem. 

Underlying all of the struggles we endure around the world and the stories that we’ve heard throughout this assembly — stories of being kicked out of parishes, ostracized from our families, and in general being not welcome — underlying all of these experiences is a story that Catholicism tells about itself.

At the heart of this story is that to be Catholic is to be straight. “Catholic” = “straight.” Official Catholicism tells a story where only heterosexual persons, heterosexual love, heterosexual intimacy, heterosexual families — only these can unambiguously mirror the Divine. Only these are truly sacred. Genuinely holy. Only these are worthy of unreserved acceptance and respect. All other persons and expressions of love, family life, intimacy, and sexual identity are sacred (if at all) only by toleration or exception.

In effect, we are told that we are “afterthoughts” in the story of creation, not part of the original plan. In other words, we are “children of a lesser god.” … Yes, we certainly need to rethink our church’s official sexual ethics. But even more, we have to rethink God.Bryan Massingale


Video: The Jacqueline Woodson Speech

Jacqueline Woodson wins the 2014 National Book Award Young Adult Literature Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming. The importance of seeing people who look like us mirrored into a larger world and how important it is to talk to our elders before they become ancestors.

The Power of Dreaming

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898.

African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Annunciation in Paris in 1898 after returning from a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897. The son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tanner specialized in religious subjects, and wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture, and light of the Holy Land.

Influenced by what he saw, Tanner created an unconventional image of the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Mary is shown as an adolescent dressed in rumpled Middle Eastern peasant clothing, without a halo or other holy attributes. Gabriel appears only as a shaft of light. Tanner entered this painting in the 1898 Paris Salon exhibition, after which it was bought for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899, making it his first work to enter an American museum.

Read more about Henry Ossawa Tanner here.

Duke Ellington’s D.C.: ‘What we Could Not Say Openly, We Expressed in Music’

Duke Ellington in front of the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

Last week I watched the 2000 PBS documentary Duke Ellington’s Washington. It’s a great way to learn the history of D.C. at the turn of the century – especially the Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, and Shaw neighborhoods around where I live. I highly recommend it for viewing! Here’s a short description of the video:

“Before the Harlem Renaissance, Duke Ellington’s Washington was the social and cultural capital of Black America. From 1900 to 1920, it was this country’s largest African American community. Anchored by Howard University and federal government jobs, this community became a magnet for African American intellectuals and sent a stream of shining talents to the nation for generations. It developed a prosperous black middle class which forged a strong society of churches, newspapers, businesses and civic institutions. Its businesses were black owned and run; its buildings, designed, built and financed by blacks; its entertainment, by and for African Americans. This was a proud and elegant community that flourished despite, or perhaps even because, of Jim Crow, the oppressive segregation that forced blacks to create their own separate destiny.”

The New Yorker (May 17, 2010) also has a great essay by Claudia Roth Pierpont titled Black, Brown, and Beige: Duke Ellington’s music and race in America. Pierpont reviews Harvey G. Cohen’s recently released book “Duke Ellington’s America.” Both the book and Pierpont’s essay are an interesting way to examine race in America through classical American music – jazz. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music,” Ellington wrote in the British magazine Rhythm, in 1931, trying to explain the Negro musical tradition that had grown up in America, music “forged from the very white heat of our sorrows.” All his life, Ellington gave the impression of having been unscathed by racism, either in his early years—color, he said, was never even mentioned in his parents’ home—or during the long professional decades when it defined almost every move he made: where he could play his music, who could come to listen to it, whether he could stay in a hotel or attend another musician’s show, and where (or whether) he could find something to eat when the show was over. The orchestra made its first Southern tour just after its return from England, in 1933, travelling (thanks to Mills) in supremely insulated style: two private Pullman cars for sleeping and dining, and a separate baggage car for the elaborate wardrobe, scenery, and lights required to present a show more dazzling than any that most of the sleepy little towns where they made their stops had ever seen. Ellington made a special effort to perform for black audiences, even when it meant that the band added a midnight show in a place where it had performed earlier that night exclusively for whites. Reports from both racial groups were that the players outdid themselves; it is difficult to know where they felt they had more to prove.

Segregation was hardly peculiar to the South, of course, any more than it was limited, in New York, to the Cotton Club and its ilk. The down-and-dirty Kentucky Club had been no different: even without thugs at the door, there was an unspoken citywide dictate about where the different races belonged. The only exceptions were the “Black and Tans,” the few Harlem clubs that permitted casual racial mixing, and to which Ellington seems to have been paying tongue-in-cheek tribute with the not-quite-meshing themes of “Black and Tan Fantasy.” This was the first number played, after “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at Ellington’s landmark Carnegie Hall concert, in January, 1943, although the piece sounded very different from his twenties hit: taken at a slower tempo, with extended solos, it was twice its original length—so deliberative it seemed a kind of statement—and showed off the burnished power of Ellington’s forties band.

Read the whole essay here.

May 26: Prop 8 and Dred Scott

dred-scottDo you think the California Supreme Court was aware that it was handing down the Prop 8 decision on marriage equality on the anniversary of Dred and Harriet Scott’s manumission?

I hope the odd coincidence of history is predictive and, despite California’s court decision, the U.S. will soon be celebrating the “manumission” to marry for whosoever will.

On March 6, 1857, after an 11-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, an African-American slave, had “no rights that a white man need respect.”

On May 26, 1857, Taylor Blow, a son of Scott’s original owner, purchased Scott and his family in order to set them free.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia about 1790. He was sold to a doctor who later moved to Illinois and eventually to Missouri with all his property. In 1846, Dred Scott filed a suit in Missouri seeking freedom for himself, his wife, and two daughters. He based his case on the fact that slavery was prohibited in Illinois, and because he had lived there, he had been freed.

Scott’s pursuit of their freedom when on for seven years in various courts, with one higher court after another reversing previous decisions. Throughout the ordeal, the children of Dred Scott’s original owners gave him financial support. Finally, after the Missouri Circuit Court ruled that “once free, always free,” Scott’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal Supreme Court ruled that Scott had no right to sue because blacks were not U.S. citizens. Scott and his family were returned to their owner.

Fifteen months after Scott had been freed by the Blow family, who were Catholic, he died of tuberculosis. When Dred Scott died on September 17, 1858, the Blow family arranged to have him buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Library of Congress Seeking Sermons on Obama Inauguration

On Jan. 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American smallpresident. In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009. It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The AFC is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible. This collection is one of many oral history and spoken word collections at the AFC that preserve American emotions and memories of important cultural events.

Congregations and groups interested in contributing to this once-in-a-lifetime documentary project are asked to record sermons and orations delivered during Inauguration Week 2009 and donate them to the Library of Congress. The donated recordings will be preserved at the AFC in order to enhance the nation’s historical record and preserve the voices of religious leaders other orators for researchers and scholars of the future. After being processed by archivists, the collection will be made available to scholars, students and the general public.
See all the information here: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2008/08-234.html