Many years ago I got into a discussion with a gay friend who said to me, “You are so lucky you live in San Francisco. There are so many gay people there that you don’t have to worry about the kinds of things we have to worry about. It's like when Jews like to live with other Jews. One needs one’s own kind around for protection.”
That got me thinking about the Jewish inclination to live in urban areas. The stock explanation is that Jews need a minyan to have a religious service – a quorum of ten men. But that is only a small part of the story. It’s an understatement that birds flock together and there is safety in numbers.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized we were missing the woods for the trees. The reason San Francisco is a safe place for gays (and Jews and black people married to Chinese people) is that the straight people who live here tend to be welcoming. It’s the straight people who make San Francisco a gay mecca. It’s not just the fact that all the gay people from Kansas, Texas and Alabama running from the homophobes had reached the ocean and had no choice but to put down stakes; it’s that people moved over, took them in and made them feel at home.
I came to San Francisco in 1965, a full half century ago come June, in time for the flower children revolution, smoked some pot, marched in anti-Vietnam war parades, and learned over and over that when I came out as gay to my straight friends their response would be, “Of course you are!” End of story.
|Ad in San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, April 16, 2015|
(for a readable version, click here)
You can imagine my pride in this city when I opened this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle to find a full page appeal to the pope to get rid of the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone. 108 signatures (if I have counted them accurately) on a document which ends with, “The City of Saint Francis deserves an Archbishop true to our values and to your teachings.”
I’ve watched this struggle within the Roman Catholic Church between the hierarchy and the folks in the pews up close for years. It matches the political split in the United States, where one party represents the interests of corporate America and the wealthy classes and the other concerns itself, at least slightly more, with social welfare, fighting poverty and racism, voting rights, and social equity. The Catholic Church took a big step away from its traditional focus on control and the accumulation of wealth and power centered in the hierarchy with Vatican II. It’s worth noting that this appeal to the pope begins, “We are committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II.”
Vatican I, remember, was the time when the pope of the day, Pius IX in 1868, frustrated over the loss of the Papal States, decided against great opposition to declare himself infallible. It made the pope central to the faith, a curse the church has had to live with since. (Another concern of Vatican I was to point out the dangers of rationalism.) To this day, however, folks who stress Vatican II over Vatican I believe "the church" should not be centered on the men in silks and satins who live in palaces but on the pastoral work of its ordinary clergy, with full participation by all of the followers of Christ, women as well as men. These "folks in the pews" have not stopped trying to pull the church back to its humble origins and center it on a man known for urging compassion and forgiveness. You know. The guy who once declared “Blessed are the Poor.”
The self-identified Vatican II Christian signatories to this letter to the pope make my point for me that San Francisco is a welcoming place. They specifically single out two pet projects of Cordileone's conservative wing of the Church as reasons why they no longer want this man as their spiritual leader – keeping women out of power positions and rejecting gay and lesbian people as people whose natural behavior it characterizes as “gravely evil.”
How often, in the old days, when I had more fire to flame-throw at the Church for its homophobia, did I hear its defenders say, “But all those schools, all those hospitals – it isn’t all bad!” And all I could think of was the number of children abused by the catholic message that they are born with sin, hate Jesus when they masturbate, can be gay as long as they give up sex for life, accept a patriarchal tradition as the will of God, and ought to pray for the conversion of their Jewish friends. I still think it is a very sick institution. And as a non-Catholic I deeply resent the obvious move by the official church to send here into the Bay Area, a traditionally warm and welcoming place to people outside the mold of the communities they come from, one arch conservative after another. Cordileone is only the latest in a long list. But he is a new low among those who unabashedly use the power of their faith community to affect the lives of non-Catholic Americans. I can't begin to tell you how bitterly I resent that. Cordileone intends to rally folks in Washington next week to urge the Supreme Court to reject the right of same-sex couples to marry - just before they meet to decide the issue on April 28.
Make no mistake. This letter is a red flag before the eyes of a bull. The battle is engaged. These people are not going away, as a Chronicle editorial reminds us But neither is the archdiocese likely to cave. It immediately responded by releasing a statement saying the ad was
a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, a misrepresentation of the nature of the teacher contract, and a misrepresentation of the spirit of the archbishop. The greatest misrepresentation of all is that the signers presume to speak for ‘the Catholic Community of San Francisco. They do not.”
That’s the thing with religious communities. There’s inevitably a squabble over who gets to be the voice of the people. Is ISIS the voice of Islam? - they cite chapter and verse from the Qur’an to justify their actions. And all Cordileone was doing with his warning to the teachers at four Catholic High Schools – one of the primary motivators for these 108 signatories – was reminding them what was in the official Catholic catechism – the rule book for believers.
If you are raised in one of those religious communities governed by harsh doctrines going back to the bronze age, you always have the option of using your eyes and your ears and your heart to form the kind of practical morality that comes from living side by side with people outside your faith. San Franciscans know gay people – some of whom are Catholics themselves – and they know there is something foul in the doctrine that would teach them to internalize the view that their God-given sexual natures are “gravely evil.”
My guess is the church will realize Cordileone’s power to win friends and influence people has waned enough to make him more trouble than he is worth, and will replace him, once enough time has passed so it will look like it’s simply time for a transfer. The Church is much better at looking good than at actually being good. I’m not Catholic, and I watch these goings-on from outside. But I do appreciate the good Catholic folk of the San Francisco Diocese for having the courage to put their money where their mouth is – this full-page ad can’t be cheap. And I’m sure plenty of Bay Area atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Chinese women married to black men, transgendered people and lovers of life in all its rich potential will join me in saying to them, “So glad you’re here, you Roman Catholic people. Have a seat next to us. There is plenty of room.”