The Time Has Come

I am going to warn you ahead of time--I am about to show you a picture of what, according to many, is an example of the most dangerous people in our society.  A Catholic bishop recently said that "standing firm" against these folks "makes an irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society."  So, this is serious.  Are you ready?

I know, right?  Pretty scary stuff.  These two gentlemen are Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff.  They live in Lewistown, Montana.  Both are Catholics, and have been all of their lives.  They, until recently, have been actively involved in their local parish, St. Leo the Great--singing in the choir, playing the organ, etc.  Beyond their Catholicism, these two men have been served as almost-stereotypical pillars of the community, serving as the two time president of the local Kiwanis Club (in Mr. Huff's case) or as the chairman of the Lewistown Public Library (in Mr. Wojtowick's case).

But you see, friends, Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick are gay, and have been in a relationship together for the last 30 years.  Now, let us take a moment to think about this.  Lewistown, Montana is a town of 5,901 people, per the 2010 Census.  There are high schools larger than that in this country.  I think it is reasonable to conclude that, over the last 30 years, a significant percentage of the population of Lewistown, and the members of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, became aware that these two men were in a relationship together.  How could they possibly have hidden it for 30 years?  One can only assume that most everyone knew they were together, and either didn't care or kept their objections to themselves.  This is, after all, the do-your-own-thing West we are talking about here.

In May 2013, Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick got married in a civil ceremony in Washington State.  Only, they don't see it that way.  I'll let Mr. Huff explain:

"Neither one of us believes the term should have been marriage," Huff said. "We understand that marriage is a union between heterosexual couples."

Instead, Huff and Wojtowick said they sought a legal union to safeguard their joint financial interests heading toward the later years of their lives.

"We're getting old," Huff said. "There is no other avenue for us in the Catholic Church to protect ourselves financially — our Social Security benefits or our home, which is in both our names. If something happened to one of us, we need some protection."

Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick, men who have built a life together for the last thirty years, wanted to make sure that the other would not be left destitute if one of them were to die. No one would begrudge them that, right?

Wrong.  You see, as happens in traditional Western stories, a new sheriff recently came to Lewistown.  In early August, Father Samuel Spiering, (27 years old, BTW), arrived as the pastor of St. Leo the Great.  Within four days of being installed as pastor, he called Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick to a meeting to determine if they, in fact, had been married.  When learning that they had, Fr. Spiering decreed that the only way they could remain in the good graces of the Church was to (1) get a civil divorce (ending a marriage that, in the eyes of the Church, never existed anyway); (2) stop (for the first time in 30+ years) living together; and (3) write a public letter in which they "acknowledge" that they made a mistake in getting married and publicly affirming that they do not believe in gay marriage.

Amazingly, Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick were willing to engage in North Korean-style self-criticism in the form of the letter.  They were not, however, willing to separate, as the whole purpose of this exercise was to insure that two older gentlemen would not have to be cut off from each other as they got older.  And so, now they are excommunicated, and their bishop, Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, has publicly supported that decision.  Indeed, the quote that began this post, about the "irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society," comes from Bishop Warfel to justify the need to oppose gay marriage generally.  Or, in this specific case, to attempt to see to it that two older men die alone.

I will never pretend that I know everything about God or religion.  I have not read every book there is to read, pondered every question that there is to ponder, prayed about every topic there is to pray about.  And I don't pretend I am a particular saintly or holy person.  At best, I think I am a mediocre follower of Jesus as compared to other human followers, let alone compared to God's own standards.  Indeed, this blog is in many ways an attempt to try to figure this stuff out--if I really understood deep things about God, I wouldn't need to write any of this in the first place.

Here is what I do know.  While of course I have not met Jesus in the flesh, I feel like I have met Him through the Gospels and my, albeit poor, attempts to follow Him in my life.  So, I can say that I know Him.  And I do not see the Jesus I know in the way the organization that claims to be His Church treated Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick.  I simply cannot see the Jesus I know desiring these two men to break up their loving relationship and end their lives apart.  I know all of the arguments and theology, but I simply cannot reconcile that outcome with the person I see described in the Gospels.

And, here is the other thing.  Even if I could perform the mental gymnastics to reshape Jesus into the person that would approve this course of action, I am not sure I want any part of that Jesus.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a guy who seems to know something about Jesus, made the comment that he wouldn't want to go to Heaven to be with a homophobic God.  Likewise, I don't think I want to follow a Jesus that wants Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick to die alone.  If I'm wrong about gay people (or contraception, or women in the Church, or whatever), well, I'll live (or, really, not live) with the consequences.  I'm OK with that.

Plus, there is one more thing.  I understand that I am one person in a very, very large religion.  As a practical matter, what I say or do doesn't matter much at all.  But I can only do what I can do.  I want my life to represent the things I believe in and care about.  And, right now, the religion that I am an official member of does not represent these values in some very important areas.  I don't want to stand behind what happened to Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick, even via the most tenuous of connections.  I can't stop or take back what happened to them, but I can make sure that I will never be counted with those who support what happened to them.

All of this leads to an inevitable conclusion--the time has come to step away from Catholicism.  As I don't know everything about religion, neither can I see the future, so I am not willing to say that this is a permanent decision.  I hope that the Catholic Church will put down its pitchforks and rethink much of this.  And, if that day comes, I'll figure out what that means at that time.  But, for now, my place is somewhere else, following the Jesus I've come to know and love.

You see, I can handle the uncritical fetishization of the past represented by folks like Fr. Z.  I can deal with the combination of silliness and obliviousness that informs things like the birth control teaching.  It's tougher, but I can also deal with the naked prejudice of the ban on women priests.  At the very edges of my tolerance is the toxic stew of arrogance, stupidity, and self-preservation that was the engine that drove the sex abuse scandals.  It's the edge, but I can deal with it.

What I can't handle is cruelty.  It was cruelty to pressure Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick to cut ties with each other in their later years so that clerics can beat their chests about what big bad culture warriors they are.  Real live human beings were told by the religion that they believed in to sacrifice themselves and their lives together to score a few cheap points in a doomed crusade in a meaningless contest that only a narrow handful of folks care about anymore.  What Father Spiering and Bishop Warfel asked Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick to do was cruel.  And I can't accept that.

I know there are many stories like that of Mr. Huff and Mr. Wojtowick, and I don't mean to imply that they are somehow singular or were treated worse than other LGBT people.  It just is the case that their story is the one that acted as the tipping point for me.  They showed me that the time has come to officially announce where I stand.  And that place is next to them.


Erin said…
I went through a similar - if much, much shallower - calculus when I left the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod when I was a teen. When I read your posts, I get a strong sense of your personal faith, so I'm happy to hear that it sounds like you are still looking for a community of faith to join. We protestants are very keen on our personal relationship with God, so I'm sure that church or no church you will find a way to continue to explore and strengthen your faith in Jesus' teachings.

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