“Scandal: 96 Catholic Universities Have Homosexual Clubs.”
That’s the title of an article written by John Ritchie of the group Americans for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP). I actually spoke with John Ritchie on the phone about three weeks ago, when I called him to let the TFP leadership know that a group of counter-protestors (Holy Cross students) would be at the same location as the TFP on Saturday, April 7, 2018. According to Ritchie (indirectly), the TFP drove from Pennsylvania to Worcester to protest an article written by Professor Tat siong Benny Liew of our Religious Studies Department. Or so they said, and so many of our community still believe.
Americans for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property maintains a federally-recognized 501c tax-exempt status. In the last five years, the TFP mobilized against legislation for gay marriage, the bulk of their work protesting Catholic universities and groups that do not live up to “Catholic” standards (here rendered in quotations because the TFP ordains those standards, rather than deferring to someone actually ordained). Prior to their demonstration at Holy Cross, the TFP’s most recent mobilization appears to be a campaign to protest a Lenten talk given by the beloved Jesuit and author, Father James Martin. Their disquiet over Father Martin, as outlined on a seven-point platform published on February 23, 2018, points to a 2017 speech Martin gave at Fordham University, where he called upon Catholics to have reverence for all partnerships between consenting adults: “I have a hard time imagining how even the most traditionalist, homophobic, closed-minded Catholic cannot look at my friend [in a same-sex marriage] and say, ‘That is a loving act, and that is a form of love that I don’t understand but I have to reverence.'” The TFP further deems Father Martin’s book, Building Bridges, reprehensible content, summarily recorded in their disgust over a review on the book jacket of Building Bridges (written by a Catholic nun) that read: “Fr. Martin shows how the Rosary and the rainbow flag can peacefully meet one another.”
In the days and weeks preceding and proceeding our counter-protest of the TFP, many in the Holy Cross community voiced their discomfort or outrage at the provocative content of Professor Liew’s article. Several expressed their support for the TFP-led protest, a few through their physical attendance on April 7, and many more online. Few appear to call for Professor Liew’s resignation, as the TFP does. However, in empathizing with the difficult position many students find themselves in, I firmly (and, I’ll give you, naively) believe those in our community who joined the TFP did so because they do not understand the history of protest or teachings of the group.
In the eyes of the TFP, we have all studied blasphemy. You too blaspheme, if you have done the following:
- Supported non-heterosexual marriage.
- Supported non-heterosexual relationships.
- Attended Pride.
- Seriously studied non-Catholic religious works.
- Achieved your religious studies requirement through a non-Catholic course at Holy Cross (I took Cults and Sects with Professor Schmalz, and recommend it highly).
- Attended a Jesuit school
- Said that LGBTQA+ persons can be Catholic
- Watched a movie or television show rated any the following: PG-13, R, Mature, NC-17.
- Found nothing objectionable about a rendering of Jesus of Nazareth or Mary where the figures appeared non-white.
I could go on.
You see, the TFP did not come to Holy Cross because of Professor Liew’s article. They reared their ugly head because Holy Cross remains part of a network, “96 Strong,” a Jesuit campus (and, I may add, one of the finest among them) that supports all students. A College that “supports the inroads of the homosexual movement.” If you are still unsure precisely what the TFP came to Holy Cross for— if the giant red banners, bagpipers, or chants of “REPARATION” did not make clear their reason for protest— perhaps signs that said “Pray for the urgent conversion of America,” and, “Stop Queer Theology,” or the TFP’s support of conversion therapy will. Perhaps, the middle finger thrown at Holy Cross students in counter-protest, or the screams of “TRANNY” at at least one of our members will shake from slumber those existing in errant vacuity.
Standing at the intersection of College Street and Linden Lane on April 7, I was surrounded by practicing Catholics, persons of other Christian denominations, members of non-Christian religious communities, and those who do not practice any religion at all. There were straight students and students who are not straight. There were cisgender students and gender-nonconforming students. Though I speak only for myself, I believe there was a communal understanding that the TFP came not to protest Professor Liew, but any institution, scholarship, or person who embodies that which is not heterosexual, patriarchal, or white. There were many students who celebrated and supported this mission from afar, who waved from cars, honking and whooping for students who stood on the corner of College Street and Linden Lane to call for love, acceptance, Pride, and unfettered scholarship.
Some have asked why I bother to stir the pot (oh, like I have control of the spoon, pleaaase. I wish). Many more expressed their discomfort with the TFP, but also their belief that Professor Liew committed blasphemy, almost as if the latter offers a cushioning to the former. I do not drag these voices through the sludge because I think these articulated considerations of the purpose of the TFP stand as the first formulations of a much greater consideration of blasphemy. But, where would I be if I didn’t also want us to look further than what we now imagine possible? In a radical sense, I want to call attention to the fact that the TFP and groups like the TFP (for there are many) mobilize around miniscule moments that stand as proxies for much greater systems of belief and exclusion. It was never about Professor Liew, or the specific academic scholarship which suggested (on a theoretical level) that Jesus of Nazareth could have been a Drag King.
It was always about the supposition that Jesus, or anyone, for that matter, could be— should be— anything less than normatively masculine or normatively feminine. Welcome to Hell.