Bridging the Gap: Welcoming LGBTQ People into the Church This Easter

by Madeleine Roberts

In Father Martin’s words, “[LGBTQ people] are fully members of the church. It’s just a question of getting people to understand that.”

Lent is a time of reflection and contemplation, a time when many Christians think about ways that they can become closer to God and to each other. To mark the season this year, HRC Religion and Faith Program Director Michael Vazquez sat down with Jesuit Priest and Editor-at-Large of America Media, Father James Martin. 

Father Martin began his ministry to LGBTQ Catholics after the tragic shooting at Pulse that claimed 49 lives, most of them LGBTQ and Latinx, in June 2016. Since then, he has made it a priority to connect with and advocate for LGBTQ Catholics to ensure they feel welcome in the Church, and to encourage other non-LGBTQ people in the Church to do the same. 

When celebrating Easter, Christians remember Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a symbol of hope for all Christians everywhere. This hope is reflected in the resilience of LGBTQ Catholics and Christians, as well as their allies, in continuing to fight for full inclusion in the Church. In Father Martin’s words, “[LGBTQ people] are fully members of the church. It’s just a question of getting people to understand that.” This sense of hope and resilience for LGBTQ Christians is something that is more important to remember this Easter season than ever. 

Below are excerpts from Father Martin’s and Michael Vazquez’s conversation, as well as a video that explores more of their discussion. More of their exchange can be read here and here. For awareness, please note that this video was filmed in early February 2020. 

How did you first come to engage in ministry with LGBTQ Catholics? 

Since Pulse, which of course [was when] 49 people who were LGBTQ and Latinx were killed, it changed my ministry by making it more formal and more public. Before that, I had worked with LGBT people, like most people in the church do, and as friends of course... but I hadn't done anything that was public. After [Pulse], I gave a talk at a group called New Ways Ministry, which is a group that advocates and ministers for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, and that led to a book called Building a Bridge, which was a very small book, but that led, providentially, to a lot of ministry in churches and parishes and schools, and that led to where I am today.

You were invited to have a 30 minute sit down with Pope Francis. Why did you choose to talk about LGBT issues?

There were a lot of things I could talk about, but I felt like this is the ministry that's the most pressing for me right now. And really LGBT people don't have a lot of advocates in the Vatican. I was just advocating. I was just bringing the voices of LGBT people into that room with me and that’s what I felt like my mission was -- to be their voice. And [Pope Francis] was very inspiring and encouraging and positive. 

So I was also happy for the LGBT community because they saw it as a sign of support, and they knew that this is the language that the Vatican speaks in -- meeting me, putting it on his official calendar, sending out a photo -- and it got the job done. 

The Pope has made a lot of LGBTQ-supportive statements throughout his time. Is that significant?

It is changing things. LGBT Catholics have told me he's brought them back to the church... In fact, his five most famous words are, “Who am I to judge?” Now that response came in answer to a question about gay priests during a press conference. Well, the next day, some journalists were pushing him on that, and they said, “Well, you're just talking about gay priests, aren't you?” And he said, “No, I'm talking about everyone,” meaning all LGBT people. 

Faith is a core part of civic life. Around the world, people look to their faith as a source of guidance, a source of hope and a source of inspiration. LGBTQ people, as well as our families, friends and allies, are no different. The HRC Foundation Religion and Faith Program is working to build a world where LGBTQ people of faith are celebrated for every part of who they are, while fighting to ensure that religion is not used as a weapon of hate and discrimination. Thanks to the work that’s being done by HRC and by countless others, faith communities around the world have grown to become increasingly more welcoming, inclusive and affirming of the LGBTQ community and our right to equality. Learn more here