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A Bigger Bridge: Revising and Expanding a Groundbreaking Book on LGBT Catholics
By James Martin, SJ

Within weeks of the publication of the first edition of Building a BridgeI knew that I wanted to write a revised edition. Why? Simply put, after countless conversations with LGBT Catholics and church leaders after the book’s publication, I had learned a great deal. And I couldn’t wait to include those new stories, insights, and facts into a new edition.

No one was more surprised than me that Building a Bridge proved to be such a flash point for so many Catholics. After all, the first edition was a short book—only 150 pages—and was, at least to my mind, quite mild.

Its purpose was simple: to encourage the institutional church to treat LGBT Catholics with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” virtues mentioned in the Catechism regarding ministering to “homosexual persons.”  At the same time, it invited LGBT Catholics to treat bishops and priests with the same charity, as a way of “building a bridge” between the two groups in the church, which had often maintained a suspicious distance from one another.  The second half of the book was—again, to my mind—equally mild: a series of biblical passages and reflection questions designed to help LGBT Catholics and their families draw closer to God in prayer.

What’s more, the book was firmly based on the Gospels (and talked about the way that Jesus reached out to those who felt on the margins), well within the guidelines of church teaching, had the official ecclesiastical approval of my Jesuit superiors, and, for good measure, carried the endorsement of two cardinals, including one who held a high-level position in the Vatican.

But one of my first speaking engagements signaled that the reaction to this book would far outstrip any of my expectations. My first large talk was at St. Cecilia Church, in the Back Bay section of Boston, which has a flourishing LGBT outreach program.  Because of their familiarity with the topic, and the fact that I had been there just a few months before, I expected that the talk wouldn’t attract that large of a crowd.

Well, that evening a standing-room-only crowd of 700 people packed the church.  Afterwards people stayed for upwards of two hours to share their stories, hug me, and even weep.  It was intensely emotional. That same scene was repeated in multiple parishes. In the end, I realized that there was something about hearing (and reading) a priest say that LGBT people should be welcomed that prompted powerful reactions.

At the same time, the book unleashed a torrent of hatred and homophobia from a few far-right websites, which led to the cancellation of several previously scheduled talks. Most of these online groups couldn’t abide even the idea of discussing a possible welcome to LGBT Catholics (several even refused to use the term “LGBT”) and called me a “sodomite,” “heretic,” and “homosexualist” (whatever that is). Again, the intensity of the reactions, this time on the other side, caught me by surprise.

Thanks to talks at parishes and colleges, and an enormous amount of public discussion around the book, I have met and heard from a great many people—including LGBT Catholics and their families, as well as church leaders—and have learned much from them.  All these conversations and interactions have deepened and in some instances subtly changed my outlook on what had been written. So within a few weeks, knowing that I wanted to add substantially to the book, I asked HarperOne if they would consider putting out a “revised and expanded” version soon. Happily, they agreed.

The new book includes 40% more material. What’s new? First, a new introduction that responds to the most common questions and critiques of the first edition: Why wasn’t there more of a discussion about the church’s teaching on chastity? How can LGBT Catholics forgive a hierarchy that has disdained them? Why was there no space made for LGBT Catholics who feel the need for protest? The new introduction also addresses the intense hate and virulent homophobia that the book stirred up, and reflects on some possible underlying reasons for those reactions.

Beyond the introduction, the new edition includes facts and figures about LGBT people (including statistics about violence, suicides, and bullying); additional biblical passages and reflection questions to help LGBT Catholics and their families and friends draw closer to God in prayer; and endorsements from a wide variety of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops.

Most of all, the new book includes more stories: many stories from the lives of LGBT Catholics and their families whom I have met since the book’s publication. To me, these stories are almost like parables, experiences from people’s real lives that invite us to learn: What can a gay man who has cared for his partner through a serious illness reveal to us? What can a priest who told a gay man that Jesus and the church accepted him show us? What can we learn from a grandfather who welcomed his gay grandson by saying, “I love you no matter what you are about to say”?

Essentially, this is the book that I wished I had written first. But I couldn’t have because I hadn’t heard any of these stories, reflected on so many comments, and most of all, encountered so many wonderful people who helped me deepen my desire to welcome LGBT people and encourage me to think in new ways about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

I hope that you enjoy the revised and expanded edition of Building a Bridge.

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