This letter, by guest contributor Jason Steidl, responds to “Out at St. Paul,” a piece written by Nic Rowan and published online by First Things on September 4, 2018. Dr. Steidl previously contacted First Things to publish his response, but its editors decided the piece “was not quite right for First Things at this point.” As a platform for “faith seeking understanding in daily life,” and in the interest of nurturing charity and hospitality across difference, the editors of Daily Theology are glad to provide a space for this important response.
September 6, 2018
My name is Jason Steidl. I’m a gay Catholic, theologian, and member of the ministry team for Out at St. Paul, the LGBTQ ministry at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan. OSP is one of the most flourishing and well-known LGBTQ Catholic ministries in the world. Our mission is to “to engage our Catholic faith through service to our community, social activities and the exploration of Catholic spirituality.” We have been active for nearly a decade, which makes us a target for those who oppose ministry to LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church.
Recently, you mentioned me—by name—in a piece for the magazine First Things. You wrote the article after attending an OSP mission and prayer meeting that I led. Since then, I’ve had a difficult time placing your work in a specific genre.
Was it meant to be journalism? If so, I wonder about the journalistic ethics of not identifying yourself as a member of the press (or, at least not to one of the many OSP members with whom I spoke about your visit). By not saying that you were a member of the press or planning to write about us (and using our names), you essentially took advantage of a community where your brothers and sisters in faith were invited to be open and vulnerable with one another.
Was your piece supposed to be an undercover exposé? Because, if that’s the case, you get several details from the night wrong. The lesbians in our community, for example, are already feminists. We prayed that God quicken the gay men in our community to heed their sisters’ plight.
It seems as if you tried to stir up scandal against OSP. Here, you did your best (if misguided) reporting, and you got some things right. There were many young men in short shorts. Father does drink soda. And we are a Catholic community asking what it means to follow Jesus together.
The OSP mission and prayer meeting that I led gathered grassroots perspectives on our community’s strengths and weaknesses. After the meeting concluded, you chose to make your version of the night public. Heaven knows why bullies pick on others, but it never has anything to do with the bullied themselves. Perhaps your sensationalism serves you well. Hundreds of clicks on your link may provide the affirmation you seek. You will appear, at least to some, as a public intellectual or activist, maybe even a prophet. Queer bashing probably says far more about your motives than it does about OSP.
Your homophobia does not serve you or First Things well, and the OSP community remains strong. For that reason, I would invite you to return. OSP is a regular part of the parish at St. Paul the Apostle. We enjoy the support of the Paulist Fathers, the Archdiocese of New York, other parishioners, and Catholics around the world.
We would love to see you once more at the 5:15 pm Mass on Sunday. There, you’ll find dozens and dozens of LGBTQ people worshipping alongside straight folks, too. The church staff has to send us out when the church building closes 45 minutes after Mass because we like to spend so much time together. We’re part of the Body of Christ that you seem to have such a hard time recognizing. Countless people in our parish have a relationship with God through the Church because OSP exists. We’re a reconciling and grace-filled community.
You should come to our monthly faith sharing group. We read Sunday’s lectionary readings to see how they challenge us to follow Jesus better. We are disciples of Christ who take the call to holiness seriously. As LGBTQ people, we wrestle with our faith more than most, but our struggles lead to well-developed consciences. Many of us have remained in the Church for decades in spite of the abuse and criticism we endure. Our community is a balm for hundreds who discover love and hospitality there.
You should come visit our weekend retreat in February. You’ll find close to 100 (mostly young) Catholics at a retreat center on the Jersey Shore. Most parishes would kill to have a dozen people in their 20s and 30s attend Sunday Mass. The vulnerability that we share on retreat is the gift of God. Your shameful words can’t steal away our fellowship and mutual care.
You ought to come with us when we serve our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). Once a month we help provide a meal for those suffering from the debilitating disease. Or, maybe you could accompany us when we spend an afternoon singing karaoke with the homeless teens from Covenant House. Many of these young people were kicked out of their homes because they are not straight. Have you seen the friendship we share with them? Our hands and feet become the hands and feet of Christ in New York City. Your pettiness doesn’t diminish Jesus’s love for those hurt by the world. Your attack on OSP is nothing in light of God’s reconciling grace.
Come with us, finally, when we visit the gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen. Have you ever defended your Catholic faith to those who hate the Church? Have you been told that your belief and practice are impossible? LGBTQ Catholics are expert apologists. We live among those excluded and looked down upon by most Christians. We are missionaries on the margins, and we grow in faith through the pain we encounter. Sharing God’s love is one of our greatest joys.
OSP is a thriving, lay-led ministry that springs from the heart of Catholic faith in New York City. We are secure in God’s work among us. Our lives bear the healing fruit that grows from Christ’s mercy flowing through the Church. Reach out and test our integrity. Come visit again and ask us about our faith lives. We have hope for you, too. As we say every week in parish announcements, you are welcome in Out at St. Paul, no matter where you’re at in your spiritual or sexual journey.
Come and see.
Your brother in Christ,
—Jason Steidl is a gay Catholic, member of the ministry team for Out at St. Paul, the LGBTQ ministry of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Fordham University. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Fordham University.