By Mark Matson, President of DignityUSA
At the October 2009 DignityUSA Board Meeting held in Minneapolis, the DignityUSA Board of Directors unanimously adopted a reworded Mission Statement that is more inclusive, more reflective of reality, and more forward-thinking than the former Mission Statement.
If you recall in my San Francisco Convention address of July 2009, I stated, “We will not get to the Promised Land of a fully inclusive Church by doing what had brought us safe thus far. The Spirit is not a creature of habit. We must change our way of thinking.”
The former Mission Statement read: DignityUSA works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy and support.
The newly adopted Mission Statement reads (with added language underscored): DignityUSA works for respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities—especially gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons—in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy, and support.
There are four reasons for our Mission Statement change:
1. Changing attitudes among Catholics. A March 2008 Pew Research study showed that one-third of adults who were raised Catholic have left the Church. In addition, numerous surveys demonstrate that American Catholics increasingly disagree with official Church teaching on many issues including who should be ordained, the status of the divorced and remarried, use of birth control, and the sinfulness of homo- sexuality. As bonds with the institutional Church weaken and Catholics feel freer to believe differently from what they have been taught, increasing numbers believe that homosexuality is an innate part of an individual’s makeup, that lesbian and gay people can have committed, positive relationships, and that LGBT people should have some measure of civil equality. As of 2006, a majority of Catholics even supported civil unions or marriage for same-gender couples. Increasing numbers of gay people find welcome, support and affirmation in their local parishes, or in nearby welcoming congregations.
Therefore, Dignity’s identity as an opponent of institutional Church teaching must be reframed or de-emphasized. Focus should shift to providing affirming community and modeling Gospel-based service, as well as to welcoming non-gay allies seeking authentic Catholic community. This increases our visibility outside the GLBT Catholic community while enriching our own experience of Church through increased diversity of experiences. If we want to attract new people, we must change our conversation from a negative one of complaint and grievance to a positive one of hope and inspiration.
2. Reverse the trend of declining membership by "enlarging the tent.” (One of DignityUSA’s identified Strategic Goals). DignityUSA’s talent and financial resources have come principally through local chapters. We must reverse the decline of “members” who are the ultimate source of those resources. This will require Dignity at both the national and local levels to let go of the “tried and true” strategies for building membership and embracing new ones. These will include understanding and serving the spiritual needs of our under-served populations: women, youth, minorities, and straight allies who are also searching for an inclusive Church and society.
We have been studying chapter dynamics. Not all are shrinking. Chapters that are growing have been working hard to understand and respond to the spiritual needs of women, married clergy, and straight allies. Many straight women and couples are coming to these Dignity chapters because they find there an inclusive Church. But they state they feel more like interlopers because we have been a “GLBT” organization only.
3. Dignity has acquired a core competency in addressing a key issue for a large number of lay Catholics: sexuality. The largest gap between the laity and the hierarchy is around sexual theology. While DignityUSA has focused on homosexuality, we believe we are better suited to address human sexuality than any other reform group. Our positions on homosexuality can easily be expanded to include heterosexual issues, particularly those of a group who are being excluded on the basis of their sexuality: women. This will broaden the appeal of Dignity.
4. It is the right thing to do. I wish to draw your attention to two key tenets of DignityUSA’s Statement of Position and Purpose (SPP).
SOCIAL JUSTICE: As Catholics and members of society, we involve ourselves in those actions that bring the love of Christ to others and provide the basis of social reform in the Church and society. We are actively involved with: Individuals, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Groups, Religious and Secular Groups, Health Care, Women’s Justice Issues.
EQUALITY ISSUES: We dedicate ourselves to develop the potential of all persons to become more fully human. To do this, we work toward the eradication of all constraints on our personhood based on the ascribed social roles of women and men and to promote inclusivity in all areas of liturgical and community life.
The great Italian poet Dante said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis remain neutral.” Dignity cannot remain true to its SPP and remain silent on issues of great concern to the women of our Church: full inclusion in all the sacraments of the Church. Today, this is increasingly being realized through the “valid but illicit” ordination of women as priests. As I write this, communities of women religious are under investigation by Rome. They largely perceive this as hostile.
The repression of the feminine (misogyny) is a key source of this theological dysfunction. It is at the core of the shaming of homosexuality and the exclusion of women from ordination. Women have been our allies in the last 40 years as we have fought for our full inclusion. They need our support and welcome now. DignityUSA suffers from what the Church does—under-representation of the feminine perspective. We are 80% male. We all recognize the problem. We all lament the lack of women, but we keep doing the same things. It is past time to do something different.
In summary, we have broadened our mission to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities:
1. Welcoming non-gay allies who seek authentic Catholic community increases our visibility outside the GLBT Catholic community. This is our most effective strategy for changing minds and increasing support outside the GLBT community. At the same time we will enrich our own experience of church by increasing the diversity of experiences and perspectives.
2. The best opportunity to reverse the trend of declining membership is to understand and serve the spiritual needs of our under-served populations: women, youth, minorities, and
straight allies who are also searching for an inclusive church and society.
3. Dignity has developed a core competency in challenging and reframing the Church’s theology of sexuality. This has been shaped by our GLBT experience but can easily be broadened to address broader issues of concern to heterosexuals. We are the best reform group to take up this challenge.
4. It is the right thing to do, consistent with our Statement of Position and Purpose and long-held stands on social justice and full inclusion of women.
Your National Board of Directors is steering Dignity through challenging times. Not only must we involve and support the core of our organization—you, the membership— but we must increasingly involve and support reform-minded allies among Catholics hungry for an authentic church.