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Flipping the Faith: Old Roots, New Shoots

Tierra Ortiz-Rodriguez, Dignity/Houston, Community Organizer

As Dignity/Houston's community organizer and youngest adult member, I had the privilege of joining the DignityUSA Board and the Dignity Young Adult Caucus (DYAC) for a fun-filled July weekend of collaborative strategic planning in Newark, New Jersey. Twenty-four of us represented a rich movement of LGBT Catholic and allied leaders across the nation in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are passionate about celebrating and preserving cherished Catholic traditions that exclude neither our sexual orientations nor our gender identities. At the meeting's end we had a clearer vision for best practices in starting young adult groups, planning future DYAC goals, preparing for the 2013 Minneapolis Convention, and building sturdy bridges between DYAC and the Board. 

The summer gathering was a godsend for Dignity/Houston, which, like many local chapters, has struggled to recruit and retain active young adult members. However, we feel a special calling to minister to LGBT youth and young adults because we know the unique challenges and stressors they face, including parental rejection and spiritual abuse from faith communities that espouse the view that homosexuality is sinful. Because of the anti-gay rhetoric that frequently spews from our very own Catholic leaders, Dignity/Houston feels especially compelled to share the message of God's inclusive love with LGBT young adults, and to offer a sacred space where they can worship, and fellowship without fear or diminishment of self-esteem. Thus, we are deeply grateful that DignityUSA and DYAC organized this leadership conference as a way to mentor local chapters in the process of effectively reaching out to young adult Catholics who identify as LGBT and queer. 

Reflecting on the entire experience, the biggest take-home message for me is that, as young adult Catholics, we have a special calling to "flip the faith." I first heard of this term "flipping" from a Bill Moyers interview with Will Power, a playwright and performer who takes ancient myth and flips it into modern, hip-hop parables that address our transcendental strivings (PBS: On Faith and Reason, Season 1, Ep. 3). 

Will says, "Flipping means you turn it (the old) into something that's relevant and powerful for today.... And so, you might take an old record and reverse it; play it slower; chop it up; add your own baseline. And you create something new.... But really, what it is, is paying homage to elders, paying homage to ancestors. It's having the conversation with music and cultural styles that have come before, and updating them."

This notion of flipping is incredibly relevant to our faith as young adult Catholics because we are seeking ways to be faithful to our Catholic roots while maintaining a progressive Catholic identity that makes room for our questioning minds and modern cultural experiences. 

Poll after poll shows that younger generations of Catholics are in favor of issues such as same-sex marriage, adoption rights for LGBT couples, and LGBT representation among our religious leadership. Older generations of Catholics, most notably our clerical leaders, may perceive this movement as rebelling against traditional Catholic teachings and authority, but in reality this is our way of paying homage to our Catholic roots, which stress justice, compassion, conscience, and love. This is our way of taking ownership of our faith by updating it to reflect the whole body of Christ. We are the new shoots of the Church, and we have much to contribute to the Catholic legacy. 

As the twenty-four of us discussed best practices in starting and growing young adult groups, flipping was indeed a strong theme. We asked ourselves:

  • What can we do to attract young adult Catholics in a way that is relevant, effective, and efficient? 
  • What are the issues affecting young adult Catholics today? What do they care about?
  • Why would someone want to become a member of our organization? What can Dignity offer that no one else can? 
  • What can we do to support our emerging young adult leaders?

These questions guided our strategic planning, and we came up with many fruitful ideas that we are excited to elaborate on and implement in the upcoming months and years. Among them are coalition-building with diverse organizations in our community; offering different forms of connecting for young adults, such as a virtual community; reaching out to underserved Catholics, such as women, Latinos, and immigrants; discovering and developing the talents of young adults/emerging leaders; collaborating with our congregations to ensure young adults have visibility and influence; and standing behind social justice projects that are relevant and interesting to young adults. 

On the whole, the summer gathering was a valuable and fun opportunity for LGBT Catholics and allied young adults to gather in one place to brainstorm and heartstorm the direction of our movement. We left feeling challenged, inspired, renewed, and hopeful. We affirmed our commitment to our Catholic roots and vowed to be faithful caretakers of all the new shoots. Dignity/Houston sincerely thanks the DignityUSA Board and DYAC for making the growth of local chapters and ministry to young adults a priority!