Lisa Fullam

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

By this author

Queer Lives Matter

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, one of the questions roiling the Catholic blogosphere is: does it matter if Church officials mention that Pulse is a gay club? 


Here's why. On one hand, the central tragedy here is the loss of 49 lives, young people going out to dance on a Saturday night. Any attack on innocents is a horrific assault on our common humanity. The Pope's response captured that well, without noting that it was a gay club that was targeted. Likewise USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. Likewise Orlando Bishop John Noonan. Likewise when Catholic Charities of Central Florida stepped up to offer financial assistance to victims and their families in the wake of the shooting. To express condolences and call for prayers and offer assistance are all admirable things, to be sure. It should also be noted that some of these statements were released very soon after the attack, when the shooter's motives were unclear. Perhaps they thought it might be a coincidence that it was a gay club and that it was Latin Night. 

But this was no random attack, as LGBTQ people and their allies suspected (or knew) immediately.

North Carolina's "Papers, Please" Bathroom Bill

In what seems like a case of legislative "gay panic," North Carolina hastily called its legislature into a special session March 23 for the first time in 35 years. The issue? The city of Charlotte had passed an anti-discrimination measure Feb. 22, which added sexual orientation and gender idenitity to its list of protected classes, so that businesses and public agencies could not discriminate against LGBT people. The law was to go into effect April 1. 

Before it could take effect, the state legislature passed its own bill slapping down any local law that would protect LGBT people, (and would prohibit any city from mandating a minumum wage higher than the state's.) Questions of legal discrimination are reserved to the state to determine; North Carolina's antidiscrimination laws do not include the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a public accommodations bill--any business, whether a restaurant, a taxi, or a roller skate rental--can refuse to serve LGBT people on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not even presented as a reglious freedom initiative--it is just a permission slip for bias. 

It was bathrooms that sparked the most debate, both regarding the Charlotte ordinance and the state bill.

SCOTUS Votes 5-4 in Favor of Human Dignity

The Supreme Court today issued its opinion strking down anti-marriage equality laws in all 50 states. Writing for the majority, swing vote Justice Kennedy concluded his opinion with this moving paragraph:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The Court's argument was based on four "principles and traditions" which show that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply equally to all. They are:

  1. The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. (Here Kennedy cites Loving v. Virginia, which struck down interracial marriage bans.)
  2. The right to marry "supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals," and same-sex couples have the same right "to enjoy intimate association."
  3. Marriage "safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education." This doesn't mean that everybody has to procreate in order to marry civlly: "Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate."
  4. "[M]arriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order," and excluding same-sex couples is "demeaning" to them. 

While this is not a decision that Church leaders are likely to cheer, it is striking to me how strongly these principles echo Catholic doctrine on marriage:

"Gender Theory," Nuclear War, and the Nazis

In Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi's new book Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, Francis condemns "gender theory," likening it to nuclear war and genetic manipulation. Joshua McElwee reports:

[Francis] says that every historical period has "Herods" that "destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation....Let's think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,....Let's think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.

And in a January 19 press conference, he used "gender theory" as an example of ideological colonization, a tactic, he said, used by the Nazis.

Surely something comparable to BOTH nuclear war AND the Nazis deserves some attention. What is this "gender theory," anyway?

Francis seems to be echoing the concerns of Pope Benedict XVI in his 2012 Christmas address to the Curia:

People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed.

Benedict makes three main complaints:

1. He rejects the disconnection of gender from sex.

2. He complains that it is said to be socially constructed or individually chosen

3. He asserts that duality of male and female is essential to human nature.

According to McElwee, Pope Francis' target is "modern theories that consider people's gender identities to exist along a spectrum," which introduces another concept, that of gender identity.

Here, I'll start with a few definitions, basically to clarify the vocabulary of the debate, with a few comments along the way:

Kenyan Bishops Oppose Tetanus Vaccine for Women, Children

On Jan 14, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement reiterating their opposition to a WHO/UNICEF sponsored mass vaccination effort aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal tetanus. Their claim is that the vaccine is laced with Human Chorionic Gonadotropin and will result in permanent infertility in vaccinated women. They also state that the same was done in Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, also under WHO sponsorship. Their fears were triggered by reports of a group called the Kenyan Catholic Doctors association, who boldly stated:

This proved right our worst fears; that this WHO/UNICEF campaign is not about eradicating neonatal tetanus but is a well-coordinated, forceful, population control, mass sterilization exercise using a proven fertility regulating vaccine.

Well, let's unpack this.

Thoughts on Ferguson Protests--SF Bay Area

Dr. Jennifer Davidson, a Graduate Theological Union colleague, has written a lovely blog post reflecting on her experience participating in the Berkeley/Oakland protests against the grand jury decisions not to indict police who've killed unarmed black men. Ferguson, yes, but also the Eric Garner case, and so many more. Other sites note cases of African American women also killed. (NB: A number of these cases DID go to trial, exactly the kind of public accountability that the Brown and Garner cases will never have.) 

Protests in the Bay Area are...complicated. Since the start, a small number of vandals and looters, many of them self-labeled anarchists, have taken advantage of the protests to wreak havoc on local businesses. They are a small minority of the protesters, and peaceful protesters have been bloodied trying to stop them. (One man was struck on the head with a hammer as he tried to stand in the way of looters.) San Francisco Chronicle reporter Chip Johnson says they are "hijacking the latest demonstrations in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley." The cause doesn't matter--Occupy, Oscar Grant, Ferguson, or even the SF Giants World Series celebration.

As Dr. Davidson observes:

The news entertainment stories are pretty much entirely about that violence. And those of us, let me be clear, those 1000+ of us who were nonviolent are expressing frustration that the focus on violence has made it The Story, because it is only a distraction from The Message.

I agree--notice the difference in tone of the reporting--protest reporting emphasizes the actions of the violent few, giving less play to the seminary students and other peaceful protesters who, among other things, sang hymns and celebrated Communion while they peacefully awaited arrest. For the Giants parade? "Handful arrested." For the Ferguson protests, the reporting emphasizes the violence and the damage. Both aspects are reported--I'm pointing to a difference in prominence of themes and emphasis of headlines.

Yet...if you had to choose between citizens taking to the streets to express their outrage at a gross miscarriage of justice (and even if the grand juries did indeed make properly informed decisions in light of current law--a matter of dispute itself--then laws that give police this degree of impunity are themselves unjust, I would say,)  versus a party after a big baseball win, in which case would it be more crucial to focus on the issue at hand and see the vandals as a sad but secondary story? 


Elegy for Our Times

"It ain't no secret...You can get killed just for living in your American Skin."


Arizona Slowly Suffocates Man to Death

In the next in a series of gruesome botched executions in the US, Arizona managed to take nearly 2 hours to kill convicted murderer Joesph Wood. 

Hobby Lobby and Science

The Hobby Lobby decision exempted the corporation from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives it believed to be abortifacients. But is that belief true? And should it matter, especially as Catholic institutions decide whether to raise similar objections?

First, a clarification: two different definitions of what counts as an abortion are in play. In medical terminology, a woman is not considered pregnant until the developing embryo implants in the uterine wall, approximately a week after fertilization, (so on average about 7-10 days after ovulation.) Since one can’t have an abortion until one is pregnant, by medical standards contraceptives that block implantation by changing the uterine lining are not abortifacient. Roman Catholic magisterial teaching, on the other hand, holds that the developing embryo should be treated as a person from conception. Anything that blocks implantation would be considered abortifacient by those who believe that personhood starts with conception. In short, in medicine, “pregnancy” is a term that refers to the woman, while for many pro-life people and groups, it refers to the presence of an embryo.

The Hobby Lobby case focused on 4 means of contraception: Plan B and Ella, both forms of emergency contraception (EC) for use after unprotected sex, and two forms of the IUD, the copper-coated IUD and a hormone-releasing IUD called Mirena.The literature is complex and developing, and I hasten to state at the outset that I'm not a pharmacologist or an MD. But here goes:

What Counts as "Unjust Discrimination"?

(This article is now featured in our collection of stories about Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage)

Under the heading "You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself," the Catechism of the Catholic Church considers homosexuality:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.(CCC 2357-8)

Clear enough, though one could quibble that "tradition" could not have "always" considered same-sex sex acts as "intrinsically disordered," since that language, as far as I know, originated with the scholastics, more than half-way into the Church's history. But I digress...

Over in Kansas City, Colleen Simon, pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier parish, manages the food pantry that feeds 70 families a month. A few blocks away, Rev. Donna Simon, pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, is also helping to revitalize the neighborhood