By Ellen Romer
It has been a few weeks since Cardinal Burke’s interview with the New Emangelization began to cause quite a stir. A number of fantastic folks have already written pieces that name a lot of my frustrations with what was said. A lot of anger has subsided and some still remains with me, but I realized that what was said ultimately makes me quite sad.
Though I have a variety of objections to what was said in the interview, I have been struck by the dangerous and problematic reliance on a strict gender binary. Assuming that there are two genders that are exclusive and completely inflexible would certainly produce the sort of response that Cardinal Burke gives and that spurs a project like the New Emangelization to begin with. But responses to the interview itself make it quite clear that people do not think and react according to their gender. While I know many women who were infuriated by the interview, there are many other women who saw no problems with it. Cardinal Burke writes about men as one group of people that have one particular experience, though many men I know do not identify with such an alienating experience of the Church.
Now, there is something to be said about how being a man or a woman or even someone born intersex affects how we live and understand ourselves as individuals and as part of communities, but it is not the only determinant of who we are. But committing to only two visions of how a person can be, either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine,’ ignores the incredibly possibility and wonder that comes with the diversity of creation that God has given us. While it seems an obvious statement to make, it is absolutely remarkable and astounding that there have been so many people throughout all of time and that God has made no two the same. God never seems to run out of new and creative ideas when forming each of us lovingly. Believing that all men are the same and all women are the same leaves out the wonderful variance that such great diversity in humanity brings to the Church. It also is contrary to the image of the Body of Christ. We are many parts, not simply many people fit into two categories and therefore two sets of gifts. We are cheating ourselves out of amazing people and amazing possibilities when we see and value one another primarily by their gender.
All of this makes me particularly sad because it seems Cardinal Burke’s approach to gender leaves out so much possibility and so many gifts that people have to bring to the Church and to the world. It is a hard thing to stomach when I hear words from any person in the Church, let alone someone who is supposed to be a shepherd and teacher in the Church, that by following my vocation and being active in the Church and at Mass alienates anyone at all. I am able to step back and realize I cannot please everyone and that my alleged ‘feminine’ presence is not truly problematic. But it takes prayer and trust to remind myself at this point in time, just as I have before and will have to again, that I am doing my best to discern where God is calling me. While everyone should be aware of any time they may be harmful to another person, the Church and the world is better off if I, and every single person alive, listens carefully to God and actively tries to live out what they hear. It breaks my heart that any person, no matter what their sex or gender, may not be bringing all of their gifts to the table. God gave us gifts so that we could use them to keep building up His Kingdom. Even if some see my and other women’s presence as ‘feminizing’ the Church, it is certainly better with our gifts than without.