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The story of Barbara Johnson, a lesbian who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because she lives with a woman, rattled the airwaves this week. Her willingness to speak out and share her story has prompted an official apology from the D.C. Archdiocese, the support of many lay Catholics, as well as commentary from other faith leaders. Her story has prompted new speculation of the role of the religious institutions in the LGBT movement, including the argument that denial of the Eucharist is actually harmful to the transformative power of God. Jamie L. Manson reminds readers of another story: one of an Atheist-identified woman, who also lived with a woman, who started multiple Christian food pantries to feed the hungry because of the powerfully transformative experience of her first Eucharist. Had Sara Miles been denied the Eucharist, Manson wonders, how many people in the Bay Area would have gone hungry? She writes:
[T]he church hierarchy continues to treat the sacraments as a reward for conformity to doctrine, rather than as God's extraordinary invitation to a transformative encounter with love and mercy. By turning away those who long to come to Jesus' table, the clergy denies the truth of the Gospel, which teaches us that no one can be estranged from or unworthy of the love of God.
Ms. Johnson’s denial of communion coupled with a second Catholic musician being fired in Missouri comes at the same time that Cardinal Timothy Dolan urges more Catholics to get involved in politics.
Miles is not the only self-identified atheist to relate to religion despite personal religious convictions (or lack thereof). Chris Steadman confessed that, as an LGBT atheist, he still needs his former pastor. The two have recently held an event (planned with Boston University's Interfaith Council) called HUNGERally, where over one hundred student representatives from eight Boston-area colleges and universities spent a Saturday night learning about the problem of hunger and pledging to work together across lines of religious difference to address it. Because hunger does not split people into gay or straight, Christian or atheist, Steadman argues neither should anyone else when working to end it.