Why we are called Vine & Fig

Pat Gothman |

Co-founders Patrick and Pat discuss the Catholic school that can't call itself Catholic anymore because it wouldn't fire a gay teacher, Pride parades, how the vibrant new queer Slack community is doing, and the meaning behind the name Vine and Fig.

Pat: So Patrick, for once we actually have some good news during Pride month.  A Catholic school in… ohio? has decided not to fire a gay teacher!

Patrick: Uh, it’s Indianapolis. That’s Midwestern erasure. But in all seriousness, it does seem like some good news! Major props to the Jesuits out there for sticking to their mission. I find it interesting that the decision is to not let the school call themselves “Catholic." 

Pat: First of all, Midwestern erasure would be if I claimed it happened in New York or something.  You exist! We see you! But yeah so the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was putting pressure on the school to fire the teacher after it came out that the man had gotten married to another man, but the Jesuits who run the school, pushed back and said they wouldn’t do it.  Apparently this has been a two year discussion back and forth. And in the end the archdiocese has said they’re not a Catholic and stripped them of the official title of a Catholic school within the archdiocese. Which is… frustrating.

Patrick: Very frustrating! I find the archdiocese’s actions disheartening for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s another example of calling LGBT Catholics (and allies!) not real “Catholics.” In this case, the school simply supporting an LGBT faculty member cast them as non-Catholic. The second is that this precedent could really easily fall apart when extended — are they going to start deciding that someone isn’t a real Catholic if they don’t tithe enough? 

Pat: Definitely.  The hypocrisy of how queer employees are treated within Catholic school - the Archdiocese of Indianapolis went ahead and fired a teacher for being gay at another Catholic school this week anyways - especially has been a frustration for some time now.  I used to teach at a pretty darn conservative Catholic high school where at least half the teachers weren’t Catholic, many were divorced, almost nobody on staff participated at school masses.  Which is fine! But the fact that I knew it wasn’t safe for me to come out was extremely frustrating. But the good news is that Brebeuf Jesuit has decided to stand by their teacher and not give in to this attempt to discriminate against their gay teacher.  I just hope the archbishop doesn’t take things even farther by asking the Jesuits to leave the Archdiocese.

Patrick: Woof. I had no idea it was like that. I didn’t have exposure to Catholic primary schools growing up, and I had no idea that folks weren’t Catholic, etc. That makes me even more frustrated! I’ve felt similar frustration in my life when considering hypothetical situations where the church would marry friends of mine who are more casually attending Catholics than they would an LGBT couple that were regulars and involved with the church. The double standard and hypocrisy is probably the thing that frustrates me the most about trying to be a gay Catholic.

Pat: And it gets at the heart of what the purpose of the Church and sacramental life is all about.  Do you get married because you are perfect or do you get married because the sacrament, commitment, love, makes you better, holier?  The Church is a sanctuary, but it is also a hospital - a place where we go to be healed. Turning people away because we think they are sick goes against the core of what the Church is all about.  But thank God for the Jesuits. And you, sir, attended your very first Pride parade this past week. What did you think?

Patrick: That’s beautifully worded! A priest once mentioned in a homily that the Church should comfort the uncomfortable and make the comfortable uncomfortable. These actions are really antithetical to the idea of loving your neighbor.

I did indeed attend my first Pride parade this past week in Columbus! Similarly to this conversation, I found it to be a really fulfilling place of sanctuary. I wore a shirt that said “God is proud of me” and was really moved by the number of affirming ministers and all sorts of other folks who affirmed me with statements like “God is proud of you.” I greatly appreciated being able to hold my queer and Christian identities with such visibility in public. 

Pat: I love that shirt.  Was there a dissonance between what you had been told Pride would be like from folks who said it is a place of sin, etc., and what it was actually like?  Especially being able to visibly be a Christian at Pride?

Patrick: There was! I don’t think anyone has ever explicitly told me going to a Pride parade was a bad idea or anything, but it is lumped into the bucket of things I subconsciously learned from folks that being gay was somehow scandalous and that there’d be a lot of sinful things going on. 

It was totally the opposite — lots of families and allies in general, a lot of folks talking with strangers they probably wouldn’t talk to otherwise, etc. Everything and everybody was just so positive. The thing I took away from it the most was how many folks in my city affirmed and supported me. And then to add on how many folks were finding connection and community in something as simple as my t-shirt was really, really fulfilling. It really made me think how many folks have we turned away from the church that would otherwise stay?

I actually don’t know what your Pride plans are — doing anything fun in your new city?

Pat:  That’s so exciting!  And liberating! And even the folks ~ahem especially one specific bishop on Twitter~ who are out there scandalized by some of the stuff that may go on at Pride like a visible nipple or a crop top need to take a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because when it’s all out there, it’s out there for the same reason.  So often LGBTQ folks have been told all their lives that their bodies are evil, dirty, perverse. Being unashamed pushing back is just claiming your place as a child of God. Beautiful and every bit a part of God’s creation.

I will be trying to attend Austin Pride in August!  We just moved there so it will be my first time in Austin.  I expect my fiancé and I will be fully clothed, but hopefully it will be an exciting time!  And sweaty. My goodness who plans a Pride parade in Texas in August.

Patrick: Wasn’t there some controversy about someone being dressed to scandalously at mass recently? Don’t even get me started…

That’s so exciting! Honestly with the weather y’all get down there, you might be forced to wear one of those super extra sinful crop tops. I’m really curious to hear how this compares to other Pride parades you’ve been to (I’m thinking you’ve been to at least a few in Seattle?).

It’s been really cool to see the discussion folks are having about their different Pride experiences on the Vine & Fig Community #pride Slack room. The community even has folks going to Mexico City’s parade to hand out Vine & Fig fliers! The organic growth and community that’s been built in a short time is really inspiring. I’m also not so subtly saying that I expect to see photos of you and your fiancé (and maybe your dog?) on there soon.

Pat: Yes, if I thought anybody would care at our parish I would definitely bare my shoulders in solidarity with the scandalous ladies.  I actually was never able to make it to Pride in Seattle due to work, but I’ve gone to Denver Pride the past two years and walked with my company.  I know there’s a lot of discussion within the queer community about how welcome corporations should be at an event that started 50 years ago as a riot, but I have to say there is something powerful about it.  Workplaces have long been (and for many folks around the country still very much are), places where being out is unacceptable and an invitation to lose your livelihood. So to have your supervisors and coworkers not only support you being open about your sexuality, but march in the streets with you on your behalf, it is a powerful experience.

One thing I love about Pride though, is just how much it is an opportunity to show the wider community how vibrant and joyful the LGBTQ community is, which gets at the heart of why we started Vine & Fig.

Patrick: That makes a lot of sense. Well, the marching with your company part, not the Pride in Texas in August part. I really cherish the fact that my workplace is really accepting not just of LGBT folks but also all sorts of folks. If companies match Pride participation with donations and actual anti-discrimination policies at their workplaces, then I see it being helpful. I can see marching with your employer being powerful — it’s another example of integrating all pieces of yourself and celebrates being able to be your full self at work.

All I can think about is how we can make a virtual Pride parade happen at Vine & Fig. But it has been really cool to see how positively people have responded to Vine & Fig though. I think it goes back to the mission we set out on. We’re really not trying to attack or lash out at the Church, but to create space for queer Catholics to just exist as they are.

Pat: A lot of folks have asked how we chose the name Vine & Fig, and it comes from Micah 4:4 - “Everyone shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken it.”  So on the one had it was an idea to create this safe, sacred space where we could just be how God made us, unafraid and fully ourselves. There are desperately few physical spaces like that within the Catholic Church, so we knew we had to create a digital one.  A place where there were regular affirmations of our sexuality and our faith, and a space for community and coming together (especially in the Slack room).

But we also wanted a name that reflected fruitfulness.  Because not only would it be a community for ourselves, but for the whole Church.  In shutting down and excluding queer Catholics from the majority of normal activities and spaces, the Church doesn’t get to see just how wonderful and life-giving God is in our lives not despite being queer, but precisely because we are queer.  There are unique and special gifts that we bring, that we want Vine and Fig to be an opportunity to show the Church.

Patrick: I know for me personally, when I came out I really struggled with feeling like I was the only gay Catholic out there. The resources and community existed for other Christians, but there didn’t seem to be anything like what I was looking for for Catholics. I really think your second point is key though. I get so excited about the idea of queer Catholics not just surviving, but thriving. I think we can bring a really unique and necessary viewpoint to things.

Pat: I think a Vine & Fig cohort in a 2020 Pride parade is 100% a thing that needs to happen.  But until then, we’ll keep sharing stories of queer Catholics and building community and safe, holy space for folks to gather online.  It’s pretty inspiring to watch God create something new in real time. And at least no one can fire us online.