Not since Madonna or Cher has there been a pop icon who has been so momentously evocative, provocative — and simultaneously — transcendent, ever since she burst onto the music scene in 2008. Throughout the success of her recent — and extremely rapid — rise to fame she has never ceased to stun, shock, and stoke debate in her ever new and changing incarnations (much like her elder forerunner Madonna — the first to be crowned as “the Queen of Pop” in the scheme of pop royalty). Taking another cue from the Queen of Pop, she has not been afraid to color her performance style and music videos with unique and sometimes controversial themes — daring to mix the eternally irreconcilable subjects of religion and sexuality. Her most recent video released, “Alejandro”, is a shadowy, epic production that she describes herself as a “a celebration of my love and appreciation for the gay community. My admiration of their bravery and their love for one another, their courage in their relationships.” So how is this gay icon different from all others that have come and gone before her? Can her perspective on life play a part in changing the world for the better — and perhaps — even the dialogue that our own country continues to have concerning the roles of religion, gender identity, and sexuality?
I’ll never forget that beautiful fall day last October when thousands of people had gathered upon the nation’s capital to march for equality and justice in all areas of the lives of LGBT individuals. The National Equality March (one that I think would profit America greatly if it became an annual occurence). Forces from all across the country had descended upon the nation’s capital to voice their support for comprehensive equality for LGBT citizens at all levels within American society. Judy Shepard — mother of the slain Matthew Shepard who was the victim of a reprehensible act of hatred in Wyoming in 1998 — spoke courageously and passionately about extending the full spectrum of civil rights to all citizens within our country, regardless of sexual orientation. So too did Cynthia Nixon of the popular HBO series Sex and the City ( who is now happily in a committed relationship with a woman) as well as Lt. Dan Choi, and numerous other activists who fight daily for the cause of equal civil rights for all Americans under the law.
The most rousing speaker of all of them however, undoubtedly, was Lady Gaga — who had made it a point to be present for the venue in person. As she delivered her remarks to an enraptured crowd I stood captivated, feeling blessed beyond measure to be present for such a historic moment. With the conclusion of her speech, Lady Gaga emitted an impassioned call to the current occupant of the Oval Office — which was a uniquely powerful moment given that the march took place just a few blocks from the White House — addressing the President of the United States thusly,
“…They say that this country is free and they say that this country is equal but it is not equal if it’s sometimes. Obama, I know that you’re listening…Are you listening?!?!
As shrill and forceful as Stephanie Germanotta’s exhortation to the President was it would be hard to conceive how he couldn’t be paying attention to those day’s events in one way or another. Perhaps what had transpired — combined with the feelings and emotions of all those who had gathered in Washington D.C. on that day — was the initial catalyst that set in motion the President’s vocal committment to eradicating the archaic, and discriminatory military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that denies LGBT individuals from serving their country with honesty, integrity, and confidence. The passion and heartfelt dedication with which she spoke has continued to remain with me today, as an ever-present impetus in the fight for justice and equality.
At the very end of her stirring speech — which she described as the “most important moment” of her career up to that point — Lady Gaga delivered one last sound byte for thought, proclaiming to all present, “Bless God and bless the gays!” That sentiment is indeed something to ponder for a moment. How often is it that we ever hear these two subjects spoken positively — in unison with one another — in the United States of America, or for that matter throughout the world at large? Not very much… In fact to many Americans, the two subjects are still considered mutually exclusive — (although recent data has shown that, for the first time, these sentiments have gradually begun to change) Yet, Lady Gaga seems to forcefully imply the opposite. When asked on one occasion whether she was more grateful to her LGBT fan base or to God for her success she responded simply by saying, “I thank them both equally because they made one another”
As we reflect on this notion it becomes clear that it carries with it several noteworthy implications. In all of her statements on the topic — although not any sort of theologian in her own right — Lady Gaga has proposed the revolutionary concept that God and homosexual individuals are intimately involved with one another. In her words, “…they made one another…” Taken in not a purely literal sense, we can see that perhaps Lady Gaga was trying to say that — in her opinion — God and homosexuals are inseparable, that by their very nature they contribute to one another (not that anyone could enhance God by any doing of their own, but rather by their very existence, they proclaim and contribute to God’s glory) in a uniquely special fashion. Therefore, realizing one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender should be a cause for celebration, not discouragement.
This message flies in the face of that proclaimed by institutional Catholicism — which characterizes all impulses in response to homosexual attractions as “disordered, and objectively sinful.” That could explain — why, like Madonna before her — Lady Gaga seems to have a tense relationship with her Catholic background and her own spiritual identity. When asked to describe her feelings toward the Catholic Church she replied,
“Well, I struggle. I struggle with my feelings about the church in particular. But I guess it’s, quite honestly, completely separate, isn’t it? religion and the church are two completely separate things.
But in terms of religion, I’m very religious. I was raised Catholic. I believe in Jesus. I believe in God. I’m very spiritual. I pray very much. But at the same time, there is no one religion that doesn’t hate or speak against or be prejudiced against another racial group or religious group, and — or sexual group. For that, I think religion is also bogus.”
Again, if one analyzes Lady Gaga’s words carefully, what she says indeed rings true . Technically “religion”, or the formal doctrinal expression of Christianity has been largely man-made. Although it may very much be divinely inspired, Catholicism as an institution was created under the auspices of temporal realities with the aid of temporal intuition and the convictions of countless inspired individuals (however, it must be remembered that this in no way discounts these developments as having resulted from the intervention and guidance of the Spirit of God). These spiritually motivated efforts gave rise to the concrete reality that we now know as “the Church” — which forms the community of faith of all persons united in their shared beliefs regarding Jesus Christ and His unique role in the history of mankind.
Yet, — as the Second Vatican Council definitively reminded us — the Church is not only identified with its leaders who have been largely responsible for reflecting upon and composing various doctrines and expressions of the Christian faith. The Church is principally the spiritual manifestation of the risen Body of Christ in this world — the People of God. Thus, “the Church” is not simply a collection or a stale preservation of a set of beliefs, but rather a living community of faith vitalized by the Holy Spirit and constantly let forward to new directions. It could almost be said that “religion” is the human response to a spiritual inclination and that “the Church” (the living community of faith) is the ongoing and tangible expression of that reality. (This is of course presents the possibility that the mode or way of expressing the Christian faith can be subject to change and reinterpretation.) So, it is very true that in some senses “religion” and “the Church” may be somewhat distinct from one another.
Scores of Catholics the world over seem to think the very same thing. Right here in the United States polls show –overwhelmingly — that, despite the institutional church’s condemnation, Catholics support marriage equality more than any other Christian denomination? Why is this statistic so pronounced even when condemnation from the highest ranking prelates of the church has been so vehement?
Perhaps Catholics as a whole are finally embodying what Cardinal John Henry Newman described as the “sensus fidelium” (the sense of the faithful). This concept essentially means that throughout history — even when it came to certain doctrines and dogmas which were formulated by bishops and councils — the Church always professed acclamation to certain beliefs as a community, not a single individual. In some cases — especially in the early Church’s history when various disputes about the nature of Christ filled the air — it was the faithful who maintained the true expression of Christianity instead of their appointed leaders.
If Lady Gaga could lead the millennial generation in inviting humanity towards a renewed understanding and interpretation of homosexuality along these lines it could prove to be a wonderful “springtime” (as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council) for the universal Church and the world at large. In her latest video creation “Alejandro” she unabashedly promotes this dialogue. In it, the implied homosexuality of the male soldiers is not seen as a detraction or a hindrance, but rather a gift to be celebrated. That gift takes nothing away from their brute, militaristic, machismo which the video has intended to showcase for display — but rather offers it as a curious and enticing rarity to be investigated. (In fact, the plot of the song is that Lady Gaga investigated it so intensely that she became enthralled with a gay man failing to realize that he could not return her love until it was too late…)
Throughout the video religious imagery is indeed employed but it is never really defaced or mocked, rather it is used in a unique and revolutionary way — artistically. For instance, could the portions of the video where Lady Gaga has donned a nun’s habit be a veiled homage to those women religious here in the United States who have not been afraid to think for themselves –sometimes away from the constraints of “religion” — and in return are having an inquisition carried out against them by the Vatican which has been motivated by baseless fear and chauvinism?
Even if we can’t be sure for certain what she had in mind in this case one can only hope that the world will continue to be inspired, challenged, and provoked by the actions and efforts of the woman we know as Lady Gaga. Certainly, the message she proclaims: that LGBT individuals are not “disordered” or “sinners” but rather children of God that have been blessed abundantly and diversely, is one that the human race would do well to comprehend.