Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Commonweal Admits Defeat re: Marriage Equality, Commonweal Hears an Earful in Response



Commonweal recently published an editorial about the Supreme Court decisions re: DOMA and prop 8 that I read, frankly, as a statement of defeat on the part of Commonweal's editors. It's a statement of defeat for the journal's editors because, as the editorial states, this Catholic journal has not supported the right of LGBT people to same-sex civil marriage in a culture in which that right is now increasingly recognized and upheld--including by many Catholics. And this cultural shift, now given a certain stamp of approval by the highest court in the United States, places Commonweal somewhat on the margins of American society in its rejection of the right of same-sex couples to marry civilly.


The editorial rehearses the reasons (embarrassingly shallow, to my way of thinking) advanced by Commonweal writers in union with the U.S. bishops for some time now to reject marriage equality: same-sex marriage is an untried social experiment and may go awry, harming people (especially children) as we engage in our reckless experimentation; what about religious freedom, for God's sake?!; same-sex marriage contributes to the fragmentation of a society hellbent on individualism at the expense of the common good, etc., etc.

And then there's this:

Will severing the connection marriage has historically forged between sex, procreation, and family formation further undermine the expectations and value our culture places on the institution? 

The editorial does end with a gracious concession to which I'll return in a moment: 

It is now time to listen and learn from those the church has long silenced or ignored. Who knows, those being listened to might even return the compliment.

Meanwhile, though, I'd like to point to some of the responses readers of the editorial have left at the Commonweal site that I find particularly noteworthy and valuable:


At a time when a monolithic sectarian (nee libertarian, aka "conservative") orthodoxy is intent on rolling back the Civil Rights Act, reversing a long tradition of openness to immigration, and conjuring the right to personal lethal force under the rubric of "stand your ground," this statement seems particularly curious: 
"American democracy cannot afford to deprive itself of those moral and social resources, yet that is what could happen if the law comes to equate institutional resistance to the recognition of same-sex marriage with racial discrimination." 
Add to this incongruity the protracted unwillingness of the Bishops to take full responsiblity for the lack of moral and withholding of social resources from victims of juvenile sexual abuse by clergy and one is left to wonder how a person of faith is to take such conjectures of doom seriously. 
If, as it has with the rights and opportunities for women in church service, the US Catholic hierarchy continues to resist from a bastion of pre-modern selective judgment then it is difficult to see what is being defended by those so ill-equipped to lead where considerably more fundamental justice issues callout the challenge.


It would be hypocritical for a Catholic organization (directed by mandate by the hierarchy) to deny employment benefits to non-employee spouses of same sex civil marriages based on religious beliefs (e.g., they are not married according to the Church and their sexual relations are considered immoral), but grant such benefits to the spouses of divorced and remarried Catholic employees who were remarried civilly (e.g., according to the Church they are committing adultery and their remarriages are not recognized); or to baptized Catholics who marry civilly but not in a Catholic Church (e.g., those Catholics that remain Catholic in name only but are spiritual but not religious). 


I was disheartened to read the reasoning of the Commonweal editors for their stand against same-sex marriage. There is no connection between legalization of same-sex marriage and the decline of marriage, the divorce rates among heterosexual couples, the number of children born out of wedlock, the number of children in institutions and foster care, the terrible abuse of children by heterosexual parents, the Church's refusal to recognize the remarriage of women who had been abused or abandoned by previous spouses, the church's refusal to recognize th echilren born to remaied divorced parents -- the list goes on. 
These problems in traditional marriages ware in no way connected marriage betwee two gay couples.   . . .  
The editorial is unworthy of the thinking lay people who over decades have expected an enlightened, common-sense and decent response to social issues. Gay people have their right to religious liberty and freedom of conscience in the civil sphere.


Commonweal editors:  Advocates cast same-sex marriage as the extension of basic rights to a once excluded group, but it is likely also a reflection of—and a further step toward—an essentially privatized and libertarian moral culture. . . . 
Ummmm - did it ever occur to you that the gay rights movement of the last 40 years is about a group of people claiming their dignity and leading more open, honest, dignified lives? Does it say nothing to you that the major gay rights battles have been about marriage, about service in the military?  Are these the aspirations of the depraved?


I found this editorial to be somewhat illogical. It seemed to equate things that are happening with gay marriage as if they were" dependent variables." The idea that somehow divorce and out of wedlock births are soaring, thus we need to ban gay marriage is a little strange, to say the least. Those things have been "soaring" for 2 or 3 decades.  I can't for the life of me figure out what gay marriage has to do with either of those facts, unless you want to argue that it is just the latest in a long line of breakdowns in traditional societal relationships. 


Your editorial "The Truth about Marriage" [30 July] is a profound disappointment. You're straddling all the wrong fences. 
Over the centuries the hierarchy has accrued and reserved for itself alone the gracious gifts of the Spirit to the whole community. In various ways the entire church is called to teach and sanctify. It is the restricted use of the term magisterium that imperils the integrity of the religious community, not the imagined catastrophes caused by publicly licensed agencies "forced" to extend health-insurance benefits to the family of a same-sex couple. 
The Spirit moves in the whole world, not only among the Catholic hierarchy. Our church has a rich theology. It would have been more sensible for your editors to urge the bishops to mine the treasures found in our sacramental theology. Christ is our definitive revelation and sacrament, and, by extension, so are the People of God.  He did not leave us seven magic things. It took many centuries for the present sacrament of matrimony to evolve. Surely this evolution has not abruptly stopped. The church will eventually recognize that other relationships within itself also reflect the love of Christ and bring grace to the world.  The teachings of theologians and the sense of the faithful are important indicators in this regard. 
Am I misreading your thoughts about discrimination, or has Commonweal, too, nosed its way to the trough to feast on the garbage shoveled there by the bishops? However well-meaning your intentions, your quotation marks around "marriage equality" and a thought like "Same-sex marriage may prove to be a mistake of a failed and eventually abandoned experiment..." are dismaying.


I'm sorry -- the editors sound a lot like the white moderates Dr. King responded to in Letter to a Birmingham Jail. Lets's move slow, prudence, yes we recognize your dignity, but we cannot move at the pace of change you want.  . . .  
If I read this editorial correctly, the people who continue to suffer because their spouse is the same sex are supposed to be prudent and allow spouses to be deported while we wait for adjustment? Children they raised from birth should be taken away because a spouse dies while others adjust? The woman in the picture accompanying this article should lose a home or life savings so others can adjust? The caution and prudence the editors advise would perpetuate horribly unjust burdens on gay families, of course very different from the oppression Dr. King fought, but it is oppression nonetheless. 

Etc., etc. Well, the Commonweal editors did say that it's time for them to listen and learn now. Didn't they? I do hope they're listening to the earful they're getting from some exceptionally thoughtful lay Catholics who have long been Commonweal's m├ętier, its stock in trade, the people it claims to represent and to whom it claims to address its reflections.

I hope Commonweal is listening to folks, not a single one of whom I know personally, but who are telling the journal editors what I myself have tried to tell them ad nauseam for quite some time now in one posting after another at this site--feeling, as I do so, that I'm a crashing bore, a broken record, a sounding gong that even my cherished readers would prefer not to hear utter the word Commonweal ever again.

Because it's a pretty damning indictment to tell the editors of a Catholic lay journal with pretensions to intellectual acumen that they forfeit considerable credibility when they speak on any matters of justice and human rights as long as they turn a blind eye to the aspirations of a targeted minority to justice and human rights. Or that they engage in hypocrisy when they claim human rights for their own in-crowd while standing in the door to prevent the entrance of targeted minorities seeking the very same human rights.

Or that that they keep writing editorials about these matters that are "unworthy of the thinking lay people who over decades have expected an enlightened, common-sense and decent response to social issues." Or that they seem oblivious to the fact that the gay and lesbian human beings whose human rights they continue to oppose are human in the very same way they themselves are human. 

Or that they're "straddling all the wrong fences" and have nosed their way "to the trough to feast on the garbage shoveled there by the bishops." Or that they sound curiously like the white liberals Martin Luther King needled and prodded and cursed and decried during the Civil Rights struggle, as they sat comfortably on the fence, claiming to deplore discrimination while never lifting a finger to stand squarely with those having attack dogs unleashed on them, fire hoses aimed at them, bombs planted in their churches.

The Commonweal editors did say it's time for them to listen, after all. And they've surely gotten a salubrious medicinal earful in response to this particular editorial. But since I'm not sure they've yet heard enough, I have more to say, which I'll now place in a subsequent posting, since this one has grown unconscionably long. (You may also want to read this additional posting.)

P.S. Both here and in the subsequent posting connected to this one, I'm not using the term "editors" to refer to any specific persons at Commonweal, it goes without saying. I'm using it as most of those whose responses to Commonweal's editors use it--in the generic sense of "those who control the official stances Commonweal takes and collaborate in setting its editorial goals and crafting its editorial statements."

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