Friday, February 14, 2014

Division Over Gay Rights in U.S. Apparent Also in Global Catholic Church: Two Churches, Two Sharply Different Memories of Jesus

As the brief notes I posted prior to this about developments on the gay-rights front across the U.S. in just the past week suggest, the mind (and heart) of the American people remain divided about questions of inclusion and justice for gay human beings, even as there seems to be strong, ineluctable movement in the direction of recognizing the full humanity and full range of rights of those who are gay. Perhaps in some ways as strongly divided as the nation was at the time slavery was abolished . . . .

And there seems to be similar division among Catholics and even among Catholic leaders globally about these same issues. As David Gibson notes for Religion News Service (by way of National Catholic Reporter), the Catholic bishops of Nigeria sent a letter last month to president Goodluck Jonathan praising him for signing into a law a bill targeting gay citizens of the country, which has  made those citizens susceptible to a wave of violence after it was passed. 

The Nigerian bishops'  support for the new law will only strengthen these hateful attitudes and practices. It is amazing that the bishops do not speak out against such violent treatment and such hateful attitudes–which even orthodox Catholic teaching should compel them to do.

But as David Gibson also reports, soon after the Nigerian bishops sent their statement of praise to President Jonathan for signing the horrific anti-gay bill into law in Nigeria, the Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Catholic bishops of South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland, responded by stating,

Where there is injustice, we must expect the Catholic Church to stand with the powerless. Therefore the Church should sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalising homosexuals.

As Kevin Clarke indicates, the Southern Cross editorial also states flatly, "It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable." At the Bondings blog of New Ways Ministry, Bob Shine points out that Fides, the Vatican news agency, has now published the Southern Cross editorial at its website.

And then there's the recent poll by Univision, the U.S. Spanish-language network, which surveyed Catholics worldwide regarding various issues pertinent to the upcoming synod on the family, same-sex marriage included. I blogged about this poll a few days ago, citing various pieces of commentary that note what appears to be division between the beliefs of Catholics in the developed and developing sectors of the world about many of these issues.

In his recap of global LGBT news at Religion Dispatches today (once again, I highly recommend this weekly resource), Peter Montgomery offers the following detailed analysis of what the Univision poll finds about marriage equality and Catholics worldwide:

The marriage question did not make a distinction between civil and religious marriage. It asked, “Do you support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex?” A clear majority of US Catholics said yes (54-40). As a region, Europeans oppose 38-56, but country by country differences are huge: Nearly two-thirds of Spanish Catholics support same-sex marriage (64-27), while almost 8 out of 10 Polish Catholics oppose it (15-78). In Latin America, Catholics in Brazil and Argentina are about evenly split (45-47 and 46-48), with opposition higher in Mexico (36-62) and Colombia (23-71). Filipino Catholics oppose (14-84), while Catholics in Uganda and the Congo almost unanimously oppose same-sex marriage (1-99 and 2-98). 

Montgomery concludes that the poll demonstrates "a wide range of support for marriage equality" among Catholics in various places in the world. Contrast Montgomery's formulation of how the poll results read with that of Grant Gallicho at the influential U.S. Catholic journal Commonweal: Gallicho reads the poll results as follows:

On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

As I noted when I cited that line of Gallicho's several days ago, I find it odd to claim that "most Catholics" agree with their bishops about gay marriage, when one follows that statement with the statement, "about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it." Which means that a figure approaching 60% of U.S. Catholics (the poll reports 54%) approve of gay marriage--and, as Peter Montgomery also notes, in Spain, the poll finds 64% supporting same-sex marriage, while it finds about an even split of Catholics in Brazil and Argentina on this topic.

I also noted that the Univision poll simultaneously asked respondents whether they approved of same-sex marriage, and whether they approved of the Catholic church conducting same-sex marriages. I wondered what effect asking the latter question might have in a survey that includes the former question--and part of what I intended to get at by wondering about this is precisely what Peter Montgomery points out when he notes that the Univision poll did not distinguish between civil and religious marriage for same-sex couples.

Note, too, who was not surveyed by the Univision poll: Switzerland, where 60% of Catholics favored gay marriage when polled by their bishops in anticipation of the synod on the family; England, where polls conducted last year found Catholics favoring gay marriage by a slim margin over those opposed to it; Ireland, a largely Catholic country where polling done late last year indicates about 75% of citizens favoring gay marriage; or any number of other European countries with significant Catholic populations including Belgium, where, as Terry Weldon notes at his Queering the Church site, a Religious Information Service (SIR) summary of the findings of the survey done in preparation for the synod on the family reports the following:

Belgian Catholics expect the Church to welcome everyone, regardless of differences or mistakes made. This is specially true when it comes to gay people and remarried divorcees.

Terry is citing a summary of SIR's snapshot of the Belgian bishops' report by Vatican Insider

So from Nigeria to Belgium (or from Nigeria to South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland): there's a wide gap between how Catholics and Catholic leaders in various parts of the world approach the human rights of LGBT people. That division can be as dramatic as the division between a set of Catholic bishops who applaud a law that puts the lives of gay citizens of their nation at risk, and another set of Catholic bishops on the same continent who respond, "It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable."

It's almost as if two different churches with two very different memories of who Jesus was and what Jesus stood for are coexisting side by side right now. And the picture seems to me little different in the U.S., when a solid majority of lay Catholics can strongly support the human rights of LGBT citizens, while their bishops' conference can continue its unrelenting attack on those very rights as it fights to reinstate laws denying the right of civil marriage to gay couples after discriminatory laws been struck down. Or when a Catholic governor of a state headed by a Republican legislature can be poised (by all accounts) to sign into law legislation that some journalists are calling an "abomination" because of the undeniable way in which its intends to set into motion indefensible discrimination against a targeted minority . . . . 

No comments: