Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Debate and Continued Calls for "Respectful Dialogue": What's at Stake Here?

As I've been noting here for days now, isn't it interesting that, now that the culture appears to be making a decisive turn towards recognizing LGBT people as fully human and according LGBT people the full range of human rights, the Catholic bishops suddenly want "respectful dialogue" about these matters? And about their "religious freedom" attacks on LGBT people? (On the turn now being made by the culture at large, see the results of the Reuters/IPSOS poll released today, showing that 54% of Americans side with the LGBT community in debates about whether "religious freedom" should permit private businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.)

Isn't it interesting that the leaders of the U.S. Catholic church never called for "respectful dialogue" about these matters until they sensed that they had lost control of the cultural conversation? What can dialogue mean now, under such circumstances? In my view, it's a delaying tactic now that they see they have been on the losing side of history's moral curve.

As Patti Miller notes today at Religion Dispatches, 

With the flames still smoldering after Indiana’s bruising fight over the limits of "religious liberty," the Catholic bishops are calling for calm, temperate discussion—in the culture war fight they ginned up in the first place.

They're calling for calm, temperate discussion as if they themselves did not gin up this fight against a minority community and its rights. You start a war, you attack a vulnerable minority group, and then, when you appear to be on the losing side of the war you've begun, you suddenly pretend that you deplore war and want sweet dialogue. 

Something seems . . . wrong . . . with this picture, doesn't it?

And here's Evan Dercackz today at Religion Dispatches on that statement just issued by Archbishops Chaput and Lori, along with leading Catholic culture-war intellectual Robert P. George, and with Southern Baptist culture-war leaders Albert Mohler and Russell Moore, which now calls for "respectful dialogue" about religious freedom and gay rights. Derkackz writes, 

A group of interdenominational conservative Christian clergy (plus professor) quietly released a statement on Passover/Good Friday titled, 'Now Is the Time to Talk About Religious Liberty.' Now? Really?

As he notes, this statement by several right-wing Catholic and Southern Baptist culture-war leaders appears to speak on behalf of the Jewish community — who were not included and consulted in the crafting of the statement — in an astonishingly condescending way, so that Rabbi Jay Michaelson has concluded in an email exchange with Dercackz, "What these writers are calling 'religious liberty' is really Christian hegemony."

Guess who else is beating the sweet dialogue drum right now? Influential Southern Baptist journalist Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist for Religion News Service, has just posted an article at RNS attacking openly gay New York Times journalist Frank Bruni for daring to say that we've turned a  corner in the cultural debate about gay rights and religious freedom, and it might well be time for religious groups who have built their identities around hating gay people to move on from that constricting definition of what it means to be Christian.

Merritt chides "liberals" like Bruni for having "seemingly abandoned their desire for reasonable debate—something this important issue deserves . . . ." Now they want to talk. Now they want to dialogue, now that the culture is turning a corner they did not want it to turn.

It seems obvious to me that such calls for "dialogue" and "respect" aren't what they pretend to be at all. They are last-ditch efforts to delay or deconstruct historic social shifts permitting gay people rights the religious right has opposed.

I've always understood Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase "the paralysis of analysis" in this light. I understand him to be saying that, in social movements pressing for necessary social change, there's a time for discussion and analysis, but when the time to make a decision and move ahead — to act —comes, then further discussion begins to be all about impeding forward movement and action, and not really about "dialogue" at all.

This is a point that I think Jonathan Merritt spectacularly misses, as a privileged white heterosexual male who appears oblivious to his privilege, as he calls for the continuing imposition of "dialogue" on a cultural debate now winding down, in which his side has simply lost the battle.

The graphic is a screenshot from the "Reuters Polling Explorer" page discussing the Reuters/IPSOS poll linked above. 

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