Father Thomas Reese reports today at National Catholic Reporter that University of Virginia professor Douglas Laycock thinks "being on the losing side of a revolution can be very dangerous for churches." Reese is summarizing points Laycock made recently in a presentation at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and in an article in the University of Illinois Law Review.
Laycock, who defended the U.S. bishops's bogus "religious freedom" crusade against the Obama administration (and against LGBT people) from the outset, and who has been lionized by the centrist Catholic media for having done so, continues to frame this discussion as a discussion of "two sides" at war with each other. On one side, you have one reading of the sexual revolution, on the other side, you have another reading. Both sides have valid points to make, and both have shortcomings.
But one "side" eventually wins, after both sides have committed atrocities as they attacked each other. And woe betide us "objective" and dispassionate, uncommitted observers in the middle, who tried to warn both sides that the battle was going to be bloody. We could do nothing at all to thwart the bloodshed.
This framing overlooks entirely, of course, the possibility that the struggle that has been going on between these "two sides" has been a struggle about human rights and the human meaning of people long excluded from rights other people enjoy, which therefore confronts me as the "objective" bystander with questions about my commitment to justice for people who are struggling for human rights — or my lack of any such commitment. It overlooks the possibility that the church and its leaders, as they claim to be defending their "religious freedom," are actually engaged in a malicious, indefensible, unChristian attack on the human rights of a minority group:
On human beings seeking the right to the same healthcare coverage through their spouses that other married couples enjoy; on human beings seeking the right to bequeath their assets to their spouses in order to protect the spouses and allow them to benefit from assets gathered by a couple in their years of living togeather; on human beings seeking the right to sit with their loved one in a hospital room as she deals with serious illness, and hold her as she dies; on human beings seeking the right not to be unfairly and unjustly dismissed from jobs on the basis of norms applied only and exclusively to them and not to other employees in the same institution violating those norms, etc.
It's odd, isn't it, that many Catholics seem unable to see this frame that is so glaringly obvious (and increasingly so) to many people outside the church, people who ostensibly lack the moral light that "we Catholics" have? Odd that, as it appears to many of us in the LGBT community and to many other people of good will beyond the LGBT community, many Catholics seem so outrageously blind when the question in front of them is whether their LGBT brothers and sisters are human in the very same way they themselves are human?
It's especially strange to encounter this moral blindness when it's broadcast around by well-educated centrist Catholics with quite a bit of influence in the secular sphere due to their professional status, folks like the Yale-educated lawyer Rita commenting in the thread responding to Reese and Laycock, who seems, despite her elite education, so oblivious to what is really at stake for us LGBT human beings in these debates about "two sides" in a culture-war battle.
Rita writes (addressing someone named Lorenzo Fernandez),
I agree with you. However, Human Rights Campaign and some other gay rights groups sometimes try to make their cause (eg in trying to repeal the Utah law cited in the article) as a combat between the forces of civil rights and those of prejudice (using terms that cause rejection of comments). This has the effect described in your last sentence.
As described in a previous piece by Fr. Reese and an editorial by NCR, the Church has considerable room to improve its rhetoric (or at least that of its harshest bishops) and extreme positions so as to lower the temperature on this issue and thereby avoid the consequences Prof. Laycock foresees.
And there you have in a nutshell the problem those of us who are LGBT and Catholic confront over and over as we brush up against the powerful, well-connected centrist circles in the U.S. Catholic academy and media that could make a difference in the secular culture, but refuse to do so, vis-a-vis the human rights of LGBT people: the gays, these centrist Catholics insist, are trying to frame the battle between the two sides of this culture war as a battle about civil rights.
But it's obviously not that, Rita suggests. Not even when gay folks are being fired from their jobs in Catholic institutions and removed from ministries; not when partnered gay folks have long been excluded from receiving spousal healthcare benefits in much of the country, when partnered gay folks have been told that one spouse cannot be with another as she dies in a hospital room, when wills seeking to protect a spouse are overturned in court because the spousal connection of the two people has no legal standing, when gay couples are denied the many economic benefits accorded to heterosexually married couples in the tax system, etc.
We Catholics stand here, the gays stand over there, and their battle for human rights (or for pseudo human rights, since they're "trying to make their cause" about human rights) doesn't concern us as Catholics.
It's hard to understand, is it not, how such blindness about the human rights (and the humanity itself) of a long-abused minority group can ground itself in the Catholic moral tradition, and be defended by even well-educated American Catholics whose education should surely have made them know better and see better? Whose elite educations should surely have challenged them to ask themselves searching questions about their own power and privilege as members of elites, and what they might owe to people excluded from power and privilege when they themselves have been given so much . . . .
Contrast Rita's centrist Catholic response to Laycock's thesis with the statement of a contributor with the username Candy Darling:
Looking into my crystal ball, I see a future where the role the RCC is playing today in the SSM tempest will be regarded similar to the way we now remember 1960's Lester Maddox swinging his ax handle at blacks trying to integrate his diner. The firing of teachers in SSMs presents a far greater danger to the future of the RCC than allowing the teachers to remain in their posts. Instead of forming students' opinions as favorable to the RCC and its beliefs, firing teachers has just the opposite impact on the students watching this spectacle, seeing beloved teachers victimized by the inquisitors. The time of the smaller, purer RCC sought by B16 is fast approaching. So sad.
This sounds absolutely correct to me. But, then, I don't occupy the privileged, "objective," see-both-sides perch of a Laycock or a Rita. I'm right there in the trenches struggling for my human rights, because I have no choice except to be there, when those rights are denied to me. Not if I respect my humanity . . . .
I'm in the trenches, struggling, and remembering how Martin Luther King, Jr., said over and over that one of the biggest problems he encountered in trying to call the nation to accountability for its racism was the self-serving stolidity of the well-meaning white liberals who pretended that they understood the challenges facing people of color, but persisted in talking about the need to see "both sides," to proceed with moderation, to recognize that there was truth on "either side." As if the choice between racial injustice and its repudiation and cure is a choice that sees moral value to "both sides."
As I'm struggling in the trenches where I have no choice except to be, I'm thinking about how history remembers and should remember King and others who struggled for the rights of people of color during the Civil Rights period, and how it has long since forgotten those well-meaning see-both-sides white liberals who had such influence in the mainstream media as the Civil Rights movement unfolded. As it should have forgotten them . . . .
Since they were on the wrong side of history's moral arc, despite their pretense to be above the fray . . . .
The photo of the King memorial in Washington, D.C., is from a posting by Palma Strand at the Creighton 2040 blog site.