Sunday, November 23, 2008

End of Week Roundup: Apocalpyse Now, Repenting Racism, Nurturing Black Gay Youth

Stalwart readers: I don’t usually post on Sunday. I’m doing so today because I will be out of pocket tomorrow, and want to upload a posting before I am away from my computer.

I’m finding news from some Vatican officials in reaction to Obama’s election fascinating. It’s clear that some of the high muckety-mucks in Rome are perturbed—and more: they’re prophesying—at the results of the recent U.S. elections.

Latest to add his two bits to the apocalyptic chorus: Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity. In his opening address to this Council’s 23rd annual gathering last week, Cardinal Rylko warned, "The idea of creating a new man completely uprooted from Judeo-Christian tradition and a new world order is gaining ground" (

Echoing themes that have long bubbled through the American Christian right (and through its Catholic wings, in particular), the good cardinal denounced the growing "dictatorship of relativism" and "anti-Christian attitude" that characterize liberal Western culture today, and that "make attacks on Christians, and particular on Catholics, pass off as politically correct." He called for a resurgence of lay witness to counteract these trends.

Well. It is impossible to read these remarks without hearing them as commentary on the new American president. Rylko’s attack on Obama is in line with the take of that other Vatican official I discussed earlier in the week, Cardinal Stafford, who warns that the new president is “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic” (

The emergence of the apocalyptic motif in Vatican rhetoric about Obama is particularly interesting. It’s explicit in Stafford’s remarks. It’s hidden, but only thinly, in Rylko’s. The “new world order” motif Rylko uses is outright apocalypticism: and it has been part and parcel of the rhetoric of the American Christian right for some time now, as Pat Robertson’s 1991 book with that title indicates.

In depicting the election of Mr. Obama in apocalyptic terms as part of the emergence of a sinister new world order that will attack Christians and impose a new ethic in Western culture, these Vatican officials are continuing the shameful alliance of the Catholic church with right-wing political and religious thinkers who have little to do with the Catholic tradition at its best. What they really fear is clearly not the demise of Christianity: it’s their own demise.

It’s the demise of clericalism that frightens Catholic church officials. It’s the waning of a church in which they exercise disproportionate power over others as the ordained that elicits their apocalyptic fantasies. It’s the thought of a world in which being Catholic may not mean being controlled by a male hierarchical elite with all power and privilege in its hands that pushes them to prophesy about the demise of Christianity.

And for many of us, the vision of the church that horrifies them is entirely welcome and entirely appropriate—a vision of the church in which no one lords it over another, and in which power is shared by the people of God and not hoarded at the top. Where the Staffords and the Rylkos see apocalypse now in the election results, many of us see hope for a better future.

And we do not have to be apocalyptic in our expectations about that hope. Many of us know that the political initiatives of the new president and Congress may well sell short our most cherished values. We know better than to expect the reign of God from politicians.

Still, we hope. Can anything be worse than what we have had for some years now—with the blessing of church officials? Can anything be more anti-Christian than the way the current administration has conducted business, as church leaders stood by in silence, never speaking out as they are now speaking out against Mr. Obama before he has even lifted his hand to make any changes at all?

(I am not persuaded, by the way, by John Allen’s apologetic argument on behalf of Cardinal Stafford in his weekly column in National Catholic Reporter []. I find Mr. Allen’s attempt to contextualize Stafford’s rhetoric and to suggest that the rhetoric is “less jarring” when viewed in context entirely unconvincing—as I have long found many of John Allen’s apologias for the Vatican, highly placed American clerics, and/or Republican leaders unconvincing.)

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And on the heart-warming front, far-right Bob Jones University in South Carolina last week apologized for its longstanding racism ( Doesn’t it do you good to hear this Christian institution repenting of its historic sin?

The Bob Jones statement repudiating its racist past states, “We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.”

Well. Pshaw. You must please forgive me, stalwart readers, but I’m a tad bit cynical about this sudden change of heart on the part of the good folks at Bob Jones. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m all for repenting of racism; I applaud the school for taking this step.

But I still . . . wonder. Why now? Why make this statement now, following the election of Obama?

Here’s my suspicion: this is part and parcel of an ongoing movement on the part of Christians opposed to gay rights and gay human beings to discover a sudden new solidarity with people of color. I’ve seen this going on for some time now in various Christian churches.

It has been very obtrusive in both the Anglican and Methodist churches for some time now, where right-wing church officials are falling all over themselves to repent of racism and sexism, as they hold the line against gay folks. Where they are using people of color and women of color, in particular, as weapons, as battering rams, to demonstrate that they are not prejudiced, while they try to make their churches even more adamantly opposed to gay human beings.

This is a political tactic. And it’s a cynical one, an exceedingly cynical one. It plays one marginal group against another. It seeks to enshrine one demeaned group as the “good” marginal group, the one deserving of rights, the one endorsed by scripture, while repudiating the other marginal group as the “bad” group whose demands for respect by the churches are illicit and not grounded in scripture.

The religious right cannot successfully play people of color and gays against each other until it repents of its sin of racism. Look for a lot more of this down the road, from institutions like Bob Jones. And be convinced and heartwarmed, if you wish.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you about what’s really going on with this effusive rhetoric.

The stigmatization of gay human beings by Christians is every bit as much a collapse of Christian values to culture as racism is. Now that it is convenient and painless (and virtually meaningless) to repent of racism, we are hearing of how evil that particular collapse to culture was (and it was and is).

But while there’s still a price to pay for making solidarity with bruised and battered gay human beings, isn’t it interesting that the same Christians rushing to repent of racism or sexism have nary word to say about their homophobia? (For a hilarious take on this “Christian” attitude, check out Janet Cosgrove’s “I’m Not One of Those ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians in the Onion last week,—hat tip to Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog for this link).

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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And speaking of Andrew Sullivan’s blog: this is grim news ( Many of you will have seen recent news reports of the online suicide of a Florida youth, Abraham Biggs of Pembroke Pines, Florida. The 19-year old youth committed suicide last week as viewers watched on a webcam, in some cases egging him on. No one watching notified police until Biggs had died.

According to Andrew Sullivan, among those watching and goading Mr. Biggs were viewers who taunted him with the word “faggot.” Check out the thread to which Andrew Sullivan’s posting links—at—and you’ll see even among those responding to the report of the suicide some respondents slinging around that hateful f- word. (I have seen this report about the use of the term "f----t" only on Andrew Sullivan's blog—a reminder of how the mainstream media ignore homophobia in reporting on such events).

This is too much. And it connects too painfully with themes about which I have posted on this blog before—about recent spikes in homophobic violence in the state of Florida, and about the need of young gay people of color to have positive role models within the African-American community. Abraham Biggs was black.

Please note: I am not saying Abraham Biggs was gay. His MySpace site featured pictures of him with young women. What I am saying is that something is very much awry when a troubled youth of any color is taunted with anti-gay slurs like “f----t.” What I am saying is that, for any youth struggling with issues of self-esteem—and this is true of all gay youths in our homophobic culture—taunts like this are enough to push someone over the edge.

Someone needs to start caring about these youth. I need to start caring. We all need to start caring. Within the black community, the conspiracy of silence about homophobia needs to be broken, for the sake of the many young people of color who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation.

Black gay youth need their own community to care. They need their church leaders and leaders of educational institutions to break silence and speak out, to take responsibility for the future of their youth, to nurture and cherish gay youth as they nurture and cherish other youth.

One avoidable death of a young person is too many.

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Finally, a heartfelt word of thanks to Waldo Lydecker for recommending this blog yesterday ( I’m honored, and I’m surprised.

Waldo is not unaware of my faults. He notes that I blab on and on (well, he says, “His posts tend to be long, by blogging standards . . . ”). But he puts up with the verbosity for the sake of what he thinks may be well-reasoned and well-documented postings, at times.

I have to smile at Waldo’s recommendation, since I first discovered his blog when a South Carolina friend (Waldo’s blog has a SC focus, but is not confined to tthat focus) told me about it. As he did so, he said, “Read Waldo Lydecker. I read him daily. You write too much for me to read. And Waldo is witty.”

Waldo Lydecker is, indeed, witty, insightful, able to cast a cold eye on nonsense that begs to be viewed by a cold eye. I wish I could be as succinct, and even half as witty, as Waldo is. And I’m proud to have him recommend this blog.