Saturday, January 31, 2009

Help for Catholics in Time of Need: Matthew, Patron Saint of Bankers and Financial Officers

For Catholics in doubt about where to turn for help in this time of economic downturn, a Life4Seekers website set up by the Catholic Enquiry Office of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has a valuable suggestion: pray to St. Matthew (, with a hat tip to Clerical Whispers at

And who is Matthew? Why, the patron saint of accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, customs officers, financial officers, guards, money managers, Salerno, Italy, security forces, security guards, stock brokers, tax collectors--so the Life4Seekers site informs us.

Comforting to know that for help to get out of financial crisis, we can pray to the patron of the very folks who have put us into said crisis in the first place. Or is it?

Is it, instead, a reminder that, for those of us who are Catholic, we might as well expect those who hold all power in their hands on earth to continue holding all power in heaven--at least, in the fantasy world of church officials?

Pope Benedict's Double Standard with Richard Williamson: Nothing Short of Scandalous

In a papal audience he gave this week, Pope Benedict addresses the furor that has resulted from his announcement that he intends to bring the schismatic Society of St. Piux X, including outspoken anti-Semite Bishop Richard Williamson, back into communion ( Benedict notes that his goal is to offer mercy to these brothers in Christ who find themselves estranged from the Catholic church, and whose suffering is “sharp” as a result of that estrangement.

The pope also makes an astonishing statement about the theological views the SSPX group holds—presumably, their rejection of Vatican II (and the anti-Semitic views more members of SSPX than Williamson espouse?). He states that his hope is, in readmitting this schismatic group to communion, he will spur the group to “complete final necessary steps to arrive to full communion”—that is, to reconsider their erroneous theological views:

Precisely in fulfilling this service to unity, which determines in a specific way my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I decided some days ago to concede the remission of the excommunication incurred by four bishops ordained without pontifical mandate in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre. I have carried out this act of paternal mercy because repeatedly these prelates have manifested their sharp suffering in the situation in which they found themselves. I trust that following from this gesture of mine will be the prompt effort on their part to complete final necessary steps to arrive to full communion with the Church, thus giving testimony of true fidelity and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope and the Second Vatican Council.

Well, isn’t that special? In November, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was given thirty days to “recant his ‘belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or (he) will be excommunicated’” ( Father Bourgeois was told that he would be placed outside communion if he did not renounce theological positions Rome regards as erroneous.

The SSPX group, by contrast, are told that they will be readmitted to communion, and then, it is hoped, they will correct their theological errors. Outspoken anti-Semites (and misogynistic homophobes) are welcomed by Rome with open arms. Someone who attends a women’s ordination ceremony is shoved from communion.

Can anyone say double standard? Big old double standard. To the millions of Catholics who have been told we do not belong because we question the ban on artificial contraception, the pastoral treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, the teachings about gay and lesbian persons, the church’s complicity in fascist violence, the willingness of pro-life bishops to support unjust wars, the refusal to ordain women and married men, and on and on, this readmission of misogynistic, homophobic anti-Semites who reject an ecumenical council of the church is nothing short of astonishing.

And nothing short of scandalous.

We, after all, are not given a chance to correct our views after we are accepted back into the fold. To the contrary, we are told in no uncertain terms that we are not welcome until we mend our ways.

Nothing short of scandalous . . . . Homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semites have a place in the church of Benedict XVI. Those who support women’s ordination or welcome of gay and lesbian human beings do not.

The Faith-Based Social Service Initiative Reconsidered: John DiIulio's Testimony

After the announcement by Mr. Obama last year that he would continue Bush’s faith-based social service programs in his new administration, I blogged a number of times about the faith-based programs (see,,,

As those postings note, I have some experience with these programs both as an administrator in universities that stress civic engagement education, and as a grant-writer for a federally funded faith-based program. As the postings also indicate, I have very serious reservations about the Bush faith-based initiative for the following reasons:

1. It transfers the burden of providing much needed social services from federal and state programs to faith-based communities that do not have the resources to provide adequately for all those they serve through these programs.

2. It provides only a pittance—a token pittance—for these programs, which now do the grunt work of social outreach that was previously done by well-funded and well-administered government programs.

3. It actively encourages abuse of funds on the part of some administrators and church officials, who are sometimes totally incapable of administering the programs for which they have received funds.

4. The program has permitted faith-based groups to accept money without demonstrating solid results for the monies they received, and without accounting adequately for their use of these federal funds.

5. The program permits and even encourages faith-based groups to discriminate, as they apply these funds; LGBT persons, in particular, are targeted by some faith-based groups receiving federal funding, and are actively discriminated against.

6. The program has been highly politicized. In some states (including my own), governors have had final veto power over funding requests as they are sent to the federal level, even when the governor has no expertise in the area being funded and when the program has no statewide implications. This vetting method has allowed governors to r punish faith-based programs that do not toe the line of the governor’s party, and to reward cronies.

These are my first-hand observations about what has been going on with the faith-based social service programs under the last administration. They are observations I made while working at historically black universities (HBCUs), and while working for a faith-based program that provided services to an inner-city African-American community.

They are observations that many black ministers with whom I interact also share. In the view of some of these ministers, the faith-based initiative has been largely a failure, an attempt by the federal government to deny its responsibility to create a social network for the least among us, while shifting that burden to faith communities—many of them African-American—ill-equipped to deal with this burden.

In key respects, some of my ministerial friends in black churches tell me, this program has functioned as a political arm of the Republican machine reaching out to the African-American community in the hope of obtaining more black voters. It throws a smattering of money at many black churches and their pastors, with the goal of tying these communities to the Republican party, and without seeking assurance that the funds given to these communities have been properly used. This program has been, in the view of some of my friends, damaging to many African-American communities.

Given my experiences with the faith-based initiative, I’m interested to read John DiIulio’s take on the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, in the latest issue of America magazine ( DiIulio is an authoritative voice: he was the first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives when the program was formed. He resigned within his first year as director of this program after having seen that too many Bush programs were staffed by what he called “Mayberry Machiavellis” who lacked even basic knowledge of the programs they were directing ( In his view, the primary interest of this Mayberry crowd was in “steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible.”

DiIulio knows whereof he speaks, in other words—particularly when he addresses the faith-based initiatives. Because of his background with the faith-based programs, and because he continues to applaud President Bush (whom he respects) for implementing these programs, DiIulio’s testimony about these programs should be taken seriously.

DiIulio’s America overview of these faith-based programs is, for the most part, a scathing critique. He notes that they have passed to many nonprofits an impossible expectation of providing social services that they cannot provide, given the level of funding they are receiving under the faith-based programs. He also notes that the data about these programs have been “stretched” by the Bush administration in reports full of “self-congratulatory semi-truths” and “pseudo statistics.”

DiIulio continues to support the faith-based initiative. I, by contrast, am highly skeptical about its ability to meet social needs that should not be passed on to faith groups by a government that should lead the way in providing social safety nets for the least among us.

But if the program is to succeed under President Obama, DiIulio thinks, it must stop engaging in discriminatory behaviors, refrain from overt politicization of social services, and pay attention to research, sound data, and accurate reporting:

To succeed, Obama, a former Catholic Charities community worker in Chicago, must insist that all grantees serve all people in need without regard to religion. He must keep the faith-based effort fact-based, bipartisan and open to corrections. And he must honor all campaign pledges to create or expand programs that benefit low-income children and families.

I hope that if President Obama continues these programs, as he has promised to do, he listens to DiIulio’s recommendations. People are in need, and the program as it is now configured is failing woefully to meet all the social needs it purports to serve. All of us concerned about those who are falling through social safety nets need to keep our eyes on these programs, and demand that they actually serve the needs they target—and provide proof of their results, along with careful records regarding their expenditures of our tax dollars.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More on Connections between the Economic Crisis and the Crisis in Higher Education

Good for gutsy Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Huffington Post is reporting that she has just introduced a bill to cap compensation for CEOs of companies that have just benefited from the federal buyout ( It's beyond obscene that the big women and big men on top continue slopping at the trough while asking for handouts from the public, after their greed and malfeasance have already caused many of us to lose jobs and considerable savings.

I continue to wonder what down-the-road implications the economic downturn will have for American higher education. As my last posting on the crisis in leadership in American universities notes,

Faculty in many institutions note increasing workloads and decreasing support for their classroom work: frozen salaries, tenure on hold, imperatives from on high to teach ever-increasing numbers of students with ever dwindling resources. And as these challenges to the pursuit of academic excellence—serious, fundamental ones—face teachers in many universities, the salaries of top administrators, including presidents and CFOs, skyrocket (

This gross disparity between how we reward those who do the real work of academic life--that is, teaching and mentoring students--and how we have chosen to reward those who do the far less important work of numbers crunching (university presidents and CFOs), is why the crisis in academic leadership is there in the first place. The disparity between what we proclaim academic life should be all about, and what we actually practice with our university pay scales, is obvious, and deeply troubling. We're not fooling anyone. Those at the top raking in the big bucks are all too frequently neither academic leaders who value academic life, nor leaders of any sort at all.

Until we address that problem, we will continue to see a decline in American higher education. Until we stop allowing presidents and boards of trustees dominated by business elites whose bottom line is the dollar sign to refashion the academy along the lines of corporate life, we will continue to see our universities produce far too many soulless, woefully uneducated graduates with no commitment to building a better society.

And in many private, church-based universities--those who make the loudest claims about values education and education for civic leadership--the disparity between faculty salaries and those at the top is even more glaring. And it is often hidden, since those universities often do not disclose salaries, as they do not the lavish perks provided for many of their top "leaders."

As my last posting on this topic notes, I hope that the new president will take his cue in addressing the crisis in American higher education from that powerful educational leader of the early 20th century, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University. Her insistence that students learn from what they see their mentors doing, and not from what they say, is right on target, and has strong implications for university leaders. Her attempt to wed classical education with education for civic virtue deserves attention at the important new turning point in our history represented by the new administration.

There's work to do aplenty. And we need to stop rewarding those who do not do it, and start rewarding those who do.

Who Reads, Who Doesn't? An Update

Maps intrigue me. Soon after the presidential election, a map popped up on some blogsite, which showed a fascinating correlation between the counties with the highest cotton production in 1860, and those voting for Obama in the presidential election.

If you took the 1860 map and overlaid it with the 2008 one, the picture was clear: the counties of the American South producing most cotton in 1860 were strongly pro-Obama in 2008. The correlation obviously points to the large African-American population in those counties of the South that were the core of the antebellum cotton kingdom, which had everything to do with the slave system, with the enrichment of a white minority by the forced labor of many slaves.

In 2008, in one region of the country (the South), where many leaned strongly to McCain, counties with a strong African-American presence went for Obama. In fact, another correlation the same map also teased out is this: the counties of the American South that were largely not devoted to cotton production in 1860 (and which never had a large slave population, because they are in areas with less productive soil) were more likely to vote for McCain in 2008. The whiter the county in the South, the more Republican; the blacker the county in the South, the more Democratic.

We like to think we have lived beyond a time in which race matters. We clearly haven't. We continue to have much work to do, as a culture, around matters of race.

Another correlation hit me yesterday when I ran across a national county-by-county map showing where Baptists are concentrated across the nation. The map shows a red swathe across the South, with a heavy band of Baptist-majority counties running through Georgia and Alabama into Arkansas, north Louisiana, east Texas, and Oklahoma.

I haven't seen any analysis of a correlation between counties with a majority of Baptist voters and McCain supporters in the last election. But a bell definitely went off in my mind when I saw that map of counties with large numbers of Baptists yesterday. I feel pretty sure that if anyone took it and overlaid it with a map of Republican-voting counties in the last presidential election, there'd be a strong correlation: red Baptist counties, red Republican counties.

All of which is a preface to a quick remark about the "State of the States" map that Gallup released recently, showing which states are now solidly red, which are solidly blue, and which fall somewhere in the middle ( The map shows the Republican presence dwindling to a minority of states, chief among them now the Mormon strongholds of Utah and Idaho, along with Wyoming.

States regarded as "competitive" (that is, states that were recently strongly Republican but where there now seems to be a trend to Democratic voters, resulting in a split demographic) include most of the states of the old South, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, and a tier of upper-Midwestern and Western states including the two Dakotas and Montana.

As I noted some time ago in a posting asking who reads and who doesn't read Bilgrimage, this blog's strongest readership is in the blue states of either coast ( On the other hand, my site counter showed no hits from December 10 to January 10 from the following states: Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Vermont, Maine.

As of Jan. 29, I was showing no readers in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Idaho, and Montana.* And those "competitive" states, with a continued strong Republican presence? They show up on my stats counter as the states with the least readers in the nation.

Interesting correlations: Bilgrimage seems to appeal to blue-state readers far more than to red-state ones, though I'm writing from a state that went very red in the last election. And a state whose clownish legislature has just blocked a resolution to congratulate President Obama on his election ( The ostensible reason for the refusal to pass this resolution? It includes language that speaks of our nation as one founded by slave owners.

We have a looong way to go to overcome racism in this nation. Not to mention stupidity, which I often see full-face in my state's elected representatives. As a cousin of mine once wrote to the statewide paper when the legislature had finished its business for that year: "The circus is ended. The clowns have gone home."

And little has changed since that letter got published in the mid-1970s.

So lest the good folks of Wyoming, a state I've never even visited, should think I was picking on that state in my posting yesterday about small-town America and its bizarre fixation with the notion that someone, somewhere, is trying to force "the homosexual lifestyle" down its throat: I certainly didn't mean to single Wyoming out. I have enough stupid in my own back yard to deal with on a daily basis, believe me.

* But I do know of at least one faithful reader in Montana. So perhaps some of these no-read states are represented in the mysterious "Not Set" category that enumerates readers whose state doesn't come through on the counter. There were three such hits this month.

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us (5)

I’ve been struggling with the conclusion to my series of postings on connections between the March for Life and Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of the Society of St. Pius X. I’m finding myself unable to bring that series to a close, and I suspect the reason is this: I’ve been writing in a voice that is too self-conscious. I’ve (unconsciously) been struggling to to convince those I’m implicitly addressing with my critique—those I call the knowledge class of the center of American Catholicism.

So I’ve adopted an artsy-fartsy theological language that convinces no one, and which causes me to second-guess everything I say. And all to no avail, I suspect, since I doubt that those I’m trying to address are listening, anyway. In my experience, they are too busy talking to each other, and only each other, to pay much attention to voices like mine.

So I’m just going to say what I have to say bluntly, and, if no one else may be convinced or pleased by what I say, at least I will have the satisfaction of having had my say. Here’s the point to which I’ve been driving in this series of postings: while the educated elite of the American Catholic church faintly (and all too faintly, in my view) decry the decision of the pope to readmit the SSPX crowd to communion, there are millions of us, their fellow Catholics, who have been even more decisively shoved out of communion in the past few decades. And I hear very little concern among the leading thinkers of the American Catholic church—its most influential journalists, theologians, prestigious bloggers, and so on—about this development.

In fact, as I read what that group of leaders has to say about the March on Life, I find many of the same ecclesiological assumptions that govern the way the SSPX folks do business. To the extent that the leaders of the American Catholic church (certainly its bishops, but also its leading theologians and journalists/bloggers) have mortgaged the future of American Catholicism to the fight against abortion, and to that fight alone, they seem to share the view of SSPX that the church should return to a pre-Vatican II fortress mentality, a lean, mean fighting machine. And should, in the process, ruthlessly weed out all those of us who had heard something different in Vatican II’s ecclesiology, and who do not share the ecclesiological presuppositions of those at the center of the American Catholic church.

It’s dismaying to me to read accounts of the March for Life which tacitly assume that all American Catholics buy lock, stock, and barrel into the anti-abortion movement as it has been developed by the leaders of American Catholic church. Hidden in that assumption is a nasty assumption about who belongs and who doesn’t—a nasty defense of what seems to me to have been a completely insupportable purge of many faithful Catholics in the last several decades.

There’s a hidden assumption in the rhetoric of many leaders of American Catholicism—and I’m focusing primarily here on the lay leaders of the center, not the bishops—that those of us now on the outside looking in have put ourselves there. We’ve been unfaithful, disloyal; we’ve questioned what may not be questioned, if one wishes to remain a faithful Catholic. We haven’t played the game right—not so adroitly as have those who continue to occupy seats of power at the center.

My reason for directing this critique to the lay leaders of the center? Because, while they often depict themselves as critics of the bishops who have led the way to a smaller, purer church, they are actually playing the bishops’ game in writing off many of their fellow Catholics.

It’s about far more than abortion and politics. It’s about what it means to be church. In my view, the failure of the American Catholic church of the latter half of the 20th century to convince most American citizens of the importance of the abortion issue points to a serious failure of the American Catholic church to be church in a way that compels the attention of American culture.

I stated in my previous posting that the American Catholic church has failed to produce a convincing, coherent discourse about abortion. It has failed to produce such a discourse because the ecclesial life of American Catholicism is itself unconvincing and incoherent. When there can be such mass oblivion to the situation of exclusion in which millions of us find ourselves—and oblivion on the part of those whom one would most expect to be preoccupied with that reality—something is radically wrong.

Something is radically wrong with a church that claims to be all about communion, about catholicity, about living as a sacramental community that demonstrates God’s all-inclusive and all-affirming love in the world, and which has so little concrete concern for millions of tacitly excommunicated brothers and sisters. Something is radically wrong—at the very heart—of our church when millions of us find ourselves pushed outside communion, not by our choice but by the choice of those at the center, and those who profess to be all about thinking through catholic claims utter not a chirp about this situation.

In the final analysis, we American Catholics have failed (and will continue to fail) to convince the American public of the seriousness of the ethic of life because we ourselves do not live as though life counts. We are not conspicuously pro-life in how we go about doing business as an ecclesial community—in how we organize our parishes, in what we do in our schools and hospitals, and, above all, in how we treat each other.

There are ethic-of-life implications, and very strong ones, involved when one human being writes off another human being. I have linked the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics to the issue of life, for instance, for precisely that reason. The multitude of LGBT American Catholics who have no place at all in the church and its parish life—because we have been shoved away by those at the center—are human beings with human lives, after all. We have human minds and human hearts.

Being told that one does not belong hurts. Being told that one has somehow earned one’s place as an outcast stings. Watching the knowledge class of American Catholicism dissect Richard Williamson’s antisemitism—and it should be dissected and resoundingly repudiated—while that same set of leaders never denounces the equally gross homophobia of Richard Williamson affects us. It has implications for our self-esteem, for how we view ourselves, we who are gay and Catholic. And those implications have everything to do with an ethic of life.

And with the inability of the American Catholic church to sustain an ethic of life, and therefore to convince other Americans that life issues are of supreme importance. We cannot convince anyone of what we do not live, and we clearly do not live the ethic of life as a church—not in how we deal with each other. Not in whom we admit and whom we exclude. Not when our best and brightest can remain supremely unperturbed by the fact that one in ten Americans today is a former Catholic and one in three American adults who were raised Catholic no longer belong to the church.

And I daresay that, among that truly shocking percentage of former Catholics, there's a significant proportion of gay folks who know full well we do not belong, as well as others who are fed up with seeing their church dehumanize and bash gay human beings while proclaiming that it respects life and values the rights of all human beings.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Targeting Youth with Anti-Gay Lies: More on the Right's New Outreach to American Youth

As an addendum to my series on what seems to me to be an unfolding agenda of the political and religious right to enhance its appeal to younger voters (, I’d like to recommend an article from yesterday’s Slate ( In the article, Christopher Beam examines the attempt of the right to create its own version of the netroots movement.

As my last post on this theme of new methods of right-wing outreach to younger voters (to which I link above) notes, the American Family Association recently started its own Facebook site ( I’ve been following the development of that site by logging in to it daily. As I do so, it’s becoming clear to me that churches of the religious right and other groups affiliated with that movement are heavily promoting this new outreach to youth.

Daily, there are eye-popping announcements that thousands of new members have joined the site. Peruse these members, though, and you’ll discover that a great many of them are not the youth the site is hoping to target, but the old war horses of the religious right.

The AFA site is currently marketing itself as an open group site with open discussion. But that claim is belied by the administrators’ handling of the discussion board. Because it’s open, it’s receiving contributions from posters who are energetically challenging the AFA agenda—including a delightful Rev. Kris Hussein Smithleton, whose username is a cheeky response to some of the bona fide AFA members who seem to think it’s still clever to spell out the new president’s full name.

But follow the postings, and you’ll note that censorship is alive and well on the site. Discussion topics that get into the face of AFA have been disappearing from the site with notes that the posting was removed. It will be interesting to see how long the site remains open and permits posters like Rev. Kris (and other courageous souls who are also logging on to make their voices heard) to contribute to discussion at the site.

It’s also interesting to note that though Rev. Don Wildmon’s oft-repeated ground rules for the AFA Facebook site state that no stereotyping is allowed, and that “[a]ll persons are to be treated with dignity even if you disagree with what they say or do,” some posters routinely use the word “homosexual” as an epithet, and do so with impunity. One of the worst offenders in that regard is an older married woman in Florida who has now chosen to change her Facebook picture. Whereas it previously showed her standing behind her husband, it now has one of the anonymous-face i.d.’s that Facebook assigns if one does not upload a picture of one’s own.

AFA may soon learn that it’s harder work than they imagined, to maintain a site that purports to value free discussion when the real agenda is to promote the AFA agenda, and to try to hook younger folks with that agenda. Those being targeted are computer-savvy and also know the ropes of these discussion boards, and may well use this new site to give AFA a run for its money.

And make no mistake about it, this site promotes an agenda, and a highly political one at that--one that goes far beyond resistance to gay rights. It calls for activism to resist the new president and his administration; its posters take strong sides in the Arab-Israeli conflicts; it stoutly resists women's rights, etc. It supports a theocratic political agenda that would dearly love to force all American citizens to submit to the religious, moral, and political views of a right-wing evangelical minority who have deified the past president and who are betraying core Christian principles by idolizing one political party.

By the way, if you visit this site, check out the picture of site creator and administrator Jacob Dawson. Is it just me, or is that one scary photo?

Notes on the Homosexual Lifestyle: And How It Is Forced Down Our Throats

The following notes are for the “Well, I never!” file: in my wildest dreams I never expected the good citizens of that wonderful red state, Wyoming, to be having the gay “lifestyle” forced on them by the media.

I didn’t know this was happening until I ran across the following statement in a Netflix review of the BBC television series “Lilies,” which Steve and I are now watching:

I was dissapointed [sic] in the homosexual theme between the brother and the handicapped friend in the 5th episode. Why is it the attempt by the media to force this lifestyle into our homes.

The reviewer indicates that he or she lives in Torrington, Wyoming.

Forced into their homes, the homes of Torrington, Goshen County, Wyoming, population 5776! And by the Brits, no less—those danged old enemies of liberty whom we fought over two centuries ago to obtain independence from coercive government. Who wanted to come into our homes back then and force us to pay taxes and relinquish guns and support organized religion.

Why did we move to Wyoming (or the hills of Kentucky, or Texas, or Arkansas, or you name it), for heaven’s sake, if it wasn’t to get away from such intrusive, coercive government? And now come those perennial foes of the American way of life, the citizens of the UK, to force “this lifestyle” into our homes. Our very homes! Well, I never.

The mind boggles at the intricacy of this Machiavellian plan of BBC to force good God-fearing Americans in places like Torrington, WY, to behold stagings of dirty “homosexual themes” in the privacy of their homes. There’s, first of all, the problem of forcing reviewers like KB 1358295 of Torrington, WY (pop. 5776), to rent the series from Netflix.

What malicious threats must the BBC have issued to force reviewers such as KB 1358295 to rent this filthy series that purports, all so guilefully, merely to follow the fortunes of a working-class family of Liverpool following World War I? I can just hear them now, the coercive mandates issued by the British bullies to the town of Torrington: “No more elk steaks for the lot of you, if you don’t rent that series right now! Bangers and mash for a year! And you’ll wash them down with good strong sugared tea and nary drop of whiskey.”

And then there’s the problem of assuring further compliance, once the sordid disks have been delivered in those flaming scarlet Netflix mailers. How to get those who’ve rented the series to watch it? And not to switch off their tellies when the insidious “homosexual themes” pop up all unannounced?

What further indignities did the Brits visit on Wyoming, to force total compliance with their nefarious plans to turn a red state blue with homosexual profanity via the glozening, oh so seductive “period drama” “Lilies”? Threats like this?—“And that picture of Mrs. Palin you’ve clipped out and sellotaped to that wall?—away with it! You’ll hang this photo of Her Glorious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II until you’ve watched that series, every last drib and drab of it.”

The brazenness of the Brits just never ceases to amaze me. It’s not just the clever way the plan was executed—the use of Netflix as a provider and the threats to force God-fearing Americans to watch this distasteful stuff. It’s the pretense of producing a "family" drama set in early 20th century England in order to force the homosexual lifestyle into innocent American homes.

Such hole-and-corner behavior! If you can’t rent a good BBC historical drama without running into the homosexual lifestyle, then where are you going to turn to escape the vile stuff? Next you’ll be telling me that the other Britannocentric features from that period in my Netflix queue are part of the conspiracy to force the homosexual lifestyle on me. I see “Brideshead Revisited,” “Maurice,” and “Mountains of the Moon” at the top of the list. Burton and Speke, those real-men explorers of Africa: how could that story possibly turn gay?

I’d be as shocked to see those two kiss as I would be if this-here World War I trilogy I just got from the library had homosexual themes. It’s Ms. Pat Barker’s Regeneration, about a British soldier poet named Siegfried Sassoon and so on . . . .

Steve and I often rent the first of a series at Netflix, watch it, and then decide on that basis whether we’d like to continue with the series. As we do so, we sometimes check reviews. That’s how we came across the review of “Lilies” by KB 1358295 of Torrington, WY (pop. 5776).

Helpful? You’d better believe it. After reading it, I toggled right on over to the Netflix site and rented the rest of the series. No forcing necessary.

The graphic is from Francis S. Drake's Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents Relating to the Shipment of Tea to the American Colonies in the Year 1773, by the East India Tea Company (Boston: A.O. Crane, 1884). The graphic is entitled "Lord North Forcing the Tea Down the Throat of America."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us (4)

Catholics oppose abortion. Good Catholics work to outlaw abortion. We Catholics support the March for Life. Catholics in good standing vote with abortion in mind, first and foremost. Richard Williamson and the Society of St. Pius X are Catholics who deserve communion, regardless of their views about Vatican II, women, gays, Jews, etc. Excommunicate Biden.

All of a piece, in my view, the slogans, the hidden assumptions. And they dominate not just the viewpoint of the far right of the American Catholic church. They hold sway at the center. The middle-to-liberal center of American Catholicism, at least in its knowledge class, finds it far easier to welcome to communion Richard Williamson with his lisping vile “faggotth” taunts than it does, say, an openly gay couple living in a committed relationship.

How on earth did we get to this point from Vatican II?

It’s not just about abortion. It’s about an entire ecclesiology that the anti-abortion movement in American Catholicism has necessitated, insofar as we intend to pursue the anti-abortion cause as we have been pursuing it for some decades now. It is about a kind of church, a notion of church, that the American Catholic bishops have worked very hard for some years now to create, with the active or silent complicity of Catholics of the center.

It’s about a betrayal of Vatican II and of the very traditional ecclesiology for which Vatican II stood—in particular, of its sacramental notion of the church that makes it very important to think about how Catholics live in the world, what they say, what they do to each other and to those around them. That is, it’s about a notion of church that would make it impossible for us to rehabilitate a Richard Williamson, under the guise of serving the unity of the church, without first dealing with his hate-filled rhetoric about some of God’s children.

Re: abortion itself, I contest the hidden assumption of Catholics of the middle that we all share zeal for the crusade to outlaw abortion. I contest this assumption for all kinds of reasons. I will say it plainly and without any apology: abortion is, for me, not the central moral issue of all time, or of this period in history.

Catholics of the right and center have failed completely to convince me of its moral priority. And the more they tacitly assume that abortion is the primary moral challenge of our time, and that Catholics who do not share that assumption do not truly belong to the communion of the church, the more they alienate me.

Please note what I’m saying here: I’m not saying that I deny that abortion is a moral issue, or that it is an important moral concern, or that it deserves consideration when one looks at the moral life. I’m rejecting the analysis that pervades American Catholic ecclesiology right now—that abortion is the moral issue. That it holds primacy of place among all moral issues. That true Catholics and good Catholics and faithful Catholics will automatically see the world through the lens of the anti-abortion crusade, and will give top priority to “the” right-to-life issue.

As far as I am concerned, Catholics of the right and center have conspicuously failed to produce an articulate, reasoned defense of the claim that abortion is the overarching moral issue to which all others should be subordinated as Catholics think about and interact with the public sphere. The rhetoric about abortion that Catholics of the middle and right offer in support of this claim is not a reasoned defense of a moral position. It’s rhetoric plain and simple.

It’s slogan-slinging. It cannot convince because it does not, for the most part, advert to reason or to facts. It appeals to emotion and it seeks to force everyone who encounters it to share its emotional repugnance to abortion—and to regard that emotional repugnance as sufficient moral reasoning. Sufficient enough to hang everything on it, including the future of the church.

The Catholic church has worked long and hard, from the top down, to suppress any and all dialogue about abortion, to reduce thinking about the morality of abortion to the level of emotional sloganizing. Just as it has worked long and hard to suppress careful, rational conversations about women’s ordination, sexual ethics (birth control, homosexuality), and a number of other neuralgic theological and moral issues of our period of history.

In suppressing careful, respectful, reasoned, fact-regarding dialogue about these issues, notably abortion, the leaders of American Catholicism have completely undermined the vast, all-encompassing moral claims they want to make regarding these issues—particularly abortion. By choking off theological and ecclesial conversation about these issues, by reducing moral discourse about them to top-down commands that are enforced with severe penalties, the leaders of American Catholicism have produced not moral agents with informed consciences, who are capable of making wise moral and political choices around issues like abortion: they have produced fanatical premoral automatons who do what they are told.

And who cannot, therefore, carry on a rational or convincing conversation about the morality of abortion with the very folks they’re trying to convince, in the public sphere, to take abortion seriously as a moral issue . . . . The issue of abortion has been handled by the leaders of the American Catholic church and the knowledge class of its center in such a way as to suppress the kind of moral reasoning that is precisely necessary if one seeks to convince anyone of either the claim that abortion trumps all other moral issues, or that the practice of abortion is immoral.

This is a problem of communication. It is a problem of the inability of teachers of a church that is totally preoccupied with the abortion issue to communicate convincingly to me, to millions of other contemporary Catholics, and to the public at large about why we ought to share their preoccupation with abortion. It is the kind of communication problem that occurs when one shuts down dialogue, and simply instructs people to think and feel, as an alternative to dialogue. It is a fundamental failure of the contemporary American Catholic church, this failure to develop a coherent language about abortion, a coherent system of thought about abortion, that transcends slogans and punishment for those who will not chant the slogans.

In fact, the louder the shouts about the evil of abortion become, the more many of us begin to wonder what is not being said, as we’re urged to shout, to shut down our minds and consider every act of abortion as murder, whether the person engaging in it shares that moral judgment or not, and to see all acts of abortion as the taking of a human life regardless of the when in the gestation period the abortion takes place. When a moral discussion is reduced to shouting and silencing, one has to wonder about the claims on which those silencing and shouting others down really rest their moral argument. Surely those claims cannot be compelling, when one’s best approach to convincing others of the rightness of a moral position is bullying.

Also to be noted: when one considers that abortion never previously occupied the central place in the consciousness of the Catholic church that it now occupies—notably in American Catholicism—and when one also notes that the preoccupation with abortion as the moral issue primarily worth addressing arose just at the moment in history when, for the first time, women began to have some control over their destinies and their reproductive lives, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that the Catholic crusade against abortion is energized by resistance to women’s rights. Among the discussions being suppressed by those who will not permit abortion to be discussed rationally today is a discussion about the place of women in the world and in the church.

It is clear to many of us that the drive to ban abortion is about far more than that: it is at its heart about placing women back into the social locations of subjugation to male control that women occupied before social and technological changes permitted women relative control over their lives and their biological destinies. It is certainly possible, I believe, to see abortion as an undesirable moral option while also unambiguously affirming the right of women to control their lives and destinies. But to come to that such an understanding, we’d have to talk and think, to reason and critique and listen to many points of view besides those of the true believers who want to control the conversation from the top.

But this is not what we’re being told to do—to think, reason, critique, listen, talk among ourselves and with those outside our fold. We’re being told, instead, to march and shout. And to threaten.

In the eyes of many Catholics who have been implicitly excommunicated because we do not want to take part in such bullying demonstrations, the marches for life such as the one that recently took place in D.C. are not marches for life at all: they are fascist demonstrations designed to bully and to allow the church to flex its muscle. And, though this is often not made explicit in the rhetoric of many pro-life Catholics, among those being bullied are women and men who do not conform to rigid pseudo-natural law expectations about gender roles: that is, gay men.

It is impossible to deny that connection, which is totally glossed over by many centrist American Catholic apologists for the right-to-life movement, when one looks carefully at what many of the evangelical allies of Catholic right-to-lifers believe about the place of women and gay folks in the world and in the church. Indeed, it’s impossible to deny that many Catholics want to link the pro-life movement to opposition to the human rights of gay persons and of women. Witness Bob Dornan, who (as my first posting in this series noted) played a prominent role in this year's March on Life, and who claims to be a pro-life leader while slamming gays and lesbians and taunting Jews.

It has come to seem all of a piece to many of us: the spectacle of Catholics marching for life while marching against women’s rights and gay rights. What the anti-abortion movement has brought to life in the American Catholic church, many of us are finding, is a viciously anti-intellectual, self-righteous, narrow, contra-factual and contra-scientific way of being a church that betrays core values necessary to sustain the very ethic of life it promotes.

For many of, even if we share the concern to protect life (while we may also not share the agenda of many of our pro-life co-religionists, including the push to outlaw abortion for those who do not accept our moral claims), the price of being pro-life seems increasingly and impossibly steep, in the church that has come into being through the pro-life movement. To be pro-life, we are implicitly told, is also to be homophobic and misogynistic.

If that is the case, then to be pro-life is to question some of the moral positions we have come to regard as central to our practice of faith, and on which we have come to base our pro-life ethics. To be pro-life is to join a cadre of true believers with whom we have little in common other than our commitment to respect life—and whose conflation of the pro-life stance with homophobia and misogyny seems to us to undermine the pro-life stance.

The fundamental problem many of us have with the pro-life movement in American Catholicism and its apologists of the center is, therefore, ecclesiological: we do not live in the church in which many of our co-religionists live. We do not want to live in such a church. We believe, in fact, that the understanding of our church that is communicated to the public through the pro-life movement as it now stands is dangerously distorted, a betrayal of what we have come to expect the church to be, following the second Vatican Council.

About which, more later . . . .

Economic Downturn and Job Loss: Added Burdens for LGBT Citizens

The 365 Gay news site carried an interesting article yesterday on the extra burden that the economic downturn poses for many LGBT citizens ( As this article notes, when gay workers lose jobs, they often face challenges in addition to those that many other unemployed workers face.

Like other workers given pink slips, LGBT citizens who lose jobs must deal with the search for a new position in a tight job market and declining economy. Like others who are terminated, they often cope with excruciating questions about relocating and starting over in a place new to them, without familiar support networks.

But, as the 365 Gay article also notes, gay workers who lose jobs face as well the question of discrimination. In particular, in a tight job market, gay persons seeking employment have to scrutinize job leads to see if the new employer has any policies in place to protect gay workers from discrimination, or if partner benefits are offered.

This story is a reminder to me that many LGBT citizens of this country live in places that have no state-level protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. As my recent posting about the situation in Florida notes, a majority of our states permit employers to fire an employee simply because he or she is gay; they also permit someone to be turned away from renting a place to live merely because of his or her sexual orientation ( In a majority of our states a partner of a gay person who is hospitalized may be barred from visitation of his or her partner or from making decisions about the partner's medical treatment solely because he or she is gay.

And for some of us, there's still the added burden of overt discrimination, of black-balling. This is particularly the case for gay employees who have run afoul of those who control church-based institutions.

Those of us who have worked for Catholic institutions, for instance, and who have chosen to acknowledge our sexual orientation and relationships openly, quite commonly find ourselves black-balled by all Catholic institutions after we lose a job in a Catholic institution. We also often discover that the institution that fired us and/or key Catholic leaders do everything in their power to interfere with our ability to find employment at church-related institutions that do not even belong to the Catholic communion.

I was reminded of these ugly dynamics that I have seen close up in my years as a Catholic theologian, but which are too little known to the public at large, when I read recently what has happened to Rev. Geoff Farrow, about whom I blogged several times last October ( and He’s the Catholic priest of the Fresno diocese who stated in a homily that his conscience forbade him to support the initiative of the California bishops to promote proposition 8 in California.

As those postings noted, Geoff Farrow lost his job, his livelihood, his health insurance, as a result of his act of conscience. Recently, several blogs have updated Geoff Farrow's story ( and These report that when he applied for a position with the Los Angeles branch of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), he found himself mysteriously blocked after an initial positive interview.

To his credit, Rev. James Conn, a United Methodist minister involved in the interview process, has been willing to go public about what happened. Conn indicates that the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles threatened to cut its funding to CLUE, if Farrow were hired. Geoff Farrow remains unemployed and without medical benefits at the age of 51, due to the intervention of church authorities who evidently want to prevent him from obtaining any employment, even in a non-Catholic institution.

I am deeply saddened but not surprised to read this story. It is a sorry series of events I have seen with my own eyes a number of times. It is one through which I have myself lived.

Despite their assurances of respect for human rights, Catholic officials will always hound anyone who threatens those who have had a place within Catholic institutions, and who then become public about being gay. There is a tremendous need to punish and destroy those of us who refuse to toe the official line about homosexuality in Catholic institutions--often because we know too much about what goes on in the seamy underbelly of the institution.

We know, for instance, that those who pursue openly gay Catholics and try to disrupt our lives and careers are themselves often closeted, self-hating gay men who occupy positions of power within the church . . . .

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us (3)

In several previous postings, I’ve noted that this year’s March for Life and Pope Benedict’s rehabilitation of the Society of St. Pius X, events that occurred at roughly the same time some days back, flow together in my mind ( and The connection has to do with the kind of church both events celebrate, with the notion of church both implicitly promote.

I’m particularly intrigued by how centrist American Catholic bloggers are choosing to represent both events. What strikes me as important to note is not so much what many centrist postings say about the two events, but what they don’t say—what they take for granted. This is particularly true of what they take for granted regarding the church—what the church is, what it should be, who belongs and who doesn’t. The ecclesiology underlying many middle-of-the-road American Catholic reflections on the rehabilitation of SSPX as well as the March for Life is an ecclesiology that implicitly excludes many Catholics in the developed nations of the world from communion, at the same time that it colludes in the rehabilitation of open antisemites who are also misogynistic homophobes.

Not surprisingly, many centrist American Catholic commentators have expressed mild disapproval of the pope’s unilateral (there are indications he contravened the recommendations of some of his key advisors in rehabilitating SSPX) decision to bring SSPX back into the fold—most precisely, of his decision to rehabilitate Richard Williamson. Various commentators have noted Williamson’s longstanding record of virulent antisemitism. Less frequently (and this is worth noting in itself), centrist American Catholic observers of religion and politics advert to Williamson’s misogyny and his homophobia.

What intrigues me in this centrist commentary is not so much its predictable discomfort with the positions for which Richard Williamson stands. That mild discomfort is to be expected. And I expect it to wane just as quickly as it manifested itself following the Vatican announcement about SSPX, particularly as Rome does image management and spin control to mollify those outraged at the choice of the current pope to claim Catholic ownership of a misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic bishop.

No, what interests me more is the commentary of these same centrist Catholic bloggers about the March on Life. Running through many middle-of-the-road to liberal considerations I’ve been reading about this year’s anti-abortion march and the new president’s decision to rescind the Mexico City policy with its global gag rule has been a hidden assumption that “we” Catholics—all of us—obviously stand with those marching for life and against the decisions our new president has just made. If we don’t stand there, then quite clearly, we’re just not Catholic. We’re less Catholic, that is, than Richard Williamson, gross homophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny notwithstanding.

As I read such commentary, I feel thousands of miles away from the ecclesiology such commentary on the March for Life presupposes. I feel very much outside the church such commentators assume as the basis of their critique of abortion. I feel just as alienated—perhaps even more so, truth be told—from these liberal/centrist American Catholic spokespersons, than I do from Richard Williamson and the SSPX folks.

Neither speaks for a church in which I believe, a church I take for granted. Neither reflects my own experience of church—and, I daresay, the experience of church that millions of Catholics in developed nations take for granted after Vatican II.

The message is clear: it is not just that the church of the center belongs to people like Lefebvre and Richard Williamson. It’s that it does not belong to me, and to millions of other Catholics for whom Vatican II reframed how we view the life of faith and our relationship to God. More precisely, the message is that we do not belong to a church in which the center can now easily open its arms to Richard Williamson, while excluding us, without any perceivable remorse for its tacit writing off of millions of believers.

Vatican II has reframed how many Catholics view the church and the life of faith by pointing us back to traditional images of the church as the people of God and the sacramental sign of God’s salvific presence in the world, ecclesiological images that had been discarded over the course of Christian history. Discarded, in particular, by the church of the Counter-Reformation and of the early modern period, which was in such reaction against the world around itself that it chose to shut itself up in a fortress . . . .

Where being a “perfect society” (to use Cardinal Bellarmine’s classic phase to describe the church) with ironclad rules and top-down leadership intent on enforcing those rules count far more than productive engagement with the world. Where the primary interest of the church is not to mediate salvation to the world or to live in a way that makes God's love sacramentally present in the world, but to condemn the world, to attack it, to draw all believers together in a tight little band of warriors combating the entire world, with all its evil, darkness, and Satanic smoke.

And it’s not just—or even primarily—the SSPX crowd who have brought us back to that fortress church with its ironclad rules and ruthless top-down leadership. It’s even more significantly the majority of pro-life Catholics who have succeeded in putting us back there. It's those who now occupy the center of American Catholicism who have definitively returned us to a pre-Vatican II ecclesiology, and who have made it possible for Richard Williamson and the SSPX group, which rejects Vatican II, to be more at home in the church than millions of post-Vatican II Catholics.

Let me explain . . . .

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us (2)

As right-to-life protesters, many of them Catholic, march in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI prepares to readmit members of the Society of St. Pius X, including Bishop Richard Williamson, back into communion, and the Catholic blog world is ablaze with conversation about both events. And I feel completely outside this conversation—far removed from it, in fact.

What strikes me so strongly, and what I hear no one discussing, is this: at the heart of both stories is the question of communion. Of what it means to be church in the 21st century. Of how to live the gospel in the world today. Of what it means to be Catholic and in communion with other Catholics.

These are precisely the questions that Benedict claims to be pursuing vigorously in his papacy. Much of his theology has centered on questions of communion, and on the ecclesiology implied by a theology of communion. It is possible, even, to see his decision to readmit the SSPX schismatics to communion as an expression of his longstanding concern to enhance communion in the church.

But for many of us, that decision creates a further rift, a deeper fissure in the communion of the Catholic church. It points to a strong and very troubling double standard in the mind of the hierarchy about who is worthy of remaining in communion, and who deserves to be removed from communion. Benedict’s announcement rehabilitating the Pius X group, including the controversial Williamson, comes on the heels of an announcement last month that Rev. Roy Bourgeois is facing excommunication for participating in a women’s ordination ceremony (

The return of the SSPX group to communion also follows on the announcement that Rev. Roger Haight, an influential American Catholic theologian, who had already been removed from teaching in Catholic institutions and forbidden to write about christology, is now forbidden to teach anywhere or to write on any topic ( Some folks in, other folks out.

And the ones being brought inside are, for many Catholics, far more ambiguous representatives of what Catholicism stands for at its best, than are those being shoved out. To many of us, the message is loud and clear: not your church. Shut up and sit down. We make the rules and if you don’t like them, leave.

And here’s where it becomes difficult for me to articulate precisely what I want to say about the confluence of the March for Life story and that of the rehabilitation of SSPX: it’s difficult to articulate, because I don’t think many Catholics who are questioning the SSPX rehabilitation see a clear connection that I see between that event and the March for Life. I don't hear a lot of Catholics discussing these two issues seeing shared ecclesiological connections in the two stories, which seem clear to me.

In my posting that began this series of reflections on Benedict’s smaller, purer church, I did point to one connection that should be obvious to anyone reading this posting: the statements of Richard Williamson that have elicited such outrage show this SSPX bishop to be a homophobic, misogynistic, antisemite ( One of the Catholic leaders of the March for Life, ex-California Congressman Bob Dornan, has also engaged in hate rhetoric about Jews, women, and gay and lesbian folks. There is common ground between a key leader of the American Catholic anti-abortion movement and Richard Williamson, in that both have targeted Jews, gays and lesbians, and women.

In my view, this common ground is not accidental: it deserves attention. The pro-life movement has contributed in no small degree to laying the foundations of the smaller, purer, reactionary, and prejudice-ridden church that SSPX represents. I suspect that the homophobia, misogyny, and antisemitism that Bob Dornan has felt free to express in the past is hardly limited to him alone, but is shared more widely than many of us imagine, by other Catholic right-to-lifers.

This is a movement that is about more than abortion and the right to life. It has a much wider agenda, and that agenda is one that should trouble many centrist American Catholics far more than it does. The ecclesiology represented and promoted by many American right-to-lifers is closer to that of SSPX than of Vatican II, or of the majority of American Catholics who have not bought into the highly politicized stance of American Catholic right-to-lifers.

These are themes I’d like to turn to in my next posting on this topic . . . .

Eating to Save the Earth: More New Year's Notes

I blogged shortly after new year's day on cooking to save the earth ( Among the reasons I wanted to blog about that topic in the new year is that, it seems to me, many folks nowadays aren't learning basic skills and wisdom rooted in the folk cultures of the world--skills and wisdom about food and eating. I suspect there is no lack of good will among many young folks in the developed areas of the world about eating to save the earth (and for health). What may be lacking is knowledge: wisdom essential to making good choices in this important area of human life is often not passed on by parents, by my generation.

So there's a method to the madness of my occasional posts about a meal I happen to have cooked. I'm hoping that these notes might be helpful for at least a few readers searching for ideas about how to eat low on the food chain, while eating well and doing a bit to help the environment. It also occurs to me that many of us who are in need of ideas in this area also happen to be those of us living on the economic margins: we're those who find it hardest of all to pay for good food, to buy the kind of food that preserves our health while filling our stomachs.

The ideas I'll occasionally share about cooking will point to meals that are (I hope) not only tasty and healthy, but less expensive than many we might cook or buy at a restaurant.

So, with that as preface, here's a recipe I thought to share today. It's a dish I just cooked for Steve's and my dinner.

On the weekend, I had made borscht to share with our friend Mary, who has been struggling to recover from a horrible auto accident before Thanksgiving. Soups heal; I'm convinced of it (they do, that is, when they're well-made and made with love).

When I prepared two bunches of beets to shred for the soup, I set the greens aside and carefully washed them. I find that beet greens have to be washed vigorously, since sand packs down into the crevices where the stems grow from the beet. I soak the greens and their stems several times in a large bowl of water, shaking them when I put them into the water, and then letting them sit a moment for the sand to fall to the bottom of the bowl. After I repeat that process several times (changing the water each time), I give them a final wash of cold water, using the sink sprayer to dislodge any remaining sand.

I always shred a handful of beet greens for a pot of borscht. The greens I don't use in the soup, I then put aside for future use, wrapped in a clean cloth and placed in the vegetable bin of the icebox.

Today I decided to use the greens I'd set aside when I made borscht on Sunday. (Last night, I had actually taken a handful of the small, tender greens to put into an arugula salad.) I removed the stems and put them aside, then chopped the greens.

In a large skillet, I heated some olive oil and added to it half a bell pepper and half an onion I had found in the hydrator, both chopped. As they began to sautee, I added the beet greens, along with about a cup of cooked cabbage left from a meal yesterday.

Just as the beet greens wilted, I added a toe of chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and a sprinkle of oregano. The moisture from the cabbage broth that clung to the cabbage leaves helped to make a sauce. I took the vegetables off the fire and added a handful of frozen peas--English peas, we say in the South, to distinguish green peas from the many varieties of field peas we enjoy.

As Steve walked home from work, I put pasta (orecchiette) on to cook, grated some fresh parmesan, and set out a bowl of roasted slivered almonds. That was our meal--the pasta topped with the sauce of beet greens and cabbage, with parmesan and almonds sprinkled on top. A delicious meal, a healthy one, and an inexpensive one, which made good use of a vegetable (beet greens) that many of us are tempted to discard when we buy fresh beets.

(The stems of the beet greens? Well, I'm experimenting. I cut them into pieces about two inches long and put them into a jar of pickled beets that I have on hand all the time in the icebox. If they pickle well, as I hope they will, they will add interest to future meals . . . .)

Targeting Youth with Anti-Gay Lies: American Family Association's New Facebook Site

Another reminder that those of us who commit ourselves to challenge the religious right's assault on the foundations of our democracy must continue to be vigilant: as I noted some weeks back, in this new year we can look for the religious right to try in every way possible to present a kinder, gentler version of itself to youth, who are turning away from this political movement for more progressive forms of evangelicalism ( I've been noting that I foresee the religious right to try to make inroads among youth by crafting new strategies of outreach including campus visits, campus crusades, and enhanced web technologies (

For continued evidence that this new youth outreach is an urgent priority for the religious right now, check out this posting at Pam's House Blend blog on the weekend: As it notes, the American Family Association, a leader of the religious right's anti-gay movement, has just launched a Facebook site.

The announcement of the new site spells out its political intent: "And you can network wtih like-minded people concerned about America's moral decline." Visit the AFA Facebook page (, and you'll find statements indicating that the demographic that the new site is targeting is the age group 15-34. You'll also see AFA's political agenda tricked out in Facebook format, with discussion groups on all the usual right-wing wedge issues--abortion, gay folks and gay lives, prayer in schools, etc.--which try to convince young folks that it's all about love and not about hate.

But read between the lines and see if you agree . . . .

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us

Strange week last week. The right-to-lifers were out in full force, claiming to be marching for life, but appearing (to me, at least) to be marching primarily against President Obama, knowing full well that he would certainly reverse the Mexico City policy and its global gag rule at some point early in his presidency. And so lots of noise and lots of dire warnings from these anti-Obama marchers, noise and dire warnings picked up and amplified by editorialists across the land, who love to give center stage to right-wing Christians opposing progressive political platforms. These editorials demonstrate that the political and religious right have just been waiting for an opportunity to pounce, using the abortion issue against the new administration if they can do so effectively.

This year’s demonstration was clearly staged as a muscle-flexing event to warn the new president of what he should expect if he crosses the religious right, including its powerful Catholic contingent. The odious Bob Dornan spelled it out for us, lest we were in any doubt: addressing the new president (who did not attend the march) in front of marchers gathered in the nation’s capital, Dornan shouted, “. . . [W]e will defeat you and defeat the culture of death or we will perish as a nation!” (

Yes, that Bob Dornan—the defeated California Congressman who once called Russian journalist Vladimir Posner a "disloyal, betraying little Jew” ( Yes, the same Bob Dornan who enjoys taunting female opponents as “lesbian spear chuckers” (

Yes, yes, the Bob Dornan who claims to be leading a crusade to return the nation to strong moral foundations, but who once enjoined us not to use the word “gay” unless we mean “Got AIDS yet?” ( Bob Dornan the Catholic, one of the illustrious leaders of the illustrious American Catholic right-to-life movement . . . .

And in the same week, Pope Benedict XVI grabbed headlines by rehabilitating the excommunicated adherents of the St. Pius X Society (SSPX), followers of French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who reject the second Vatican Council. The news flurry around this event has focused (rightly, I think) on a particularly troubling aspect of this choice to fold the SSPX crowd back into the bosom of Rome: this is the record of SSPX bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier against whom German authorities are currently contemplating legal action, since denying the Holocaust is a crime in the present pope’s country of origin.

Williamson is on record as having stated that he believes the concentration camps of Nazi Germany contained no gas chambers, and that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was between 200,000 and 300,000, not 6 million, the commonly accepted figure. The good bishop has made incendiary statements about how Jews and Masons are united in a global conspiracy to attack the Catholic church. He opposes university education for women and pleads with women to return to “truly womanly” roles, which includes eschewing trousers and wearing only dresses and skirts. He calls on men to reassert their manliness, and mocks gay human beings in bitter lisping monologues (on Williamson's views, see and

See, for instance, the 8 Oct. 1997 letter in which Williamson responds to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ “Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children,” with its call for parents and Catholic parishes to love and understanding gay persons, with reminders that homosexuality cries to heaven for vengeance, and is a sin that elicits “violent repugnance” akin to the repugnance we feel for coprophagia. Imagining objections to his vile, hate-inducing rhetoric, Williamson responds with a mocking observation voiced in what he considers a stereotypical gay voice:

Oh, but Our Lord had chawity, (unlike thumwun we know who wath tho nathty to Pwintheth Di!). Our Lord loved thinnerth, and faggotth, and tho thould we!! So runs the objection! (

Yes, this is whom Benedict chooses to let back into the church even as he and his followers—chief among them, the leaders of the American Catholic pro-life movement—have willingly driven millions of Catholics inspired by Vatican II out of the fold. This professional hate-monger who questions the Holocaust, accuses Jews of conspiring to destroy the church and of being enemies of Christ, tells women to return to servitude, and mocks gay human beings and those who urge pastoral outreach to them: he has a place in the church. I and those like me do not, in this pope's view.

It is their church—Richard Williamson’s church, the church of a pro-life movement that has done all in its power to weed the church of those who call for continued dialogue about complex moral issues, of those for whom abortion is not the end-all and be-all of Christian existence. It is clearly not my church, nor the church of many other Catholics whose ecclesiology is rooted in Vatican II. And I have spent much of the past week and the weekend thinking about this and how that makes me feel.

Since my feelings about these matters run deep, and since—too typically!—I do not know how to say it briefly, I intend to post a series of interconnected reactions to the two events I’ve just discussed. I'm choosing this serial-posting approach in part because I want to acknowledge the valuable suggestions of Jennifer in her Progressive Mama blog. I appreciate very much the kind words Progressive Mama blog had to say about this blog yesterday, and I'm hoping to develop a posting style that doesn't tax readers with overly long postings, as I taken Jennifer's comments into consideration (

Friday, January 23, 2009

Targeting Youth with Anti-Gay Lies: Alliance Defense Fund, Exodus International, and the Day of Truth

Early in January, I blogged about how we can expect the religious right to bombard youth with anti-gay propaganda in the coming year, in an attempt to stem the demographic tide of young folks moving towards acceptance and affirmation of gay persons, and away from demonization and hate ( I said,

Look for the religious right to try desperately to represent itself as a kinder, gentler version of its old self, as it crafts new strategies of outreach to youth: campus visits, campus crusades, enhanced web technologies. And newly minted lies about gays and gay marriage . . . .

It's started. Yesterday, Daniel Gonzales reported at Box Turtle Bulletin that the homophobic Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes the annual national Day of Silence sponsored by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has turned over its annual Day of Truth, a counter to the Day of Silence, to Exodus International (

The Day of Silence is an attempt to make students at all levels aware of the damages we inflict when we taunt gay young people, call them demeaning names, and turn them into second-class citizens in our schools. Exodus International assaults gay persons with spurious claims about the abnormality and unhealthiness of a gay sexual orientation, and with false promises that one can change one's sexual orientation.

Exodus International lies, in short. We can now expect its lies about gay human beings and gay lives to be disseminated to school children through the Day of Truth.

And, as a reminder of the power these lies about gay lives and gay persons continue to exert even in institutions of higher learning, I'd like to note once again the response I received from the president of a church-owned university when I recommended GLSEN to colleagues in a project I was charged to lead. The project required me to help all the academic leaders of the university to enhance the engagement of students in service-learning.

One of my responsibilities in this project was to compile lists of groups with which students might want to work for progressive social change. When I mentioned GLSEN, among many other organizations that engage student passion for social change, I was reprimanded by the university president, who told me that the inclusion of GLSEN in the list was a way of putting my "lifestyle" in the face of colleagues.

We have long way to go.

Global Warming on the Micro-Scale: Japonicas in January

The English have long been not merely accomplished gardeners, but astute, careful observers of gardens as well, and of nature in general. Gilbert White kept such a meticulous garden journal for some years that, generations later, we can track with great precision when broad beans were planted in any given year, or when strawberries were ready to be picked.

I’ve often regretted that I have never had the foresight to record details of planting and budding and leafing out in the careful way that White, or his American successors Thoreau and Jefferson, thought to do. I have only my faulty memory on which to rely as I compare seasonal events from year to year.

As a result, I cannot be absolutely certain that trends I think I detect in my own tiny bit of ground are really there, and that I’m not imagining those trends. Even so, unless my memory is totally awry, I am convinced that I am seeing the effects of climate shift in my own garden, over my lifetime of more than a half-century.

In fact, I am certain that some of those shifts have occurred rather decisively in the past decade or so, and that they portend major shifts in our climate and the ecology dependent on the climate. This year, as in the last several years, jonquils began to spring up before the middle of January—something I am absolutely sure I never recall happening in my childhood. And, just as has been happening for several years now, the japonica began to bud before 15 January, and now has a few open blossoms on it.

These are flowers of early spring, not of winter, in our mid-South climate. In my childhood, they did usually appear before winter was quite over—often in the second half of February. Since central Arkansas used to have its fiercest snowstorms most often in that part of winter, too—when it used to snow at all, that is—people in this area often joked that we lived in the land of frozen daffodils. Just as the jonquils had bloomed, a big snow often fell: you could predict when we'd have snow when you spotted the jonquils.

Winter is—I’m sure of it—not what it used to be, here. The spells of balmy weather that encourage leaf and bud are more frequent and more protracted, interspersed with bitter cold snaps that nip anything that has begun to grow. Though some folks seem to think that the unusual cold of those cold periods disproves global warming, to my way of thinking, the extremes in temperature go hand in hand with the trend to warming. The climate is unsettled, and the swings from pole to pole are evidence of the unsettlement, not of any anti-warming trend. The tornadoes we've now had for some years not only in spring and fall, when the weather changes abruptly, but in winter itself, are evidence of the unsettlement.

Summers have been hotter and hotter here of late, it goes without saying, though it’s less easy for me to spot all the evidence for that in my piece of ground so clearly as I can see it in winter, when each leafing out is a dramatic event that provides striking evidence of nature's movement away from cold and dark. I do know with absolute assurance that plants I could not ever grow in this climate in seasons past—plants my grandmother longed to have in her garden, but which defeated her if she tried to grow them—now overwinter and thrive here.

These are plants we used to call semi-tropical, plants that grow in the gardens of the far Deep South—plants we went to New Orleans or Mobile to admire. About seven years ago, for instance, I put a small sweet-olive shrub into a sheltered bay on the south side of the house, hoping I could coax it along for at least a year or so, and have its heavenly aroma fragrance the air for a season or two.

The shrub has now grown to the size of a tree, taller than the lowest point of the roof on that side of the house, lording it over the fig tree downhill from it. Sweet olives in Little Rock? Unheard of, until recent years, especially when they grow so rank and prove so hale.

I’m having similar experiences with butterfly ginger and lantana, both of which were always grown here as annuals in the past. Now, they die back for winter and then spring forth again with warm weather, as good as new each year.

I remember driving through Georgia a year or so ago, when it was hot as blazes. The whole state was parched and brown in early summer. It was that summer that the lakes of the state began to dry up to such an extent that the water supply of Atlanta was threatened.

On that trip, I remember reading an op-ed piece in the Atlanta paper by some idiotic journalist who encouraged her fellow Georgians to welcome the warming trend, even if it was due to global warming. She spoke of all the wonderful new plants people could grow in north Georgia in recent years, of how she could sit on her deck late into the night even on spring days, enjoying a glass of iced tea. All compliments of a George W. Bush she deeply admired and had worked to put into office . . . .

I wondered whether, as the water supply of Atlanta dried up that year, she continued to hail global warming. I wondered if she was still enjoying that iced tea overlooking the lake with no water in it. I’m still wondering, as I watch my japonica begin blooming before February is even here, and as the maple in the front yard puts forth buds, and the jonquils send their green shoots through soil that should be at rest in the middle of winter.