Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Thank You to Readers

Dear Readers,

I've fallen a bit behind with postings today, but want to take a moment to thank all of you who posted birthday greetings on yesterday's thread. I'm very appreciative of all the comments, and glad to hear that yesterday's posting and the blog are useful to readers.

Reading the valuable comments on yesterday's posting reminds me that we have much work to do together, those of us interested in building a more humane world. And that insight keeps me blogging, with gratitude for readers who remind me of why I have undertaken this task of thinking and writing about spirituality, justice, hope, the churches, and the place of those pushed to the margins by the powerful of the world and, often, of the churches as well.

Update on Connecticut Story: Timothy Kane Arraigned for Anti-Gay Threats

An update on the story about Timothy J. Kane, a math teacher in a New Britain, Connecticut, middle school who was arrested after sending a threatening email to gay Connecticut legislators Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor on 10 March (here and here and here).

On 27 March, Kane was arraigned in Hartford Community Court (here). At the arraignment, police released an affidavit dated 11 March that contains the text of the email Kane sent to McDonald and Lawlor.

As my previous postings about this incident have noted, McDonald and Lawlor are openly gay, and found themselves under fire when Bridgeport Catholic Bishop William Lori and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput played the anti-gay card in a battle to turn back legislation that would have given lay parishioners oversight of the finances of Catholic parishes. Kane sent his email the night before a demonstration of 4,000 Catholics at the Connecticut state capitol in response to Lori’s encouragement of Catholics to protest the legislation.

According to the police affidavit (which is linked to a CT News Junkie article by Christine Stuart re: the arraignment here), Kane’s email states:

Hey McDonald and Lawlor, your bill has NO shot at passing tomorrow, and you’re cowards for canceling the public hearing. Gay marriage is a farce, as are your careers and your support of the twisted, despicable act that is homosexuality. The first amendment outlaws this bill, and if needed, the US Supreme court would overwhelmingly outlaw SB 1098. You better hope that myself and other Catholics don’t find out where you live cause there’s hell to pay for your attack on the Church. F--k off. God hates gay sex.

You better hope that myself and other Catholics don’t find out where you live cause there’s hell to pay for your attack on the Church: as Andrew McDonald has noted, Bishop Lori’s claim that McDonald and Lawlor were promoting the parish finance legislation as payback for the church’s opposition to gay marriage cannot be separated from the vile anti-gay rhetoric that spewed forth in many quarters after Bishop Lori made this claim. McDonald states: “[I]t [i.e., Bishop Lori’s charge] was dangerous, because it engendered deep feelings of hostility and stirred homophobic responses from many people that resulted in very serious threats” (here).

As I’ve also noted, this story has a curious twist: Timothy Kane’s father Joseph Kane is, it’s being reported, a Catholic deacon (see here). When this fact was made public, it was also reported that Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, indicated that Joseph Kane was a former deacon whom he had once known, but Culhane had no recollection of the parish in which Joseph Kane had served.

Attempts of reporters to locate the “former” deacon in the week of March 16 apparently led to dead ends. Yet, according to a reader of Bilgrimage, Joseph Kane is actually a practicing deacon rather than a former deacon. The reader tells me that Joseph Kane is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, at St. Peter’s parish in Provincetown.

And, when I check the website of that parish, I do, indeed, find a Deacon Joseph Kane listed there as the parish’s Permanent Deacon (here). His name is right below the pastor’s name.

As I’ve stated before, it seems very strange to me that Deacon Joseph Kane has somehow been misplaced by officials of the Bridgeport Catholic diocese. If it’s being correctly reported that Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, believes Deacon Joseph Kane to be a “former” deacon when Deacon Kane is actually serving a parish in a nearby diocese, then the story seems curioser and curioser.

Surely, when Catholic bishops use homophobic tactics in political battles, and when threats of violence ensue, and when one of those threats of violence can be tracked to the son of a Catholic deacon, it’s important to locate that deacon. Especially when he paid bond for his son when his son was arrested (here).

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Paul II and the Unfinished Eucharist of Oscar Romero: Questions for the Church in Our Day

It’s my birthday, and I may let my heart out today. I keep it so often in a box.

I’m sitting in Steve’s chair facing the south window of the sunroom. Outside, the redbud leaves, tiny green-yellow laminated hearts, have just begun to peep out, as the last blossoms of the redbud cling tenaciously to black branches now tipped with hearts. A few lissome canes of the Lady Banks rose have grown across from their east-facing trellis and dip through the redbuds, adding more yellow to accent the surprising mauve of the redbud blooms. As the southeast wind blows today, they bob up and down like game pieces in a carnival booth, daring you to hit the mark and claim the prize.

In my heart: Oscar Romero and García Lorca. My memory tells me Romero was martyred sometime around the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March.

But he’s in my heart these days because of a passage I read recently in David Yallop’s The Power and the Glory (NY: Carroll & Graf, 2007), a searing, damning analysis of the papal reign of John Paul II. Yallop notes that when Romero was martyred, an Italian doctor wrote Corriere della Sera and pointed out that John Paul II loved to travel. He then asked,

Why did this travelling Pope not immediately set out for San Salvador to pick up the chalice that had been dropped from Romero’s hands and continue the Mass which the murdered archbishop had begun? (p. 77)

That question will now not leave my mind or my heart. Why not, indeed?

I know the answer, of course. Leaders just don’t behave that way. They calculate. They do the prudent thing. They seize the main chance. They must represent the center.

And Romero was on the margins. And the people with whom he cast his lot, and whose fate he shared, were on the margins.

Just as Jesus lived.

Yallop writes, in fact, that John Paul II kept his distance from Romero, and humiliated the Salvadoran archbishop when Oscar Romero came to Rome desperate to see him, carrying a huge folder full of documentation about the atrocities the government was committing, with active U.S. complicity, against the poor in El Salvador.

John Paul had become convinced, Yallop thinks, by advisors in the Curia that Romero was a Communist agent. After Romero’s martyrdom, he even entertained the thought—following his advisors’ lead—that Romero had been killed by the left in an act of provocation designed to unsettle the government.

It’s my birthday, and I can let my heart out. My heart has never been quiet regarding Oscar Romero, his life, his fate, the church’s continued denigration of him even in death, my government's complicity in his death, which becomes my complicity because it is my government, using my tax dollars to wage war.

And it will not be quiet ever again, after I have read that deeply unsettling question of the Italian doctor following Romero’s martyrdom: why did John Paul II not immediately travel to El Salvador, pick up the chalice that fell from Romero’s hands when he was butchered at the altar, and finish that Mass?

Why do we have popes who exemplify the Christian message less than do bishops like Romero or lay saints like Dorothy Day and Franz Jägerstätter? Why do we have popes whose lives bring to mind Jesus and his life less than do the lives of Mychal Judge or Jean Donovan?

Why will John Paul II be canonized while the church refuses to canonize Oscar Romero?

Why do the people for whom Romero spoke and whose fate he shared count so little in the eyes of Benedict and the men who run the church, while the rich who run everything in the world and in the church count for everything?

I know the answer to these questions. But I cannot accept that answer. It’s my birthday. I have a right to let my heart out, and to follow what it says to me, no matter how insane, how foolish its advice.

And to remember García Lorca on my birthday, García Lorca who was silenced and placed beneath the earth by the same forces—though at a different moment of history—that tried to silence and bury Romero. But who, like Romero, sings beyond the grave, for those who care to listen.

And the wretched of the earth do listen. And will one day have a hearing, in a world in which God’s way of looking at things counts, finally.

On my birthday, I can choose to think this, no matter how impossible it is to believe. On my birthday, I can choose to follow the logic of my foolish heart, even when my hard head knows much, much better.

And I can offer as my birthday gift to anyone listening that painfully disturbing question of the Italian doctor, which needs to reverberate through the halls of every chancery and every episcopal palace and every Catholic school and office building in the world, until it receives an answer.

Why did John Paul II not pick up the chalice that dropped from Romero's hands and finish Romero's Mass? In the answer to that question lies the tragedy of the church in our time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cooking to Save the Planet: Cream of Asparagus Soup

I have asparagus on my mind this fine early spring evening—no doubt because, as I type this, I’m supping a cup of cream of asparagus soup. Asparagus is, for me, more than just a vegetable: it’s the quintessence of springtime, kitchenwise.

One of many memories I cherish from my grandmother’s garden is the asparagus that grew amidst the iris in a sunny bed against the east wall of her house. The iris themselves were a marvel, with the added attraction of being child-height, so that they were easy to reach for smelling or a closer inspection of their mysterious fringed depths, in which the predominant color of the flower freckled its way down a lighter, guarded interior. My grandmother (who called them flags) grew a variety of them I don’t see anymore: white, pink, maroon, purple, salmon, gold, yellow, and a beautiful, unusual beige.

Since asparagus like the same sandy, well-drained rich soil that flags prefer, the two grew together in profusion, without demanding much work on the part of those tending the garden. And the fern-like foliage of the mature asparagus, with its scarlet berries, gave interest to the flag bed once the iris had bloomed and returned to their boring usual state of stiff green spikes for the remainder of the summer. Crawling all through the feet of both plants was a profusion of mint, which perfumed the summer air as the rising sun fell on it each morning.

My first memories of eating asparagus are in that garden. My grandmother and my aunt Kat, my mother’s unmarried oldest sister who kept house for her mother and brother while teaching school, both showed me how to snap the fresh stalks off at ground level, wipe the dirt away from them, and then eat them then and there, as God made them, still warm with sun. And vital with a green force that asparagus, of all vegetables, seems to hold in most abundance.

I think that’s part of the attraction of this particular spring vegetable: its sudden emergence out of ground that has been frozen through the cold part of the year, its green vitality, epitomizes new life, new spring growth. There it is, all of sudden, where only a day or so before there was only dormant earth. Earth uplifted in green glory . . . .

This is why, I think, many cultures make something of a cult out of harvesting and eating asparagus in the springtime. I’ve blogged on my travel blog Never in Paradise about the delights of Spargelzeit, asparagus time, in Germany. When asparagus (the Germans prefer the thick white stalks one gets if one deprives the emerging asparagus of light) is in season, every restaurant you pass has chalked on its chalkboard a daily menu offering an assortment of asparagus dishes—asparagus in hollandaise sauce, asparagus wrapped in ham, asparagus with brown butter, breadcrumbs, and chopped boiled egg.

For people deprived of fresh vegetables and, in particular, of fresh green vegetables, during the bleak months of the year, asparagus must have seemed a veritable gift of the gods as spring arrived: delicately flavored but with a singular, unmistakable taste that is to many palates the essence of green, of spring’s new life, of the promise of summer abundance. Asparagus is more than a vegetable: it is spring itself, with its tonic, healing promise for those who have endured winter and whose bodies are starved for green.

And so I eat asparagus as often as possible in the spring. And as I do so, I refuse to fuss with a vegetable that needs few accompaniments to make it delicious, and whose distinctive taste is easily overwhelmed by sauces or additions. Lightly steamed and dressed with a bit of butter or olive oil, it is exquisite. A twist of lemon juice doesn’t hurt, a grating of fresh black pepper, perhaps a light dusting of grated parmesan. But nothing more, unless you happen to have some of the steamed asparagus left over, and want to serve it as a second meal in a light, mustardy vinaigrette sauce with chopped boiled egg on top.

What I’m working my way around to, however, are not recommendations for cooking and eating the asparagus stalk itself, but for a way of using and enjoying the woody ends of the stalks that one discards as one prepares the asparagus for steaming. It is those woody ends that have become our evening supper of cream of asparagus soup. (And this works best when you have several bunches of asparagus to cook, so that you have ends in abundance with which to work.)

When I snap these off as I prepare asparagus, I don’t discard them. In fact, they go into the same water I use to steam the asparagus. After I remove the asparagus from the steamer, I add a bit more water along with a bit of this or that, to steam along with the asparagus and form the basis of what eventually becomes the cream of asparagus soup.

I almost always have a half of an onion in the vegetable bin of the icebox. That usually goes into the soup pot with the asparagus ends. If I don’t have an onion cut, I may cut a fresh one and add a slice or two to the asparagus, or I may add the greens of spring onions whose bulbs I’ve used in a salad or a stew.

I use parsley daily, in almost any dish I cook, so I often have a handful of parsley sprigs saved after I’ve removed and chopped the leaves to add to various dishes. Those, too, go into the asparagus, as they do into just about any cream of vegetable soup I cook.

I avoid anything with stronger flavor, since I want the asparagus to stand out in the final product, the creamed soup. Onion points up the flavor of asparagus without overwhelming it. Bell pepper or celery would not have the same effect.

And that’s it. After the vegetables are tender, I puree them and press them through a conical sieve—a so-called “China cap”—made for juicing fruits as one turns them into jam. Into the puree, I then mix about an equal portion of whole milk, along with a knob of butter into which I’ve cut several tablespoons of flour. Salt, pepper, perhaps the merest whisper of grated nutmeg—enough to warm the flavor of the soup without competing with the taste of the asparagus—and that’s it. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and serve.

A meal made from bits of vegetables that might otherwise be discarded—with thin sliced sourdough bread generously buttered and topped with grated parmesan, then browned under the broiler, a meal fit for the gods. And one that contributes to saving the planet.

John McNeill's Prophetic Gay Theology: Sex As God Intended (2)

One of John McNeill’s most significant contributions to Christian theology is his carefully worked-out insistence that gay and lesbian human beings fit into God’s plan for the world. McNeill not merely asserts this: he demonstrates why it is the case, and he does so using unimpeachably traditional building blocks of Christian theology to make his case.

McNeill situates the lives of gay persons—he situates our existence in the world, an existence willed by the Creator—within the longstanding Christian tradition that through Christ, God has caught the entire cosmos up into a grand drama of divine salvation, in which all that has been created has a role to play in moving the created world to liberation. Echoing the Pauline insistence that the whole universe groans for salvation, and the declaration of patristic thinkers such as Irenaeus that the Spirit moves within all creation to make it (including human beings) fully alive, John McNeill asks what particular gifts gay and lesbian persons bring to the human community, to assist it in its movement to full life.

To ask this is also to ask precisely what it is that makes the human community fully alive. To ask about the particular gifts that gay and lesbian persons offer the human community is to ask about the eschatological goal towards which we move, as a human community. What is it to be liberated, to be saved? What does this mean, concretely? From what exactly do we seek salvation?

John McNeill’s thought is incisive on this point. In his view, the Western mind (and the mind of the human community in general) has, throughout history, been involved in a constant dialectic interplay between the masculine and the feminine (p. 100). McNeill notes that great religious founders including Jesus and Ignatius of Loyola were, in cultures and historic periods heavily dominated by a masculine mind, “extraordinarily open to the feminine” (ibid.). He attributes the fruitfulness of such religious founders’ vision to their ability to draw on the creative energies of the feminine in cultures and periods resistant to the feminine.

In McNeill’s view, the human community is currently undergoing deep crisis as it attempts to move beyond the crippling strictures of a masculine mindset imbued with heterosexism and driven by feminophobia (pp. 98, 114). McNeill sees inbuilt in modernity itself “an essentially masculine crisis” (p. 105). The modern period joined the fate of the human race—and of the world itself—to men’s domination of women, to the subjugation of the feminine to the masculine, to the denigration of gay and lesbian human beings by heterosexual ones. In doing so, it has brought the human community (and the world itself) to a perilous point, at which we face the annihilation of everything by nuclear war and unbridled ecological destruction (p. 105).

The salvation of the world depends, then, on the ability of the human race to move beyond the intransigent, stubborn defense of masculine domination of everything, in our current postmodern moment. Unfortunately, at this point of peril, the churches, including the Roman Catholic church, have chosen to make the defense of masculine domination of everything so central to their definition of what it means to be a believer in the world today, that many churches view the attempt to correct the exclusively masculine worldview we have inherited as apocalyptic: to question the right of males to dominate is to court the destruction of the world (p. 110). Churches are impeding a necessary movement forward by the human community, by clinging to outmoded, unjust patriarchal ideas and structures, at a point in which those ideas and structures are revealed as increasingly toxic wherever they prevail.

What do gays and lesbians, who are increasingly the human fallout of the churches’ adamantine resistance to the feminine, have to offer in this dialectical struggle for the future of the world? In McNeill’s view, gays and lesbians have a providential opportunity to “model the ideal goal of humanity’s present evolution,” by demonstrating what it might mean to live with a balance of masculine and feminine principles inside oneself and in the culture at large (p. 115). Gays and lesbians can offer, simply by living their lives with unapologetic integrity, an example of “balanced synthesis” that a culture heavily dominated by fear of the feminine and unjust power of the masculine sorely needs, if it is to remain a viable culture.

John McNeill follows his sketch of the dialectic evolutionary process through which humanity is now moving—or, rather, has to move, if it hopes to overcome forces with the perilous ability to destroy the entire world—with a reminder of the special gifts that gay and lesbian persons bring to church and society. This Jungian-oriented analysis of the contributions of gays and lesbians to humanity is one that runs through everything McNeill has written. It sustains his thought, and is one of his most valuable contributions to Christian theology.

Following Jung, McNeill notes that gays and lesbians bring these gifts to the human community and the churches:

1. Deep bonds of love, which bear an often unacknowledged fruit in many social institutions that transcend the gay community itself;
2. A sensitivity to beauty;
3. Supreme gifts of compassionate service evident in the contributions of gay and lesbian teachers, ministers, medical workers and healers, workers in the fields of human service that serve the blind, those with mental and physical challenges, and so on, and many other service-oriented fields;
4. An interest in and commitment to preserving the best of traditions, aspects of tradition that remain viable and are often overlooked by mainstream culture;
5. And the gift of spiritual leadership.

One cannot read John McNeill’s work and not conclude that the church’s decision at this moment of its history to reject—even to seek to destroy—such gifts is tragically short-sighted. One cannot read John McNeill’s work and struggle, as an unapologetic gay person, to live in some connection to the church without feeling the tremendous weight of the tragedy that the churches are choosing to write today for themselves, the human community, and the earth itself by repudiating and undermining the gifts of gay and lesbian persons to the churches and the human community.

The unfinished question with which John McNeill’s theology leaves me, as a gay believer, is the question of what to do about that tragedy. For anyone who is unabashedly gay and who continues to believe that it is important to connect to the churches—for anyone who sees her or his sexual orientation as a gift of the same God whom the churches worship—the tragedy the churches are manufacturing by their cruel rejection of gay and lesbian believers produces existential, vocational crisis today.

How to live with any connection to an institution capable of such anti-Christian malevolence, an institution that not only has the capability to twist the souls of gay human beings, but which all too often gleefully does precisely that—assaults the very personhood of gay human beings in the name of a God who is Love? How to live with any connection to an institution that practices and foments violence against oneself and others like oneself, while preaching a commitment to peace and love? What to do about an institution that both transmits rich spiritual resources of which one wishes to avail oneself, and that functions as a toxin in one's life and history? How to forgive an institution which tells one that it is the way to salvation, and at the same time closes that way to any gay person who refuses to curse God for the gift of his or her nature?

I don’t know the answer to these questions—not fully. I am struggling to write this blog because I am pursuing that answer in my own life, and in my life as it is lived in solidarity with others who share this struggle. As a Catholic layperson, I sense that I sometimes have to look for answers in a different place than the place in which John McNeill (or James Alison, whose theology I also admire and find extremely helpful) finds them, as a former cleric. My experience of the church has been different, and the language I speak out of that experience is different.

This I can say: John McNeill’s prophetic theology opens up for me and for others a way that would never have been opened to us, had he not written books such as Sex As God Intended. For what he has accomplished, and for who he is, John McNeill deserves high honor and gratitude—and not only from the gay community. From the entire church.

Friday, March 27, 2009

John McNeill's Prophetic Gay Theology: Sex As God Intended

I’ve noted several times recently that I have just finished reading John McNeill’s latest book, Sex As God Intended (Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2008). In what follows, I’d like to offer some reflections on a book that, in my view, will richly reward anyone who reads it. Because I have much to say about John McNeill's book and his significance as a pioneer of gay theology, I will write this review in stages. Part one consists of a personal testimony to the power of John McNeill's theology, as a prelude to my discussion of his latest book.

Sex As God Intended gathers a lifetime of prophetic thought by therapist-theologian John McNeill about the vocation of gay persons in church and society. At a point at which a theological discourse by and about the gay experience was almost non-existent in Christian churches, John McNeill crafted such a discourse—in part, out of his own joyous, painful experience as a gay believer, in part, out of his experience working with other gay believers as a therapist. In doing so, he opened a path for many of us who continue to think it important to try to hold our gay experience together with our experience of faith.

I well remember my first encounter with John McNeill’s work. I read his pioneering statement The Church and the Homosexual as a young theologian just finishing graduate school and beginning a teaching career in church-related universities. Though I had lived in a committed gay relationship throughout my years of graduate study—one that reached back, in fact, to my last years of undergraduate study—neither Steve nor I was ready to make any public statement about our identity, as we launched into our vocational lives as theologians.

We were not ready to make such a statement because we had not made it to ourselves, despite our longstanding relationship (and what I knew to be the truth inside myself, though I would not own that truth). We saw no way to do so. There was no path—quite simply, quite starkly—for theologians like us, in the churches. There was no place for us in the churches, period. The only way was the way of denial, a denial of oneself that clove one’s being into painful shards, in which the ground and source of one’s creative and intellectual life—a life shared in love—could not be spoken, examined, claimed as the entry point for an entire vocational life in the church.

Living split hurts. It damages. It produces turmoil that runs through one’s whole life. From the outset of my career as a theologian-scholar, I experienced crippling panic in public settings, which I can now identify as one of the prices I paid for believing that I could cleave my life into public and private domains, and keep my private life separate—and closeted—from my life as a teacher in a Catholic university. It was only when this performance anxiety became so debilitating that I could barely face being in the classroom, that I began to face honestly the cause of my panic—and who I was. And the meaning of my life and my vocation.

During several years of hard struggle with the question of coming out, first to myself, then to friends and family, and then publicly, I contacted John McNeill. His book The Church and the Homosexual had pointed a way to me. This was the way of self-acceptance. I wanted to believe in that way. I wanted to believe in his deep spiritual insight that we who are gay are created as we are for a reason, that we have a place in God’s salvific plan.

But believing in that way and seeing it open before one are not the same thing. There was (and there remains, in my life) the problem of living what one knows to be true in one’s heart of hearts—living one’s vocation as a gay believer, and, in my case, a gay theologian—and existing within churches that refuse to validate the graced insights of gay believers. That refuse to accept gay believers, at all. That open no doors for openly gay believers working in church institutions.

I wrote John McNeill in crisis, then. And he responded graciously, as a priest (although one who had been removed from ministry due to his open admission of his sexual orientation) and a therapist. He assured me of my place, of God’s calling that ran through my life. His words opened that place for me, first and foremost inside myself, even as the church itself slammed door after door in my face and Steve’s.

It was important to hear those words in my coming-out period, as I struggled with both personal and vocational questions, with the impossibility of being true to myself and my vocation and securing a job of any kind in a church-related university. Those words gave me life—literally—as I struggled to deal with the many and forceful (if ultimately empty) claims that bogus therapeutic and salvific organizations make on the lives of gay Christians, with an astonishing sense of entitlement as they single us out among all other sinners to whom they might direct their ministry.

I did, briefly and painfully, flirt with the thought of the "ex-gay" option. I contacted one of the leading ex-gay organizations, asked for help. When I read the literature the group sent me and began a correspondence with a counselor the group assigned me, I realized that I was repulsed not merely by the group's theologically and scientifically fraudulent claims: I was repulsed most of all by its assurance that, not even knowing me, it had the right to reach into my life and the lives of others and dictate. To tell us what God wanted for our lives, without even knowing us.

When I told the group I did not want to pursue its oh-so-tenderly-offered therapy, I saw the mask fall away. I received threatening letters informing me I was and would forever be damned, that I must contact the savior group immediately or risk all kinds of divine punishment, that the group would appear on my doorstep and make a fuss if I did not accede to its demands.

All the while, I was also seeking to avail myself of the ministerial offerings of my own Catholic church. I was going to confession at the drop of a hat and hearing . . . unbelievable . . . counsel and theological balderdash from priests, some of whom I knew, some of whom had taught me as Jesuit professors at Loyola University in New Orleans.

One former professor did all he could to peer through the screen of the confessional as I confessed. He warned me that, if I did not leave behind my sinful ways, I would one day step out of the church following confession, be hit by a bus, and go straight to hell. And then where would I be?

Another confessor hissed in a loud voice that my sins—committed, as I always scrupulously informed each confessor, with the same person with whom I had then lived in a longstanding relationship for over a decade—were the sins that brought God’s wrath down on the world. Another soberly told me my only choice, if I wanted salvation, was to go home, lock the door to my partner in sin, and never open it to him again.

The best pastoral advice I was offered by confessors at this anguished point in my life—the best, shockingly—was to understand that God had given me a unique cross to bear, and that if I bore it faithfully, returning to confession each time I fell, I would assist both my salvation and that of many others. The Jesuit who offered that advice encouraged me to come only to him as a confessor, not to any of his confreres. The others, he said, did not fully understand this gift I had been given.

Eventually, all this began to seem, well, simply silly. After years of theological education, how could I return my psyche and my intellect to the infantile (and exceedingly dim) state that such confessional advice, and the maleficent solicitude of the ex-gay saviors, required me to adopt? I did want salvation: who doesn't? But at such a price?

Eventually, some center of sanity and health deep inside my battered psyche was able to hear John McNeill’s words through the loud, destructive cries of many followers of Christ to me and other gay brothers and sisters at this point in history, and I was able to claim my identity. And my vocation, though that vocation remains mysterious to Steve and me within the framework of churches and church-related schools that have no place for us, and that attack us and use us as symbols of evil to deflect attention from the shortcomings of the churches themselves and of their leaders.

I apologize to readers (and to John McNeill) for this lengthy prologue to my review of his book. It is a story I feel compelled to tell, though, because it illustrates what a powerful, invaluable service John McNeill has done to gay Christians of our time, in providing a way for us to come to self-acceptance within the structures of a church that wants anything but self-acceptance for us. It is a story that creates a frame for a discussion of ideas that have life-and-death significance for many of us, as we struggle to live our vocation as gay believers in churches that are generally hostile and anti-Christian to us.

Follow-Up: Benedict on Condoms, Dreher on Authority

I wrote recently, “People of good will around the world find this position [i.e., Pope Benedict’s statement that condoms make the AIDS crisis worse] incomprehensible and even malevolent" (here) (see also here) (and here).

And now the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet has published an editorial on Benedict’s statement (here), which sums it up as follows:

When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on the issue.

To repeat my point: despite what many American Catholics of the center appear to believe, people of good will around the world find Benedict’s position on condoms and AIDS incomprehensible and malevolent. And with good reason.

A pastoral leader of a Christian church has no business distorting scientific fact to uphold dogma, when human lives are at stake.

And I also blogged recently, re: the patriarchal underpinnings of Rod Dreher’s neocon ideology with its heavy emphasis on “authority,

What does not seem to occur to these neoconservative thinkers is that not everyone may be so ravenous for authority—for male authority, for paternal authority—as they are. Or that not everyone in the world and in the churches may think that everything hinges on authority—and male authority in particular. And that not everyone shares their analysis of a world hurtling to destruction through its denial of authority and tradition and its thirst for information (here) (H/T to Andrew Sullivan here) ( and also here).

And now, in a recent New Republic posting entitled “The Gay Fixation of Rod Dreher,” Damon Linker has the following to say about Dreher and authority (here):

. . . Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he's perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he's modern -- that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey -- because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.

But why? Does Rod have any non-question-begging answer to this question? An answer that doesn't just amount to saying, "because the church says so"? That would be the answer of someone who really lives and thinks in (pre-modern) obedience to church authority. But we've already determined that this doesn't apply to Rod. So what's the answer? Why are the orthodox churches right to condemn homosexuality? Or in Rod's own words, what, precisely, does he "know to be true" about homosexuality? And, perhaps more importantly, how does he know it?

It is illogical and inconsistent to argue for authority as the basis for moral custom only when it is expedient to play the authority card. It also dangerous to argue in this way, particularly when one seeks to make one’s own subjective judgment of what is and is not authoritative binding on everyone else—in the absence of sound argumentation to convince those being bound that they ought to be bound.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Readers Write: The Politicization of American Catholicism

I'm slow to blog today for a variety of reasons. Steve had some minor surgery yesterday, and I am in nursing mode, though, as always, even when he's under the weather, he's trying to tend to my needs. Maybe with reason: I'm the world's worst nurse, and by hopping up and down and running to the kitchen for cups of coffee for me, he's avoiding having me experiment on him with my nostrums and potions.

I'm also, frankly, downhearted. The news in the American Catholic church is just so . . . bleak. There's the attempt to punish Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to be its commencement speaker in May, about which I have blogged.

And then there's the bullying of Randall Terry and Archbishop Raymond Burke, about which much is now being written. A good synopsis of the latest on that story, with links to good postings by Michael Sean Winters at America, is on the Whispers in the Loggia blog today (here) in a posting entitled "Burkxploitation?"

I've posted on Randall Terry and his . . . interesting . . . past before (here and here).

And I've blogged about Burke frequently--see, e.g., here. Burke is, of course, yet another of the bishops on the Episcopal Advisory Board of the Cardinal Newman Society--the same Cardinal Newman Society trying to create grief for President Obama by attacking Notre Dame. He is in the country now to pontificate at the upcoming National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which is yet another of those events/groups founded during the period of neocon dominance to provide a religious gloss to Republican political goals.

As Catholics United for the Common Good noted last year (here),

The National "Catholic" Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by an independent 501(c)(3) of the same name comprised of five Republican political operatives. These partisan activists use the event to foster the false notion that the Catholic Church supports the policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party.

As Catholics United for the Common Good also points out, the "Catholic" topics highlighted at this annual event, which welcomes Republican leaders with open arms while turning its back on Democratic ones, contain glaring lacunae. While the prayer breakfast treats participants to a smorgasbord of selections about abortion and same-sex marriage, its agenda somehow fails to examine the war in Iraq, comprehensive immigration reform, poverty, and health care, which, as Catholics United for the Common Good notes, are "all critical issues to the Catholic Church."

Go the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast's website, and look at its announcement regarding this year's event, and you'll see three iconic faces looking out at you: Archbishop Raymond Burke, Antonin Scalia, and George W. Bush. Yes, this year's program features the face of George W. Bush . . . !

Which brings me to the points two good readers made in comments about my last posting yesterday, re: strategies to support Notre Dame (here). Phillip and Colkoch both note that the American Catholic church has been politicized in recent years, to an extent unheard of in its previous history--in particular, to an extent unheard of in the 20th century prior to the period of neoconservative dominance.

And I agree. This is also a point that lifelong Republican and former Ambassador to the Vatican Patrick Thomas Melady makes in an article in National Catholic Reporter today (here). Melady has served in three Republican federal administrations.

He notes that in the past 20 years, the Eucharist has been politicized in American Catholicism in a way that was unthinkable in previous generations. And this is precisely the goal of Randall Terry's crusade right now: he wants the Vatican to pressure American bishops who are not denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, and even remove them from office.

And he has solicited the support of Archbishop Burke, though Burke now professes shock that what he took to be a video of himself giving private entre nous aid and comfort to pro-life activists is now being used as a public weapon by Randall Terry in a crusade to slam bishops who won't use the Eucharist as a political weapon.

Melady states drily, "I fear that the situation is getting out of control." And I would say drily back, "Indeed."

What particularly disturbs him is that Catholics (including some bishops) bitterly opposed to Mr. Obama prior to the election are now unwilling to engage the new administration in any positive way, but are intent only on attacking and destroying--on pursuing a scorched-earth policy. In the name of Christ, they say. He states,

Many had hoped that once the presidential elections took place, Republicans, especially Catholic Republicans, would practice engagement with the Obama administration and those on the other side of the political aisle — that we would present our ideas without the rabid emotionalism that serves only to question the integrity of our opponents. Our role, in the best traditions of a pluralistic democracy, would be that of the loyal opposition.

I agree with Melady, both that the Eucharist should not be used as a political weapon, and that the current situation of scorched-earth politics by some American Catholics is deplorable. I'm surprised, however, that Dr. Melady is only now recognizing that things are getting out of hand.

They've been out of hand. Those now on the attack have been on the attack for some time now. Their agenda is theocratic, and they will not stop until they see that agenda fulfilled--even if its fulfillment requires coercing a majority of Americans and of brother and sister Catholics who do not agree with the agenda.

And that theocratic agenda has made significant inroads in American Catholicism because the American Catholic bishops have, as a body--with a few notable exceptions--willingly permitted theocratic extremists to capture the center of the American church. Their theocratic agenda is a mishmash of ill-considered Catholic theology and American evangelicalism. The bishops know this. They know that many of those promoting a right-wing theocratic agenda are badly educated Catholics. They also know that traditional Catholic values are incompatible with many of the values of right-wing evangelicalism.

And yet they have allowed this mentality to grow, to represent itself as authentic Catholicism, as the only possible Catholicism, and have done next to nothing to correct itself. They have allowed the American Catholic church to become captive to political operatives who promote goals that are antithetical to Catholic values.

They have blessed Bush and Cheney, Gingrich and Erik Prince, while repudiating Obama and Biden, Sebelius and Pelosi. At the same time in which the bishops have deliberately dumbed down their flock, they have also shoved away large numbers of faithful Catholics whose consciences cannot permit us to idolize the Bushes and Cheneys of the world--and their torture, their unjust wars, their callous repudiation of the poor, their shocking lack of concern for the environment.

In the period of neoconservative dominance, a period that Nicholas Cafardi was correct during the election to compare to the Babylonian captivitity of the people of God (here), the leaders of American Catholicism have given spectacularly bad pastoral leadership to their flock. What we are seeing now are the results.

And we are only seeing the beginning. Martino's attack on Biden, the Cardinal Newman Society's attack on Notre Dame, Randall Terry's and Raymond Burke's attack on bishops who give Communion to pro-choice political leaders: these are just the first shots in a bitter war that theocratic right-wing Catholics who are more Republican than Catholic intend to wage against the new administration.

And they do not care who is hurt in this war. Why should they, if they haven't cared about the millions of Catholics who have been hurt up to now, as they seek to impose their theocratic imagination on an entire nation?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More on Strategies to Support Notre Dame Against Assault of Right-Wing Bullies

I apologize for trying readers' patience with yet another posting today.

But, since a posting by Tom Mattzie on Huffington Post today dovetails with mine earlier today calling for readers to support Notre Dame against its assault by Cardinal Newman Society and other right-wing pressure groups trying to undermine President Obama (here), I want to link to that post now (here).

Tom Mattzie makes several points I made in my posting earlier today:

1. This is a right-wing political attack masquerading as a Catholic theological one: "This is an effort by a small cabal of ultra-conservative partisans to separate Catholicism from its calling for social and economic justice and peace. A Republican operative who has simultaneous roles at other Right-Wing groups founded the group attacking Notre Dame."

2. A minority of right-wing Catholic political operatives continue to try to represent themselves as "the" voice of American Catholicism, though a majority of American Catholics reject this right-wing political agenda: "These Obama and Notre Dame critics are not speaking for a serious number of the tens of millions of American Catholics who voted for Barack Obama--nor even probably most of those who voted for John McCain."

3. We need to rally behind Notre Dame because the right-wing groups spearheading such efforts are loud, well-organized, and well-funded. Mattzie notes that the right-wing Catholics involved in this effort have now gotten right-wing evangelicals involved: "They have a tremendous organizing capacity that is matched on the other side only by secular groups who won't instinctively weigh into a debate like this."

As a practicing Catholic, Tom Mattzie concludes, "They should be dismissed for what they are--a radical ultra-conservative cabal driving a political agenda through Catholicism."

And he calls for action. His posting includes the following address for Notre Dame's president:


Rev. John Jenkins,
CSC400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556
(574) 631-8261

On Gay Affluence: Sociological Data Explode Myth

Also in the news this week is a report recently released by the Williams Institute of the University of California School of Law (here). Entitled “Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community,” this report by Randy Albelda, M.V. Lee Badgett, Gary Gates, and Alyssa Schneebaum explodes the myth of gay affluence.

Using data from the 2000 census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, and the California Health Interview Surveys from 2003-2005, these researchers find that gay and lesbian couples and their families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple and their families.

Lesbian couples and families headed by lesbian couples, in particular, are much more likely to be poor than heterosexual couples and their families. African Americans in same-sex couples also have poverty rates significantly higher than those of African Americans in heterosexual marriages. Same-sex couples in rural areas have poverty rates twice as high as those for same-sex couples in large metropolitan areas. And children in gay and lesbian couple households have poverty rates twice those of children in households headed by heterosexual married couples.

The report notes that employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage and all the rights and privileges of that institution, and a greater likelihood of being uninsured add to the poverty experienced by LGBT people.

I am not at all surprised by these findings. As I have noted frequently on this blog, stereotypes about rich, white gay men disguise the rich, complex social reality of gay persons on America. Those stereotypes ignore lesbians, who are—and I have noted this, too, on Bilgrimage—far more likely to experience economic struggle than are gay men.

They also ignore the reality of many gay men who are far from affluent and/or who live in areas of the country in which discrimination makes it far more difficult to survive and make one’s way economically than is the case for gay men in major urban centers. We are a diverse community. We are not the monolithic group of privileged white men that some of our critics depict us to be.

As someone living in a long-term committed relationship whose employment life has been constantly disrupted due to discrimination against which we have not had legal protection, I know first-hand the struggle to make ends meet when one is out of work and cannot find a job. I know what it has been like to be paid far less than heterosexual married men for jobs for which I had the same credentials, and at which I worked harder than those colleagues. I know what it is like to be told by a supervisor in a college that I should not expect to make as much as those heterosexual married men, because I am not married.

I also know what it is to be without health insurance. I have been without either a salary or any health insurance for two years now, due to my last experience of discrimination. In Steve’s and my case, the fact that these humiliations and assaults on our human dignity and our ability to carry on economically have come from church-related schools has been deeply painful.

After many years of hard work at those schools, for which we rarely received anywhere near the salary we deserved—the salary offered to our straight married peers, who have never been subject to the scrutiny or discrimination with which we struggled—we now look towards retirement with meager savings that are quickly dwindling, because our current income does not cover all of our expenses, due to my unemployment. And we have assumed a financial commitment we assumed only because our last employer promised is jobs up to retirement, and then broke that promise and fired me.

I do not say this to complain. Our lives could be far worse. There are many who struggle far more than we do. We have many gifts in our lives, and we celebrate those and are grateful for them.

I do say it, though, to emphasize the need for those who have bought into that rich-white-gay-men myth to begin questioning their assumptions. It is important to look at the social reality such a myth covers over, and to stop repeating myths that disguise the pernicious effects of discrimination and legitimate discrimination.

As I have noted in previous postings, I am particularly perturbed when gay and lesbian members of the African-American community buy into this myth and use it as the basis for making invidious comparisons between “rich, white gay men” and African Americans (here). Just as stereotypes about the diverse, rich social reality of African Americans and African-American culture betray and disguise that reality, stereotypes about “all” gay people betray and disguise the strong diversity of gay life and gay human beings.

When African-American lesbians and gays buy into the myth of the rich, white gay man and use that myth to assault the solidarity that all gay people have a reason to build together, they play into the hands of those who oppose both gay rights and the rights of African Americans, even though they may profess to be racially sensitive while it serves their interest to divide two oppressed groups. It is just as unacceptable, and as dangerous, for gay and lesbian people of color to stereotype “all” white gays and lesbians, as it is for gay folks to stereotype all African Americans, or for white folks to stereotype all people of color.

If this study of poverty in households headed by gay couples serves to contextualize and lend sociological substance to discussions of “the” gay experience in America, it will have performed a valuable service. And if it serves to challenge the gay community, both black and white, to move beyond enervating battles based on discriminatory stereotypes, it will have made a valuable contribution to gay solidarity in the U.S.

Gainesville, Florida, Rejects Amendment to Permit Discrimination Against Gays

And speaking of laws that protect folks against discrimination due to sexual orientation, check out Jim Burroway’s “It’s Not Okay to Fire Folks Just for Being Gay” at Box Turtle Bulletin today (here).

Burroway is commenting on the decision of voters in Gainesville, Florida, yesterday to reject an amendment to the Gainesville city charter that would have legalized firing gay people or denying housing to gay people. The amendment went down in defeat by a resounding 58% to 42%.

The mysterious group pushing this anti-gay initiative, Citizens for Good Public Policy, has put a statement on its website conceding defeat and decrying the “out-of-town money and influence” that allegedly caused Gainesville voters to reject homophobic discrimination (here).

Which is curious—the claim that Citizens for Good Public Policy was somehow subverted by out-of-town money and influence, I mean. Given that last May, the Thomas More Law Center announced it was providing pro bono legal assistance to Citizens for Good Public Policy (here). The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Unless maps have changed since I last studied geography, Ann Arbor is a long way from Gainesville. It’s about as “out of town” as you can get, if you live in Gainesville, FL. The Thomas More Law Center founded by Tom Monaghan (here and here), with thick ties to right-wing Catholics and right-wing political activists around the nation . . .

With supporters like that, you’d think Citizens for Good Public Policy might think twice before playing the out-of-town influence card. But as long as we’re going to bring that card to the table, I would be very interested in seeing a list of donors to Citizens for Good Public Policy—that is, if the state of Florida would begin to honor its current governor’s call to let the sun shine in when initiatives like this come before the public from mysterious groups whose origin and funding is not ever quite made public.

Sea-Change in Approach to Anti-Gay Bullying: New Education Secretary Meets with GLSEN

As my set of interests in the profile section of this blog indicates, I have a strong concern to stop bullying of LGBT youth in schools. I’ve blogged repeatedly about that concern. I’ve also noted how, when as an academic administrator in a university, I was given an assignment of leading faculty in a project to encourage the civic engagement of students, I was punished for recommending GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) as one resource among many that faculty might study as they guided students in civic engagement projects (here).

I was told that mentioning this organization as one among many others from which faculty and students might learn as they dealt with community problems was “putting my lifestyle in the face” of the campus community. This took place in a Methodist university that proclaims to be concerned about healing social wounds and challenging social divisions, in line with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. When I told my supervisor, in response to her statement about my “lifestyle,” that I have a life and not a lifestyle, I incurred even more serious punishment.

This is a school whose Education Department is required by its accrediting body to teach prospective teachers to combat anti-gay discrimination, and to model respect for diversity in its own faculty. It also happens to be a school that has no written public policy forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Because of my interest in combating bullying of gay students in schools, and because of my own history with this topic, I am very happy to read that the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard earlier this week (here). Byard was accompanied by students and teachers interested in stopping bullying of LGBT youth in schools.

This was an historic meeting. It is the first time a Secretary of Education has met with LGBT advocates. The Bush administration rejected calls for such meetings.

Eliza Byard reports that Secretary Duncan listened compassionately to the testimony of students who have been bullied due to their sexual orientation, and committed himself to making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation. He also expressed interest in finding ways to combat anti-gay bullying, and requested information about interventions that have been tried by GLSEN and other groups.

For those interested in hearing recent first-hand testimony by a high-school student who has experienced bullying in school due to his sexual orientation, I recommend the testimony of 17-year old James Neilly of Charlotte, Vermont (here), at the Vermont Senate hearing last week as that body deliberated on a same-sex marriage bill (it passed the Senate by a vote of 26-4). Neilly speaks about how locker-room bullying due to his sexual orientation evoked a “ripping, nagging feeling that I am inferior.”

No young person should be made to feel that way in our schools. It continues to appall me that any university owned by a church which professes to decry prejudice against gay human beings lacks policies forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and punishes academic leaders who encourage faculty to consider organizations devoted to ending bullying of gay students, among other organizations promoting constructive social change, as faculty study civic engagement project for students.

A Reader Writes: Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities? More on Supporting Notre Dame

A good reader responded to my posting yesterday about Cardinal Newman Society’s attempt to bully Notre Dame University for inviting President Obama as its commencement speaker. She asked what those who support academic freedom in Catholic universities can do to make their voices heard.

I replied with a set of top-of-the-head suggestions. I said that those concerned about the Notre Dame situation, in particular, might send letters to any publications discussing the issue (in fact, on Google’s news page this morning, the Notre Dame story was one of the top stories of the day).

I also suggested letters to the local bishop and the university president, both of whom are being bombarded by letters and emails from the Cardinal Newman Society and other right-wing Catholic pressure groups who are using this situation to try to mount Catholic opposition to President Obama. That is what this is all about, after all: the attempt of some Catholics to subvert the new president, for reasons that are political, though these are decked out in moral rhetoric.

Since I offered that suggestion to my reader, I see that Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has announced he will boycott the Notre Dame commencement exercises in protest of the president’s appearance. I am not surprised. Nor am I even disappointed. I have come to expect far too little from the bishops, by way of courageous pastoral leadership. Nothing most bishops can do these days really surprises me. When I think I've seen the lowest possible point to which a bishop might go, I remind myself that sometime down the road, another bishop will show me that there was a lower point than I had imagined.

(Note: bishops may well have an obligation to speak out about the ethic of respect for life. But they also have an obligation to speak out about all the ways in which political leaders contravene that ethic. It is a double standard, and a particularly reprehensible one, when bishops speak out about the lapses in respect for life on the part of only one set of politicians, those of only one party. Many of us have lost confidence in the pastoral leadership of our bishops in large part because they have been totally partisan in their approach to the political involvement of the church—and totally blind to the serious betrayal of an ethic of life by members of the party they defend.

And that is not to mention my dismay when any bishop allows himself to be bullied by a Catholic fascist group like the Cardinal Newman Society . . . .)

Meanwhile, the pressure on Notre Dame’s President Rev. John John I. Jenkins is intense. For that reason, I continue to encourage readers interested in doing something in support of Notre Dame to speak out.

Today, I noticed on a thread at one of the Catholic news site blogs a link to an online petition at the Petition Spot website supporting Notre Dame for its decision to invite President Obama to its commencement. I am not being coy in failing to mention the thread in which I found the link—I did not record the source, and have been unable to locate it again.*

In any case, the link is as follows: here. If you are interested in offering support to Notre Dame as it receives intense pressure from right-wing Catholic political activist groups to rescind its invitation to President Obama, please sign this petition and circulate this information to your friends.

For years now, the Catholic right in the U.S. has succeeded in making its voice heard, by well-organized (and well-funded) letter-writing campaigns. The Catholic right has made itself appear as the only voice in American Catholicism by adroit letter-writing campaigns to the Vatican and to bishops.

Catholics who endorse the views of groups like the Cardinal Newman Society are a minority—a small minority. Yet they succeed in influencing the direction of the American Catholic church out of all proportion to their numbers, because they are organized, have wealthy backers, and know how to threaten—and to bully and threaten very effectively.

It is possible for Catholics of more moderate political views, and for Catholics who support Vatican II and its call for positive engagement of the church with the world, to make our voices heard, too. If that is going to happen, we need to organize, to out-maneuver the well-funded and powerful right, and to let our voices be heard.

I offer the preceding petition as one way in which those concerned to counter the influence of groups like the Cardinal Newman Society can speak out.

* Found it: H/T to blogger Historyman at the following Commonweal thread:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Michael Spencer on the Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism: The Price of Idolatry

The story I uploaded earlier about the Cardinal Newman Society’s attack on Notre Dame University for inviting President Obama to give its commencement address (here) confirms, I believe, two important points that evangelical Christian thinker Michael Spencer made recently in an article in Christian Science Monitor. Alternet picked up the article last week (here).

Spencer argues that evangelical Christianity is on the verge of collapse. He suggests a number of causes for this collapse, which, he believes, will occur within ten years. Chief among the causes Spencer identifies are the following:

1. “Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. . . . Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.”

2. “We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.”

I find Spencer’s thesis about the collapse of evangelical Christianity compelling. I agree with his theological analysis of what is producing this collapse. I think, however, that the analysis applies equally to American Catholicism. American Catholicism is rapidly hurtling towards a fate similar to that facing evangelicalism in America, and for the same reasons.

To the extent that American Christians of the right and center-right, whether Catholic or evangelical, have identified faith with loyalty to a single political party and its agenda, they have made the future of their churches perilously dependent on the fate of that party and its agenda. Such behavior is what the scriptures decry as idolatry. It substitutes faith in God as the artisan of a future full of hope with faith in fallible human beings. It equates living the gospel with slavish fidelity to an ideology that increasingly betrays the core values of the gospel.

The problem to which I am pointing here is clearly apparent in many responses to the article by Joe Feuerherd discussed in my previous (here). Read those responses, and tell me you have no concern about the future of a religious body that can produce such virulent, partisan, uninformed tirades on behalf of a single political party. Read those responses and tell me if the positions they defend are rooted in the gospel or in any deep understanding of what it means to live the gospel in the world today, as a Catholic Christian.

The current leaders of the American Catholic church have led it to the same dead end to which evangelical churches have marched in the period of neoconservative domination of American religion and politics. Every bit the same: the same idolatrous blindness to the shortcomings of partisans who, while proclaiming to respect life, betray the Christian ethic of life in the grossest possible ways; the same failure to fire the imaginations of the faithful and inform their minds with theological instruction rooted in the gospels.

Read the responses to Joe Feuerherd’s posting about the Cardinal Newman Society, and you will hear the voice of a church in serious trouble—a church headed quickly to obsolescence. We have only begun to taste the bitter fruits of the pastoral betrayal of the church by a generation of American Catholic leaders. Those leaders have betrayed their flocks by equating Catholic fidelity with voting for a single party. They have betrayed us by turning a blind eye to the glaring faults of the leaders of that single party, while ignoring the many ways in which the leaders of other parties more adequately embody Catholic values.

The pastoral leaders of the American church have tragically weakend the church they are charged to lead, by silencing one theologian after another in the same period in which they struck their fateful alliance with one set of partisan leaders. They have silenced the very members of the body of Christ most gifted at helping us read the gospel in light of contemporary culture, and responding to culture transformatively and faithfully. They have dumbed down an entire generation of Catholics by substituting a debased (and politicized) "Catholic answers" approach to catechetical instruction for authentic catechesis, in which the gospels are read in light of the rich, diverse tradition of the church and with an eye to their significance for the contemporary world.

We have only begun to taste the bitter fruits of that pastoral betrayal . . . .

Cardinal Newman Society Strikes Again: Notre Dame in Sights of Catholic Political Activist Group

Early in March, I published a number of postings examining the right-wing political ties and agenda of the Cardinal Newman Society, a watchdog group that claims to be concerned about safeguarding the orthodoxy of American Catholic colleges and universities (here and here and here).

My postings on the Cardinal Newman Society documented its ties to right-wing political activists such as L. Brent Bozell III. I also noted the concern that a number of American Catholic bishops and leaders of American Catholic education have expressed in recent years regarding the political activities of this group. These critics have noted the Society's penchant for misrepresenting the positions of universities it targets. In the view of some bishops and many Catholic educational leaders, the Cardinal Newman Society is divisive, destructive to the unity of the American Catholic church, and more concerned about promoting a right-wing political agenda (and gaining money for its political causes in the process) than defending the faith.

I’m delighted to note that others—including journalists with far more clout than I have—are also tracking the activities of this right-wing political group masquerading as watchdogs for Catholic orthodoxy. Yesterday, Joe Feuerherd, publisher and editor in chief of the National Catholic Reporter, published an article entitled “Catholic Academic Ayatollah Shows True Colors” (here).

Feuerherd is responding to a jihad recently proclaimed by Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. When it was announced recently that Notre Dame University has invited President Obama to be its commencement speaker in May, Reilly went ballistic. He is now spearheading a campaign to flood Notre Dame with letters and email messages calling for the university to rescind its invitation.*

For those interested in pursuing the analysis of Cardinal Newman Society I began earlier in March with the postings cited above, I highly recommend Joe Feuerherd’s article. He notes that the Cardinal Newman Society “promote[s] the idea of university as Catholic madrassa.” It runs roughshod over academic freedom to assure an exceptionally narrow “orthodoxy” that is ultimately political rather than religious in its nature.

Feuerherd also notes Cardinal Newman Society's well-documented strategy of focusing on hot-button issues in Catholic universities as a way of energizing the Society’s donor base:

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses -- anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.

It is good work if you can get it: for his efforts Reilly (according to a 2007 financial disclosure report) drew a nearly six-figure salary.

Feuerherd also notes the strange selectivity of the Cardinal Newman Society regarding which commencement speakers it chooses to target. In May 2005, the Society made a huge stink when Belmont University, a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in California, invited Sister Helen Prejean to give its commencement address.

Prejean’s damning fault? She supports abolition of the death penalty. She opposes abortion but makes solidarity with poor women in crisis pregnancies and questions whether we actually give those women a choice between abortion and another viable option that would make it possible for them to carry a child to term and raise it.

On the other hand, when the Benedictine St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania invited President Bush to give its commencement address two years later, not a peep from the Cardinal Newman Society.

It appears that Sister Helen Prejean, with her prophetic witness against capital punishment, betrays Catholic values regarding life, while George W. Bush exemplifies those values. And that speaks volumes about the Cardinal Newman Society and the political—as opposed to Catholic—agenda it promotes.

*For an outstanding analysis of the campaign against Notre Dame being spearheaded by Cardinal Newman Society, see Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s posting about this topic at Enlightened Catholicism yesterday (here).

Overpaid CEOs and Higher Education: Continued Need for Critique

I posted a few days ago about the astonishing claim of CNBC commentator Mark Haines that we can’t expect Wall Street companies to be well run by CEOs making less than $250,000 annually (here).

Haines is still at it, still defending the power and privilege of the vastly overcompensated big man and big woman on top. Yesterday he told co-anchor Erin Burnett that the public’s interest in regulating CEO pay is “getting scary” (here).

Scary for whom, I wonder? For the big men and women at the top who have tried to convince us that they deserve more—grossly more—because they work harder than the rest of us, and have sharper leadership skills? Haines is clearly frightened of the possibility that “ordinary” workers—all the rest of us, who don’t receive the obscene salaries and benefits of CEOs—might discover that we work just as hard as or even harder than those who claim to deserve more for their work, and that we have skills to lead as sharp as those who have been paid an arm and a leg to lead us to the edge of a cliff.

Last week, in fact, in an exchange with Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California, Haines asked, “What do the people on Main Street know about running a financial system?"

As I’ve noted repeatedly, my entrée point into discussions of overcompensated CEOs is my experience in academic life, where the adoption of a corporate leadership model has resulted in a trend to gross overcompensation of university presidents and CFOs, as faculty salaries remain flat or fall. This trend has been radically destructive of important values essential to the mission of universities.

The corporatizing trend in university leadership rewards big men and big women at the top who all too often lack any real understanding of what academic life is all about, and any profound commitment to academic excellence and collegial pursuit of the truth. Increasingly, the leadership structures of many universities is top-heavy and top-down, as the corporate model is imposed on academic life.

This assures that the voices most needed to chart a sound course for a university's future—the voices of those who actually do the hard work of teaching and mentoring students, the voices of faculty—are not heard. There are strong parallels between what is happening as markets crash, and the situation of many colleges and universities today, which are increasingly unable to fulfill their mission to shape leaders for our democratic society, because they have adopted the outlook and structures of the corporate world, and in the process have betrayed core values of the academy.

Not much will change in academic life until we are as thoroughgoing in our analysis of the shortcomings of the CEO-president as we are with our present scrutiny of the shortcomings of the Wall Street executives who have brought us to the brink of economic collapse.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Note to Readers: Blog Formatting Glitches

Dear Friends,

As you'll see from the post I just uploaded entitled "Benedict, Bush, and Condoms in Africa: The Rest of the Story," I've had to make a formatting change in the postings on this blog.

Yesterday, when I tried numerous times to upload and publish that post, I encountered problems I have never encountered before with this blog. Something seems to have shifted somewhere in settings, which causes any links I try to embed in to the text to go haywire.

Entire sections of text disappear, and the formatting of the links is also messed up.

As I try to work to resolve this problem, which seems to have appeared sometime between my posting on Saturday entitled "The Curious Misplacing of Priests and Deacons: A Case in Connecticut," and Sunday morning, I will continue using the footnoting format of my posting earlier today, for all links.

I haven't found the problem I am experiencing is affecting other bloggers who use blogspot. It seems unique to me. Since I have made no changes to my operating system or my program files, and have not changed any settings on this blog, it's mysterious to me that it has suddenly appeared.

If any techie folks are reading this blog, I'd appreciate tips to solve the problem. I have sent a message about it to Google's help group for blogspot. I appreciate readers' patience as I tinker with the blog and try to solve the problem

Benedict, Bush, and Condoms in Africa: The Rest of the Story

There’s a fascinating array of op-ed statements the last several days, re: the pope’s recent statement that condoms not only don't solve the problem of AIDS in Africa, but make it worse (1). Much of the commentary in the secular media in the U.S. is critical of the pope’s statement. Newspapers with a history of promoting the faith-based abstinence-only approach of the Bush administration and the Republican party, however, have been publishing editorials applauding the pope for standing up for morality.

A statement that particularly impresses me is Pius Kamau’s “Pope’s Words Poison” in the Denver Post (2). Some choice quotes:

A misfortune of the AIDS epidemic in Africa has been intellectual dishonesty, ignorance and tribal superstition. So much bizarre and retrograde thinking has led to the needless deaths of millions. . . . Pope Benedict's pronouncement serves to confuse an already murky picture and to reinforce ignorance. It is particularly unfortunate because its source is "infallible." To many poor, downtrodden Africans, the Vatican is just this side of Heaven and the pope's voice is that of Jesus Christ. . . .

I can't be faulted if I conclude, like many others, that Pope Benedict lacks empathy for his black flock. Driving all pronouncements by the Vatican against condoms is the Vatican's abhorrence of all forms of contraception, no matter the consequence of their denial. As Rebecca Hodes of the Southern African Treatment Action Campaign said, "Religious dogma is more important than the lives of Africans."

That millions more might die and millions of kids orphaned is insignificant for the Pope as it was to narrow-minded African leaders like Thabo Mbeki.

I agree with the pope when he advocates abstinence, celibacy and marital sex. In Africa, they are alone insufficient. Pope Benedict must acknowledge that human beings are fallible; our sins shouldn't cause our demise.

In the end, the pope's words were unwise, shortsighted and unjustified.

Pius Kamau is a surgeon in Colorado who was raised in Kenya. His article notes that he has had many family members and friends die of AIDS.

Writing in the Hartford Courant (3), Steven Michels maintains that Benedict puts doctrine ahead of lives:

In any case, the real problem with the church's position is not that it's shoddy science; it is that it's immoral. It means more people will get infected, fewer people will get treatment and more people will die.

Michels notes the outrage recently directed by some Catholic groups at Connecticut legislators Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor recently, and wonders if people will challenge Benedict’s dangerous statements about the link between condoms and AIDS control in Africa as fervently as they have challenged McDonald and Lawlor:

It would be nice if the recent outrage directed at Connecticut state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor and state Sen. Andrew McDonald and their call for transparency in parish finances were matched by an equal or greater outrage at the pope's disregard (if not contempt) for the people of Africa. It would seem we have come to expect so little from our religious leaders.

When the pope goes to Africa and tells people that using condoms is wrong, he is not a preacher of love; he is a preacher of death.

Michels is an associate professor of political science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, National Catholic Reporter’s “inhouse Vaticanologist (and pinch-hitting papal spinmeister)” John Allen puts a positive spin on the pope’s statement—as American Catholic centrists in general are doing—in an article entitled “Pope’s Condom Message Resonates with Many” (4).

I find it particularly disheartening to read the commentary at this and other websites of the American Catholic center. Sadly, it validates Pius Kamau’s judgment that many of us (including large numbers of American Catholics) have come to trade in intellectual dishonesty and ignorance as we defend our positions on sexual morality—positions that ultimately have far more to do with politics than religion. This commentary also proves Dr. Kamau right when he observes that many of us seem intent on consigning millions of our African brothers and sisters to death in order to uphold our cruel dogmatic politicized positions about sexual morality in the face of common sense and human decency.

The designation of John Allen as NCR’s inhouse Vaticanologist and pinch-hitting papal spinmeister is by Craig B. McKee of Hong Kong in another current NCR thread (5).

Meanwhile, right-wing Catholic publications like Denver’s Catholic News Agency are promoting the research of Edward C. Green, a Harvard AIDS prevention researcher who denies the efficacy of condoms as a way of ending AIDS in Africa (6). Interestingly enough, though Green’s position is being offered by all kinds of right-wing websites recently as a defense of the pope’s statement, I find none—not one—of the publications citing Green makes any mention at all of the fact that President Bush appointed him in July 2003 to his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (7) (8).

Why not, I wonder—why not mention the connection between Edward C. Green and Bush’s failed abstinence-only approach? Why not mention the political connections of someone who offers scientific verification that condoms don’t solve the AIDS crisis in either Africa or the United States, and who is being promoted as a trustworthy expert in the field?

To his credit, David Gibson is one of the few folks writing about Benedict’s statements re: condoms and Africa recently who notes Green’s ties to the Bush administration. At his Pontifications blog, Gibson writes (9),

In “AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right,” an April 2008 story in First Things, Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark argue that condoms are not the answer at all. They also cite a 2007 article in The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, which listed "Ten Myths" about AIDS prevention, including that condoms are ineffective.

They don't mention that the author of the piece was James D. Shelton, MD, science advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development under George W. Bush. Shelton apparently isn't as categorical about condoms (the Lancet piece is behind a firewall) as the First Things authors, either.

Interesting, isn't it? Look at who's defending Benedict's stand on condoms, and you immediately bump into "experts" from the Bush administration, people who helped craft and fight for his failed faith-based abstinence-only approach to issues of human sexuality. They're everywhere now, propping up Benedict's counterfactual, dogmatic, and highly politicized statement about condoms and Africa.

As if Bush were still president . . . . As if his policies had not failed, and spectacularly so . . . . As though it is not time to try something new, something that might work, for a change, and that might respect scientific findings and put saving human lives first and foremost . . . .

Benedict's statement about condoms in Africa is powerfully allied to the failed faith-based abstinence-only policies of the Bush administration, which were driven by the political needs of the religious right and not by authentic religiosity or human decency. In offering his judgment on condoms in Africa, Benedict seeks to bolster that failed (and anti-religious and inhumane) approach to issues of sexuality.

He does so to defend politicized views of sexual morality which the church believes it is essential to maintain in developed nations. Unfortunately, those who pay the price for that Western political agenda are the poor people of Africa, whose lives are at stake as pastoral leaders of the developed nations play callous games with their lives.

(1) http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/03/condoms-cause-aids-cruel-twisted-logic.html

(2) http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_11962698


(4) http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/popes-condom-message-resonates-many

(5) http://ncronline.org/news/popes-move-called-grave-mistake

(6) http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=15445

(7) http://www.nationalreview.com/books/sylva200404301423.asp

(8) http://www.washblade.com/2003/8-22/news/national/minordis.cfm

(9) http://blog.beliefnet.com/pontifications/2009/03/was-the-pope-right-about-condo.html