Tuesday, June 9, 2009

American Catholic Centrism: Yes to Gay Bashers, No to Gays and Their Supporters?

I have to get something off my chest.

I’ve talked previously about how the centrism of some mainstream Catholic publications in the U.S. has more room for those listing right than those looking left. In particular, I’ve noted the relative silence of these publications about gay and lesbian issues, about the experience of gay and lesbian persons in the church, and so forth.

I’ve noted these publications’ recent silence about the breakthroughs that have occurred this year in the area of gay marriage—the fact that seven states have opted for gay marriage (though one of the seven later rescinded that permission by popular vote). I’ve argued that silence in the face of people’s struggles for human rights and their breakthroughs in their struggles for rights is morally indefensible.

Silence implies that the stigmatized group of human beings about whom one is silent does not exist, or that the humanity of that group’s members is less than one’s own. Because one would not defend silence in one’s own case, if one belonged to a group struggling for rights and full personhood and others stood by in silence as one struggled . . . . One would perceive silence from others, in one’s own case and under such circumstances, as an assault on one’s very humanity. . . .

When online discussion threads sponsored by some of the mainstream American Catholic publications do occasionally touch on gay issues, I notice the same set of bloggers gravitating to those discussions. In fact, some of these bloggers routinely hop from one of these publications to the other, contributing their usual perspective on gay issues at each blogsite, as a new thread on these issues opens.

I’ve come to know one of these frequent bloggers rather well—at least, rather well in e-world. I do not know her in person, and am not confident that I even know her identity, though she often signs her postings with a full name. I say “her” simply because this blogger always uses female usernames (and her email address suggests she is a mother—see below).

I’ve followed her response to postings at National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, and America for some time now—for almost two years now, as well as I can remember. I interacted with her several times on blogs about gay topics at the NCR discussion café when that site was active. I recall having had one exchange with her at America.

I no longer try engaging this person when she presents her usual positions on gay people and gay issues. I don’t do so because I know in advance what she intends to say. It never varies. And I know that she does not intend to listen to me or to anyone else trying to engage her in discussion of these issues. What she intends to do is to tell us the truth—or, as she puts it, the Truth.

I do not intend to blast this blogger here. I don’t even intend to name her. I do want to reflect on what she seems to be doing at each blogsite she frequents, however, because her behavior represents a typical response of a subset of American Catholics to gay people and gay issues, one that needs to be exposed for what it is, because it is harmful to gay persons and the church in general. It masquerades as kindness when it is all about shaming and excluding gay persons.

And I don’t see the mainstream Catholic publications to whose online discussions she contributes delving beneath the surface of her rhetoric to expose her position for what it actually is, so that she is allowed to keep representing her position as “the” Catholic position, even when it is hateful in the extreme. In fact, she seems to be well-accepted in the discussion threads of these mainstream publications, even when she annoys some fellow bloggers by turning almost any discussion either to abortion or homosexuality, and by reciting (her version of) the catechism as the ultimate answer to whatever topic is at hand. She even seems to be on familiar terms with some of the movers and shakers of mainstream Catholic publications and their discussion threads.

I’ve followed this blogger and her contributions to threads at the three publications I mention above long enough to have noticed several things about her style and tactics, things that raise red flags for me and cause me to wonder why she seems to go unchallenged when she attacks gay persons again and again.

First, she uses a variety of usernames, sometimes even on the same thread. She employs two different female given names, one an old-fashioned nickname for the other. She sometimes adds a surname to either of these names—always the same surname. And she sometimes adds a middle initial to the combination of names.

How do I know that this is the same person? The style alone would clue most readers in to this fact. But I know that this is the same person operating under a variety of usernames because some of the blogs to which she contributes (she posts at many Catholic sites in addition to the mainstream ones I list above) allow one to see the email address of the contributor. Put your cursor over her several usernames, and it shows the same email address for each—a version of the phrase “soccer mom.”

Normally, this blogger is as cool as a cucumber as she dispenses the Truth. She writes in a clipped aphoristic style, as people who own and want to tell others the truth often do: The Father is Truth. The Son is Truth. No Truth can be built on any foundation other than the Father and the Son. And the Son tells us that Marriage is for one Man and one Woman forever. That kind of aphoristic style.

The church is this. God is this. Yadda yadda.

On one occasion, though, something I said at an NCR thread caused this blogger to lose her cool, and she offered a rare tidbit of personal information that cast significant light on what she is all about with her Catholic anti-gay crusade. Usually, that crusade is clothed in high-flown theological terminology that is totally opaque, closed to rational analysis and impervious to dialogue.

On this occasion, however, she let slip that her concern is all about the children, her children if not the sons and daughters of mothers who happen to have gay or lesbian children. Or perhaps I should say All about the Children, since this, too, is one of the persistent and toxic slogans of the right, as they bash gay people and combat gay rights. We’re only Doing It for the Children, Keeping the Children Safe from Perverts.

When this soccer-mom blogger lost her cool with me at an NCR thread, she shouted that she did not want her children taught by homosexuals or taught that homosexuality is okay. Gay issues are thus deeply personal to her. She apparently sees herself as a crusader for the Truth because she thinks she is defending her children (if not the children of other mothers, who happen to have gay children) as she does battle with those whose understanding of religious truth is much broader than her own.

I’m using the term “crusader” deliberately here. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that this blogger is a woman on a mission. Why, otherwise, would anyone who is not gay log in to one thread after another about gay issues at Catholic blogsites, to assure that gay folks and those in solidarity with gay folks hear the Truth?

And that is precisely her tactic, in a nutshell: to tell the Truth—her version of Catholic truth, though she claims she is citing infallible authority and has no choice except to keep repeating it whether anyone likes it or not—over and over, anytime anyone wants to discuss gay folks, our place in the church, our lives, our reality, our suffering, our struggle for rights.

I’m sorry to have to tell you the Truth, and I’m sorry if the Truth hurts. But it’s the Truth and hear it you will. Hear it you must, if you expect to be saved. This blogger makes statements like that with maddening predictability over and over on one mainstream Catholic blog after another, any time questions about gay people and our place in the church and in the world arise.

These are obviously statements designed not to foster discussion, but to stop discussion. What’s to be discussed, after all, when there’s only that single, unvarying Truth, and it comes from God and our salvation depends on it?

This is a person intent on holding the door tight shut against gay and lesbian persons and the discomfort we bring her, as the owner and purveyor of the Truth, by our very presence in the world. By our lives. By our humanity.

Consequently, when the blogger sometimes adds to her iteration and reiteration of the Truth statements about how she doesn’t hate gay folks but welcomes us—as long as we accept the Truth and change our lives to fit it—I find my blood pressure rising. People whose every word is about denying the very humanity of others, and denying others the right to discuss, explain, and claim their humanity when it is assaulted by prejudice, do not have the right to claim that they are loving people.

Nor do people who employ sly underhanded tactics to undermine the credibility of Catholic theologians and clergy seeking a hearing for gay folks have the right to assert that they are acting, when all is said and done, only in love and only with the purest of motives. The last encounter I have had with this blogger was on an America thread, when I sought to expose her for disingenuously posting a link in a thread discussing prop 8, a link that was all about making insinuations regarding the sexual orientation and credibility of a priest-theologian who had addressed prop 8.

On that occasion, she replied to my question about why she posted the link with one of her usual aphoristic non-answers. The reply proved to me that I was correct in my interpretation of the cool aphorisms: they're not about imparting the truth (or the Truth) at all. They're all about putting people in their place, dismissing them, letting them know that they will not ever make a dent in your implacable, obdurate truth.

If I see that this is the game this blogger is playing, as she goes on the attack in one thread after another at mainstream Catholic blogsites, I wonder why no one else seems to see the game. And to call this blogger on the game, since it is a destructive, ugly game that does not deserve to continue representing itself as a bona fide, respectable, centrist Catholic position about gay human beings and our lives.