Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mid-Week News Roundup: Catholic Gender Gap and Schism, Gay American Diaspora

There are a number of excellent articles online in the past several days, which touch on themes central to this blog. Colleen Baker has an outstanding statement yesterday at Enlightened Catholicism about the gender gap in Catholic church participation.

As Colleen notes, though male participation in church services is lower than female participation in most churches, in Catholicism, the gender gap is pronounced: in the U.S., the gap is double what it is in other churches. (And I suspect it is higher still in Europe.)

Colleen notes several different window-dressing responses to this phenomenon on the part of the institutional church—e.g., the attempt to scapegoat gay priests for sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. But she thinks these window-dressing approaches are not going to work. They won’t work because the ultimate problem is rooted in a lack of respect for the “dignity” of men doing ordinary things like working, marrying, and raising families.

I agree with Colleen. Many studies show that male participation in church life began to drop off in Europe in the 19th century, when leaders of many churches appeared to cast their lot with wealthy ruling economic and social elites, and turned their backs on working families. To the extent that churches gave the impression that they were for owners and against workers, they began to lose adherents—working men, in particular.

During this period of rising disaffection with the church among working folks, many European men began to conclude that the church simply did not have their best interest—their dignity as workers and human beings—at heart. And evidently the churches have not been successful in altering that perception, no matter how hard they have tried to create a “muscular Christianity” designed to convince real men that the church is congenial to their interests.

I also highly recommend Frank Cocozzelli’s article on the politics of schism in the Catholic church in the latest issue of Public Eye. Summaries of the article are also at Talk to Action and Street Prophets (here and here).

Cocozzelli notes the deliberate attempt of some contemporary leaders of the Catholic church, including Pope Benedict himself, to drive dissidents out of the church, to create a leaner, meaner church of true believers. And he relates this attempt very convincingly to a political agenda designed to serve the interests of economic elites.

As I’ve done on this blog, he notes that the influential right-wing American activist group called the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded by leading American Catholic neocons to split Protestant churches with a strong legacy of social justice teachings. It’s not difficult to show that IRD has worked very hard to use wedge issues like gay rights to try to divide the Anglican/Episcopal, United Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, primarily in order to mute the witness of these churches re: issues of social justice in the public sphere.

And so movements to “purify” the Catholic church theologically, to silence theologians who raise critical questions, to return to a Latin Mass, to embrace anti-semitic right-wing schismatic groups like the Society of St. Pius X (the SSPX or Lefebvrites), have a decisive political intent. This is to return the Catholic church to its pre-Vatican II stance of support for right-leaning authoritarian regimes that give free reign to the haves, and keep the have nots in their place.

Running against that strong current in Catholicism is, of course, a clear and persuasive body of social teaching that critiques the unbridled market and challenges owners and managers to treat workers like persons and not things. And so one of the objectives of political and economic groups working to create schism in the Catholic church around theological and moral issues is to undercut the Catholic church’s important legacy of social teaching, and to silence Catholics, including some Catholic church leaders, who dare to articulate that legacy clearly in the public sphere.

I think Cocozzelli is right on the mark with this analysis. Anyone who seeks to analyze the liturgy wars or issues like perpetual adoration of the Eucharist in the Catholic church without adverting to the political backdrop against which these battles are being fought will not see the real and full significance of what, at first glance, appear to be parochial, in-house battles between Catholics about issues with no political significance.

I also appreciate Andrew Sullivan’s statement yesterday at his Daily Dish blog about the new American diaspora. Sullivan notes a growing tendency of highly qualified and accomplished American citizens to relocate abroad.

To be specific: many gay American couples, including couples in which one partner or the other lives with HIV, are choosing to leave the U.S. and live overseas. Why? Same-sex couples in civil unions are, in general, regarded as married couples, for all intents and purposes, in most other developed nations around the world nowadays.

In the U.S., not only do many of us have no access to the rights and privileges of either marriage or civil unions, many of us live in areas in which we have no legal defense against being fired, denied housing, or turned away from hospital visitations to our loved ones, solely because we are gay.

I live in such an area. I know first-hand the constant anxiety these possibilities create for me and others. Though I have a partner who works full-time at an institution with a stated non-discrimination policy, that same institution does not grant partner health benefits to same-sex partners. I live with no health coverage because we cannot afford to pay for health coverage.

Life for many gay citizens of this nation is a daily struggle against strong odds created solely by prejudice, and as Andrew Sullivan notes, the election of Mr. Obama and a Democratic Congress has not given us hope for progress in the foreseeable future. We have long known that under a Republican-dominated federal administration, we will see our humanity assaulted and our rights eroded.

We did not anticipate seeing this happen under a Democratic administration, despite our dismal experiences under the last several Democratic administrations. And now we’re seeing once again that, when push comes to shove, we are still regarded as sub-human, even by those who tell us they are fierce advocates for our rights.

I’ve said before and I will say again on this blog: if I were younger and able to uproot myself with more ease, I would definitely move someplace, anyplace, that treats me and my sort more humanely. I would definitely advise younger gay folks in the U.S. to think seriously about relocating to one of the many countries in which life is not such a struggle for gay people, simply because we are gay.

We have too much to contribute, to keep wasting it in places that do not welcome us and affirm our humanity. When those who assault our humanity continue to take what we have to offer—our talents, our hard work, our money—and then kick us to the curb without shame or compunction, it’s time to find places that value us and our gifts more.