Friday, November 20, 2009

What Can Catholics Do? Questions about Action for Catholics Opposed to Homophobia

A week ago, I blogged about some action steps that Catholics concerned about the misuse of church donations to attack gay people might take to counter such misuse of funds.

The question, What’s to be done?, remains in my mind as another week ends. I’d like to open the floor to anyone reading this blog and who may have suggestions about action by concerned Catholics to share those suggestions here.

I’ll be forthright and say that I feel a certain despondency right now about the path the church is choosing. As I said yesterday, in my view, the Catholic church has made a deliberate decision from the center to rebrand itself as one of the most emphatically anti-gay organizations in the world at this point in history.

I have found the Catholic church toxic for me as a gay person for some time now, and I’m finding it even more toxic right now. As a result, I have made a decision to distance myself from liturgy and any other involvement in church activities. I long since made the decision (and my brother and his family have followed suit, as have other Catholic relatives of mine) not to donate anything to the church, as long as our money is used for causes we don’t support and there is no transparency about how donations are being used.

I honor and respect the decision of gay Catholics who remain active. I think it’s important that we not accede to the demand of some of our more savage homophobic brothers and sisters that we walk away. This is what they want, and when we walk, we give them cause to rejoice—and we leave the church even more decisively homophobic than it previously was.

At the same time, I also understand the decision of those who distance themselves because the level of toxicity is so high that they harm themselves when they come into contact with the church. I understand those who have sought liturgical hospitality in other churches that are more welcoming and inclusive of LGBT persons (and of women in ministry).

These decisions are, to a great extent, tactical decisions that have much to do with where we find ourselves geographically. For many gay Catholics across the nation, there simply are no welcoming liturgical options in their local areas. For gay Catholics living in large urban centers, there is often a “gay” parish or a politically and religiously progressive one in which one may worship without expecting to encounter the toxins in a homily, in the attitudes of other parishioners, and so on.

I’d also note that things seem to be getting really bad in some areas of the country, not just in terms of how Catholics treat gays, but in general. In my view—and this is a very personal observation based on limited personal experience in an area of the country not known for its progressive attitudes—we’re in a period of strong backlash that portends the return of the extreme right to power in the next election cycle.

This is what I feared when the new administration did not act decisively from the outset to enact its progressive agenda. And it’s what I now see happening. The lack of decisive action has opened the door for the far right to regroup, and I think we will all be paying the price in the future for the hesitancy of the new administration to move forward decisively from the day it came into office.

I blogged earlier this week about an ugly incident that took place in my city recently, in which a group of wealthy doctors’ wives publicly attacked our local Congressman because he voted for the health care reform bill. There’s another good account of and good commentary on that incident by Ernie Dumas in this week’s issue of our statewide free paper, Arkansas Times. Dumas notes that the “bile and rank partisanship” of the town hall meetings this summer are turning into menacing action on the part of some citizens.

The religious right seems to be in overdrive in my area right now, as well. Recently, our Democratic senator Mark Pryor collaborated with our Republican former governor Mike Huckabee to sponsor a huge religious rally in North Little Rock, the city across the river from us. This rally targeted Latinos and African Americans. It seemed designed to keep these minority groups in the right-wing fold (Pryor is decidedly a blue dog), at a moment when there’s obviously fear that the increasing browning of America will result in more progressive political options down the road.

This rally violated church-state separation in troubling ways. The city of North Little Rock provided $10,000 to help sponsor it, and around the time it took place, bibles were distributed in public schools in the same city. I went to one of our few national chain bookstores last weekend to do some shopping, and was very surprised to see that the two displays one encounters when one first enters the store are prominent large displays of books conspicuously marked as “Christian” books.

These signs speak to me of backlash. They portend the triumph of the political and religious right in 2010 and 2012. And they go hand in hand with social turmoil—with the recrudescence of old social hatreds—that is truly frightening. People in my area are up in arms about the fact that a jury here chose recently not to give the death penalty to a black man convicted of raping and murdering a white woman. The jury “only” sentenced the man to life in prison without parole. People want blood. And it would be naive to imagine that this blood-lust has nothing at all to do with the election of the first black president in our history.

I thought of all of this today—and of my continued insistence that, as things grow worse, the center, which could effectively challenge the slide towards savagery, remains ominously silent, when I listened to Rachel Maddow’s recent interview with former religious-right leader Frank Schaeffer. Alternet has a transcript.

Schaeffer states:

And what surprises me is that responsible—if you can put it that way—Republican leadership and the editors of some of these Christian magazines, et cetera, et cetera, do not stand-up in holy horror and denounce this.
You know, they’re always asking, “Where is the Islamic leadership denouncing terrorism? Why aren’t the moderates speaking out?” Well, I challenge the folks who I used to work with, that I talk about in my book, Patience with God, and I would just say to them, “Where the hell are you? This is not funny anymore. And be it on your head if something happens to our president, if you are going to go around supporting and not speaking out against this stuff.”

It‘s just not a question of who’s doing it. The bigger question is: Where are the people speaking out against these things? I don’t hear those voices raised in the evangelical fundamentalist community. And until I do, I—and my opinion is, they are culpable.

Why aren’t the moderates speaking out? That’s the question I continue to ask, as Catholic leaders ratchet up their vicious, cynical attack on their gay brothers and sisters. I don’t by any means want to equate what is happening to gay citizens of the U.S. with the potential for horrific violence against our president that Schaeffer so convincingly discusses.

Still, as the recent murder of Jorge Steven López in Puerto Rico and the initial response of some police officers to that murder illustrate, there is a clear correlation between the ratcheting up of anti-gay religious rhetoric and actual physical violence towards gay citizens.
Why aren’t the moderates speaking out in the Catholic church, as their gay brothers and sisters are made more decisively unwelcome? And what can those of us who care about this situation do?

Any suggestions? I'll welcome them, and I feel sure readers of this blog will, too.