Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Thoughts: Authentic Moral Needs and the False Moral Promises of the Manhattan Declaration

Advent thoughts, thoughts that circle through mind and heart as I bake another batch of Moravian spice cookies, cheese straws, two pans of chicken and dressing to freeze for Christmas, the boys’ choir from the beautiful Bavarian Alpine town, Bad Tölz, singing “Est ist ein ros’ entsprungen” reverently in the background:

46.3 million Americans have no health insurance. None at all. Absolutely no ongoing health care of any kind, unless they scrape up the money to buy it in cases of dire need, and/or rely on overstressed emergency rooms to assist them.

I say, “46.3 million Americans have no health insurance,” though that was the statistic that the U.S. census bureau released for 2008. That figure was an increase over the 45.7 million figure of uninsured Americans in 2007.

Meanwhile, throughout 2009, after we Americans elected an administration promising us change we can believe in, unemployment has continued to rise, and free health clinics throughout the heartland—most recently in Kansas City—have been inundated with citizens, many of them middle-class people with jobs, seeking any on-the-spot attention to their health needs that they can find. Because otherwise, they have no access to ongoing basic health care at all. None they can afford. None at all.

It’s almost certain that the number of Americans without any health insurance right now—including working, middle-class Americans—is considerably higher than the 46.3 million figure at the end of 2008.

46.3 million Americans without ongoing, basic health care. And we want to quarrel about whether the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will create “a gender confusion revolution” in workplaces—we want to fight about who gets to use what bathroom in American workplaces.

46.3 million Americans without health coverage, and our burning moral issue now, in these United States, is bathrooms?! What does it say about us as a nation, that we can permit so many of our citizens to go without ongoing access to basic health care?

And that, as we do so, we imagine we are a morally admirable people? That we imagine that excluding millions on millions of citizens from access to health coverage is not a moral issue? But bathrooms and who uses them are a moral issue . . . .

I often think, these days, that we’re living through a period of moral confusion unique to our time. Well, that’s not quite true. I think we’re living through a cycle through which others have, indeed, passed before. It’s the cycle that begins just as a declining empire enters its death throes, while it remains in denial that death is imminent. Denial: the initial stage through which any sentient organism passes, confronted with the news that he or she is going to die . . . .

We’re living at a point in history, we citizens of the United States, in which waging war is somehow making peace, in which cutting backroom deals to permit an already grossly engorged financial system to fatten itself further is change we can believe in. In which niggling and haggling about health care “triggers” while promising cushy berths to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, as more than 46.3 Americans have no health insurance, is politics at its best. At its most admirable and effective.

We’ve lost our moral compass, clearly. And those kind souls who are stepping up to the plate now and offering to redirect us on our moral path are, sadly, those least equipped among us to know what bona fide moral insight is all about. Not if it socked them in the face, would many of our premier “people of faith,” our Rick Warrens and Charlie Chaputs, our Chuck Colsons and James Dobsons and Sal Cordileones, our Maggie Gallaghers and Scott Livelys and Andrea Laffertys, see moral insight coming. Not even if it were the engine car of a train on whose tracks their feet were firmly planted as they scanned the tracks for signs of the train on the verge of running them down.

They don’t, unfortunately, know from morality.

They can’t: they’re too busy worrying about bathrooms.

And snatching rights from a vulnerable minority, while spreading noxious lies about that minority and gloating that they have won a “victory” for “God” and “morality.” And cheering on developing nations under their influence which take their noxious lies so seriously that they’ve begun to talk about executing members of that vulnerable minority group.

We’ve lost our moral compass, and the people who tell us they own said compass are screaming about crossgender folks lurking in bathrooms, while fighting tooth and nail against any and all plans promising to provide health coverage to the more than 46.3 million Americans who have no health coverage.

I’m speaking here, of course, of the self-professed moral-compass finders who recently bought super-expensive ads in major American newspapers to holler that they have reclaimed “the” Christian moral foundations of our society. I’m speaking of the folks who signed the Manhattan Declaration. I’m speaking as well of the millions of American people of faith who willingly allow this radical fringe group, this minority group of believers preoccupied with bathrooms but blind to health care, to posture as “the” moral standard bearers of American Christianity.

I’m persuaded by Timothy Kincaid’s assessment of the Manhattan Declaration (here and here) as “an attempt to divide the Christian community into two camps and give a platform for which conservatives can appear to be the voice of Christendom.” The Manhattan Declaration is a blatant attempt of a partisan group of Christians—those on the far right of the political and religious spectrum—to posture as the moral and theological center of American Christianity, and to marginalize their many Christian brothers and sisters who do not equate being Christian with being a right-wing extremist.

And this preposterous posturing of right-wing extremists as the voice of the Christian churches will succeed, as it succeeded in the 1980s and 1990s, if we permit it to do so. We, the silent majority. We, the majority in the Christian churches who know better, who know that real morality is not about who uses what bathrooms and scoring points against vulnerable minorities, but about seeing that more than 46.3 million of our brothers and sisters have access to ongoing, basic health care.

The Manhattan Declaration right-wing extremists will succeed in capturing the center of the churches if we permit them to do so. They’ll succeed if we turn a blind eye to Scott Lively’s record as the leader of a hate group that has invented a sick mythology which claims that the Nazi movement in Germany—a movement that sent gay people to concentration camps and murdered them there by untold thousandswas a gay movement. A movement hatched and led by gay folks.

The Manhattan Declaration will succeed in capturing the moral center of our churches if we people of faith in these United States continue to allow those who talk about gay and lesbian people as “intrinsically disordered,” as unnatural, as less than human, to deny their culpability in what’s been happening in Uganda this year. Words lead to actions. Talk about intrinsic disorder leads to classifying people as sub-human, and then to oppressing and even executing those we’ve chosen to classify as sub-human. It’s no accident that Scott Lively’s fingerprints are all over the anti-gay legislation now under consideration in Uganda.

Just as Rick Warren’s fingerprints are all over that legislation, despite his welcome denunciation of the most extreme aspects of the legislation earlierthis week. Just as—I have no choice except to say this—Rowan Williams’ and Benedict’s fingerprints are all over the legislation, insofar as they persist in bashing gay members of their churches while keeping silent about what is happening in Uganda.

We have, indeed, lost our moral compass. And Mr. Lively and his confreres in the Manhattan Declaration cannot help us find it. They are, to a large degree, why we have lost our moral compass. They cannot, with their highly selective, partisan, hate-refracted reading of the scriptures which strains the gnat while letting the camel through, point the way to a viable moral foundation for a humane society.

Bathrooms and revolutions of gender confusion and intrinsic disorder, while more than 46.3 million American citizens go without basic ongoing access to health care. We could not be more morally astray, and the loudest voices among us, those most confident that they alone have the solution to our moral confusion, are, in fact, precisely those injecting the toxins into our souls, into our souls sick unto death that these purveyors of poison claim they have the power to heal.

Veni, veni, Emanuel. And ransom captive New York, Chicago, Denver, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Boise, San Antonio, Ft. Lauderdale, Raleigh, Baton Rouge, Montepelier, Portland, Bismarck, Phoenix: anywhere and everywhere that people sick unto death cry out for divine embrace. People of any faith and all faiths, of no faith at all, people whose humanity knits them together, regardless of their credal confessions or their lack of any creed, in the shared hope for a better, more humane, more tolerable world. The kind of world that authentic religion and authentic morality promises.

And not the kind of world that those preoccupied with bathrooms and removing rights from vulnerable minorities, with gender confusion and intrinsic disorder, as more than 46.3 million of their fellow citizens go without routine health care, are capable of offering us, A.D. 2009, as Christmas nears.

The graphic shows people waiting in line in Wise Co., Virginia, in July 2009 for treatment at one of the many health care clinics offered in recent months in various parts of the U.S. to provide free, one-time-only treatment to U.S. citizens with no health insurance.