Saturday, June 5, 2010

More News Tidbits: As Americans Reject Discrimination, Catholic Bishops Defend It

And more news snippets:

I just ended my posting about Facebook and the closet by noting (following Joshua Alston) how social networking tools ineluctably throw us together nowadays—gay and straight—in a way that makes the closet walls permeable.

In that context, I’d like to mention Charles Blow’s op-ed piece, “Gay?  Whatever, Dude,” in yesterday’s New York Times.  Blow comments on the results of a recent Gallup poll which shows that, for the first time since polling about this issue has been conducted, a majority of Americans view “gay and lesbian relations” as morally acceptable.

Blow focuses in particular on the significant jump in the percentage of men (who have historically lagged behind women here) now accepting gay people and gay relationships.  He wonders what accounts for this jump.

I’ll leave it to readers to read Blow’s incisive (and funny) commentary on that point.  But one point does leap out, and I would like to draw attention to it, because it connects to what I’ve just said about how online social network sites now throw us all together, and make the closet far more problematic to maintain than was the case in the past.

Blow reminds readers of the Gallup data released a year ago which shows a direct correlation between knowing someone who is gay or lesbian and accepting gays and lesbians.  Tolerance grows as we learn that the other is not so other as we had imagined, but has a human face.  A face like ours.

Unfortunately, as tolerance of those who are gay or lesbian grows in society at large, the churches continue to pull up the rear—so to speak.  And the Catholic church remains egregious in that respect, in the United States.

Though the Gallup data to which Blow points us show 62% of American Catholics now finding gay/lesbian relations morally acceptable, on 19 May the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Congress expressing “serious concerns” with the proposed ENDA legislation that would outlaw discrimination against employees because they happen to be gay or lesbian.  Fr. Jim Martin posted the text of this letter at America’s “In All Things” blog towards the end of May.  I didn’t comment on it then, because I was “on retreat.”

In the past several days, Eduardo Peñalver has posted commentary on the USCCB letter at Commonweal, as has Andrew Sullivan at his Daily Dish site.  Both are critical of the position taken by the bishops.

And that position?  The bishops wish to maintain the “right” of people of faith to discriminate against those who are gay and lesbian.  Because removing that “right” by barring discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation would involve communities of faith in support of sinful actions.

Take away the “right” of Catholic institutions to discriminate against those who are gay or lesbian in hiring and firing decisions, and you involve the church in the sin of those who are gay and lesbian—sin we can presume because they happen to be gay or lesbian.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, the Catholic bishops do not make a similar argument when it comes to their “right” to discriminate against straight people presumed to be engaging in sinful behaviors like masturbation or use of artificial contraceptives:

Notice that there is no attempt here to argue that straight people who violate church doctrine - anyone who masturbates or uses contraception, is divorced or re-married - should not be protected from discrimination. It is always just the gays who are the target, because their identity inherently proves their iniquity, while most straight people can hide theirs.

As I’ve noted on this blog, at the Catholic college at which Steve and I met our Waterloo as a gay couple teaching theology, one of our colleagues who defended the decision of the monastery that owns the college to boot us was a divorced woman who was romantically involved with a divorced man.  No authority of the school or the monastery that owned the school ever inquired into their relationship, to the best of my knowledge.  Nor should they have done so.

But after I was fired, the abbot of the monastery (who refused to meet with me to discuss what his monastery and college chose to do to me) informed the college community that diseased limbs have to be lopped from the tree to assure its health.  The same abbot then assumed the presidency of the college and proceeded to fire a number of faculty and staff presumed to be gay or lesbian, causing a backlash in the local gay community, who saw his actions as a gay purge.  As he mounted this purge, the abbot informed the media that the catholicity of his college was under siege, and he had to act to preserve it.

Neither at this Catholic institution nor any other about which I have knowledge are obtrusive questions asked in hiring decisions about whether a heterosexual applicant uses birth control, lives with an unmarried companion of the opposite sex, masturbates, or is divorced and involved with someone else.  Not at any Catholic institution about which I have knowledge would bosses dream of quizzing current heterosexual employees about the particulars of their sexual lives and actions.

And despite the faint and insincere murmurs of the American Catholic bishops that they deplore discrimination against anyone, Catholic institutions do, in fact, continue routinely to fire people who are gay or lesbian, often inventing specious excuses to prevent lawsuits, while their real—and obvious—reason for the firing has to do with sexual orientation.  In almost no Catholic institution of which I have any knowledge in the U.S. is it safe for gay or lesbian employees to be anything but well-hidden.  Invisible.

The double standard is gross.  And it utterly undercuts everything the Catholic church professes about justice.  It also exposes the homophobia of many centrist Catholics who continue, by their conspicuous silence about the gross injustice, to collude with the bishops in discriminating against and keeping their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters invisible.

Once again: I would not advise younger Catholics who happen to be gay or lesbian to consider working for Catholic institutions.  In fact, given documents like this recent USCCB letter, I’d advise younger Catholics, and those who care about anyone who is gay or lesbian, to keep a strong critical distance from the Catholic church at an institutional level.

Let the rot do its work and bring down the rotten structures.  When we lend moral or other support to the institution in its current rotten state, we only prolong the process of inevitable implosion.