Monday, September 27, 2010

Andrew Sullivan on Bishop Eddie Long Case: One Way Out, To Love and Not Hate (But What about Minnesota Catholic Bishops?)

I find Andrew Sullivan's commentary on the affair of Bishop Eddie L. Long in Atlanta poignant and thought-provoking.  Long, who pastors the New Birth Missionary Baptist mega-church, and who has been a vocal anti-gay activist and friend of key Republican leaders including George W. Bush, is now credibly accused of having seduced a number of young men in his congregation.  The men's testimony is strengthened by the fact that several of them went public with their accusations independently of each other and without having even known each other.  And yet the stories the young men are telling are all remarkably similar.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, these stories are becoming old hat to many of us--and they transcend the boundaries of any one religious tradition.  They are becoming commonplace within almost all religious traditions.  What they do have in common, these stories of the abuse of  religious authority by homophobic pastors in various churches who end up in inappropriate relationships with young men under their authority, is this, Sullivan proposes: 

But the now almost constant revelations of gay religious leaders preaching and campaigning against themselves, while finding it impossible to live a life without love and sexual intimacy that is real to them, reveal the tragedy of homophobia, especially in religious life where so many gay people find themselves drawn, and where many do great and important work - but are simultaneously asked to destroy their own psyches and lacerate their own souls.

And these observations lead Sullivan to the following powerful conclusion:

There is only one way out: to embrace gayness as part of God's creation, to find a way to bless gay relationships, to celebrate the diversity of humankind, and to love one another, instead of hating ourselves.

I think Andrew Sullivan is absolutely right here, re: the "one way out" of the bind into which many religious groups have walked at this point in history, as they pursue an overtly homophobic path.  The way out of the prison of homophobia is theologically appropriate and deeply attuned to what is at the beating heart of all religious traditions--the emphasis on practical compassion.

This way out is, as Sullivan notes, the choice to affirm gayness as an essential element of the created world, as that world comes to us from God's hands.  Gayness is not merely tolerated by God: God actively wills and wants the strand of gayness in the created world.

And the appropriate response of religious traditions to this divine imperative is love--not hate and condemnation.

As I say, I believe Andrew Sullivan is absolutely correct with this analysis.  But I am not certain how religious traditions are to get to the necessary point he envisions here, with his sketch of the "way out" of the prison of hate  in which many traditions have placed themselves at this point in history.

For instance, just as the Long scandal breaks open, Archbishop John Nienstedt has mailed videos to every Catholic household in Minnesota, asking Catholics in that state to use their political clout to make same-sex marriage a defining issue as Catholics go to the polls.  As Tom Crann notes in a Minnesota Public Radio interview with Nienstedt a few days ago, the timing of this action is curious: the video is going out right before an election in which the Republican gubernatorial candidate opposes same-sex marriage, while the Democratic and Independence party candidates for governor are in favor of same-sex marriage.

As Crann notes, the position on same-sex marriage that Nienstedt summarizes in his purportedly non-partisan video echoes to a remarkable extent an ad of the National Organization for Marriage in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.  The words used by Nienstedt in his video are very close to the language used by NOM in its political pitch for Minnesota's Republican gubernatorial candidate.

And what does Nienstedt say in the video?  He uses the gender-complementarity argument of the theology of the body to argue that God has created marriage as an institution for males and females exclusively, because marriage is about procreation. And he employs the shameful, hateful argument that gay unions harm children by robbing children raised by same-sex couples of healthy role models.

He does not advert to the fact that the Catholic church, along with other churches, has no problem at all in marrying a man and a woman incapable of procreation, due to their age or to physical impediments of either partner.  Nor does he note that the vast majority of married Catholics in Western nations use contraception--and the church is not targeting these married Catholics as a threat to the institution of marriage requiring immediate political action on the part of the church.  

As Tom Crann also notes, while the most obvious threat to the institution of marriage in our society is the high rate of divorce, which has nothing at all to do with gay people or gay couples seeking the right to marry, the Catholic church has not sought to mount a national political crusade to outlaw divorce.  

If the Catholic church believes that marriage is solely for procreation and opposes same-sex marriage on the ground that it cannot be procreative, and if the church believes that it has the right to impose its peculiar religious understanding of marriage on the civil sector and on society as a whole, why are Catholic groups like NOM or the Knights of Columbus spending millions of dollars trying to galvanize Catholic political action against gays and lesbians?  But not against divorce, contraception, or marriages between men and women who cannot or will not procreate?

The obvious answer to this question is a rather sad one: Catholic bishops like Nienstedt and Catholic groups like the Knights of Columbus and NOM are playing ugly political games with the lives of gay and lesbian human beings.  They're fronting for anonymous donors who want to use Catholic resistance to gay marriage (which is to say, they want to use the real lives of real gay and lesbian human beings) for political gain--for the Republican party.

And so the claim of Archbishop Nienstedt that the Catholic church can focus obsessively and exclusively on gay human beings as a threat to marriage, while it ignores the far more pervasive and real threats of divorce and contraception, is an untenable claim.  The actions of Catholic officials like Nienstedt towards their gay brothers and sisters continue to be all about hate, pure and simple.

Not about love, compassion, and inclusion. As a 22 September in the Winona (MN) Daily News to which Michael Bayly links at his Wild Reed website notes, it's simply "a lot easier to pick on gay people than it is to feed hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless"--and cheaper, too.  And whatever anonymous donor is using the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic bishops of Minnesota to do political legwork for him in the coming elections knows full well that playing the anti-gay card from Catholic pulpits will very possibly tip this tight race to the Republican side.

And who cares if a few gays get hurt?  They aren't even with the church, in any case, after all.

We have a long way to go before we enter on the path that Andrew Sullivan rightly tells us we must take, if we want to walk out of the homophobic prisons in which we have placed ourselves, we people of faith.

The graphic is from a recent Minnesota Public Radio Poll showing the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor in Minnesota in a dead heat.

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