Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mirror, Mirror: The Catholic Church in the U.S. Earns a Reputation for Meanness, as Bishops Continue Silence about Bullying of Gay Teens

Sorry to be away, gentle readers.  I am downhearted these days, and not confident that I have much of significance to say as people scream mindless slogans and hateful words at each other in our turbulent religio-political public square.  Sometimes, it seems better to be silent and to tend one’s own garden.

Also dealing with a difficult family transition that demands much time and energy, and I’ve been spending considerable time, as well, preparing a lecture in a new religion series at a state university, which was—I thought—to take place today.  Last night, I discovered the lecture was scheduled for yesterday, and I missed it, to my great shame (not to mention the discomfiture of those who kindly invited me to lecture).  I have never done anything like this in my life, and have to recognize, I think, that the family demands, coupled with the challenge of continuing to keep my diabetes under control, are taking a toll.  I had written the date wrong in my calendar, though I was sent abundant information to get the date right.

More than anything, though, I think what has me downhearted is the abysmal level of public discourse among American Catholics today.  There’s not really much I can say about that without lapsing into a rant that may be self-satisfying, but won’t in any way effectively alter the level of this discourse.

I’ve repeatedly maintained that the opinion-making elite of the American Catholic center has far more room for the contributions of those on the far right, politically and theologically, than it does for its brothers and sisters of the left.  And this has been demonstrated all over again—spectacularly so—this past week, as the blogs of two influential centrist Catholic journals, America and Commonweal, let themselves be led by the nose by a nasty right-wing Catholic blog in Minnesota, the owner of which has a history of persistent, ugly attacks on his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters all over the Catholic blogosphere.

I won’t go into details here.  They’re easy to find, for anyone interested in confirming or disputing what I’m saying here.  The point I want to make, as unambiguously as possible, is this: the Catholic right, in its most noxious political and theological incarnations, increasingly sets the terms of the conversation for all of us in American Catholicism.  And it does so because those in the opinion-making center of American Catholicism accept the claims of those on the right to represent Catholicism in an authentic way, while they dismiss out of hands the claims of their brothers and sisters of the left to be authentically Catholic.

And the situation that results from the center’s infatuation with arch-conservative Catholic viewpoints and its exclusion of progressive viewpoints from the conversation at the center is dismal.  A recent poll of the Public Religion Research Institute shows that fewer than one in five Americans find faith communities doing a praiseworthy job of dealing with those who are gay and lesbian, and two-thirds find that communities of faith are actually fostering the climate that results in suicides of gay teens (see also Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic on this poll).

Of all religious adherents in this poll, Catholics are more inclined than any other church members to give their church low marks for its handling of gay people and gay lives, and for its complicity in creating the climate that leads to suicides of gay teens.  Nearly a third of American Catholics rate the performance of the Catholic church in the U.S. in this regard as a D or an F.

And as that news breaks, Robert Putnam and David Campbell have published a book entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us which notes that young people are walking away from mainstream churches and from religious affiliation altogether (and see also here).

And Putnam and Campbell’s research demonstrates in no uncertain terms why this is happening:

The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.

People are fed up with the hate.  I am fed up with the hate.  I am soul-weary and sick of coping with the hate.  And with the refusal of the powerful center of my own church in the U.S. to take an unambiguous stand against this hate and to call it what it is.  To admit that the hate is driving people away from our church in droves, and that it makes mincemeat of our claim to be all about love and tolerance and doing good works.

That is not who we have become, by letting those on the fringes of the far right drive our national political and religious conversations, while we muzzle progressives.  We have not become a community conspicuous for practicing mercy, love, and justice, as we let the mean-spirited right with its mean-spirited attacks on gay and lesbian human beings drive our agenda.

It took over two years for the opinion-making center of American Catholicism even to begin discussing the abysmal findings of the Pew Forum that a third of American adults raised Catholic have now left the Catholic church, and one in ten U.S. adults are former Catholics.  And even now, as that discussion takes place, it refuses to address honestly the role of the church's hateful stance towards gays and lesbians in this attrition—even as Putman and Campbell’s study shows that this stance is the primary reason younger people are now walking away from religious affiliation.

Enough is enough.  Two days ago, the National Catholic Reporter published an article noting that one of the top leaders of the Mormon church, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, has rebuked members of his church who want to turn their faith into a vehicle to attack their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Uchtdorf states that God loves all of God’s children and expects those who believe in God to do the same.  He also strongly condemns bullying of those who are gay and lesbian and states, “Their struggle is our struggle.”

And like clockwork, a regular contributor to the blog discussions at NCR, a staunch “orthodox” Catholic whose username is paulte, logged in to set his Mormon brother right with good old-fashioned Catholic truth (read: triumphalism), and to note that the Catholic church has the unvarnished answers to these problems: sexual orientation is not innate, and a gay sexual orientation is, in fact, a “defect” due to original sin; and it’s better to be an angel than a human being, in any case.

I never thought I would live to see the day in which Catholics were meaner and more bitterly entrenched on these issues than Mormons.  That day has come.

And it says a tremendous amount about what the American Catholic church has let itself become as its bishops remain silent about bullying and suicides of gay teens, while even Mormon leaders speak out.  And while self-anointed defenders of orthodoxy in the American Catholic church hunger for the blood of those who are gay and lesbian, all across the Catholic blogosphere, and claim the mantle and protection of the Catholic church as they go on the warpath.

And when the bishops of the state of Minnesota accept a huge amount of money to attack gays and lesbians as they try to throw their gubernatorial election to a Republican candidate, while closing churches and parishes due to a lack of money to keep them afloat.  And as those in the powerful opinion-making center of the American Catholic conversation treat these mean-spirited, hate-evoking words and actions from the Catholic right as valid expressions of Catholicism while ruling out and marginalizing the viewpoints of their progressive brothers and sisters.

I’ve had it.  And I may not be blogging frequently as a result, until I have worked through some of this in my soul.

And that working through may well bring me to some other communities of faith for soul-healing and spiritual sustenance in the coming weeks.  I am not likely to find what I need in the mean-spirited community of believers who now represent Catholicism in the U.S.

Did I say mean-spirited?  I mean it, with all my heart.  American Catholics, especially those in the powerful opinion-making center, need to take a good look in the mirror and see what their church has become in the mind of vast numbers of their fellow citizens. 

The graphic illustrates how some American citizens now view the Catholic church, after bishops across the nation diverted donations given by faithful Catholics for upkeep of churches and schools and works of mercy, to attack gay citizens in Maine a year ago.  
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