Friday, June 24, 2011

In the News: Obama and Marriage, Catholic Church's Welcoming Problem, Jim Wallis and Sojourners Again

As the week ends, a selection of articles from the week's news that have caught my eye:

David Remnick writing in the New Yorker about Mr. Obama and marriage equality: Remnick rightly notes that, not far down the road of history, we'll look back on the preposterous, insincere jockeying of many American leaders now to claim the title of most-ardent-defender-of-marriage-vs.-the-gays with the same bemusement with which we now look back on the grandfathers of these defenders of morality vowing to fight to the last drop of blood to preserve the sacred right of white people to diss black ones.

And then there's President Obama: who used to be for marriage equality.  But who's now not for it.  Because, you know, "God's in the mix."  And as Remnick rightly notes, this principles-lite pseudo-religious posturing is all about currying the favor of the mythical swing voters for whom morality is really, really important (except when the moral issue on the table is the question of whether a group of citizens barred from rights others enjoy ought to have the same rights everyone else has; or when the moral issue involves standing up for principle and refusing to tailor yourself to the bigot du jour in order to win votes).  

And so, Remnick is right to conclude that Obama's waffling on the issue of the human rights of gay and lesbian persons is just about as noble as was FDR's foot-dragging about banning racial discrimination in the defense industries up to 1941:

Obama has done the right thing on prodding Congress to roll back “don’t ask, don’t tell” and on other gay issues. But it cannot be reassuring to gay men and women to hear from this President that his views on gay marriage are “evolving.” Thankfully, a lot has happened on gay marriage since the last election—early Wednesday evening, New York was one stubborn vote away from transformation. It is long past time for Obama to plant himself in the camp of fairness, decency, and honor. In civil-rights terms, it is 1965 on this issue, but Obama is still acting like—well, like F.D.R. And that, in this case, is no credit to a worthy and ambitious Presidency.

Meanwhile, the president's refusal to lead on this human rights issue--the central civil rights struggle of our time--continues to give aid and succor to the kind of religious bigots who keep using religion-based blogs to inform gay and lesbian human beings that we're depraved frequenters of bathhouses, as a Catholic blogger did in a discussion with me and others at the Commonweal site yesterday (a discussion about creating a welcoming atmosphere for gay folks in the Catholic church!).  And as the hate-mongers at the Catholic-dominated National Organization of Marriage continue to do on a daily basis, citing the president's position on marriage as an endorsement of their side.

And on that question of how to craft a truly welcoming approach to gay and lesbian human beings in the Catholic church, Michael O'Loughlin of America's In All Things blog has a fine piece at Huffington Post this week.  It's about how faith communities inevitably have a human face.  That is, who they are to others, what they signify to others, comes down less to what they teach and proclaim and more to what they do.  To what individual members of a faith community do, vis-a-vis those to whom they proclaim their messages.

O'Loughlin concludes that the ugly incendiary language ("ugly" is my qualifier here, not O'Loughlin's) used by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the current battle against gay human beings  gay marriage in New York, and the recent postponement by Archbishop Sean O'Malley of a Mass welcoming everyone to a Boston parish, spell "trouble ahead for the Catholic church."  Because more and more people have brothers, sisters, parents, friends, and co-workers who are openly gay and lesbian.

And these human faces have a human significance for those who love them.  When they are confronted with glowering human faces of church officials who, for weal or woe, become the church for gay and lesbian human beings, increasing numbers of people will choose the human face they love. Not the scowling, condemning faces of the Catholic hierarchy.  

And they should do so.  They should make this choice to embody love to those whom they love, even when their church, which proclaims itself to be the sign of God's salvific love in the world, behaves precisely the opposite.  As should Mr. Obama as well, if he had a conscience.

And speaking of the president's refusal to lead in the premier human rights debate now roiling our culture, what's up with Jim Wallis of Sojourners?  Am I crazy, or has he recently changed his byline at Huffington Post to read, "Christian leader for social change"?

If so--if he has made that change in recent weeks--I can only conclude that this is his way of responding to the recent controversy about Sojourners' ongoing refusal to "take sides" in the battle for human rights for gay and lesbian human beings.  And what an astonishing way to respond to the appeal to him and Sojourners to do the right thing and exercise real leadership in this moral struggle!  To respond it to by tagging himself with the grandiose title, "Christian leader for social change" . . . .

Sojourners keeps sending me emails asking me to support this or that initiative for human rights around the world--for anyone's human rights except those who are gay and lesbian--and I keep firing emails back thanking them for the invitation, and reminding them that I'm not prepared to believe in their support for human rights as long as they announce that they cannot take sides in the premier battle for human rights in our country today. 

Here's what I told them yesterday, in response to an appeal to call on Mr. Obama to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, in which Wallis states, "It's time for the faith community to help lead . . .":

Thank you for the offer for me to support a Sojourners initiative.  I have gladly done this in the past, until you recently made plain that you cannot "take sides" in the struggle of LGBT persons in their historic struggle for human rights and justice. 

At that point, you lost my support.  I agree with Mr. Wallis:  "It's time for the faith community to help lead . . . ."

But that is what you're failing to do through your refusal to do what is right and stand on the side of justice and human rights for a despised minority.  And I am absolutely appalled by Mr. Strider's recent statement to Sarah Posner that he finds the controversy about Sojourners' homophobia "amusing."

Your organization (or perhaps the men running it) has a very serious problem with homophobic prejudice.  You need to address this problem quickly, or you will soon find yourselves irrelevant to discussions of human rights and justice.

The reference to Sarah Posner and Strider: in a recent article at Religion Dispatches, to which the preceding link points, Posner states that she had bumped into Burns Strider, sometime spokesperson for Jim Wallis and Sojourners, as she returned from the recent Netroots conference.  Strider told her he found the flap over Sojourners' refusal to run the Believe Out Loud ad, which has elicited much push-back against Sojourners' continuing dismissal of gay issues, "amusing."

Strider was, of course, tweaking Posner's nose, since Religion Dispatches, of which she's an editor, was among the blogs that broke the story of Sojourners' rejection of Believe Out Loud's ad.  Strider's remark is his way of communicating that he and Wallis are D.C. insiders, where the kind of progressive faith-based communities Posner and Religion Dispatches represent will remain on the outside until they behave themselves and start playing the beltway game.  Stop chumming with the queers and nattering on about queer rights . . . .

At a subtextual--but still loud and clear--level, what Strider is communicating with his remark, of course, is that the gays themselves are "amusing."  Because they have trifling power and trifling access compared to the access he and big men like Wallis enjoy, inside beltway circles.  And the gays can froth at the mouth all they want about being discriminated against.  But the frothing won't change anything at all, as long as real men, big men, like Strider and Wallis stand in the door and function as power-brokers for the beltway community, when it comes to faith-based issues.

And is it any wonder that, with folks like this advising the Democratic party today about how to respond to moral issues and issues involving religious communities, the best we get from the Democrats, when they are in power, are vapid statements about how gays have no right to marry because "God's in the mix," and the states ought to decide who may marry--when it took federal action to stop states that never intended to stop discriminating against interracial couples?

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