Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bill Tammeus on Why Catholics Should Care What Presbyterians Think/Do re: Gay Folks

Wise words from Bill Tammeus about why Catholics should care what Presbyterians do/think vis-a-vis gay persons, and, in particular, about the decision of the Presbyterian Church USA to permit the ordination of openly gay clergy:

Another reason Catholics may care about this Presbyterian story is that it shows once again how the church can be hurt when it fails to be a leader in movements to liberate people. That's a lesson all religions need to learn.

After all, parts of the church once stood in the doorway to keep blacks and other minorities out -- even finding Bible-based ways of justifying slavery. And those churches and their leaders wound up looking foolish.

Parts of the church have blocked full equality for women. And as each day passes that looks like an increasingly untenable position, though, of course, I recognize the freedom each religion or denomination has to stand by its own theology and traditions.

The church can be hurt when it fails to be a leader in movements to liberate people: the Commonweal editorial about gay marriage in New York that I discussed yesterday claims it's defending the church and its rights as it builds walls between "homosexual people" and "the" church.  The religious right, and centrists who continually provide cover for the right while excluding their brothers and sisters of the left from the conversation, predictably claim that they're holding the line against homosexual people and building the walls higher because they're defending the church.

The Commonweal editorial about gay marriage imagines the movement to accord full human status and full human rights to homosexual people as something that threatens the rights, conscience, and religious liberty of people of faith.  

But Tammeus is suggesting (and he's right to do so) that the denial of full humanity and full human rights to gay and lesbian persons actually hurts the church--pace its right-leaning and centrist defenders who maintain that they're protecting the church from hurt by homosexual people.  Churches that talk about human rights and respect for the dignity of all human beings undermine their proclamations about these issues when they treat gay and lesbian human beings as less than human.

Or, as in the case of Commonweal and centrist Catholics in general (and Sojourners and centrist faith-based groups working for social justice), as if gay and lesbian persons just aren't in the room.  As if they don't exist.  As if their humanity is obviously lesser than the humanity of real people, of heterosexual people.   

The church can be hurt when it fails to be a leader in movements to liberate people.  As Martin Luther King, Jr., noted, the church is hurt when it turns itself into the tail-light rather than the head-light in movements to liberate people from oppression because it undermines its most basic proclamations about who it is and what it is called to do when it behaves this way.

As it did all too frequently in the period of slavery, and then when segregation was the law of the land in many parts of the world, and when women sought recognition as full human beings deserving the full range of human rights.  When the church and its defenders do not place the church unambiguously on the side of human rights, they do very serious damage to the church they claim to be defending.

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