Friday, September 30, 2011

More on Commonweal's Discussion of Belforti Case: The Limits of the Centrist Perspective

The Pastoral Response
Piggybacking on the posting I made a few moments ago about the toxic effects of beltway "centrism" on the American political process: I appreciate the attempt of some participants (notably Gerelyn Hollingsworth) in the Commonweal discussion about Ledyard, NY, town clerk Rose Marie Belforti to which I linked yesterday, to point out that you have to stand somewhere, vis-a-vis issues like whether gay and lesbian persons deserve the same human rights other human beings enjoy.

I particularly like Gerelyn Hollingsworth's response to Commonweal editor Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, when Steinfels depicts what's happening with Belforti as a "set-up" in which two powerful groups of players--pro-gay and anti-gay--are testing the conscience clause in the new law permitting civil marriage for gay citizens of New York.  Hollingsworth responds, "Testing the law is a citizen’s right."

In other words, as I read her response (and she may well differ from my interpretation), the presumption that we stand nowhere--that we stand in the safe center, apart from two warring parties who are battling it out--is really an illusion.  It's an illusion when one of the two parties has the powerful weight of historic precedent, legal rulings, and religious tradition (not to mention massive economic resources) on its side, and the other is fighting for rights long denied to it as a stigmatized minority group.

When we claim to stand in the middle of such a fight, looking on disdainfully at the power politics we imagine being played out on both sides, certain of our superior and objective vantage point, we're really ultimately siding with those who have power.  As I've stated repeatedly as a critique of the Commonweal position about gay rights and the place of gay and lesbian human beings in the Catholic church, I see the Commonweal claim to represent an "on the one hand, on the other hand" objectivity as a kind of sleight of hand that seeks to disguise, and to avoid admitting openly, where this centrist Catholic journal really does stand vis-a-vis gay rights: and that's with the U.S. Catholic bishops against the rights of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian citizens of the nation.

I understand why the journal doesn't want to avow that position quite so overtly as I put it here.  But I also think that one can come to no other judgment about the Commonweal position on issues of gay rights than this, when one reads the editorial statements of the journal over the past several years--e.g., their latest statement about the decision to permit same-sex marriage in New York.

As I've noted repeatedly, I find the centrist tack taken by this influential American Catholic journal disappointing, because 1) it refuses to engage the heterosexual power and privilege of those promoting this position (and it refuses, therefore, to engage the heterosexism of official Catholic teaching about homosexuality and about sexual ethics in general), and 2) it also brother and sister Catholics who happen to be gay and lesbian as if they are not every bit as much members of the body of Christ as is the Commonweal crowd.

Who claim to occupy the center of truth, and to speak with "on the one hand, on the other hand" objectivity about these matters, while never dreaming that they may be speaking from their own never-acknowledged position of heterosexist power and privilege . . . . Maybe things would be different if Commonweal had, on its editorial and journalistic staff, an openly gay or lesbian Catholic writing for the journal.

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