Friday, September 30, 2011

Mr. Dolan Writes His Fellow Bishops: Can't Let the Label "Bigot" Stick to Us

I can understand the psychological springs from which the temptation of people of faith opposed to gay people rise, as those people of faith tell themselves that they stand squarely with Christian tradition and aren't bigots like the fringe people of faith who used to imagine that slavery or segregation was justifiable.  No one likes to be thought a bigot, after all.

And then I went on to say,  

But, unfortunately, when positions once regarded as noble and as religiously sound are shown by historical development to be something less than noble and less than religiously sound, the noble defender of the faith often ends up looking like a bigot, instead.  Because, as it turns out, it actually was raw bigotry and not authentic religiosity that the noble defender was defending all along . . . . And we see this in the retrospective light of history, as we work through the painful dialogues that help us realize that positions long held by our faith community need to be discarded as ignoble and as not adequate to our foundational documents, for very sound reasons . . . . 

And unbeknownst to me as I was posting these reflections, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was writing on the very same day to his brother bishops throughout the U.S., stating,*

The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry. As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision. But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. If the label of ―bigot sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

I find that, in almost every case conceivable, when it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, it's a duck, indeed.  Mr. Dolan and his fellow bishops may very well not like to be considered bigots, as they try to remove and block civil rights for gay citizens that are accorded to all other citizens.  Or as they try to impose on secular society their own peculiar religious understanding of issues like how gay and lesbian human beings should be treated--a peculiar faith-based understanding not shared by any means by all their fellow citizens in a pluralistic secular democracy.  Or, for that matter, a peculiar faith-based understanding of where gay and lesbian human beings fit into the scheme of things not shared by a large majority of American Catholics . . . .

But it's the very essence of bigotry to try to dehumanize and demean others who are different from oneself--simply because they are different, and different in a way that makes you uneasy and causes you to stigmatize these folks different from yourself.  And it's the very essence of bigotry to declare that you and yours deserve rights that those designated as other in a demeaning way don't deserve.  Just because.  Because you are you and they are they.  And the power to define who counts and who doesn't, who's in and who's out, happens to lie in your hands.

And wrapping those ignoble causes up in noble-sounding religious rhetoric doesn't make them any less bigoted.  To the contrary . . . .

(Later today: I'm just now catching up on blog reading, and find Alan McCornick has already posted a scintillating and right-on-target posting about Dolan's statement, at his Hepzibah blog.   I love how Alan responds to Mr. Dolan directly and pointedly in a "letter to Timothy": must read.)**

*This document is a pdf file, for readers that need this information.  I'm finding it opens for me only sporadically, after it initially opened fine.  For this letter's context, see this page on the USCCB website, which has a link to the letter, as well as this report by Kevin Clarke at the "In All Things" blog site maintained by America magazine.

** I now realize Alan is responding to Dolan's recent letter on the same topic to President Obama.  As I noted in a posting about this several days ago, I read these stepped-up attacks on the current administration as the 2012 election cycle begins as an attempt on the part of the U.S. Catholic bishops to play politics and herd Catholic voters to the Republican side in the coming elections.  Nothing Dolan says in his most recent letter--the one I discuss above--causes me to alter that judgment about the political games the bishops are playing as they release such statements now.

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