Friday, November 18, 2011

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Michael Sean Winters on USCCB Meeting: I Respond

Yesterday, I received an email from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, with a copy of Michael Sean Winters's "The Letter from Baltimore," summarizing Winters's reflections on the recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  In this letter, Winters continues the soft-selling of the bishops' new religious liberty initiative that he began in his National Catholic Reporter blog postings about the USCCB meeting, on which I reported several days ago (here and here and here).  Winters's piece for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good defends the bishops for expressing concern about purported restrictions of Catholic religious liberty, and argues that though the bishops were totally silent about the issue of widespread economic suffering in American society today at their recent meeting, they are on record defending the poor in important statements.  

Winters concludes his reflection with a rousing tribute to the "new evangelization" agenda set in motion by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which, in Winters's view, is all about proclaiming liberty for the oppressed (citing Luke 4: 18-19).  And here's the gist of what I've told Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in an emailed response following my reception of their copy of Winters's piece:

When faith-based groups refuse to include LGBT persons as these groups work to lift oppression, they lose they lose all credibility as they argue that they are on the side of the oppressed anywhere in the world.  It's long since past time that faith-based groups--some liberal Christians are particularly prone to this behavior--stop pretending that gay and lesbian persons are not really oppressed in many societies, and do not deserve the support of people of faith.

With their analysis of social and economic oppression that excludes gay persons, the implication that people of faith blind to the considerable oppression endured by LGBT persons in many societies manage to communicate is that the oppression of those who are gay is somehow merited, that it's somehow earned.  Or that it's simply not there, and that the claims of the LGBT community to experience real oppression are made-up.

The persistent attacks of the U.S. Catholic bishops on the humanity and rights of gay persons--most recently at their USCCB meeting in Baltimore--represent a very real, very tangible form of oppression.  To claim that the bishops are validly promoting a "religious freedom" that addresses social and economic oppression, when they're in fact spending lavish amounts of money to block and remove the rights of their gay brothers and sisters, is not only oxymoronic.  It's, in fact, grievously wrong--a misrepresentation of a truth apparent to almost any unbiased observer of the bishops' behavior and statements at the recent USCCB meeting and in recent years.

Anyone who wants to verify that gay persons suffer oppression in America today doesn't have to look very far or do very much homework to amass a sizable body of evidence pointing to such oppression.  At one website alone--Right Wing Watch--I can find within a day or so after the bishops met a link to an article reporting that a Christian pastor, Rev. Vineyard, recently informed the Oklahoma City council (with a standing ovation after he spoke) that "more than half of murders committed in large cities are committed by gay people," and another by a "Christian author and a columnist", Rev. Michael Bresciani, which states that "Satan is doing a good job within the gay community," and those who are gay are connected to a "powerful hierarchy" of demons.

To its credit, the Oklahoma City council chose to reject Vineyard's analysis and passed an ordinance adding sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy for city employees.  My point in  noting the toxic lie that Rev. Vineyard told the city council about the gay community, and the fact that he received a standing ovation as he did so, is this: in American culture, venting casual hatred against gay persons and telling toxic lies about the gay community remains a mainstream activity.  It remains entirely socially acceptable in a way few other forms of overt discrimination remain acceptable.  This particular form of societal oppression of a demonized minority group continues to have mainstream social entree for one reason alone: it thrives due to the influence that religious leaders and religious groups exert in American culture.

Articles like the preceding two are legion in links provided by sites like Right Wing Watch.  Anyone seeking to monitor hate discourse about gay people in the very mainstream of American culture can find multiple examples of it documented on any given day at sites like RWW.  

The hate speech of Pastors Vineyard and Bresciani has real-life effects for gay and lesbian citizens of the U.S.  It inflames acts of outright violence and other acts of social oppression, including discrimination in housing, provision of medical care, and employment for LGBT persons.

Any faith-based group that really wants to address oppression in American society today is not being honest about its concern to deal with oppression, if it ignores or minimizes the real and ongoing oppression that LGBT persons continue to experience in American society.  It is fatuous--it is dishonest and, in its effects, downright cruel--for faith-based groups that tout themselves as opponents of social and economic oppression to pretend that the oppression of LGBT persons does not exist, or that it is somehow merited.

The words of people like Revs. Vineyard and Bresciani have a direct connection to the serious and seemingly intractable problem of violent oppression of gay or gender-questioning young people in American classrooms.  Gay and lesbian teens are killing themselves because they are bullied, often with impunity, in American schools by peers taunting them with "religious" accusations that come right out of the mouths of people like Messrs. Vineyard and Bresciani.

To pretend that the American Catholic bishops, who have remained absolutely silent about the problem of bullying and suicides of gay and gender-questioning youth in our culture, and who have mounted an expensive, high-profile national media campaign attacking the gay community, are somehow on the side of the oppressed when it comes to the gay community is ludicrous.  Almost anyone with a brain in her head and eyes to see can see quite clearly where the Catholic hierarchy stands with regard to the oppression of those who are gay. 

It stands on the side of oppression.  It stands with Revs. Vineyard and Bresciani.  The Catholic hierarchy is part of the problem and not part of the solution, when it comes to challenging homophobic oppression of gay persons, lifting that oppression, and defending those who are gay from discrimination and violence.

And so it is not with good grace that Mr. Winters and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good seek to represent the U.S. Catholic bishops, with their new "religious freedom" initiative, as champions of the oppressed. The statements and actions of the U.S. Catholic bishops in recent years have fueled and continue to fuel social hatred that issues in outright violence against those who are gay and lesbian.

To claim that what the bishops are about in their new "religious freedom" initiative is removing yokes from the shoulders of the oppressed is more than misleading.  It is downright obscene.  Because I am determined to address a form of oppression that is directly resulting in the suicides of gay youth (as I'm determined to address all forms of economic and social oppression), I have no time at all for liberal faith-based groups like Sojourners or a number of liberal Catholic beltway groups that continue to cozy up to religious leaders--including the powerful USCCB lobby--who actively foment discrimination and even hatred of those who are gay.  

It is high time that liberal Christians who proclaim that they're all about standing in solidarity with the oppressed stop acting as if their gay brothers and sisters don't exist, or merit their oppression.  It is high time that liberal Christians stop imagining that they can continue to claim the right to pretend that they are on the side of the oppressed, when they refuse even to see the oppression of their gay brothers and sisters  right in front of their noses.  

Supporting the U.S. Catholic bishops as they roll out a national initiative to "defend" marriage by attacking a vulnerable minority community, lending credence to this vicious behavior by calling it a valid expression of religious freedom, and disingenuously soft-selling the bishops' continued attack on those who are gay as an attempt to combat socioeconomic oppression decidedly does not serve the common good.  Not in any shape, form, or fashion.  Just societies are never built by ignoring the unmerited oppression of minority groups within those societies.  Anyone who offers support to this kind of behavior on the part of powerful religious leaders in a society full of oppression against those who are gay totally undermines his claim to stand on the side of the oppressed.

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