Thursday, December 29, 2011

Laurie Goodstein on Catholic Bishops' Religious Freedom Rhetoric and Gay Parents

In the New York Times yesterday, Laurie Goodstein surveys the new meme of the American Catholic bishops (borrowed from their religious right bedfellows) that "Catholic" religious freedom is being infringed when the bishops are expected to adhere to state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people and gay couples as a precondition for receiving federal/state funding for Catholic organizations.  As Goodstein points out, the Catholic bishops of Illinois have for the most part chosen to shut down Catholic Charities adoption programs rather than abide by state nondiscrimination laws.

As I've said repeatedly on this blog, it's absurd for religious groups to argue that they're serving the value of freedom when their reason for demanding "freedom" is, quite precisely, to discriminate and thereby infringe the freedom of others.  That argument did not fly when organizations sponsored by white Christian churches tried it in the South vis-a-vis racial discrimination in the past.  And it shouldn't fly when the Catholic bishops try it now vis-a-vis gay citizens.

I'm struck especially by what Goodstein says about the different way in which the leaders of the Missouri Synod Lutheran church--a church that is very theologically conservative and not gay-affirming--chose to handle the same challenge in Illinois faced by the Catholic bishops of the state.  She notes, 

Taking a completely different tack was the agency affiliated with the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which, like the Catholic Church, does not sanction same-sex relationships. Gene Svebakken, president and chief executive of the agency, Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, visited all seven pastoral conferences in his state and explained that the best option was to compromise and continue caring for the children. 
“We’ve been around 140 years, and if we didn’t follow the law we’d go out of business,” Mr. Svebakken said. “We believe it’s God-pleasing to serve these kids, and we know we do a good job.”

This measured, reasonable approach, which refuses to use the well-being of children needing adoptive homes to make an ugly culture-war point, puts the Catholic hierarchy to shame.

The Catholic bishops of Illinois, and all the Catholic bishops who have shut down Catholic Charities adoption services rather than comply with laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples, should be ashamed.  They are not giving admirable Christian witness by their behavior.

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