Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Mormons Join Catholic Bishops' Discrimination Party in Minnesota

Guess who's coming to dinner?  The dinner being the discrimination-gala the Catholic bishops of Minnesota have been throwing the past few years, as they make combating the gays and the human rights of gay citizens their major priority.

The new dinner guests (to no one's real surprise): the Mormons.  As Joanna Brooks (she's Mormon herself, it's worth noting, but someone who has consistently supported gay rights) reports at Religion Dispatches yesterday, this past Sunday LDS church leaders read a statement in all LDS churches throughout Minnesota encouraging Mormons to work to pass the amendment to the state constitution that Minnesota's Catholic bishops are actively promoting--to ban same-sex marriage in the state.

The decision of Minnesota Mormons to jump openly into this particular political fray will inevitably bring back memories for many folks of the strong support the LDS church gave to proposition 8 in California. Mormon money and Mormon organizational skills carried the day in California in stripping the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of that state.

Political activist Fred Karger has carefully studied the LDS involvement in the prop 8 battle in California. Karger has amassed very strong evidence that, behind the scenes, the LDS church more or less funded the entire proposition 8 machine, and that it funneled money through hidden channels directly from Mormon churches and Salt Lake City into the political operations in California, using its religious tax-exempt status as a shield to avoid disclosure of its use of church funds to carry out a political campaign.

What's happening in Minnesota will also bring back memories for many people of the decision that the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, George Niederauer, made in the prop 8 campaign to bring Mormons into the picture.  Niederauer had previously been the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, and he knew Mormon organizational skills (and Mormon money) well.  As many news outlets reported during the prop 8 battle, Niederauer apparently worked out an agreement with LDS leaders that had the Mormon church footing the campaign financially and through its extensive pool of volunteer workers, while the Catholic church carried the campaign forward in the public sphere and media--since Mormons have a history of being distrusted by the American mainstream and did not want to court negative publicity for their church by taking a high public profile in the prop 8 campaign.

As I noted recently when I spoke about the endorsement of Romney's candidacy by a group of former ambassadors to the Vatican, there's no little irony about the fact that two churches with such wildly divergent understandings of what family is all about are now openly and actively colluding in the battle to save the "traditional" family.  With its history of openness in its very foundations and at the very top of its structures to the idea of polygamy and with its various other non-standard (from the viewpoint of Christian orthodoxy) theological embellishments, the Mormon theology of the family could not be more different from the Catholic notion of family.  

And so one has to ask precisely what notion of the "traditional" family--apart from the exclusion of same-sex couples from any model of family--the two churches imagine they're collaborating in defending, as they work first in California and now in Minnesota to defend the "traditional" family.  What is clear is that this is an alliance that the Catholic right (including the U.S. Catholic bishops) has been working very hard to cement--a judgment confirmed by the announcement in 2010 by the Mormon-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, Deseret News, that it had invited the éminence grise of Catholic right-wing intellectual life (and mastermind of the Manhattan Declaration) Robert P. George to join its editorial board.  

One can only conclude that the animating force of this LDS-Catholic alliance to defend the "traditional" family is not the traditional family at all, since the two churches do not share a theology of family that is in any way congruent.  What's driving the alliance is blatant prejudice against those who are gay and lesbian, and the need of both churches, with their completely discrepant notions of family, to exclude gay and lesbian citizens from the notion of family.  And from a civil right enacted through the decisions of the civil secular sphere, when it chooses to permit same-sex couples to marry.

Notions of family (or of religion, for that matter) that need to be built around excluding, discriminating, demeaning minorities and stripping away their rights, coercing the public sphere to do the bidding of religious groups: how viable can these be, when such a price has to be paid to maintain them?  History seldom judges such raw discrimination practiced in the name of religion as a praiseworthy demonstration of the power of religious belief and religious ideas.

The graphic is a photograph of the past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George, greeting members of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles M. Russell Ballard and Quentin L. Cook in Salt Lake City in February 2010.

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