Saturday, June 9, 2012

About Those "Non-Partisan" Stand Up Rallies Yesterday: One Reporter's Analysis

As I noted yesterday, some leading Catholic journalists are still trying to spin the U.S. Catholic bishops' religious freedom initiative as non-political and non-partisan.  After I had posted about this yesterday morning, Michael Sean Winters reiterated his claims about the bishops' non-partisan intents with a later statement at his NCR blog, claiming, 

I actually believe that most bishops do not wish to pursue a partisan agenda. I believe a large number of bishops, perhaps even a majority, worry when they pursue a non-partisan agenda that has partisan consequences.

It seems that Winters's sources in the USCCB who inform him that the fortnight for freedom is non-partisan are the same bishops from whom his friend Melinda Henneberger at the Washington Post has been receiving secret communications: according to Henneberger, "a bishop who spoke to me on the condition that I not quote him by name" has assured her that the shock-and-awe events the bishops have staged for this summer, one of which occurred yesterday, are absolutely non-partisan, non-political.

Unfortunately, the memo from the USSCB about the non-partisan nature of yesterday's shock-and-awe enactment seems not to have reached the hinterlands.  Here's Max Brantley, editor of the Arkansas Times, reporting on yesterday's Stand Up for Religious Liberty rally in Little Rock, at which the Catholic bishop of Arkansas Anthony Taylor spoke along with Jerry Cox, leader of the religious right anti-gay group Family Council, and GOP political leader Beth Anne Rankin:

It was a political event. A Republican politician was a featured speaker. Republican political operatives were on hand and sent out photos, such as the one above. Republicans called the roll on which Republicans were in attendance and Democrats who were not. Obamacare and abortion were much on the minds of the attendees. Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor got a noticeably cool response when he mentioned the government's ill treatment of immigrants. Taylor, whose advocacy for immigrants was once a foundational interest, has become more engaged in sexual politics of late, and not just the all-out fight against contraception. He also recently punished a vital Latino assistance group because of its tangential relationship to an out-of-state organization that believed help to immigrant families should include those headed by same-sex parents. 
In short: Friday's rally was primarily about people who want to defeat President Obama's health care policies and defeat Obama in the fall. A non-existent attack on religion was the bloody shirt.

It's unfortunate, isn't it, that the left and right hands of the USCCB appear not to be interacting with each other so that we Catholics in the heartland, in places like far-away Arkansas, aren't getting the memo from Mr. Winters's and Ms. Henneberger's episcopal friends ("a bishop who spoke to me on the condition that I not quote him by name") about how, gosh darn it, ma'am, people are just flat misunderstanding what we intended by these little old non-partisan, non-political rallies.

It's too bad we Catholics aren't getting those memos out here in the heartland, since as the recently released Human Rights Campaign report on growing up LGBT in America finds, in Arkansas

  • nearly two thirds of LGBT youth indicate they're been harassed with anti-gay slurs 
  • 42 percent report they've been harassed online
  • one in four LGBT teens in my state say they've been physically assaulted at school
  • 36 percent of these teens in Arkansas characterize their lives as happy, against a national norm of 67 percent for heterosexual teens.

Across the U.S., LGBT youth are far more likely to be homeless, in foster care, or living in high-risk situations than are their straight peers--in most cases, because their families rejected them when they came out of the closet or showed signs of being gay or gender non-confroming.  Across the U.S., LGBT youths are far more likely to feel suicidal or actually to act on suicidal impulses than straight teens, for the very same reason (familial rejection) and because religious groups persist in informing them that they are headed to hell, are worthless, and do not deserve to dream of happy lives.

And there's more: as Jonathan Merritt notes in a current Atlantic article to which Brantley links in his preceding report about yesterday's "non-partisan" "religious freedom" rally in Arkansas, abundant empirical evidence shows younger Americans who have grown up in churched homes leaving the churches in droves as they grow up, precisely because the religious right has to such a significant extent captured the voice of American churches.  And because people of faith in "tolerant" and "liberal" churches who pull against that development--especially in places like Arkansas, where the development is so strong--are wishy-washy, won't open their mouths to speak out, and stand by in tacit consent as the oppression unfolds.  And younger Americans are sick and tired of all of this, of the identification of Christian faith with right-wing politics, and, above all, with gay bashing.

The memo about how the shock-and-awe events the U.S. Catholic bishops have staged this summer as the 2012 elections approach surely does need to filter down to hinterland areas like Arkansas, or North Carolina, or Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, etc., etc.  Because for now, it appears to many Catholics throughout the U.S. that these events are being staged for no other reason than to assure the defeat of the sitting president in the fall elections.

And the price the Catholic church may pay for aligning itself with a political agenda of hate may be rather steep, if the church comes to be seen as identified with, well, hate.  And not with loving, healing, reaching out, including, affirming, and protecting vulnerable youth from bullying, discrimination, and social and familial rejection that spurs suicidal thoughts.

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