Thursday, November 8, 2012

New America of 2012 Elections: Implications for Religious Conservatives and American Catholic Centrists

Vis-a-vis religion-and-politics news, one of the big narratives emerging from this election cycle is the increasing impotence of the religious right in American politics, and the significant challenges posed to the religious right by the broad coalition of voters (African Americans, Latinos, women, gays, and young people) that, during this election cycle, refused to be browbeaten into submission by the aging white men (including the Catholic hierarchy) who have created and continue to run the religious right machine.  Here are a few statements about this matter:

David Gibson for Religion News Services (via National Catholic Reporter):

Mitt Romney failed in his bid to win the White House back for Republicans, but the biggest losers in Tuesday's voting may be Christian conservatives who put everything they had into denying President Barack Obama a second term and battling other threats to their agenda. 
Instead of the promised victories, the religious right encountered defeat at almost every turn. Not only did Obama win convincingly, but Democrats held onto the Senate -- and the power to confirm judges -- and Wisconsin elected the nation's first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.

Maureen Fiedler at National Catholic Reporter:

I just got word from a friend who is a journalist in Fargo, N.D.: Heidi Heitkamp won the Senate race there over Rick Berg. You may remember her: She was attacked in every way except the explicit use of her name by the Catholic bishop of Bismarck, David Kagan. 
This is just one in a string of election losses for Catholic bishops. In July, they tried to launch a campaign for what they called "religious freedom," questioning provisions of Obamacare that require employers to include contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans. It fizzled, and President Barack Obama's win assures that health care reform will go forward.

Jillian Rayfield at Salon: 

Supreme Court justices in Iowa and Florida held onto their seats last night, despite campaigns by conservative groups to vote them out because they ruled in ways that were unpopular with the right.

At the Commonweal blot site, J. Peter Nixon notes the "narrowness of vision" of the U.S. Catholic bishops, and the Catholic "bubble" inhabited by Catholic "insiders" both liberal and conservative, in which what the bishops have to say matters--while it decidedly does not matter to people living outside that bubble.  In particular, as Nixon notes, it does not matter to a "rising generation" of younger voters who are not only tolerant of but welcoming of diversity.

And he wonders what to do about this.  My advice: 

1. Start reflecting on the manifold ways in which discourse communities like Commonweal's are quite precisely "bubble" communities inhabited by Catholic "insiders" who do not welcome the contributions of Catholic "outsiders" who live outside the bubble, with its narrowness of vision. 
2. Start admitting and critiquing and eradicating the ways in which these "insider" communities living in Catholic bubbles exclude and delegitimate the voices of Catholic "outsiders"--notably, gay and lesbian Catholics, but also younger Catholics, non-white Catholics, Catholic women who don't buy into narrow and restrictive notions of "Catholic" feminism, Catholics who have political visions outside the centrist parameters dictated by the bubble, and so on. 
3. Open the closed dialogic spaces of the Catholic center.  Make them welcoming for a change.  Stop treating some fellow Catholics as if their lives and experience do not count and cannot contribute to the conversation that shapes Catholic identity. 
4. Begin to model welcoming community.  Begin to listen respectfully.  Begin to invite in and stop shoving away.  Above all, begin to critique the astonishing power and privilege that heterosexual (and white) people--especially white heterosexual married men--enjoy within the Catholic church.  And begin to critique the ways in which the structures determining permissible and impermissible discourse at sites like Commonweal reflect the heterosexist male entitlement that is central to "bubble" thinking within the Catholic institution.

My advice, for what it's worth.  If discourse communities of the Catholic center are to be truly and adequately catholic, they need to turn a corner in this regard.  They have long since needed to turn this corner.

And if those controlling these discourse spaces of the Catholic center really care about the future of the American Catholic church, start inviting in the considerable number of fellow Catholics who do not live in the insider bubble and who, in response to the lack of welcoming community among those who control the Catholic identity-making conversation of the center, are making their way beyond the parameters of Catholicism altogether.  If you don't intend to do that, then it might be better to stop talking about this and simply live comfortably inside the bubble--for as long as it lasts.  (And by all indicators, that may not be very long at all.)

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