Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Grinning Nuns and Friars Standing Beside Anti-Gay Bigots: The Discussion the U.S. Catholic Church Should Be Having about Indiana, But Refuses to Have

Twitter feed of Governor Pence, private signing, anti-gay "religious freedom" bill

Put the photo at the head of the posting together with the one below, and what picture do you see?

Facebook feed of GLAAD Indiana, from Pence's private signing ceremony 

The two photos already go together, you understand. The second photo, showing the anti-gay activists who are standing immediately behind Pence as he signs the anti-gay "religious freedom" bill, with captions indicating some of the ugly things they've said about gay people: it was taken at the very same signing ceremony at which those nuns, friars, and a priest in Roman collar are all grinning to beat the band. 

Catholic religious and clerics grinning at the signing into law of a bill which explicitly states that it permits private businesses to claim that they have religious scruples about doing business with, providing goods or services for, people who belong to a targeted minority community. Catholic religious and clerics grinning about the signing into law of a bill crafted by and to please people who equate homosexuality with bestiality, who claim that homosexuality is an illness that should and can be treated.

Do you see a problem here? I do.

And yet it's not a problem that the Catholic media are willing to touch. It's not a problem that the Catholic media are willing to talk about, except via vague statements about some needed "balance" between the rights of gay human beings and the rights of religious people (see the Stephen Prothero article linked by NCR today in its "Morning Briefing" column, or see Michael Sean Winters's column yesterday about the Indiana legislation). As if people who are gay are somehow attacking or threatening the rights of people who are religious simply by expecting to be treated like human beings . . . . 

These and other weak-tea Catholic statements about what's going on in Indiana right now — something that has grabbed the national spotlight, so that those grinning nuns and friars and that priest are everywhere online, everywhere in the public eye these days — imply that there's some special Catholic "way" between insupportable, immoral discrimination targeting a minority group, and invalid attacks on religious freedom. These weak-tea approaches to the human rights issue under discussion here do not place the Catholic church unambiguously on the side of opposing discrimination, end of story.

Instead, these weak-tea approaches to a discussion that has engaged people across the U.S. (and the world, to be honest) right now, in which Catholics are being painted in the most unflattering light possible, want to continue suggesting that gay human beings and their human rights are somehow antithetical to what Catholicism stands for, so that there has to be some bending over backwards on the part of the Catholic community to accomodate gay people and their rights. Gay people are a problem, and this is self-evident from the Catholic standpoint, these approaches imply.

The "middle way" approach, the "let's-find-balance" approach, continues to imply that, even in asking that we be treated equally, given the same rights everyone else has, we who are gay are somehow mounting an attack on the Catholic church and other churches that resist respect for those who are gay. We have a "homosexual agenda," I've been told more than once this week by Catholic folks reading and responding to my comments on Facebook. "You're trying to claim rights because of your homosexual agenda."

And: "We would never discriminate against people who are black," they inform me. "That's immoral."

"But we have a right to do whatever we want with our private property. The government has no right to tell us what to do. And when it comes to people who are gay, our religious beliefs are more important than your law."

There's something different, you see, about accomodating the rights of LGBT human beings, as compared to accomodating the rights of people of color or women. When the issue is LGBT rights, the discussion becomes complex, it's problematized by, "our religious belief" or "what the church has always taught" or "the bible."

Never mind that, a generation ago, the very same assertions were being made to deny rights to people of color and to women. Never mind that "our religious belief" and "what the church has always taught" and "the bible" have been used for centuries to support all kinds of invidious beliefs and practices from slavery to racial segregation to antisemitism to making women second-class citizens of church and society.

Somehow, the gay case is different. Because religion. Because bible. Because unchanging tradition.

And so, where none of these other matters demands any discussion at all as Catholics address these issues, we're supposed to discuss whether gay people should have rights, or whether private businesses should be permitted to claim religious belief as a ground for denying goods and services to gay human beings. This is where the Catholic discussion now finds itself, at its best, in the Catholic media. 

This is where the level of the national discussion of these issues is in the best of the U.S. Catholic media. This is the alternative to the really filthy kinds of anti-gay rhetoric one meets when one steps off that fictional "middle" path of the centrist Catholic media and visits Catholic blog sites to the right of center.

Obviously, this centrist "best" is not nearly good enough right now, while those nuns and friars and that priest in his Roman collar grin to beat the band at a signing ceremony in which people who have long since informed the world that they are overtly in favor of discriminating against LGTB human beings are grinning right alongside them. Grinning at having subjugated a minority group in the name of  pure "religion." Grinning and jubilating at having inflicted pain on a group of human beings despised by the "religious."

The message that these two photos give the world about where the Catholic community in the U.S. is, vis-a-vis the humanity, the human rights, of human beings who are gay, an unthinkable message. It's a horrific messsage.

And it's not one that the mainstream Catholic media, who are stuck in middle-of-the-road weak-tea "balanced" centrism, intend to discuss. It's not one they even intend to acknowledge, as leaders of university after university in Indiana speak out against the ugly anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation in their state, while Catholic university leaders — notably, at Notre Dame — keep their mouths tightly shut.

How can they speak out, when the U.S. Catholic bishops bear a tremendous load of responsibility for having set all of this into motion? Where, after all, does the idea that private business owners should have the right to claim religious scruples as a basis for refusing to provide goods and services to certain people originate? The U.S. bishops wrote that notion right into their amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case. It's what they've been lobbying for for some time now.

It's what they've been pushing for for some time now, along with right-wing ideologues who want to assert the "right" of faith communities to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination against minority groups, in order to undermine laws protecting the human rights of minority groups. The U.S. Catholic bishops have been overtly lobbying for discrimination against those who are gay, so how can Catholic institutions possibly open their mouths and say anything meaningful in the current society-wide discussion of these issues, insofar as they stand with the bishops in their bogus politically partisan "religious freedom" crusade that is not and never has been about preserving authentic religious freedom?

What should be under discussion right now is how we in the Catholic community in the U.S. think that we can possibly ever retrieve any credibility again as we talk about human rights and moral issues, when we have, at an official level, taken a stand that is overtly opposed to the human rights of a targeted minority community. What we should be discussing right now is how we in the Catholic community in the U.S. think we can ever possibly live down that photo of those grinning nuns and friars and that priest, jubilating side by side with the anti-gay bigots who crafted the Indiana law, and whose interests it was written to serve.

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