Friday, April 10, 2015

Update, Further Commentary, on Recent Firing of Gay Teachers at Two Catholic High Schools in Midwest

And another brief update to a story I posted yesterday — this one about Matthew Eledge, who was recently fired by Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha after he became engaged to his partner, and Tyler McCubbin, who saw job offer made to him by Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines revoked because he's gay and engaged to a partner. My posting yesterday linked to Bob Shine's report on these two stories at New Ways Ministry's blog Bondings 2.0, which notes that more than 40 people have lost jobs in Catholic institutions in the U.S. over LGBT issues since 2008.

As with stories similar to this in Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions around the country in the past few years, what has happened to Eledge and McCubbin is making national and even international news. Reports about the discrimination practiced in Catholic institutions are no longer confined to Catholic newspapers. These reports now circulate everywhere, in part, due to the magic of the Internet as it facilitates instant worldwide communication within networks of people interested in particular issues.

Which is to say: these stories give the Catholic church a terrific black eye, when some people within the church (aided and abetted by the mainstream media, in many cases) bend over backwards to pretend that, under Pope Francis, the church has become a welcoming, safe place for LGBT human beings. These reports pull aside the veil of Catholic tribalistic denialism, of parochial self-serving Catholic pretense (our tribe is the best, the kindest, the most welcoming of all tribes), and let people see what really goes on within Catholic institutions vis-a-vis those who are gay, even as we're being told that we live in a new, kinder, gentler, who-am-I-to-judge era of Catholic history.

These reports help to explain why even the mainstream media increasingly raise their eyebrows when cheerleaders for the Catholic hierarchy like Michael Sean Winters or Peter Steinfels or Paul Horwitz assure us, over and over again, that as the bishops and their right-wing evangelical allies talk about "religious freedom," they're not really talking about discrimination. Michael is livid that the media now keep putting "religious liberty" in scare quotes when they report on the anti-gay legislation in places like Indiana and Arkansas. 

Wouldn't you think this media development, reflecting a significant cultural shift, might make Michael (and Peter and Paul and their tribe) stop to reflect a moment, to wake up and see that what they're defending under the guise of defending "religious freedom" isn't what it claims to be at all? That it really is all about the "right" to discriminate and to use religion as a buttress for such discrimination?

People aren't quite so stupid as Michael, etc., appear to think they are, as these gentlemen call for "experts" like themselves to address the problems of religious freedom and discrimination that we untutored common people just can't quite figure out for ourselves. People do have eyes. They see

They recognize that the Catholic bishops and right-wing evangelicals (and their cheerleaders in the centrist Catholic media) have turned the notion of religious freedom on its head — have turned what was meant to be a shield into a sword. Hence what Michael calls "scare quotes." The quotes around the term "religious freedom" do not, as he pretends to believe, cast aspersions on the concept of religious freedom. Instead, they plainly signify that what's under discussion as the bishops and their right-wing evangelical allies call for respect for religious freedom is not the concept of religious freedom as a shield for minority groups, which is enshrined in the federal RFRA, but the concept of "religious freedom" as a weapon to be used by what was once the solid majority, but is now a waning majority, to continue attacking an embattled minority group.

The bishops and their right-wing evangelical allies have, quite simply, picked the wrong side of a very important historic struggle for human rights for a despised minority group. And their cheerleaders picked the wrong side when they chose to stand with the bishops and provide cover for their bogus "religious freedom" crusade. Stories like the story of what's happening right now to Matthew Eledge and Tyler McCubbin succeed only in further convincing people — people with eyes to see — that such a major cultural shift is, indeed, underway, and that those giving cover to the bishops and right-wing evangelicals intent on keeping discrimination alive in the name of religion have chosen the wrong side of the historical struggle, to their great discredit.

Here are a few examples of those stories, which are not in the Catholic media, but are at other news sites online, and are now circulating widely among people interested in the misuse of the concept of religious discrimination to attack gay people: here's Abby Zimet at Common Dreams this morning, on what's happening at Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines in response to Tyler McCubbin's firing: 

Bearing signs proclaiming, "We Are Not the Gatekeepers to the Kingdom," about 200 students at Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines, Iowa - Yes. Teenagers. Catholic. Iowa. - and their supporters walked out of classes this week to protest  the school's withdrawal of a full-time job offer to popular substitute teacher Tyler McCubbin because he's openly gay and engaged to a man, which school/church officials said is "at odds with church teaching." As a religious institution, Dowling is legally entitled to discriminate and thus flaunt state civil rights laws, even though it gets generous tax subsidies from the same state whose laws it's ignoring. But students were unimpressed with the call to so-called church teaching: Considering the classic hypothetical question, "WWJD?" they decided Jesus would urge "that ye love one another, as I have loved you," and give Tyler the damn job.

And here's Jack Jenkins at Think Progress on the same student protest and how it reflects similar protests against discriminatory anti-gay actions taken by Catholic institutions nationwide of late: 

Activists in Des Moines are part of a rapidly expanding movement of American Catholics challenging Catholic institutions that discriminate against gay employees. Students of Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska are rallying behind Matthew Eledge, an English teacher and speech coach who is being fired for claiming his LGBT identity (a petition in support of Eledge currently has over 35,000 signatures). Meanwhile, a Catholic food pantry in Kansas City, Missouri, and a music director at a church in a church Inverness, Illinois are both suing after they were fired by their respective employers for being openly gay. And in San Francisco, thousands of teachers, students, and parents are engaged in a sustained protest effort against their Archishop, Salvatore Cordileone, demanding he abandon a new “morality clause” for Catholic schoolteachers that would make it legal to fire people for being publicly gay. Similar fights are also being waged among Catholic communities in Miami, Cincinnati, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, among others.

Finally, here's Antonia Blumberg at Huffington Post on the kind of person (McCubbin is Lutheran, by the way) whom Dowling Catholic High has just fired: 

A substitute teacher who says he was denied a job at a Roman Catholic high school when the administration discovered his sexual orientation is finding strength and support in his faith. 
"My faith has grown during this time," Tyler McCubbin told The Huffington Post. "Love doesn't have any boundaries. It comes in various forms, and that's all were asked to do as Christians -- to love one another."

Blumberg quotes McCubbin:

He said he has been "overwhelmed" by the support he's received from students, alumni and faculty. 
"It makes me want to reach out to any other student who identities as Christian or Catholic and faces this discrimination, to let them know that, no matter what, at the end of the day you are loved by somebody," McCubbin said. 

Who's the Christian here? Who's the Christian in these stories of Catholic institutions denying rights — jobs, job security, a place to use their talents, a place within a community, healthcare benefits, a salary — to people because of their sexual orientation? And who proves, over and over again, to be anything but a Christian in these stories?

People can see. And because they can see, they understand what's at stake in the "religious freedom" discussions that people like Michael Sean Winters, Peter Steinfels, and Paul Horwitz want to parse for us on behalf of the Catholic bishops and their right-wing evangelical cronies. 

To repeat: these stories, which circulate everywhere online these days, give the Catholic church a terrific black eye, as it pretends to be entering into a kinder and gentler phase of "Who am I to judge?" They put the lie to the claim of the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church that, in defending the bastardization of religious freedom they're defending in places like Indiana and Arkansas, they're not defending their "right" to discriminate against those who are gay. And they (should) terribly embarrass the bishops' cheerleaders in the Catholic academy and media, people like Peter Steinfels, Paul Horwitz, and Michael Sean Winters, who vastly underestimate the ability of ordinary people, the kind of people the centrist arbiters of the conversation defining Catholic identity want to rule out of that conversation, to see clearly what's really going on as the bishops shout, "Religious freedom."

(Thanks to my Facebook friend Claire Charlebois-Jackson for pointing me to the Huffington Post article linked above.)

The photo of students protesting at Dowling Catholic High in Des Moines is from Abby Zimet's article linked above.

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