Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Does Kim Davis Keep at It? The Resilience of the Anti-Gay Stance in American Culture on Eve of Pope's Visit

So why does Kim Davis keep at it? Why do she and her followers persist, though they have, to all intents and purposes, lost a culture-war battle that ended when the Supremes handed down the Obergefell decision? As Michelangelo Signorile has just pointed out, though media pundits love to tell us that the religious right is waning and the culture wars are over and done with — and that there's some mythic GOP "center" that's going to save the Republican party from anti-gay extremism — at this week's GOP debate, the mythic "moderate" candidate, Jeb Bush, told us that he stands with the extremist Mike Huckabee regarding Kim Davis and her "religious freedom" to deny rights to LGBT citizens.

Kim Davis went back to "work" this week, and immediately returned to her posture of defying the Supreme Court, despite federal court orders not to interfere with her office's issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She altered the forms used in her office to issue licenses, creating questions about their legality and placing her deputy clerk Brian Mason, whom she has essentially demoted to the status of a notary public, in a questionable legal position, since he is obeying court orders to issue licenses to same-sex couples, but now using forms that may call into question the legality of these marriages — an act that would be in direct violation of the order of the federal court to Kim Davis's office.

Reverend Huckabee continues to do everything in his power to stir the anti-gay pot, most recently by accusing President Obama of seeking to "appease homosexuals" by nominating an openly gay man as secretary of the U.S. Army. For his part, fellow evangelical leader Reverend Franklin Graham is egging on this attack on the president by claiming in his Facebook feed yesterday that President Obama is promoting a "sinful agenda" in inviting openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and Sister Simone Campbell to the White House as the pope comes to visit.

As David Gibson notes for Religion News Service this morning, not merely right-wing evangelical leaders but Catholic ones including the disgraced former Legionary of Christ priest Thomas Williams (now Mary Ann Glendon's son-in-law) are piling on, too, with claims that President Obama compiled his guest list as a slap in the face to Pope Francis and the Vatican, since — gross! — the pope and a gay "bishop"? In the same room at the same time? With some 14,999 other folks?


And, of course, never to be outdone when a big helping of anti-gay, anti-Obama ordure is on offer anywhere in the public square, the loud and proud defender of all things Catholic Bill Donohue is using his Catholic League website and other media outlets (video link) to shout that President Obama is showing "contempt for Catholics" by inviting the likes of Bishop Robinson and Sister Simone to meet Pope Francis.

My opening question again, then: why do Kim Davis and her supporters — including a slew of leading right-wing evangelicals backed by outspoken anti-gay Catholic leaders from Thomas Williams to Bill Donohue to Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal, both of whom backed Ms. Davis in the last GOP debate — keep at it? We've been told that these folks have lost the battle they're fighting, and that they'd lose any serious influence over the culture at large as the 2016 election cycle began.

Why do these predictions turn out to have been anything but correct? Why, as Dave Cullen asks at the Daily Beast site yesterday, are some evangelicals so angry? (And I'd want to add, "some evangelicals and some Catholics.")

Cullen actually cites a Catholic, Rick Santorum, as he builds his answer to that question. As he notes, at the recent GOP debate, Santorum lamented that the Columbine shooting in 1999 did not ignite a new Great Awakening in the United States. Santorum compared the reaction of the public to Kim Davis in Kentucky to the country's reaction to the imaginary Columbine martyr Cassie Bernall, who supposedly professed her faith at gunpoint and was martyred in the Columbine shooting.

(Except, as Cullen points out, it didn't happen that way: it was a different girl, Valeen Schnurr, who lived to tell her story after she was shot — not Cassie Bernall, who died without saying a word. And Schnurr's story has nothing at all to do with the myth of martyrdom that right-wing Christians chose to seize on following the Columbine shootings.)

Evangelicals, and Catholics like Santorum, are so angry right now, Cullen concludes, because they fully expected the Columbine events to usher in a new age of Christian righteousness in the United States. And, instead, the country has chosen to go in the opposite direction — in their estimation, it has chosen to go to hell in a handbasket. 

And so, as he concludes,

I'm struck not just by the positive nature of the post-Cassie vision, but the searing negativity—which Santorum constantly evokes, and did again in that exchange Wednesday night, where he again demonized gay guys like me as affronts to "Natural Law" and "God's Law"—with Rick Santorum as self-appointed spokesman for both God and nature.  
Instead, they got liberty for people like me—which they see as valueless, because they have judged me as a corrupt abomination. So it's all downfall in their eyes: society accepting me as fully human, instead of ostracizing me until I come to my senses.  
It's the chasm between what the Santorums had hoped for, and what they got that has people like Rick so enraged.  
Worst of all, many of their own Evangelical youth have made gay friends—and black friends and Asian friends. They are not racist or homophobic, and are no longer interested in dehumanizing any of their fellow humans that way. To some eyes, they're losing their own flock.

Evangelicals like Kim Davis or Mike Huckabee or Franklin Graham and their Catholic epigones, aiders, and abetters believe, you see, that when they tell the culture to jump, it ought to jump. Because they say so. Because they issue marriage licenses under God's authority, as Kim Davis has informed same-sex couples to whom she has denied licenses. Their religious beliefs ought to be, when sincerely invoked, a get-out-of-jail free card, a trump card that trumps any and all arguments to the contrary.

And so, while the culture at large may have long since concluded that 1) either the bible does not even address the topic of homosexuality, and could not have done so since that term and the thought-world to which it points did not come into existence until the second half of the nineteenth century, or 2) even if the bible did address the issue of homosexuality, what it might have to say on that point should be as incidental to how we do business in the public square in a pluralistic, secular democracy as what the bible might have to say in favor of slavery, the Kim Davises of our democracy beg to differ.

The bible counts. Their bible counts. It counts above anything you or I might propose. 

Because — and this really is their argument in a nutshell — they say so. And they are sincere in their belief. It's their bible. Not yours. 

If it's their bible and their sincere belief, then your rights be damned.

This is really where they're coming from, Kim Davis and her supporters, convoluted and tautological as the argument may seem to any of us who do not live within their world of assumptions. And they do not intend to relent, because built into this theological universe is an imperative that they impose these convoluted, tautological, anti-democratic views on all the rest of us.

Since they act under God's authority, and how on earth can the rest of you fail to recognize this?

Plus — and we'd be fools to forget this — for Reverends Huckabee and Graham, as for Messrs. Donohue and Santorum and Staver, there's money aplenty to be made in beating this anti-gay drum.

The cartoon is by Steve Sack of Minneapolis Tribune and Cagle Cartoons, by way of Truthdig.

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