Friday, October 30, 2009

News from the Week: Maine Anti-Gay Initiative's Shenanigans, More on Rome's Invitation to Anglicans

It’s apparently not just this site that has gotten plastered with ads from the Yes on 1 folks—the group trying to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine. John Aravosis reported yesterday at Americablog Gay that the ads had shown up on his blog, too. John says, “Folks, just an FYI, the anti-gay bigots in the Catholic Church and the religious right in Maine are buying Google Ads on all the gay sites.” The ad that showed up on his site appears to be the same one that I found on this blog—one that tries to stir up fears that gays are out to recruit children.

I’m trying to understand the rationale of this move. Since people visiting Americablog Gay or Bilgrimage will likely not be inclined to donate money to Yes on 1 or support its goals, why plaster sites like this with No on 1 ads?

Well, at least we must have attracted these folks’ attention, and that’s probably not bad. They know they’re being watched as they wheel and deal—and watched in some cases by people of faith, as they claim that they wheel and deal in the name of the Lord.

Thankfully, around 100 religious leaders representing a wide range of communities of faith gathered in Washington, D.C., yesterday to provide another perspective about the role of faith in debates about gay rights today. They represent a coalition of some 200 ministers in D.C. who have formed D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality. The group spoke in support of a bill before the D.C. city council, which would permit same-sex marriage.

As Benedict continues to re-brand the Catholic church as the international shelter par excellence for Christian homophobes and misogynists, many faith communities will continue to move in the opposite direction: they will continue the march to justice alongside their gay brothers and sisters, regardless of Romes warnings and the shrill cries of other right-wing religious groups that are trying to build 21st-century Christianity around misogyny and homophobia today.

They’ll continue their march because it’s the right thing to do, the gospel-oriented thing to do. It is very difficult to preach a gospel centered on God’s salvific love for all, and, in particular, for the dispossessed and wounded, while targeting a vulnerable minority and seeking to make the lives of members of that minority group even more miserable. It’s difficult to do so and retain credibility as you proclaim the gospel, that is.

Particularly not when the men fulminating against intrinsically disordered gays are wearing pink dresses and fabulous designer shoes. As Andrew Sullivan notes, one of the open secrets of contemporary right-wing Catholicism, with its fixation on smells and bells and parsing theological rules to keep everyone in line, is that many of those in the driver’s seat of this movement are repressed gay men: “But there is as much an overlap of closeted gay priests and bishops with liturgical and theological orthodoxy as there is of closeted gay politicians finding ways to oppress other gays who are out and open.”

For a humorous take on the recent Roman invitation to dissident Anglicans which touches on that open secret about which we’re not supposed to talk, have a look at Stephen Colbert’s recent send-up of the Roman invitation. Colbert, who’s Catholic, is in his zone with this bit of comedy, and I’m glad that Cathleen Kaveny has chosen to blog about it at Commonweal.

As she notes, the clip is on YouTube, which means that it becomes a message—a theological one, one worth theological attention—for a whole generation of young folks. To ignore the theological conversations that are taking place at this popular level, in the name of a theological elitism that disdains all popularizing of theological discourse, is to miss a significant opportunity to comment on theological reflection at the level at which it reaches the widest audience possible.

I like Randall Balmer’s persistent statement, in the Colbert clip, of what’s really at the heart of this discussion: the Jesus about whom we read in the gospels never turns his back on those who are in need. He reaches out. He includes. He brings in and does not shove away.

As Balmer notes, organizations built around a message that appears to be about only the negative, around a message of exclusion, are likely to falter. And a church built around such a message is failing to be a sacramental sign of Christ in the world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rick Warren and Ugandan Legislation to Criminalize Homosexuality: Bitter Fruit

Pastor Rick Warren is back in the news again—in a way that I don’t imagine will please him, as he tries to craft a kinder and gentler, a non-homophobic, public image for himself. Today, Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank that publishes The Public Eye, has issued a press release calling on Rev. Warren to renounce the savagely anti-gay legislation now before the Ugandan legislature.

This legislation seeks to criminalize gay sex with a penalty of life imprisonment for those who engage in gay sex. It would also provide capital punishment for those having same-sex relations if they are HIV+ or having sex with someone under 18. No such penalties are envisaged for straight people engaging in the same activities. The law also seeks to outlaw all human rights groups advocating for LGBT rights.

Why call on Rick Warren to involve himself in Ugandan politics? Well, it appears he has a certain history with that nation. He’s already involved. Quite a few commentators on the Ugandan situation are suggesting that the savage homophobia now on display in the country’s governing body is a direct outcome of years of right-wing American evangelical meddling in the affairs of this African nation—meddling in which Rev. Warren has played a key role.

As Political Research Associates note, in March 2008 Warren told Ugandans that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. And as Rick Street at Religion Dispatches points out, Rev. Warren has identified Uganda as a “purpose-driven nation.” One of the leaders of the anti-gay campaign in Uganda, an evangelical pastor named Rev. Martin Ssempa, who has called for the arrest of gay activists, is a disciple of Warren’s.

A Zambian Anglican priest, Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who has documented the influence of U.S. evangelicals on African politics, states,

Rick Warren shows one face in the United States where he says he loves gays, and another face in Africa, which is on the verge of pogroms against this community. We need to hear his voice loud and clear on this issue that gays and lesbians are entitled to full human rights.

In Rick Street’s view, Uganda is “in many ways an experiment in right-wing Christian social thought.” The country’s location on the borderline between Christian and Muslim areas of Africa has attracted American evangelical missionaries who want to promote a militant Christianity to counter Islam. To further this agenda, right-wing American Christians have deliberately exported Western culture-war battles to Uganda, as they try to craft a truly godly Christian nation in Africa to shame decadent Western Christians who increasingly tolerate and affirm gay persons.

As Tarso Luís Ramos, the executive director of Political Research Associates, observes,

Anti-gay activists here in the U.S. have used vitriol and money to entice their African counterparts to campaign against ordination of gay clergy in the Episcopal and other U.S. mainline churches. They have also exported the U.S. culture wars, fomenting particularly severe forms of homophobia in Uganda and other African countries whose sexual minorities are now the collateral damage to our domestic conflicts.

And now this religio-political meddling in the affairs of African nations is bearing bitter fruit. The Ugandan legislation to criminalize homosexuality was introduced this past March, immediately following a conference held by the Ugandan Family Life Network, at which Don Schmierer, president of Exodus International, and Holocaust revisionist and anti-gay evangelical activist Scott Lively deliberately fanned the flames of homophobia in the nation’s political life. As Jim Burroway notes, Lively addressed members of the Ugandan parliament, informing them that legalizing homosexuality would be like legalizing “the molestation of children or having sex with animals.”

For those interested in global trends in Christianity, this is a significant story to follow. One of the powerful memes the religious right has sought to plant in the American mainstream media claims that African Christianity has retained a purer, truer form of Christian faith than have the decadent churches of the West. The claim constantly made in media presentations of the African churches is that these churches are now embattled, that they are being pushed by progressive groups in North American and European churches to adopt practices alien to traditional African Christianity—practices like accepting women in positions of leadership and tolerating gays and lesbians.

This is a completely distorted—a false—representation of the historical roots of African Christianity. This interpretation assumes that the churches of Africa have previously been immune to political and theological influences from the West, and are only now encountering these influences in the form of corrupting cultural currents that call misogyny and homophobia into question.

Uganda has a well-developed history of right-leaning evangelical Christianity that was exported from England, particularly in the East African revival period of the early 20th century. For various political reasons, the churches of Europe and North America have long had a vested interest in determining the fate of African Christianity—as these areas have had a vested interest in determining the economic and political course of African nations.

To a great extent, African churches are being treated today as the playground of the European and American political and religious right. In what is now happening in Uganda, we can see the outcome of the attempt of right-wing groups in the West to use African culture and African churches as toys in Western political games—we can see that outcome in its most horrifying and brutal manifestations.

I wholeheartedly agree with Political Research Associates. Rick Warren needs to take responsibility for what he and his confreres have accomplished in Uganda.

The graphic shows Rev. Rick Warren with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Keeping Democracy Alive: Courts in Maine and Washington Rebuff Attempts to Circumvent Full-Disclosure Laws

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday about the National Organization of Marriage’s continued attempts to skirt Maine’s full-disclosure finance regulations for political groups active in the state’s campaigns: the Maine Supreme Court ruled yesterday against a request by NOM that the state suspend its campaign reporting requirements for ballot initiatives.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, the court stresses that Maine voters need to know the source of financial support for those trying to influence the outcome of ballot initiatives. The court decision is available in a pdf file here. It notes:

Maine has a very strong interest in providing its voters with information about the source of the money that funds the campaign on either side of a ballot issue. . . . Maine has a strong and even compelling interest in helping the electorate assess the particular issue on its merits by providing voters with information about where the money supporting a measure has come from and therefore whose interest it serves.

A strong and compelling interest in helping the electorate assess an issue on its merits by providing information about where money comes from: the full-disclosure regulations NOM is attacking are about the right of voters to inform themselves as they weigh various viewpoints. These laws are about protecting the democratic process against the incursion of big-monied interest groups. If that incursion is going to take place—and it does so routinely in American political life—we who are voters have a right to know about it, about where money is coming from, how it is being used, and why particular players want to determine the outcome of ballot initiatives.

NOM’s lawsuit against the state of Maine is an attack on democracy itself. One of the most significant—and perhaps unanticipated—outcomes of the prop 8 victory in California is that the spotlight now shines on how some interest groups (in the case of gay issues, often religiously based ones) routinely use big bucks in unscrupulous ways to influence the political process. The spotlight now shining on their financial wheelings and dealings also shows us how these religiously based groups often circumvent local laws and violate fundamental ethical principles, as they try to hide the identity of their donors and how their funds are being used.

I don’t think those attacking gay marriage in California anticipated this outcome when they won in that state, but a significant outcome of their “victory” has been to make increasing numbers of Americans aware, across the nation, of precisely how groups attacking gay citizens—including churches—go about doing business. The gay community has long been aware that the way in which many faith-based groups and their political operatives do their homophobic business is ethically indefensible and dangerous to democracy.

After prop 8, more and more mainstream Americans are learning the same lesson. And that’s all to the good. It means that more and more people will put pressure for transparency and accountability on organizations like NOM (and the Catholic and Mormon churches) as these groups engage in anti-gay political activism in places like Maine and Washington state—pressure to disclose where money comes from and how it’s being used.

This is good for the democratic process. It’s essential to the proper functioning of the democratic process. And it’s a political dynamic that is not going to go away anytime soon, after what happened in California in the last election. The Maine Supreme Court’s decision illustrates that many states are no longer allowing themselves to be browbeaten by the religious right and its deep-pocket funders, when it comes to gay rights issues.

I noted last Friday that on the same day that NOM filed suit against the state of Maine to prevent disclosure of NOM’s funders, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, the Family PAC, filed suit in Washington state for the very same reason. There, too, groups fighting to thwart the extension of some rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples want to hide the names of their donors and political backers.

Yesterday, a Tacoma court took the same step that the Maine Supreme Court did: as Pam’s House Blend blog reports, federal judge Ronald B. Leighton denied Family PAC’s request “to gut Washington state's campaign finance laws a week before the election.”

These may seem like tiny victories, incremental steps towards fairness. They’re more than that, I think. Regardless of the outcome of the Maine and Washington elections (and I certainly hope for a good outcome), what we’re seeing happening now is a gradual but decisive shift of the judicial and legislative structures in many places in the U.S. towards fair play, against some highly funded and not ethically admirable players.

This shift occurred in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s as well. Up to that period, courts were as likely to listen to bogus “biblically-based” arguments against racial justice as they have been until recently to listen to similar arguments against justice for gay citizens.

But as more and more people in more and more places became aware of the truly indefensible way that African-American citizens were treated in many states, public opinion began to shift, and along with it, judicial understanding of the issues. A similar dynamic is at work now in the gay rights movement, and it’s one we need to celebrate. And to assist, by keeping the spotlight shining on the real lives of gay Americans and on the activities of those throwing stones from the shadows.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Act Signed after Decade-Long Battle

And good news today: President Obama signed the hate crimes bill making it a federal hate crime to assault people based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. This bill caps more than a decade of debate about whether sexual orientation ought to be added to already existing categories in laws criminalizing violence towards targeted minorities. It comes 11 years after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

And as I celebrate this progressive move of the federal government to defend human rights, I grieve--I'm ashamed, to be frank--that the Catholic right are up in arms at the moment about the purported support of the United States Catholic Bishops' Conference for an inquiry into hate speech in the media.

The USCCB's Department of Communications belongs to the So We Might See Coalition, which includes the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, the National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, Presbyterian News Service, and the Communications Services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

So We Might See has sent a letter to the FCC asking it to look into possible connections between hate speech in the media and violent crimes. The coalition is particularly concerned about spikes in violence against Hispanic immigrants that seem to coincide with anti-immigration diatribes on right-wing talk shows.

Archbishop Chaput's Catholic News Agency has been concerned that the USCCB might support this attempt to curb hate speech. In response to CNA's inquiries, Helen Osman, Secretary of the USCCB’s Department of Communications, assures CNA that the USCCB did not join in the petition with other So We Might See constituents.

Instead, the USCCB has sent a separate letter to the FCC, noting that there are “difficult constitutional and regulatory questions” involved in attempts to curb hate speech. These include questions about whether expressions of religious teachings could be interpreted as hate speech--e.g., might Catholic teachings on homosexuality be deemed hate speech by advocates of gay rights?

If I'm reading this discussion correctly, it appears that the United Church of Christ, the National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are all concerned about violent effects of hate speech in the media.

Catholics, not so much. To our great discredit.

New Entry for Most Lavish Cappa Magna Contest: Cardinal Franc Rodé

Wow. I thought I’d already seen the puddle of red silk to beat all other puddles.

Turns out I was wrong. Today, Thomas Fox at the National Catholic Reporter site has posted pictures of Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Religious, presiding at the ordination of deacons at the mother house of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Gricigliano, Italy, this past March.

Take a look at the skeins and skeins of silk the cardinal managed to trail around, as he participated in this ordination. Who knew the world contained so much of the stuff?

As Tom Fox notes in his commentary on the photos, it’s Cardinal Rodé whom Pope Benedict has charged with the investigation of American religious women. And when one looks at these photos, Fox notes, one can’t help but wonder about the disconnect between the worldview of the man organizing the investigation, and that of American nuns—a tragic disconnect that will likely do great harm to American women religious, if the investigation continues.

And I love Kevin Clarke’s headline for a posting at America's blog about this NCR photo album. Clarke entitles his piece, “The Sartorial Splendor of Truth.” Clarke notes, “I am encouraged to learn, from John Allen's interview in the same NCR issue, of how Vincentian ‘simplicity and humility is still part of his [i.e., Rodé’s] spirituality.’”

Indeed. Because the lavish display of scarlet silk and frilly lace might lead one to think otherwise, and to wonder whether scads of silk and yards of lace are all about decking increasingly empty authority figures out in finery designed to distract us from the emptiness at the heart of it all.

Final Week of Maine Campaign: Continued Questions about NOM's Financial Involvement

The Beyond Chron website has a very good article today analyzing the financial record of the National Organization for Marriage in its battle to remove the right of marriage from Maine’s gay citizens. Paul Hogarth notes that there’s secrecy on both sides of NOM’s ledger in this Maine campaign. Not only has NOM shielded the identity of those providing the organization with funds to fight same-sex marriage in Maine, but big chunks of NOM’s pay-outs in the campaign have gone to a group whose identity is mysterious.

As Hogarth notes, NOM has financed 64% of the anti-gay marriage battle in Maine. Because it did not register as a political action committee with the Maine Ethics Commission, it hasn’t disclosed its funders in the Maine campaign. NOM has given $1.6 million to Yes on 1, the umbrella organization spearheading the attempt to overturn the right to same-sex marriage in the state.

And in this final week of the campaign, Hogarth reports, Yes on 1 is spending lavishly on new media ad buys—$550,738 in the past five days alone—though Yes on 1 is reporting at the same time that it has only $348,000 cash-on-hand funds and has incurred a campaign debt of $148,000. The sudden influx of money to buy expensive last-minute ads is raising questions about where Yes on 1 is getting these new funds.

Hogarth thinks it’s very likely NOM is the source of the money. And NOM continues to try to shield its donor base from public scrutiny, as I’ve noted on this blog, and has filed suit against the state to try to prevent any scrutiny of its records about its funders.

At the same time, NOM reports that 62% of its expenditures in the campaign—a total of $1.56 million—have gone to one organization, the San Francisco-based firm Criswell & Associates, which goes by the pseudonym Mar/Com Services Inc. (and which is not a registered corporation). NOM’s reports disguise the identity of Criswell & Associates by using the Mar/Com name, though the California Secretary of State’s office reports that no such corporation exists.

Up to mid-September, Criswell & Associates had a robust website, according to Hogarth. When bloggers began to note that Yes on 1 ads were being filmed in San Francisco—apparently by Criswell & Associates—the website went down and has been “under construction” ever since.

As Hogarth notes,

While it’s important to ask about the lack of transparency of the “Yes on 1” campaign’s funding source, it’s just as relevant to ask why they’re not being upfront about who is getting their money.

Indeed. Throughout this campaign, NOM has avoided transparency in every way possible—and that raises questions about why an organization that believes it’s fighting to preserve key ethical principles needs to do its work under cover of darkness. Morally upright groups don’t need to run into the shadows when people ask legitimate questions about who’s funding their causes.

Democracy thrives when transparency is the leitmotiv of political groups’ behavior. The behavior of NOM in the Maine campaign suggests that overturning democratic process is really what this crusade against same-sex marriage in Maine is all about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Notice to Readers re: Ads on Bilgrimage Blog

I just logged in to see that an ad for Stand for Marriage Maine (the group seeking to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine) is running on the blog.

I've issued a statement before about Google-sponsored ads on this blog. I'd like to do so again.

I don't have any methods of controlling ads that appear on this site--not any methods about which I'm well-informed, I should say. I do seem to have the option to enter the url of a site to block its ads, when it appears on the site. At least, I think I have that option, and when I notice a particularly unsavory ad on the site, I do put the url of that group into the blocked ads lists.

I've just done so with this ad. I hope that this will trigger a response from Google, which hosts this blog, and that the ad will be removed. It's astonishing to me that an ad whose intent runs so directly counter to everything for which this site stands should end up on the site.

Meanwhile, I apologize to readers who have to put up with this trip on my blog. It perturbs me very much to find that ad on the site as the day ends.

No on 1, the group that has been working admirably well to defend the right to marriage in Maine, and which deserves our support and assistance, is here.

Italian Priest Permits Transgendered Person to Marry, Vatican Objects: What Do Trans People Bring to the Church?

And speaking of the churches’s insistence—well, the insistence of some churches, including the Catholic church—that marriage is all about one man and one woman joining in a sacred union for life, the Clerical Whispers blog carried an interesting story yesterday about a marriage of one man to one woman in Italy that is proving controversial.

In this case, the woman used to be a man. On Sunday, an Italian Catholic priest, Fr. Allesandro Santoro, married the 64-year old transgendered woman and her 58-year old male spouse.

Despite the fact that this was, indeed, the union of a man and a woman—despite the fact that the symbolism of this marriage was right and proper, if marriage must be all about marrying a man to a woman—a Vatican official has protested the marriage. Despite the fact that the Catholic church does not forbid marriage to a man and woman beyond childbearing age, Cardinal Renato Martino, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, condemned Fr. Santoro’s decision to marry this couple, noting,

I do not understand how something like that can be done. It's against nature and it does not bring anything to the church.

This is an interesting argument at two theological levels. I’ve dealt with the argument that marrying non-procreative couples contravenes natural law in previous postings.

Here, I’d like to address the argument that the church has no business marrying couples who do not “bring anything to the church.” This argument implies, in fact, that the church ought to confer sacraments only on those who “bring something” to the church.

I’m surprised to hear the president emeritus of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace promoting a sacramental theology that is, on the face of it, clearly unjust—outrageously so. The church confers sacraments on the faithful because doing so is central to the church’s mission of salvation, to its task of redemption and reconciliation in a fallen world.

The church also confers sacraments on the faithful because the faithful have a right to the sacraments. The access of the faithful to the sacraments has never rested on the worthiness of people to receive sacraments. If it did so, no one would be qualified to receive any sacraments, in a fallen world. The sacraments are offered to sinners as medicine for their sin, not to saints as rewards for their holy behavior.

Basing access to the sacraments on what those who receive them “bring” to the church is outrageously unjust. This sacramental theology places in the hands of the clerics who confer or witness sacraments a power no human being ought to have: the power to judge people’s worthiness before God, their value to the church.

What kind of church do we build when we encourage only those who “bring something” to the church to apply? What kind of church are we promoting when we judge people’s right to belong to the body of Christ on the basis of their utility to the church?

If this criterion for sacramental worthiness became widespread in the church, what would prevent pastors from deciding that the poor, the indigent, the sick, the elderly, those who are ethnically different from the pastor ought not to receive the sacraments, since they do not “bring anything to the church”?

I encourage the emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to reconsider his argument about why a couple including a transsexual person ought or ought not to receive the sacrament of marriage. The argument that we ought not to marry those who do not “bring anything to the church” is not adequately catholic. And it is deeply unjust and dangerous.

The business of a catholic church that connects in any vital way to the Jesus of the gospels is to welcome and heal, not to shove away and wound—and then to justify the exclusion and hurt by judging those who are abused as unworthy of membership in the Catholic church.

California Judge Vaughn R. Walker Tackles Procreation Argument: Prejudice as the Heart of Arguments vs. Same-Sex Marriage

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article by Adam Liptak commenting on the decision of California federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker two weeks ago to permit a challenge to proposition 8 to move forward in the courts. Theodore B. Olson and David Boies have filed suit against prop 8 on the ground that this removal of the right of marriage from California’s gay citizens violates the U.S. Constitution.

Liptak reports that Judge Walker asked Charles J. Cooper, the attorney fighting to retain the ban on same-sex marriage, what harm would result if gays and lesbians were permitted to marry? Cooper is known for his erudite, well-researched briefs.

His reply to Judge Walker’s question: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.”

I don't know.

This is a fascinating admission. One of the unintended effects (unintended by opponents of same-sex marriage, that is) of proposition 8 has been, in my view, to demonstrate to ever-wider groups of American citizens that, at its heart, the drive to outlaw same-sex marriage and to strip gay citizens of the right to marriage where it has been recognized rests on no rational, no compelling arguments.

It is a drive fueled solely by prejudice, and that prejudice is becoming more apparent to growing numbers of Americans in the wake of prop 8. The well-worn argument that allowing gays to marry will harm the institution of heterosexual marriage or society in general rests on no sound evidence. The weight of evidence against this argument is considerable.

We all benefit when we permit those in long-term committed same-sex familial relationships to marry, to build stable unions that support the social contributions and constructive gifts of LGBT citizens to society. We all suffer when we deliberately target a group of citizens with no sound reason for adding burdens to their lives, thwarting their ability to live fulfilling lives that permit them to contribute to society. We all suffer when we enshrine prejudice in our core institutions, and when we cannot offer even a whit of a sound argument for that prejudice, except to point to it as though prejudice justifies itself, and to ask that we be permitted under law to continue acting out our indefensible prejudice towards a targeted minority.

Societies built on prejudice and disdain for vulnerable minorities are not healthy societies. People who wallow in prejudice and disdain are not healthy and admirable people.

As I’ve noted on this blog, one of the irrational arguments that continues to carry weight with some religious and secular groups opposed to same-sex marriage is that marriage must be reserved to opposite-sex couples because it is all about procreation. Allow the gays to marry, and you undermine what marriage is all about: having children.

As I’ve also noted, this argument doesn’t bear inspection, because even those who want to forbid marriage to same-sex couples are generally unwilling to push for legal bans that would refuse the right of marriage to opposite-sex couples beyond childbearing age, or opposite-sex couples unable to conceive for medical reasons, or opposite-sex couples who do not intend to have children. If we—if churches—marry such heterosexual couples, then forbidding gay couples to marry on the ground that only those who can and will procreate should marry is illogical.

At its heart, the argument against same-sex marriage based on procreation is all about sheer prejudice—the prejudice that the symbolism of marriage revolves around a man and a woman, and that this symbolism is destroyed if we permit two persons of the same sex to marry. It’s all about gender, in the end, about biology in its crudest forms. It’s all about keeping men men and women women.

It’s all about keeping ourselves comfortable with what we think we know of men and women. It’s about assuring ourselves that the worldour world, our little worlds—works, that everyone is in his or her place. And that God is in heaven, securing the order of our little worlds.

Interestingly enough, the discussion of same-sex marriage in Judge Walker’s California court two weeks ago surveyed this discussion about gender and procreation carefully. Liptak reports:

In the courtroom, Mr. Cooper’s arguments seemed to fall of their own weight.

The government should be allowed to favor opposite-sex marriages, Mr. Cooper said, in order to channel naturally procreative sexual activity between men and women into stable, enduring unions.”

Judge Walker appeared puzzled. “The last marriage that I performed,” the judge said, “involved a groom who was 95, and the bride was 83. I did not demand that they prove that they intended to engage in procreative activity. Now, was I missing something?”

Mr. Cooper said no.

“And I might say it was a very happy relationship,” Judge Walker said.

“I rejoice to hear that,” Mr. Cooper responded, returning to his theme that only procreation matters.

Later in the argument, Mr. Olson added his own observation. “My mother was married three years ago,” he said. “And she, at the time, was 87 and married someone who was the same age.”

“I rejoice to hear that,” Mr. Cooper responded, returning to his theme that only procreation matters. Even when his argument has been exposed as irrational, as grounded solely by prejudice, Mr. Cooper returns to the central contentions of said argument.

But that is what prejudice does. When it has been defeated on every other ground—in the court, in the classroom, in reasoned argument—prejudice predictably reverts to its central theme in exactly the same way that a parrot reverts to its mimetic activity.

Because that theme is based solely on mimetic repetition of a mantra that seems right to the person parroting the themes of prejudice—regardless of reason or humanity. When my high school was finally integrated in 1967, several white boys forced one of the handful of black students who integrated the school to stand in front of the rest of us one day in gym class, when the coaches were absent.

His assignment: justify interracial marriage. The argument he was asked to answer? If God had intended the races to marry, why did He (these boys knew who God was: He was made in their image) create a black race and a white race and then place them on separate continents? Do you see a redbird mating with a blackbird?

As these classmates peppered my new classmate with these “arguments,” I thought to myself, “These statements don’t stand to reason at all. If we’re going to talk about the the different colors of birds as a basis for rejecting interracial marriage, what do we do with the well-known fact that male and female birds of the same species are frequently different colors?”

I kept my mouth shut. This was not a court in which reason was designed to prevail. It was a court set up to demonstrate the power of some over others. I already knew about prejudice and power and what they could accomplish—the violence they could elicit—in gym class from previous incidents in which I had attracted the attention of the other boys, as someone tagged effeminate and weak, a queer. I wouldn’t accomplish much for my embattled classmate by siding with him.

The arguments put forth by my classmates—God made the races black, white, red, and yellow, and separated them geographically, because God did not intend for the races to mix—would, I was later to learn, form the legal basis used to outlaw interracial marriage right up to the period of Loving v. Virginia. These timeworn, shoddy, irrational, prejudice-ridden non-arguments were cited even by judges who sought to upheld the ban against interracial marriage in the case of Loving v. Virginia.

And then the arguments vanished. They fell away like tissue paper as people's awareness of the prejudice they enshrined began to grow. They had to vanish, when shifts in popular consensus showed them for what they were: nothing but pseudo-religious rhetorical coverings for ugly, indefensible prejudice. And so it will be with same-sex marriage, eventually, and with the “religious” “arguments” on which bans against same-sex marriage—and against the lives and humanity of gay people—are based.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Churches Close, Bishop Lives in a Mansion: Backdrop to Maine Catholic Diocese's Attack on Gay Citizens

As Maine's voters and the Catholics of Portland diocese assess the $252,600 that the diocese has donated to remove the right of marriage from Maine's gay citizens, I wonder if they're remembering the persistent complaints that have come from many quarters about Portland Bishop Richard Malone's plush living quarters.

Those complaining about Bishop Malone's palatial residence have noted that the Catholics of Portland diocese are contributing large sums of money for the upkeep of the bishop's residence at the same time that the diocese announces its intent to close churches due to financial exigency. As the Ignatius Group blog noted this past August, Bishop Malone lives in a 7,000 square-foot, three-story brick residence in a posh section of Portland.

The mansion has 16 rooms, including 6 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It's assessed at $1.2 million. Catholics of the Portland diocese pay more than $18,000 in property taxes each year to maintain this lavish episcopal residence for Bishop Malone.

While expecting Maine's Catholics to support the residence, the bishop refuses to disclose the cost of heating it.

Bishop Malone lives in the house alone.

As the Voice from the Desert blog notes, in July 2007, as the diocese issued its annual financial report, Portland diocese financial director David Twomey stated,

Both parish offertory and the Bishop’s Appeal have increased but not at a pace to cover the inflationary increases in expenses. Fortunately, we have been able to hold the rate of growth in operating expense at about 1.8%. Unfortunately, this has caused some ministries to be constrained or reduced. The challenge we face as we move to a cluster structure is to make best use of our current resources…

Bishop Malone is asking Maine's Catholics to tighten their belts, to accept the closing of parishes and schools, to resign themselves to constraints in various ministries, while he himself continues to live in a lavish house that costs the faithful a great deal of money annually to maintain.

And yet as it closes parishes and schools and curtails ministries--and supports a 3-story, 16-room mansion for one person--the Portland diocese manages to find over $250,000 to remove rights from a targeted minority, money whose source the diocese can't quite remember. And that sum doesn't even take into account the $86,000 the diocese has taken in through special collections to remove the right of marriage from Maine's gay citizens.

Something seems awry with this picture, from a gospel standpoint.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cooking to Save the Planet: Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce (with Hints about Baking Pumpkins for Winter Use)

Another of my cooking-to-save-the-planet postings. This one focuses on pumpkin, which is now available throughout the U.S. as fall heads to winter. Because pumpkins begin to be particularly inexpensive as Hallowe'en nears in the U.S. (and they're especially so after Hallowe'en has passed), we always buy several to bake this time of year, so that we can freeze the delicious pumpkin flesh for use in winter meals.

To prepare the pumpkin for freezing or immediate use, I cut a medium pumpkin in half (carefully, since the knife can easily slip and cause a nasty cut). After I remove the seeds and strings, I then pour several generous tablespoons of olive oil into each half and then sprinkle salt and grind pepper into the oil. Over this, I place slices of half an onion (half an onion for each pumpkin half). I then put in a bunch of whatever fresh herbs I have on hand, or if I have no fresh herbs, I add some dried ones. I tamp all of this down a bit into the pumpkin cavity before popping the pumpkins into the oven.

Today, I happened to have in the freezer two bunches of mixed herbs I had seen on sale a few weeks ago, which were advertised as herbs to put inside a chicken as it's baked. Since these were on sale because they were beginning to be past their prime, I put them into a jar and froze them until I needed them. Each bunch was a mix of thyme, rosemary, and sage--good seasonings to go with pumpkin.

I put the two pumpkin halves with their oil, onion, and herb mix into a fairly hot oven--400 degrees. I bake pumpkin on the bottom of the oven, since the point is not so much to brown and dry out the flesh as to bake the entire half into a rich, almost caramelized, reduction. And the bottom of the oven works better for this.

I don't cover the pumpkins for most of the baking. The amount of time needed for baking the pumpkin will vary according to its size. The point is to bake the pumpkin until the peel begins to brown and the inside is reduced to a puree. This takes several hours, usually. I often put aluminum foil on the pumpkins for the last half hour or so, to keep the flesh from drying out.

When the pumpkins are well-baked, let them cool a bit and then scoop out the flesh carefully. A medium-sized pumpkin will make quite a bit of pumpkin puree. After scooping out the pumpkin, I also take the skin (which is fairly resilient, and will be supple by this point), and squeeze it to get all of the good juice which remains in the shell after I've scooped it free of flesh. (I should note that I scrub the outside of the pumpkin vigorously before I cut it for the oven.)

We froze half of the pumpkin flesh for use later. With most of the other half, I think I will make soup in a few days. For tonight, I took about a cup and a half of the puree, put it into a serving bowl, added a handful of frozen English (green) peas and another of walnuts, and microwaved this.

As the sauce warmed, I grated parmesan cheese and cooked some farfalle pasta. When the pasta was done, I mixed it with the pumpkin sauce and sprinkled the parmesan over.

We also happened to have a bit of creme fraiche--a bit of my approximation of creme fraiche, that is--on hand, and a dollop of that went onto each serving of pasta. I made the creme fraiche by mixing the remnants of a container of sour cream--about a quarter cup--with two cups or so of cream I also had on hand. Both the sour cream and the cream were aging, and I needed to find a way to use them.

After I whisked the two together, I put them into a bowl in a warm place (I put things like this onto our stovetop, near but not on top of the pilot lights). I left the mix there for the good part of a day and then whisked it again and poured it into jars and refrigerated these. The cream then set up into a delicious, nutty-flavored cream similar to creme fraiche, without any of the sourness of sour cream.

We'll keep buying and baking pumpkins in the days to come, and freezing the pumpkin flesh for use this winter. It's wonderful in a pasta sauce, as I've described above, or mixed with some milk and a grating of nutmeg to make a quick, nutritious soup. A hint of cumin brings out the warm undertones of many pumpkin dishes, I find, as does a pinch of cayenne. Also good is a bit of grated orange peel in the olive oil, along with a bit of cinnamon and allspice (and I wouldn't mix these seasonings with herbs). If you're preparing the pumpkin for baking in breads and desserts, it's better to put some butter into the cavity and not use the onions and herbs--only some mixed spices and/or grated citrus peel, if you wish to have any flavoring baked into the puree.

With a simple green salad and a good sharp vinaigrette dressing, who needs more than a pasta dish with pumpkin sauce, a glass of cool white wine, and good bread and butter to celebrate brisk fall evenings?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Latest Financial Filings of Campaign to Remove Right of Marriage from Maine's Gay Citizens: Big Money from Catholic Diocese and NOM, Donors Unknown

Yesterday, groups seeking to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine released totals of the funds they’ve taken in for their campaign since their last filings, in response to a state filing deadline (see here, here, here, here, and here). Interesting information in these financial reports.

Note that they do not reveal the actual source of the donations to the campaign to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine. It’s that donor information that the National Organization of Marriage is suing Maine for the right to withhold from the public.

Turns out that the financially strapped Catholic diocese of Portland, Maine, which is closing parishes and Catholic schools due to financial shortfalls, has ponied up another $152,600 this month to remove the right of marriage from Maine’s gay citizens. As with its previous $100,000 donation to the campaign, however, the Portland diocese and Marc Mutty, the diocesan employee heading the anti-gay marriage campaign, have no clear idea of the source of this recent chunk of money.

For its first big donation to the campaign, Mutty said that the money came from “dedicated revenues” whose source he didn’t really know. The current hefty chunk, it turns out, is from an equally mysterious “rainy day fund” that has been curiously unavailable to save the parishes and schools the diocese is closing.

And the National Organization for Marriage is reporting that, since October 1, it has dropped an additional $1.1 million into the coffers of the campaign against the rights of Maine’s gay citizens. NOM is divulging no information about the source of that hefty sum. Once again, this is the information NOM is seeking to conceal by suing the state of Maine.

As Jesse Connolly, head of the No on 1 campaign (the campaign to protect the right of Maine’s gay citizens to marry), notes (see the set of links at the head of the posting), the contrast between the information in the No on 1 filings and that in the diocesan and NOM filings couldn’t be sharper. The No on 1 campaign is drawing its funds largely from individual donors in Maine and across the nation who are committed to safeguarding human rights.

By contrast, the assault on the right to marriage of Maine’s gay citizens is being spearheaded by two deep-pocket groups, the local Catholic diocese and the National Organization to marriage, both of which are not disclosing the source of the funds they’re using to mount this assault.

With Maggie Gallagher, a Catholic, as NOM’s president, and Marc Mutty, an employee of the Portland diocese, heading the Maine No on 1 campaign, the claim of the Catholic church to care about human rights anywhere in the world looks pretty weak, doesn’t it? Not to mention transparency and accountability. And democratic process.

And telling the truth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mary Hunt on Vatican's Come-Hither to Anglicans: A Perversion of the Ecumenical Movement

I'd like to add another article to the list I compiled yesterday of valuable commentary about Benedict's embrace of Anglican dissidents. Mary Hunt published a brilliant statement yesterday at Religion Dispatches, entitled "Vatican's Come-Hither to Anglicans: A Theological Scandal."

Though lots of centrist types are trying to dance around the misogyny and homophobia that are driving Benedict's warm welcome of Anglican dissidents (and more on that below), Hunt is unambiguous about what this initiative is all about:

Let history record this theological scandal for what it is. Touted by Rome as a step forward in ecumenical relations with a cousin communion, it is in fact the joining of two camps united in their rejection of women and queer people as unworthy of religious leadership.

As she also notes, the way in which Rome has proceeded with this announcement is a betrayal of the Anglican communion and of ecumenism--a stab in the back to Rowan Williams and the worldwide Anglican communion, which does not place the Catholic church in an admirable moral light:

The permutations are endless but the result is the same: a perversion of everything the ecumenical movement has stood for in the last hundred years. Ecumenical Christians have tried to learn about one another’s traditions and find positive places of agreement -- not little pockets of shared prejudice.

I feel sorry for Rowan Williams if he did not know what he was up against when he engaged in bilateral relations with Rome, only to be subject to its treachery. Beleaguered on all sides in his own communion, he now presides over the potential exodus of some of his members who will find in the new dispensation a comfortable place to live out their outmoded ideas of humanity. I only hope Williams and company are consoled by the fact that they are in good company among ecumenical colleagues who respect one another’s traditions, understand the dynamics of internal struggles, and resist the temptation to profit from one another’s problems. Rome, on the other hand, is in a class, however low, by itself.

I highly recommend Mary Hunt's article, and encourage readers to read the entire text.

Meanwhile, I'd like to note that Jamie L. Manson, whose National Catholic Reporter piece about the recent Roman initiative I recommended yesterday, is under heavy attack at the NCR blogsite on which she published her fine statement. I have to say, I anticipated this attack.

I've noted a troubling tendency of male critics to pile on when a younger woman writer makes a courageous statement like this at the NCR site. Even one of the big names of American religious journalism, a figure not known for his sympathy for gay causes and gay rights, has logged in to question the credentials of Jamie L. Manson.

Which tells me that her truth-telling has hit a nerve--and I intend to try to contact her to tell her that and to offer her support. It's fascinating that many male religionists, including big-name and purportedly "objective" ones, seem unable to hear this kind of plain truth spoken by women, and, in particular, by younger women writers. The old boys' network is clearly rattled when women get out of their places.

I wonder why that is.

The Maine Campaign to Remove Right of Marriage from Gay Citizens: Catholic Bishops' Troubling Assault on Moral Foundations of Democracy

Have I said this lately? I don’t think so, or, at least, not quite so pointedly. The attack of the Catholic bishop of Maine, Richard Malone, on the rights of gay citizens of Maine is disgraceful.

It’s important to see clearly what’s going on here. The right to same-sex marriage has already been recognized in Maine. Same-sex marriage was enacted in the state of Maine this past May by a majority vote of the state legislature. On 5 May 2009, Maine’s House of Representatives voted 89-58 to enact same-sex marriage, and the following day, Maine’s Senate affirmed the vote of the House. The governor then signed the legislation into law.

Through Bishop Malone and his henchman Marc Mutty, the Catholic church is attacking legislation legally enacted by a majority vote of a democratically elected state legislature. In the past, anti-gay forces have maintained that they are fighting to uphold the will of the majority against activist courts that are imposing same-sex marriage on some states against the will of the people.

The case of Maine puts the lie to the claim of religious bodies opposing same-sex marriage that they are concerned to see the will of the people in a democratic society safeguarded. What is happening in Maine demonstrates that there are religious groups in American society willing to remove rights from citizens, and, in doing so, to contravene the vote of a democratically elected majority of a state’s legislators. To overturn the work of a democratically elected state legislature to impose on a state and its citizens practices and beliefs peculiar to some religious bodies . . . .

And to do that in a morally repugnant way, through well-funded propaganda campaigns in which these hate groups seek to play on the basest and most unfounded fears of citizens by disseminating lies about a vulnerable minority group, in order to achieve a bare popular majority vote that strips this minority of rights . . . .

As Joe Sudbay notes at Americablog Gay, Malone and Mutty’s attempt to remove a right from a targeted minority and their willingness to overturn the vote of a majority of democratically elected legislators in the process are not playing well among Maine’s Catholics. Sudbay’s parents live in Maine.

He reports that they and many of their friends, who are Bishop Malone’s “target market,” are extremely upset at their church’s assault on the human rights of gay persons and on their state’s democratic institutions. They see the behavior of Bishop Malone and Marc Mutty as a violation of core Catholic moral principles.

There may have been a time in the history of the assault of some religious groups on gay persons when it was barely possible to assume that this movement is a misguided but high-minded attempt to return the nation to its foundational moral principles. What’s happening in Maine challenges that interpretation.

These homophobic religious operatives can no longer claim to be fighting to protect citizens against activist courts. They are now fighting to protect citizens against themselves. They’re assaulting the will of a majority of state voters as represented by their chief legislative bodies and duly elected governors.

And the tactics to which they’re willing to resort in this crusade reveal their crusade as morally reprehensible in the extreme. Two days ago, Bishop Malone’s ally in his assault on the rights of the gay citizens of Maine, the National Organization for Marriage, sued the state to prevent disclosure of NOM’s financial wheelings and dealings in Maine.

NOM (presided over by Catholic Maggie Gallagher) is under investigation by Maine for possible violations of the state’s laws requiring full disclosure of donors to political campaigns. NOM is now contesting the constitutionality of Maine’s campaign finance laws.

On the same day, an unregistered political action committee calling itself the Family PAC, which is an affiliate of Focus on the Family, sued the state of Washington for the very same reason. In the next election, Washington voters will vote on referendum 71, which proposes to extend some benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Groups opposing this measure have been fighting very hard to keep the names of donors and supporters concealed. The current lawsuit moves their battle against Washington’s political disclosure and finance laws to the courts, as it mounts an attack on state laws in these areas.

These are not morally admirable crusades. Political objectives pursued by such ethically compromised means cannot be admirable. Morally admirable objectives are pursued in the light of day, not by cover of darkness.

When religious groups have to resort to lies and trickery to attain goals they have defined as moral, and when they do so in violation of the moral consensus of citizens in a pluralistic democratic society as they seek to impose their peculiar religious beliefs and practices on those citizens, something is radically awry at a moral level. The way to moral influence in a pluralistic democratic society is through open discussion in which all the pertinent facts are on the table and everyone has a voice in the discussion, with no one trying to impose his or her will by fiat.

Catholic leaders and groups intent on assaulting the human rights of gay persons, which are willing to subvert the democratic process as they do so, are not morally admirable agents. They are doing evil, not good. And it continues to grieve me that so many of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center apparently do not see or are not perturbed by this, as they remain completely silent while the humanity of their LGBT brothers and sisters is under attack by the leaders of their church.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Commentary on Benedict's Embrace of Anglican Dissidents: More Than a Whiff of Power Politics

Interesting commentary on the heels of the Vatican announcement that the Roman church is pleased as punch to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the flock.

At least one commentator besides yours truly (see my posting yesterday) appears to be wondering about the timing of this announcement, in relation to the impending release of the report on the cover up of clerical abuse in the Dublin diocese. Libby Purves has an op-ed statement about the Vatican move in today's Times (London) (thanks to Jim McCrea for bringing this to my attention).

Purves opens her analysis with the following observation:

The welcoming of Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church highlights the differences, and difficulties, of approach Attack is the best form of defence. On the eve of another damning report on clerical abuse and cover-up in Ireland, that seems to be Pope Benedict’s tactic. His sudden invitation to Anglican defectors will certainly take the spotlight off a continuing child abuse scandal fed, for decades, by the masculine and intimidating structures of authority in the Catholic hierarchy. Words like “poaching” may seem harsh, but there is more than a whiff of power politics in this move.

I also find Jamie L. Manson's posting today at National Catholic Reporter's Young Voices blog compelling. Manson dovetails the story of Fr. Henry Willenborg and Pat Bond (about which I blogged here several days ago) with the Vatican announcement to underscore the misogyny that continues to carry the day in Catholic hierarchical politics.

Manson notes:

As Manson also points out (citing Bishop Gene Robinson), the relationship between homophobia and misogyny in the Christian tradition runs deep. Hatred of gay men reflects a deeper fear and hatred of the feminine.

And for those who haven't yet read Bishop John Shelby Spong's new manifesto re: the debate about gay issues in the church, I highly recommend that document. I first read it a day or so ago on the Reconciling Ministries website, which links to the entire statement. Though Bishop Spong wrote this document prior to the recent Vatican announcement, it's interesting to read it now in light of the Vatican's embrace of homophobic, misogynistic Anglicans.

Bishop Spong has decided no longer to engage the toxic right, when it comes to questions about how the church ought to respond to gay and lesbian human beings. In his view, the battle is now won as decisively as the battles over slavery and women's rights have been won--though significant elements of both the church and culture continue to promote racism and misogyny.

A significant statement:

I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves.


Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The Pope and Patriarchy: A Calamitous Calculation for the Future of Catholicism

And the litany of names of women writers who have significantly influenced my life—who have made me the person I am, for weal or for woe—continues in my head: Sigrid Undset, Jane Smiley, Flannery O'Connor, Denis Levertov, Elizabeth Bishop, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Ellen Glasgow, Marilynne Robinson, Eudora Welty, Annie Proulx, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Julia Esquivel, Eavan Boland, Gladys Taber, Lois Lenski, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz . . . .

If women’s interpretation of the holy books carried the gravitas of any man’s word about them, and if women had significant influence on the process by which the rules are made, the world would be a very different place, I believe. Benedict may be pope, but he’s wrong, my soul tells me, to bank everything on patriarchy, and to welcome with such vigor those groups within the Christian churches who are most resistant to women’s voices. This is an unwise move, a move against the most powerful currents of hope in the world today. And a move against the Spirit’s tug.

The graphic is a Russian icon showing Sophia with Faith, Hope, and Love.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can't Be Rome If It's the Gays: Vatican Makes Burke a King and Welcomes Anglican Gay-Haters

I don’t know much about Vaticanology. In fact, reports from insiders who wine and dine with Vatican tipsters and off-the-record church dignitaries (always men, always big men, those who make the wheels of power turn) bore me to tears.

So nothing I say here about the recent Vatican decision to make the de facto pope of the Republican Catholic church, Archbishop Raymond Burke, a king-maker of the bishop-making process, reflects any inside knowledge at all. Nada. Zip.

I am so far from any inside anywhere that only another loony looking on in bafflement from the outside would pay any attention at all to my fractured musings.

Nor do I have any insider information about why the Vatican has just chosen to make a media splash with its announcement that it’s as pleased as punch to welcome into the Roman fold Anglicans perturbed by growing acceptance of women and openly gay folks in ministry. I do note that a persistent question some media commentators are asking about this announcement is the question, Why now?

And that question began to nag at me, too, when I first read about this initiative.

Though many of my fellow Catholics want to ask the Holy Spirit question first and foremost when the Vatican is being discussed, I’m inclined to ask political questions, instead—questions about strategy and timing and pre-emptive strikes. My reading of church history and my from-a-faraway-distance observation of how the Vatican (which is a worldly power every bit as much as a religious entity) functions convinces me that one would be foolish not to factor political considerations into one’s musings about Vatican behavior, even when one believes the Spirit is somewhere in the mix pulling strings.

(I’m perplexed by those who claim to discern the Spirit’s action so clearly in the muddled mix of church history, and, in particular, I’m perplexed by those who assure themselves that church politics unfolds entirely under the Spirit’s salubrious and holy guidance. Putting the Spirit in the driver’s seat in the Vatican and episcopal palaces puts the Spirit into rather embarrassing positions, it seems to me: it makes the Spirit responsible for decisions to wage holy wars, to exterminate our Jewish brothers and sisters, to torture and burn heretics, to colonize and enslave the darker-skinned peoples of the world. And today, to slap gay and lesbian human beings very decisively in the face, whenever and wherever possible.)

No, I prefer to think about why Rome is acting as it is now in more mundane sociopolitical terms and less exalted theological ones. With regard to the de facto pope of the Republican Catholic church, I can only think that money talks for Rome. As it has always done.

Burke’s handler$ are powerful men, indeed. They obviously have the ear of key bishops and key Vatican officials. They know how to make their voices heard in the halls of power. Money can buy many privilege$ in Rome.

And I suspect the Vatican is inclined to listen, when money talk$, as it ha$ alway$ done—particularly, when it goes hand in hand with power, as it commonly does. My own loony outsider’s inclination is to read Burke’$ new appointment as an indication that the Vatican continues to listen, as it is wont to do, to some very powerful voices of the American Catholic right, as it crafts its political strategies.

Those voices evidently see things getting out of control, just a little bit. Why bring in the big guns of Rome and go after American women religious—why do that right now—otherwise? Having a bought-and-paid-for kingmaker in the halls of power making bishops to be is a fairly sweet arrangement, for those who care about things like power, control, pulling the strings.

Of course, all these calculations and projections and attempts to place the dead hands of rich and powerful men on the future don’t take into account the interruptive, gloriously disruptive activity of the Spirit. For me, that’s where the Spirit fits in. That’s the hallmark of the Spirit’s prescence. Wind blows through and knocks things over. Water rushes down and cleanses away detritus.

The Spirit doesn’t preside over the supreme gatherings at which national boundaries are parsed and the fate of the wretched of the earth decided by men who move the poor and the weak around like chits on a gaming table. She turns over the tables. She disrupts, whenever possible.

She makes mockery of our pretensions that we have everything in control, and that we can control—of all things—the future.

About the Anglican announcement? I’m inclined to read it as a pre-emptive media strike in the days right before a report is to be issued that will once again rock Catholics—particularly in English-speaking parts of the world—to their foundations.

What better way to divert attention away from those responsible for the crisis caused by sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and, most of all, by the cover-up of this activity from Rome down through one episcopal palace after another, than to change the subject? To get people talking about Canterbury. And about the gays, since we all know that the real reason these disaffected Anglicans are jumping ship is that the Anglican ship has some gays in it. Some unashamed and unapologetic gays who claim their right to be aboard every bit as much as normal folks do.

Above all, it's about the immoral gays who are at the bottom of all corruption in the church. Isn’t it? It can’t be the hierarchy, can it? It can’t be the hierarchy who are responsible for the corruption in the church, when the gays are causing such problems everywhere, forcing some bible-believing African nations to make their very existence a capital crime, causing bible-tatooed enforcers of morality in places like the U.S. to beat their heads in.

It can’t be Rome if it’s the gays. Rome has, for some time now, been making a political calculation, it has been taking a chance, on being the most significant refuge left in the world against the gays. And nothing it hears from Burke’$ handler$ and their ilk is going to cause it to reconsider that political calculation. Quite the contrary.

And so the report on the diocese of Dublin will be released, and it will show all over the place the fingerprints of the highest church officials possible as cases of child molestation by clergy were covered up repeatedly over the years.

But those officials and what they did are not the cause of the filth in the church. It’s the gays.

Can’t be Rome if it’s the gays. And that’s, I propose, at least one of the reasons the Vatican has just chosen to open the door to gay-hating Anglicans with a media splash, in the days before the Irish church report hits the presses.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Continuing Mainstream Media Silence about Gay Stories: Two Recent Cases

After my high school best friend Joe came out of the closet in the late 1970s, he told me that his family would probably never understand his life as a gay man—the particularity of his everyday experiences—because they were deprived of information about the lives of anyone who was gay. Like my family, his lived in small-town Arkansas. They relied on the local news channels, the local newspaper, Sunday School lessons and weekly sermons to provide them with information to make informed decisions about the world around them.

What Joe taught me—and I didn’t know this at the time, hadn’t thought about it—is that there has been a longstanding blackout in the mainstream media in the U.S. about gay stories. That blackout assures that stories detailing the particularity of the gay experience—stories about what it means to live as a gay person in the U.S. on an everyday basis—seldom reach the pages of major newspapers. And certainly not the pages of small-town papers.

The period I’m talking about here is the period of the late 1970s and the 1980s. And admittedly, much has changed in the intervening years.

But much remains the same. As I have followed Joe’s lead over the years, as I’ve watched how the media treat “gay” topics (and gay lives, in all their diversity and particularity), I’ve noticed how seldom even essential points of information about gay contexts of major news stories reach the news. If people get news today about what it means to be gay in the U.S., about the particularity of gay experiences, they are far more likely to do so from blog sites and alternative news sites online, than from the mainstream media.

Two cases in point lately: the first is the discovery that a friend of one of the men who nearly beat a gay man, Jack Price, to death in Queens, NY, recently sports a tattoo from Leviticus—a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman. This discovery casts doubt on the claims of the two men who savagely beat Jack Price that they did so because they were responding to advances he made against him, and that they have nothing against the gays.

Gay news sites and many blogs have been all over this story. I don’t find it highlighted in mainstream media reports of this gay bashing, however (and it’s worth nothing that they are sparse to begin with).

You’d think the public would need to know this piece of information. If nothing else, it illustrates how certain interpretations of the bible are routinely used to justify reprehensible violence towards people who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

Reporting about this tattoo—reporting stories like this in general—might allow mainstream America to stop and think a moment about the strangely selective way in which we use the bible nowadays to harm an already vulnerable minority. If we’re going to take the bible literally, and if Leviticus is going to be a mainstay of our ethical rules for civil society today, what are we to make of Leviticus’s statement (Leviticus 19:28), “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord”?

We don’t have cultural conversations about the obvious silliness of the fundamentalism that underlies much of our homophobia—the noxious silliness—because we aren’t informed. The media collude in keeping us uninformed about these issues. They collude in making us react, rather than in making us think.

Another subtext to a major recent news story that seems to be getting no play at all in the mainstream media, while it’s all through gay news sites and blogworld, is the discovery that balloon boy Falcon Heene and his brother have starred in a video decrying the “pussification” of American men and talking about bashing faggots.

It seems to me as if this information is important for mainstream America to know, as we assess the balloon boy story. This is, after all, a story about a normal American family, an American family doing things God’s way, with a mother and a father raising their biological children, where something has gone terribly awry.

If it were a story about two same-sex parents raising children, who colluded in punking the world by inventing a tale of a son whisked away by a balloon, you can be sure the media would be all over the sexual orientation angle. As it is, though, the revelation that a mother and a father—a normal family doing things God’s way—raised sons who could create the kind of video to which I have just linked, is not to be found in the mainstream media’s coverage of this story.

I wonder why not.

Of Men, Women, and Capital Cities: Listening to Women's Word and Witness

I’ve been thinking about gender lately. And cities.

Capital cities are, of course, overweeningly masculine for the most part. Anywhere in the world that you encounter them, they’re likely to be dominated by men, since they were built by men for men. Men for whom playing power games is important: hence, places to play out the games of power.

I would not go to Washington, D.C., if I were seeking spiritual renewal. I might head to Albuquerque, Amherst, even Anchorage. But not D.C. Real power—spiritual power—does not thrive where men gather to play power games.

Certainly women can do well in capital cities. They can even enter into the male power games and play them with great skill. When they do so, they choose, of course, to play by the rules of the men who make the games, and for whom the games continue to be crucially important. And if their goal is not to make fundamental changes in those games—to open them up for more players, so that they begin to represent more adequately the complexion of those for whom the games are ostensibly being played—they sometimes find their souls desiccated after years of game-playing.

I’m thinking about these matters, in part, because of a conversation I had recently with my youngest nephew. He was telling me about the books that intrigue him lately. We’ve had a long spell of Noam Chomsky and Che Guevara. He’s now moved onto Malcolm X. He listens incessantly to old clips of George Carlin and Johnny Cash as he reads his mentors.

For the first time, as Pat and I talked about his heroes, it struck me: they’re all men. I suspect that, for many folks, that would not be worth remarking. Patrick is himself a man, raised in a culture that glorifies manhood. He played football a while in high school. Like his brothers, he watches sports—male-dominated sports—for hours on end.

What strikes me as I think about my nephew’s reading list is how different my own life has been, for reasons not always easy to identify. I would not—could not—be the person I am today, had my life not included, from early on, female heroes, female mentors, a list of female writers so long I can hardly begin to enumerate all of them in a single posting.

When Mr. Obama went on vacation this past summer and released his vacation reading list, Huffington Post invited readers to post suggestions about other books the president might read. I logged in to say that it struck me as significant that every book the president had chosen to read was by a male author—about mostly male subjects, about male historical figures, for instance.

I suggested that the president broaden his reading list to include books like Jane Smiley’s 1000 Acres or anything at all by Audre Lord. And, of course, it’s presumptuous for me to recommend reading lists to the president or to assume he hasn’t read and doesn’t read works by women on a regular basis.

Still. It strikes me as worth noting that many men, many powerful men, seem to go through their lives reading works written by men and avoiding books authored by women for the most part.

For my part, I can’t imagine having gone through my life without Jane Austen, Teresa of Avila, Mary Ann Evans/George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Lady Murasaki, Lillian Smith, Catherine of Siena, Marguerite Yourcenar, Mary Renault, George Sand, M.F.K. Fisher, Zora Neale Hurston, Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Willa Cather, Isabel Allende, Nella Larsen, Edith Wharton, Julian of Norwich, Pat Barker, Muriel Spark, Phyllis Whitney, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontë sisters, Mary Doria Russell, Mary McLeod Bethune, Geraldine Brooks, Alice Walker, Ruth Benedict, Mary Douglas, Hildegard of Bingen, Constance Perin, Dorothee Sölle, and . . . well, you get the picture.

The world might look very different if women had more of a voice in making it in the halls of power where the games of power are played. And if more women stood in the pulpits and the bemas and minarets. If the scriptures were in the hands of women as well as men, and if women’s interpretation of the scriptures carried the gravitas of any man’s word about the holy books.

And if the moral debates of our times were infused with even a touch of the insight many women have about key moral issues, as men continue to talk on and on about them, laying down the law and dictating the solutions.