Thursday, February 14, 2013

More Religion in the News: Catholic Hospital in Köln, Teacher Fired in Cincinnati Catholic School, One Billion Rising, Southern Baptists and Gays, and Origins of Evangelical Pro-Life Movement

Other very valuable religion-in-the-news articles and essays of late, which don't have to do with the papal resignation:

At his Hepzibah blog, Alan McCornick provides a masterful, exceptionally thorough rundown of the story about which I blogged late in January, regarding a Catholic hospital in Köln that refused treatment to a rape victim for fear of running afoul of Catholic officials. Alan is fluent in German, and offers valuable commentary on what the German media have been saying about this story, with a not-to-be-missed summary of pertinent background information to help those of us living outside Germany understand its complex ramifications.

A teaser to spur you to read the whole thing:

But the hardliners still hold the keys.  And although much of the church would like to see a more pastoral, inclusive approach on the part of the hierarchy, most Catholics also tend to accept the authority of the pope as part of the nature of things.  They protest the rigidity, but seek a comfort zone in the center and become enablers.  Just as non-European Catholics vastly outnumber Europeans, the Europeans have the control and will likely capture the papacy yet again when Benedict XVI resigns at the end of the month.   Hardliners who are the hierarchy are also vastly outnumbered.  But they too are still in firm control, to the chagrin of those who see no reason for the church and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be at odds.

Yesterday, I blogged about why I doubt things will get better anytime soon for LGBT Catholics, even under a new pope. I noted that the instrumental use of gay human beings by the Catholic hierarchy to score political and moral points is too deeply entrenched in the institution for things to shift quickly. And I noted that many rank and file Catholics are perfectly content to live with a tribalistic model of being Catholic that configures gay human beings automatically outside the boundaries of the church, of grace and God--so that being Catholic is defined over against gay folks and those who fight for our rights.

And here's a recent news story that illustrates the problem: as this report by Alyssa Newcomb for ABC news states, in Cincinnati this week, Mike Moroski, dean of student life at Purcell Marian Catholic high school, was fired for having written on his blog site that he supports gay marriage equality (see also this article).

In a chain of events reminiscent of what happened in the case of Trish Cameron in Moorhead, Minnesota, and of Lenon Cihak in Barnesville, Minnesota, after Mike Moroski wrote a statement supporting marriage equality on his blog site, Cincinnati archdiocesan officials contacted him. They demanded that he repudiate his statement.

He refused, noting that his conscience could not permit him to take this step. And now he finds himself out of a job. Moroski is a straight married man, by the way. There's a petition at asking the archdiocese not to fire Moroski, which more than 7,000 folks have signed--but it would appear the archdiocese has refused to listen to this appeal.

In case you've missed the news, this Valentine's day is the day on which Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and her V-Day group have organized a worldwide One Billion Rising event to show solidarity with women around the world in the global struggle to combat violence against women.  At NCR, Sister Joan Chittister explains why this is quite precisely a religion-in-the-news story that should be of concern to all faith communities:

Eve Ensler, actress and author of "The Vagina Monologues," invites you to join crowds in 177 of the 196 countries of the world who have decided that enough is enough. It is time for those who really believe in the full humanity of their daughters and in the moral integrity of their sons to tell the world they will no longer tolerate violence against women. 
Actually, whether you know it or not, your entire life, if you are a woman, has been directed at a moment like this. If you are a man living in a distorted and deformed gender-driven world, you have been looking for something like this to demonstrate your real manhood, your genuine convictions, for a long time now.

For anyone interested in events in your own area, I imagine information is fairly easy to find at various places online. Here, there's going to be a staging of "The Vagina Monologues" by students at the local university that we hope to attend tomorrow evening.

At Religion Dispatches this morning, Sarah Posner does an interesting profile of renegade Southern Baptist minister Rev. Jeff Hood, who has broken with the strongly anti-gay stance of his Southern Baptist church, and is paying a price for his conscientious resistance. His reasoning--Christianity is "not an exclusive deal":

I’m like, why can’t Christianity just be Christianity. The reason is—it’s hurtful to even say this—because they are concerned with patriarchy and control. By promoting Calvinism and all these theologies of exclusion, they are able to maintain control. To me, Christianty is not an exclusive deal.

Posner's commentary reminds me of something I had forgotten when I blogged about Southern Baptist leader Richard Land's debate recently with Zach Wahls: in my posting about the debate, I identified Land as head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. And that's technically true.

But as Posner notes, Land has agreed to resign this position in the fall of 2013, after he was discovered (inter alia) last year to have plagiarized inflammatory remarks about Trayvon Martin. And so now I really do wonder: why is PBS featuring Richard Land as a major spokesperson for "the" Christian moral position on anything at all? Why do these discredited bogus moral leaders of the religious right continue to have such access and entrée in the mainstream media? Isn't it time that the mainstream media stop the pretend balance-and-hearing-both-sides act, when it's increasingly impossible to find anyone with strong moral credibility arguing for discredited homophobic discrimination?

Finally--as with Alan McCornick's posting about the Köln Catholic hospital story--a well-researched and extensive article I highly recommend which appeared recently at Religion Dispatches: Jonathan Dudley on the not-so-lofty origins of the evangelical pro-life movement. Dudley is author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics.

Dudley notes that right-wing American evangelicals are latecomers to the political battle of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy against abortion and contraception. Evangelicals have historically been relatively silent about these two issues, until late in the 20th century, when the "pro-life" cause became a political rallying cry for conservative evangelicals.

And why did this shift occur? As Dudley finds, what really initially energized right-wing evangelicals in the latter half of the 20th century was desegregation of public schools and the consequent move of many diehard Southern Christian segregationists to found separate "Christian" schools to avoid integration. At a strategic level, the leaders of the evangelical right made a calculated political decision to jump onto the "pro-life" bandwagon when they recognized that the Catholic pro-life movement was targeting the federal government and its imagined intrusion into the "religious freedom" of religious groups in the area of abortion (and now contraception).

What pre-dates the evangelical pro-life fervor is antipathy to federal government, with its rules and regulations, that has everything to do with racial integration in the South. Dudley summarizes:

But its founding moral outrage stemmed not from Roe v. Wade, but from the prospect of government-imposed desegregation; it rested its intellectual foundation on highly dubious, non-scholarly arguments advanced by Francis Schaeffer; it mobilized lay evangelicals to action by telling them the Bible teaches something it does not actually teach; and it actively suppressed the scholarship of evangelicals who held alternative viewpoints.

I know from personal experience that Dudley and the other scholars whom he cites to corroborate this conclusion are absolutely correct in this analysis. I spent my formative years in the Southern Baptist church in Arkansas (and Louisiana and Mississippi, for brief stints), and I never heard a single word about abortion or contraception as I was growing up. Neither issue was ever on the moral radar screen of any Southern Baptist church I ever attended.

What was on our moral radar screen front and center was the issue of the race, and our response to that issue was attended with intense disgust at the "meddling" and "intrusion" of the federal government in our lives, schools, communities, and churches. When I listen to Southern right-wing evangelicals rant on right now about life beginning at conception and how, as Rev. Mike Huckabee said last year, "we're all Catholics now" in the crusade against the Obama administration's contraceptive guidelines, I never hear anything other than race and more race.

Race is the bottom line in the evangelical pro-life movement. And I find it frustrating, as someone who chose to become Catholic after having spent my childhood as a Southern Baptist, that many "pro-life" American Catholics seem to have so little sense about the racism they're energizing and with which they're colluding in the alliance Catholics have forged with right-wing evangelicals in the "pro-life" movement.

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