Friday, November 27, 2009
by Wayne Besen
Earlier this week, extremists within the Republican Party proposed a 10-point checklist of principles that GOP candidates would have to sign if they expect to receive Party support. Like a deranged "Social Issues Santa", the enforcers of doctrine are descending in their sleighs to slay Republicans who are naughty and not considered nice.
According to their puritanical plan, Republicans would be required to sign 7 of 10 radical resolutions, such as, "opposing Obama's socialist agenda." By far the most reckless part of this pledge is the demand that Republicans agree to, "Support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troops surges." I wonder what such pandering politicians might say to families if these wars took a turn for the worse: "I'm sorry your son died on the battlefield, but I had six campaign pledges and needed a seventh to get a windfall of dough from the Republican Party."
Ironically, the Republican governors gathered last week and ran away from such extremism. According to The New York Times, "There was little talk of the divisive social and political issues that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove embraced as a way to attract independent and moderate Democratic voters and build a lasting Republican majority."
The right wing chest thumping seen in the GOP checklist was echoed in a manifesto signed by 145 religious activists and clerics called the Manhattan Declaration. This document basically said that religious people were above the law and did not have to obey it if they deemed it unholy. Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council, hailed the radical manifesto by calling it a "line in the sand" and vowing that the malcontents "will not be moved."
Of course, growing up on the lovely beaches of Florida and Hawaii, I've learned that there is nothing more temporary than a line in the sand. These arrogant preachers are badly overreaching and will be surprised to find that their sinister sandcastle will succumb to history's high tide.
The Catholic Church, in particular, is entering politically perilous territory it will soon regret. For most of American history, many voters were concerned that Catholic politicians were beholden to Rome. John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic President, won by assuring people that he was independent of the Vatican.
This week, however, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin scolded another member of the famous clan, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), and told him he was unworthy of taking part in communion because of his pro-choice views.
Amazingly, Tobin told NBC News, "To receive a sacrament you have to be in union with the church." To voters, this can be interpreted as: "Bow to Rome or go home."
If the Church continues to push these boundaries, it will become toxic. It will force office holders into making a decision between voting with the Vatican, or risking nasty public spats, like the Tobin-Kennedy spectacle. In an era where people are quite fickle with faith, aspiring Catholic politicians may find it easier to avoid this dilemma and switch religions. In the future, the only remaining Catholic politicians may be hardliners, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).
In fact, this backlash is already underway. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine criticized the Archdiocese of Washington this week for threatening to end contracts to feed Washington, DC's homeless if the city allows gay couples the freedom to marry.
"I'm Catholic and I think it's wrong," Kaine said. "If you look at the church through history, the church will stand in tough situations and continue to do good. I think the strategy of threatening to hold back, it just doesn't seem like the church I've come up in."
Kaine was seconded by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who also is Catholic.
"I don't understand how they can possibly do this," O'Malley said. "I have a hard time believing that the nuns and priests who taught me about the Corporal Works of Mercy would agree that this is an appropriate response for the church."
Inside their adoring mega-churches and towering Cathedrals, these conservative clerics are powerful demigods. Such adoration blinds them to the sobering reality that millions of people view them as power hungry demagogues. The Religious Right is still one of the strongest special interest groups in America, but they keep forgetting that they represent an immoral minority, not the Moral Majority they once fancied themselves to be.
Raging with dictatorial ultimatums and mutinous manifestos, these extremists are too far-gone to realize they have gone too far. As the "Social Issues Santas" shimmy down the chimney to deliver their dogma, it is unclear if they are simply blowing smoke or gift-wrapping future elections for the Democratic Party.
Monday, November 23, 2009
by Wayne Besen
It is time to admit that the gay community has a gigantic Pope problem. Under the leadership of Benedict XVI, the Vatican has become an implacable foe of liberalism, modernity and basic rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Rome has eagerly jumped with both feet into America's culture wars and is working on a global scale to punish or purge ideological dissenters within the church. This aggressive activism presents a formidable new front in the fight for parity -- one with considerable political clout and financial resources.
Last week, a coalition of totalitarian religious activists and radical clerics joined forces to unveil the "Manhattan Declaration"
at Washington's National Press Club. This rambling manifesto, written by former Watergate felon Chuck Colson, called for "Christians" to disobey laws they don't fancy and to ignore civil rights laws that protected GLBT people from discrimination. It was a dishonest document filled with historical revisionism that promoted theocracy, encouraged anarchy and supported the dissolution of the rule of law. It falsely portrayed right wing Christians as victims, even as they pledged to work tirelessly to deny equality to those who would not adhere to their sectarian church rules.
An extreme manifesto of such breathtaking cynicism and insincerity is no surprise coming from what passes for "leaders" in today's evangelical circles. It was striking, however, that more than 15 key American Catholic leaders signed on to the "Manhattan Declaration". Signatories included heavyweights such as Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Donald Wuerl
, Archbishop of Washington, DC. This was clearly a call to arms and a powerful signal that the Roman Catholic Church is taking the gloves off to fight political battles in America.
This hands-on involvement from Rome has passed the "trend" stage and appears to be official policy. Consider the significant involvement the Catholic Church had in stripping marriage rights away from GLBT couples in a Maine referendum held earlier this month.
In the same manner, on June 11, the Washington, DC Archdiocese threatened to abandon
the homeless and quit charity work in the District if it had to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Catholic Charities had the audacity to believe it was entitled to collect $8.2 million in tax dollars meant to serve all DC residents, and then still get to handpick whom it deems worthy of assistance.
Catholic involvement with arch-conservative politics is growing by the day. In May, Catholic groups tried to stop President Barack Obama from speaking at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony
because of his pro-choice position.
Earlier this month, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin put the clamp
on Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), banning the lawmaker from communion because he is pro-choice. This was reminiscent of
The St. Louis Archbishop refusing to give communion to John Kerry during his presidential campaign.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has suddenly begun to steer GLBT Catholics to 12-step programs that promise to "cure" homosexuality
or support them in a lifelong celibacy. The Catholic Diocese in Sioux Falls, South Dakota urged its 128-thousand members to oppose an attempt
to bring legalizing embryonic stem cell research to a public referendum. (I guess the sacrosanct "people's right to vote" on controversial social issues only applies to same-sex marriage)
In fighting back, we must remember that the Vatican is launching these attacks from a position of weakness. It has yet to recover its moral authority from public exposure of rampant child sexual abuse scandals that cost the Church billions of dollars in legal settlements.
The Vatican appears to be acutely aware it is losing its worldwide market share. It is basically defunct in the Middle East, where the religion began, and on life-support in Western Europe, where it once prospered. In Africa, Rome competes with Islam and Anglicanism for a shrinking slice of the pie. (Who can forget that while in Africa the Pope said condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.) South America, one of its few remaining strongholds, is losing Roman Catholics to evangelical faiths by the millions.
Instead of competing against the conservative evangelical brand, Pope Benedict has decided to embrace it, shaping a conspicuously political Catholicism that embraces extremism and drives out dissenters. The Vatican has become so doctrinaire that it recently launched an invasive probe into the lives of America's 60,000 nuns to enforce anachronistic rules. In January, Benedict welcomed back excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson who denied that millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps.
Fortunately, Benedict is a cold, unsympathetic figure and the majority of American Catholics often ignore his edicts. The strategy for the GLBT community should be to stand up to Rome and help mobilize mainstream Catholics to fight back against an authoritarian Pontiff who is hell-bent on making the Catholic Church as unpopular and unappealing as His Holiness.