The old joke says the religious right is neither, and yet the fundamentalists are correct on one essential point: we as a culture have a spiritual problem, and it requires a spiritual solution. During this holy season, rightwing religious leaders are offering their critique of our society and leading campaigns for decency. They are claiming the moral authority to enter the political arena; they want to go from preaching to ruling.
Their entry into politics gives us the right to examine their credentials. Despite a natural tendency to shy away from religious arguments, I think we on the left need to meet them on their ground, because the truth is they care no more for the Bible than George W. Bush cares for the Constitution.
For example, last week the Catholic Church made it official: men "with deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are no longer welcome in seminaries. This is a logical extension of the church's stated response to its shameful pedophilia scandal. After decades of denying that there are any gay priests, gay priests are now responsible for nothing less than the destruction of the church. In his final book, released when he was on his deathbed, Pope John Paul II pronounced homosexuality a part of a new "culture of evil."
The Church explained its new policy by claiming that most of the victims were boys. The implication is clear: gay equals pedophile. It is not only untrue, but irresponsible of the church to make such a connection. Homosexuality, unlike pedophilia, is not a mental disorder. Gay men are no more likely than heterosexual men to be pedophiles. Most pedophiles are heterosexual.
Naturally, this new policy does not in any way address the crimes committed by members of the church hierarchy, like Cardinal Law of Boston, who covered up abuses and knowingly reassigned sex offenders to new parishes without warning parents, sometimes more than once. This would include the new pope, Benedict XVI, formerly of the Catholic Church's Office of the Inquisition, who is able to travel in this country without fear of being arrested only because he is head of state of the Vatican, and as such enjoys diplomatic immunity. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was deeply implicated in the Church's policy of hiding and paying off its pedophilia scandals. The man who now wears a gold miter and claims infallibility for his pronouncements believed that children in parishes with sex-abuser priests could fend for themselves.
It's impossible to ignore the similarity between the church's rationale for scapegoating gay priests and the Bush administration's "a few bad apples" dismissal of its own (often sexual) torture scandals.
Financial considerations clearly drove the Vatican policy. If word got out that priests were abusing children, contributions might dry up as, indeed, they have. Not to mention the settlements themselves, which have to be immense, given the dimensions of the problem. Fortunately at about the same time, the Bush administration began to funnel government social services revenue into church coffers via its faith-based initiative. In a blatant quid-pro-quo, in 2004, American bishops, under direction from Rome, took the unprecedented step of ordering priests to refuse communion to prominent Democrats, including the Democratic candidate for president.
Evangelical African-American churches in this country are pursuing the same agenda against homosexuals. During this sacred season, black ministers in Indiana got together to work towards the passage of an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. "We believe the Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination, that it is a sin," said the Reverent Robert Gaillard, pastor at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church. "It is not a sin to be born black."
It may not be a sin to be born black, but the Bible takes a very friendly attitude toward slavery, frequently commanding slaves to obey their masters in both the Old and New Testaments. If we followed the Bible to the letter, without picking and choosing, slavery would still be a respected institution, women would still be completely subject to the authority of their husbands, divorce would be outlawed, and adultery would be punishable by stoning for the woman, anyway.
As for the bogus argument over whether or not gay liberation is a legitimate civil rights movement, I will simply refer the irked reverends to South Africa, whose post-apartheid regime just instituted civil partnerships for same sex couples.
Like the Catholic Church, black anti-gay evangelicals prop up their false religious claims with false data, insisting that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, when the available evidence suggests that homosexuality is genetically determined. (And let's not forget the traditional hostility between fundamentalist religion and science in general, and social science in particular. After all, it was Jung who understood that organized religion is the best defense against a religious experience.)
The pastors also claim not to hate gays and not to condone discrimination. It's hard to believe that's true when in every single instance these anti-gay marriage amendments have been used in an effort to overturn all rights for gay people, especially domestic partnership benefits.
Domestic partnership benefits provide, among other things, health insurance to partners and dependents of state and municipal employees. Ironically, rolling back these benefits harms black and Latino gays disproportionately, since they are far more likely than their white counterparts to be raising children.
In other words, the real victims of these amendments tend to be children. Pious-sounding religious leaders who blather on about "protecting the family" want to strip children of health insurance simply because they disapprove of the "lifestyle "in reality, the sex practices of their parents. But sheer dirty-mindedness and class resentment are not the only motives at work. A reverend title can't keep me from noticing that cold hard cash is on the line.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).