Monday, August 30, 2010

Catholics For Equality, an analysis on the Eve of their launch.

Catholics For Equality states the following as the mission of their organization:

Catholics for Equality empowers pro-equality Catholics to put our faith into
ethical and effective political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families.

Zack Ford writes an article in Pam’s House Blend on Catholics For Equality (C4E), an organization scheduled to launch on 14 September 2010. Zack makes the following points:

"Something about 'pro-equality Catholic' just doesn't sit right with me. There's very little in Catholicism that in any way resembles 'equality' and Catholicism has never been known for being pro-anything. Let's hear a little bit more from their website:

Drawing on the rich tradition of Catholic social justice teachings, grounded in the Gospel message of Love, American Catholics are among the strongest supporters of equality for LGBT people of any religious group in the U.S.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HE HE HE HE HE HE HE!! WHOO! I'm rolling around on the floor. Seriously ROTFLMFAO!!! That's the best joke I've heard all day. You can't be serious, right? I mean, the Catholics come close, but it's definitely the Mormons who are the strongest supporters of LGBT equality, by far. Oh, that's rich, or it would be if it weren't so offensive to all the religious groups who do actually support LGBT equality.

Now, mocking aside, what they're talking about is that there is a rift between congregants and the leadership. Catholics for Equality is a group designed to oppose the bishops. The Catholic Church isn't exactly democratic or egalitarian in any conceivable way, so if congregants don't want to accept what the leadership is spoon-feeding, they have to form a separate group to represent their point of view, and this is such a group.

The question here is: what does it mean to be 'Catholic?'"

With all respect Zack, you may be asking the wrong question. A better question is "How will C4E move Catholic voters to support Pro-Equality legislation and candidates?" 25% of the American electorate is Catholic. They do not vote in “lock step” with the dictates of their bishops. Most Catholics do not follow the dictates of the bishops on artificial birth control. Many have suffered painful marriages that ended in divorce and they have subsequently remarried. The Catholic Church in the USA has attempted to accommodate many of these divorced and remarried Catholics through annulments. However, the Vatican has tried to make annulments more difficult to obtain. Many Catholics are now simply opting for Civil Marriages.

The point is that Catholicism is not a monolith and Catholics are not blind fanatics mindlessly following every dictate of the Vatican. Most significantly for LGBTQ people, most Catholics are not blindly following their bishop’s dictates in the voting booth. Catholic lay people tend to be progressive on many social issues and are far more progressive than most of their Protestant counterparts.

An organization such as “Catholics For Equality” should be welcomed, encouraged and supported by LGBTQ people because it could make a real difference on Election Day with Pro-Equality legislation and candidates. Zack, this is why I suggest that a better question would be, “How can Catholics For Equality reach Catholics and help foster pro-equality thinking and voting?”

The pro-equality thinking end of the equation could be addressed by the C4E foundation. Assembling progressive theologians and people engaged in pastoral ministries to speak to their Catholic brothers and sisters. Equality for LGBTQ people is a question of human dignity. Translating that into votes and political action is the missing piece in C4E.

As a former member of the founding board of directors, I do have very serious reservations about C4E’s ability to move Catholic voters and advance the cause of equality for LGBTQ people. At several Board meetings, Phil Attey (the current Executive Director) stated, “We do not want to change the [Catholic] Church.” Phil, why start Catholics for Equality if you are happy with the status quo? Phil also stated, “This is not an LGBTQ organization.” OK, then what is it? At one point, Father Joe Palacios, a priest of the LA Archdiocese, a board member of C4E and a Sociology/Latinos studies professor at the Jesuit Georgetown University, suggested that it was a Latino organization.

What emerged was a fragmented, insecure and vague set of goals. It is unclear how Catholics For Equality will move Catholics to vote for Pro-Equality legislation and political candidates. Anne Underwood is a board member of C4E and is also the head of an overlapping similar group in Maine called Catholics for Marriage Equality. She seemed concerned that C4E would replicate some of her own organization’s work in the drive for same sex marriage. This seems like this would be a conflict of interest.

The timid leadership currently in place at C4E fails to articulate (or more importantly agree on) how C4E will actually move Catholic voters. Additionally, some of board members gave me the distinct impression that they were there to make sure that C4E did not infringe on their “turf.” These conflicting agendas do not bode well for the success of this group and must be resolved.

An organization needs to have very clearly articulated goals and an understandable methodology in place to realize those goals. Here C4E breaks down and fails internally. If you visit the GetEQUAL website, they state their goal clearly and their methodology is the Direct Action/Civil Disobedience approach used by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. C4E offers “Brunch Captains.” I assume a "Brunch Captain" is someone who will host coffee and donuts after mass. Charming, to be sure; however, most parishes already offer coffee and donuts after Sunday Masses. The C4E website fails to explain how C4E "Brunch Captains” will make a real world difference on Equality issues. The C4E website invites visitors to submit reports of anti-LGBTQ speech/actions by Church officials; however, they fail to state how they will follow-up on those reports.

The C4E Board, as currently composed, lacks a clear vision and a forceful purpose. This exemplified by their launch date. The organization was scheduled to launch on 24 May 2010 and then this was changed to 16 August 2010 and then changed again to 14 September 2010. My fear is that C4E will focus on donations/fund raising and quickly degenerate into another “black tie, write us a check” LGBTQ organization. My hope is that the Board will grow a backbone and that its leadership will develop a clearly articulated vision and an effective methodology for actualizing Equality in the real world.

Some ideas that might help them would be to organize parish cells in the 17 states whose majority of voters currently support same sex marriage. The Woman Priest Movement is a good example of what can be accomplished on the parish level. These women made a real difference in my own parish by encouraging parishioners to question the hierarchy’s intransigent prohibition of women priests. Their members wore purple stoles, a scarf like cloth used by priests, at Sunday Mass causing parishioners to ask them about their unusual dress. Through their conversations with the parishioners, they engaged in theological discussions and moved people to understanding their position.

There is another organization called “The Rainbow Sash Movement” which does something similar for LGBTQ Catholics. Their members appear at Catholic Mass, and like the Women Priest movement, they quietly participate in the Mass while wearing rainbow sashes. Their high visibility provokes the same sort of discussion and thought that leads to greater understanding of their cause, which leads to real change.

Since they are “Catholics For Equality,” it would be a good idea for them to establish working partnerships with other Pro-Equality Catholic groups. Some suggestions would be: Federation of Married Priests; The Women Priest movement; Rainbow Sash; Bishop Accountability and SNAP.

I sincerely hope that Catholics For Equality will realize its potential to inform and move the conscience of millions of US Catholic voters. I am concerned that their current leadership cannot, or will not, provide a clear vision and an understandable methodology of how to obtain the goal of Equality. Without focus and a strong resolve, C4E will fail.

Let’s hope that they do not miss the opportunity to move significant numbers of voters into the Equality camp. That would be a loss for us all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Captured Constituencies

In January of 1973, the US Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States. That decision by the Court radicalized conservative religious groups in the United States and served as a focal point for political action by those groups. It is ironic that many of the so-called “fundamentalists” were originally organized in the nineteenth century as a reaction to the “Social Gospel Movement” in American Protestantism.

The Social Gospel Movement sought to translate the teachings of Jesus into public policy. In the nineteenth century, that meant abolishing slavery. Ultimately, the abolitionist movement swept Abraham Lincoln into the White House and ended with the Civil War. In the US, it meant that Protestant churches were divided along social/political lines, for example the Northern Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Church, etc. As a reaction to these acrimonious divisions, there was a sentiment among many American Protestants to return to the basics, essentially, to focus on the Bible and leave politics at the threshold of the church.

Roe v. Wade changed all of that. A political science professor I had as an undergraduate explained in a lecture that whenever the Supreme Court rules significantly “ahead” of the population on a social issue, there is a social backlash. In the case of Roe v. Wade, that backlash came in a galvanization of Protestant Fundamentalists and later, an increasing number of Catholics. Why later? Because in 1973 the Catholic Church was in the middle of its own internal reorganization and redefinition with Vatican II Catholic, leadership was “off balance” and the laity was disoriented. That began to change with the election of John Paul II and his call to a “Culture War.”

Roe v. Wade provided a focal point for religious conservatives in American society. The abolishment of legalized abortion became the crusade that united the religious right across denominational divides and granted them a common cause, a crusade.

At that time, Watergate was ravaging the Republican Party. The Elections of 1976 swept Jimmy Carter into the White House and the Democrats into Congress. In order to abolish abortion, the radical right knew they needed to regain the White House. The economic crisis and Carter’s embarrassment with a failed rescue attempt of embassy personnel in Iran provided that opportunity. Regan was elected in 1980 and he’d help end legalized abortion.

Regan did not do that, but he was a “good guy” in the eyes of the religious right and he did manage to pack the Supreme Court. That is how Roe v. Wade would be reversed, through the Court. That did not happen. If only the Republicans controlled Congress, then Roe v. Wade could be legislated away! Therefore, countless right to lifers staffed phone banks, wrote checks, became volunteers and voted Republican. Even though, for most of them, it was not in their economic self-interest to do so. Newt Gingrich and company were elected into office, the Republican Party controlled Congress. Gingrich published his “Contract with America.”

Consider what would have happened if the Republicans had actually delivered on their promises to the Religious Right. The Crusade against Roe v. Wade would have ended and with it would have ended the motivation for all those folks to volunteer for, donate to and vote for the Republican Party. As an aside, consider what would happen to the income and political influence of all the leadership of the religious right (if Roe v. Wade had been abolished) and some of our own LGBTQ organizations (if we obtained full equality).

Somehow, in all of these decades the Republican Party never managed to deliver and reverse Roe v. Wade. Why should they? After all those, “Right to Lifers” became an engine in the Republican political machine. They volunteered for political campaigns, they donated funds, and they voted Republican (even when Republican policies were contrary to their economic interests). Republican candidates courted the Religious Right with anti-abortion rhetoric and promises of ending abortion, but somehow they never delivered on those promises. There were plenty of enemies to blame, the Democrats, the Media, Hollywood, etc.

What the “Right to Lifers” are to the Republican Party, the LGBTQ folks are to the Democratic Party. Like them, we are a “Captured Constituency.” A line from the movie “Body Snatchers” comes to mind: “This is important, where are you going to run?” Right to Lifers know that the Republican Party is the only game in town, just as LGBTQ folks know that the Democratic Party is the only game in town. The RNC and the DNC also know this and so, they can continue to spout of all sorts of rhetoric that creates the illusion that they really will change things. However, they never quite manage that change, because if they did they would lose all those radicalized supporters.

We need to hold individual incumbents accountable for their actual voting record on our issues. Simply because “(D)” appears behind their name should not automatically translate into donations, volunteering our talents/time, or our vote. If an incumbent votes against equality legislation, or blocks that legislation from being voted on, we should reciprocate. When we do so, we should write a letter to that incumbent and to the DNC explaining what we did and clearly stating our motives. We should carefully monitor other incumbents and the Party’s actions (not merely their rhetoric).

At this point, some will be horrified and say, that will help our enemies! The fact is the greatest enemies are not found in the other side’s camp, they are those in your own camp who betray you. Only after we weed out those who betray us, can we have any real hope of winning. Only then, will those in leadership and strategic positions in the DNC take our issues seriously.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Justice delayed, yet again.

I received an E-mail informing me of the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court to extend the stay against Same-Sex marriage in California until the Court hears the appeal. The appeal trial begins on 6 December 2010. I immediately telephoned Tom, who had asked me to officiate at his wedding on Wednesday evening. The City of Norwalk had scheduled workers until 8 PM on Wednesday, so that same-sex couples could obtain licenses. Thank you, by the way, to the folks at the City of Norwalk.

Now, with this decision by the Ninth Circuit to extend the stay, justice is once again delayed and denied to countless couples. Tom answered the phone and said he and Bruce had just heard the news. He thanked me for making myself available to officiate their wedding, but went on to say that the damned christian right has done it to us again. He was simply too upset to speak about it further. We’ll speak again tomorrow. He is correct about the “christian” right they have targeted our community.

Two weeks ago, Anne Rice stated the following:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputations, and deservedly infamously group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Gandhi said: “In the West I came to love Christ and to hate Christians.” He said that because of the hatred and discrimination he suffered from “Christians.” There was a Hymn I grew up hearing “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Well, Tom is now an atheist. That’s quite a revelation considering the fact that Tom was a Catholic priest. He was driven out of the priesthood when he refused to cover-up the sex abuse of his predecessor. His bishop was displeased.

If charity is the most effective form of evangelization, then it is logical that hatred by Christians serves to do on a larger scale what it has accomplished in the cases of Anne Rice, Gandhi and Tom.

I thought of something that Malcolm X said years ago when African Americans in this country were struggling for Civil Rights. “No one ever gave rights to anyone, you have to take them.” We too shall overcome.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Prop 8 overturned in California, a taste of justice and equality.

The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples.

-US District Judge Walker

My cell phone rang furiously on Thursday of this week as everyone awaited a decision from Judge Walker regarding a stay on same-sex marriages in California. The decision would be announced between 9 AM and Noon Pacific Time. Bruce and Tom waited all morning at the County government in the hope of being able to obtain a marriage license. They have been together for several years and were afraid that license for same sex couples would only be available for a very short period of time before another court placed an injunction against issuing such licenses. They had called me after Judge Walker had ruled last week and asked if I would officiate at their marriage at the first legal opportunity. I had said I would be honored.

In short, Bruce and Tom were afraid that yet, once again, their rights would be taken away from them and they would be relegated to second class citizenship. As it happened, I was attending a meeting with many people one of whom is both an attorney and a law professor at a New York University. I asked her what would most probably happen next?

She explained that the defendants (the Yes on Prop 8 crowd) would turn to the Ninth Circuit Court and request an extension of the stay (an order not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples) until the Ninth Circuit Court could hear the case and issue a ruling on the matter. The law professor went on to explain that the Ninth Circuit Court would be UNLIKELY to issue such a stay. In order to issue a stay the Yes on Prop 8 attorneys would have to demonstrate to the Court that failure to issue such a stay would cause “irreparable harm.” The problem for their side is, that they just failed to do precisely just that before Judge Walker.

I asked, “Won’t they then just go to the US Supreme Court, as they did over the issue of cameras in the court room (the Yes on Prop 8 side did not want the you to be able to view the trial)? No, she said, that was a First Amendment issue which is huge for the Supreme Court, this is not and they are unlikely to intervene.

Judge Walker’s temporary stay will be automatically lifted at 5:00 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday 18 August. California State Offices will being issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples thereafter. Until then, Bruce & Tom, countless other couples and the rest of us are holding our breath. After a lifetime of discrimination, bigotry and abuse its still a little hard to believe that justice is possible for us.