Tag Archives: Law & Politics

Holy Union 1970

Did the Movement for Marriage Equality Begin in 2008? One Chapter in a Larger Narrative

Forcing the Spring, the recent best-seller by New York Times reporter Jo Becker, purports to chronicle the back story to the sweeping success of the marriage equality movement across the nation, but critics complain that the book gives too much credit to Becker’s sources and too little to the significant contributions of others, especially earlier pilgrims in the long journey toward marriage equality. In response, author Becker acknowledges that “The book is about one chapter in a larger narrative, and that narrative includes so many people who worked so hard on this issue when the going was far tougher than it is today.”

Indeed.

Let us consider the role of progressive religion. Against well-entrenched religious opposition to all things gay, progressive religious leaders were early voices “crying in the wilderness,” and decades of advocacy within religious spheres have largely prepared the good soil for recent marriage equality policy breakthroughs.

In the sixties, the issue was not marriage equality but criminalization and police harassment of homosexuals. Of course, the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in the summer of 1969 exploded as a spontaneous backlash to a police raid on a gay bar, and Stonewall has become the iconic moment that marks the birth of the gay liberation movement.

Clergy press conference following police raid

Clergy press conference following police raid of 1964 New Year’s ball

However, nearly five years before Stonewall, the San Francisco based Council on Religion and Homosexuality (CRH) sponsored a New Year’s Eve ball in 1964 that was raided by police, and the clergy who appeared at a press conference the next day to denounce the police behavior focused the eyes of the nation on abusive police practices and policies. One commentator suggested the clergy provided the “cloak of the cloth,” a powerful and visible sign of religious support for the LGBT community. In 1965, the prestigious Christian Century Magazine suggested, “the law … should not penalize private immoralities which cannot be proved contrary to the common good.” The first LGBT policy statements of the ecumenical Protestant denominations (Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ) in the late sixties and seventies called for the decriminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior.

Holy Union 1970

The 1970 Holy Union of Father Robert Mary Clement and John Darcy Noble, Rev. Troy Perry officiating

By the 1990’s, still long before marriage equality was on the legal horizon, many clergy conferred a blessing on the relationships of their gay or lesbian parishioners, variously referred to as “covenant ceremonies,” “rites of blessing,” commitment services,” “holy unions,” and other terms. In fact, the terminology “holy union” dates to 1970 when independent (non-Roman) Catholic priest, Father Robert Mary Clement, who had marched in his clerical robes in the first Gay Pride parade in New York City, was joined with his life partner in a religious ceremony, and the officiant was Rev. Troy Perry, who had started the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a predominantly gay denomination, months before Stonewall. In 1993, Perry and the MCC organized a Washington D.C. event they dubbed simply “The Wedding,” and Perry claimed “At least 2,600 same-sex couples, complete with tuxedos and wedding gowns, made a public commitment in a mass ritual.”

Meanwhile, the ecumenical Protestant churches wrestled with policies regarding blessing gay and lesbian couples.

  • In 1993, the Lutheran Conference of Bishops stated that although the church did not recognize an official ceremony of blessing, the bishops acknowledged the prerogative of pastors and congregations in ministry with gay and lesbian persons to “explore the best ways to provide pastoral care,” and that was widely interpreted to allow clergy discretion to preside at rites of blessing.
  • After Methodist Pastor Jimmy Creech was defrocked and Pastor Greg Dell suspended just before the turn of the century for presiding at covenant ceremonies, nearly one hundred West coast Methodist clergy jointly officiated in the covenant service of a lesbian couple. Though Methodist policy remained unchanged, the horde of media representatives and bank of television cameras at the February 2000 press conference announcing that no ecclesiastical charges would be filed against the “Sacramento 68” demonstrated that the same-sex marriage issue had captured the attention of the world.
  • When Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality in 2003, by judicial fiat, the local Episcopal bishop initially encouraged his priests to refrain from conducting marriage ceremonies, but the priests widely ignored their bishop, and within a few years, the bishop himself presided at a lesbian wedding–of two of his priests, no less!
  • On July 4, 2005, the UCC General Synod formally endorsed marriage equality with an overwhelming vote for a resolution that “affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage.”
  • In the last decade, the Presbyterian journey to full LGBT inclusion was marked by ecclesiastical trials wrestling with rites of blessing, and the Presbyterian courts made it clear that rites of blessing were permitted as long as it was not a legal marriage ceremony. Yet, when the Presbyterian “Supreme Court” instructed her local presbytery to censure Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr, who has long been the “poster lesbian” of the Presbyterian Church, for officiating at legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, the presbytery instead issued a resolution of support for Rev. Dr. Spahr’s ministry. All Presbyterian eyes are on Detroit this week where issues of marriage equality are front and center of the General Assembly.

In the last dozen years, as marriage equality has gained momentum in the civil sphere, so too has full inclusion of LGBT persons moved forward in the religious sphere, at least within the ecumenical denominations. By removing the gates to the pulpit through revisions to ministry policies–that is, by ordaining partnered gays and lesbians–the UCC (as early as the 1970s), the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians have all recently affirmed that the relationships of gay and lesbian partners are to be recognized, supported, and celebrated. Without attempting too fine a point regarding a chicken or egg analysis, when the moral authority of the church swings toward inclusion, public opinion will be affected.

Finally, and especially germane to the recent sweeping success of marriage equality adjudication and legislation across jurisdictions, the role of progressive clergy in statewide pro-equality movements cannot be understated. The example of Minnesota is illustrative. In 2012, a restrictive constitutional amendment was defeated by the electorate, and marriage equality was enacted during the next legislative session in 2013. Minnesotans United was the LGBT advocacy group that successfully worked on both measures, and their strategy “refused to cede the religious ground.” Though the local Roman Catholic Archbishop was an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, ecumenical Protestant and Jewish clergy served in highly visible leadership roles. Minnesota clergy issued joint communiques, provided legislative testimony, appeared at rallies and press conferences, and a priest, a minister, and a rabbi came into a bar together in a humorous TV ad. The clergy collar was omnipresent in LGBT advocacy efforts.

Marriage is a legal contract, defined and sanctioned by the civil law but with significant religious overtones, and the voices of opposition to LGBT rights have long used religion to bolster their arguments. Because of the religious underpinnings to LGBT issues, legal and societal progress would have been slowed or thwarted without the counter-influence of activists and allies, within the church, who offered the “cloak of the cloth” from the earliest days, who provided the example of holy unions to bless and solemnize gay and lesbian relationships, and who “refused to cede the religious ground.”

The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

Conservative entertainment complex

Were you shocked by the election results?  If so, perhaps you should stop watching Fox News.

David Frumm is a Republican writer for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, and he coined the phrase, “conservative entertainment complex” to describe media personalities and organizations whose financial motivations (i.e., ratings) color their pseudo-political news and commentary.  What is reported and how is dictated by audience share rather than responsible journalism.  Frumm suggests that the Republican cause was ill served by dishonest appraisals of the issues and the electorate.  Actually, Frumm’s language is robust: “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glen Beck are unnamed but obvious candidates for the “conservative entertainment complex” criticized by Frumm.  Their bombast is meant to entertain rather than inform.

What about Fox News, the most-watched cable news network?  Apparently, CNN or other network news programming was streaming in the ballroom where Romney supporters watched election night returns, but as the news soured they demanded a switch to Fox.  What that says about the willingness to be misled is fascinating.  With Pavlovian predictability, the supporters knew where to turn to hear what they wanted to hear.  Unfortunately for those viewers, Fox also called the election for Obama relatively early thus dashing all false hopes in a fascinating scene in which Karl Rove disputed the call.

Rupert MurdochAny analysis of Fox must start with Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch is the Australian-born media magnate who first penetrated the British tabloid market and then the American, founding the supermarket favorite, Star Magazine, in the seventies.  In 1985, he sacrificed his Australian citizenship in order to gain citizenship on these shores to get around the legal requirement that the owner of U.S. TV stations must be a citizen.  It is Murdoch’s media empire that is now under criminal investigation in Britain for illegal phone tapping, and many of his highest-ranking associates are under indictment.  Murdoch’s conglomerate founded Fox News in 1996, and it remains among Murdoch’s current U.S. holdings.

A recent study found that viewers who didn’t watch any news on TV were able to answer 1.22 standardized test questions correctly.  The most informed were those who listened to NPR or watched the Sunday morning talk shows with average scores of 1.51 correct answers.  Fox News Viewers?  1.04.  Yep, that’s right.  The study demonstrated that Fox viewers were less informed than the folks who didn’t watch any news!

Faux News is more than a pejorative descriptor; it is accurate.

Feeding the beast

This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing.  What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward?  Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone.  Too shrill.  Too demeaning.  Too scapegoating.  “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined.  Immigrant bashing.  Gay bashing.  Forty-seven per cent bashing.  Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).

Talk nice and the party will be restored.  Really, Joe Scarborough?  That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?

Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party.  Has the beast master lost control?

For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners.  Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace.  Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

town hallWillie Horton.  Welfare queens.  Food stamp president.  Takers vs. makers.  47%.  Code language that supported the unstated narrative.  Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.

How will they put the beast back in the cage?  Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election.  Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat.  The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.

Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough.  That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation?  Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.

Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war.  We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.

Mitt’s got some ‘splainin’ to do

News out of southeastern Minnesota tells more sad tales of teens who succumbed to bullying and committed suicide.  Oftentimes it is the short one, or the heavy one, or the shy one, or the stutterer, or the gay, but thirteen-year-old Rachel Emhke didn’t seem to have any distinguishing characteristics except that she got on the wrong side of the wrong crowd.  For seventeen-year-old Jay “Corey” Jones, his life got both better and worse after he came out as gay.  His dad said,

“I just saw a difference in him I saw a smile, I saw a little more energy than actually being down and out and depressed-looking,” [his dad] said. “To me he felt a sign of relief, like, ‘Yeah I got over the hard part, right,’ you know.”

But, being out also meant the bullying increased.

Mitt RomneyIn national news, the Washington Post is out with a well-attested article that suggests Mitt Romney’s elitist upbringing also included some bullying at his posh private school.  But the well-manicured governor’s son was not the object of the abuse; instead, the presidential wannabe was the chief perpetrator.

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Candidate Romney has attempted to get out ahead of the story by issuing the standard wishy-washy apologyI don’t remember but if I offended anyone, I’m sorry.  In any case, Mitt says, “I’m quite a different guy now.”

We can only hope so, but I doubt we’ll be seeing any “It Gets Better” videos out of his campaign.

A Jew and a Methodist …

I’m borrowing this line from Ariel Vegosen, a Jewish woman attending the UMC Conference in Tampa (GC2012).  She states, “I am here as a Jewish ally to support divestment and to support my Methodist brothers and sisters as they make this important and historic decision.”

With American support for Israel an unquestioned historical and political reality, one must be brave or foolish to raise concern for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.  Yet, that is what Vegosen is doing, and she is at the Conference to encourage those who promote divestment from US companies perceived to sustain the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands.

Of course, divestment was a means of financial protest that contributed to the fall of South African apartheid a generation ago.

Two years ago at the Presbyterian General Assembly, I spent a couple of hours at the Cokesbury bookstore signing copies of my novel, A Wretched Man.  Two other authors were present at the same time, Gustav Niebuhr from the famous Niebuhr family, and Mark Braverman.  Like Vegosen, Braverman is a Jew who attended a Christian convention to advocate for Christians to denounce Israeli policies detrimental to the Palestinians.  Braverman’s book is entitled, Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

A couple of voices crying in the wilderness worth listening to.  Click on their names above to hear their voices.

Catholic hierarchy out of touch

While watching the Republican primary season play out, one exit poll item caught my eye.  Rick Santorum, the self-avowed Roman Catholic traditionalist, repeatedly lost the Catholic vote … to a Mormon!  Similarly, during the flap over contraception coverage in the Affordable Health Care Act that riled up the Catholic Bishops, public polls showed 60% of Roman Catholics supported the provision.  Clearly, there appears to be a disconnect between the hard-line conservatism of the bishops/hierarchy and the folks in the pews.

Recently a gay man who served on the board of Catholic Charities quit in a highly-public rebuke of Cardinal Dolan of the archdiocese of New York.

A day before Easter, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic archdiocese faced a challenge to his stance on gay rights: the resignation of a church charity board member who says he’s “had enough” of the cardinal’s attitude.

Joseph Amodeo told The Associated Press on Saturday that he quit the junior board of the city’s Catholic Charities after Cardinal Timothy Dolan failed to respond to a “call for help” for homeless youths who are not heterosexual.

Today, Amodeo, the gay man, speaks out in a Huff Post blog entitled “The Pulpit vs. the Pews”.  He basically makes the case that there is strong and widespread support for gays within the Catholic laity and the hierarchy is simply out of touch.  His post begins with a personal story from a few years ago; his role as a Christian educator was questioned and resulted in a public hearing in the church.

The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception.

Amodeo also blames the press for assuming that bishops speak for the people.

It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.

How is it that the Catholic hierarchy has lost touch?  Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of graduate studies with the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and University School of Theology.  Over lunch or coffee, I heard a recurring lament from the Catholic grad students … that the current pope was appointing reactionary bishops and the progressive spirit of Vatican II was being reversed.  That process has continued under the current pope.  Thus, since 1978, there has been a remaking of the entire episcopate under two conservative popes.

Conservative Lutheran denominations such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) have stridently anti-Catholic histories.  During her failed campaign, Republican Michelle Bachman resigned from her Wisconsin Synod congregation over the embarrassment that it remained WELS official policy that the papacy was the anti-Christ.  Thus, it is a fascinating sign of the times that a group of Missouri Synod pastors, congregations, the LCMS district superintendent, and a seminary professor will march to the steps of the Fort Wayne Cathedral to show support for the local Catholic bishop and diocese in their opposition to the contraceptive portions of Obamacare.

Right wing politics makes strange bedfellows.

Sweet Home Alabama

Have you seen the British Petroleum (BP) produced ads extolling tourism in the Gulf?  They’re actually done quite well and make the region from the Florida panhandle, across Alabama and Mississippi, and ending in Louisiana look pretty appealing.  After despoiling the gulf with their oil spill, I assume the ads are part of BP’s payback.

Many years ago, I spent a little time in Louisiana, home to an aunt and cousins, but the rest of the region could as well be a foreign country, as far as I know.  I hear they play really good college football down there, and the ads make the beaches appear attractive and the cuisine sounds delicious.  However, the politics and the religion down there scare the beejeebers out of me.

For a century, this was the “solid south” for the Democratic Party, the days of segregation and Jim Crow, and the Republicans were remembered as the party of Lincoln, the Union Army, and carpetbaggers.  That began to change at the 1948 Democratic Convention when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey offered a stirring speech promoting civil rights, and the “Dixiecrats” led by Strom Thurmond stalked out, determined to protect what they portrayed as the southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government while proclaiming “segregation forever.”

 

Hubert Humphrey’s famous civil rights speech–1948

 

The circle was completed in 1968 when Richard Nixon recognized that he could turn the south into the Republican promised land by exploiting racism.  This “Southern Strategy” has defined the last forty plus years of American politics.

Tonight, the Republicans of Alabama and Mississippi hold their primaries, and the eyes of the nation are again focused on the politics of the region.  The pollsters tell us that not much has changed.

  • Interracial marriage ought to be illegal according to roughly a quarter of the Republican voters.
  • Three to four times as many think President Obama is a Muslim compared to those who think he’s Christian.
  • Two to three times as many do not believe in evolution compared to those that do.
  • Twice as many in ‘Bama prefer the Crimson Tide football team to the Auburn Tigers.  Ok, I guess that’s irrelevant.

Despite those appealing ads, I don’t think I’ll be heading southeast anytime soon.  I admit it, I’ve got prejudices of my own.

Bringing down the “fat man”

Maltese FalconHumphrey Bogart, reprising the role of detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, battled evil in the Sidney Greenstreet character of Kaspar Gutman, aka “the fat man”.  Though bested by Bogart’s character, “the fat man” slipped away to Istanbul, no doubt to prepare for a sequel.

What about real life?  Can college coed Sandra Fluke bring down the fat man of conservative radio: the bombastic, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited Rush Limbaugh? Have his comments degenerated beyond chronic bad taste into the legal realm of slander?

Sandra Fluke is the law student from Georgetown University who was prepared to offer testimony before the Issa Committee on contraception, but she was excluded and only five conservative men were allowed to speak.  Later, she was invited back and offered testimony to a House Democratic committee.  She testified in favor of health insurance coverage that included contraceptives without a co-pay.

It was her testimony before that committee that caused Limbaugh to become ballistic.

Sandra FlukeWhat does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

In my former law practice, I never handled a slander case, but I know they are generally very difficult to pursue, especially against public figures.  But I hope she does it.  I hope she sues the blathering idiot.

We could echo journalist Edward R. Murrow’s ringing challenge to a fat man bully of an earlier time, Joseph McCarthy–Have you no decency?— but in the case of Rush Limbaugh, the answer is only too clear.

Going big

In the fall of 1966, this small-town boy from central Minnesota arrived on the campus of Dartmouth College as a “pea-green freshman”.  I was the twenty-third string quarterback on the freshman football team.  Professor Jeffrey Hart spent each hour of freshman English lighting and re-relighting his pipe as he strolled in front of the class, eliciting discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Despite Hart’s political conservatism in an otherwise liberal environment(he was a close associate of Wm. F. Buckley), he was the perfect icon for my introduction to an Ivy League education.  To be sure, I was more than a little overwhelmed.

It was then that I first heard the name of Robert Reich.  Though small in stature, upperclassman Reich was the biggest man on campus.  If my memory serves, Reich was a leading commentator on WDCR, the college radio station, and founder of an unofficial experimental college.  Reich’s taped speech on the three slain civil rights workers in Mississippi was used by subsequent speech classes as the model, par excellence.  It was clear then that big things were in store for Robert Reich.

Robert Reich at DartmouthOf course, I am speaking of the man who would later serve in the Clinton cabinet and who is currently a frequent commentator on television and in print media.  Reich and Nobel-prize-winning Paul Krugman are the two leading economists who advocate for the positive and necessary role of the federal government to stimulate a stagnant economy.

Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley.  Today he posts an op-ed piece, which challenges President Obama to “Give ‘em hell” in his speech to Congress next week.  He hopes the President “goes big” and advocates:

rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, creating a new WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps, and lending money to cash-starved states and cities.

Republicans will oppose it, of course. They’ll say the stimulus didn’t work the first time (they’re wrong — it saved 3 million jobs but it was way too small given the drop in consumer spending as well as budget cuts by states and cities), and we can’t afford it (wrong again — the yield on 10-year Treasury bills is now 2 percent, meaning this is the best time to borrow. And if growth isn’t restored soon, the debt/GDP ratio will balloon beyond belief). But their real hope is to keep the economy anemic through Election Day 2012 so voters will send Obama home. [emphasis added]

The coming year that will culminate in the 2012 election will be fascinating and frightening.  For eighty years, America has functioned on the basis of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—a controlled capitalist economy with social safety nets—that reversed the laissez-faire, “hands-off”, environment that preceded it.

Herbert_HooverBy all accounts, President Herbert Hoover was a brilliant man with an exemplary record of government service prior to the collapse of an unregulated stock market in the fall of ‘29, his first year as President.  As history tells us, Hoover’s laissez-faire ideology failed him and the country, and the economy continued to spiral downward into the Great Depression.  The election of FDR in ‘32 and his huge, landslide reelection in ‘36 spelled the end of laissez-faire, replaced by the interventionist fiscal policies of economist John Maynard Keynes who provided the intellectual warrant for New Deal macroeconomics.  The primary poster child of the New Deal was the Social Security Act,  which the current poll-leading Republican presidential candidate refers to as a “Ponzi Scheme”.

For eighty years, this has been the American way, even when the federal government was in the hands of the GOP.  Remember the “me-too” Republicans of the Eisenhower years, Nixon’s famous dictum, “I am now a Keynesian in economics”, and the willingness of the icon of conservative Republicanism, Ronald Reagan, to enact economic stimulus when needed.

Will all that change in 2012?  For failing to pay attention to history, will we be doomed to repeat it?  Will the Tea Party return America to the laissez-faire policies of Herbert Hoover?  When leading Republicans flub minor details of American history, it is laughable, but when they forget the “going big” lessons of American macroeconomics, it is downright scary.

For generations, pundits joked that Democrats continued to run against Herbert Hoover though he was long retired at the will of the electorate.  Perhaps it’s time to run against Hoover again.