Political Animal


April 27, 2012 5:10 PM Old Walls Down, New Walls Up

By Ed Kilgore

It must seem to some readers like I’m writing far too much about religion-and-politics. I can only reply that I devoutly wish I could write about it less, but then every time I look at the news aggregators, there is a new militant statement from some religious authority on how “religious liberty” requires a fresh spurt of political activism.

One of the most remarkable things about the newly aggressive political posture of conservative clerics is how thoroughly they are willing to overlook centuries-old differences in doctrine, worship, ecclesiology, and (using a broad definition) ethics in order to create coalitions on cultural issues. Because the Catholic Bishops are in a panic over abortion, contraception and same-sex relationships, they are willing to walk-arm-in-arm with evangelicals who until the day before yesterday were describing the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon—even as they wage war on their own “liberal” co-religionists, not to mention mainline Protestants who have far more in common with them on what used to be considered more fundamental matters. And in doing so, conservatives across every confessional line are putting aside profound differences on non-cultural political and ethical issues, such as the public social safety net for the poor. To cite one jarring example: Does it really matter if the Bishops harshly criticize Paul Ryan’s budget proposals if they are going to wind up encouraging the faithful to vote for the party and the presidential candidate championing them on grounds that Obama and Democrats threaten religious liberty itself by insufficiently deferring to the Church on insurance regulations? Probably not.

The latest chapter in this political realignment of clerics comes from the United Kingdom, per the Telegraph’s religion editor John Bingham:

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, called for closer co-operation with other faiths as well as Christian denominations to put pressure on the Government over its plans to allow same-sex couples to marry.
In an address to Catholic bishops from England and Wales, he echoed the recent comments of Pope Benedict who said the Church faced “powerful political and cultural currents” in favour of redefining marriage….
His comments come after a series of high-level interventions by some Muslim and Jewish leaders last month after the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, launched a national consultation on how same-sex marriage might be introduced.
Last month the Muslim Council of Britain voiced opposition to the plans, describing it as “unnecessary and unhelpful”.But, as the Islamic faith in Britain does not have the same hierarchical structures as Christian Churches, much of the Muslim opposition has been voiced through local alliances.
In Scotland, the Council of Glasgow Imams recently agreed a joint resolution describing same-sex marriage as an “attack” on their faith and fundamental beliefs.
Opinion in the Jewish community has been more sharply divided. The Liberal and Reform synagogues have given their support to same-sex marriage but rabbis within the main United Synagogues have expressed opposition.

It appears the Catholic hierarchy in Britain, with the support of the Vatican, is offering itself as an interfaith coordinator for resistence to same-sex marriage under the theory that it’s an “attack” on their common liberties.

I’m all for interfaith cooperation, and for extra-faith cooperation that includes people without faith. But is the desire of people to be treated equally like other people really the right occasion for it? Are ancient walls to be torn down strictly in order to build new ones?

So it would seem.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • RSA on April 27, 2012 5:28 PM:

    I imagine that a members of a pacifist religion could make a comparable argument describing the second amendment in the U.S. constitution as an attack on their faith and fundamental beliefs. Most people would say, "Then don't buy guns." Similarly, we can say to anti-gay-marriage people, "Then don't get married to some of the same sex."

  • exlibra on April 27, 2012 5:39 PM:

    RSA, @5:28 PM,

    It's actually worse than that. If I don't buy a gun but all my neighbours do, I'll feel threatened every time I venture out in the street. If I don't get married to someone of the same sex, but all my neighbours do, I'm not threatened in any way.

  • fignaz on April 27, 2012 5:47 PM:

    The so-called Prophecy of St Malachy says there will be one more Pope after Benedict before, "Rome, the seat of the Vatican, will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people." I think Malachy's math is off by one. The abuse scandal plus the counter-reformation-like movement against Vatican II begun by JP II (who was certainly not amongst the liberals during the Council itself) has put the institutional Catholic church back on its heels and is alienating many of the faithful worldwide. Garry Wills recently hit the nail on the head-- Amongst the majority of the faithful the nuns have more credibility than men like Dolan & Gregory & Benedict. As Robert Graves has the Emperor Claudius say as he steels himself to write a true chronicle of the imperial family in all its wickedness & perversion, "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out." Many institutions like the Vatican are sick. Their poisons are hatching out. Will this cure or kill the host? I don't know, but I'm tempted to fall back on the oxymoronic, "We have to destroy this village in order to save it."

  • Wiccan on April 27, 2012 6:00 PM:

    I am a member of a Wiccan church that marries same-sex couples, in accordance with our religious beliefs and sacraments.

    Religious freedom absolutely REQUIRES the government to give EXACTLY the same recognition and EXACTLY the same legal rights and responsibilities to the same-sex couples married by our church that it does to heterosexual couples married by the Catholic Church.

    What the Catholic bishops are demanding is not "religious freedom". What they are demanding is for the government to impose Catholic doctrines by law, and to discriminate against other religions by law.

    What they are demanding is, in fact, not merely a gross violation of the First Amendment -- it is theocratic totalitarianism.

  • Texas Aggie on April 27, 2012 6:11 PM:

    You might want to check out Rachel's recent bit on how there has been a major change in the justification for Prop 8. It seems that the antigay forces were using a publication by a major psychiatrist to buttress their argument that being homosexual was a choice and therefore didn't merit protection because they didn't have to be homosexuals if they didn't want to be.

    The psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who wrote the paper that they have been citing has recently said that it is invalid because he has no idea if the few people he found who claimed that they had changed from gay to straight were actually telling the truth. He had no way of knowing if they had ever really been gay or if they were really straight at the time they talked with him. If sexual orientation is no more a choice than ethnicity, gender or race and less a choice than religion, then being homosexual would fall into the category of something that can't be used to discriminate against a person.

  • 4jkb4ia on April 27, 2012 6:27 PM:

    These religion and politics posts are some of the most insightful ones I have read. I glibly wrote the other day that for there to be a Christian civil religion the way Ross Douthat wants, Christians have to come together beyond partisan denominational differences, and I was willing to say, but did not, that Catholics are a partisan battlefield. But maybe it is the other way around. Maybe partisan differences within a denomination are stopping people from thinking about that civil religion and what it would be.

  • Daddy Love on April 27, 2012 6:35 PM:

    This is the last gasp (OK, ONE of the last gasps) of conservative religious activism in the face of declining interest in religious matters post-Millennium. Over the next decade or two I am sure that we will see the influence of religious matters and religious leadership wane in the secular political sphere.

  • RSA on April 27, 2012 6:53 PM:

    Good point, exlibra--it's even less justifiable than I'd thought.

  • Col Bat Guano on April 28, 2012 12:09 AM:

    I'm confused why any Democratic candidate or office holder would claim allegiance to the Catholic church. All it represents today is a hotbed of misogyny and homophobia.

  • cwolf on April 28, 2012 12:08 PM:

    It must seem to some readers like Iím writing far too much about religion-and-politics.
    Umm, yes.

  • paul on April 29, 2012 11:43 AM:

    If you think of these people instead as a clique of rich old men facing the possibility that they might not be able to hand their power and money over to a carefully-selected successor generation of younger men, the doctrinal flexibility makes a lot more sense. It's not about the deity, it's about the power. And all of them are agreed that the laity shouldn't have any.