The debate over gay marriage, and the ways that religious institutions and persons respond to it, has provoked a great deal of sound and fury, much of it amounting to nothing more than a Buffalo Springfield lyric: “Singing songs and carrying signs/Mostly say, hooray for our side.” But occasionally someone writes something so egregiously stupid, so intensely hypocritical, so extraordinarily arrogant that it begs for a response. Such is a column by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, political activist at the Center for American Progress, in the Washington Post.
She seeks to take to task the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn, Nicholas DiMarzio, who has called on Catholics to stop glorifying Catholic politicians who vote contrary to Catholic beliefs. The use of the term “Catholic” four time in the previous sentence is deliberate, as I seek to make the point that what DiMarzio called for is an internal Catholic matter. The question she is answering even quotes DiMarzio as saying that Catholics are “not to bestow or accept honors, nor to extend a platform of any kind to any state elected officials, in all our parishes and churches for the foreseeable future.” Keep that in mind as we proceed.
How can we expect other nations around the world to create and sustain pluralistic democracies when prominent religious leaders in the United Sates, such as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of New York, fail to grasp the fundamentals of this concept?
Since “other nations around the world” are unlikely to take any notice of Bishop DiMarzio, here’s a better question: does Thistlethwaite go knocking on doors telling people who they can and can’t have in their house?
Elected officials represent the many different people who elected them, not their particular religious organizations.
Like anyone disagrees with that.
The private religious doctrines of these legislators’ faith communities cannot dictate their political positions. That would be to effectively “establish” their church’s view as the law of the land, something the Constitution forbids.
Really? REALLY? Does that mean that the United Church of the Revolution, of which Thistlethwaite is a member and former seminary president, is going to stop telling politicians what they should do? Her denomination just got through telling politicians (or telling its members to tell politicians) that they should 1) release a pair of convicted terrorists; 2) ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; 3) called upon its members to lobby at the federal, state, and local levels for gay rights; 4) advocate for the right of gay couples to adopt children; 5) advocate on behalf of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Are we to take this direction from the UCR General Convention as trying to climb over the sacred wall between church and state? Is the UCR trying to…dictate to the government what its stands on public policy should be?
DiMazio cannot “dictate” the political positions of Catholic politicians. He hasn’t even suggested excommunicating them, which might actually make them stop and think. All he’s suggested is that they not be given a platform at Catholic institutions, and Thistlethwaite shrieks “church-and-state! church-and-state!” But this drivel gets even worse:
But Bishop DiMarzio’s position goes even further over the line that should separate church and state when he advocates shunning all state officials for this vote on marriage equality. “I have asked my collaborators not to bestow or accept honors, nor to extend a platform of any kind to any state elected official, in all our parishes and churches for the foreseeable future.” One issue, then, will dictate that these churches should shun all elected officials, apparently on any issue and into the foreseeable future. That’s not pluralism, that’s exclusivism.
And guess what, lady? The Catholic Church has a right under the First Amendment to be exclusive if it wants to be! They can be single-issue all they want, and neither you nor your secularist buddies have any right to stick your nose in and say they shouldn’t be, much less that they are somehow violating church-state separation in doing so. If the Catholic Church, or any other, wants to kick a politician out because he picks his nose in public, there’s not a blessed thing you can do about.
In effect, according to this bishop, “any state official” has to play by the rules of the Catholic Church. That’s not just crossing the line that should separate church and state, it’s drawing a line in the sand that elected officials are not supposed to cross.
Yeah, I’m sure all those Jewish and Protestant politicians are just quaking in their boots, waiting to get their marching orders from Rome. As for the Catholic ones, maybe some of them should try voting their religiously-formed consciences sometimes, just as Thistlethwaite would no doubt want liberals to do, rather than sticking their fingers up to see which way the wind is blowing.
But it get even worse:
Drawing a “line in the sand” preventing marriage equality for LGBT Americans is not where the American people are going. In fact they are going the other way, favoring reducing barriers to marriage equality. It is also not where the Catholic rank and file is going in terms of marriage equality. As of May, 2011, Gallup reports that the majority of Americans now favor allowing gay citizens to legally marry. Interestingly, in the breakdown, Gallup notes “support for legal same-sex marriage is higher…among Catholics than among Protestants.”
Which frankly doesn’t mean jack. That percentage goes way down among religiously active Catholics, which is to say the ones that know and care what their church teaches on a significant moral issue, as opposed to getting their opinions from MSNBC or the New York Times. Then, of course, there’s the question of when Thistlethwaite started caring about public opinion with regards to public policy issues, since she couldn’t care a hoot in heck about what the unwashed masses think about government debt or taxes or global warming or anything else where she’s thinks they’re wrong.
Therefore, not only is Bishop DiMarzio taking a stand that is “over the line” in terms of the proper relationship between church and state in a religiously pluralistic democracy, he’s also out of step, taking a drastic public position based on outmoded and discredited ideas that many Catholic laypeople (as well as other Americans) no longer believe.
Because, you know, the Catholic Church is just like the UCR, where everything is subject to a vote, the Bible can be ignored in favor of the Zeitgeist, and both theology and morality can be changed on a whim if you just get enough people to say so. This DiMarzio guy may be a bishop, but he is so out of touch with Upper West Side opinion and Washington think-tankers. Must come from being stuck in Brooklyn, I guess.
There are many wonderful things about living in a religiously pluralistic democracy, and one really great one is that people of faith start to think for themselves and make their own judgments. And that’s allowed in this country. In fact, it’s often encouraged.
Unless, of course, the judgment you come to is a conservative, traditional one founded on Scripture and two thousand years of Christian orthodoxy. In which case, YOU’RE A BIGOT!
Susan Thistlethwaite–who left her church job presumably because she thought politics more interesting–has really outdone herself with this one. With all the arrogance that only a hard-left intellectual could muster, she presumes to tell a bishop of the Catholic Church (which has more members in its New York archdiocese than the UCR has in the entire country) how to do his job, how to be faithful to his calling, and how he, too, can be a good little religious leftist, if only he would leave that icky Roman morality behind, all while making it sound as if the First Amendment demands that he do things her way. All in all, a regular tour de force.
UPDATE: I’ve heard from a UCR “minister” whose comment ended up in the spam filter (probably because he insists on spreading lies about me, offers no rebuttal to anything in the post except ad hominem attacks on me, and has the Internet ethics of a weasel) that Thistlethwaite is actually still on the faculty at Chicago Theological Seminary, and that she is his “D.Min.” advisor. That makes perfect sense. They deserve one another.