The conservative criticism of Laudato Sii, ("Praised Be"), Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment and poverty that began even before its release, has now reached a fever pitch.
It is of more than passing interest that many of the cadre of naysayers are members of the Catholic Right. And not coincidentally, many of them have strong ties to conservative Evangelicals. What is it that they truly fear about Laudato Sii? Is it the encyclical's inconvenient discussion of the disastrous implications climate change has upon the world's poor - or is it something else? To wit, does the Jesuit Pope Francis threaten to undermine the power of the Catholic Right-Evangelical political alliance?
I'd like to underscore the conclusion of this piece, which is crossposted from LGBTQ Nation. The advance of civil rights for LGBTQ people is not to be conflated with religious persecution and martyrdom. What's more, no one gets to choose which laws they are going to obey. Not even conservative Christians. And certainly not in the name of religious freedom. -- FC
In 1964, hundreds of civil rights workers, many of them college students, traveled to Mississippi to help African Americans register to vote. Over the ten weeks of what was called "Freedom Summer," more than a thousand people involved with the campaign were arrested, 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten, 37 churches and 30 black homes or businesses were bombed or burned, four civil rights workers were killed, four people were critically wounded, and at least three black Mississippians were murdered.
Since then, summer campaigns on a variety of concerns have sought to subtly (or not so subtly) cast themselves in the heroic moral tradition of the Freedom Summer - though none has been as dramatic as the events of the summer of 1964.
Now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is preparing a short summer campaign that is long on hyperbole. The Fortnight for Freedom is an annual two-week campaign (from June 21 to the Fourth of July) intended to highlight alleged threats to religious freedom in the United States.
These threats are said to come primarily from advances in LGBTQ rights generally and marriage equality in particular.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell envisioned a university. That university would bring young Christian men and women to a beautiful campus in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. The student body would multiply and the campus would expand. But due to Falwell-esque hubris, and the sexual scandals that took down fellow televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, that university would be brought to the edge of financial ruin. The Unification Church's Rev. Sun Myung Moon, would help bail out that university, and it would again grow, adding students, professors, and more buildings. Falwell's university would develop a first class athletic program, with a new football stadium seating over 19,000 people.
University leaders envisioned the future, and that future was online. Now, the little institute of higher learning that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, envisioned as being the pride of Lynchburg, Virginia, and the Petri dish for developing conservative true believers and activists, has grown to become the largest private nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, the largest Christian university in the world, and one that has the second largest enrollment in online education courses for any non-profit university in the world.
Welcome to Liberty University, where they are "Training Champions for Christ," and where a few months back, those "champions" were mandated to hear Senator Ted Cruz announce his presidential candidacy and, later, during graduation season, many "champions" heard Jeb Bush deliver a commencement address.
A provocative headline from Reuters news service last week caught my eye. "Irish plunge stake through Catholic Church's heart," it read.
The headline is perhaps a bit hyperbolic. The column, by John Lloyd, co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, is a thoughtful analysis of how quickly the Catholic Church's influence has fallen in Ireland - and why that has happened.
So much of the contemporary religious liberty campaign being conducted by the Christian Right is demagogic fear-mongering designed to justify discrimination against other Americans, particularly LGBTQ people. While most of our attention is directed to larger-than-life marriage equality dramas being played out in courtrooms, legislative chambers, and major media outlets, the foundation is being laid for massive resistance to marriage equality and much more.
This is the story of one such effort that has received little attention.
Republican Governor Pat McCrory did the right thing -- and in so doing showed the way for conservative Christian Republicans in the age of marriage equality.
McCrory not only vetoed a North Carolina bill that would allow some government officials to opt out of same-sex marriage duties based on "sincerely held religious" objections, but in so doing he also said the right thing. North Carolina Public Radio reported:
In his veto message, McCrory told lawmakers that his "sincerely held" religious belief is that a marriage is an union between a man and a woman.
"However, we are a nation and a state of laws," McCrory wrote. "Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath."
In the early seventies I made a visit to church members. I was with Dr. Bill Hendrix, one of the most distinguished theologians in the Southern Baptist Convention at that time. Hendrix was held in high academic esteem by his colleges. We were visiting a member who was putting together a book attacking evolution by his research on the Paluxy River at Glen Rose, Texas. After a brief visit, Hendrix told me the man lacked the educational credentials for such claims he was making.
Religious exemptions to various laws and regulations have been much in the news in recent years, particularly in relation to the advance of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. But the history of religious exemptions does not belong just to the culture warriors of the contemporary Christian Right.
As a society we have long wrestled with religious objections to a wide range of public interests, from African American civil rights, to mandatory vaccinations, and even public schooling. These issues are significant, nearly always controversial in some sense, and getting them right is not easy.
Indeed, figuring out whether and how to accommodate religious exemptions is one of the necessary skill sets in our religiously plural society.
On February 26, 2012, (when I first published this post), the heated GOP presidential primaries were getting hotter as the Christian Right sought to find someone who could take the GOP presidential nomination away from Mitt Romney. Santorum made a good run at it, and came in second, but Santorum being Santorum had more than a few problems. -- FC
It is amazing what a difference a few weeks can make. When I published an essay comparing speeches about separation of church and state by John F. Kennedy, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, I had no idea that Santorum would become such a serious contender for the GOP nomination for president, nor did I think that his views on separation would become a central issue, let alone that he would usher in this new era of American politics by declaring on national television that he found JFK's views on separation to be vomitorious.
"I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute," he told George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Week. "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country... to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up."
If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage next month, do not expect religious right organizations to fold up their tents and go home. If anything, they will amp up the hysteria with email alerts (and fundraising appeals) squawking about the assault on traditional marriage. While they will continue to agitate around same-sex marriage, there will be a not so subtle shift to another culture war battle; the fight over transgender equality.
Although there are many culture war battles still to be contested, e.g., abortion, prayer in the schools, book, television and film censorship, and the mother of all fights, the religious right's distorted views of religious freedom, the battle over transgender equality is ripe for the picking. After all, transgender people are some of the few people left that the religious right can attack and demonize.
Now that Rick Santorum has announced that he is running for president, again, it is worth reminding ourselves that he is a coarsely obvious religious bigot. I published this post when he was running in 2012. To my knowledge, he never retracted or apologized for his prior statements. -- FC
Rick Santorum has sought to project a sunnily suburban, regular guy appeal as he vies for the GOP presidential nomination. But whenever I have seen him during the campaign, there seems to be a seething and loathing just beneath the surface that he has to struggle to keep from leaking out.
But back in 2008, while a senior fellow of the neoconservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, we got a glimpse of what it is that is so churning under his public face. In a speech, he quietly explained to students at Ave Maria University, in Naples, Florida that Satan, the "Father of Lies", is destroying America. Part of Satan's effort, according to Santorum, has been to so transform the mainline Protestant churches in America -- that they are no longer even Christian.
When someone insists that they have a direct line to God you might get a little concerned. It could be the old voices in the head syndrome, or perhaps a touch of megalomania. In recent times, it has been invoked by numerous conservative politicians who explain that God indicated to them that they had a greater calling; running for political office (usually the Presidency). In the case of Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, it appears to be an extension of her business plan. Recently, Lotz has been shouting MayDay! MayDay!, warning people that The Rapture is just around the corner.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, once a most-favored Rabbi of the Religious Right, has been out of the news cycle since the revelations that he was a close friend, and in a working relationship, with Jack Abramoff, the super-lobbyist who served time in federal prison for corruption. When you want to re-insert yourself into the good graces of the Religious Right, however, there's nothing better than appearing on the Family Research Council's "Washington Watch" program, where you can make some pretty loopy claims about liberals without being challenged.
Last month, with redemption certainly on his mind, Lapin offered up one of his golden oldies to the FRC radio audience, charging that there is a "sexual dimension" to how liberals relate to Islamic extremism.
"There are countless studies showing that feminine-type behavior produces an excess of estrogen in men and vice versa," Lapin said. "Essentially, the left has fallen in love with the masculinity of Islam."