I haven’t written much about gay and lesbian rights in the U.S. lately, because it seems like it should be a settled issue. After all, we’re coming up on four years of marriage equality, and conservatives have largely moved on to other bigotries. Even Republican politicians seem uninterested in relitigating the battle.
But, as always, religion remains the greatest force resisting moral progress in the world. Christian churches across the denominational spectrum haven’t made their peace with LGBTQ equality, and they’re fighting a furious rearguard battle against it. They’re lashing out at a world that’s leaving them in the dust.
The Roman Catholic church is first and foremost among those determined to hold fast to the rock of old prejudice. As Frank Bruni points out, church officials are still taking a hard line against gay rights, exiling and punishing whole families of faithful Catholics if they dissent from church teaching:
Pat Fitzgerald, 67, has long loved being a Catholic, and the part he loved maybe most of all, for the past quarter-century, was his role as a spiritual mentor at retreats for students at a church-affiliated high school in Indianapolis, where he lives.
But he has been told that he’s not wanted anymore. His crime? He publicly supported his daughter, a guidance counselor at the school, after its administrators moved to get rid of her because she’s married to a woman.
Gay and lesbian Catholics, and their straight-but-supportive families, are used to an underground existence. As long as they don’t speak out against church teachings, they’re often quietly tolerated. But sometimes, for no obvious reason, the church does an about-face and cracks down on them:
It was one of many examples of Catholic institutions deciding almost whimsically to exile longtime employees — not priests or nuns but coaches, teachers, counselors — who had long been known to be gay but were suddenly regarded as liabilities.
…That’s what happened to Shelly Fitzgerald, and her 14 years of fine work at Roncalli High School no longer mattered. Only her 2015 marriage to her longtime partner did. She was told that she could stay on if she dissolved the union. She said no thanks and was kicked off school grounds in August.
Although the church can’t burn people at the stake anymore, it’s doing its utmost to impose whatever worldly consequences are in its power. In this case, as in others, people who work in church-run schools have been fired, stripping them of their livelihood for no reason. When students in Shelly Fitzgerald’s school rallied to support her, they were threatened with expulsion. At this rate, it won’t be long before Catholic hospitals start refusing to treat people if they’re outspoken supporters of gay rights.
But we should never think the Vatican is uniquely guilty of this. The Houston Chronicle reminds us of that with an investigation into rapists, child molesters and other sexual predators in the Southern Baptist Convention. As with the Catholic church, SBC leaders have often protected the abusers: letting them move from one church to another, failing to alert the police to credible allegations, threatening or shaming victims into staying silent.
The cases tracked by the newspapers affected more than 700 victims over 20 years. Their stories are wrenching.
Victims of sexual abuse had pleaded for the SBC to act, saying it was allowing predators to move from church to church. But the SBC in 2008 rejected all proposals to produce such a registry, saying the organization could not tell its 47,000 member churches whom to hire or ordain.
About 220 church leaders were convicted. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school and Christian schoolteachers. Deacons. Church program volunteers.
The SBC claims that they’re just a coalition of affiliated churches, that they have no authority to tell member congregations who they can and can’t hire. But, as the article points out, that’s clearly a lie. They’ve moved swiftly to disaffiliate themselves from member churches that are too supportive of women’s rights or gay rights, but they’ve shown no such concern for sex offenders in the pulpit.
The SBC has ended its affiliation with four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors. They do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.
Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise. The Vatican can be extremely dogmatic when it comes to sex, and this is no more than we should expect from the ultra-conservative culture warriors of the SBC. However, it’s also the anodyne, mainstream Protestant churches that are tearing themselves apart over gay rights.
America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, is set to split, as the church’s top policy-making body voted Tuesday to maintain prohibitions on homosexuality and to expel gay pastors.
Today’s vote at the UMC’s General Conference in St. Louis — delayed by filibusters, amendments, and other tactics by progressives — comes after two compromise options were rejected by narrow margins.
…Only the anti-LGBTQ “Traditional Plan” won a majority of delegates, prevailing by a vote of 56% to 44%.
That plan maintains the Book of Discipline’s statement that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained as ministers or be married in the church.
The Methodist vote is especially draconian because it’s a reversal of the small, tentative steps toward tolerance the church has taken. As the article points out, there are already LGBTQ pastors in Methodist churches, and at least one bishop. The plain language of the vote suggests that all of them now have to be expelled. It’s likely that liberal Methodist churches will break away from their parent denomination rather than comply.
But to balance all these outrages, there’s some good news to report. The churches are willing to overlook almost anything in the name of toeing the party line on gay people, but secular law enforcement hasn’t been so blinkered:
Cardinal George Pell, once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a trial in Melbourne…
Pell, who is on leave from his role in Rome as Vatican treasurer, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell, an Australian archbishop and the treasurer in charge of the Vatican budget, was found guilty in December of molesting two boys in the 1990s (although the case was under a gag order until last month). Even Pell’s own lawyer didn’t do him any favors:
During the hearing, Pell’s defence lawyer Robert Richter described his client’s crimes as “no more than plain, vanilla, sexual acts with a child who is not consenting”…
Earlier, Mr Richter tried to persuade the judge that Pell’s sex attack on two children was at the lower end of offending because it “lasted less than six minutes”.
As I’ve written earlier, we already knew that Pell helped cover up other pedophiles in the Australian church. This is a welcome measure of justice, both for this and for the children who suffered directly at his hands. It’s also a rebuke to Christianity’s broken sense of moral priorities: if the Vatican, the SBC and other churches weren’t so myopically fixated on punishing LGBTQ people, they might have been more attentive to the serpents in their midst, and they might have done more to prevent crimes like this.