Carding people who walk into church

Carding people who walk into church May 20, 2013

We don’t card people who walk into church,” said Robert J. Baker, the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama.

Baker was talking about Alabama’s nasty anti-immigrant law, which was challenged by a lawsuit filed by Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic bishops in the state. That suit managed to overturn some of the uglier, stupider parts of Alabama’s law:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Alabama’s appeal of a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had blocked key sections of the law that the bishops had opposed. The bishops opposed a section of the law that outlawed “transporting unlawfully present aliens” or “harboring” them, along with a section that outlawed having a contract with illegal immigrants.

The bishops said that ministries to immigrants would be harmed by those provisions and that church employees and volunteers could have been subjected to prosecution.

Kudos to Baker, Episcopal Bishop Henry N. Parsley and Methodist bishop Will Willimon for taking a stand on the right side of this one.

I wish Baker’s fellow Catholic bishops would heed his words, though, about “We don’t card people who walk into church.”

Especially the bishop of New York. Timothy Dolan most certainly does “card people who walk into church.” Or who even try to walk into church.

Photo by Roland Tiangco, filched from Printeresting.

Cardinal Dolan actually brought in the NYPD to threaten to arrest gay Catholics seeking to attend New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Dolan had written that “all are welcome” to attend Catholic worship — but that this welcome came with certain “expectations.” He compared LGBT Catholics to his childhood friend, “Dirty Freddie,” who was welcome to eat at the Dolans’ house, but only after he washed his hands.

Yes, Dolan — a bishop and cardinal in his church — decided that an analogy about cleanliness and purity rules was a good description of Jesus’ message. Dolan seems to think that the Gospels’ repetitive, relentless theme of Jesus’ unconditional embrace of the unclean somehow means that we should do the opposite. (Dolan actually cites the story of the woman Jesus saves from execution, but the bishop reads it backwards — invoking the “go and sin no more” at the end of the story as though it were a condition on which the beginning of the story depended. He makes it seem as though Jesus said, “If you go and sin no more, then I will not condemn you.”)

I suppose Dolan was shooting for a folksy object-lesson kind of thing: “Here are a few very natural expectations this family has. Like, wash your hands!” But his clumsy attempt at a just-plain-folks homily gets so very much so very wrong. He titled his message “All Are Welcome,” then went on to explain that he didn’t mean any one of those three words in the usual sense. The idea of “cleanness” as a precondition for acceptance doesn’t just invert everything we ever see or hear from Jesus in the Gospels, it also revives all the old questions from the Reformation about grace and works, making Dolan seem a bit too much like the caricature of a Catholic as drawn by unfriendly Protestants. And it perverts the Eucharist, twisting it from a sacrament that conveys divine grace into some kind of reward given only to those who do not need such grace in the first place.

For LGBT Catholics, Dolan’s message may as well have been “Go f–k yourself.” It conveys the same idea: extreme hostility expressed as the suggestion/instruction to do something humanly impossible. The eff-you hostility is evident from Dolan’s analogy, which says that LGBT people are dirty, dirty, dirty. And Dolan’s suggestion to them — “wash your hands!” — only makes sense if the bishop thinks that somehow these folks can just scrub away their gayness with soap and water. The latter idea is ignorant. The former idea is contemptuous and contemptible.

No surprise, then, that a group of Catholics from Dolan’s diocese responded by showing up for mass with dirty hands. That’s when Dolan called the cops:

The small group of silent Catholic protestors were threatened with arrest by a New York City Police detective — unless they first washed their hands.

The ten Catholics, who are LGBT and not LGBT, and even parents of LGBT people … labeled their actions today a “Dirty Hands Vigil.”

In that story from John’s Gospel that Dolan bungled — the one where Jesus confronts the bishops who wanted to kill an “unclean” woman — do you remember what Jesus did first?

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

That guy Jesus had dirty hands.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • christopher_y

    Yes indeed. You know who else washed his hands? Pontius Pilate.

  • lowtechcyclist

    Speaking of Jesus (and his disciples) having dirty hands:

    Mark 7:5 (NIV): So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

    Jesus responds to the Pharisees (verse 8): “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

  • Nick Gotts

    I don’t know what Luther’s views on GSM* people were, but he certainly hated Jews, rebellious peasants, and reason. How anyone can possibly call themselves a Lutheran if they’ve actually looked at what Luther wrote, I’ve no idea.

    *Gender/Sexual Minority

  • Matticus

    Not the worst idea for a golem. It’s certainly better than fighting a manure golem. That thing is hella OP (and gross).

  • Matticus


  • Jenny Islander

    It’s also worth remembering that the narrative “long-suffering parishioners vs. corrupt clergy” is too simple. The “Three Saints” (St. James Episcopal, St. Paul Lutheran, and St. Mary Catholic) of my town used to have several common events, including a triumphal march through town on Palm Sunday that ended at St. Mary’s because they had the biggest sanctuary. People took communion together, albeit with all three clergyfolks up front and three lines to stand in, and it was left to the individual’s scruples whether it was okay for them to do so.

    Then the priest announced that due to some jerk in his own congregation anonymously reporting him to his boss, all Catholics would be required to file out for separate worship in the assembly hall. We could have their sanctuary, we just couldn’t take communion with them ever. Not even if we were just taking communion from our own clergy where the Catholics could see us. Because we had cooties. Because if he couldn’t “keep order” in his parish, he would be replaced by somebody who could.

    We tried it the new way because we didn’t want to get Father in trouble, seeing as how most of the local Catholics liked him. It was a farce.

    That was the last Three Saints procession.

  • FearlessSon

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results,” is just an old expression warning against magical thinking. It was pretty clear to me that SisterCoyote was using euphemistic vernacular in this case.

  • There are definitely shitty laypeople, too, but I would say they’re a minority- statistically, most Catholics are for instance pro-gay marriage and so forth, regardless of how emphatically the Chuch isn’t.

    I also don’t particularly want to impugn the priests and deacons- clearly some are doing terrible things, but the problems with the Church and its policy lie with the bishops and up.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Or worse, an Excremental.