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Republicans in the House ban Mainline Christian sacraments

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

May 23rd, 2012

In the midst of fighting it can be easy to confuse a battle with a war and struggle over a battlefield can be so predominant that it appears to be the goal. And so it is in the Great American Culture War. With so much emphasis in fighting over issues involving homosexuality, it can seem as though denying gay people equality is the primary goal of many conservatives. But I believe that the battle over marriage, adoption, and even simple social equality for gay people is not driven so much by objection to homosexuality. Rather, a larger issue is at stake: who will be the voice of The Church in America.

It is no small prize. Tremendous influence is wielded by those who are considered the arbiters of morality and the defenders of faith and godly society. And while the United States has no official sanctioned or supported church, public perceptions about what The Church believes holds tremendous sway not only over the faithful but over voters in general.

For most of our existence, The Church has been Protestant Christianity with denominational differences relating primarily to economic or social status or ethnic tradition (with all falling under the mantle of “Mainline Christianity”). Usually (with some significant historical exceptions) broad leeway was granted to Catholics and others, but as far as “what Americans believe”, it was driven by Protestant ideology. Mormons, Pentecostals, and other fringe groups mostly kept to themselves.

Today’s culture war is a battle for the right to dominance and to have a different ideology shape the culture. Catholics, Pentecostals, and Mormons have formed an alliance to replace the Mainline Christians with their own brand of Christian thought, and the difference is significant.

Mainline Christianity’s underlying principles could be expressed as “work hard, be a good neighbor, live responsibly, and care for the less fortunate”. While individual morality is important, and social pressure is used to encourage moral behavior, it is generally considered to be in bad taste to publicly shame those who do not live according to a list of rules and coercive morality-based laws are not a primary focus.

The coalition of other faiths that seek to replace this message all place a great deal more importance on conformity, doctrinal purity, and a society that reflects and adheres to the teachings of The Church. Caring for the physical needs of your neighbor falls a far far distant second to caring for your neighbor’s spiritual needs, and there is an underlying presumption that The Church – not the neighbor – can best determine what such needs may be.

I would like to be generous and say that this is purely ideological, but it is to a large part a power-grab.

The Catholic Church always has, and will continue for the foreseeable future, to hold itself out to be the highest authority on all matters, be they religious or civic. They would love nothing more than for the United States to become “a Catholic nation”.

The Mormon Church, also a top-down hierarchal institution, is every bit as autocratic in their realm of influence as is the Catholic Church and a natural ally. Their desperation for social acceptance as a “real” Christian church seems to be achievable through such an alliance.

What the Pentecostals, non-denominational churches, and other conservatives think that they are getting out of this is beyond me – perhaps they are really are driven by doctrinal ideology. And exactly where and how the Southern Baptist Convention eventually stands will to a large extent determine the success or failure of the effort.

Because I view the Culture War from this perspective, I see the battles a bit differently from many bloggers. For example, I see the latest attack from Republicans in the House of Representatives as not being, necessarily, an effort to hurt gay Americans (which it might seem on the surface) but as an effort to hurt Mainline Christianity. It is the boldest and most brazen attack on specific denominations that I’ve ever seen.

Specifically, the House Republicans included the following measure into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013:

SEC. 537. USE OF MILITARY INSTALLATIONS AS SITES FOR MARRIAGE CEREMONIES OR MARRIAGE-LIKE CEREMONIES.

A military installation or other property owned or rented by, or otherwise under the jurisdiction or control of, the Department of Defense may not be used to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.

Initially, this looks like an attack on gay soldiers. And it is. Indeed, it is specifically the marriage of gay soldiers which will be disallowed on military bases or other military property.

Yet I think that the greater targets of this provision are the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Friends (Quakers) – all of whom allow their chaplains to offer same-sex marriage sacraments – and the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – who are either considering or allow for some measure of marriage-like ceremony.

If we look at the language, we see that this is not about governmental recognition of legal structures. It doesn’t say that the Military will not recognize same-sex couples structurally or legally. Rather, this is SOLELY about the practice of religion.

For the first time in my lifetime, a house of government has dictated what is acceptable theology and has banned sacraments from its properties that do not meet the religious beliefs of legislators.

I think that this is so obviously a violation of the First Amendment that it cannot withstand legal challenge. Telling a chaplain that he need not conduct sacraments that violate his faith (another provision added) is a protection of religious freedom. Telling a chaplain that he cannot conduct sacraments that are provisions of his faith is a blatant attack on his religious freedom.

Conservatives are giddy at the idea of dictating to the military (and the culture) what sacraments are accepted, believing that finally they speak for People of Faith.

They are fools.

I was a teenager when the Christian Coalition really got going. And while my Dad wasn’t a big supporter, the idea of Christians having a stronger voice was tempting.

But I asked my holy-roller, divine healing, fasting and praying, speaking in tongues, Jericho marching, anti-makeup, anti-television, women in long skirts, men keeping their shirt on, ‘Baptists are too liberal’, Pentecostal pastor of a father, “Dad, when the government decides what religion should be the right one, do you really think it’s going to be yours?”

He looked at me funny and said, “No, son. No, I don’t.”

And that was the end of mixing religion with politics for him.

I would ask the same of people of faith today. Do you really believe that selecting which sacraments may be conducted on Military owned property will lead to greater freedom for your church down the road?

Comments

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Muscat
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

So, the government should not have the right to intervene on the behalf of private citizens to prevent inequitable access to healthcare if it violates the conscience of the Catholic hierarchy, but the government should have the right to intervene to prevent equitable access to religious sacraments on public property when it violates the conscience of the Catholic hierarchy. Got it.

chiMaxx
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Terrific commentary, Timothy. There are areas where the law should not go, and this is one of them.

I oppose this law for the same reason I support the Supreme Court’s Dale position, allowing the scouts to discriminate against gays. I sincerely believe the Scouts’ anti-gay policies are deeply wrong and immoral–and I believe that either they will, in time, soften, change and reverse the policy or they will dwindle into cultural irrelevancy, but using the law to get them there is the wrong way to do it. Giving the government the power to restrict the behavior of others gives them the authority to restrict your behavior down the line.

Using the government to restrict what sacraments may be performed by another denomination gives the government the authority to restrict your denominations sacraments down the line. Those religious leaders who support this measure are being very foolish indeed.

jerry
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

It should not be ignored,either, that with power comes the control of vast sums of money. No one really knows how much money flows in and out of the religious coffers. They aren’t required to report it to any governmental organ.

Blake
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Bravo! Well said.

Jeff
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

Not that I’m arguing against your thesis but do you have a source confirming that there are Friends who are chaplains? It would seem odd for a very anti-war, and traditionally anti-military-service denomination with no ordained ministers to have chaplains.

Timothy Kincaid
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Jeff,

You ask a very good question. But it appears that at least some Quaker chaplains exist.

A PBS special talks about “the uniqueness of having a pacifist tendency but then being willing to go into the hard places and serve in a place that most people never would want to go”. I suppose they feel that one need not support war to offer ministry to soldiers.

Yet, I doubt there are many.

Dale
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

The government has a long and drawn out history of ignoring the First Amendment: The offensive statement on the back of money, revising the Pledge of Allegiance, tax breaks for ‘priests’, the house chaplain, military chaplains, the national day of prayer, etc, etc.

This just takes it to the next level.

Ben In Oakland
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I just said as much to the local catholic at huffpost, who is all for voting on gay people’s rights. I pointed out that he might not feel that way if we ever come to the Republic of gilead.

Catholics will be right there with the Jews.

Lucrece
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

Mainline religions are a minority in the U.S. — and if we like to bring up dirty history, it was Luther’s crusade that slammed the hierarchy for being lax on sentences for homosexuality in Florence.

Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and soon France have legal same-sex marriages as Catholic countries, despite the hierarchy.

What I think many non-Catholics, or those who were not raised in Catholic culture fail to realize is that the hierarchy has decreasing reach on the flock. The flock is there for the cultural traditions and community, not to pay attention to some bishops.

http://www.pewforum.org/Gay-Marriage-and-Homosexuality/Religion-and-Attitudes-Toward-Same-Sex-Marriage.aspx

Protestants are decidedly worse than Catholics on the issue, and white mainline Protestants are not the sole voice of Protestant culture.

StraightGrandmother
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I have been saying all along, it’s the Catholics, it’s the Catholics, it’s the Catholics! I can’t tell you how many times I have posted, “I will not genuflect to Rome”

I was on to those Catholics a long time ago Timothy. They REALLY want to be an equal 4th branch of our Government. And it is Pope RATZinger who is doing this. This Pope is bent on world Catholic Domination.

I think all roads lead back to Maggie Gallagher. She delivered Prop 8 in California a State Amendment no less, enshrining Catholic Doctrine into law. They did it! They were successful at it. And from that point forward they realized they *could* change American Law to match Catholic Doctrine. They have seized more and more power. I would say they are actually drunk with power. Look at these public marches and sermons. Remember this sermon in Illinois from Bishop Jenky. He gave it April 4, 2012

Go back and listen to this again.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJOnVLSFyE8

You know what, I never hated Catholics before. And actually I still don’t, but I sure hate Catholic Bishops and Cardinals and the Pope. AND I hate them for making me hate them. I was never like this before, but the Catholic Church Leadership was never like this before.

It is the Catholics, it is the Catholics, it is the Catholics. These other Pastors and denominations are fools to align with CATHOLIC NOM, they are eating them for lunch. There is only going to be ONE religious order that ends up on top, in our country and that is going to be the Catholics.

Nothing will ever get enacted that they don’t like. I would NOT be surprised if the Pope RATZinger has personally talked to Scalia and pressured him to remember that first and foremost he is a Catholic. In fact I would bet he has already done that. This is a very focused and planned attack and they are winning. They are, they are winning.

Timothy this is an EXCELLENT article with excellent insights.

Neon Genesis
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

“Initially, this looks like an attack on gay soldiers. And it is. Indeed, it is specifically the marriage of gay soldiers which will be disallowed on military bases or other military property.

Yet I think that the greater targets of this provision are the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Friends (Quakers) – all of whom allow their chaplains to offer same-sex marriage sacraments – and the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – who are either considering or allow for some measure of marriage-like ceremony. ”

I don’t see how these two justifications need to be considered as separate goals. Yes, I agree there’s this motivation for these churches to hold onto what they perceive to be the one true Christian identity of American culture but that identity of “true” Christianity is one that they’ve formed based around hatred of minorities, whether it be gays, blacks, women, or non-Christians. So yes, they’re motivated from a desire to keep control over America’s cultural identity but it’s a cultural identity they established through hatred and fear of the other, and the two often go hand in hand and are not incompatible motivations.

Priya Lynn
May 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Straightgrandmother the majority of Catholics support marriage equality. There’s quite a difference between the typical Catholic and the church hierarchy. Most Catholics don’t feel a need to strictly adhere to the teachings of the Catholic church, most Catholics are a lot less bigoted than the spokespeople for the Catholic church would make you believe.

cd
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

This is a way of looking at what is going on that wouldn’t have occurred to me. But it seems to have its merits. Groups in some sort of greater decline with no ability to do anything effective about it will do something ineffective or just spiteful. Or to settle old scores.

I’ve seen an admission or two by Religious Right activists that the “religious freedom” thing is close to a scam, is- as liberal activists have concluded- just a makeshift behind which to organize opposition to the liberalizations that affect their preferred denominations. Of course, moral relativism is something only liberals embrace and Right Wing Culture Warrior ethics are strangely never a topic of internal discussion.

Richard Rush
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

Priya, I agree about your distinction between the Catholic Church, and Catholic people. Many Protestant groups are much, much worse. I think one reason is that Catholic priests/bishops are dull boring uncharismatic employees under tight central control, while the most bigoted leaders on the Protestant side seem to be ambitious charismatic entrepreneurs seeking stature, fame, and/or fortune.

The leaders on the Protestant side have “fire in the belly,” and of course, so do many priests, but in their case, it’s more focused on little boys.

Scott
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

I find the overall analysis very interesting and a worthy consideration of the motivations of anti-gays. However, I have one issue: marriage is not a sacrament in ELCA, UCC, or other reformed traditions. Sacraments are only baptism and communion.

Ray
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

Brilliant.

Timothy Kincaid
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

Scott,

Thanks for the correction.

You are correct. Marriage is a sacrament in the Episcopal Church but not in reformed traditions.

trog
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

Great analysis. This is undoubtedly an important piece of the bigger picture. And you’re right, Timothy, that when we focus on the gay stuff, we risk overlooking that bigger picture.

I’d also underscore that money is a huge part of the power grab. Not just in church donations and tax exemptions, but also, for example, in faith-based initiatives in which millions of taxpayer funds get funneled directly to church organizations.

As always: follow the money.

Timothy Kincaid
May 24th, 2012 | LINK

thanks, trog

I agree that money comes into play. Especially for the politicians and the professional religious spokesholes.

But remember that when dealing with religion sometimes money has nothing to do with it. Aunt Thelma believes what she believes and you couldn’t give her enough of the Devil’s filthy lucre to risk her immortal soul. (The Pope might be able to, but he has a bigger budget).

Coxhere
May 25th, 2012 | LINK

Right-wing, non-Roman Catholic churches do NOT use the word “sacrament.” Sacrament is too closely identified with Roman Catholicism. For sure, the Assemblies of God churches—-in which I grew up—-associated “sacraments” with the “demonic, apostate, Roman Catholic churches” that are the “harlot churches of Babylon.” Sacraments, along with the “sitting-on-seven-hills,” Roman Catholic church are to be thrown into the deepest part of Satan’s hell. All good-loving-little-Pentecostal-boys were taught this crap while growing up.

Jessica
May 25th, 2012 | LINK

I agree with the large part of what you’re saying here, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that even in non-denominational evangelicalism, there’s been a huge shift to the right in the last thirty years or so.

Abortion wasn’t the hot button culture war topic that it is today. In fact, many of the hallmarks of political Christianity that we see today are relatively recent developments. Opposition to evolution is the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that’s persisted for more than fifty years.

I’m not 100% sure what’s caused the shift– it may be related in part to the power grab you’re talking about. It may be an attempt to prove that they’re “more conservative than thou”, which is probably still related to the power grab.

In any case, your final point is a very good one– when the government selects a state religion, which one will it be? Mixing politics and religion never seems to end well, especially in pluralistic nations.

Timothy Kincaid
May 25th, 2012 | LINK

Coxhere,

Yes, in an earlier comment we discussed that not all churches use the term “sacraments”. It is true that the Assemblies of God (just like the Pentecostal Church of God I grew up in) do not use the term.

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