A recent front page story in the New York Times calls attention to a troubling trend I’ve frequently noted – how a mobilized Catholic right targets social justice organizations and religious progressives to advance a narrow ideological agenda.
In this latest case, the victim is a small nonprofit organization in rural southwestern Colorado that helps poor Hispanic immigrants with basic needs. The group, Compañeros, was recently told by the Diocese of Pueblo that its financing from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign was in danger because it’s also a member of an immigration advocacy umbrella group which opposes discrimination against LGBT immigrants and supports same-sex civil unions.
The Catholic Campaign, which doles out $8 million annually to about 250 groups nationwide, has been under increasing pressure from conservative Catholic groups to ensure that it is not unwittingly aiding organizations that run afoul of church positions on issues like birth control and marriage… Since 2010, nine groups from across the country have lost financing from the campaign because of conflicts with Catholic principles, according to the campaign’s director, Ralph McCloud.
Compañeros was told that unless it withdrew from the coalition, Ms. Mosher said, the group would lose money it got each year. “I was shocked that our money was all of a sudden in jeopardy, and confused about why,” Ms. Mosher said. “We have no reason to believe that we are in any way going against Catholic teachings. If they are willing to defund our program based on an affiliation, it sends a clear message of divisiveness.” Debate over the church’s vaunted antipoverty campaign, which was begun by the bishops’ conference in 1970, has taken a more contentious turn in recent years. Conservative Catholics, with the help of search engines and other Web sites, have become more aggressive in tracking the activities of groups that receive funds from the campaign, while some groups have found themselves forced to defend their work.
The news that Compañeros faces potential defunding comes just a month after the Sacramento Bee reported that the city’s Catholic diocese will no longer fund programs at Francis House, a nonprofit agency that serves the homeless, because its executive director (who is not Catholic) has expressed support for abortion rights and gay marriage. In recent years, conservative Catholic activists who fancy themselves defenders of orthodoxy have even gone after Catholic bishops and prominent staffers at the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic magazine, correctly warns that the Catholic Church also risks undercutting vital interfaith efforts to address poverty by putting rigid purity tests before service to the poor.
With so many mainline and even evangelical Christians having discerned different responses to disputed moral questions such as abortion and same-sex marriage, how could any Catholic organization possibly partner in joint projects of Christian service? It is one thing to insist on strict adherence in the public sphere to Catholic teaching for one’s own employees, but to impose it on others as a condition of partnership is a step too far. The Diocese of Sacramento’s decision is a poor one, pure and simple, reflecting the narrowest possible approach to Catholic engagement with the world around us. It is a choice that places ideology over service to those most in need, and it diminishes the church’s moral standing as an advocate for and servant to Jesus’ most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
Catholic progressives are mobilizing in response. Catholics United has launched a new campaign – With Charity for All – that is collecting donations to help offset the potential loss of funding to Compañeros.
We’ve reached a sad place if the Catholic Church’s historic commitment to social justice and the common good is jeopardized by culture war politics and guilt-by-association tactics at a time of growing income inequality and staggering poverty.
In that interview, Matthews initially protested but ultimately admitted that “you may be right. I may agree with you, but not right now.”
Yesterday, Matthews was asked again about the problem, and he expanded on those concessions:
MATTHEWS: Why don’t you think I should have him on my show?
Q: You said that you wouldn’t have Franklin Graham on your show earlier this year because he tells hateful lies and I was wondering if you thought that was a different standard.
MATTHEWS: Well you got to make your case, you know. I talked about this with my producers last night and we’re trying to decide how to deal with it. My view is I don’t like censoring opinion and Tony Perkins has been on this show and he hasn’t said something like that on my show, he doesn’t talk like that on Hardball.*
Q: Do you think it gives him credibility when he’s on Hardball though, for what he says off Hardball?
MATTHEWS: You know I think that’s an argument — that’s a good argument. I’m thinking about it. You’re doing the right thing, you’re doing the right thing keep it up. You know where I stand on the issues that I care about, you know. And I’m probably with you on these issues but I got to think it through.
In what will likely come as a disappointment to the right-wing activists who have been celebrating Matthews’s comments as an endorsement of their “right” to spread lies on TV, Matthews clearly indicates that he’s taking these concerns seriously, doesn’t have a good answer, and has already begun conversations with his producers about it.
Faithful America, GLAAD and the other organizations and individuals who are working to educate the media about the problems with hosting spokespeople who tell hateful lies should take this as a sign that they’re making real progress and should keep up their efforts.
*As before, Matthews seems to have forgotten about his November 2010 show in which Perkins specifically cited debunked research to claim that gay men are more likely to molest children.
Last weekend, Faithful America members from the Boston area confronted Chris Matthews at a book signing in Framingham, Massachusetts about his track record of inviting Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Hardball as a representative of Christian voters. FRC was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 for spreading hateful lies and junk research about the LGBT community — and in part because of an incident in which a senior FRC staffer said on Hardball that there should be “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”
Matthews, who just received Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality award, responded by falsely claiming that Perkins has never “pulled that homophobic stuff on my show,” and insisting that “every time he’s on he’s challenged.”
That’s just not true. After SPLC named FRC a hate group, Matthews invited Perkins on to defend his organization. Perkins took the opportunity to repeat his false accusations that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to molest children, and said “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a risk to children.”
Since that November 2010 appearance (which did include SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok), Perkins has appeared on Hardball six times — and neither Matthews nor any of his guests have brought up Perkins’ long record of spreading hateful anti-gay lies.
Instead, Matthews has gone out of his way to give credibility to Perkins, calling him an “honest conservative” with “true views” whose conscience he trusts. Viewers who trust Matthews’s judgment and honesty come away with the impression that they should do the same of Perkins.
Asked to stop inviting Perkins on the air, Matthews accused the Faithful America members of “trying to silence people” — a curious charge given that he recently urged his fellow MSNBC anchors to stop booking Franklin Graham because of Graham’s persistent false attacks on the President’s faith.
As you can see in the video, when Faithful America member Jeff Bridges raises the question of legitimizing Perkins’s off-air comments, Matthews has no real response, admitting that “you may be right. I may agree with you, but not right now.”
It’s long past time for Matthews to stop giving Tony Perkins a platform. As Bishop Gene Robinson explained to MSNBC representatives last month highlighting the shockingly high suicide rate among gay teens, the lies people like Perkins tell “are killing us and they’re killing our kids.”
One of the Christian leaders GLAAD included in their Commentator Accountability Project is conservative evangelical Chuck Colson, based on his record of extreme rhetoric about gays and lesbians.
Responding, Colson cries foul and paints himself as unfairly victimized for his faith:
So, yes, I’m surprised I made the list. But sadly, I realize I shouldn’t be. For one thing, this type of intimidation is par for the course for many in the so-called gay-rights movement. Not interested in dialogue, they seem more interested in demonizing and shouting down their opponents.
For another, their definition of “gay-bashing” is skewed. For them, anything short of renouncing the historical Christian teaching on sexuality is akin to hate. If I say that homosexual sex is a sin, they say I’m hateful. Yet I also say that pre-marital sex is a sin, as is drinking too much. Is that hateful, too?
Over the years I have been very careful not to involve in gay-bashing. I can’t think of a single time I have. I seek to honestly discuss the issues. So if any reporter has evidence of gay-bashing on my part, I’d like to hear it. But again, I reject the notion that disagreement — even strong disagreement — is gay-bashing or hateful.
Colson may want his readers to believe GLAAD’s concern is with his theological beliefs, but that’s just not the case. The project is focused on specific rhetoric that is demonstrably false or hatefully inflammatory. Perhaps Colson didn’t look at the list of evidence GLAAD put together, which gives specific examples of Colson making these kinds of statements, such as saying repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will cause soldiers to die and misrepresenting medical research to claim that being gay is a greater health risk than smoking.
If Colson were to admit that repealing DADT has not led to soldiers getting killed and renounce promoting distortions of medical research, he could start to gain back some credibility. But until then, media outlets should be fully informed about the types and quality of arguments he uses.
Just as Faithful America is continuing to make headlines for its rejected ad calling attention to hate group leader Tony Perkins’s frequent appearances on MSNBC, GLAAD has launched a new project on this same topic more broadly.
The Commentator Accountability Project (CAP) is focused on educating members of the media at all levels about the long record of hateful and false statements prominent Religious Right leaders have made over the years.
Given these spokespeople’s habit of code-switching — toning down their statements in mainstream outlets while saving their most vitriolic and extreme rhetoric for presumably friendly audiences — sometimes it really is the case that producers and hosts just don’t know their guests’ hateful histories.
To be clear, GLAAD’s campaign doesn’t call for any particular action on the part of news outlets. It is simply focused on giving them more information about their potential guests. But predictably, the conservative commentators whose records are being exposed are ignoring that fact to claim that they’re being “silenced.”
If these Religious Right leaders find themselves getting booked less often once the truth is out, it won’t necessarily signal any change in media policies. It will just be a sign that these figures have been exploiting news professionals’ unfamiliarity with their records for too long.