Over at Commonweal, J. Peter Nixon has a thoughtful post that raises important questions for Catholic Church leaders engaged in high-profile campaigns against same-sex marriage. It’s a timely topic as Archbishop Timothy Dolan devotes considerable attention on his archdiocesan blog to taking sharp jabs at New York legislators pushing to legalize gay marriage.
Unlike some commentators who lash out against Catholic bishops, Nixon’s tempered warnings echo the sentiments of many Catholics who love their Church but worry that a hierarchy consumed with opposing something most Americans (including a majority of Catholics) now support and view as an historical inevitability weakens the Church’s ability to find a receptive audience for its social justice agenda. “The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture,” he writes. Nixon continues:
While the bishops have not only the right but the responsibility to bring Catholic teaching into the public square, they need to do so in ways that do not seem uniquely obsessed with the sins of gays and lesbians. It might have been helpful, for example, if the bishops’ willingness to take on same-sex marriage has been coupled with an equally enthusiastic effort to reform no-fault divorce laws. Given contemporary mores, such an effort would have had almost zero chance of success. But coupling the issues would at least make it clear that the bishops understood that the most serious threats to marriage arise from the behavior of heterosexuals. More fundamentally, I suspect that many young people who grow up within the Church sense that the ways that heterosexuals fall short of Church teaching–fornication, cohabitation, contraception, remarriage after divorce–are, in pastoral practice at least, taken less seriously than the sexual sins of gays and lesbians. While I have no illusions that a more consistent application of the Church’s teaching would be “appealing,” it would at least immunize the Church against the charge of hypocrisy. The emerging generation of young people may not be inclined to adhere to the Church’s sexual ethics, but it would be a measure of progress if they could at least respect them.
Last fall, I urged Catholic leaders to read American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Harvard professor Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political science professor David Campbell. The authors’ research, examining the intersection of religion and politics over the last half century, offers critical findings about why a growing percentage of Americans – particularly twentysomethings – now identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Putnam and Campbell specifically identify vigorous opposition to same-sex marriage as a position driving younger Christians away from churches.
Very few of these new “nones” actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics…Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives.
Catholic bishops and other Church leaders play a vital role in advocating for a moral economy that serves the common good, defending workers’ rights, lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform and urging political leaders to address climate change. Maintaining this moral witness and relevancy in the public square will only grow harder if Catholics who value their faith’s commitment to justice and the common good perceive the Church as becoming primarily a culture-war institution fixated on sexuality.
For another thoughtful read on this issue, check out David Gibson’s post: The Church’s real marriage crisis?
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In the final days before the New York State Senate vote on expanding marriage rights to same-sex couples, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) released a “flash survey” claiming to show that 57% of New Yorkers think “marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”
As Dan explained last week, this poll makes the same mistake as the Alliance Defense Fund’s recent poll on marriage which asked about opinions on the definition of marriage rather than the more relevant issue of legality.
But that’s not the only problem with this poll. As others have already noted, its sample size is tiny (302 people out of a state population of 19.3 million), and its respondents aren’t very representative of the state population, skewing older, more conservative, and more likely to be married (all demographic indicators of lower support for same-sex marriage).
Attempting to respond to the criticism, NOM took to its blog to justify its flawed methodology. Admitting the poll’s sample is skewed, they rationalized that their findings should still be taken seriously because their sample matches the age demographics of nationwide voters in the 2010 mid-term elections.
NOM doesn’t explain why they think a nationwide demographic is applicable to a New York-specific issue, especially when the state’s demographic turnout in the 2010 mid-term elections wasn’t as conservative as the nationwide average. New York exit polls showed that 28% of New York voters self-identified as liberal and 32% identified as conservative. In the nationwide House exit poll, 20% self-id’ed as liberal and 42% identified as conservative.
And, as an off-year election in a Republican wave year, the 2010 voter pool is not a very good predictor of future election demographics, particularly for the next election New York legislators will face in 2012 with an incumbent Democratic president back on the ticket in a reliably blue state.
Of course, all this raises two important points:
- If NOM wants elected leaders to truly act in the best interest of all New Yorkers, shouldn’t they base their argument on something other than a tiny, unrepresentative sample of voters? NOM’s suggestion that this skewed sample’s opinions constitute a compelling argument shows that they’re appealing to political calculation rather than moral principles.
- If NOM does want to make a purely political argument for state senators to vote against the marriage bill, they’re not giving very good political advice, given that their skewed sample doesn’t map onto the New York landscape very well and has questionable relevance going into the 2012 election.
As New York senators decide how to vote on this bill, it’s pretty clear they should ignore this poll.
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Zack Ford at Think Progress flagged Public Opinion Strategies’ methodology memo for the ADF’s same-sex marriage poll, which contains several interesting revelations. The survey screened out people who “write your own blog or frequently comment on blogs regarding political issues,” and it included an issue-battery question asking whether “legalizing same-sex marriage” should be “an absolute top priority, a high but not top priority, a medium priority, or a lower priority or do you think this should not be a priority.” That question still doesn’t get at the legality issue in a way that’s comparable to the Gallup, CNN, Washington Post/ABC News and Public Religion Research Institute polls, but it’d be interesting to know why ADF didn’t release the results.
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The Alliance Defense Fund grabbed headlines this week by releasing a poll (conducted by Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies) finding that 62% of Americans agreed (and 53% strongly agreed) with the statement “I believe marriage should be defined ONLY as a union between one man and one woman.” ADF only released this one question, so we’re left to wonder about what other interesting data they turned up.
From what was released though, the poll’s findings seems to contradict recent poll findings on same-sex marriage by Gallup, CNN, ABC News/Washington Post and Public Religion Research Institute. So what gives? Here’s the Family Research Council’s spin:
If New York does redefine marriage, a new poll says it will be doing so against the will of most Americans. Today, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) unveiled the results of a national survey that show marriage isn’t losing ground in the states–it’s gaining it. Public Opinion Strategies (POS), which routinely does polling for Fortune 100 companies, members of Congress, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, and National Public Radio, surveyed more than 1,500 adults in May. And it found that 62% of Americans agreed with the statement, “I believe marriage should be defined only as the union of one man and one woman.” What’s more, 53% strongly agreed. Only 35% disagreed. That’s a far cry from what the media would have us believe. In recent surveys, the press seems intent on creating the illusion that there’s momentum for same-sex “marriage.” But unlike other polling, which has to twist questions to elicit a liberal response, ADF’s survey was a straight-forward, comprehensive look at the attitudes toward marriage today. [emphasis in original]
I suppose FRC should get a little credit for acknowledging that the ADF poll is an outlier. But the questions FRC sees as liberally biased don’t exactly match that description. A few examples:
In May, Public Religion Research Institute asked if respondents favored or opposed “allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.” 51 percent were in favor.
Also In May, Gallup asked “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” 53 percent said same-sex marriages ought to be recognized.
In April, CNN asked “Do you think marriages between gay and lesbian couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” 51 percent said they should be recognized.
In March, ABC News/Washington Post asked “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?” 53 percent said it should be legal.
A key difference is that these polls focused on legality rather than the “definition” of marriage. Given that the political debate surrounding same-sex marriage pertains to legislation rather than the contents of the dictionary, it’s hard to see the relevance of ADF’s data. It certainly is interesting, but it’s not even close to a refutation of the overwhelming body of current nonpartisan opinion research pointing to majority support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Also, ADF described their finding as “part of a broad and comprehensive effort examining American attitudes toward marriage.” I wonder, did this broad and comprehensive effort focus solely on the “definition” and avoid the legal question altogether? If they did investigate opinions on legality, did they find results ADF wants to keep hidden? If they ignored the question of legal recognition, it seems like a pretty obvious omission.
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You have to wonder if those Catholic right bloggers in Boston who pressured the archdiocese to cancel a welcome Mass for the LGBT community would have given Jesus a hard time back in the day. The radical from Nazareth broke bread with prostitutes, spoke to women as equals, angered authorities by curing the sick on the Sabbath and put compassion and justice before the religious establishment’s long list of rigid rules. I bet the Catholic orthodoxy police who make it a full-time job to sniff out supposed scandal in dioceses around the country would have been hot on the trail of Jesus from day one.
If you missed the story, here’s some background. The Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecilia’s Parish recently posted a notice in the church bulletin about a Mass that would “honor Christ’s message of hope and salvation to all people” during Boston’s Pride Month. This was not controversial news until the city’s vociferous Catholic right, specifically the blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed,” (Fr. Hehir is a former president of Catholic Charities USA and a professor at Harvard University) urged Catholics to flood Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s office with protest calls. The blog described plans for the Mass as an “atrocious scandal” and demanded that the pastor be put on leave. The Mass was canceled by the archdiocese a few days later.
The St. Cecilia parish community is showing a level of grace and dignity that the Catholic right gotcha squad rarely does. The Boston Globe reports:
During the first Mass since the Archdiocese of Boston canceled one planned for next weekend in support of St. Cecilia’s gay and lesbian churchgoers, the Rev. John J. Unni preached a fiery message of unconditional love and what he called “acceptance of all.” “You are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white,” Unni said as he paced up and down the center aisle… At one point, he called the conservative bloggers who criticized the Mass “unbelievably hurtful” and said he was trying to “not just succumb to being told what to do.” “We are not this renegade, crazy, liberal church,” Unni said, to smiles and nods from the pews. “We’re just Christians trying to live the gospel.”
St. Cecilia was not engaging in controversial political advocacy or staging a protest. The parish was simply affirming the inherent dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians. A welcome Mass should not be a cause for scandal. Meanwhile, the Catholic right in Boston refuses to back down, pointing out that a diocesan spokesperson told the Globe that the diocese has no problem with a planned sidewalk prayer service the church has planned with a similar purpose.
For a more inspiring take on how the Catholic Church is trying to reach out to the LGBT community, read this op-ed in the Buffalo News from retired Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn. Bishop Sullivan writes:
Across the country there are increasing numbers of parishes that welcome LGBT parishioners and their families to active participation in the church. Catholic colleges and universities are in dialogue with their LGBT students, and Catholic retreat houses provide retreats specifically for LGBT Catholics. Catholics and other religious people who support LGBT rights do so because of their experience of engagement with members of the LGBT community. They are not rebels in their churches, but people who have taken spiritual messages of inclusiveness and welcoming to heart. They are taking the church’s teaching on social justice and applying it to pastoral practice in engaging the LGBT community.
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