Saturday, July 24, 2010

Catholics, Protestants, Hispanics and Gays

First I wish to cover some poll numbers that are not surprising. Next I will follow with how a major Religious Right leader takes those numbers and makes an incredibly silly statement because of it, even by fundamentalist standards.

A survey of Californians was taken which showed that the Latino community was divided on the topic of marriage equality, with a small plurality of Latinos being supportive. But, it was found that Catholic Latinos were far more supportive of marriage rights than were Protestant Latinos. Among Catholics, 57% said they supported marriage equality while only 22% of Latino Protestants held that view.

I suspect the reason for this stark divide is that Latino Protestants tend to be fundamentalists, often Pentecostals. It is fundamentalist Protestantism that has most strongly infiltrated the Hispanic community. Non-fundamentalist Protestants tend to be Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, both extremely antigay religions. According to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, 85% of Latino Protestants are members of fundamentalist sects.

That Hispanic Catholics tend to be supportive of marriage rights for everyone upsets the Religious Right loon Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association. (Note that fundamentalists use "family" much the way the Klan uses "race," as code for hate.) Fisher notes that a Baptist leader, Richard Land, has said he wants a way for immigrants (without permission slips) to become citizens.

Is this Southern Baptist mellowing and recognizing the common humanity of others as the source of all rights? No, not at all. His reasoning is that Hispanic values are conservative.
"Hispanics are hard-wired to be like us on sanctity of life, marriage and issues of faith," Land told CNN recently, describing political similarities between Hispanics and white Southern Baptists. "I'm concerned about being perceived as being unwelcoming to them."
Fischer says that Land thinks Hispanics "will be the natural allies of the conservative movement." In other words, Land isn't concerned about the rights of these people, just hoping to enlist them in a movement to deny other people rights and as a way of imposing "biblical" values on the country through coercive government.

But Fischer is aware of the polls showing Catholic Latinos are supportive of the rights of gay people while Protestant Latinos are the only safe enclave of bigotry that conservatives can count upon. So Fischer suggests that "perhaps Dr. Land can be persuaded to amend his recommendation and give preference to Protestant illegal aliens." But Fischer says that illegitimacy rates may show that Hispanic "pro-family values" are not "as strong... as Dr. Land wants to believe."

The idea that only Protestant immigrants should be given a path to citizenship is astounding if you think about it but consistent with the historic values of American fundamentalism. It is no accident that the virulently anti-immigration Ku Klux Klan was heavily fundamentalist in religious make up. If there has been one trend among fundamentalists over the last century is their unique ability to always hate some identifiable group. Over the years different groups have jockeyed for their attention and often the emphasis has changed but favorite targets of organized hate campaigns have been blacks, Jews, immigrants, Mexican immigrants in particular, gays, Catholics, "liberals," and feminists.

The error that Fischer and his fellow fundies make is that they equate "pro-family" with a fundamentalist morality system. Prof. Joseph Palacios, of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University said that the pro-family attitudes of Latino Catholics is precisely the reason so many support rights for gay people.
Latino Catholics orient their social lives around the family and extended family even in the context of high Latino single-parent households (estimated 33% of all U.S. Latino households; 36% of all Latino Children in California live in single-parent households). Family solidarity is strong and even though children may not follow "traditional family values" as projected by the church and the U.S. society, parents want to keep their children within the family. It is not surprising that Catholics in general and Latino Catholics in particular, as the Public Religion Research study shows, see that parents learn about gay issues from their children. Their moral and ethical judgments are primarily made through this social reality rather than abstract pronouncements from their church leaders.
While the Vatican wouldn't approve, these Catholics see marriage as a way of binding families and they want their gay relatives bound to the family as much as their straight relatives. In truth marriage equality is the pro-family position. It is fundamentalism that pushes people to reject family members and splinter families in the name of morality. Parents in fundamentalist sects are encourage to reject and cast out family members for a variety of sins including being Catholic.

One of the great ironies of modern politics is that the pro-family movement is made up of sects that are inherently anti-family. Fundamentalism puts adherence to the faith ahead of family unity. The "you're no son of mine" mentality is rampant in such circles. Daughters who get pregnant are often pushed out to fend on their own, sons who are gay are rejected and told to leave the family. Over and over high profile fundamentalists have rejected their own children because of their perceived moral shortcomings.

Fundamentalism is not pro-family at all. It is a force that rips families apart. Latino Catholics don't necessarily follow the fundamentalist moral code but they do embrace their families. And their families include homosexuals. One indication is that Catholics are more likely to listen to the views of family members regarding this issue than are fundamentalists, who are more likely to take their views from a church leader. The family, especially for Latino Catholics tends to be source for moral values, while for Protestant Latinos (read fundamentalists for the most part) tend to take religious dogma over family.

Prof. Palacios also has an observation that is of interest to my readers in particular.
It is important to note that modern Latin Catholicism has a dual nature: it is "conservative" in the sense of family communalism and tradition that the church offers, yet it is classically "liberal" in the sense of not wanting the Catholic Church to have power in political life-- particularly after the long historical experience of the Latin American Church "meddling in politics." As Mexicans put it: "No meta en la polĂ­tica." A sizeable majority of U.S. Latino Catholics shares these attitudes with them. Increasingly they are joining their Latin counterparts in accepting gays and lesbians as part of the social family that is both Catholic and liberal.
This is a simple truth that fundamentalists have trouble understanding. One can be supportive of basic moral values without wanting to a church/state alliance forcing people to be moral. One can be personally conservative and classically liberal politically. Just because a moral principle is a good one to follow doesn't mean that it must be imposed at the point of the gun.

Note: For the record, Argentina has now legalized gay marriage, joining Spain and Portugal and parts of Mexico, with Uruguay next most likely to include gays in marriage laws. The photo is from Argentina.

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