Good Luck with All That

by Shaker Moderator Aphra_Behn

[Content Note: Religious-based oppression, anti-choice rhetoric, misogyny, homophobia.]

I hope the Obama administration will reconsider just how much of the birth control issue they're willing to concede to the nice men in the white collars and red pointy hats, because the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has big plans—VERY big!
Catholic bishops, energized by a battle over contraception funding, are planning an aggressive campaign to rally Americans against a long list of government measures which they say intrude on religious liberty ... The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to work with other religious groups, including evangelical Christians, on an election-year public relations campaign that may include TV and radio ads, social media marketing and a push for pastors and priests to raise the subject from the pulpit.
In other words, the Catholic Bishops are signaling their intent to become the new Jerry Falwells, the new PLAYERZ!!!! in the GOP-Religious Right power structure. How is this new? It's true that the U.S. Catholic bishops already wield influence and power. But in the recent past, the Bishops have maintained some semblance of nonpartisanship, with moderately supportive statements for the broad outlines of the Affordable Care Act, and moderately condemnatory statements about the Iraq war. Not anymore.

Since the fall, the UCCB have been planning a full-court press reminiscent of Jerry Falwell's 1979-1980 Moral Majority campaign in support of Ronald Reagan :
Last fall, the conference bulked up its staff, hiring a lawyer who had devoted his career to religious liberty cases and a lobbyist to press the cause in Washington. The group also created a special committee on religious liberty...
If you thought that contraception was the only "religious liberty" issue, you would be wrong. Wronger-than-a-David-Brooks-column kinda wrong. No, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have plans to oppose the Obama administration on many compassionate and Christ-like terribly sinful mandates. In addition to contraception, a fall letter from Timothy Dolan lists:
An HHS requirement that USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services provide the "full range of reproductive services"—meaning abortion and contraception—to trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors.... US Agency for International Development, under the Department of State, is increasingly requiring condom distribution in HIV prevention programs....The Justice Department's attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)....New York State's new law redefining marriage, with only a very narrow religious exemption.
To sum: Archbishop Dolan objects to condoms for HIV prevention, wants to force trafficking and statutory rape survivors to give birth against their will, and hates the idea that anybody, anywhere, might be holding gay weddings . Great issues! Your priorities are so very Jesus-y!

I mean, they must be Jesus-y, because so many of Jesus' followers agree that the rabbi from Nazareth was TOTES about opposing birth control! Take Archbishop Dolan's good friend Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, for example. Sure, for years white evangelical Protestants have taught that Roman Catholicism is a cult, and its central sacrament a "death cookie," and Catholics worship Mary and wev, but all that is forgiven! "The Obama mandate is a Baptist issue!" thunders the headline Richard Land's recent editorial. (Bonus: He also blames, tragilariously, the influence of "female ideologues" for the birth control mandate Ha ha ha! Women are so "ideological" in their support for their own bodily autonomy!)

The Religious Right is rotating on its power axis to include the Bishops along with fundamentalist Protestant leadership. It's not an alliance to be taken lightly in terms of the sheer number of pulpits they can command, the media presence they are already putting forth, and the size of the political machine their combined forces can muster.

As Liss noted in an email, it's also not an accident that the Obama vs. Catholics groundwork is being laid just as two very conservative Roman Catholics (Santorum and Gingrich) vie for the GOP presidential candidacy (and will need to garner many conservative evangelical white Protestant voters). You can almost hear the glee echoing from the GOP halls of power. It's candidate Rick Santorum! Of the youthful looks and garbage woman-hating fervent Catholic beliefs! Another Kennedy in the making! (Just, like, Republican this time.) Imagine it! "RICK SANTORUM: CONSERVATIVE JFK!"

(Are you done imagining? Are you done laughing? I know I am not. Because LOL forever!!!! BWAAAAAAAAAH-hhahahaHahahahahahahaha!!!! No. *wipes eyes*)

And therein lies the paradox. The Bishops like to huff and puff, but can they blow the White House down? If you want to be players, guys, ya gotta deliver the votes, ALL the votes. You can deliver some of them, but I think you have three serious obstacles in your goal to take home the political jackpot:

1. The Myth of "The Catholic Vote." Catholics aren't a political monolith. Despite the fervent efforts of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the last decade to turn Roman Catholics into single-issue voters focused on abortion, they just aren't. Despite hints, or even outright threats, of excommunication for supporting pro-choice politicians, a majority of Catholic voters supported Obama in 2008. In the fall, the UCCB is threatening that Obama could lose "the Catholic vote." While I'm sure that a year of political sermons will definitely shave off some voters, there are still liberals and moderates in the pews. There are still Kennedy Catholics and Vatican II Catholics, the people for whom serving the poor and needy is more important than controlling women's wombs—indeed, there are Catholics who object to these draconian attempts to control the bodies of women et. al.

2. The Privacy of the Catholic Conscience. I know I am just a godless Episcopalian and all, but I did learn something from 8 years of straight As in religion classes at Catholic schools (thanks, Sister Barbara Marie)! The Catholic confession, repentance, and reconciliation with God is largely private. Unlike evangelical Protestants, whose confessions of sin and professions of faith are witnessed by entire congregations, Roman Catholic confession is mediated privately, by a priest. Now, I don't want to downplay the pressure a priest can put on parishioners to confess to particular sins, but it's fundamentally different from Evangelical-style community pressure. There are community aspects to all the sacraments, but it's all very different than the community-driven worship of Protestant Evangelicals. Even taking communion, the most central act of regular worship for Roman Catholic is, literally, largely internal. And you know what else is largely private in the United States? The bedroom and the voting booth.

3. Finally, U.S> Catholics Are Used to Tuning Out Their Leadership. C'mon guys. Have you LOOKED in your pews lately? You don't need the Guttmacher poll to tell you that your flock isn't listening to you on birth control. Just look around. Yes, there are some very large families. And yes, some of the smaller families may indeed be the result of extremely diligent Natural Family Planning. But look closely at all those 1, 2, and 3-child families, and tell me again just how subservient U.S. Roman Catholics are to the reproductive teachings of their church hierarchy. Your flock is ignoring you, Your Graces and Eminences.

So, okay, players. Unleash your media blitz and sit down at the table with your good friends the Southern Baptists; I'm sure your differences won't cause any friction AT ALL! (whoooops Bishops! your church bingo!) Go ahead and promise the GOP "the Catholic vote," despite the fact that there is no such thing. And be sure to plan a political strategy centered around the very theological point that 98% of your female adherents completely ignore.

I'm sure that will work out splendidly!

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