A lot of people are being shocked (shocked!) that the Pope not only met with the bigoted Kentucky county clerk who prevented gay couples from getting marriage licenses until a (republican-appointed) federal judge threw her in jail. And it’s worse than that: he’s the one that had his people set up the secret meeting, and at the meeting he told the bigoted clerk to be strong and gave her and her husband blessed rosaries.
You can’t get a stronger endorsement of bigotry and disobeying the law than that.
Folks are shocked because they have fallen into the trap of kind-sounding words that, when taken out of context, make it sound as if this pope is more tolerant and more accepting. The oft-quoted “Who am I to judge?” was a fragment of a sentence out of context. Reading the full context (as I and others explained before), the kindest spin you can put on his actual comment was, “Who am I to judge a person who claims to be ex-gay and does a decent enough job of staying in the closet as to give me plausible deniability?”
Similarly, his comments a few months later which were quoted as “we shouldn’t focus so much on fighting gay rights” was, in context, not a call to live and let live, but rather, “hate the sin, pretend to love the sinner, and find ways to make our hating of the sinner sound compassionate.”
Not everyone is surprised at all of this, of course; I’m not the only one who has been pointing out the pope is still very socially conservative. I just wish more people paid attention to what he actually says, instead of getting swept up in the out-of-context stuff.
I know why it’s tempting to applaud this pope: he really pisses off the wingnut politicians who claim to be Christian but promote greed and exploitation. He does quote the very parts of his holy book that those of us on the progressive end of the spectrum are always calling out the rightwing for ignoring. And yes, generally his statements are less nasty than those of his predecessor, but that doesn’t make him a hero for human rights.
So I don’t find it at all a surprise that he is encouraging the law-breaking and discrimination of that Kentucky clerk. No, the only thing even mildly surprising is that the evangelical clerk and her supporters are teaming up with the pope.
See, for most of my life, evangelical fundamentalist Christian churches such as the Baptist church which the Kentucky clerk used to belong to, and the even more radical Apostolic Christian church she joined after her third divorce, have despised the pope in particular and catholics in general. I know, because I grew up in such churches myself. I sat through sermons where ministers insisted that Catholics were not really Christians, and therefore would not go to heaven. I attended Bible studies where the teaching materials laid out in painstaking detail the argument that Paul the VI (who was the pope at the time) was the literal anti-christ from the book of Revelations. The exact theological reasons for rejecting Catholic teachings varied. Depending on which reasons were most important to a particular fundamentalist, the Catholic church was looked on with either pity as being full of delusional well-meaning people who didn’t realize they were actually following the devil, or it was held in contempt as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
But increasingly the sorts of evangelicals who have done everything in their power to redefine christianity as a hatred for homos have also been embracing the Catholic church and its leadership as if they are long-lost soul mates. The reason is simple demographics. Back when I was a kid, about 65-70% of the U.S. population identified itself as Protestant. During my teens that dropped down to about 60%, and it continued declining, dipping below 50% around 2005.
The only way they could still claim to be speaking for the majority of Americans was to accept the 23-25% of Americans who identify as Catholic under the Christian banner.
The most recent reliable figures put the Protestant population at about 37%, while Catholics are hovering between 21-23%. At no point were the evangelical fundamentalist denominations a majority of the Protestants, but on many of the public/society-impacting issues, many of the other Protestants were at least sympathetic to the evangelical agenda. During the last decade, as a number of the Christians who don’t support all the misogynist and anti-gay policies of the far right have made more of an effort to be heard, it isn’t surprising that the evangelicals are now even welcoming Mormons (the only denomination they rejected more vehemently than Catholics when I was a kid) into the fold.
They have a right to their beliefs, no matter how delusional or backward they may be. I’m not arguing that they don’t. But it is incredibly ironic that a woman who has been divorced and remarried several times (which, according to even relatively recent statements of the pope is at least as bad a sin as homosexuality) is being embraced as a symbol of christian perseverance by the pope.
It is more than ironic:
It is has been decades since the Catholic church has lobbied for the repeal of divorce laws. It has been decades since a Catholic official has denied communion to a politician who has not tried to repeal divorce laws. It has been decades since the church leadership has advocated for laws punishing unmarried women who have babies. But these are things they have done, and divorce and pre-marital sex are acts that the church still claims are just as immoral as homosexuality. Evangelicals used to be just as opposed to divorce, remarriage, and decriminalizing extra-marital and pre-marital sex.
They’ve given up on trying to enforce those things in civil law at least, to the point that all of the Kentucky clerk’s remarriages were performed in a Baptist church by a Baptist minister, and to the point where the Pope has given his blessing to a thrice-divorced woman and the man who got her pregnant in-between some of those marriages. If they can do that, then they can shut up about marriage law, and let consenting adults who aren’t members of their faith make their own, legal, decisions about who to love, who to share their lives with, and who to designate legally as their next-of-kin.