Old Walls Down, New Walls Up

It must seem to some readers like I’m writing far too much about religion-and-politics. I can only reply that I devoutly wish I could write about it less, but then every time I look at the news aggregators, there is a new militant statement from some religious authority on how “religious liberty” requires a fresh spurt of political activism.

One of the most remarkable things about the newly aggressive political posture of conservative clerics is how thoroughly they are willing to overlook centuries-old differences in doctrine, worship, ecclesiology, and (using a broad definition) ethics in order to create coalitions on cultural issues. Because the Catholic Bishops are in a panic over abortion, contraception and same-sex relationships, they are willing to walk-arm-in-arm with evangelicals who until the day before yesterday were describing the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon–even as they wage war on their own “liberal” co-religionists, not to mention mainline Protestants who have far more in common with them on what used to be considered more fundamental matters. And in doing so, conservatives across every confessional line are putting aside profound differences on non-cultural political and ethical issues, such as the public social safety net for the poor. To cite one jarring example: Does it really matter if the Bishops harshly criticize Paul Ryan’s budget proposals if they are going to wind up encouraging the faithful to vote for the party and the presidential candidate championing them on grounds that Obama and Democrats threaten religious liberty itself by insufficiently deferring to the Church on insurance regulations? Probably not.

The latest chapter in this political realignment of clerics comes from the United Kingdom, per the Telegraph‘s religion editor John Bingham:

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, called for closer co-operation with other faiths as well as Christian denominations to put pressure on the Government over its plans to allow same-sex couples to marry.

In an address to Catholic bishops from England and Wales, he echoed the recent comments of Pope Benedict who said the Church faced “powerful political and cultural currents” in favour of redefining marriage….

His comments come after a series of high-level interventions by some Muslim and Jewish leaders last month after the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, launched a national consultation on how same-sex marriage might be introduced.

Last month the Muslim Council of Britain voiced opposition to the plans, describing it as “unnecessary and unhelpful”.But, as the Islamic faith in Britain does not have the same hierarchical structures as Christian Churches, much of the Muslim opposition has been voiced through local alliances.

In Scotland, the Council of Glasgow Imams recently agreed a joint resolution describing same-sex marriage as an “attack” on their faith and fundamental beliefs.

Opinion in the Jewish community has been more sharply divided. The Liberal and Reform synagogues have given their support to same-sex marriage but rabbis within the main United Synagogues have expressed opposition.

It appears the Catholic hierarchy in Britain, with the support of the Vatican, is offering itself as an interfaith coordinator for resistence to same-sex marriage under the theory that it’s an “attack” on their common liberties.

I’m all for interfaith cooperation, and for extra-faith cooperation that includes people without faith. But is the desire of people to be treated equally like other people really the right occasion for it? Are ancient walls to be torn down strictly in order to build new ones?

So it would seem.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.