Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

It turns out that, in deciding whether he’s going to tell Fox viewers tonight that he’s actually running for president in 1012, Mike Huckabee is not only praying on it, but also asking us to do the same. Which is pretty cool, when you think of it–and not just because the Huck-a-Pray form will give Mike an email list of everyone who fills it out. But since I’m not sure I want to be on the list, and am confident that my prayer will be heard equally well whether I do it there or somewhere else, I’m going to do it here.

Dear Lord,
I’d really like you to encourage Mike to take the plunge. As I’m sure you know, I’ve been claiming that he’s going to be a candidate for some time now, and if he ends up doing so, that will definitely enhance by street cred. Plus what could be better for anyone in the religion-and-politics biz than having Huck as the GOP nominee? I mean, the guy was present at the creation of the national religious right–press secretary to James Robison when they rolled the thing out at the National Affairs Briefing in August 1980! He’s be the culmination of a generation of evangelical political agitation!

OK, Lord, I can hear you saying, “But that’s all about you, Mark. What about what’s good for Huck? What about what’s good for THE COUNTRY? I confess, I have no idea what’s good for Huck? I mean, what’s really going to be best for his own personal lifestyle choices? Will foregoing the Fox paycheck mean he has to delay his plans for his house in Florida? Or can he guarantee the big bucks simply by running for a few months? Jeez, I dunno. As for what’s good for the country, well, I’m pretty sure Huck couldn’t do worse than any of the other GOP candidates. So if there has to be a Republican in the race, why not him? Amen.

Update: And I’m wrong!

Let’s suppose that a gay submariner based in New London falls in love with, oh, a local cop, and the two decide to get married. They go down to the city Marriage License Office on State Street and for $35 obtain a State of Connecticut marriage license. Meanwhile, they have asked one of the Protestant Navy chaplains to perform the ceremony.

“Sure, guys,” says the chaplain, who happens to belong to the United Church of Christ, which six years ago became the first mainline denomination to officially support same-sex marriage.

“And can we do it at Shepherd of the Sea (SOS) chapel, where all base family services take place?”

“Why not?”

Why not, indeed? And as the Navy worked through its policies and procedures for the post-Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell era, it concluded that base chapels could in fact be used for same-sex marriage ceremonies, although no chaplain would be obliged to perform them. So it issued a “guidance” to that effect. Once word got out, same-sex marriage opponents and their Republican minions went predictably nuts, and late last night, the Navy announced that it was revoking the guidance at least temporarily pending further review.

The opponents’ claim is that permitting same-sex marriage ceremonies under federal auspices violates DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act–“clearly violates,” is how  Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, put it. Does it?

DOMA does two things. It protects states that do not permit same-sex marriage from having to recognize marriages contracted in jurisdictions that do. And:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers on to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband of a wife.

This language is commonly understood to be a federal definition of marriage (one man, one woman), but that’s not what it is. It’s a rule for deciding what federal legislative, regulatory and interpretive language means. The point being: When such language refers to “marriage” or “spouse,” for example by specifying federal benefits, it cannot be construed to apply to same-sex marital arrangements authorized by a state (like Connecticut). Thus, our submariner would not be entitled to married housing on the New London base simply on the strength of existing rules regulating access to housing.

But when the federal language itself refers to “same-sex marriage” such as can be contracted in a state that permits it, as the Navy guidance does, then it’s not a question of “determining the meaning” of the language–i.e. making “marriage” and “spouse” now apply to same-sex couples. The language refers precisely to “same-sex marriage.” It means what it says. Last year’s repeal of DADT may well involve conflicts with DOMA. But not in this case.

With Ed Koch and the Daily News joining in the chorus of opprobrium, the executive committee of the City University of New York Board of Trustees had no choice but to move with undignified speed to reverse its ill-considered decision to refuse to let the John Jay College of Criminal Justice award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. What were they thinking?

After the vote to approve the degree, Dr. Goldstein, CUNY’s chancellor, said “the basic misstep was there wasn’t a counterpunch” to Mr. Wiesenfeld’s remarks.

“I’m not sure why the appropriate people didn’t chime in at that time,” he said. Dr. Goldstein, who was present at that meeting, said the presidents of the various colleges are generally expected to address specific questions.

Appropriate person number one would have been Trustee chairman Benno Schmidt, Jr., sometime dean of the Columbia University Law School and president of Yale University. Schmidt had issued a statement Friday in which he called for a reconsideration of the decision, which he termed, somewhat obscurely, “a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy.” The principle, apparently, was that honorary degree recipients shouldn’t have to pass a political litmus test. The policy I’m not so sure about–that a trustee like Jeffrey Wiesenfeld shouldn’t be allowed to give the rest of the board the bum’s rush without counterpunching?

Principle and policy aside, you wonder how, in a town where the theater is a signature industry, no one on the board said, “Hey, the guy won the Pulitzer for Angels in America, he’s the most famous living playwright in America, this isn’t going to look so good.” But no one ever went broke underestimating the ability of higher ed trustees to anticipate consequences.

Speaking of which, Jim Wallis’ attempt at ‘splaining his decision to reject that Believe Out Loud ad seems to be going over like a lead balloon. There’s no shortage of folks who have chafed for years at Wallis’ ability to elbow himself to the front of the progressive religious line. Of course, he is entitled to take whatever position he likes on homosexuality. But to dismiss it as getting in the way of the Big Issues serves only to enrage his natural allies. Schadenfreude aside, the episode does not bode well for Sojourners.

Among contemporary progressive religious organizations that have sought to exercise the prophetic office, the foremost is Sojourners, Jim Wallis’ evangelical ministry-cum-magazine that for 40 years has styled itself as speaking truth to power. If it’s government programs for the poor, health care, and immigrants, Sojourners has been for it. If it’s government war-making and international belligerance, Sojourners has taken the dim view. “Our mission,” they say, “is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”

Up to a point. For when it comes to gays and lesbians, Sojourners has sounded an uncertain trumpet. Yes, Wallis has urged Christians to oppose the bullying of gay kids. He’s supported according same-sex partners certain legal rights. But Sojourners does not have a policy on same-sex relationships, nor is it prepared to say that churches should welcome gays and lesbians as members–or even to make room at the inn for those who do so.

For the full story, look at Robert Chase’s account over at Religion Dispatches. In a nutshell, a mainline Protestant parachurch organization called Believe Out Loud launched a Mothers Day campaign to urge churches to welcome gay members, and was denied the opportunity to buy an ad by the powers that be at Sojourners. The centerpiece of the campaign is a video showing a congregation giving the hairy eyeball to a young boy and the two female partners he’s with as they search for a pew. At the end, the pastor says, pointedly, “Welcome. Everyone.”

Sojourners has not been shy about invoking Jesus’ name in urging people to support its positions–as in its current “What would Jesus Cut?” campaign to oppose GOP efforts to slash spending on social programs. So it’s fair to ask whether the guy who let the prostitute minister to him in Luke 7 would have welcomed or rejected the kid with two mommies. I’m guessing the former.