President Obama’s executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors has received generally positive reactions from Catholics, as Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this month.
Now, we offer further reactions and examine the broader question of how faith informs the question of non-discrimination laws. The National Catholic Reporter covered reactions from several Catholic organizations who contract with the federal government to provide social and educational services as part of the Church’s ministry.
Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA said:
” ‘As has always been the case, Catholic Charities USA supports the rights of all to employment and abides by the hiring requirements of all federal contracts’…
” ‘Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this executive order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt.’ “
Catholic Relief Services released a statement, saying:
“[CRS is] concerned about the serious implications of the president’s order for Catholic agencies now and in the future.’…
” ‘As an agency of the USCCB, we will work with the bishops to promote a mutually acceptable solution…We remain hopeful that compassion and goodwill will rule and that our work on behalf of the poor around the world will not be unduly affected.’ “
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ president Michael Galligan-Stierle said in a statement:
” ‘[ACCU] stands with both the president and the U.S. bishops — each of whom has affirmed the principles of human dignity and diversity as key values of our nation and our faith.’
” ‘Where differences arise is in determining how to put those principles into practice, which can be complicated. Given that, ACCU is conferring with other faith-based organizations to determine the extent to which the executive order applies to our member colleges and universities. We remain hopeful that common ground between principle and practice may be found.’ “
The National Catholic Reporter also published an editorial applauding the order and criticizing the hyperbolic reaction of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called it “unprecedented and extreme.” The editorial’s criticism continues:
“More distressing, however, is the failure of the nation’s bishops to reflect deeply upon their own teaching. The church clearly distinguishes between homosexual persons and homosexual acts or inclinations. We have problems with that distinction on other grounds, but think it bears on the issue at hand.
“A religiously affiliated organization does not hire an inclination or an act, it hires a person, and the church has affirmed, repeatedly, that the homosexual person is to be loved and is not to be unjustly discriminated against. On what basis, then, should we decline to abide by a government regulation that we not discriminate against LGBT people in hiring? This is not just about legal or political strategy, but about being true to what the church actually teaches, instead of joining the latest culture war battle.”
NCR highlights the real threat to Catholic identity when it comes to the executive order. It is not the presence of LGBT employees at Catholic organizations, which NCR proudly stands by, but instead:
“At risk, rather, is the church’s reputation by continuing to look like the infantry in the culture wars. Surely, the words and gestures of Pope Francis suggest a different, less litigious approach to the culture than that advocated by the U.S. bishops’ conference. We hope the culture wars will end, but if not, and in this battle, NCR is happy to stand with its LGBT brothers and sisters.”
Re-examining the theological and pastoral bases to one’s position on LGBT issues has led several proponents to condemn discrimination because of, not in spite of faith. Believe Out Loud director James Roewe wrote a piece in The Advocate, stating in part:
“President Obama’s insistence on protecting all employees from discrimination, including those who work in religious institutions, is a victory for religious freedom in our country. Obama refused to cede protections to the small but vocal group of religious and civic leaders who urged him to include broad religious exemptions in his executive order…
“We reject these theologies of exclusion as we embrace the God-given diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. We no longer have to accept the word of the small but vocal minority who believe the LGBTQ community has no place in Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same God these individuals use to justify their discrimination against LGBTQ people is the same God who created us in all of our fabulousness.”
Also commenting on the situation was Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio show Interfaith Voices. She put President Obama’s executive order in context with the firing of gay music teacher Flint Dollar from a Catholic school several months back. On her NCR blog, Fiedler writes:
“Enough already. Such marriages may be contrary to official Catholic teaching, but nothing mandates firing people who go against such teachings. (I wonder if schools ever ask female teachers if they use contraception. Probably not; there would be few teachers left if they did.) The Flint Dollar case is discrimination, plain and simple…
“Catholic institutions, unfortunately, have been in the forefront of shameful efforts to say that discrimination against LGBT people is somehow ‘religious’ or ‘Christian.’
“Not too long ago, some people claimed religion as a basis for racial discrimination, too. That was shameful. And today’s efforts to claim religion as a basis for LGBT discrimination are equally shameful.”
While the executive order is progress, it still only protects those employees working for organizations that contract with the federal government. Broader non-discrimination protections are needed, but in a post-Hobby Lobby reality the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has lost support from LGBT organizations. Check back later this week for further analysis of where faith-based non-discrimination advocacy might go from here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry