In the aftermath of Joseph Ratzinger's elevation to Pope, and the raising of the question of "respecting" religion and the religious being raised in many Daily Kos diaries, I have a story to tell, about a public event I witnessed with my own eyes last summer that involved both prominent Catholic clergy and activist Protestants. Perhaps it will serve to clarify exactly how religion should be "respected," or not.
Last summer, "Operation Save America," a loosely-organized group of militant Christians primarily known for their aggressive actions outside abortion clinics, among other targets, spent a week in Columbus, Ohio. OSA is one of the successor groups that formed in the early 1990's from Operation Rescue, Randall Terry's organization. They camped out in front of City Hall there for seven days straight, with rallies each evening there and daytime protests at various targets which on this trip included the local United Way office. Many of the OSA participants, including director Flip Benham, went on to participate in, and be arrested at, the media circus last month in front of Terri Schiavo's hospice.
Midday Thursday of that week, OSA staged a so-called "memorial service" for what they claimed were fetal remains obtained as the result of an abortion. Present and speaking during that "service" was Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who was for a time a few years ago an official of the Vatican-based Pontifical Council on the Family. The Cardinal who heads this Council has endorsed Pavone and his group, Priests for Life, on multiple occasions. And Pavone has since turned up as an "advisor" to the Schindlers, the parents of Terri Schiavo - a relationship that apparently goes back a number of years.
Six hours later that Thursday, OSA staged a ritual burning at the same place that Pavone spoke, with many of the same people present. As a part of their evening prayer rally in front of City Hall, OSA leaders placed a metal bucket, and as they have done in other cities including in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, their children first tore up printed copies of the Roe v. Wade decision and placed those pieces in the bucket.
OSA leader Rusty Thomas followed a long tirade against gays with the placing of a rainbow flag in the bucket.
The adult men then gathered around, and tore up a copy of the Koran. The shreds were then added to the bucket, and the contents were then set afire.
In the run-up to the Koran burning, Benham had this to say:
As Benham made clear to me directly in a later conversation, he does not believe that there can be co-existence between his flavor of Christianity and any other religion, that "religious pluralism" is a lie. He insists that there will always be a battle for dominance, and that what passes for coexistence is just a phase leading up to that battle of one group eventually conquering the other; that one group will always be ascendant, and others will be conquered.
It's my view, after watching Benham and other such militants for a number of years, that this is not a question of how we should "respect" those who hold these kinds of views, and who are willing to, in a symbolic fashion, act out the elimination of other groups or religions through the burning of their cherished symbols. It is instead the question of how to deal with those who have reached a conclusion that coexistence with those who differ from them in their most intimate, personal choices and beliefs is impossible - even while most everyday life in many parts of the world shows that such coexistence is not only possible, but essential.
With the rise of Ratzinger to Pope - a person who also shares this opinion that religious pluralism is the enemy, and the clear and ongoing relationship between Frank Pavone and Operation Save America - between a highly-regarded Vatican operative (Pavone) and an organization that has basically transitioned to a hate group - I believe that what is needed is recognition and understanding of a developing problem, not "respect."
Operation Save America has since gone on to repeat the act of Koran burning, in Jackson, Mississippi on July 18, 2006.
Originally posted at Daily Kos