Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but often, the men making religious decisions seem to come from an entirely different universe.

Or maybe they just have a chronically tin ear when it comes to women’s issues, a deafness intensified by fundamentalism and an obsession with rules that keep them in charge.

Locally, we see it with Second Presbyterian Church’s indictment (yes, that’s what they called it) of a long-time female member who has a different opinion from the hierarchy and expressed it assertively.

Writ large, we see it with the bishops of the Catholic Church as they incredulously push for a largely ignored prohibition by their own members against contraception of any kind.

Forcing Birth Control Into An Issue

It is a 2% sliver of Catholic women who don’t use birth control, 78% of all Catholics believe a good Catholic can reject the church’s position on contraception, and a majority of Catholics even support President Obama’s position on contraception coverage by insurance plans.

In 1968, in the hysteria over the sexual liberation of women and the licentiousness that was bound to come, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter,  Humanae Vitae (Latin: Human Life), which reemphasized the teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception, including sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus, the Pill, and all other methods.

The letter said contraception is “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”

In the end, the bishops’ insistence on pushing the use of birth control as unacceptable undermines the authority of the bishops rather than strengthens it, because more and more, Catholics are taking the position that they have the ability to smile politely and ignore bishops’ doctrines, especially those about sexual morality, that simply seem out-of-touch or wrong.

More to the point, it is a rare priest that even mentions birth control these days.

P.R. and Politics

Not to be outdone, right-wing extremists have piled on although Protestanism moved away from the ban on contraception in the 1930s.  Then again, it’s all about political advantage, not about consistency.

This tempest feels nothing so much as an attempt by the bishops to reassert their authority and to shift negative public opinion produced by three decades of pedophilia complaints, legal judgments, cover-ups, and the sad involvement of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete.

Ultimately, the final arbiter of religious authority is found in the believer’s conscience, and the bishops’ sense that the tide is swelling against them is reflected in derogatory terms like “cafeteria Catholics” and suggestions that it’s “real Catholics” who accept their birth control pronouncement on its face.  Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, Catholicism is more democratic than it sometimes appears and it’s its members who in the end decide if they bishop’s authority is accepted.

The jury’s may still out, but more and more, Roma locuta est, Causa finita est” (Rome has spoken. The cause is finished) is becoming about as relevant as a Latin mass.

Judge Not

More to the point, allowing religious institutions that employ non-members should not be able to force their beliefs on to them.  Even employees of the Christian Science Monitor have standard health insurance.  If institutions are allowed to set up benefits based on their religious inclinations, as some opportunistic Tea Partiers are proposing, where would it stop?  Are the bishops saying that Jehovah’s Witness beliefs should lead to prohibitions against blood transfusions in their insurance policies?  Can ultra-orthodox Jews and Muslims only pay for coverage that segregates men and women?  Where exactly does my right to reasonable health care end and your religious belief start?

First Amendment freedom of religion does not endow a right to erode the rights of others any more than the First Amendment freedom of speech allows us to yell fire in a movie theater.  Your right to believe whatever you want to believe does not necessarily give you the right to act on it.

Meanwhile, a neuro-psychologist at Second Presbyterian Church has been indicted, she says, for “offenses of immorality and contempt for the established order of the church.”  That the story got prominent front page play in The Commercial Appeal spoke to the narrative in the newsroom and how it is shaped by similar stories told to reporters for years.

The CA quoted a church spokesman as saying: “We’re committed to resolving all cases like this in accordance with Scripture and in accordance with our book of order.  It’s a sad situation that this kind of thing would happen at all.”  As usual, the people in power will decide which Scripture verse to apply and it’s highly unlikely to be Luke 6:37: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.

Men’s Club

Unclear in his statement was whether the “sad situation” was the way one of the church’s own members is being treated or whether it is about her persistence to get women into her congregation’s power structure.  It’s an all-male power structure at Second Presbyterian, and apparently its senior minister intends to keep it that way.

If the charge against her is not settled, the hearing into it will be led by church elder and Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft, raising questions about whether his involvement is entirely appropriate and whether there could be repercussions at the ballot box from his involvement in this highly emotional spectacle.

Then again, one of the grievances against the defendant member is that she referred to the senior minister as a narcissist.  This could prove interesting since as a neuro-psychologist, she should qualify as an expert witness in a regular court of law presided over by Judge Craft.

It never ceases to amaze us how men, given a chance to live the meaning of their faith, so often veer into control, command, authority, and autocracy.  Then, operating in their echo chamber, they stake out positions that flow from groupthink and too much testosterone-driven posturing.

It’s played out every day, including the unbelievable parade of men – such as in yesterday’s U.S. House of Representatives hearing, a presidential candidate’s billionaire backer who says women should hold an aspirin between their knees for birth control, and the candidate himself who said raped women should make the best out of a bad situation – who step forward to tell women what they should do with their bodies and to tell them how they should act if they want to get the approval of the men in charge.