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Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. Photo by: AP Photo/Josh Reynolds

Bishop Thomas Tobin and the bogus war on Christianity

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Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. Photo by: AP Photo/Josh Reynolds

It's time to stop the nonsense.

In recent months it’s become increasingly clear that advances in gay rights are being treated as though they were major losses for religious stalwarts like Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island and the faithful he leads.

Why, though?

It's not at all clear what - if anything - conservative church members have lost in the latest gay rights battles. But to hear them tell it, American society is facing an impending moral collapse and soon it will be legally impermissible to speak or act like a Christian.

This is utter nonsense. Very few countries in the world enjoy the religious freedom of this one, and yet increasingly, through their 'war on Christmas' - which is really just a curtain raiser for the 'War on Christians' - the Christian right are portraying themselves as victims of persecution.

Are they, though?

There's no question America’s right wing Christians believe they are fighting a significant battle - which they seem to be losing very badly - but does that really mean that they have reason to be as fearful as they sound?

Earlier this year, despite Tobin's best efforts (and the campaigning of prominent conservative organizations like the National Organization for Marriage), Rhode Island became the tenth state to legalize same sex marriage in May.

It wasn't as if Tobin, NOM and others hadn't warned us all.

'Gay marriage will affect you and you should be concerned,' Tobin told the state's Catholics, outlining the nature of the threat in particularly hard hitting language: 'Homosexual activity is unnatural and gravely immoral. It’s offensive to Almighty God. It can never be condoned, under any circumstances. Gay marriage, or civil unions, would mean that our state is in the business of ratifying, approving such immoral activity.'

But Tobin, a well known conservative, is also a staunch opponent of abortion in any circumstance, and in recent months he has been surprised to find what sounds very much like dwindling support for his views from the most unlikely of place: the Holy See itself.

In September Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must stop being 'obsessed' with preaching against same-sex marriage, birth control, and abortion, or it could very well find itself extinct.

In a blunt - and to some conservative ears shocking - interview the 76 year old Pope added: 'It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.'

Speaking about the wider church the Pope added: 'We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.'

Those words were water to the face of the morality police, but they have refused to heed his message. Later in September on a flight returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro where he had celebrated World Youth Day, the Pope was asked about his attitude to homosexuals and he replied: 'Who am I to judge?'

These pronouncements sound like particularly dispiriting equivocations to Bishop Tobin. He knows the Pope's major shift of emphasis - if not content - has significant real world consequences and so he has spoken publicly about the 'angst' suffered by conservative cardinals and bishops here who are forced to explain the meaning of Francis' words.

But isn't it Tobin's job description to explain the teaching of the Holy Father? Or is it just the teaching he agrees with that he wants to promote?

Meanwhile more and more conservative Christian leaders across the nation are announcing that permitting legal equality for gays will lead to the marginalization of Christian teaching and eventually the imprisonment of Christian leaders. It'll soon be the Lions and the Coliseum all over again, apparently.

I think the Christian right have forgotten one hugely important detail: not being able to force your religion or your religious views on others is not persecution.

It's time that the progressive left made that point clearly and concisely and stopped this nonsensical persecution storyline before it spreads further.

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