08/27/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2012

Sex, Contraception, Abortion -- and God

Dear members and friends of The Shalom Center,

Sex, abortion, rape and contraception are back on the front pages again, as they were a month ago. We are seeing a multidimensional campaign against women's religious, spiritual and conscientious freedom and against their physical health. It pops up again and again, in slightly new forms each time.

(At The Shalom Center, we keep calling it "religious freedom" because talking just about "choice" makes it easier to look down on the choices women make and uplift the choices men in power make, as if they alone deal with "religious freedom.")

The Shalom Center is confronting one aspect of this campaign. A few paragraphs from here, we offer you the gist of an open letter to the Archbishop of New York, addressing the behavior of the Catholic Church on these issues. The letter has been signed by leading members of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and women's communities.

The full text and list of Initiating Signers is at The Shalom Center. We invite you to sign it as well.

This past week, the campaign against women's religious and conscientious freedom took the form of a Senatorial candidate talking about rape and abortion, a vice-presidential candidate supporting bills that would outlaw all abortion, and a draft platform for the Republican Party that calls for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions, even to save the life of the mother.

A month ago, the campaign against women's religious and conscientious freedom took the form of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church acting with contempt for women's ability to make their own conscientious decisions about contraception, and sharply criticizing the nuns who are working with and for the poor, rather than -- as the Vatican wants -- spending their time campaigning to make contraception difficult, abortion illegal and same-sex marriages forbidden.

The two explosions of this campaign were and are connected in the most immediately practical politics and the most profoundly structural politics.

I will explore those connections at the end of this letter. But first I want to give you the gist of the open letter to Archbishop Dolan:

To Your Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan
We ask you to:

1. Reexamine how the USCCB is endangering the religious freedom of women by trying to restrict health insurance that covers contraception.

2. Remind Vatican agencies that have sharply criticized American nuns for focusing on the plight of the poor that their action endangers the Church's commitment to social justice for the poor.

3. Remind all Catholics that critics of actions by the official Church leadership should be treated with respect and dialogue, not with attack and condemnation.

Among the Initiating Signers: Rev. Bob Edgar, president, Common Cause, former general secretary of National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, former U.S. Congressman; Gloria Steinem, founder of MS.; Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland; Rabbi Amy Eilberg, interfaith dialogue activist (first woman ordained as Rabbi by Conservative Judaism); Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of National Council of Churches and now director, department of religion, Chautauqua Institution; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector, American Jewish University; Daisy Kahn, Cordoba Institute; Rev. Debra W. Haffner, President, Religious Institute.

To join with these people in signing the Open Letter, please click here.

Back to my own thoughts on the connection between the Catholic hierarchy's campaign and the right-wing political campaign:

The connection in Practical Politics: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has thrown all its political power behind its views about sex and women. It has especially focused on Missouri, where the senatorial campaign recently surfaced the worst attacks on women. Some political candidates are bowing to the USCCB's insistence; some who already agree are benefitting from its support.

The connection in Structural Politics: The Church and the politicians are both acting as and for top-down, unaccountable power. The Church today claims for its top-down hierarchy -- the Bishops and the Vatican -- a monopoly of religious truth.

Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the whole community, all women and men who are members of the Church, ARE the Church -- not only the hierarchy. But now the hierarchy is rejecting that teaching, and usurping religious authority for itself. One of the "pharaohs" of our generation.

Similarly, many politicians are utterly beholden to top-down, unaccountable, corporate power: Big Banking, Big Oil, Big Coal. All run by men. These "Big Misters" are glad to distract attention from their power, glad to weaken supporters of the poor. More "pharaohs of our day."

Each set of the "pharaohs of our day" is glad to help out the other, in exchange for the other's help to them.

And both sets of "pharaohs" are drawn to reinforce top-down power in the most intimate aspects of our social system -- subordinating women to the power of men.

The Shalom Center believes that we have a special religious responsibility to address the "issue behind the issues" -- the issue of top-down, unaccountable power -- especially when it surfaces in a religious institution. If the issue of Pharaoh is not worth the attention of a religious community like ours -- what is?

We also believe that at the root of these questions is the issue beneath the issues -- a deep difference about the relationship of the sexual, the erotic, and the love of Earth to the life of the Spirit.

But there is not space to explore that here and now. Later!

Please remember to join these amazing people and sign the open letter to Archbishop Dolan, please click here.

And if you appreciate the work we are doing, we can't do it without your help! Please also click here to make a gift to The Shalom Center.