The L.A. Dodgers never should've caved when honoring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
While the baseball team has since reversed course, they foolishly allowed right-wing outrage seekers to dictate their actions
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If there’s one lesson Budweiser, Target, and other companies should have learned over the past few weeks, it’s that there’s no upside to caving in to right-wing outrage campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Pride, selling rainbow clothing, or working with transgender influencers, but conservative activists are hell-bent on making sure that never happens as part of a much larger campaign to eradicate LGBTQ people from public life.
Now the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team is caught up in a controversy that’s partially its own fault.
A few weeks ago, the Dodgers announced that it would bestow its “Community Hero Award” to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during a pregame ceremony on June 16, which was also its 10th Annual LGBTQ+ Night.
The “Sisters” have been around for decades and are known for wearing outfits resembling nuns while raising money for AIDs patients, officiating same-sex marriages, and supporting queer causes through grants. Their humorous tagline is "Go forth and sin some more!” Members have names like “Sister T’aint A Virgin” and “Sister Holly Lewya.”
Are they mocking the Church? Not really. It’s not like they’re arguing theology. They’re just using a well-known religious backdrop as the basis for their satire and charity. If anything, they’re mocking the institution, not individual believers. Hell, several members are former Catholics; if this is their way of pushing back against the harm the Church caused them, so be it.
That’s how satire works: You use something familiar to go after those in power.
But because members dress in drag and because we live in a nation where LGBTQ people (and drag artists specifically) have been unfairly maligned as doing the kinds of things that, well, actual Catholic priests do, the announcement of the award created a firestorm on the right.
The always-turned-up-to-11 Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called it an “unprovoked assault on Catholics.” The desperate-to-be-relevant Sen. Marco Rubio said it was an affront to Catholics that the team would “honor a group that mocks Christians through diabolical parodies of our faith.” The head of an advocacy group called CatholicVote referred to the Sisters as a “hate group.” Even one of the Dodgers’ relief pitchers called the group “blasphemous” (a message he publicized through Christian conspiracy theorist Sean Feucht).
To be clear, the Sisters are not a threat to Catholicism. The faith and the Catholic Church itself have been damaged infinitely worse by the actions of priests and other leaders who covered up for sexual predators over the past several decades.
But trans people and drag queens are much easier targets, so the Catholic Right had their mark.
And then, the Dodgers foolishly caved.
On May 17, A day after the initial backlash hit its peak, the team said in a now-deleted tweet that “Given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits that we have seen over the years of Pride Night, we are deciding to remove them from this year’s group of honorees.”
By May 22, the Dodgers realized their mistake, apologized to the Sisters, and said the group would be honored as originally planned.
That was the right decision, but it allowed the conservative outrage machine to drive another news cycle. The Catholic League is now attempting to launch a boycott of the team that night and has sent out almost daily press releases trying to capitalize on the attention. Newly announced presidential candidate Mike Pence claimed the Dodgers “should be apologizing to Catholics across America.” Attempting the mollify the backlash by also announcing the relaunch of the “Christian Faith and Family Day,” with the help of star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, probably won’t appease anyone.
All of this could’ve been avoided had the Dodgers simply stuck to Plan A instead of getting sidetracked by bad actors who’ll use any opportunity to claim Christian Persecution.
To pretend like the Sisters are hurting the Church and destroying the reputation of Catholics means sticking your head in the sand when it comes to actual abuse perpetuated by actual Catholic leaders.
… Many of these Sisters have real reason to resent the church. The Sisters came about during the AIDS epidemic when the Catholic Church, with some notable exceptions, promoted hate rather than compassion as gay men were dying. The church leadership in America went on to oppose gay marriage and other LGBTQ+ rights; today, it continues to promote the idea that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful and support lawsuits and legislation that would empower Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The Sisters, their supporters say, are taking part in a long and historic tradition of questioning the church’s political and cultural behavior, from the perspective of its victims, but with humor and vitality.
She also adds for good measure that nuns, far more than the priests in the Catholic hierarchy, tend to be supportive of progressive causes no matter what the Vatican declares. By portraying themselves as nuns, the Sisters’ satire may be misdirected. But that really depends on whether you think they’re mocking nuns or mocking one of the most popular symbols representing the Catholic Church. I happen to think it’s the latter, and so do members of the group.
It’s telling that many of the same right-wing provocateurs now going after the Sisters are mostly silent when it comes to the revelations of abuse committed by Church leaders. The right way to handle right-wing outrage is to ignore it or to explain why it’s worth ignoring. The Dodgers, unfortunately, played right into the hands of some of the least compassionate and most reactionary people in the country. Had they ignored the calls to take back the award, this would have been a short news cycle that most people never would have noticed. By essentially admitting that anti-LGBTQ people had a point worth taking seriously, only to backtrack later, they gave the haters what they craved the most: attention.
Here’s hoping other teams—and other companies—learn their lesson. Supporting LGBTQ people is good business and good ethics. There’s never a good reason to take the other side seriously.
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