Monday, July 23, 2007


Is there a city better known for corrupting the morals of America than Los Angeles? A city that better represents secular leadership? Yet author Raphael J. Sonenshein has written a book titled POLITICS IN BLACK AND WHITE: RACE AND POWER IN LOS ANGELES. His article in the L A Times discusses the development of the city from a religious point of view:

Religion has always played a significant role in Los Angeles politics, although just which group has the upper hand has changed a number of times over the years. We're now in the third "era" of religion as a political force in the city, in which Catholics are once again playing a vibrant role in the transformation of Los Angeles -- and the $660-million settlement in the clergy abuse scandal seems unlikely to alter the situation much.

The first era began with the city's founding in 1781 under Catholic auspices; its full name was "The Town of Our Lady of the Queen of the Angels." The Catholic archdiocese was founded in 1840.

But beginning in the 1880s, an influx of white Americans gradually displaced the city's Catholic community of mostly Mexican-origin residents as the predominant political and cultural force, ushering in the second era. The new Angelenos brought with them a Midwestern Protestant heritage that, by 1900, had become a militant conservatism married to a Progressivism antithetical to machine politics. They wanted to build a great metropolis without what they considered the "vices" -- immigrants, unions, party bosses, liberals, minorities, Catholics and Jews -- of New York and Chicago.

"In 1900," historian Mitchell Gelfand says, "Los Angeles was about as much a native, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant city as existed anywhere in the United States for its size."

Sonenshein claims the shift back to Catholicism took place in 1993 and that Cardinal Mahony played a major role:

The alliance between two Irish American Catholics, Richard Riordan, elected mayor in 1993, and Roger Mahony, elevated to cardinal in 1991, provided a new look at how religion and politics intersected in L.A. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, whose construction began during the Riordan administration, showcased the emerging role of the church in civic life and complemented Riordan's dreams for a reborn downtown.

And the future he sees:

A generation of popular Latino political leaders, chief among them Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, today overshadows the church. But that could change if a dynamic Latino cardinal were someday named head of the archdiocese. Then Los Angeles, overlooked for much of the 20th century, would command the attention of the 21st century world.

Will the Latinos be able to change Los Angeles? Or will Los Angeles merely corrupt the Latinos by its secular way of living?

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