Monday, March 30, 2015

The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin

Some time ago, after I reviewed the Botkins' "Ready for Real Life" webinar series, a reader pointed me to a 2013 sermon by Geoffrey Botkin. On September 29th, 2013, Botkin delivered a sermon at Christ the King Church in Centerville, Tennessee (where he serves as an elder) entitled "How Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals, Part III", available at Sermon Audio. Geoffrey Botkin is the head of the Western Conservatory of the Arts, a ministry that promotes Christian homeschooling and Christian Patriarchy.

I regret that I put the sermon on the back burner for a long time, but I finally sat down and listened to Botkin's talk. Now I realize why my reader encouraged me to listen.

The sermon offered a disturbing glimpse into Geoffrey Botkin's world, a world in which outsiders are to be hated, five year-olds can be "false prophets", and rape victims who don't cry out for help are deserving of death. Botkin's world is one of us-verses-them thinking and unforgiving legalism, with little room for tolerance or empathy. Since Botkin is a respected figure in some Christian homeschooling and Christian Patriarchy Movement circles, I wonder how many others in those movements share his disconcerting opinions.

Botkin began his sermon by emphasizing the importance of teaching children morals. He quoted Proverbs 28:4, telling listeners that it encapsulates Christian life. In Botkin's eyes, Christians are engaged in an ongoing conflict with the "bad guys", as he explained at the 2:46 mark.
"This is the essence of the Christian life. This is the essence of every life on earth. Either we're on one side of a conflict, an eternal conflict ... There is an enmity placed by God between the good guys and the bad guys, and it never stops. It never sleeps, ever."
At the 3:41 mark, he stressed that the struggle between the righteous and the wicked has no middle ground.
"There's no middle ground. There's no no-man's land ever in this conflict, in any generation at any time. And so when we speak at Christ the King Church about the church militant, and you've heard that term, and the church since the reformers has used that term -- the church militant -- the church has to be involved on one side or the other of this conflict. And churches can get on the wrong side of it and be fighting against God, or they can retreat and pretend that there is no conflict ... They are praising the wicked. They are cooperating with the wicked."
Parents must be part of a "family militant" alongside the "church militant" as part of the Great Commission. Parents must know where the dividing lines are in this conflict, Botkin said, adding that they must define sin for their children living in the midst of an "irreverent" culture. Words such as pornia, "sodomy", "treason", "idolatry", and others must be defined so that children understand what sin is, he stressed.

Botkin repeatedly depicted the outside world as a dangerous, corrupting influence. We urged his audience to avoid "friendship with the world", reminding listeners not to be unevenly yoked with unbelievers. Even small children can be "false prophets" and "stumbling blocks" to one's children, he warned at the 25:01 mark, telling parents that their children should not play with "covenant breakers".
"There's such a thing as false prophets who come enticing your children, and they can be very, very young. They can be four years old. They can be five years old. Jesus said woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks. Did you know little children can be a stumbling block to your children in the twinkling of an eye in things that they say to your children, things that they show to your children, things that they introduce to your children? It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come. Jesus Christ has said this, and so parents, this is our warning. We've been warned! ... There will be stumbling blocks. Plan on it. There will be stumbling blocks at the church, at the meeting of the church, driving to church, in your own home there will be stumbling blocks ... The one that is used by Satan to be the stumbling block, he's in big trouble, even if he's five years old."
Satan deploys evil five year-olds to corrupt the righteous? Did Botkin watch The Omen too many times? I thought.

Botkin's talk grew even more disturbing as he segued into a discussion of sin, correction, and punishment. If someone sins or strays from the Bible, believers should admonish them and try to lead them back to God, Botkin said. However, Christians must not be passive bystanders when they encounter unrepentant evil-doers, citing Deuteronomy 13:6-11 (in which God commands believers to execute idolaters, even among their loved ones) as an example of steadfast justice. "This is how the law of God prescribes that this kind of enticement be handled," he insisted.

This is madness, I thought. We know better in the 21st century. It is not moral to attack others just because they follow a different belief system. This is barbaric.

Concealment of a crime is itself a crime, he explained, warning listeners against being party to crimes through inaction. People have an obligation to intervene when they witness crimes, or at the very least let out a hue and cry, Botkin argued. Shockingly, he even applied this line of thinking to rape victims. Quoting Deuteronomy 22:23-27, Botkin observed that in Biblical times, a rape victim was to be executed if she didn't cry out. "Why? Because it was in the city and she didn't cry out and a crime was committed. And so, the cry is very important here," he said at the 59:31 mark. In a chilling segment at the 1:00:11 mark, Botkin argued that a rape victim deserves death "if she goes along with the crime".
"She cried out. She was not going to conceal a crime being committed. She cried out for help, and there was no one to help her. She's not guilty, but the man who committed the crime is. But if she goes along with the crime and does not cry out, then she's guilty too and is worthy of death because it's a capital crime."
First, an ancient legal code that sees women as chattel is not a sane blueprint for 21st century moral behavior. Second, it never occurs to Botkin that a rape victim might have legitimate reasons for staying silent during an assault. What if the attacker covered the victim's mouth? What if the attacker threatened to kill the victim if he or she made noise? What if the victim experienced tonic immobility? What if the victim was incapacitated due to date rape drugs? What if a vast power differential existed between the perpetrator and victim (i.e., a prison guard attacking an inmate)? What if the victim was too young to understand what was happening? What if the victim was just scared? 

This is all beside the point, however. A sexual assault victim is never culpable for his or her victimization. Responsibility for the crime lies with the perpetrator alone. Executing a rape victim is the height of barbarism, which is why enlightened societies no longer do so. Botkin's cold adherence to iron age edicts leaves little room for empathy or justice. Given the Christian Patriarchy Movement's low opinion of women, celebration of male dominance, and scandals, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at Botkin's views.

Botkin's 2013 sermon reminds us that fundamentalist legalism can be taken to chilling extremes. In Botkin's world, an inerrant interpretation of scripture must be preserved at all costs. Those who do not adhere to said doctrines are demonized as "bad guys" with whom one is at war. According to such thinking, even when the doctrines are cruel and unjust, they must be followed implicitly. In Botkin's black-and-white world, obedience to the doctrine trumps empathy, justice, or brotherhood.

News Tidbits

9 News: Klingenschmitt scolded on house floor

Talking Points Memo: Who Is The Mysterious Lawyer Behind California's 'Kill All Gays' Drive?

Q Notes: Anti-LGBT ‘religious freedom’ bill comes to North Carolina

Washington Blade: Archdiocese of Washington joins effort to kill D.C. gay rights measure

Metro Weekly: Ted Cruz: 10 anti-gay statements

Commentary Tidbits

Against the Greater Light: The True Message of God's Not Dead

Pandagon: Phil Robertson’s version of “morality” is ugly and immoral (Trigger warning)

Huffington Post: A Christian Oligarchy to Call Our Own

Mother Jones: Indiana Just Made It Easier to Discriminate Against Gay People—And Just About Anyone Else

Alternet: Why a Gay Man Like Me Is Going to Make It Hard for Indiana Shopkeepers to Exercise Their 'Religious Liberty'

Warren Throckmorton: George Barna, Please Meet the Barna Group

Right Wing Watch: Klingenschmitt Apologizes: 'Everything I Did About That Report Was Wrong'

Sunday, March 29, 2015

U-Turn Conference: Quotes from Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee

To read about George Barna's talks at U-Turn, click here and here. To read about Paul Blair's talk, click hereTo read about David Barton's talk, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. Since I only stayed for the morning talks, I missed the panel discussion featuring Sandy Rios, as well as Mike Huckabee's video. Fortunately, Right Wing Watch was also monitoring U-Turn, and they have since posted video clips from the conference.

First, during a panel discussion entitled "A Ministry Perspective", Sandy Rios blasted same-sex marriage while displaying the persecution complex so common among Religious Right figures.
"There is persecution afoot. It's abroad ... but it's also here, and I want to speak about one part of it quickly. Homosexual marriage is bringing about the tip of the spear of the battle that we're going to face."
Also in keeping with the Religious Right's persecution complex was Rios' warning that Christians would soon suffer martyrdom for their beliefs.
"I would recommend that you stop playing it safe. The Bible says if you can't keep up with men, how will you run with horses? You must prepare for martyrdom. I don't know what it's going to look like, but it's coming."
Rios pandered to ugly stereotypes about transgender people, warning the audience that their female relatives would be forced to share public restrooms with "men dressed like women". She urged listeners to take a stand against LGBTQ rights as a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage approaches.
"There are wives, your sisters, your children who now are going to be forced to go into public restrooms and share them with men dressed like women. This is in epidemic proportion in gyms, in schools. In Massachusetts where homosexual marriage has been legal for ten years, the stories would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. And ladies and gentlemen, Supreme Court will make a decision on whether homosexual marriage will be the law of the land in April, and if they do, every single person in this room is going to be forced to make a choice. And I'm just telling you, even if you don't want to engage in this battle, you will, and your people will, and you'd better stand."

Next, Mike Huckabee addressed U-Turn attendees in a video message near Mount Carmel in Israel. Huckabee was disappointed that pastors have supposedly failed to preach on present-day issues, in keeping with previous U-Turn talks that encouraged pastors to discuss politics from the pulpit.
"We wonder why our culture has turned godless. We wonder why people don't grow up understanding the fundamentals of natural law, the moral basis of our Judeo-Christian founding as a nation. Might it be that the problem is not the history classes in our high schools, but the pulpits of America who have not taken what they even believe and applied it to the pulpit and to the people?"
Huckabee's message urged religious leaders to "stand in the gap" by preaching on pressing issues. "God wants us to stand in the gap, and sometimes my heart's broken because in our own country, a lot of pastors will stand in the pulpit, but they won't stand in the gap," he said.

Rios and Huckabee, like U-Turn's earlier speakers, warned listeners that their country was spiraling downward due to advances in LGBTQ equality and "godless" thinking. Such rhetoric was intended to inspire pastors into action, to encourage them to preach to their congregants on pressing issues. U-Turn is a reminder that the Religious Right is mobilizing as the Supreme Court's April decision draws near and the 2016 election looms.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

U-Turn Conference: George Barna's Disturbing Talk on "Brokenness"

To read about George Barna's earlier talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about Paul Blair's talk, click hereTo read about David Barton's talk, click here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. George Barna's second talk of the morning, "A Roadmap for the Future: Where Do We Go From Here", began with observations about leadership in congregations, issues of the day, and Christian discipleship. However, the tone of the talk changed sharply when Barna waxed poetic about "brokenness".
"One of the things that I've discovered about discipleship is that there are a number of things that God does in the lives of his disciples, and one of the things he invariably does with anybody who's going to make any kind of a difference is he breaks them. Now, I will tell you this. As I've studied the sermons that are being preached across America today, it is very, very rare to find anybody who preaches about brokenness, about anybody who encourages their congregants to allow God to break them. See, because that's become un-American. In America, we teach that we're overcomers. We're victors. We're triumphant. We're strong. We make it happen. We solve problems. See, but God's way is no, when you're weak is when you're strong. When you're broken is when you're usable."
"We've got a vast majority of people who are accepting Christ as their savior without brokenness," Barna complained, telling listeners that faith requires being broken in "sin, self, and society".

I was disgusted. Challenges make us better people, but traumas that break our spirits prevent us from flourishing. Barna's belief that only a traumatized, "broken" person can serve God ignores the fact that traumatic experiences can cause lifelong psychological and physical harm. The myth that suffering and trauma make us spiritually stronger ignores all the evidence that trauma undermines our well-being. (I encourage people to read about the ACE study to learn more about trauma's devastating effects.) Instead of telling people that God wants them "broken", we should help them find healing and cultivate resilience.

Moreover, Barna's ideas about "brokenness" discourage us from showing compassion toward those who have been traumatized. Barna discouraged audience members from alleviating the suffering of those who are being broken by crisis.
"God gives us the privilege of experiencing crises in our life. He gives us crisis. It might be a physical crisis, it might be an emotional crisis, it might be a financial crisis. There are all kinds of crises that he uses. I found that as I did the research, among those people who have been broken, number one, they had to be broken multiple times because typically we think, 'Oh my gosh, this is an awful circumstance, I've got to overcome it,' and on our own power, we try to undo what God was doing, so God has to give us another opportunity, which means another crisis ... More often than not, churches get in the way of people being broken, and what I mean by that is we're trying to love people, and so when we see somebody endure a crisis, we come up alongside them and say, 'Hey, let us love you, don't worry about it, we're going to overcome this, we're going to wipe this out of your memory, we're going to wipe, we're going to take care of this, you won't even remember that this happened to you' ... See, the whole point is that God needed that person to deal with that situation in order to understand their own depravity and their need for him.

So, we really need to rethink how you come alongside people who are struggling and suffering. Are you trying to take away the pain? Are you trying to alleviate the suffering? Are you trying to ignore what God is putting them through? That doesn't help them. That doesn't help the church. It doesn't help the culture. And so we've got to come to grips with the necessity of being broken."
Being broken is a privilege? God breaks us to teach us how depraved we supposedly are? What kind of spiritual sadomasochism is this? I thought. The faith that Barna described was one of pain and debasement, with God playing the role of a cosmic torturer who breaks the spirits of his victims. I want no part of a deity who abuses his children instead of uplifting them.

We have a moral obligation to prevent trauma and offer succor to those who have been traumatized. If we assign any value to the intrinsic dignity of others, we should "get in the way of people being broken". If we value social justice, we must recognize that some forms of trauma are the result of oppressive systems, and that we have a moral imperative to challenge those systems. No, Mr. Barna, I am not going to ignore the battered woman, the abused child, the hate crime victim, the veteran with PTSD, or the impoverished family going hungry. If your deity can't get with that, you can keep him.

To read additional commentary on U-Turn, visit the following links.

Americans Against the Tea Party: Radical Pastors’ Network Wants Right-Wing Pastor Who Can ‘Call Down God’s Fire’ on America

Lancaster Online: Pastors must take the lead to change the nation

Right Wing Watch: Pastors Network's Sam Rohrer: Gov't Officials' Job Is To 'Promote God’s Moral Law'

Friday, March 27, 2015

News Tidbits

Talking Points Memo: California AG Kamala Harris Plans To Fight 'Kill All Gays' Proposal

Greenville Online: BJU faulted for response to GRACE report

Georgia Voice: ‘Religious freedom’ bill author McKoon has ties to anti-LGBT Georgia ministry

Ms. Magazine: Masked Intruder Attacks Last Abortion Clinic Standing in Mississippi

Pew Research Center: Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty

Religion News Service: Southern Baptist race summit calls for focus on reconciliation

Toledo Blade: Williams County school district promotes sectarian policies, ACLU alleges

Philadelphia Inquirer: LGBT advocates ponder how to benefit from Francis' visit

The Column: Shame, shock therapy, and Christ: Experiences from inside Minnesota’s ex-gay movement

Arizona Capitol Times: Senator explains church law comment 

Commentary Tidbits

Washington Post: 19 states that have ‘religious freedom’ laws like Indiana’s that no one is boycotting

Valerie Tarico: Children as Chattel: The Common Root of Religious Child Abuse and the Pro-Life Movement

Infidel753: To liberal supporters of Pope Francis

Think Progress: When ‘Religious Liberty’ Was Used To Justify Racism Instead Of Homophobia

On Faith: The Five Most Disturbing Things About a Benny Hinn Miracle Service

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic: Hampstead Churchgoers Face Mob

Right Wing Watch: Arizona Lawmaker Who Floated Mandatory Church Attendance Has A History Of Extremism  

RH Reality Check: MRAs for Jesus: A Look Inside the Christian ‘Manosphere’

Salon: “Wrath upon those who do evil”: Why Ted Cruz chose Liberty University to launch his campaign 

Raw Story: ‘Prayer warriors’ protest pro-LGBT documentary, and film star’s response is perfect

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Indiana: Gov. Pence Signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act Into Law


Earlier today, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 568, better known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law, reports NPR. The legislation decrees that the state "may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability".

In a press release, Governor Pence invoked the Hobby Lobby Case case and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act while defending his support for the bill. Pence claims to have signed the bill to support "the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith" at a time when "many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action". He denied that the bill would allow discrimination in Indiana.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.

The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.

One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.

Fortunately, in the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means.

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action. At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes. And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action.

In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.

This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith."
LGBTQ rights activists, civil liberties advocates, and political leaders warn that the legislation will legalize discrimination. Indianapolis mayor Greg Balland released a statement claiming that "RFRA send the wrong signal" and that he doesn't believe the legislation accurately reflects Indiana or Indianapolis, reports Fox 59.

Meanwhile, business leaders worry that the legislation will make it difficult for Indian businesses to recruit and retain workers, while sports and entertainment leaders warn that the legislation could have negative economic impacts. NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement expressing concern about how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could impact its athletes and employees. (Hat tip to the Washington Post.) The CEO of Gen Con, which hosts an annual gaming convention in Indiana, sent a letter to Mike Pence warning that, "Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against out attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years." (Hat tip to Gay Star News.)

Some faith groups found the bill offensive as well. According to Christianity Today, the Disciples of Christ may decide against holding their 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis due to the bill. "We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race," its leaders wrote in a recent press release.

The effects of this legislation remain to be seen, but the implications are disturbing. What recourse will LGBTQ people have if business owners refuse to serve them on account of religious homophobia? What about employees whose employers look askance at their sexual orientation or reproductive health practices? When did religious sentiments trump so many other rights in this country?

The reasoning behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should be familiar to all of us by now. The Religious Right's persecution complex, the myth of endangered "religious liberty", and the idea that faith trumps other people's rights are driving new legislation with worrisome implications. Bigotry rooted in religion is still bigotry, and no amount of religious belief justifies discrimination.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Mic: "Religious Freedom" Bills Are the Newest Front in the War on LGBT Americans

Media Matters: Fox News' Dishonest Defense Of Indiana's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Law 

The New Civil Rights Movement: Indiana Governor Mike Pence Has Signed 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law

Monday, March 23, 2015

News Tidbits

New York Times: Ted Cruz Hopes Early Campaign Entry Will Focus Voters’ Attention 

Los Angeles Times: Ted Cruz courts young evangelicals for uphill presidential bid

Pink News: Anti-gay Republican Ted Cruz pledges to ‘uphold the sacrament of marriage’ while launching Presidential bid

Washington Post: Virginia’s Liberty University: A mega-college and Republican presidential stage

The Guardian: New Rick Perry hire sent email saying children's lives would be harmed by female president

Huffington Post: Bob Jones III Apologizes For Saying Gays Should Be Stoned To Death

LGBTQ Nation: Groups for, against LGBT rights stage dueling rallies at Texas state capitol

Omaha World-Herald: Incoming State Patrol superintendent criticized for religion at work

KCRA 3: Can California ballot proposal legalizing killing of gays be stopped?

Commentary Tidbits

Micah J. Murray: Dear Christianity, I Have a Few Questions

News One: Creflo Dollar Ministries Pulls Jet Fundraiser Page, But You Can Still Give

The Atlantic: What Do Religious Women Think of the Contraceptive Mandate?

The Root: Same-Sex Marriage Is Happening. It’s Time for Christians to Recognize It as the Right Thing

Jezebel: Anti-Abortion Website Whines About Being Bombed ... With Glitter

Rolling Stone: Meet Alex Jones

Dianna E. Anderson: Convert or Perish: Is The Evangelical Church Inherently Violent?

Think Progress: Lawmaker Whose Adopted Daughter Was Raped Wants To Restrict Abortion For Rape And Incest Victims