Sunday, March 1, 2015

News Tidbits

Huffington Post: Read The FBI's File On 'Radical Extremist' Anti-Gay Pastor Fred Phelps 

KFOR News Channel 4: Anti-Islamic protests at first Muslim Day at Oklahoma Capitol

Time: Christian College Student Attacked With Apple for Questioning Treatment of Gays

Outsports: South Carolina college with two out gay athletes bans homosexuality in the name of God

The Column: Ban on “ex-gay” conversion therapy introduced in Minnesota Senate

Middle East Online: US-funded Christians training for private war on Iraq jihadists 

QNotes: First Baptist pastor Mark Harris running radio ad against Charlotte LGBT-inclusive ordinances

CP24: Ontario Tories back away from MPP who doesn't believe in evolution

Commentary Tidbits

Micah Moore at Airborne, Anchored: A False Confession in Context

People for the American Way: Civil Rights Groups to GOP Presidential Candidates: Distance Yourself from CPAC’s White Nationalist Ties

Raw Story: CPAC’s ‘ask a speaker’ hashtag campaign backfires before the conference even begins

Just One Train Wreck After Another: Pastors: Stop Disrespecting Women With Your Chauvinistic Name-Calling

Salon: Jeb Bush to meet with anti-gay activist who thinks LGBT rights could lead to a new Holocaust

Gay Star News: Pope Francis must prove himself after his trans nuclear bomb

Charisma's Breathtakingly Insensitive Column on Trauma Survivors

Charisma Magazine has never been known for its sensitive or sane commentary, but a recent column has me seeing red. "15 Traits of Wounded Warriors", a February 17th commentary piece by Joseph Mattera, was so breathtakingly insensitive toward people who have survived trauma that I felt compelled to respond. "15 Traits of Wounded Warriors" inaccurately depicts traumatized people as selfish, belligerent, and deeply flawed.

"It is well-known that those who have been emotionally damaged tend to inflict their hurt and pain on other people," the column begins. Without providing any evidence for his assertion, Mattera claims that traumatized people cope with their pain by lashing out. He warns readers that unless churches approach their congregants in a holistic manner, "our congregations will be filled with people who are spiritually gifted but act like emotional infants." By assuming that traumatized people are emotionally stunted, Mattera infantilizes trauma survivors and refuses to acknowledge their resilience.

Mattera claims that "a large percentage of those who have been sexually abused become the abusers of others...". First, this assumption is inaccurate. Research indicates that very few sexual abuse survivors become perpetrators themselves. Second, Mattera propagates the "vampire victim" myth by claiming that victimized people go on to victimize others. In doing so, Mattera brands them as somehow tainted and dangerous due to their trauma.

The Charisma column was also dismissive of bigotry. According to the column, traumatized people often cultivate a victim complex, accusing others of racism, misogyny, or homophobia.
"Hurt people often portray themselves as victims and carry a "victim spirit." Often hurt people can cry "racism," "sexism" and "homophobia," or they often use the words "unjust" or "unfair" to describe the way they are being treated, even if there is no truth to this. (That is not to say that sometimes there really is racism or sexism in some instances; this is just used as an example.)"
I would like to remind Mattera that bigotry is real, and that claims of bigotry should not be minimized or dismissed just because their originate from a trauma survivor. I would also like to remind Mattera that oppression -- the experience of ongoing bigotry -- is itself traumatizing and must be taken seriously as a social problem. Scorning traumatized and marginalized people from a position of privilege helps no one.

Later in the commentary piece, Mattera repeats his assumption that trauma survivors are emotionally stunted and immature. The idea that traumatized people are capable of resilience and growth is ignored.
"Hurt people have the emotional maturity of the age they received their (un-dealt with) hurt. For example, if a girl was raped by a man when she was 12 years old, unless she forgives that man and allows Christ to heal her heart and allay her fears, in that particular area of her life (sexuality with a man) her emotional growth will stop; even when she reaches her later years she may still have the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old."
Some trauma survivors may regress or experience difficulty moving ahead, especially if no one has helped them heal and if self-determination has been repeatedly stolen from them. This does not mean that all trauma survivors are emotionally stunted. Assuming that all survivors are emotionally frozen at the age of their victimization is not only insulting, but it prevents us from seeing survivors as individuals in all their richness.

Traumatic experiences can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks. "Hurt people often erupt with inappropriate emotion because particular words, actions or circumstances "touch" and "trigger" past woundedness," he claims. Sights, sounds, and smells associated with a traumatic event can trigger flashbacks, in which a survivor vividly re-lives a traumatic incident. Trauma victims who experience flashbacks should be treated with compassion, not ridiculed for "erupting" into "inappropriate emotion".

One of Mattera's most disgusting assertions was that trauma survivors are vulnerable to demonic possession. Mattera insists that the minds of survivors are "a breeding ground for satanic infiltration and deception", which is so ridiculous that I will not dignify it with commentary.
"Hurt people are susceptible to demonic deception. I am convinced that most of the divisions in the church are caused by saints who lack emotional health and project their pain onto others.

Satan works in darkness and deception, and stays away from the light. Hurt people often have destructive habit-patterns that are practiced in the dark. Hence, their mind becomes a breeding ground for satanic infiltration and deception.

If the church would deal more with the emotional health of the individual, there would be less of a foothold for demonic infiltration. Also, there would be stronger relationships, stronger marriages, healthier children, and a more balanced approach to ministry with less of a chance of pastoral and congregational burnout."
Throughout the commentary piece, Mattera makes several disturbing and unsupported assumptions about trauma survivors. The judgmental tone of the column casts survivors as dishonest, malicious and self-absorbed.

  • "Hurt people have learned to accommodate their private "false self" or "dark side" which causes them to be duplicitous and lack integrity."

  • "Hurt people are often self-absorbed with their own pain and are unaware that they are hurting other people."

  • "Hurt people often transfer their inner anger onto their family and close friends."

  • "Hurt people interpret every word spoken to them through the prism of their pain."

  • "Hurt people often occupy themselves with busyness, work, performance and/or accomplishments as a way of compensating for low self-esteem."

  • "Hurt people often attempt to medicate themselves with excessive entertainment, drugs, alcohol, pornography, sexual relationships or hobbies as a way to forget their pain and run from reality."

  • "Hurt people need to forgive to be released and restored to freedom."

The commentary piece concludes by arguing that mandatory forgiveness and Christian faith are the antidotes to trauma.
"The Gospel of St. John 20:23 says that we have to release the sins of others if we are going to be released. This means that if we do not forgive others then the very thing we have become victimized with will become a part of our life. For example, alcoholic fathers breed alcoholic sons if their sons do not forgive and release their fathers.

The good news is that, through the efficacious blood of Christ, we can all be healed and set free from all past hurts so we can comfort others with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Cor. 1:4)."
The idea that faith can heal all pain is facile. Healthy forms of faith can help traumatized people heal, but toxic forms of religion can exacerbate trauma. Mattera's attitude toward forgiveness is also highly problematic. He assumes that trauma can only be healed by forgiving one's perpetrator, which ignores the messy, complex realities of healing. Many forms of therapy and introspection can promote healing, and each survivor's path to peace is unique. To boot, forgiving wrong-doers is not a cure-all for trauma. If and when to forgive is a deeply personal decision, and Mattera has no right to command forgiveness from survivors. Why should victims feel pressured to forgive offenders? Why isn't the pressure on offenders to take responsibility for their crimes?

"15 Traits of Wounded Warriors" was disturbing because of its stereotypes, callousness, and victim-blaming. The commentary piece could be summarized as "trauma survivors are selfish, vicious, immature demon-magnets who bring suffering on themselves because they won't forgive." Traumatized people are caricatured as train wrecks who inconvenience others, rather than human beings with whom we should empathize.

Attitudes like this infuse cultures of victim-blaming and impunity in too many congregations. When churches not only fail to hold perpetrators accountable, but chastise victims for not forgiving their perpetrators, we should be outraged. When victims are treated as damaged goods because they were victimized, we should be outraged. When such attitudes are promoted by a Christian website, we should be outraged.

I've worked for an anti-violence organization for the past eight years and volunteered at a domestic violence shelter for ten. I regularly sift through research on trauma as part of my job. My work brings me into contact with trauma survivors. I can say with confidence that Mattera's stereotypes are inaccurate. While traumatic experiences increase the likelihood of negative health and well-being outcomes, they do not automatically turn people into harpies.

Trauma is very common, and countless people around us are trauma survivors who have endured violent victimization, childhood maltreatment, natural disasters, war, and other horrors. Trauma survivors are not bad people "over there"; they are our loved ones, neighbors, and colleagues. They are as capable of love and anger, confidence and doubt, triumphs and mistakes as anyone else. They are not harpies -- they are human beings, and they deserve respect.

Making a "U-Turn" in Pennsylvania

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network will host U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. "It’s time for a course correction in America," the conference website argues, "and our success hinges on re-embracing the proven roadmap that the Bible provides." According to the event website, the conference has several goals for the day.
  • Identify the Biblical model for triggering a U-turn in a society.
  • Explore the top cultural issues that will confront your church in the next 5 years.
  • Learn how pastors can be empowered to speak on political issues without politicizing their pulpits.
  • Learn how prayer effectively lays the foundation for spiritual renewal in our nation.
Among U-Turn's scheduled speakers are David Barton (founder and president of Wallbuilders and the author of several Religious Right "history" books), George Barna (founder of the Barna Group), Jeff Mateer (general counsel of the Liberty Institute), and Sandy Rios (director of governmental affairs for the American Family Association and host of the Sandy Rios in the Morning radio show). Former governor Mike Huckabee was scheduled to speak at the event, but his name no longer appears on the conference website or promotional materials.

The Pennsylvania Pastors Network website had much to say about the relationship between religion and government when announcing U-Turn. "Today’s society works hard to separate faith and government, but the Pennsylvania Pastors Network ... believes exactly the opposite should be true," the website states.
"PPN believes that those in the pulpit are "Ministers of God," called by Him to preach the Word and speak truth in the public square. Likewise, those elected to office are not just "politicians" but occupy an equally ordained position as "Ministers of God," with the clear job description of servants of God and God’s servants to the people ... The powerful one-day "U-Turn" conference is open to pastors, leaders and laypeople and is specifically designed to answer questions about society, culture and leadership, with a focus on how cultural trends can be strategically impacted with the truths of God’s Word."

American Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer told OneNewsNow that "the pulpits of America have been silent for far too long" and that "Christian people have felt that being involved in matters of culture can be left to somebody else". Because of this alleged Christian apathy, "evil is advancing in this land", a situation that the U-Turn conference hopes to address.

U-Turn seems intended to encourage conservative religious leaders to talk about political and social issues from the pulpit. This puzzles me, since American religious leaders have been anything but quiet on these issues. Conservative pastors and priests have never been timid about discussing abortion, same-sex marriage, or legislation from the pulpit. As initiatives such as Pulpit Freedom Sunday demonstrate, some members of the clergy have no qualms about endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, in violation of IRS policy. In light of America's extremely vocal conservative clergy, Rohrer's assertions about passive, quiet churches ring hollow. Perhaps his words are another example of Religious Right victim-rhetoric, which depicts the Christian Right as a silenced, shoved-aside victim that must assert itself now that "evil is advancing in this land".

I expect that U-Turn will encourage religious leaders to continue speaking out from the pulpit on political and social issues. What remains to be seen, however, is where church-state separation and IRS policy will fit into U-Turn's conversation. I plan to attend U-Turn, and I'm eager to learn what speakers will have to say.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The American Family Association Debuts Its Ridiculous "Bigotry Map"

When the American Family Association stripped Bryan Fischer of his titles last month, I wondered if the organization planned to soften its right-wing stance. Not by a long shot!

This week, the right-wing American Family Association debuted its "Bigotry Map", intended to expose "anti-Christian bigotry in America". The map, reminiscent of the Southern Poverty Law Center's map of active U.S. hate groups, pinpoints LGBTQ, atheist, and humanist groups in the U.S. that allegedly practice anti-Christian bigotry.
"The American Family Association has identified groups and organizations that openly display bigotry toward the Christian faith.

These groups are deeply intolerant towards the Christian religion. Their objectives are to silence Christians and to remove all public displays of Christian heritage and faith in America."
The AFA's propaganda is beyond ridiculous. For example, it describes LGBTQ groups on the map as advocating for the "legalization and promotion of same-sex marriage and viciously attacks Christians who exercise their First Amendment right to voice support for God’s plan for marriage as between one man and one woman." For some reason, the AARP appears on the map as an LGBTQ group.

The map describes atheist and humanist groups with equally vitriolic language. Alleged "anti-Christian" groups, such as chapters of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are smeared as allegedly engaging in "the  complete eradication of the Christian faith from society, government and private commerce." AFA accuses such groups of "fil[ing] lawsuits and use intimidation to silence any reference to Christianity from the public square."

The AFA reserved special ire for GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. For example, the map describes GLSEN as a sinister group that "infiltrates public schools with pro-homosexual indoctrination tactics, confusing many young people and misleading them into making dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle choices that will negatively affect their entire lives." Human Rights Campaign allegedly bullies corporations until they "embrace sexual perversion", while the Southern Poverty Law Center "falsely disseminates this information to liberal news media."

The map appears to be poorly researched, as several LGBTQ and church-state separation groups are missing. I was disappointed when I discovered that LGBTQ and humanist groups in my region were absent from the map. To boot, Human Rights Campaign claims that the map shows several offices that do not exist.

AFA's "Bigotry Map" is absurd for several reasons. First, none of these groups are persecuting Christians. None of the listed groups seek to harm or deny rights to Christians in any way. Contrary to Religious Right whining, upholding the rights of LGBTQ people, atheists, and humanists does not impinge on Christians in any way.

Second, the map demonizes civil rights groups that defend vulnerable populations. The Southern Poverty Law Center is steadfast in its condemnation of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and violent extremist groups. Human Rights Campaign and GLSEN have spoken out against the actual oppression of LGBTQ people. Freedom From Religious Foundation respects church-state separation, a founding principle of the U.S. None of these groups resemble the AFA's hateful caricatures.

Let's be frank. None of this is about Christian "persecution". The "Bigotry Map" is another example of the Religious Right raging at anyone who questions its agenda, denies special privileges to right-wing Christians, or speaks out against intolerance. The outrageous reversals and victim rhetoric of the map are indicative of the Religious Right's persecution complex, but they do not reflect reality.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Human Rights Campaign: American Family Association’s “Bigotry Map” Misses the Mark, Big Time

Friendly Atheist: American Family Association Creates “Bigotry Map” Featuring Dozens of Atheist, Humanist, and Pro-LGBT-Rights Groups

Right Wing Watch: The AFA Strikes Back With Its Own Anti-Christian 'Bigotry Map'

Good As You: The AFA's 'Anti-Christian Bigotry Map' Is the Most Unintentionally Hilarious Thing You'll See Today

Monday, February 23, 2015

News Tidbits

New York Times: John C. Willke, Doctor Who Led Fight Against Abortion, Dies at 89

Washington Blade: Log Cabin accepts invite to speak at CPAC

9 News: Colorado may ban gay-to-straight 'conversion therapy'

WCNC: Franklin Graham calls transgender friendly bathrooms 'unsafe' 

BBC News: Razzies: Christian comedy film gets top golden raspberry

Washington Post: Mike Huckabee, tour guide in the Holy Land 

Christian Science Monitor: Millennial Evangelicals push for full inclusion of LGBT Christians 

Lehigh Valley Live: Religious freedom group says Lehigh County seal violates the Constitution

Commentary Tidbits

Stonekettle Station: The Camel's Nose

Race Hochdorf: The Tyranny Of Fundamentalist Language

Overturning Tables: Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You 

The Advocate: I Stay Closeted to Put Food on the Table

Dianna E. Anderson: 50 Shades of Grey is a Right-Wing Christian Fantasy

Salon: The South’s true face of hate: Oozing nonsense from demented and influential corners of religious right

Huffington Post: Catholic Church: It's Not Me, It's You

Sunday, February 22, 2015

IHOP and Tyler Deaton's Community

The February 21st edition of 48 Hours explored the 2012 death of Bethany Deaton and the ominous religious community led by her husband, Tyler Deaton. (The full episode is available for viewing here. A transcript of the show is available here.) Former members of Tyler Deaton's home-based religious group have accused Tyler of shunning, rigid control over members' lives, and sexual encounters with male followers. The Deatons were affiliated with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a controversial New Apostolic Reformation ministry in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bethany's death was originally deemed a homicide when her friend, Micah Moore, confessed to murdering her. Moore was a member of Tyler Deaton's religious group and a congregant at IHOP. In late 2014, however, Moore was cleared of all charges. According to a motion filed by his attorneys, Moore's account of her death was not corroborated by forensic evidence, and his confession may have been prompted by a chaotic "exorcism" conducted by IHOP representatives. IHOP spokesman Nick Syrett denied that an exorcism took place, according to the Kansas City Star.

After Bethany Deaton's death, IHOP distanced itself from Tyler Deaton's group, lamenting that it failed "to discern the nature of Deaton’s alleged secretive, perverse, cultic practices" in a November 2012 press release. However, some observers remain unmoved by IHOP's statements. Last night's Twitter conversations about 48 Hours probed the relationship between IHOP and Tyler Deaton's private religious community.

I wish 48 Hours had devoted more time to IHOP's culture and how this might have influenced Tyler Deaton's and his group. In what ways did IHOP's practices and beliefs provide fertile ground in which Tyler Deaton's group could take root?

First, several former IHOP congregants have accused IHOP of fostering unhealthy power dynamics. For example, Ariel, a former IHOP congregant who blogged at Gospel Masquerade, looked askance at Mike Bickle's immense power in the organization and his grandiose statements. Another former followers told the New York Times that IHOP asked her to leave after she questioned an instructor's teachings about "signs and wonders". Writing at the Cosmic Cathedral, former IHOP congregant Kendall Beachey claimed that IHOP tolerated no dissension from those in its ranks.
"[Boze] Herrington tells a story of being rebuked for questioning Deaton. "Tyler is the apostle of Southwestern," he was told, "you need to do whatever he tells you!" Yet I could tell countless stories of how students who voiced disagreements with teachers at IHOP’s Bible school, my alma mater IHOPU, were treated in similar fashion. Many were reduced to tears; I was compared to heretics; a friend was told, "I’m fighting on the Lord’s side, whose side are you fighting on?” and most pointedly one teacher said, “The angel came to Mike, not you; who do you think we are going to listen to?"
These statements from former congregants paint a picture of a church that is hierarchical and intolerant of dissent. The teachings of IHOP pastor Mike Bickle also suggest a hierarchical worldview, specifically a patriarchal worldview. For example, in a May 2012 talk entitled "The Incredible Worth of a Woman", Bickle promoted male "headship" and wifely submission, as did guest speaker Michael Brown during a 2014 talk at IHOP. According to former members, IHOP models a hierarchical religious community that demands acquiescence from its members. If this is true, Tyler Deaton's hierarchical religious group resembles IHOP in this respect.

Second, IHOP embraces a theology that favors magical thinking over critical thinking. Dreams, visions, ecstatic prayer, battles with demons, and communion with the divine are the bread and wine of New Apostolic Reformation ministries, including IHOP. Preachers and worshipers alike believe themselves to be "forerunners" for Christ's return, possessing special God-given missions to proselytize, end abortion, etc. In at atmosphere full of fanciful statements, worshipers are not encouraged to reason, question, or weigh teachings against evidence.

When there is no rational criteria for weighing religious claims, charismatic figures such as Tyler Deaton can make religious claims and assert authority with ease. Rolling Stone's 2014 article on IHOP observes that its theology makes it very difficult for leaders to rein in zealous congregants. Since IHOP's theology is based on personal religious experiences, the spiritual claims of followers are no more falsifiable than those of the pastors.

In a post at the Cosmic Cathedral, Kendall Beachey pointed out parallels between IHOP's belief system and the belief system of Tyler Deaton's religious community.
"While intensified, twisted, and warped in Deaton’s group, the key dynamics of ecstatic religious experiences, charismatic giftings, and strong hierarchic authority based on religious devotion, fundamentalism, and asceticism are all values alive and well within the leadership culture of IHOP.

The sense of urgency and the belief that through spiritual discipline, prayer, and fasting, the return of Christ will be hastened is another tenant of IHOP that was warped and manipulated in Deaton’s group. Young adults, desperate for purpose and meaning, latch onto Bickle’s unique end times teaching about their present day role in the unfolding end- times drama in order to feel special, elite, a ‘part of a history-changing movement.’ Language about being “Joel’s army in training” (a phrase stripped in Bickle’s current view of the ‘latter rain’ theology it originally supported), ‘the end time generation,’ or the ‘point of the arrow’ in God’s activity on earth, all give members of IHOP purpose and motivation. Students and staff are told to live lives of spiritual devotion so they may have supernatural apostolic power ... 

... Elitism, gnostic secret knowledge of the end times, special religious experiences, etc. all differentiated IHOP and those like them from the rest of the American church. That more extreme versions of this theology and praxis grew up and flourished (no matter where they got their start) at IHOP should be of no surprise. From the outside, the extremism blended right in."
Finally, both IHOP and Tyler Deaton's group have sought separation from the outside world. According to the 48 Hours expose, Bethany and other members of Tyler's group had less and less contact with those outside their group, including family members, over time. Similarly, IHOP leaders see those outside their church as distractions, rivals, and even dangerous enemies during the impending End Times. Mike Bickle has repeatedly prophesied horrific End Times scenarios, in which wicked non-Christians will wallow in depravity and persecute Christians. In a presentation for Joseph Company, Linda Fields framed Muslims and the "gay agenda" as competitors with Christians for leadership. At OneThing 2011, Corey Russell encouraged audience members to break ties with friends and lovers who did not share their faith. In short, both IHOP and Tyler Deaton's group looked askance at outsiders, even if they acted out this sentiment in different ways.

I want to be absolutely clear -- Tyler Deaton is responsible for his own actions. Did IHOP cause Tyler to create an isolated, toxic religious group in his home? No. Did IHOP encourage the unethical behavior that Tyler has been accused of? No. He and he alone chose to create his home-based religious community. The actions he took as leader of that community are his alone.

However, IHOP's theology and culture deserves closer inspection. Judging from the claims of former members, Tyler Deaton's religious group appears to have exaggerated and perverted elements from IHOP's culture. IHOP provided a setting in which hierarchy, magical thinking, and distrust of outsiders were seen as normal. We need to ask if and how IHOP's theology and culture allowed Deaton's group to take root.