Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Head of Ali Forney Center Pens Open Letter to Pope Francis

The head of Ali Forney Center, a homeless shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in New York, had issued a personal call to Pope Francis for LGBTQ inclusion. Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, recently penned an open letter to Pope Francis. Siciliano, a Roman Catholic and former Benedictine monk, issued a heartfelt call for the Catholic church to reject homophobic teachings and embrace LGBTQ youth. The letter was published in the Palm Sunday edition of the New York Times and paid for by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings, according to the Washington Blade.

Siciliano reminds Pope Francis that religious rejection is a common reason why LGBTQ youth are forced out of their homes. At the root of this problem, he argues, is that many Christian churches still preach that homosexuality is sinful and disordered. These toxic teachings have a "poisonous outcome" for LGBTQ youth, yielding a "bitter harvest" for too many families.
"A teaching’s wisdom and efficacy must be judged in part by its outcome. The teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin has a poisonous outcome, bearing fruit in many Christian parents who abandon their LGBT children to homelessness and destitution. How could a good seed yield such a bitter harvest?

For me this tragedy has many human faces. I see Justin, whose mother, before throwing him out of his home, summoned a priest who held him to the ground and tried to drive the devil out of the 16 year old boy. Or Terry, who was sent to a Catholic religion class where the instructor set him aside as someone “possessed by demons”. When his mother threw him out, she said that she would rather he die in the streets than live in her home if he was gay. I recall Maria, whose family drove her to a forest far from her home and abandoned her, throwing her from the car, because being a lesbian made her “evil”. I think of the boy whose name I never learned whose father was so disgusted by homosexuality that he threw his son out of his home and said he would kill him and bury him in the backyard if he tried to return."
Once ejected or driven out of their homes, LGBTQ homeless youth find themselves at the mercy of cold, hunger, and predators on the street, he writes. Confronted with ugly street realities and rejected by their families, homeless LGBTQ youth are at high risk for suicide compared to LGBTQ youth who are accepted by their loved ones.

For the sake of such youth, Siciliano urges Pope Francis to discard the Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a sin.
"The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world. By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching ... I ask you to recognize that the condemnation of homosexuality is also cruel and wrong, and rooted in a primitive, obsolete understanding of human sexuality. I ask you to join the growing number of church communities and religious denominations who have chosen to welcome and embrace us with love and acceptance."
Finally, Siciliano invited Pope Francis to visit the Ali Forney Center and meet young people whose lives were torn asunder by religious homophobia.
"I greatly respect you as a leader who has shown deep concern for the plight of the poor. I invite you to the Ali Forney Center, to meet our abandoned youths and see for yourself how their lives have been devastated and made destitute by religious rejection. I believe that there is no more compelling witness to the harmfulness of the condemnation of homosexuality than the consequent suffering plainly visible in the eyes of our homeless LGBT youths."
I applaud Siciliano, the Ali Forney Center, and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings for speaking out against religious homophobia and supporting LGBTQ youth. The compassion of Siciliano's letter contrasts sharply with the callousness and ignorance of voices from the Religious Right, who do not comprehend the suffering that homeless LGBTQ youth endure. Let's hope that Siciliano's letter has raised awareness, thereby awakening more people to their moral duty to abandon homophobia.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kevin Swanson Insists He Isn't a "Patriarchal-ist"

With recent scandals involving Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips in the news, the Christian Patriarchy Movement has received fresh attention from mainstream society. Now, a controversial Christian radio host is insisting that he's not a "patriarchal-ist".

In an April 18th blog post at Generations with Vision, Swanson insists that while he endorses the "Biblical" mandate for male headship, he is not a "patriarchal-ist". He explains to readers that he condones women seeking college educations, earning degrees, traveling abroad, and assuming positions of civil government leadership. Swanson defends his position by redefining the word "patriarchy" to refer to the Old Testament patriarchs, something different than what his critics meant.
"1. The Bible employs the Greek word “patriarchy” to refer to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Acts 2:29; 7:8,9;, Heb. 7:4), and I’m not Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It would be arrogant for me to assume that I will bear the influence of men like this over the next 2000 years.

2. Rather, the Bible calls the husband (me), the “head” as Christ is head of the church (Eph. 5:23). This is clear biblical language, and for those still out there who believe the Bible, it’s okay to use biblical language."
Swanson argues that the word "patriarchy" is used to disparage Christians who obey Ephesians 5, in which Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands. "I  also like to point out that the nuclear family is weaker than it has ever been, because Betty Friedan and a million of her friends hate Ephesians 5:22-33," he wrote. Swanson characterized such critics as people "incorrigibly attached to hollow ad hominems, straw man manufacturing, and guilt-by-association arguments".

Considering Swanson's long-standing support for patriarchal values and organizations, his rejection of the "patriarchal-ist" label is ridiculous. As recently as last year, Swanson participated in a history conference hosted by Vision Forum, a decidedly patriarchal organization. His disdain for feminism, independent women, and female empowerment measures is well-documented at Right Wing Watch. Furthermore, during the January 8th edition of his radio show entitled "Sexting and Christian Modesty", Swanson was unapologetic in his celebration of male headship and female submission. (More here.) At the 13:27 mark, Swanson holds up the patriarchal model of marriage as ideal.
"Friends, if you're interested in the kind of character traits that God requires, and if you're interested in rebuilding the nuclear family, functional nuclear family with husband and wife where the wife is trained to ... submit herself to her husband, and the husband is trained to give himself up self-sacrificially for his wife, he's not the selfish pig little boy that's doing porn in the basement and learns how to be self-centered with his masturbation when he's 18 or 19 years of age, and then he lives a self-centered lifestyle until he's 29 years of age, then he finally gets married, and then he gets divorced at 36. Okay, that's the other worldview."
At the 9:24 mark, on the topic of raising daughters, he rejects feminist values in favor of female silence and meekness. He cites Biblical passages such as Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 2, which encourage female submission and deference to authority.
"If you're going to give your daughters a godly raising, or a good raising,  you've got to define character properly. When I was interviewed by the mainstream media on this issue of the Girl Scouts, the guy asked me, "Well, what kind of values would you promote? What exactly is it that you're interested in? I said, a Biblical value. I'm interested in establishing a Biblical value for raising daughters, not just the feminist values, but the Biblical values. He says, "What are those?" I say, Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 2 talks about how women ought to be meek and quiet, and they ought to learn in silence, and they ought to be modest in dress and saved in childbearing, and she fears God."
What observers can plainly see is that patriarchy is patriarchy. Misogyny is misogyny. Full stop. Playing fast and loose with word definitions doesn't change the fact that Swanson has consistently endorsed male dominance and female subordination. Patriarchy is unfair and unjust, no matter how Swanson frames it.

Julie Anne at Spiritual Sounding Board sums up the matter succinctly. 
"Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard have wreaked havoc on Patriarchy. Proponents of Patriarchy will be quick to say that these two men were in sin and believed in the wrong kind of Patriarchy, because when Patriarchy works the right way, it is beautiful, yada yada.

It’s not a matter of what kind of Patriarchy, or the wrong kind of Patriarchy, or substituting a nicer word. When women are treated as objects, as personal property, when they are not allowed to question, to think for themselves, that is wrong. When a woman has to surrender to a man who uses sex to “conquer” her, that is wrong. When a woman must go through her husband as mediator to get to God, that is wrong."

Bill Gothard Releases Statement on Sexual Harassment Scandal

Bill Gothard, founder of the Basic Life Principles ministry and a supporter of Christian homeschooling, is embrolied in a sexual harassment scandal. Recovering Grace, a website dedicated to helping those who have been negatively impacted by Bill Gothard's teachings, has posted statements from multiple women accusing Gothard of sexual harassment. Last month, Religion News Service reported that Gothard had resigned from the Institute of Basic Life Principles, a week after he had been placed on administrative leave.

Gothard's ministry was popular among Quiverfull Christians and respected by the Duggar family, according to Religion News Service and No Longer Quivering. Radar Online reports that Megan Lind, one of the women who accused Gothard of sexual harassment, wrote an open letter to the Duggars urging them to reconsider their endorsement of Gothard's ministry.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) expressed concern over allegations that Bob Jones University officials helped Bill Gothard cover up sexual harassment allegations against Gothard's brother. In a March 27th statement, SNAP urged Bob Jones University to hire an outside firm to investigate these claims, arguing that "it's best to err on the side of protecting the vulnerable and wounded, not the accused and the powerful."

Now, Gothard has finally commented at length on the scandal. In a statement at Bill Gothard's website, which was previously withheld "in order to honor the request of the Board of Directors to wait until an initial review has taken place", Gothard sent mixed messages. On one hand, Gothard admitted to inappropriately touching young women at his organizational headquarters. However, he insists that none of this touching was sexual in nature or intent.
"My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent."
I found Gothard's excuses flimsy. How on earth does an old man touch the hair and feet of young women without sexual intent? What about accusations of more extreme harassing behaviors? Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism also finds Gothard's excuses hard to swallow.
"Does Gothard honestly expect anyone to believe that a 50 or 60-year-old man could play footsie with a 16-year-old girl, hold and stroke her hands for long periods of time, caress her hair, etc., all without any “sexual intent”? Especially a 50 or 60-year-old man who leads a religious empire and teaches his followers that couples should not touch or have physical contact before marriage? Why in the world, if not with “sexual intent,” would Gothard touch these girls like this, violating not only his own rules but also the girls’ consent and their parents’ trust?

Honestly, Gothard’s claim that he never “touched a girl . . . with sexual intent” sounds rather like Clinton’s wrangling about the definition of “sexual relations.” He’s lawyering, and transparently so. He’s not being completely honest, complete transparent. He’s still making excuses and trying to wheedle out of what he did. He’s still trying to find the least offensive crime to confess to so that he can get out of responsibility for the whole that happened."
Much like the scandal involving Vision Forum's Doug Phillips, the Bill Gothard scandal demonstrates that cults of personality, misogyny, and fundamentalism make for a toxic brew. Religious insularity and patriarchy protect no one; to the contrary, they may have played a role in Gothard's alleged behavior by rendering young women even more vulnerable. Should it be any surprise that such allegations are being lobbed at a man whose organization promotes callous attitudes toward sexual abuse survivors? Whose so-called "umbrella of protection" gives men unfair power over women and authority figures unfair power over subordinates? As more information about the Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard scandals becomes available, let's hope that their followers begin to question the hollow promises of Christian Patriarchy and fundamentalist homeschooling.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Ramblings of Sheldon: Recovering Grace Founders Speak to Christian Radio Show About Bill Gothard

Micah J. Murray: On Growing Up in Bill Gothard’s Homeschool Cult

Chicago Now: Bill Gothard still goes uninvestigated by police

The Wartburg Watch: Recovering Grace Confronts Bill Gothard

Commentary Tidbits

RH Reality Check: Phyllis Schlafly: Still Wrong (and Mean) After All These Years

The Bilerico Project: Novelist Says Gays Should Thank Jesus For Their Rights

Right Wing Watch: Bachmann's Ex-Gay Ally Says Satan Is Using Celebrities To Spread Gay 'Filth' 

A Cry for Justice: Attitudes that Promote Abuse in the Church: Major System Flush Needed

News Tidbits

CBS 4 Denver: Christian Radio Host James Dobson Wins Health Care Injunction

Pink News: ‘Gay cure’ defense group sells coffee to raise legal funds

The Atlantic: An Ex- Ex-Gay Lesbian Pastor Preaches Tolerance in Brazil

The Advocate: Activists Seek Funds to Flee Violent Homophobia in Uganda

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"All I have to do is humbly follow"

I recently listened to a 2009 TED talk by Diane Benscoter, a former Moonie turned anti-cult activist. Benscoter shed light on the mindset of cult devotees, likening cult ideology to a "viral memetic infection". At the 4:10 mark, she describes the appeal of cults, including their supposed answers to difficult questions and their promises of a better world. Benscoter's words could just as easily describe extreme forms of Christian fundamentalism.
"These easy ideas to complex questions are very appealing when you are emotionally vulnerable. What happens is that circular logic takes over. Moon is one with God. God is going to fix all the the problems in the world. All I have to do is humbly follow, because God is going to stop war, end hunger, all these things I wanted to do. All I have to do is humbly follow, because after all, God is the Messiah. He's going to fix all this. It becomes impenetrable, and the most dangerous part of this is that it creates us and them, right and wrong, good and evil. And it makes anything possible. It makes anything rationalizable."