Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

 

News Tidbits

 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christian AIDS Conference at Georgetown University, Part I

On Wednesday, July 25th, Georgetown University hosted the Summit on the Christian Faith Community in Global Health and HIV/AIDS in Washington D.C. The event was sponsored by Saddleback Church, World Vision, Food for the Hungry, and Catholic Relief Services. The summit took place alongside the week-long 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C.

The Washington Post's article on the summit emphasized the conservative Christian messages promoted by its speakers, including but not limited to Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren. Intrigued, I watched a video recording of the summit, available at this Georgetown University link. While the speakers expressed genuine concern for victims of the HIV pandemic, a few right-wing messages found their way into the discussion.

Commentary Tidbits

Gallup Polling Matters: Religiosity Remains Huge Predictor of Presidential Vote Choice

Rosa Rubicondior: What A Waste Of A Life

Perrspectives: Jewish Voters, Republican Chutzpah

Leaving Fundamentalism: The Key to Understanding Fundamentalist Psychology

Truth Wins Out: Americans Add New Ex-Gay Fuel to Poland’s Antigay Climate

(Hat tip to Infidel753 for several of these links.)

News Tidbits

Pennlive: Church, pastor charged in fake raid: 'You can't, in the name of religious liberty, engage in criminal activity'

CNN: Evangelist Billy Graham defends Chick-fil-A

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion; Only About Half Identify Obama as Christian

Washington Post: Catholic priest suggests Satan made James Holms a killer

(Hat tip to Lady Atheist for the last link)

Fun and Faith Healers at Harrisburg Pride

On Saturday, July 28th, I attended the Harrisburg Pride festival at Riverfront Park in Harrisburg, PA. Harrisburg Pride is one of the largest LGBTQ events in the Susquehanna Valley region, featuring a parade, musical performances, drag shows, vendors, food, and family-oriented activities. The awesome Silent Witness Peacekeepers were on hand to ensure that attendees had a safe, peaceful gathering, and their efforts were duly noted by the Pride Festival of Central Pennsylvania. (More on Silent Witness Peacekeepers here.)

It's been a good year for the festival. In 2011, Harrisburg Pride could not hold its annual parade due to permit issues, so the return of the parade in 2012 was a source of happiness for supporters. Earlier this month, Harrisburg City Council acknowledged the contributions of the Pride Festival of Central Pennsylvania, a positive achievement for the regional LGBTQ community.

The festival was wonderful, and the atmosphere welcoming. Amidst happy couples, families, fabulous drag queens, and cute dogs, it was impossible not to feel cheerful. I salute the man who dressed up in a furry wolf costume for an animal charity -- with the high heat index, the poor guy must have been sweating bullets! Despite a small number of anti-gay protesters at the South Gate, the event was peaceful. Peaceful, however, does not mean free of strange occurrences.

A number of Christian faith healers also came to the festival, and while they did not appear to be promoting anti-gay messages, their antics were unusual. Outside the North Gate, I saw about eight of them laying hands and praying over a homeless man. After their prayers concluded, most of them walked down the street, but a young blond woman took it upon herself to tell some Silent Witness Peacekeepers about the prayer. "His arm started to straighten out! His arm had been bent for years! God loves you," she told the impassive peacekeepers.

Inside the festival, I witnessed another attempted faith healing. At the food vendor section, a young woman on crutches was waiting in line for Chinese food. A bald man approached her and, out of the blue, asked if he could pray for her healing. She consented, and he proceeded to pray for her cerebral palsy to be cured. Afterwards, he asked her if she felt any different, and shared a story about how his friend John had been healed by prayer. Considering that the woman remained on her crutches afterwards, I don't think the prayer had much impact on her health. Later, a friend told me that someone had been going through the festival offering to pray for people, so this was probably not the only attempted faith healing that day.

I regret not asking the prayer targets how they felt about these alleged faith healers. Were they annoyed? Amused? Grateful for the kindness and attention? Did they understand that the purported faith healers intended to pray for them right then and there? I don't know. However, I don't feel that such antics were appropriate in a public setting, no matter how noble the supposed faith healer's intentions. I silently wondered if the supposed faith healers did this at other public gatherings, or specifically targeted Harrisburg Pride for their unusual style of evangelism. If the latter, what was their reasoning?

As a side note, I discovered a Chick tract entitled "A Love Story" inside the festival, which I promptly threw in the trash. I don't know if the purported faith healers had anything to do with the Chick tract, but it was an unusual coincidence.

I plan to keep my eyes peeled for the supposed faith healers at future Harrisburg festivals, and at 2013 Harrisburg Pride. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to learn more about their affiliation and motivations.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Metropolitan Jonah, Sexual Abuse, and the Orthodox Church

The media has devoted much attention to the sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church, most recently a case surrounding sexual abuse cover-up in Philadelphia. Now, an eerily similar scandal has emerged in the Orthodox Church involving Metropolitan Jonah (a.k.a. James Paffhausen).

The Washington Post reports that the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) forced Metropolitan Jonah to resign from his Primate post this month. Jonah has been accused of failing to take appropriate action against an Orthodox priest accused of sexual assault. Johan reportedly accepted the priest into the OCA despite the man's history of violence against women. In February, Johan reportedly learned that the priest had been accused of rape in 2010. The Synod claims that Jonah failed to alert church authorities or contact police upon learning of the rape. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Synod spokesman Rev. Erik Possi said that the church would not release the name of the accused priest. Detroit Archbishop Nathaniel will serve as Jonah's interim replacement, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The OCA website states that Metropolitan Jonah tendered his resignation as Primate of the OCA in a July 6th letter to the Holy Synod of Bishops. In the letter, Jonah admits that he had "neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of Primate," and apologized for any difficulties arising from his "mistakes in judgment."

In a July 16th statement, the OCA Holy Synod claims that the priest's victim reported the rape to law enforcement, but were told that "their salvation depended on their silence." The statement claims that Metropolitan Jonah encouraged the accused priest to become a military chaplain, failed to alert the military recruiter to the priest's history of violence, and ultimately allowed the priest to transfer to a different jurisdiction.

According to the Synod's statement, this is not the first time that Metropolitan Jonah has taken inappropriate actions regarding sexual abuse cases. The statement also accuses Jonah of giving a sensitive Synod report on sexual misconduct investigations to unauthorized persons. Because the report contained the names of reported victims and perpetrators, the Synod feared a leak of personal information and increased church vulnerability to legal liability.

The OCA Holy Synod expressed disappointment that Metropolitan Jonah was allegedly abdicating responsibility for the scandal. The Snyod accused Jonah of "poor judgment in critical matters of Church governance", claiming that he repeatedly refused to cooperate with bishops and "act with prudence" in accordance with the Synod's policies on sexual misconduct. Additionally, the Synod expressed disapproval of Jonah's "repeated pattern ... of taking other unilateral actions that were contrary to the advice of the Holy Synod and/or the Church's lawyers."

Several Orthodox commentators have defended Metropolitan Jonah. In a vitriolic commentary at the American Conservative, columnist Rod Dreher called the Holy Synod "a pack of ravening wolves" and accused them of handling the situation in a "sleazy, corrupt way." (See www[dot]theamericanconservative[dot]com/dreher/metropolitan-jonah-ousted/) Monomakhos called the debacle an "ambush," accusing the Synod of blind-siding Jonah and presenting a "one-sided story." (See www[dot]monomakhos[dot]com/this-is-far-from-over-the-ambush/)

However, sexual abuse victim advocates are pleased. The Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) expressed approval that Metropolitan Jonah was removed, accusing him of doing a "wretched" job of handling clergy abuse cases. SNAP urged the OCA to replace Metropolitan Jonah with a leader who would protect congregants from sexual abuse.
"The OCA’s synod of bishops should think long and hard about Paffhausen’s permanent replacement. Not only must this candidate by a man with "clean hands," it must also be someone who knows that actions protect kids, not words."
In a statement at Pokrov (an organization devoted to abuse survivors in the Orthodox church), SNAP expressed disappointment in the OCA's "deeply rooted pattern of secrecy in sex cases," urging the OCA to reveal the name of the accused priest. If Pokrov's list of individuals in the OCA who were publicly accused, sued, sanctioned, or convicted of sexual misconduct is any indication, the OCA has much work ahead regarding sexual abuse in its ranks.

I admit that I know nothing of the OCA's internal struggles or politics, and that there may be dimensions to this scandal of which I'm not aware. Having said that, if the allegations against Metropolitan Jonah are true, I'm relieved that he was forced to resign. Religious leaders who fail to screen clergy, take victims seriously, or report allegations of sexual assault are guilty of moral cowardice. Religious leaders have a moral responsibility to protect their congregants and hold offenders accountable. If Metropolitan Jonah failed to do this, he is unworthy of a position of leadership.

The issue is also an institutional one. The OCA, like the Catholic Church, must not allow the development of a clerical culture that trivializes sexual abuse, shuttles abusive priests from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and maintains institutional silence. It is the OCA's responsibility to ensure that future leaders do not repeat Metropolitan Jonah's alleged mistakes.

As a final note, Metropolitan Jonah was an ally of several Religious Right causes. For example, he was a signatory to the right-wing Manhattan Declaration (see www[dot]manhattandeclaration[dot]org) and a speaker at the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington D.C. (see here and here). If Metropolitan Jonah had spent less time warring against LGBTQ rights and women's reproductive choices, and more time rooting out sexual abuse in the Orthodox church, this scandal could have been averted.

Commentary Tidbits

Alternet: 5 Food Companies Run by Radical Right-Wingers

CNN: When Christians are their own worst enemies

New York Times: The Divine Miss M

Religion Dispatches: God is My Co-Belligerent: Avatar Priests, Hijacked Theologians, and Other Figures of Right-Wing Revolt

Political Research Associates: Resisting The Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBT Gains

Talk to Action: Christians United for Israel 2012 Summit Headlined by Michele Bachmann and David Barton

Right Wing Watch: Anti-Gay Groups Praise the Boy Scouts for Banning 'Individuals who Flaunt Unnatural Vice'

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Mike Huckabee is not necessarily a good ally for Chick-Fil-A

Media Matters: Conservative Media Attack The Muppets For Founding Company's Chick-Fil-A Rebuke

News Tidbits

Edge Boston: US Religious Right Presses Anti-Gay Laws in Africa

MSN: Jim Henson Company ends business relationship with Chick-fil-A over anti-gay views

Washington Post: Chick fil-A Appreciation Day’ announced by Mike Huckabee amidst gay marriage debate

The Advocate: Right Wing Says Judge Is a Lesbian, Should Be Off Marriage Case

Gaystar News: Family Research Council says Google is destroying values with gay rights

Gaystar News: Kenya bishop says gays are worse than terrorists

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lou Engle: "Since when can Muslims die better than Christians?"





Right Wing Watch reports that Lou Engle of TheCall and the International House of Prayer spoke at a recent gathering of the Ramp, a young adult ministry based out of Hamilton, AL. Engle spoke at the Ramp's Summer Awakening 1 conference on June 30th. In an excerpt posted at Right Wing Watch, Engle preached about a vision of gays and lesbians converting to Christianity and healing others of HIV.
"[Bob Jones] had a vision in 1989 of a first wave of homosexuals coming to Christ. A hundred thousand would be just the first wave, and it would come suddenly. I've dreamed of this before ... Men and women begin to pray that God would raise up Saul-like conversions in that community so powerful that they begin to be the preachers of righteousness in their own communities with radical salvations and healings of AIDS ... God, give us a hundred thousand gay and lesbian men and women to be radically transformed. Begin to pray it in your youth groups! Pray it in your schools! Pray it in your devotions! ... We're asking God, loose a movement, a divine breakthrough. Hundred thousand gay and lesbian men and women. Loose a sound that D.C. can't contend with. Loose a sound that the media can't contend with! Overflow the media with the sound of revival!"
Curious, I visited the Ramp website and listened to Engle's full sermon, available at theramp[dot]org/media/. What I heard was a sermon with unsettling rhetoric about Christian martyrdom, race, and abortion.

At the 2:51 mark, Engle reflected on the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, stunned that authorities were discouraging travelers from coming to Boston. He spoke approvingly of Christian martyrs of the past, asking if "Muslims can die better than Christians" today.
"The mayor of Boston, everybody, Ashcroft, attorney general of America, Dick-whatever-it-was, they're all saying, 'Don't come to Boston. That's where the planes came from. Don't come to Boston. It's not safe.' We're getting phone calls from youth groups and everything. 'We can't bring our kids. It's not safe.' And something began to rumble inside of me. Since when can Muslims die better than Christians? [Audience cheers] They go to hell, and we're going to waltz to heaven? Jesus never did say go make Christians. He said go make disciples, and if we don't produce these disciples, we produce an American cultural Christianity that doesn't even look like those guys who went to their martyrdom because they were gripped by a man, Christ Jesus."
At the 28:11 mark, Engle claimed that someone prophesied that he would be a "prophet to the nations" during a low point in his life. He used this story as an example of how God "hedges" people in, guiding them toward their destiny.
"Someone prophesied over me thirty years ago I'd be a prophet to the nations. I laughed because I'm thinking, I'm struggling with pornography, I'm mowing lawns making four dollars an hour. Thirty years later, I'm going to Brazil this year, I'm going to Geneva, I'm going to South Korea. How did he do it? Because he hedges us in, behind and before. It's not all up to you. God is with you."
Uh, Lou? You aren't a prophet to the nations. You're a preacher who happens to travel a lot. Okay?

Engle talked at length about how Hispanics could be a powerful force against abortion, as well as his ministry efforts with Hispanics through AVIVA. Engle has a history of discussing Hispanics as a new wave of world-changing believers and anti-abortion activists (see here). At the 46:35 mark, he speculated that the current immigration wars are meant to prevent Hispanics from realizing their spiritual destiny.
"A movement is sweeping California, and it might take four years, ten years, I don't know. But I have a feeling that the Hispanics are going to lead the parade of history, and all this immigration and all this stuff that's going on is actually to create an offense in the Hispanic people so they don't fulfil their destiny. God didn't bring them here to have a nice family and get a green card. He called them here because they still have family. They bring their fire from the south. They may bring revival, and you need to bless the Hispanic peoples coming into this nation. I'm not saying we shouldn't have righteous--what do you call it--immigration policy."
The fact that some Hispanics are pro-choice, and that many might not appreciate being cast as pawns in Engle's grand vision did not occur to him.

At the 52:24 mark, Engle warned that the "grace period" for abortion in the U.S. was running out. He claimed that the tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri in 2011 was a sign from God regarding abortion, a claim he's made before.
"I believe the grace period of abortion is running out in America, just like the grace period of slavery ran out ... When the Joplin tornado came last--a year and a half ago, I said to my friends, this is God's dealings with a nation that refused to stop abortion. A tornado is the sign. I didn't preach that. I didn't put it on YouTube. I didn't think that would be too popular, but the Missouri compromise is what issued forth things that led to the Civil War, and once again in Missouri God was dealing there was something going on here."
At the 59:28, Engle promoted the myth that Obama's health care reforms fund abortion. In keeping with anti-abortion rhetoric, he conflated emergency contraception with abortion, ignoring the fact that emergency contraception does not induce abortion (see here).
"And so Obamacare just gets past. Maybe you really like Obamacare. People can have health care, but for the first time, all of us are going to have to pay taxes to fund the greatest expansion of abortion in the history of our nation, including the morning-after pill. You will be paying in your taxes, from here on out, you will be paying for people to have the morning-after pill. That means a pill that kills the baby once the conception. You won't even need to have abortion clinics in the days ahead. In universities now they have vending machines that you can get the morning-pill. Do you even know what the morning-after pill is? The morning-after pill's the pill you take after you had sex and conceive and you try to kill the baby."
Engle continued to preach about God's disapproval of health care reform. At the 1:02:12, he claimed that, "On the day that Obamacare is passed, Colorado fires, which means the color red, breaks out ... Fires, heat, everywhere."

In short, Engle's speech at the Ramp gathering contained his usual troubling messages about disasters, race, abortion, and the LGBTQ community, but also a chilling message about Christian martyrdom. It is important for observers to keep an eye on the messages of preachers such as Engle, as they offer a glimpse of New Apostolic Reformation undercurrents.


For more information on the Ramp, visit www[dot]theramp[dot]org

To watch Engle's speech, visit theramp[dot]org/media/63012-saturday-7pm-message-summer-awakening-1/

Commentary Tidbits

Think Progress: Mike Huckabee: Keeping Gays Out Of Boy Scouts Will Protect Boys From Abuse

Freak Out Nation: “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”... And Rising Out of the Heartland

RH Reality Check: In Maryland, Free Speech Protects the Right of Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Lie to Women: An Analysis of the Baltimore CPC Case

Leaving Fundamentalism: Psychological Abuse, Torture, and Other Fun Bedtime Stories

The Advocate: Foods That Tony Perkins Can't Eat

News Tidbits

ABC News: Leader of US Orthodox Church Quits Amid Rape Claim

Der Spiegel: Spanish Baby-Snatching Victims Seek Answers and Justice

Gaystar News: Opus Dei member claims same-sex marriage will lead to exploitation of women in developing world

Washington Post: Evangelical scientists debate evolution online with Southern Baptist seminary professors

Washington Post: Amid political battle, Catholic bishops promote ‘natural’ family planning

Religious Right Blames Secularism for Colorado Massacre

THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS. I've had it with Religious Right figures blaming tragedies on America being too secular or insufficiently Christian. I've had it with right-wingers using human suffering to take cheap shots at gays, liberals, or whoever annoys them at the moment. I thought Religious Right voices had hit a new low when they used the Jerry Sandusky scandal in this manner (see here, here, and here), but they're also using the recent Colorado shootings this way as well.

During the early hours of July 20th, a gunman opened fire on movie-goers at a midnight showing of The Dark Night Rises at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, CO. The Washington Post reports that the massacre left 12 people dead and 59 injured. According to Reuters, Aurora police believe that the suspect, James Holmes, planned the attack in advanced, as suggested by months of deliveries to his work and home addresses.

My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by this tragedy. I cannot begin to imagine the horror that the victims experienced, or the anguish that their loved ones now carry. Why the shooter would perpetrate such a senseless massacre is beyond my grasp, and I hope he faces the full consequences of his bloodshed. Now is a time for empathy, for reflection, and for justice.

Sadly, and as usual, some voices from the Religious Right think that now is a time for pontificating.

During the July 20th edition of Istook Live!, Rep Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) suggested a connection between "attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs" and the Aurora attack. (Hat tip to Huffington Post. See www[dot]istook[dot]com/programhighlights)
"Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important. Whether it's John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people and totally inadequate to government of any others, Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters ... We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country ... What really gets me as a Christian is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place."
Gohmert also suggested that alleged indifference toward God was connected to such violence.
"Where was God in all of this? ... We've threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God's name, that they're going to be jailed. We had a principle and a superintendent down in--or a coach down in Florida that were theatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary, off-campus dinner ... Where was God? Well, what have we done with God? We told him we don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."
The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer weighed in as well. In a July 20th post at Rightly Concerned, Fischer blamed school secularization for everything from lower SAT scores to STDs to violence, including the Aurora violence. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. See www[dot]afa[dot]net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147524440)
"How many more mindless massacres like the one that took place last night in Aurora, Colorado will it take before we tell the ACLU and the Supreme Court to take a hike and we get back to unapologetically and publicly trusting in God?"
In a July 20th commentary at OneNewsNow, Jerry Newcombe also blamed secularization for the outburst of senseless violence.
"I can't help but feel that to some extent, we're reaping what we've been sowing as a society. We said to God, "Get out of the public arena." Lawsuit after lawsuit, often by misguided "civil libertarians," have chased away any fear of God in the land -- at least in the hearts of millions."
Newcombe speculated that a diminishing fear of hell could also fuel acts of violence.
"Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God. It's becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it's all over. But that's like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where's the fear of God in our society? I don't think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of Hell."
A member of the Phelps family added less articulate but equally appalling commentary to the public discussion. In a July 20th Twitter post, Westboro Baptist Church member Margie Phelps tweeted that the massacre was a "DIRECT result of filthy fag pride parade in Colo." (Hat tip to the New Civil Rights Movement. See twitter[dot]com/MargieJPhelps/statuses/226292172322926593?tw_p=twt)

I'm sick of this. I'm sick of the Religious Right using human suffering to take cheap shots at their opponents. I'm tired of their tasteless jabs, their lack of human decency, and their dominionist smugness. Spare us your rhetoric. For once in your lives, show some sensitivity in the face of tragedy.


For additional commentary, visit the following links.

SPLC Hatewatch: Gohmert Blames ‘Attacks on Judeo-Christian Beliefs’ for Colorado Massacre

Joe.My.God: Wingnut GOP Rep Blames CO Shooting On Attacks On Religious Freedom

The Maddow Blog: How Not to Respond to a Tragedy

Commentary Tidbits

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Homophobe compares gay equality to chicken pox

On Top Magazine: Scott Lively Says Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Aids Gay Agenda

Salon: Hey, Kirk Cameron, Learn Your Bible!

Inside Higher Ed: Defending Gay Studies

Kris the Sexy Atheist: F*** Purity Balls ... They're Creepy

The Nation: What's the Matter With Creationism?

Truth Wins Out: Alec Exeter: I Survived ‘Ex-Gay’ Exorcism

Freedom from Religion Foundation: Georgia school district ignores the U.S. Constitution

Jezebel: The Grassroots Anti-Contraception Movement to ‘Bring Sexy Back’

News Tidbits

Wisconsin Rapids Tribune: Judge: Man who plotted to kill abortion doctor ruled competent

Springfield News-Leader: Scott Lively urges fight against Springfield's anti-discrimination proposal

Gaystar News: American Family Association spokesman wants to strip children from gay parents

Edge Boston: Ex-Gay Group Head Now Says Practicing Gays Go to Heaven

Pink Paper: Campaign group launches action against ‘gay cures’

Xtra: Christian B&B discriminated against gay couple, BC tribunal rules

EU Observer: Anti-gay lobby in Brussels linked to US neocons

Pink News: UK venues which cancelled anti-gay marriage conference ‘like fascists’

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chick-fil-A: Too Chicken to Embrace Equality?

In a July 16th article, the Baptist Press profiled Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy. Chick-fil-A, a U.S. fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken, is an openly Christian organization that has been accused of employment discrimination and anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Cathy spoke of the history of the chain restaurant and the Christian ideas that permeate its culture. The article has drawn attention, however, because Cathy replied "guilty as charged" on the issue of Chick-fil-A's "support of the traditional family."
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
Cathy trumpeted his support for the opposite-sex marriage earlier this summer as well. On the June 18th edition of The Ken Coleman Show, Cathy accused people who do not value opposite-sex marriage of having a "prideful, arrogant attitude" at the 31:18 mark. Cathy said this in the context of a discussion on fatherless families, but his words may have referred to same-sex marriage supporters. (Hat tip to Good As You. See kencoleman[dot]podbean[dot]com/2012/06/18/6-16-strong-fathers-dan-cathy-dr-meg-meeker/)
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say 'we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."
Cathy's remarks have ignited a media firestorm, drawing both praise and criticism. CNN reports that Chick-fil-A's social media was a buzz with both supportive and angry comments. Amidst the firestorm, Chick-fil-A posted a statement on Facebook, stressing that their business culture strives ""to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."

This is not the first time Chick-fil-A has been accused of antipathy toward LGBTQ equality. Equality Matters reports that Chick-Fil-A's charitable arm, WinShape, has considerable sums to anti-gay Religious Right groups such as Exodus International, Family Research Council, and the Georgia Family Council. In 2011, Chick-fil-A was criticized for its connections to the anti-LGBTQ Pennsylvania Family Institute and "The Art of Marriage" seminar. Supporters of LGBTQ rights have protested Chick-fil-A in New York, Boston, Los AngelesTallahassee, Philadelphia, and other cities, citing its support for anti-LGBTQ groups.

High profile voices have taken Chick-fil-A to task for Cathy's remarks. For instance, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has vowed to ban Chick-fil-A from the Freedom Trail, asserting that Boston is an "open city" at the "forefront of inclusion," according to the Boston Herald. “If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” Menino warned. Additionally, Richard Tisei, who is running against Rep. John Tierney for a Massachusetts representative seat, told Politico that “nowadays most Americans recognize that in this country, everybody should be treated equally and fairly under the law," and that he probably wouldn't eat at Chick-fil-A.

Several pro-equality organizations have spoken out against Cathy's remarks as well. Human Rights Campaign criticized Dan Cathy's statements and is encouraging supporters to sign a pledge condemning Chick-fil-A's antics. Also, in a July 20th press release, People for the American Way president Michael Keegan criticized Chick-fil-A supporting anti-gay groups.
"Chick-fil-A said that ‘going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.’ Left unsaid is that the company pours millions of dollars into anti-gay groups that work in the political arena to change the government’s policy on same-sex marriage. But it gets worse. Many of these groups not only oppose marriage equality, they’re actively promoting bigotry and opposing efforts to end anti-gay discrimination and bullying."
Naturally, some Religious Right voices have rushed to Chick-fil-A's defense. Writing at the Cloakroom blog of FRC Action, Congressman Joe Pitts defended Chick-fil-A, insisting that it is not a "discriminating or hateful organization." He praised the restaurant for "running a family-oriented business model" and celebrating the "traditional family structure." (See www[dot]thecloakroomblog[dot]com/2012/07/in-defense-of-chick-fil-a/)

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) also weighed in. In a July 19th post at the NOM blog, NOM called Dan Cathy a "corporate hero for marriage." (See www[dot]nomblog[dot]com/25473/) In another post, Brian Brown encouraged readers to  participate in Mike Huckabee's "National Eat at Chik-fil-A Day" on July 25th. (See www[dot]nomblog[dot]com/25694/)

Ever the homophobe, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association lambasted the "gay lobby" for its anger at Chick-fil-A. In a July 19th column at Rightly Concerned, Fischer accused "hatemongers of the homosexual movement" of seeking to obliterate Chick-fil-A. He used his usual hyperbolic language to paint pro-LGBTQ advocates as hateful voices, not Cathy. (See www[dot]afa[dot]net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147524385)
"Gay activists are not interested in debate. They have a singular goal: to punish, silence, neutralize, marginalize and destroy anyone who defends the institution of natural marriage against deviant counterfeits. Hell hath no fury like a woman-who-thinks-she’s-a-man scorned."
Rather than embrace the reality that same-sex marriage and diverse families are acceptable, Cathy and his defenders cling to a narrow definition of family. Chick-fil-A's right-wing leanings have never been secret, but for the company's COO to publicly admit such leanings will have large repercussions. By alienating customers who support LGBTQ equality, Chick-fil-A may have dealt itself a serious blow.


To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: Chick-Fil-A Stands Firm On Support For Hate Groups

Good As You: Chick-fil-A's flippant response to years of LGBT controversy: 'Guilty as charged'

The New Civil Rights Movement: NOM Joins ‘National Eat At Chick-Fil-A Day’ — ‘Neutral’ Demand Ditched?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A New Bible Museum in Washington D.C.

A new museum of the Bible is coming to Washington D.C. within the next four years. The New York Times reports that the museum is the brainchild of Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby. The museum's collection will reportedly include more than 30,000 items, such as illuminated biblical manuscripts, ancient papyri, and Torahs. Among items in the Green collection are the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, and the earliest known translation of Psalms.

Green told the New York Times that “The goal is to create a museum around the story of the Bible." He claimed that “No book has been persecuted as much or loved as much. Its incredible story needs to be told.”

While a museum devoted to the Bible is intriguing, several facts surrounding the museum give me pause. First, the Washington Post reports that the CEO of the Museum of the Bible is Cary Summers, a consultant on the Creation Museum's planned Noah's Ark.

Second, Hobby Lobby and the Green family are publicly Christian and have a history of ties with Religious Right groups. According to Hobby Lobby's statement of purpose, the board of directors are to honor God by "operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles." Hobby Lobby has endured because of "God's grace and provision," the statement claims.

Hobby Lobby regularly buys full-page newspaper ads that promote Christian messages. For instance, in 2012, Hobby Lobby ran an Independence Day ad entitled "In God We Trust," featuring quotes that promoted the idea of a "Christian nation." (See www[dot]hobbylobby[dot]com/holiday_messages/holiday_messages.cfm)

Among Hobby Lobby's affiliated companies are Mardel, a Christian store chain, and Every Tribe Entertainment, a Christian film studio based in Studio City, CA. Every Other Tribe's film offerings include Blink of an Eye, about a Muslim princess escaping "her veiled existence" and a forced marriage, and 1 Soul, about an African woman who must "confront the deceptions of ancient tribal beliefs and battle demonic forces" that seek to subjugate her. (See www[dot]everytribe[dot]com)

Mart Green, CEO of Every Tribe Entertainment, produced two films about the Waorani tribe of Ecuador, Beyond the Gates of Splendor and End of the Spear. A 2007 commentary at Daily Kos argues that the films do a disservice to the Waorani people.
"Probably the best term for them is "Injun Exploitation"--the two movies produced by [Mart Green] are "End Of The Spear" and "Beyond The Gates of Splendor", both of which focus on the religious conversion of the Waorani people of Ecuador.  Sadly, the Waorani people are often used as a sort of "Wild Man of the Amazon" type show by dominionists (you know, the sort that went out of fashion at carnival sideshows back in the 40's) where they are pimped as "The Most Violent People In The World"; Ron Luce's "Teen Mania" group actually used the movie "End Of The Spear" as a lead-in for one of his "Wild Man of the Amazon" shows with a converted Waorani.  (The truth about the Waorani people is far sadder.  The Waorani are among the most endangered indigenous peoples on the planet, in large part due to missionaries invading their lands often in conjunction with oil companies; their population has declined rapidly, from 25,000 people in the 1950s (when originally contacted by missionaries and when they fought to remain uncontacted (outsiders are literally seen as cannibals by the Waorani)--the subject of the "Injun Exploitation" films) to only 2000 today.)"
The Green family behind Hobby Lobby has a history of ties with conservative religious groups. In 2007, the Green family pledged a $70 million donation to Oral Roberts University, according to Tulsa World. The Greens have also donated a $10.5 million building to Liberty University, as well as a 170-acre ranch to Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

The idea of a Bible museum is fascinating, as the Bible has a long and rich history. However, the involvement of the Green family and Cary Summers makes me nervous about what messages the museum could possibly send. Will the museum depict the Bible in a historically accurate manner, or will a religious agenda be present?

I would welcome a Bible museum that explored the Bible's evolution through history, noting how scribal additions, translations, and social climate have affected its content. The Bible is not a single static document, but a dynamic collection of documents that evolved over centuries and cultures. If the proposed Museum of the Bible takes this approach, I will be relieved. However, given the conservative Christian roots of the Greens, I wonder if a more fundamentalist vision of the Bible will prevail.



For an overview of the Green family and its ties with conservative Christian groups, check out these commentaries  at Talk to Action and Daily Kos. For additional commentary on the Bible museum, visit the following links.

Salty Eggs: Mr. Jesus Goes to Washington

Friendly Atheist: Washington D.C. Will Be Home to 'Bible Museum'

Friday, July 13, 2012

1 Flesh Demonizes Contraception

AlterNet recently posted a commentary on 1 Flesh, a Christian anti-contraception website that uses hip, irreverent aesthetics to reach young people. Amidst bright colors, snarky pictures, and slang, the message of the 1 Flesh website is a familiar one, promoting heterosexual marriage and rejecting birth control.

1 Flesh claims that its members want to reclaim "sexy" by seeking out "awesome marriages and mind-blowing sex lives." The website claims that it wants to see women and men treated with respect, and sex to free of fear and exploitation.

The 1 Flesh website criticizes older generations because "they lost it," succumbing to divorce, STDs, abortion, pornography, sexual objectification, and sexual assault. Seeing social ills such as STDs and sexual violence lumped together with morally neutral acts such as divorce and abortion is revealing, as it says volumes about 1 Flesh's worldview. All of these problems, 1 Flesh insists, are rooted in contraception, which the group blames for everything from unhappy marriages to environmental harm.
"[Contraception] is a dangerous idea. It’s dangerous because artificial contraception is heavily promoted by big pharmaceutical companies — like Bayer Corp. — and contraception providers — like Planned Parenthood. It’s dangerous because it’s not an idea supported by those in power. But most of all, it’s dangerous because it’s true.

We found, by looking at the best available analysis from sociology, medicine, philosophy and economics, that the widespread use of artificial contraception has failed to decrease STD prevalence, increased the global rate of HIV, seriously harmed the environment, screwed up relationships, and is strongly correlated with increased divorces, abortions, and unplanned pregnancies. We found that hormonal contraception significantly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, heart disease, and may very well be lowering her sex drive. We found that the safety and effectiveness artificial contraception is often falsely advertised by pharmaceutical companies, and that the health benefits of hormonal contraception are totally exaggerated."
To back up its claims, 1 Flesh makes specious arguments. For example, the website claims that the U.S. divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1976, the same time that birth control pills became available. Therefore, it concludes, contraception contributed to higher divorce rates, using the correlation-equals-causation fallacy. The fact that social attitudes toward sex, marriage, and reproduction as a whole were changing during that era was not considered. (Post hoc ergo propter hoc, anyone?) Furthermore, the website assumes that divorce is always a negative event, which is not necessarily true.

In another section, 1 Flesh claims that condoms spoil sexual pleasure for couples (all of whom are assumed to be opposite sex). Condoms, they argue, detract from the biological nurturing that takes place during the sex act. Hilariously, 1 Flesh defends condomless sex by claiming that semen provides women with vitamins and nutrients!
"Likewise, condoms prevent the natural, beneficial effect a man has on his partner’s reproductive system. A major cause of female infertility is zinc deficiency. A man’s semen supplies this vital nutrient to his wife, as well as ascorbic acid, blood-group antigens, calcium, chlorine, cholesterol, choline, citric acid, creatine, fructose, glutathione, lactic acid, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, sorbitol, and vitamin B12 — all important to a woman’s reproductive health."
The absurdity doesn't stop there. In a 1 Flesh blog post entitled "9 Reasons Ovulation is Pretty Much Witchcraft," the group claims that women should let their bodies ovulate because it supposedly makes them more beautiful, improves the way they smell, increases their brain matter, and strengthens their gaydar.

Okay, I'm starting to wonder if this is a Poe, I thought.

Unfortunately, 1 Flesh's rhetoric could have devastating consequences for those who have been inundated with misinformation about sexual health. In a commentary piece at Alternet, Amanda Marcotte points out that discouraging women from using contraceptives can have negative consequences in the absence of sexual health knowledge.
"In reality, a sexually active woman who uses no contraception has an 85% chance of getting pregnant within a year. Anti-contraception activists go out of their way to conceal this fact, hoping women feel that their risks of skipping contraception are much lower than they are. It would be laughable if the only audience for this anti-contraception propaganda were folks with good sex education and a solid knowledge of how effective contraception really is. Unfortunately, they’re speaking to a larger audience already rife with misinformation about contraception and fertility; an audience that might not like the anti-sex message, but could be influenced by the anti-contraception one."
In its rush to demonize contraception, 1 Flesh fails to make convincing arguments as to how contraception allegedly leads to sexual objectification, divorce, and a host of unrelated problems. In their rush to generalize all contraception as unhealthy, they ignore the fact that many kinds of contraception exist, each with their own side effects and benefits. To boot, the alternative to using contraception -- repeated unwanted pregnancies and STD transmission -- can lead to far more health problems and psychological stress for women and couples. In their rush to blame contraceptives for environmental harm, they ignore the devastating environmental impact that explosive population growth could (and is) having on the planet. In short, by turning birth control into a bogeyman, 1 Flesh ignores the profound importance for individuals and society as a whole to be able to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease transmission.

1 Flesh needs a reality check. Despite their promises, abstaining from contraception will not magically make sex and relationships better. That tasks falls to open communication, mutual respect, trust, consent, self-knowledge, sensuality, and creativity. By telling young people that abstaining from contraception leads to stellar sex and romance, I fear that 1 Flesh is setting them up for disappointment ... not to mention unpleasant surprises in the form of unwanted pregnancies and disease.

To learn more, visit the 1 Flesh website.

After Freeh Report, Homophobes Allege "Homosexual Aspect" of Sandusky Scandal

In 2011, the Special Investigations Task Force of the Penn State University Board of Trustees asked former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm to investigate of Penn State's response to former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's child abuse. On July 12th, Louis Freeh introduced their findings at a press conference, during which Freeh lamented the "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims" by leaders at Penn State University, according to Pennlive. The Freeh report alleges that President Spanier, coach Joe Paterno, and other Penn State leaders hid facts related to Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse from the public, the authorities, and the Penn State Board of Trustees.

These claims should make all of us angry. Not only did Jerry Sandusky sexually abuse multiple boys, but powerful men in his institution concealed his wrongdoing and failed to hold him accountable. The Freeh report is an opportunity to talk about the role of institutions in child sexual abuse and demand greater accountability from leaders. At times like this, some Religious Right voices prefer to take swipes at gays, unfortunately.

Republic of Gilead has discussed how Religious Right figures have used the Sandusky scandal as an excuse to promote homophobia (see here and here). This pattern of homophobia continues. In a One News Now article on the Freeh report, Dianne Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania stated "Through all this we cannot ignore the fact that Jerry Sandusky's victims were all young boys. We can't ignore the homosexual aspect of this." She insisted that during Spanier's time as president, "he has brought more and more homosexual-oriented programming and events to the campus than ever before."

The article also quotes Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action. Barber rightly criticized Penn State leaders for ignoring abuse in the name of protecting the football program. Unfortunately, he also promoted homophobia when he told One News Now "Anytime homosexuality is involved -- even though in this case it's a homosexual predator preying on children -- people seem to have this innate fear that they are going to be crushed by the sexual anarchist lobby if they speak out against it."

How many times do we need to say it? Homosexuality and child abuse are two different things. There is a HUGE difference between sex between consenting adults, and the intrinsically destructive abuse of children. This was a child sexual abuse scandal, not a homosexuality scandal. Until the Religious Right grasps this simple concept, they will continue to demonize LGBTQ people, ignore the real roots of sexual abuse, and exploit the suffering of sexual abuse victims.

Would you excuse me? I need to scream now.


To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Religious right exploiting Sandusky's crime to hurt gay community

Truth Wins Out: Beyond the Pale: Bigot Leaders Blaming Gays For Jerry Sandusky’s Crimes

Monday, July 9, 2012

Betty Bowers Explains Abortion to Everyone Else

Betty Bowers takes on the anti-abortion crowd in another irreverent video!


News Tidbits

Washington Post: Teens suffered abuses at Legion school; Vatican urged to close program

New York Times: Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced

Yahoo News: Hoping to add a life-size ark project, Creation Museum museum hits fundraising trouble

Toronto Sun: Mormons Quit in Mass Resignation

Raw Story: Alabama pastors conference invites only ‘white Christians’

Lancaster Online: Atheist files complaint over restaurant's Sunday promotion

Commentary Tidbits

London Evening Standard: My gay escape from U.S. Christians trying to 'cure' my homosexuality

Good As You: One of the most reprehensible 'advice' columns you'll ever read

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Catholic Church has no room to attack same-sex parenting

Indian Country Today: Anti-Indians-Blacks-Muslims-Gays-Grizzly Bears-Mormons Guy Wants Mandatory Church Attendance or ‘Atheists’ Tax’

Joe.My.God: Hate Group Leader Bradlee Dean Ordered To Pay Rachel Maddow's Defense Fees

Wall of Separation: Louisiana Revelation: School Voucher Funding – It’s Not Just For Christians Any More

Salon: I Was a Right-Wing Child Star

Love, Joy, Feminism: Debi Pearl Is Not Very Nice

Kris the Sexy Atheist: World Peas, Global Worming, and da Bible

Speaking When the World Sleeps: Reclaiming bitter: I am, and I have every right to it

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Christian Blogger Claims IHOP is a Cult

While hunting for commentary pieces for an earlier Commentary Tidbits post, I stumbled across a blog called the Gospel Masquerade. Ariel, the website's author, is a Christian blogger who wrote about her negative experiences with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a prominent New Apostolic Reformation organization. Even though the Gospel Masquerade is now inactive, it provides hard-hitting commentary on IHOP's theology and practices.

In a 2009 post entitled "Why I Believe IHOP is a Cult", Ariel argues that IHOP qualifies as a cult, recounting her difficult experiences as an IHOP intern . She claims that IHOP charged interns exorbant fees, exerted rigid control over interns' behavior, pressured interns to recruit new members, and taught an elitist religious message. Furthermore, she alleges that IHOP head Mike Bickle is a charismatic leader who has placed himself on a pedestal.
"Over and over and over again I’ve heard it said (both directly by Mike as well as from others) that he (Mike) would be the leader of a movement that “changed the nature and expression of Christianity in the earth”. Every time, all recognition points to Mike. His “mission” to transform the church and capture the hearts of America’s youth has been his declared goal since the early 1980’s. One of the major dangers is that these grandious [sic] sounding claims and “prophetic” words are laden with flattery, narcissism, elitism and are a perfect guise under which anything Mike introduces through IHOP can fall under the heading of being a “new thing” God is doing.

This elitist teaching puts Mike on a pedestal and he has a Messianic-like devoted following of people who would do anything if he told them to without a moment of questioning or hesitation ... Mike has an alluring charisma and many seem to be instantly drawn to his convincing appearance of direction and purpose. He teaches with passion and emotion rather than truth and its that charisma that draws and hooks people causing many to blindly follow (and defend) his message."
Ariel claims that interns suffer spiritual and emotional trauma during their tenure at IHOP, and that some are bereft once they exit the IHOP environment.
"Once outside of the IHOP environment, they are terrified and overwhelmed by the “real” world and don’t know how to function in it when they’ve been in an intensive internship environment. There is a degree of re-acclimating to normal life that feels like an IHOP detox afterward. It’s a severe emotional drop because the hyped up services and conferences that were your manna are now gone and when there is no prayer room, your life in God feels empty and lifeless. Many simply don’t know how to engage with God in a real day-to-day basis once they’ve left. I experienced this and heard the exact same thing from a handful of my friends after they left IHOP and the internship. At that point when disillusionment sets in, I know many interns that walked away from God completely upon leaving the internship and went back into lifestyles worse than the ones they left when they came to IHOP originally."
A quick internet search shows that Ariel is not the only person who had made such allegations. According to a 2011 article in the New York Times, a former IHOP student claims that she was asked to leave after she challenged the instructors' teachings on "signs and wonders." Other former students claim that isolation and excessive sensory information compromised their independent thinking skills.

Other critics are Christians who take issue with IHOP's theology and practices. Christian blogs such as Slaughter of the Sheep look askance at IHOP, and a 2008 discussion in Soulforce's online forum explores whether or not IHOP's practices are cultlike.

Friday, July 6, 2012

For the Last Time, the Sandusky Scandal is NOT about Gays

On June 22nd, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts related to sexual abuse of children, according to CNN. Since the scandal emerged, Religious Right figures have used the Sandusky controversy to attack the LGBT community, falsely conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Even after Sandusky's guilty verdict, some Religious Right voices continue to spout the same dangerous homophobic rhetoric.

First, Right Wing Watch reports that Kevin Swanson of Generations with Vision Ministries used the Sandusky case to take swipes at the LGBTQ community. During the July 2nd edition of Generations Radio with Kevin Swanson entitled "The Shame of Sandusky and the Classical Greek University," Swanson made a convoluted argument about how Greco-Roman pedastery, passed down through humanism, is allegedly undermining society. He insisted that Western civilization is "coming to an end" due to excessive humanist influence passed down from Greek and Roman culture. "A man-centered way of looking at things is not going to survive," he said. (See www[dot]oneplace[dot]com/ministries/generations-radio/listen/the-shame-of-sandusky-and-the-classical-greek-university-christian-ministries-soften-on-homosexuality-289817.html)

Swanson discussed a USA Today commentary that drew parallels between the Sandusky case and child abuse in the Catholic church. He cited both sex abuse scandals as supposed evidence that major institutions are "rotting" and that society as a whole is plagued by "rottenness of entire social systems." He contrasted the supposed depravity of modern society with the supposed virtue of the early Pilgrims, whom he claimed had extremely small rates of divorce, fornication, homosexuality, and child molestation. Hearing Swanson lump morally neutral acts such as divorce, pre-marital sex, and same-sex intimacy in the same moral category as child abuse disgusted me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mother Nature Has a Bawdy Sense of Humor

Last year, I found a phallic cherry tomato in my vegetable garden. This evening, I harvest a golden beet shaped like a hairy butt! Why does Mother Nature insist on giving me obscenely-shaped produce!?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Saturday at Creation 2012 (UPDATED)

Ichthys atop an SUV at
the Creation 2012 campgrounds
On Saturday, June 30th, I attended Creation 2012 Northeast at the Agape Farm in Mt. Union, PA. Creation is an annual Christian music festival that takes place at two U.S. venues: an eastern venue in Pennsylvania, and a western venue at Enumclaw, WA. Sponsored by Liberty University and World Vision, Creation 2012 featured music, speakers, prayer gatherings, and nonprofit groups for three days in the Pennsylvania countryside. I attended the festival to see what, if any, Religious Right influences were present, but fortunately such influences did not dominate the event.

The drive to Agape Farm Center took me across southern Pennsylvania's lush landscape of rolling hills, forests, and farmland. When I arrived at the Creation 2012 entrance, I was asked to fill out a waiver form with my name, address, and telephone number, the first time I've ever had to do so to attend a festival. Once inside, the first things I saw were thousands of tents, RVs and buses surrounding the festival grounds. Thousands of people had camped out on-site to enjoy the three-day festival, and visitors had to navigate around the tent city to reach the festivities. Teens were splashing in one of Agape's streams, while families were grilling their lunches and trying to stay cool.

Baptisms in the Agape Farm pond
Past the tent city was the main stage, where the festival's most prominent acts performed. Smaller stages dotted the festival map, as did clearings in the nearby woods where speakers were scheduled to talk. In one wooded clearing, a shofar bellowed as a drumming circle played. Pastors were baptizing dozens of believers among the foxtails in Agape Farm's pond. In an area dedicated to group prayer, believers prayed with their hands on each others shoulders, clustered near men holding signs that read "FAMILY ISSUES" or "MEDICAL ISSUES." World Vision welcomed visitors into a tent exhibit on HIV in Africa. Food vendors sold delicacies such as bison burgers, chicken kabobs, fair trade coffee, ice cream, chocolate-dipped frozen cheesecake slices, and more.

Housed within several barns were merchants and nonprofit groups. To escape the oppressive heat, I walked through the shady barns, where vendors, Christian colleges, and nonprofits drew attendees to their tables. The vendors were a cross-section of Christian life, representing both conservative and progressive Christians.