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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

News Tidbits

Gallup: Frequent Church Attendance Highest in Utah, Lowest in Vermont

The Guardian: Oklahoma educators fear high school history bill will have 'devastating' impact

Religion News Service: Evangelicals pull support for Portland church over LGBT stance

Huffington Post: Gay Rights Group Excluded From CPAC Yet Again 

Associated Press: Pope's sex abuse point man urges bishop accountability

Georgia Voice: Former Atlanta fire chief alleges religious discrimination in federal lawsuit against city, mayor

My Fox Detroit: Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple's baby

ABC 13: Evangelist many claim works miracles coming to Houston

Commentary Tidbits

Chris Hedges at Truth Dig: Killing Ragheads for Jesus

Corner of Church and State: Education & age divide American religion

Los Angeles Times: Oklahoma Legislature votes to dumb down its kids

Presbyterian Record: Does a Church Setting Attract and Foster Narcissistic Behaviour?

Houston Press: Houston Chronicle Unknowingly Runs Faked Photo Provided by Dead-Raisin' Evangelical Ministry

Salon: The steep human cost of the Christian right’s hostility toward science

Human Rights Campaign: Nine Times the Duggar Family Stood Against LGBT Equality

The Daily Beast: My Church Told Me to Pray Away the Gay

The Advocate: My Home Is Alive With 'The Sounds of Sodomy?'

The Guardian: Could we please not forgive Sarah Palin? She is an unrepentant nightmare

Right Wing Watch: Klingenschmitt: Anti-Gay Bakers Are Blessing The Gay Community By 'Refusing To Participate In Their Acts Of Sodomy' 

"48 Hours" to Cover Bethany Deaton's Death

The February 21st edition of 48 Hours will discuss the 2012 death of Bethany Deaton and the religious group run by her husband, Tyler Deaton. In late 2014, Jackson County prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Bethany's friend, Micah Moore. As you may recall, Moore and the Deatons were closely associated with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a New Apostolic Reformation ministry based out of Kansas City, Missouri. Tune in at 10:00 p.m. this evening to watch 48 Hours.

Boze Herrington, who blogs at Sketches by Boze, will be live-tweeting the 48 Hours show at 10:00 p.m. Eastern this evening. Boze knew the Deatons and was interviewed for the upcoming edition of 48 Hours.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pope Francis Calls Childless People "Selfish"

Pope Francis has had much to say about reproduction as of late, not all of it consistent. Earlier this year, the Pope's apparent support for family planning generated controversy. During his January trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis states that believers do not have to "make children in series", stressing the importance of "responsible parenthood". "God gives you methods to be responsible," he said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. "Some think that -- excuse the word -- that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No."

Were Pope Francis' comments a subtle show of support for family planning? Were they a form of "pregnancy shaming" toward women who bear multiple children? Were they an example of blatant hypocrisy from a pontiff whose church forbids contraception and abortion, which prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place? His statement has many implications.

In contrast to his Philippines statements, Pope Francis' recent address urged people to bear children, lest they be branded as "selfish". Vatican Radio posted a transcript of Pope Francis' February 11th catechesis, in which he waxed poetic about children as "gifts".
"Children are the joy of family and society. They are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of many ways to realize oneself in life. Let alone their parent’s possession. Children are a gift. Do you understand? Children are a gift!"
Later in the catechesis, Pope Francis criticized "depressed" societies that fail to breed with gusto, chiding people who see children as a burden. He called the choice to remain childless "selfish", insisting that children bring happiness to their parents.
"However, even a society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society.

Just think of the many societies we know here in Europe.  They are depressed societies because they don’t want children, they don’t have children.  The birth rate doesn’t even reach 1%, why? Everyone should think about that and answer it personally.

If a generous family of children is viewed as if it were a burden, there is something wrong! As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI teaches, but having more children cannot be automatically viewed as an irresponsible choice. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished! Children learn to take charge of their family, they mature in the sharing of sacrifices, and they grow in appreciation of its gifts. The experience of joyful fraternity animates the respect and care of parents, who are due our gratitude."
The hypocrisy of a childless, celibate cleric calling other childless people "selfish" boggles the mind. Equally boggling is Pope Francis' oblivious attitude toward childbearing. Women who bear many children are chided for breeding like "rabbits", while people who chose not to have children are derided as "selfish". Catholics can't win!

As a childfree person, I'm sick of sanctimonious busybodies calling those who choose not to have children "selfish". Children should be wanted, not created out of duty or shame. Let me remind Pope Francis and other know-it-alls why some people are not parents.

No desire for children. Some people simply don't want offspring. It's just a fact. Why pressure people to become parents when they draw no enjoyment from children?

Wrong temperament for parenthood. Some people lack the emotional stability, maturity, stamina, patience, or nurturing heart needed to raise children. Despite Pope Francis' insistence that parenthood is universally good, some people shouldn't be parents.

Overpopulation. Our planet is groaning under the weight of 7 billion people and growing. Renouncing parenthood is a sensible decision when the human race can't even care for all its members right now.

Insufficient money. In these economically difficult times, not everyone can afford children. Food, clothing, toys, day care, medical care, and a college education cost money, which not everyone has in abundance. A church leader who lives in opulence at the Vatican is in no position to order struggling people to bear children and thereby undermine their financial stability.

Health issues. Pregnancy is physically demanding, even for healthy women. Health problems such as gestational diabetes and blood pressure spikes are worrisome enough, much less dangerous complications such as eclampsia and uterine rupture. Some women simply cannot carry a pregnancy without endangering their health or lives.

Other priorities. Some people simply don't have the time to raise children because other aspects of their lives -- career, community life, caring for relatives, monastic vows -- take higher priority.

Inappropriate environment for children. People who live in harsh environments might not want to subject a child to their struggles. People living in war zones, ecologically devastated areas, and impoverished communities have valid reasons for postponing or foregoing parenthood.

Despite his PR efforts, Pope Francis' mask is slipping. Underneath the facade of an enlightened pope is a retrograde church elder who still refuses to live in the 21st century. Pope Francis' Humanum address, his statement to the Pontifical Council for Culture, and now his comments on parenthood have revealed his true colors.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Love, Joy, Feminism: Pope Tries to Have It Both Ways on Family Size

Progressive Secular Humanist: Childfree Pope Francis says not having children is ‘selfish’

The Inquisitr: Pope Francis: Not Having Children Is A ‘Selfish Choice’

News Tidbits

New York Times: Mormon Church Expels Outspoken Critic

Religion News Service: Ousted “Bling Bishop” makes soft landing in Vatican

Gay Star News: Republican presidential hopefuls appear in documentary that claims gay activists want to ban Christianity

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News: New Jersey judge excludes key ‘conversion’ therapy experts in SPLC consumer fraud case 

Huffington Post: Tennessee Lawmaker Wants Bible To Be The State Book

Huffington Post: Threats And Targeted Intimidation Against Abortion Clinic Staff Have Significantly Increased Since 2010

On Faith: A Q&A with the Benham Brothers

The Guardian: Oklahoma bill provides immunity for clergy refusing to conduct gay marriages

WITF: Court nixes faith-based birth control mandate challenge

Kansas City Star: Kansas lawmakers hold hearings on saving marriage from ‘degeneration of the culture’

Commentary Tidbits

The Immanent Frame: Keeping sex sexy: American evangelicalism and the problem of sexuality

People for the American Way: Religious Liberty: Shield or Sword?

Pew Research Center: On Darwin Day, 5 facts about the evolution debate

Slate: Trouble in Creationist Paradise

On Faith: Hey Biblical Literalists, Stop Disparaging Darwin

Slaktivist: American Family Association ‘repudiates’ what it’s been saying for years (and what it’s still saying)

Religion News Service: Christian schools scapegoat LGBT youth and it’s time it stops

Think Progress: San Francisco’s New Version Of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The Independent: Meet Stephen Green, the right-wing Christian Voice leader who went on a homophobic tirade against Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch

"Fifty Shades of Grey" and Religious Right Hypocrisy

The release of the Fifty Shade of Grey film, based on the erotic novel by E.L. James, has generated controversy and protests over the film's BDSM content and its depiction of an unhealthy relationship. Twitter hashtag campaigns such as #50ShadesIsAbuse and #50dollarsNot50Shades urge movie-goers to donate money to domestic violence shelters instead of seeing the film. Anti-violence activists have called for a boycott of the film, arguing that Fifty Shades of Grey glorifies domestic violence.  For example, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite argues that eroticized violence such as that depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey is symptomatic of a larger social pathology.
"Eroticized violence in fiction, whether in films or novels, is treacherous because it promotes the idea that women desire to be treated violently. Violence against women then becomes part of the very construction of the nature of love and desire in societies, orchestrating the eroticizing of bodily pain itself and deadening the impulses to compassion and empathy."
I'm pleased that the film is encouraging public discussion about domestic violence. We need to call out the entertainment industry when it sugar-coats unhealthy relationships. We need to ask the hard questions about BDSM. We need to ask ourselves how societal forces shape our sexuality, and what healthy, consensual sexuality looks like.

However, conservative religious leaders have condemned the film as well, using its release as an opportunity to speak out against gender-based violence. Given the Religious Right's poor track record on violence against women, I found these commentary pieces highly ironic.

First, in a February 9th press release, the American Family Association accused the film of glamorizing abuse. AFA president Tim Wildmon observed that the main character's relationship features many red flags for abuse. (Hat tip to Progressive Secular Humanist.)
"...the film glorifies abusive relationships and glamorizes abusive tendencies such as stalking, bondage sex, intimidation and isolation. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control’s standards of emotional abuse and sexual violence include nearly every one of the interactions between the two main characters. Both movie theaters and moviegoers can stand up to this kind of disgusting content that’s touted as ‘entertainment’ and choose not to show or pay to see the film."
Lisa Anderson, Director of Young Adults for Focus on the Family, slammed the film for denigrating women. "Enough with the exploitation, enough with the degradation of women, I mean here we are in outcry in all other times to say women should be honored and respected and treated as equals," she told KOAA 5.

Catholic leaders have warned against watching the film as well. In a February 10th Facebook post, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr called the film "a direct assault on Christian marriage". (Hat tip to the Cincinnati Enquirer.)
"The movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, is scheduled to debut in theaters across America on February 13, 2015. The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable. In the story line, a young Miss Steele is urged to sign a contract becoming a sex slave and agreeing to an abusive and degrading relationship. This movie is in direct contrast to the Christian message of God’s design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy. The movie is a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God’s people. We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God’s design for loving relationships between a husband and wife in the bond of marriage."
In a February 4th statement, Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, did not mince words. Malone called the film "a graphic portrayal of a young woman agreeing to be abused and degraded in a sexual relationship." The film serves as an opportunity to remind believers about the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality, he wrote. (Hat tip to Religion News Service.)

"This is an opportunity for us to remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation."
I want to take these condemnations of violence against women seriously, but I can't. I've seen too many examples of Religious Right apathy and callousness toward victims to believe that they're changing their tune now.

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when its most prominent members were attacking the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when proponents of complementarianism repeatedly covered their rear ends during high-profile domestic abuse scandals, instead of asking hard questions about the relationship between sexist gender roles and violence against women?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when churches and commentators demonstrated insensitive attitudes toward domestic violence victims?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when several Christian Patriarchy proponents were accused of mistreating women and girls?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when one of its most celebrated academic institutions was accused of failing rape victims?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when its members, especially anti-abortion activists, made grossly insensitive statements about sexual assault, time and time again?

If the Religious Right truly cared about violence against women, it would jettison its misogynist attitudes, treat victims with respect, and support policies that aid victims. It would promote a vision of equality and justice. Until the Religious Right takes those steps, I cannot take its current statements seriously. Condemning one film isn't enough.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links. Trigger warning!

Melinda Tankard Reist: Sadistic abuse is not romantic

Huffington Post: What We Learn From Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey

Medium: Fifty Shades of Grey Unmasked

Salon: “50 Shades” of coercive sex: The movie is even worse than the book

Monday, February 9, 2015

Commentary Tidbits

Out from Under the Umbrella: Atheist Outrage: Checking Your Christian Privilege

Freedom from Religion Foundation: Nothing fails like a National Prayer Breakfast

Sarah Over the Moon: 16 Things That Happened When I Went to The Creation Museum

The Guardian: 'It's never the science itself': Why the right questions climate and vaccines

Washington Post: Jindal: ‘The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President.’

Huffington Post: "Wage War To Restore a Christian America", Urged Pastor Behind Reince Priebus' RNC Israel Trip

Right Wing Watch: Mike Huckabee: Gay Marriage 'Lies' Reminiscent Of Nazi Germany

News Tidbits

USA Today: Noah's Ark park officials plan to sue Kentucky 

Talking Points Memo: Huckabee: Muslims Are The Only Group To Have Obama's 'Undying' Support

UPI: Pope Francis: It's OK to spank kids, just don't humiliate them

Reuters: Clergy sexual abuse victim criticizes pope over spanking remark

Georgia Voice: Anti-gay former Atlanta fire chief compares himself to Jesus Christ at sermon

The Advocate: Leading Homophobe Scott Lively Considers Run for Congress

Raw Story: Tucker Carlson: ‘We don’t have slavery in the world today’ thanks to Christianity

Raw Story: Fox ‘historian’: More evidence than atheists ‘would ever imagine’ that Jonah was ‘swallowed by a whale’

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Women's Cultures" Reminds Us that the Catholic Church Is Still Out of Touch with Women

As of late, Catholic leaders have been showing their true colors regarding their attitudes toward women. For example, the 2014 Humanum conference was brimming with retrograde messages about gender complimentarity, marriage, and family. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke drew ire earlier this year when he decried the "feminized" atmosphere of the church. Now, the Catholic Church is being ridiculed for a misguided conference on women's issues at the Vatican last week.

The Pontifical Council for Culture hosted a plenary assembly entitled "Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference" on February 4-7 in Rome, Italy. The gathering, which was limited to male Pontifical Council members and consultors (of which only a handful were female), explored the "equilibrium" between women's equality and difference. That is, the gathering discussed how women could "avoid the two risky extremes of this process: uniformity on one hand and marginalisation on the other", as if gender equality would somehow produce sameness among men and women. The gathering also discussed the role of women in the Catholic Church and whether women feel welcome in church spaces. I found it amusing that an all-male council within an all-male church hierarchy wondered if women felt welcome in the Catholic Church.

From the beginning, the event's outreach hit all the wrong notes. First, the cover image for the assembly's working document was Man Ray's 1936 sculpture, "Venus Restored", depicting a headless female torso bound up in rope. Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women priests called the image a reflection of the Vatican's "patriarchal, dysfunctional view that holds women in spiritual bondage", adding that "[t]he Vatican is clueless on women's issues." We Are Church Ireland argued that Man Ray's artwork denigrated women, wondering what this artistic choice suggests about the Pontifical Council. (Hat tip to the National Catholic Reporter.)

Second, the Pontifical Council for Culture invited women's input by releasing a promotional video starring Italian actress Nancy Brilli. Some observers found the video vapid and stereotypical. Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, Phyllis Zagano wondered why the Pontifical Council video didn't highlight well-publicized cases of violence against women. Zagano dismissed the video as misguided and condescending to its intended female audience.
"Aside from the obvious — sexy sell has long gone by the boards in developed nations and is totally unacceptable in predominantly Muslim countries — the fact of the matter is that highlighting a stereotypical spokeswoman is not the way to ask for women’s input. Or is the Vatican convinced women’s intellectual abilities rise only to the level of televised soap operas and cosmetics commercials?"
In a commentary piece at Religion Dispatches, Mary E. Hunt criticized the video's invitation to women to submit videos of their lives. Millions of women worldwide live in poverty, making it unlikely that they would know about or have the ability to respond to the outreach video.
"Moreover, what small sliver of the population has the time, energy, technology, and/or inclination to make such a video? Most of the world’s women are too busy finding potable water and safe food, too burdened with childrearing and economic survival to even know about this outreach, much less respond in the week they were given to do so. Those who are wise to these gentlemen know that if we made videos about our lives, our aspirations, or our critiques, they would be deleted long before the committee drank its first cappuccino."
It gets worse. The outline document for the plenary assembly overflowed with ahistorical assertions and sexist stereotypes. For instance, the document claims that men and women were always restricted to binary spheres, and that politics and war were the exclusive sphere of men.
"At the dawn of human history, societies divided roles and functions between men and women rigorously. To the men belonged responsibility, authority, and presence in the public sphere: the law, politics, war, power. To women belonged reproduction, education, and care of the family in the domestic sphere. In ancient Europe, in the communities of Africa, in the most ancient civilisations of Asia, women exercised their talents in the family environment and personal relationships, while avoiding the public sphere or being positively excluded. The queens and empresses recalled in history books were notable exceptions to the norm."
Hardly. If the authors had done their research, they would have discovered that women wielded considerable political power in many cultures. Iroquois women had considerable political power and were responsible for electing tribal leaders. History is littered with hundreds of powerful queens, empresses, and rebel leaders. Countless female rulers were also military leaders, with Ahhotep I, Hatshepsut, Fu Hao, Deborah, Semiramis, Mania, Cratesipolis, Amage, Boudica, Zenobia, Aethelburg, Olga of Kiev, Razia Sultana, Rudrama Devi, Yennenga, Yaa Asantewaa, Xiao Yanyan, and Pine Leaf/Woman Chief as a small sample of such women. History tells us of female warriors among the Scythians, Celts, and Dahomey, while archaeologists have unearthed the remains of women buried with weapons and armor around the world. Whoever wrote the outline document needs a serious history lesson!

The document frames women's lives in terms of family commitments, downplaying other areas of women's lives. It stereotypes all women as nurturing, claiming that even single and childless women "welcome, include, and mediate". The authors insist that men and women are defined by rigid, innate differences but provide no evidence for these assertions.
"Today, generally speaking, women seek to reconcile professional life and family commitments. They can renounce maternity, but those who do have children cannot avoid raising, educating and protecting them. In any case, women who are not married or have no children, welcome, include, and mediate; they are much more capable of tenderness and forgiveness than men. Beyond the different ways of being parents, there is a difference between the feminine and the masculine in techniques of problem-solving, in the perception of the environment, in models of representation and cycles of rest, to mention just a few categories. Cancelling such differences impoverishes personal experience. In this sense it is right not to accept an imposed neutrality but to value difference."
The document defines women's physical experiences in terms of childbearing, neglecting the many other physical experiences that shape women's lives.
"Generativity turns, without doubt, on the bodies of women. It is the female universe that – due to a natural, spontaneous predisposition which could be called bio-physiological – has always looked after, conserved, nurtured, sustained, created attention, consent and care around the conceived child who must develop, be born, and grow. The physicality of women – which makes the world alive, long-living, able to extend itself – finds in the womb its greatest expression."
To be fair, the document contained some positive content. For example, it laments the very real problems facing women (gender-based violence, exploitation, and poverty), asks questions about the spaces available to women in the modern church, and acknowledges the fact that women are leaving the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, these positive elements do not erase the negative elements, which belittle women's historical achievements and shoehorn women's lives into trite, stereotypical boxes.

At the event itself, even Pope Francis demonstrated problematic attitudes toward women. In his February 7th address* to the assembly, Pope Francis drew much-needed attention to violence against women, the female face of poverty, and women's valuable contributions to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, he could not transcend gender stereotypes while praising Catholic women.
In questo ambito, ho presente e incoraggio il contributo di tante donne che operano nella famiglia, nel campo dell’educazione alla fede, nell’attività pastorale, nella formazione scolastica, ma anche nelle strutture sociali, culturali ed economiche. Voi donne sapete incarnare il volto tenero di Dio, la sua misericordia, che si traduce in disponibilità a donare tempo più che a occupare spazi, ad accogliere invece che ad escludere. In questo senso, mi piace descrivere la dimensione femminile della Chiesa come grembo accogliente che rigenera alla vita.

"In this context, I encourage the contributions of many women who work in the family, in the field of education in the faith, in pastoral activity, in scholastic training, but also in social, cultural and economic. You know women embody the tender face of God, his mercy, which translates into more than willing to donate time to occupy spaces, to welcome rather than exclude. In this sense, I like to describe the feminine dimension of the Church as a welcoming womb that regenerates life."
Pope Francis stressed the importance of women's participation in the Catholic Church, arguing that the church must open spaces for women. However, women cannot become Catholic clergy and therefore cannot hold real power in the church. As long as the Catholic Church remains a male-dominated institution, how much space do women have to participate in church life?
... Le donne e la religione: fuga o ricerca di partecipazione alla vita della Chiesa? Qui i credenti sono interpellati in modo particolare. Sono convinto dell’urgenza di offrire spazi alle donne nella vita della Chiesa e di accoglierle, tenendo conto delle specifiche e mutate sensibilità culturali e sociali. È auspicabile, pertanto, una presenza femminile più capillare ed incisiva nelle Comunità, così che possiamo vedere molte donne coinvolte nelle responsabilità pastorali, nell’accompagnamento di persone, famiglie e gruppi, così come nella riflessione teologica.

"... Women and religion: fleeing or seeking participation in the life of the Church? Here believers are challenged in a special way. I am convinced of the urgency of offering spaces for women in the Church, taking into account the specific and changing cultural and social sensitivities. Therefore, a more extensive and incisive feminine presence in the community is desirable, so that we can see many women involved in pastoral responsibilities, in the accompaniment of persons, families and groups, as well as in theological reflection."

"Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference" is a hilarious example of what happens when celibate male clerics from a patriarchal institution discuss women's issues. The gathering was convened by and for men, and with the exception of a handful of female consultors, female input was conspicuously lacking. The assembly's outreach materials and documents were rife with gender stereotypes and backwards assumptions about the sexes. The voices of real women, and the challenges faced by real women, went unheard. In short, the gathering was a laughing stock.

Answers to these questions are staring the Catholic Church in the face. If the Catholic Church truly wants to respect women, instead of merely give them lip service, it must listen to women and afford them real positions in church leadership. It must let go of outmoded stereotypes and recognize that women are complex individuals. It must stop reducing women to fertile wombs and start respecting women's reproductive rights, an area in which it has an atrocious track record. It must take women seriously.

* - The original document is in Italian. The English translation above was adapted from Google Translate.

Demonstrators Condemn the Response Louisiana and AFA

On January 24th, the Response Louisiana rally took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While Religious Right speakers spoke inside LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU students and faculty took part in a protest entitled "Organize, Reflect, Act: A Day of Action for Justice in Louisiana". The rally and march were sponsored by multiple progressive organizations, including Equality Louisiana, Louisiana Progress, Louisiana NOW, and the National Council for Jewish Women. Demonstrators condemned the American Family Association, a key sponsor of the Response Louisiana, for its homophobia and intolerance.

Chris Barrett, an LSU English professor, blasted the American Family Association and stressed that it did not reflect the values of the university. At the 2:22 mark of the video above, Barrett described how she reached out to LSU's present.
"I wrote to the president of the university in December and I said, please intervene! The hate group, the American Family Association, is coming to the PMAC. Please do something because we don't want the world to think wrongfully for one minute that the AFA and its hate and its intolerance in any way represents the best of LSU ... We at LSU are committed to learning about the rich and difficult and complex nature of the world. We are not narrowed to the AFA's slit of bias and intolerance."

Sporting a rainbow stole, Reverend Nathan Ryan of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge spoke to an attentive crowd at the demonstration. "You deserve to have love; you deserve to be treated with respect and with dignity," he told demonstrators, rejecting the homophobia and intolerance of Response Louisiana's sponsors. Ryan recognized that many Response Louisiana need help freeing themselves from their unhealthy spirituality.
"They can't do it because they're too burdened by the need to judge and the need to hold up a fractured scripture. Not that scripture is fractured, but that they have allowed the scripture to become so concrete and so tangible that God cannot fit within their scriptures. But God is that which is love, that which pulls you towards justice and towards kindness and towards compassion, and that means toward every single person here."
Ryan's prayer was that Response Louisiana attendees "can let go of hatred, that they can let go of a narrow minded God." When a heckler shouted, "There's more hatred out here than in there!", Ryan also hoped that Response Louisiana attendees could let go of their need to shout others down. The crowd burst into laughter and applause.

Baton Rouge poet Donney Rose read his poem "Confessions of a Reformed Homophobe, Part I", which must be heard to truly be appreciated. Rose lamented religious homophobia and hypocrisy, blasting the closet as a "graveyard for rainbows" in which "accessorized skeletons" hang.

Predictably, Religious Right observers defended the Response Louisiana and blasted the demonstrators. The January 26th edition of Sandy Rios in the Morning featured Christian apologetics speaker Alex McFarland, who condemned the anti-Response protest. In an audio segment captured by Right Wing Watch, McFarland criticized the rally as an affront to patriotism.
"I care about America, Sandy. I care about young people being taught to be good citizens, and even if someone doesn't ever become a born-again Christian, we still need to affirm citizenship and really patriotism. And this type of thing--it's somewhat understandable that an 18 year-old could bite the hook of something like this, but for grown-ups to encourage it, and for the administration of LSU to have their faculty just speaking derision of the governor, this undermines America. I mean, this is borderline treasonous."
Jennifer LeClair, a supporter of the Response Louisiana, was baffled that anyone would be opposed to Gov. Jindal's prayer rally. In a January 28th commentary piece at Charisma News, LeClaire accused "the religion-less" of being threatened by Christian prayer. The reasons behind resistance to the Response Louisiana escaped her.
"Although disappointing, it's not surprising that Jindal received heaps of criticism for his decision to host a Christian prayer rally. Protestors gathered outside the assembly center to voice their opposition. One protestor told CBN, "He shouldn't be doing it on a state campus. If they want to do that, go somewhere else."


I could go on an on and some of the backlash is much worse than that—for calling people to come together and pray in the name of Jesus. I'm all for free speech and freedom of religion, but it seems some other religions—or the religion-less, secular humanists and atheists—are threatened by Christians who pray in the name of Jesus. That always surprises me, given they don't believe there's any God listening or answering anyway. Atheists should be glad Jindal is praying. I pray that God will encounter the hearts of atheists in an unprecedented way this year."
Religious Right figures frequently criticize political leaders and promote a vision of America that is incompatible with the Constitution. However, when critics call them out on their rhetoric, they suddenly care about "patriotism" and "free speech". If Religious Right voices truly care about "citizenship", they must recognize that free speech and criticism of political leaders is vital to democracy. If Religious Right voices want to make inflammatory statements, they must also be prepared to take criticism for those statements. The sponsors of the Response Louisiana have certainly earned that criticism, and I applaud the January 24th demonstrators for vocalizing it.

Commentary Tidbits

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: National Prayer Breakfast Highlights the Fellowship’s Support for Sudan

Gene Robinson at Huffington Post: Dear Mormons: Thanks But No Thanks 

New York Times: Jeb Bush, Evangelicals and the Pandering Question

Leaving Fundamentalism: The Key to Understanding Fundamentalist Psychology

Vincit Omnia Veritas: Fundamentalism Gone Sideways

The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser: Why Do So Many Evangelicals Abuse Their Children?

Equality Matters: Manhattan Declaration’s Eric Teetsel: God May Let LGBT Equality Destroy Society

The Advocate: The Great Confusion of Mike Huckabee, Esquire

TWO Care: Fringe Anti-LGBT Pastor Organizing Reince Priebus’ RNC Israel Trip

News Tidbits

NPR: From Laundering To Profiteering, A Multitude Of Sins At The Vatican Bank

Religion News Service: Religious and secular advocates urge IRS to clarify rules on political endorsements from the pulpit

Christian Science Monitor: As gay rights gain acceptance, conservatives say they face discrimination

Reuters: Texas rally by Muslims seeking tolerance disrupted by protesters

Huffington Post: First Ever Law To Protect Gay 'Cure' Introduced in Oklahoma

WXYZ ABC 7: Ford employee says he was fired for anti-gay remarks: "Homosexual behavior leads to death"

The Royal Gazette: Bermuda: ‘Traumatized’ during church’s ‘ex-gays’ event

Georgia Voice: Georgia Baptists supporting ‘religious freedom’ bills say Christians are being oppressed

Georgia Voice: Georgia Baptist leaders call ‘religious freedom’ bill a ‘religious manipulation’ bill

Religious Right Agenda on Display at the Response Louisiana

As discussed in prior posts, the Response Louisiana took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on January 24th. Progressive observers criticized one of the rally's key sponsors, the American Family Association, for its history of homophobia and hate group status. Other New Apostolic Reformation participants, such as Jim Garlow and Cindy Jacobs, drew fire from observers due to their own histories of bizarre and homophobic comments.

The Response Louisiana was marketed as a setting in which worshipers would God to intervene in America's struggles. In reality, the rally promoted dominionist messages, encouraging worshipers to see politics and culture as objects of Christian conquest.

GOD TV posted a video segment from the Response Louisiana, which provided almost two and a half hours of footage from Gov. Bobby Jindal's prayer gathering. On the surface, the rally was unremarkable. The Response Louisiana featured all the banalities of other New Apostolic Reformation gatherings, such as ecstatic prayer set to droning, hypnotic worship music. Bobby Jindal discussed his conversion to Christianity as a young man, preachers sought to reconcile the younger and older generations, and pro-Israel speakers encouraged attendees to pray for Israel.

Beneath the surface, however, were political messages that put the rally's agenda on full display. Right Wing Watch highlighted several of these messages, delivered by Religious Right speakers at the event. First, Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego, California, took delight in the high numbers of lawmakers "who understand biblical truth"
"I was talking with a U.S. senator, freshman senator two days ago. I said, 'How many in the new Senate really know Christ as savior?' I won't give you his answer except to say it encouraged me very much. You look at our House of Representatives. We have more freshmen members of the House of Representatives who understand biblical truth than we have had for decades, and in state legislatures across America, something is happening even in the halls of our legislatures and our Congress. From 1800 to 1870, there were worship services in the U.S. capitol building, but they haven't happened for 144 years until last July. Weekly worship services [are] now held again in the U.S. capitol building called the Jefferson Gathering."

Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum, used his speech at the Response Louisiana to promote Seven Mountains theology. Seven Mountains theology implores Christians to take control of the "seven mountains" of culture: family, government, business, education, media, religion, and arts and entertainment. "How many of you know these belong to God?", Mills asked the audience, reminding them that these seven spheres are "under enemy occupation" by infernal forces.
"It's not coincidental that these seven spheres of influence are under enemy occupation right now. It's not coincidental that you are here today to reclaim territory that rightfully belongs to God, right now.

It's not coincidental that we have declared war against the principalities and the enemies of the cross, and by the way, those enemies are not flesh and blood. They're powers and spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, and they're pulled down by the force that operates in you through Christ and his spirit.

It's not coincidental that you're here to give a response for a nation that has neglected these boundaries, abandoned these territories, and to ask God to help us to rediscover the ancient landmarks again."
For its organizers and attendees, the Response Louisiana was about addressing America's problems by spreading the influence of fundamentalist Christianity. With no concrete solutions to offer, some speakers at the Response Louisiana assured listeners that more fundamentalist Christianity in politics and culture would remedy America's ills. Sadly, while this would give the Religious Right greater power, it would solve nothing.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Daily Beast: Bobby Jindal Wants to Fistfight Your God

Friendly Atheist: Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Rally Will Bring Together Despicable Christian Leaders to Accomplish Nothing

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Commentary Tidbits

Salon: Megyn Kelly schools Mike Huckabee about the reality of women’s behavior: “We’re drinking, we’re smoking, we’re having premarital sex with birth control”

Daily Beast: You Betcha I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin

Washington Post: Sarah Palin and her onetime fans on the right: It’s so over

Think Progress: How Anti-Gay Conservatives Plan To Use A Cake Reading ‘God Hates Gays’

Huffington Post: No Cake for You! Fundamentalist Cake Warriors on the Loose

Women's eNews: Pope Dodges Birth Control Issue in Philippines

News Tidbits

Ms. Magazine: Anti-Choice Extremists Target Abortion Clinic Director in Kansas

Washington Post: Mormon church to announce support for legal protections for gay people

Edge Media Network: SPLC Calls on GOP to Cancel Hate Group-Sponsored Trip to Israel

Christianity Today: Gun range owner bans Muslims, compares herself to Christian baker refusing LGBT cake order

Pennlive: Pennsylvania Christian camp sued over sexual assault by former counselor with history of abuse

KSHB 41: Kansas City neighborhood at odds with proposed bed and breakfast

Washington Blade: Anti-LGBT forces strike back with religious freedom bills

Raw Story: Sarah and Bristol Palin push fringe plan to let Christian conservatives rewrite the Constitution

The Advocate: What Have the New Catholic Cardinals Said About LGBT People? 

"We Don't Want to See Men and Women Getting Married" -- The Remix!

During a debate on TV3 Ireland over same-sex marriage, audience member Michael O'Leary accidentally made a slip while defending "family values", according to Pink News. "I say it’s shame on you! We want family values, and we don’t want to see men and women getting married," he told the debate panel.

Now, Irish duo White Boys has incorporated O'Leary's slip into a smooth remix. Enjoy.