Monday, June 29, 2015

Commentary Tidbits

The Daily Beast: Watching Pride as an Ex-Evangelical

Washington Post: Why a lot of evangelicals aren’t actually that upset about the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision

RH Reality Check: Gay Republicans Met With Hostility at GOP Convention

Raw Story: Christian pastor says his new anti-LGBT movie was inspired after meeting nice lesbian couple

Religion Dispatches: Evangelical “Sexual Purity” Is Not About Sex — It’s About Power

Rosa Rubicondior: Catholic Church Just Doesn't Get It! 

News Tidbits

Associated Press: Religious liberty is rallying cry after gay marriage ruling 

New York Times: With Same-Sex Decision, Evangelical Churches Address New Reality

LGBTQ Nation: Republican White House hopefuls deride same-sex marriage ruling

Pink News: Rick Santorum: The next president should protect people of faith from same-sex marriage

Fox 13: LGBT groups plan Inclusive Families Conference in SLC ahead of World Congress of Families convention

Forbes: Gay Pride In Korea Faces Christian Rage As Seen At Rally In Seoul

New Vision: Uganda: You were not created to use condoms, says Cardinal Wamala

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Restored Hope Network Holds 2015 Conference in Lancaster, PA

I planned to observe the Restored Hope Network conference for Republic of Gilead, until the weather report called for torrential rain and possible flooding. Rather than drive to Lancaster in potentially unsafe conditions, I stayed home. I wish I could have infiltrated!  -- Ahab

Restored Hope Network, a coalition of so-called "ex-gay" groups, held its annual conference at Door Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 26th and 27th. Restored Hope Network promotes conversion therapy, which can purportedly change a person's sexual orientation or sexual identity to a cisgender, heterosexual identity. The organization has risen to prominence in the ex-gay movement in the years following Exodus International's closure.

The history of Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network, is an ironic one. In 2013, her husband John Paulk, former chairman of the ex-gay organization Exodus International, publicly admitted that he was not "ex-gay" and apologized for the harm caused by conversion therapy. Anne Paulk released a statement admitting that she and John were divorcing, adding that her heart was "grieved by John’s words and moral choices".

The conference comes at a time when the ex-gay movement has lost credibility in public consciousness. The closure of Exodus International, White House condemnation of conversion therapy, the apologies of several former "ex-gay" activists, and public rejection of the ex-gay movement by former adherents have dealt the movement repeated black eyes. Ontario, Oregon, California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors. Friday's New Jersey court ruling that JONAH's conversion therapy claims violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act also sullied the movement's reputation.

Medical professions and researchers doubt the efficacy of conversion therapy and warn that it can produce negative outcomes. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association concluded that efforts to change people's sexual orientation are not only unlikely to be successful, but involve risks of harm as well. The Pan American Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and other health groups have criticized conversion therapy, while research has shown that sexual orientation change efforts are highly dubious. Defenders of conversion therapy such as NARTH have been accused of promoting dangerous junk science, misrepresenting other professionals' research, and fueling homophobia.

Given conversion therapy's reputation, an ex-gay conference was bound to create controversy.

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Speaking on behalf of Restored Hope Network, Garry Ingraham told Pennlive that the organization simply wants to help people who have unwanted sexual feelings. "We are simply making ourselves available for people who have unwanted same-sex attractions, issues with gender dysphoria and want support in living a life that is congruent with their personal values and faith," he said.

LGBTQ rights advocates have condemned the conference, arguing that conversion therapy is inherently homophobic. Louie Marven, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, argued that conversion therapy harms LGBTQ people. "This conference will not bring hope to anyone. The message that LGBTQ people should change our sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently not hopeful. This is a message that hurts LGBTQ people and our families," Marven wrote in a Lancaster Online editorial.

Pennsylvania political leaders also criticized conversion therapy as the conference approached. Kait Gillis, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services press secretary, told Lancaster Online that Govenor Tom Wolf's administration does not endorse conversion therapy and will work toward a ban of the practice in Pennsylvania.

Executive director Anne Paulk was unhappy with the way that some media outlets have portrayed conversion therapy. In a June 26th Facebook message, she expressed her outrage that the "secular media" and the "gay activist community" have described the ex-gay movement in negative terms.
"... Several articles that have quoted us accurately, despite the surrounding gay arguments against the validity of our point of view that use "expert opinion" to discount and minimize the reasons that people seek to change their lives, behavior and identity. Pastor Garry Ingraham did a great job representing our network. I find it interesting that others will take issue that he was accurately quoted, and then quote Alan Chambers who disbanded Exodus tragically and apologized for hurt feelings of those who remain involved in homosexual relationships and feel that change is unnecessary or impossible for them. But there remain those of us who both have left gay relationships, behaviors, identities and also have had various degrees of resolution of related feelings. Christianity would label errant or unwanted feelings to be temptations, not sin. Sin is taking action upon what God condemns in scripture.

Much of the secular media strongly present those who oppose the idea of transformation--even when it is both desired and experienced. The gay activist community has trained them to discount the freedom of choice for a person to pursue a course of care that they both want and thrive in because it cannot be allowed to stand in their minds ...

How dare we change and thrive?? This can simply not be allowed by some and they are so offended that they choose to malign and lie about methodology--claiming irrelevant aversion therapy that has nothing to do with our ministries. They imply the motive is to control others, when the truth is that we are simply walking alongside and sharing the hope we ourselves have received. "

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The Restored Hope Network conference itinerary suggested that LGBTQ status was an undesirable state, rather than a natural expression of sexuality and gender identity. Several workshops championed Christianity as an alleged key to sexual morality, framing LGBTQ status as something to be overcome through faith rather than embraced. "Who I Am", led by Denise Shick, discussed the supposed "identity crises" encountered by people who are "confused about their God-given gender", an apparent jab at transgender and gender-nonconforming persons. "Open to Life: How Jesus Transforms Persons with Same Sex Attraction" offered tools and strategies that Christians can use to "unlock hearts bound up by same-sex attraction".

The policing of sexuality was also a recurring topic at the conference. A workshop entitled "Gay Christian?" claimed that gay believers who choose to live celibate lives are engaging in "a major compromise" and making room for "embracing a disordered identity". On a different note, "Chastity as Life and Freedom in the Holy Spirit", led by Christopher West, framed chastity as a form of freedom. The implication, it seems, is that same-sex intimacy is incompatible with Christian chastity.
"Chastity is not merely a "no" to illicit sexual behavior. Chastity, more than anything, is a "yes" to the freedom for which Christ has set us free -- the freedom to love as he loves!"
Several workshops encouraged anti-LGBTQ interpretations of scripture. "Homotextuality: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misuse the Bible" condemns the "fallacy" that one can be both gay and Christian, arguing against "revisionist" interpretations of scripture. "Does the Bible No Longer Oppose Homosexual Practice?" deconstructs theological writings that support "homosexual unions". Pastor Phil Courson's workshop, "Did God Really Say..." Affirming the Inerrancy of Scripture" endorsed an inerrant interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, the Restored Hope Network conference encouraged attendees to spread ex-gay thinking throughout their faith communities. A workshop entitled "Creating a Church Culture of Transformation" urged churches to become "a safe place of transformation for persons with ssa [same-sex attraction]". A class entitled "How to Start a Ministry" taught listeners how to create ministries devoted to ex-gay teachings. In an era when ex-gay organizations are shutting down and losing credibility, it's understandable why Restored Hope Network would want its supporters to expand the movement.

In short, workshops caricatured LGBTQ status as a state of confusion and disorder that is incompatible with the Bible. In the eyes of presenters, anything other than a heterosexual, cisgender identity is wrong and must be resisted. Despite all of Restored Hope Network's talk of "transformation" and "thriving", the ex-gay movement is fundamentally about repression of natural feelings. Where is the spiritual nourishment in this?

Conversion therapy, at its core, is about pressuring LGBTQ people to feel ashamed of their inclinations and to conform. Pitting people's sexuality against their spirituality can only bring sorrow, not spiritual growth.

To read additional news, visit the following links.

Pennlive: Church group seeks to 'repair' gays and lesbians

Pennlive: Church group leader, who says he changed from gay to straight, believes court ruling will lead to destruction of the family

News Tidbits

New York Times: Conservative Lawmakers and Faith Groups Seek Exemptions After Same-Sex Ruling

Washington Post: An exclusive look at the draft schedule for Pope Francis’s U.S. trip this fall

The Advocate: Texas Pastor Now Says He Didn't Mean He'd Really Set Himself Aflame

Religion News Service: 5 faith facts about Bobby Jindal: an ‘evangelical Catholic’

Commentary Tidbits

Religion Dispatches: Anti-Gay Evangelicalism is the Norm: A Less Rosy Take on the Evangelical “Tipping Point” 

Mic: I Infiltrated an 'Ex-Gay' Group in New York City — And This Is What It Did to Me

Media Matters: Megyn Kelly Moment: Fox's "Rising Star" Invites Anti-LGBT Hate Group Leader To Discuss Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Stuff Fundies Like: Why I’m Not Worried About Same-Sex Marriage (and You’re Not Either)

Washington Post: Alan Chambers: I once led an ex-gay ministry. Here’s why I now support people in gay marriages.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Boykin to Speak at Pennsylvania Conference on Radical Islam

In recent years, my region has hosted a healthy number of Religious Right events. Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley has been the site of two Exodus International events, Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference, the recent U-Turn Conference, and the annual meeting of the Restored Hope Network (which I'll write about soon). On Monday, Scotland, PA will be the site of a conference featuring William G. "Jerry" Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council and a controversial anti-Islam activist.

The Academy for Global Leadership will host the "It Is Time!" Symposium at the Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Scotland, PA on Monday, June 29th. The conference schedule features presentations on topics such as "Becoming Warriors in God’s Kingdom" and "Strategies for Advancing the Gospel and Decreasing the Expansion of Radical Islam". Boykin, who has a long history of condemning radical Islam, is scheduled to speak at the event.

In an article at Public Opinion Online, Winebrenner CEO David Newell warns that Islamic extremist threatens America. "Once you understand the strategies that are being brought to bear to recruit and increase influence, you will understand the scope and the very real nature of the threat," he said.

With regard to Islamic extremist recruitment in the U.S., Newell lacked specifics. "I am not privy to the specifics of their recruiting strategies. I only know and have been informed of their presence, and the fact that they do indeed recruit," he told Public Opinion Online.

I have mixed feelings about conservative Christian speakers warning their audience about radical Islam in the U.S. On one hand, Islamic extremism is very real and very deadly, as ongoing strife in the Middle East and Friday's terror attacks in three countries demonstrate. However, will Monday's seminar provide a clear-eyed perspective on the Islamic extremist threat, or will it distract audiences from the much more pressing danger of right-wing extremism?

White supremacists, sovereign citizens, and other right-wing extremists are a growing threat in the U.S., and a far more immediate threat than Islamic extremists. For example, New America recently posted data on deadly extremist attacks in the U.S. from 2001 to the present, noting that almost twice as many victims died in right-wing attacks than in jihadist attacks. The Charleston shooting and the recent wave of arson attacks on African-American churches in the south remind us that white supremacists are still terrorizing communities of color. Pennsylvania, where the It Is Time symposium will take place, is home to over two dozen hate groups (including white supremacist, neo-Nazi, black separatist, and anti-LGBTQ groups), according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Islamic extremism might trigger fear in some American audiences, but right-wing extremism poses the more immediate threat.

At a time when right-wing extremist violence is dominating the news, will the It Is Time seminar acknowledge the threat of right-wing extremism alongside Islamic extremism? Or will Islamic extremism serve as a source of fear in their narrative?

Musical Interlude: "First Orbit" by Yuri Gagarin

While searching for space rock on YouTube, I stumbled on "First Orbit" by Yuri Gagarin (a band named after a famous Russian cosmonaut). The epic guitar solo left me spellbound. Enjoy.

After Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality, Homophobes Fume

On June 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, to the delight of LGBTQ Americans and their allies. Contrary to Religious Right predictions, the U.S. has not descended into anarchy, but rather erupted in joy over this victory for equality. America became a little more civilized on Friday, and Religious Right figures are livid. For your reading pleasure, here are a few angry reactions to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

First, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly called the ruling "a disappointing decision that imposes same-sex marriage on all 50 states" in a June 26th statement. Daly accused the Supreme Court of ignoring the "democratic process" by disregarding the opinions of homophobes. In keeping with the Religious Right's persecution narrative, he also claimed that the decision would result in unfair treatment for anti-gay business owners and religious organizations.
"Although this result was predicted by many observers, the action of the Court is nonetheless startling in its rejection of a societal understanding of marriage that goes back to the dawn of civilization. It tramples on the democratic process by overturning the will of more than 60 percent of Americans who voted on the issue and creates a new federal constitutional right in an area where our founding document is silent.

“We are also concerned that this decision will fan the flames of government hostility against individuals, businesses and religious organizations whose convictions prevent them from officiating at, participating in, or celebrating such unions. We’ve already watched this hostility operate against wedding vendors, military chaplains, and others, and anticipate that today’s decision will open the door to an unwelcome escalation of this problem."
Without a hint of irony, Daly urged readers to show "loving kindness" to supporters of LGBTQ equality, oblivious to the fact that homophobia is not loving.

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance also accused the Supreme Court of ignoring homophobic Americans. Like Daly, she imagined marriage as a static, unchanging union instead of an ever-evolving institution. Nance warned that the "negative impact of this illegitimate decision will sound before the Court for years to come."
"It is a sad day in America when nine unelected justices think themselves so powerful that they dare overturn the votes of millions of Americans who went to the voting booth to preserve marriage as it has been understood throughout history, the union between one man and one woman.


The Court solves nothing with this ill-advised ruling, but only intensifies the culture wars, as it did in Roe, by cutting short a healthy debate about the definition of marriage, family, and sexuality that our country is having.  All Americans should stand against such overreach, whatever their views on marriage."
In a June 26th statement, Liberty Counsel rejects the idea that same-sex couples have a legitimate right to marry, calling the majority decision "misguided".
"A bare 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court today purports to invent a "fundamental right" for same-sex individuals to "marry" and attempts to forcefully impose this new-found right on the entire nation.

The decision drew sharp dissents from the other four justices. Chief Justice John Roberts correctly observes that the Court’s activist opinion hijacks the democratic process and is not based in the rule of law: "[D]o not Celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it," warns Roberts. Justice Scalia rightly calls the Court’s decision a "threat to American democracy." The "pretentious" and "egotistic" decision, notes Scalia, "robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves."

The misguided majority of the Court did manage to get one thing right. They reaffirmed the right of the People to disagree with the Court’s ruling: "I]t must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advo­cate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine pre­cepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned."
In a press statement posted on the front page of the Family Research Council website, FRC president Tony Perkins also claimed that the Supreme Court's decision ignored the will of anti-gay Americans and disregarded the static "history" of marriage.
"Five justices on the Supreme Court have overturned the votes of 50 million Americans and demanded that the American people walk away from millennia of history and the reality of human nature.

In reaching a decision so lacking in foundation in the text of the Constitution, in our history, and in our traditions, the Court has done serious damage to its own legitimacy.

 No court can overturn natural law.  Nature and Nature’s God, hailed by the signers of our Declaration of Independence as the very source of law, cannot be usurped by the edict of a court, even the United States Supreme Court.


With this ruling, the Supreme Court has set our government on a collision course with America’s cherished religious freedoms, explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution."
National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown rejected the Supreme Court ruling as "illegitimate", blasting the majority decision as "judicial activism".
"Though expected, today's decision is completely illegitimate. We reject it and so will the American people. It represents nothing but judicial activism, legislating from the bench, with a bare majority of the Justices on the Supreme Court exercising raw political power to impose their own preferences on marriage when they have no constitutional authority to do so. It is a lawless ruling that contravenes the decisions of over 50 million voters and their elected representatives. It is a decision that is reminiscent of other illegitimate Court rulings such as Dred Scott and Roe v Wade and will further plunge the Supreme Court into public disrepute.

Make no mistake about it: The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and countless millions of Americans do not accept this ruling. Instead, we will work at every turn to reverse it.

The US Supreme Court does not have the authority to redefine something it did not create. Marriage was created long before the United States and our constitution came into existence. Our constitution says nothing about marriage. The majority who issued today's ruling have simply made it up out of thin air with no constitutional authority."
It's like they're all using the same talking points, I thought.

The right-wing talking points quickly became repetitive. Religious Right leaders repeatedly insisted that the majority of American voters reject marriage equality, a highly dubious claim if one looks at polling data. Even if this dubious claim were true, the U.S. operates under rule of the majority, not tyranny of the majority. Voters are not entitled to deny basic rights to other citizens. The Supreme Court decision protects the basic rights of LGBTQ citizens, which are self-evident even if some Americans do not acknowledge them.

Furthermore, Religious Right leaders repeated the claim that marriage is a static, unchanging institution written onto human nature itself. This ignores the fact that marriage has evolved over millennium and has not always been limited to opposite-sex unions. I would like to remind those who defend "Biblical marriage" that the Bible has very different ideas of what constitutes legitimate marriage than they do! Civilized people no longer see marriage as a transfer of property, a means of cementing political alliances, or the right of conquering warriors to seize female captives. If the definition of marriage can evolve in these areas, why can't it evolve to include same-sex couples?

The Religious Right's cries of "judicial activism" are laughable. Right-wing observers throw around terms like "judicial activism", "overreach", and "legislating from the bench" whenever judges reach a decision that makes them uncomfortable.

The world is changing in ways that baffle and anger the Religious Right. The principles that serve as givens in their lives are being questioned by the rest of society, and in many quarters they're being replaced by new, enlightened values. Society will move on without them if they refuse to reflect on their assumptions. Will they cling to the bigotry of the past, or adapt?

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Media Matters: Right-Wing Media Respond To Nationwide Marriage Equality: "We Should Weep For Our Country"

Right Wing Watch: Todd Starnes Warns Pastors Who Refuse To Perform Gay Marriages To 'Prepare For Hate Crime Charges' 

The Advocate: Franklin Graham Says, 'I Believe God Could Bring Judgment Upon America'

Friday, June 26, 2015

Religious Right Apoplectic Over Supreme Court Decision: Tidbits from Twitter

The American Religious Right is positively livid over today's Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality. I'll devote a blog post to their responses soon, but in the meantime, here are some amusing Religious Right tweets from Twitter.

News Tidbits

Associated Press: Jury finds promise of 'gay conversion' therapy was a fraud

Reuters: Gays can't use U.S. Catholic family meet to attack Church, bishop says

Washington Blade: Catholic bishops reaffirm opposition to same-sex marriage

Religion News Service: Rome summit looks to improve church’s handling of child sexual abuse

Edge Media Network: California Judge Agrees to Dismiss Kill-Gays Ballot Measure

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Noah's ark takes shape in Kentucky pasture; project remains afloat after hitting rough water

Salt Lake Tribune: Human Rights Campaign to sponsor counter-conference in Utah to celebrate ‘Inclusive Families’

Raw Story: Mike Huckabee calls for less dialog on race and more ‘conversions’ for Jesus: God already ‘solved’ racism

The Guardian: Bobby Jindal: Republican who brought creationism into schools to join election

Commentary Tidbits

Godless in Dixie: To My Evangelical Friends Upon the Legalization of Gay Marriage 

Political Research Associates: Religious Right Leaders Strategize: Who Needs SCOTUS When You Can Control Everything Else?

Outsports: What do you tell a young gay athlete being forced by his parents into conversion therapy?

Istoria Ministries: One Walking in Grace Out of Marital Subordination

The Frisky: GOP Leaders Appear In Completely Insane Anti-Gay Documentary

Slate: The FRC’s Anti-Trans Policy Paper Is Basically a Flag of Surrender

The Conversation: Pope encyclical on ‘ecological crisis’ asks us to examine our deepest values and beliefs

Just One Train Wreck After Another: Pastor Doug Wilson Defends American Slavery As Being Good For Black People

Salon: Behind Dylann Roof’s race war: The highly motivated secret white supremacy movement working toward “the battle of Armageddon”

Friendly Atheist: To the Once-More-Pregnant Bristol Palin, from a Fellow Single Mother

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality

"The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry."

- Supreme Court syllabus on Obergefell et al. v. Hodges decision

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality!

On June 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, a case in which same-sex couples argued that laws banning same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couples, according to the Associated Press. "The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex," the court decided. The U.S. has joined with over twenty other countries that recognize same-sex marriage, according to the Washington Post.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and political leaders from around the country praised the decision. LGBTQ equality advocates were jubilant, while same-sex marriage opponents were deeply unhappy.

State governors have reacted to the ruling in different ways. The Associated Press reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said that his state would comply with the Supreme Court's decision. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said that his state would "fully comply with the law," according to Local Memphis. However, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal refuses to recognize same-sex marriage in his state. The New York Daily News states that Texas Governor Greg Abbott, is resisting the ruling as well.

The Supreme Court syllabus on the decision listed four principles legitimizing same-sex marriage: individual autonomy, the importance of marriage as an intimate union, the need to safeguard children and families, and the right of same-sex couples to take part in an institution that serves as "a keystone of the Nation's social order." The last two principles made me smile, as they take familiar Religious Right arguments against same-sex marriage and turn them on their heads.

The syllabus rejects the notion of marriage as rigid and unchanging, observing that marriage has evolved throughout history in ways that have strengthened the institution.
"The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations."
The majority opinion of the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks warmly of the petitioners, arguing that their desire to wed shows respect for the institution of marriage, not disrespect.
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.  The Constitution grants them that right."
Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the equality of LGBTQ citizens under the law by ruling in favor of marriage equality. The struggle was won by advocates working tirelessly to shift public opinion and enlist allies to the cause. In spite of all its hate-mongering, the Religious Right was unable to deny marriage equality to LGBTQ persons in the nation's highest court.

The significance of this ruling cannot be overstates. Just a few decades ago, homosexuality was cast as a psychopathology and LGBTQ people were invisible. Thanks to the hard work of LGBTQ people and their allies, public attitudes have changed, and prejudiced laws are being swept aside. We've come so far, and we can't stop now.

Now that the struggle for marriage equality has been won, supporters of LGBTQ equality can focus on other issues facing the LGBTQ community. Housing and employment discrimination, hate violence, and homelessness are just some of the problems facing the LGBTQ community. Now that advocates are energized from the Supreme Court decision, I know they'll have the energy to tackle these issues and more.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Huffington Post: Antonin Scalia Dissent In Marriage Equality Case Is Even More Unhinged Than You'd Think

Mother Jones: The 19 Best Lines From the Supreme Court Decision That Just Legalized Gay Marriage

Pennlive: The Supremes got it right - It's no longer 'gay marriage.' It's 'marriage.' And we're better for it

The Guardian: What same-sex marriage reform could mean for the LGBT youths of America

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Charleston Shooting: This Should Be a Time for Compassion

On June 17th, a gunman killed multiple people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church claimed the lives of nine people, including church pastor and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, according to Reuters.

Reuters later reported that the alleged gunman, 21 year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina. He confessed to the shooting, according to law enforcement officials, and reportedly wanted to start a race war, reports CNN. A survivor of the church shooting told reporters that the gunman said, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go," according to NBC News.

News reports indicate that Roof had white supremacist sympathies. In a Facebook photo, Roof's jacket was decorated with patches of the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (later known as Zimbabwe), according to Reuters. One of Roof's Facebook friends posted a photo that appeared to show the gunman sitting on a car with a "Confederate States of America" license plate. The Associated Press reports that the FBI is investigating a racist manifesto reportedly written by Roof, in which he spews vitriol about blacks and laments the supposed cowardice of whites.
"I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."
The Charleston shooting is a horrific example of racial hatred. The massacre stirs memories of racist violence against black churches in the 1960s and 1990s. Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen called the shooting "an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country's changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life."

Sadly, many right-wing commentators have deflected attention away from the shooter's racist motivations. Despite the gunman's racist motivations, several right-wing observers have attributed the shooting to everything from religious persecution to gun control to "identity idolatry" to abortion.

Some commentators used the Charleston shooting as an opportunity to pontificate about unrelated social issues, such as abortion and gender identity. For example, In a commentary piece at the Gospel Coalition website entitled "Dylann Roof and the Danger of Identity Idolatry", Isaac Adams touched upon the racial hatred that drove Roof. Unfortunately, his commentary piece quickly devolved into a sexist, transphobic mess. Roof's motivation was "identity idolatry", Adams argued, a sinful attitude Roof allegedly shared with Caitlin Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, and Eve.
"... [H]is Word speaks to the terrors of identity idolatry. It speaks to how we demonize the opposite of what we idolize; we devalue the opposite of what we treasure; we hate the opposite of what we love. And Dylann Roof—the Charleston gunman, the domestic terrorist—ultimately loved his ethnicity. He rang out with the worst manifestation of his hatred: he took the lives of those who were the opposite of white, yet who bore the same image he did ... 
What hand did Satan play in Eden? He laid his regular ace: attacking identity. He tempted Eve to believe God was not who he said he is. Adam negated his identity as a male, as one who was to protect and lead; Eve wandered outside of Adam’s authority, foiling her womanhood. Both actors took a good thing—identity—and made it an ultimate thing, which is the essence of idolatry. Both attempted to rise above their author, grasping for his identity, grasping for God-likeness. The tragic irony? They were already like him, for he had made them in his likeness (Gen. 1:26–28). But still they grasped, and so they died. God removed them from his fellowship."
During the June 18th edition of Fox & Friends, anti-abortion activist Alveda King blamed insanity, anger, and a culture that tolerates abortion for the Charleston shooting. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Let's define hate. Hate does not have a color. It could be a white killing black people, it could be blacks killing whites, it could be whites killing each other, blacks killing each other. So this is not just a racial hate crime ... The motivation, it's insanity. It's rage. Race can be behind it. I'm not going to deny that ... It's a lack of value for human life. You know I'm going to say that as director for African-American outreach for Priests for Life. You kill babies in the womb, kill people in their beds, shoot people on the streets, so now you go into the church when people are praying."
Other commentators used the Charleston shooting as an opportunity to complain about alleged Christian persecution. According to the Washington Post, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum told AM 970 that the shooting was "obviously a crime of hate", but added that "we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before."

During a June 18th interview with radio host John Fredericks, Pastor E.W. Jackson downplayed the racial aspects of the shooting, wondering out loud if the attack was actually an anti-Christian crime. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Before we jump to conclusions about this being some sort of racial hate crime, we need to consider that this man didn't go to a basketball court where he probably would have found plenty of black people playing basketball ... He didn't go to a bar. He didn't go to a bowling alley. He went to a church. And it does make me wonder, John, whether this growing hostility and antipathy to Christianity and for what it stands for, this Biblical worldview about sexual morality and other things, is not sort of creating a climate and hostility against Christian people."
Still other commentators used the tragedy to grandstand for gun ownership. On June 19th, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee told Fox News host Todd Starnes that the tragedy could have been prevented if the Emanuel AME congregants had been armed. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal-carry or there had been either an off-duty policeman or an on-duty policeman, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter ... It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using."
Bryan Fischer expressed a similar sentiment in a June 18th tweet. "Misguided bans on guns in houses of worship turned this black church in SC into a shooting gallery. Nobody could shoot back," he wrote on Twitter. (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)

What is wrong with you people?

Nine people were shot to death in their church by a white supremacist, and you don't think race is central to the crime? Innocent people are dead and a community is traumatized, and you're using the tragedy to slam abortion and Caitlin Jenner? You complain about "Christian persecution" over the fallen bodies of people who just suffered actual persecution?

What is wrong with you people?

The Charleston shooting is a reminder that racial hatred still simmer in America. This should be a time of compassion, sensitivity, and national introspection, so as to honor the lives of those who were murdered. Right-wingers, please stop using their deaths as an excuse to pontificate on unrelated issues.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The White House Blog: President Obama Delivers a Statement on the Shooting in South Carolina

People for the American Way: PFAW Foundation Mourns the Loss of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a Member of Our Family

Esquire: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable

The Atlantic: Thugs and Terrorists Have Attacked Black Churches for Generations

Friday, June 19, 2015

News Tidbits

Wall Street Journal: At Faith and Freedom Summit, GOP Candidates Seek Evangelical Support

Reuters: Teens may be misled by crisis pregnancy center websites

Associated Press: Pence defiant on religious objections law in campaign launch

Washington Blade: Most religious freedom bills defeated in legislatures

Masslive: Scott Lively lawyers in 'crimes against humanity' case want more information from plaintiffs

CNN: GOP presidential hopefuls urged to reject same sex marriage

LGBTQ Nation: California attorney general moves to dismiss ‘shoot the gays’ ballot proposal

Crux: Synod appointments promise October fireworks

Gay Star News: Pope Francis on trans issues: Accept the body God gave you

Pink News: Schools should face criminal charges for teaching homosexuality is acceptable, says lawmaker

Commentary Tidbits

New York Times: The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat

Raw Story: Here are 10 of the worst domestic terror attacks by extreme Christians and right-wing white men

The Christian Century: The historical roots of evangelical anti-environmentalism

This Ain't Livin': The common good matters more than your ‘values’

Think Progress: Pledge Pressures Republican Presidential Candidates To Reinstate Anti-Gay Discrimination

The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser: Women, the Doormat of the Church

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Right-Wingers Look Askance at Pope Francis' Environmentalism

On June 18th, the Vatican officially released Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, which called for heightened environmental consciousness. Before the release of the encyclical, several right-leaning voices in politics and entertainment criticized Pope Francis, accusing him of Marxism and of meddling in matters beyond his authority.

Republican presidential contender and Catholic convert Jeb Bush looked askance at the Pope's environmentalist sympathies at a town hall gathering in New Hampshire. "I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope,” Bush said, according to the Guardian. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum told WPHT-AM 1210 that the Catholic Church is jeopardizing its credibility by talking about science. “The Church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we’re probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focus on what we’re really good on, which is theology and morality. When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the Church is probably not as forceful and credible," Santorum told WPHT radio host Dom Giordano.

At a recent Heartland Institute conference on climate change, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) delivered a talk on "the myth of global warming", according to the Guardian. During the conference, he sneered at the Pope's call for environmental consciousness. The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours," Inhofe said.

Fox News commentator Greg Gutfeld was far harsher. "He is a Malthusian. He is in bed with Malthusians ... He believes that the earth is overpopulated," Gutfeld said during the June 16th edition of The Five. Gutfeld mocked the pope as a hippie seeking respect from liberals. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"The most dangerous person on the planet is somebody who's seeking strange new respect from their adversaries, and that is what the Pope is doing. He doesn't want to be your grandfather's pope. He wants to be a modern pope. All he needs is dreadlocks and a dog with a bandanna, and he could be on Occupy Wall Street."
Rush Limbaugh was unkind as well, calling the pontiff a "Marxist". During the June 16th edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, he had this to say. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"Early on, he started attacking capitalism using Democrat Party language like "unfettered capitalism." I said this guy sounds like a Marxist, and remember the ruckus that that caused? ... But he doesn't even disguise it, folks, in this encyclical. Doesn't even disguise it. Every other word seems to be about how unfettered capitalism is destroying the world, and how the rich countries have to give more money to the poor countries to make amends."
Right-wing commentators seem to be stunned that Pope Francis, the head of a rigidly conservative religious institution, would adopt a sane position on the environment. Could it be that all this global attention to environmental issues is making them uncomfortable and challenging their assumptions? The realities of climate change have grown too big to ignore, forcing some right-wingers out of their comfort zone.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

What Would JT Do? Catholic Channel at Patheos: Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra ... but not on global warming!

Media Matters: How Fox News Covered Pope Francis' Action On Climate Change

Mother Jones: The Pope Says Climate Change Is Real. Catholic GOP Candidates Disagree.

New York Times: Pope’s Views on Climate Change Add Pressure to Catholic Candidates

Pope Francis Discusses the Environment in a New Encyclical

On June 18th, the Catholic Church officially released Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. The encyclical's title, Laudato Si ("praise be" in Latin), is a reference to a canticle by Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment. While Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to address environmental issues, he is the first to devote a papal encyclical to the subject.

The encyclical comes at a time when many Catholics believe that humans must live responsibly upon the Earth, according to research by the Public Religion Research Institute. This is reflected in the efforts of organizations such as Catholic Climate Covenant and in initiatives such as the USCCB's Environmental Justice Program. Laudato Si speaks to the concerns of environmentally-conscious Catholics while addressing humanity at large.

In the encyclical, Pope Francis addresses every person on the planet, lamenting that humans have abused Earth and likening Earth to "the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor".
"This sister [Earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail" (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements; we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters."
The Pope chides those who interpret scripture in ways that sanction environmentally destructive practices, rejecting the idea of absolute human dominion over creation.
"We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man "dominion" over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures."
The encyclical acknowledges widespread concern about the environment among scientists, philosophers, civic groups, and religious thinkers, thanking those who have labored to protect the natural world. However, it also observes that apathy and "obstructionist attitudes" have impeded environmental action.
"Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity."
Laudato Si discusses the impact of environmental harm on humans, especially on poor populations. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, bioaccumulation of toxins, poor water quality, and wasteful "throwaway culture" are turning the planet into "an immense pile of filth", Pope Francis writes. The encyclical highlights the social dimensions of environmental harm, such as urban pollution, lack of green spaces, and exacerbation of social inequalities. In the real of international relations, an "ecological debt" exists between the global north and south that reflects economic and social injustices.

Pope Francis declares that the natural world is a common good, which humans must preserve by changing their practices and retarding global warming.
"The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life ... Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this [global] warming or at least the human causes with produce or aggravate it."
As my readers know, I've been disappointed with Pope Francis' stance on women's issues and LGBTQ issues. However, I have great respect for his recent environmental advocacy. Laudato Si is a timely and urgent call for enlightened environmental action on an individual, social, and international scale. Pope Francis educated himself about a range of environmental issues, including the social impact of environmental decline. The encyclical has great potential to educate Catholics about environmental harm and inspire them to take action.

However, the spirit of the encyclical is at odds with the Catholic Church's ban on family planning measures. A church that rejects contraception and abortion is ignoring key elements in the ways that human behavior impacts the natural world. When women cannot control if, when, and how many children they bear, overpopulation results, leading to increased consumption for natural resources. When women cannot exert control over their reproductive lives, they are more likely to become mired in poverty, which renders them even vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. If we want to protect the environment, reproductive freedom must be part of the conversation. The Catholic Church must understand this before it can truly help the poor or the environment.

While the Catholic Church is behind the times in many ways, Laudato Si shows that it is enlightened when it comes to modern environmental matters. What environmental efforts will emerge now that the encyclical has been released? Can the church bring the rest of its outmoded thinking up to speed?

Southern Baptist Convention Condemns Same-Sex Marriage

This week, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Amidst committee reports and news from the missions were statements stubbornly denouncing same sex marriage, including a panel discussion entitled "The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches for the Future". SBC leaders used the meeting to spout tired, homophobic rhetoric as a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage draws near.

Baptist Press reports that Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd urged Christians to seize a "Bonhoeffer moment" amidst great global evil. "The lostness has never been greater in our dangerous and hopeless world," he told listeners at the SBC annual meeting on June 16th.

Floyd's speech touched on a variety of topics, including the upcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. He demonized same-sex marriage as fuel for "the already sweeping wildfire of the sexual revolution" and as a potential threat to religious liberty.  "Now we await the outcome of the next possible Supreme Court ruling that could alter our nation's belief and practice on traditional and biblical marriage, but also our historic commitment to religious liberty for all people," he said, according to Baptist Press. Floyd called for American pastors to refuse to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Southern Baptist antipathy toward LGBTQ equality came to a head on June 17th. According to Baptist Press, a coalition of former Southern Baptist Convention presidents issued a statement rejecting same-sex marriage at the annual meeting. The meeting also produced statements glorifying "sexual purity" and condemning the so-called "genocide" of abortion.

"On The Call To Public Witness On Marriage" stressed that marriage must be between a man and a woman for the task of childbearing. It argued that marriage equality would "weaken the institution of the natural family unit" and endanger religious liberty, although it failed to explain how same-sex marriage recognition would imperil either.
"WHEREAS, The redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples will continue to weaken the institution of the natural family unit and erode the religious liberty and rights of conscience of all who remain faithful to the idea of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and

WHEREAS, The Bible calls us to love our neighbors, including those who disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16–17, 2015, prayerfully call on the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists recognize that no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp God’s definition of marriage; and be it further

RESOLVED, No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention calls on Southern Baptists and all Christians to stand firm on the Bible’s witness on the purposes of marriage, among which are to unite man and woman as one flesh and to secure the basis for the flourishing of human civilization; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists love our neighbors and extend respect in Christ’s name to all people, including those who may disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good."
First, denying rights and respect to LGBTQ citizens is not "love"; it's hatred from people who don't want to admit that their actions are hateful. Are Southern Baptist leaders spouting "love" language in order to reassure the public, or to reassure themselves?

Second, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex civil marriage would pose no threat to religious liberty. No one is compelling clergy members to marry same-sex couples or change their religious doctrines. No one is punishing right-wing Christians for holding anti-gay opinions, however odious those opinions may be. The SBC's religious liberty arguments frame LGBTQ equality and religious freedom as mutually exclusive, when in reality they are not and never have been.

Is it any wonder why Southern Baptist membership has been declining for eight years? Bigotry and delusions of persecution are not only repugnant to modern Americans, but they offer no spiritual nourishment.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Southern Baptist President Bravely Pledges Resistance Against Non-Existent Forced-Marriage Threat

Washington Post: The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a resolution opposing gay marriage

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

News Tidbits

Masslive: Hearing will be held today in federal 'crimes against humanity' court case against controversial pastor Scott Lively

The Advocate: Mike Huckabee Transphobia Fallout Continues: Nonprofit Cancels Speech Invite

Pink News: Baptists publish advice on avoiding LGBT non-discrimination laws 

KLTV: 'Jesus' road sign fuels passionate opinions at city meeting

Columbus Dispatch: Some Ohio legislators want to ban conversion therapy for gay, transgender teens

New York Times: Catholic Archbishop and Aide Resign in Minnesota Over Sexual Abuse Scandal

BBC News: Vatican ex-envoy Wesolowski faces child sex abuse trial

Gay Star News: Pope says children need straight parents

Buzzfeed: Australia: Catholic School Kids Are Being Sent Home With An Anti-Marriage Equality Leaflet And People Are Mad

Commentary Tidbits

Ex-Communications: Those Who Carry the Scars Must Remember

The Guardian: We atheists can use growing clout to beat evangelicals at their own political game

The Advocate: Who Are the 44,500 Who Say They'll Go to Jail to Fight Marriage Equality?

Think Progress: Strange Practices Of Ex-Gay Therapy Revealed In Trial Testimony

The Daily Beast: The ‘Natural Family’: The Latest Weapon in the Christian Right’s New Global War on Gays

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Vyckie Garrison on the Quiverfull Movement and the Duggars

Vyckie Garrison is a former Quiverfull devotee who abandoned fundamentalism. She passionately speaks out against the toxic teachings of the Quiverfull movement at her blog, No Longer Quivering. After accepting the 2014 Atheist of the Year award from American Atheists, she was interviewed for a recent Friendly Atheist podcast. Yesterday, the Thinking Atheist posted a YouTube video in which Garrison talks about Quiverfull life and the Duggars. Check it out!

News Tidbits

MLive: Anti-gay auto shop supporters, protestors spar at 'God and Country' talk

Huffington Post: Mormons Show Their Support For LGBT Rights At Utah's Pride Festival

Washington Post: Religious freedom, vocations among bishops’ top priorities

Raw Story: Duggars pull out of homeschooling conference due to ‘attacks and pressure’ on family 

Gay Star News: Martin Luther King's niece insists it is impossible for 'confused' gays to marry  

Commentary Tidbits

Religion & Politics: The Rise of Christian Conservative Legal Organizations

Corner of Church and State: Obey?! Asking people what prepares children for life

Religion News Service: Why a ‘yes’ to gays is often a ‘no’ to evangelicalism

Slaktivist: Evil liberal media continues to persecute righteous white Christians by nitpicking about the sexual abuse of children

Mighty God King: Exeunt Huckabee

Raw Story: Mike Huckabee has a brand new child molester problem — the co-author of his books

TWO Care: Embattled Homophobic President of Burundi Tied To Anti-Gay New Apostolic Reformation

Friday, June 12, 2015

Brazil's Child Preachers

The New York Times recently published an article on child preachers in Brazil's Pentecostal communities. "The Child Preachers of Brazil" explores the phenomenon of child preachers in the Assemblies of God denomination and the rapid growth of Pentecostalism among Brazil's poor and marginalized.

The author, Samantha M. Shapiro, describes the poverty and crime of the favelas out of which some child preachers come. Is it any surprise that some parents guide their children into a lucrative preaching niche, as an alternative to lives of destitution and bleakness?

The article profiles child preachers such as 11 year-old Alani Santos, celebrated for her alleged faith healing abilities, and 17 year-old Matheus Moraes, whose infectious charisma has earned him many followers. The parents of Alani and Matheus claim that God set them aside for special fates. According to Alani's parents, church members prophesied that God would give them a "pearl", a daughter who would be used by God.

Matheus' father claims that he and his wife received a sign from God that Matheus would be special. Sadly, they did not believe the same about Matheus' younger brother Nathan. “Nathan is a normal person, not special,” Juanez told Shapiro. “God didn’t give a message about him. His role was to help Matheus be a child, since his career did not leave him much time to play and do things normal children do.” Ouch.

Preaching leaves little room for normalcy in the lives of some young preachers. The article describes Matheus' grueling preaching schedule, which forces him to neglect his schooling, and the ways in which his father Juanez dominates his preaching life. For example, Juanez demanded $500 per day for access to Matheus, which Shapiro refused to pay. Shapiro depicts Matheus as a teenage boy interested in music, soccer, and dreams of attending college someday, but whose preaching obligations prevent him from living a normal life.

According to the article, the use of child preachers has come under fire from some Pentecostal denominations and leaders. Brazilian televangelist Silas Malafaia blasted the use of child preachers as "commercial interests on behalf of the parents", insisting that the practice is not about God. I hope that the practice continues to draw scrutiny.

The article brought to mind Marjoe Gortner, an American child preacher from the 1940s and 1950s. As a child, Gortner's parents compelled him to preach and raise money at revivals, abusing him with pillow-smothering and mock drowning to ensure his obedience. As an adult, Gortner shed light on the manipulative practices of charismatic preachers in the 1972 documentary Marjoe. When I read about the Brazilian child preachers, I envisioned modern-day Marjoes, forced into deranged lifestyles of faith healing and theatrics. Are their parents inflicting this lifestyle on them for money, like Gortner's parents, or do their parents genuinely believe that these children have divine callings? I'm not sure which is more alarming.

I was saddened by the demand for faith healing in Brazil's Pentecostal congregations, a demand met by child preachers such as Alani. Faith healing appeals to the uneducated and the desperate, a dangerous kind of make-believe that can bring only disappointment. The popularity of faith healing in Brazil is a sign of desperation among some Brazilians, who long for wellness but find it out of their reach. Believers have been swept up in a practice with no basis in reality, and now children have been swept up in the superstition. Faith healing grants no healing, only false hope.

Brazil's child preachers deserve better than this. They deserve to have happy, healthy childhoods, not grueling preaching schedules. They deserve to live normal lives, not to be paraded around for their imagined magical powers.

(Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)