Thursday, July 28, 2011

News Tidbits

Maryland Morning: Summer of Mercy 2.0

Washington Post: Nebraska doctor who performs late-in-pregnancy abortions in Maryland talks about future of clinic, security concerns

Edge Boston: Conservative Christian University: There’s Nothing ’Ex’ About ’Ex-Gays’

Christianity Today: Willow Creek Splits with Exodus International

Mother Jones: God's Own Warden

On Top Magazine: Chick-Fil-A, Anthony Munoz, Jim Breech Support Anti-Gay Group

My Fox Atlanta: Bishop Eddie Long Had Fifth Accuser in Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit

Christian Science Monitor: Norway massacre likely to ramp up monitoring of right-wing groups

Christian Science Monitor: Norway massacre: Breivik manifesto attempts to woo India's Hindu nationalists

Edge Boston: Anti-Gay Group Ready to Try for Marriage Ban Vote if Maryland Grants Equality

Texas Independent: Federal suit over The Response heats up, with request for restraining order against Perry

Minnesota Independent: In Iowa, Bachmann offers ‘testimony of faith’

Florida Independent: Florida Catholic Conference echoes U.S. Bishops’ support for ‘Respect for Rights of Conscience Act’

Commentary Tidbits

Chris Hedges at Truthdig: Fundamentalism Kills

Box Turtle Bulletin: Bachmann Blacklists TV Station Over Interview About Ex-Gay Therapy

Alternet: Why the Christian Right Becomes More Extreme As America Grows More Tolerant

RH Reality Check: Surprise! Crisis Pregnancy Centers Don’t Separate Education, Religion

Ms. Magazine: This Is What the National Organization for Marriage Is Scared Of?

CNN: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

Joe.My.God: Christianists Turn on Rick Perry

Right Wing Watch: Religious Right Activist Finds LGBT Community "Subordinate To Satan"

Right Wing Watch: Farah: United States Should "Break Up" Over Marriage Equality

And now for something completely off-topic

I recently harvested this odd-looking cherry tomato from my vegetable garden. Others have shown off tush-shaped cherries and strawberries shaped like Venus of Willendorf, so I thought I'd share my priapic tomato as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

McDowell, the Internet, and the Knowledge at Our Fingertips

Christian apologist Josh McDowell, author of More than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, had some controversial things to say at a July 15th talk at the Billy Graham Center in Asheville, NC. According to an article at the Christian Post, McDowell said that the Internet gives skeptics, agnostics, and atheists -- "the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe" -- nearly equal access to youth people as Christian voices. McDowell complained that the abundance of information on the internet has led to widespread skepticism. In effect, the Internet has "leveled the playing field" for different viewpoints and belief systems. Before the advent of the internet, books and talks by nonbelievers reached a much smaller audience, he observed, adding that nonbelievers would usually "get to" young people during their college years.

McDowell alleged that many young evangelicals believe that there is no truth outside of themselves, and that worldview problems are plaguing America. This worry over correct Christian worldview is not new in evangelical circles, I've observed, but it suggests discomfort with non-fundamentalist interpretations of the world.

However, McDowell stressed parents cannot isolate their children, but rather must develop strategies for addressing the issue. He encouraged parents to live out or "model" the truth of their faith, cultivate relationships with their children, and prepare themselves to answer their children's questions.

Needless to say, I disagree with McDowell and take a very different view of the current information age.

At no time in history have we had this much information at our fingertips, nor have so many voices been free to share ideas with the world. I find it exhilarating to live in an age when so much knowledge is available to the hungry mind. When used properly, the internet can be a magnificent tool for self-enrichment.* McDowell is correct in that the internet has leveled the playing field for religion-related information, and that is a good thing.

Exposure to different ideas and viewpoints, even those we do not agree with, is healthy. It may lead us to change our minds on certain issues, or simply help us develop a deeper understanding of our own position. Where McDowell sees a threat, many others see an opportunity to broaden one's perspective.

An online world with information about diverse belief systems is NOT something to fear. Young people are entitled to learn about different forms of Christianity, different religions, and atheism and agnosticism. In an increasingly pluralistic society, this knowledge is vital to coexisting with people of different belief systems. Fundamentalist forms of Christianity are not the only game in town, and young seekers are entitled to learn about other belief systems.

This, of course, may not sit well with some fundamentalists. Fundamentalism requires ignorance (willful or imposed) to thrive, and it whithers where there is critical thinking and accurate information. A healthy belief system must be compatible with facts, and it must be able to survive exposure to other people's ideas. A belief system incapable of the former risks becoming fanciful, and a belief system incapable of the latter is too fragile to be of much use.

The world was changed forever by the internet, and people will continue to take in new information and ideas through it. Instead of fretting about villainized atheists besieging youth through the internet, Christians such as McDowell should recognize the internet's potential for broadening one's worldview.

(Hat tip to Infidel753 and Gaytheist Agenda)

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Fallen from Grace: Another Thing For Christians to Fear, The Internet

Groping the Elephant: Leading Apologist Admits Knowledge Fatal To Christian Faith

Stupid Evil B*stard: What's the Greatest Threat to Christians Today?

* I am not implying that all online content is automatically positive or accurate. Many vile applications of the internet do exist, such as violent p0rn and hate speech. Furthermore, the need to sift reliable online sources from unreliable ones is always paramount when seeking information online. I simply believe that the internet can be a remarkable tool when used for communication and learning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

News and Commentary: Norway Tragedy Edition (UPDATED)

The world was shaken Friday by the bombing of a government building in Oslo, Norway, followed by a massacre of scores of young people at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoya Island. The suspect, 32 year-old Anders Behring Breivik, has been the focus of news and commentary across the globe.

A 1,500+ page manifesto attributed to Breivik, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, shines a light into an alarming ideology. Online postings at attributed to Breivik indicate a man who despised Islam and multiculturalism, and who demonized Muslims as a pernicious force in Norway. One post rages at the thousands of Europeans allegedly killed or sexually assaulted by Muslims, while another post laments the Norwegian children who supposedly commit suicide because of Muslim cruelty. If Breivik believed these things, and if he then killed countless Norwegians (which he admitted to authorities, according to MSNBC), I cannot make sense of his sentiments, other than to attribute them to projection.

Below are links to news articles and commentary on the Norway tragedy.

My deepest sympathies goes out to the families and friends of those killed in the Oslo and Utoya Island violence.

The Telegraph: Norway Killings: The Laughing Gunman Who Shot 85 Young Victims, One by One

MSNBC: Norway Attack: Right-Wing Extremism Emerging?

CNN: Who is the suspect in the Norway attacks?

Mother Jones: Oslo Shooting: Read Anders Behring Breivik's Internet Comments Here

Religion Dispatches: Is Norway's Suspected Murderer Anders Breivik a Christian Terrorist?

Talk to Action: Anders Behring Breivik: Soldier in the Christian Right Culture Wars

Daily Kos: What's Christianity Got to Do With It?

Freak Out Nation: Commonalities Between America's Right Wing and Alleged Norway Shooter

Lady Atheist: The Norway Tragedies: Book Review/Analysis

Truth Wins Out: Now You Know The Reason They Seemed So Vulnerable To You

Pharyngula: A Glimpse into the Deranged Mind of a Mass Murderer

Perkins Is Unhappy About the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On July 22nd, President Obama signed the certification for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). After a sixty day waiting period has passed, DADT will no longer be enforced after September 20th. Unfortunately, the end of DADT does not necessarily mean that LGBT servicemembers will be free from discrimination. According to the Advocate, gay and lesbian servicemembers will not have access to the same benefits as heterosexual servicemembers due to the controversial Defense of Marriage Act. Nevertheless, the end of DADT is another step toward LGBT equality, allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers to serve openly in the military.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins is NOT happy about this.

In a July 22nd press release, Perkins claimed that President Obama and military leaders have no basis for reversing DADT, other than alleged "liberal political correctness." He claims that such "social engineering" would negatively impact military recruiting, retention, and unit cohesion, urging Congress to resist DADT repeal. The rights of LGBT servicemembers and the skills they bring to the military were not considered, having been trivialized as "political correctness" and "social engineering." (To read the press release, visit www[dot]frc[dot]org/newsroom/frc-criticizes-certification-to-repeal-military-law-on-homosexuality)

Anticipating the repeal of DADT, Perkins invited Rep. Allen West (R-Florida) and retired Gen. Benjamin Mixon to discuss the supposed harm of repeal on the June 17th edition of the FRC Washington Watch radio show. Perkins complained that repeal would "force" homosexuality upon the U.S. military, and at the 6:20 mark, he alleged that "While overturning this prohibition may win President Obama points with a portion of his political base, it is not a win for military readiness." What Perkins overlooks is that LGBT people have already been serving in the military, but have been forced to keep their sexual orientation secret for fear of reprisal. (To listen to the show, visit www[dot]frc[dot]org/get.cfm?c=RADIO)

Progress marches on. What Religious Right leaders such as Perkins may not realize is that society is slowly coming to accept the LGBT community. While that acceptance is by no means complete, and while homophobia still taints parts of society, slow and steady gains for LGBT rights will continue. Rhetoric about "political correctness" and "social engineering" may resonate with right-wing listeners, but it will fail to convince a populace that is growing more open-minded every day.

Commentary Tidbits

Talk to Action: Rachel Maddow, There is Much, Much More to the Story of Rick Perry's Apostles

Infidel753: The Madness Strikes

Business Insider: Meet the Radical Evangelical Army Behind Rick Perry

Politicus USA: Dear God, Please End Your Presidential Endorsements

Salon: When a gay minister moved to a small southern town

News Tidbits

ACLU: ACLU of Texas Demands that Governor Perry Disclose Use of Public Resources for Prayer Event

American Independent: Interfaith Alliance of Iowa criticizes Terry Branstad over ‘Response’

Iowa Independent: Vander Plaats prompts PFLAG Blue Bunny boycott

The Advocate: Ex-NOM Official Launches Gay Rights Org

Pink Paper: Anti-gay marriage protesters to appear on NY streets this Sunday

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Flashback: Lou Engle at the Prayer & Prophetic Conference

Recently, Right Wing Watch took note of Lou Engle's talk at a Prayer and Prophetic Conference hosted by the International House of Prayer (IHOP). While a date was not provided, the talk's content suggests that this was likely the 2010 Prayer and Prophetic Conference. Right Wing Watch noted Engle's comparison of modern America and Nazi Germany in a talk entitled "The Prophet's Responsibility for the Nation," which can be seen at the 6:31 mark here

"Can a homosexual have civil rights in America? They might, but it is not their right given by God. Their right is to repent and stand until Jesus delivers, and then the Church must go into war for them and get them free. Brothers and sisters, we made it two spheres: government has a sphere and God has a sphere. That’s what they did in Hitler’s day. They voted for money in economic crisis, and they sacrificed the sanctity of life of the Jews. We do the same thing in America."
As if the Nazi reference weren't brazen enough, his words suggest that LGBT rights are not sanctioned by God, and that LGBT people must repent until delivered by God. The video below shows the except in question. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

My curiosity aroused, I went to the GOD TV website and watched videos of Engle's larger talk. Engle, a magnetic preacher from the New Apostolic Reformation, never fails to provide controversial comments in his talks, and I'd like to share some excepts here. Abortion, homosexuality, Islam, and demons are recurring themes, as they have been in his previous talks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

And I thought helping victims of violence was a good thing . . .

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994, has been an invaluable tool in the struggle against gender-based violence. VAWA has helped strengthen victim services and provides funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. VAWA is up for reauthorization, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and even Dr. Phil McGraw supporting the measure.

Who could oppose reauthorizing legislation that has helped countless domestic violence and sexual assault victims? Several voices from the far right, that's who.

VAWA's impending reauthorization has drawn fire from several Religious Right figures, including Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly, an anti-feminist who gained national attention in the 1970s for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, has stated that married women can't be raped by their husbands and was scheduled to speak at an anti-VAWA event in 2008, according to Right Wing Watch.

In a July 12th column at Town Hall entitled "Violence Against Women Act Must Be Rewritten," Schlafly claimed that VAWA is "feminist pork," spent by radical feminists in the pursuit of their agenda. Feminists, according to Schlafly's stereotype, believe that men are inately batterers, and women are innately victims. She provides no examples of feminists who have supposedly claimed this, nor does her stereotype account for the many male feminists working to end domestic abuse and sexual violence (i.e., Men Can Stop Rape, NOMAS, MASV).

Commentary Tidbits

Politico: Mike Huckabee Raps Rick Perry

Why I Left Christianity: Focus on Hatred

Ms. Magazine: Creepy Anti-Choice Horror Film Says Women Who Get Abortions Go to Hell

Religion Dispatches: The Auspicious Timing of Glenn Beck’s Zeal for Zion

The Advocate: Reparative Therapy Survivor Says Bachmann’s Rhetoric Matters

Alternet: The Scary Religious Ideology Behind Michele Bachmann's Anti-Gay Crusade

Mother Jones: Michele Bachmann's Child Army

Slate: Meet the Bachmann's "Ex-Lesbian" Friend

Think Progress: Gay 'Barbarians' Demand Ex-Gay 'Discipline' from Bachmann Clinic

Box Turtle Bulletin: The Alliance Defense Fund and Special Rights

Right Wing Watch: Latest Response Rally Endorser: The Antichrist Is Gay

News Tidbits

Beliefnet: Campus Crusade for Christ Changes its Name to "Cru"

CNN: Perry's "call" could shake up GOP field

MSNBC: Creationism controversy again slips into Texas textbook debate

Daily Iowan: Ugandan minister speaks out on LGBT issues

American Independent: Bachmann becomes third GOP presidential contender to accept South Carolina conservative group’s ‘Family 2012′ challenge

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quotes from the Senate Judiciary Committee DOMA Hearing

(Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law in 1996, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and declares that states are not obliged to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Supporters of LGBT rights claim that DOMA is discriminatory, and calls for its repeal have grown louder in recent years.

On July 20th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled "S.598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assesing the Impact of DOMA on American Families." According to the Judiciary Committee website, the hearing featured input from LGBT citizens as well as prominent LGBT rights advocates, including Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry and Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign. However, also on the roster were voices from noted right-wing organizations, such as David Austin R. Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family. Much of the hearing focused on state rights, financial issues, and family as they relate to DOMA, and I have included some select quotes from the hearing below.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Commentary Tidbits

Open Secrets: God's Lobbyists: The Hidden Realm of Religious Influence

My San Antonio: Perry's religious talk stirs debate

Media Matters: On Fox, FRC's Sprigg Says LGBT History Law In California Is "Injecting Pro-Homosexual Propaganda In The Curriculum"

Fbomb: A Teen Feminist Calls the Westboro Baptist Church

Salon: Republican governors: Prayer will solve our problems

A Feather Adrift: Self-Serving Interpretations

Pandagon: When the Mask Slips

RH Reality Check: Bachmanns' Anti-Gay Therapy Practice Takes Page From Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Right Wing Watch: Hagee: U.S. Can't Win Wars Because Of Satan Worship

Religion Dispatches: ‘Republicanity’ — The GOP Transformation is Nearly Complete

Huffington Post: Debt Ceiling Chaos Is a Born-Again Religion Problem 

National Geographic: Photo: Evolution Less Accepted in U.S. Than Other Western Countries, Study Finds
(Hat tip to Infidel753)

News Tidbits

CNN: Amid Bachmann controversy, many Christians cool to conversion therapy for gays

MSNBC: 'Massive heat wave' on way; Oklahomans urged to pray

WinRumors: Microsoft Axes Store from Christian Values Network Following Gay Rights Petition

Fox 13: Fox News anchor says Romney isn't a Christian

Michigan Messenger: Gary Glenn considers run for U.S. Senate

Minnesota Independent: ‘Ex-gay’ conference headed to St. Paul in 2012

Dallas Morning News: Perry says those who oppose his prayer summit are "intolerant"

Wall Street Journal: Evangelicals Urge Perry to Enter Race

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Familiar Themes at Demographic Summit in Russia

On June 29-30, the World Congress of Families hosted the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit in Moscow, Russia. While I could not afford to attend an event halfway around the world, I would like to bring attention to the summit because of its themes and the involvement of several prominent right-wing organizations.

The World Congress of Families is an Illinois-based organization that focuses on demographics and family. In an online pamphlet for the Moscow Demographic Summit, members of the World Congress of Families are described as opponents of sexual minorities, radical feminists, and the childfree movement. The pamphlet lists several prominent right-wing organizations as members and partner organizations, including Focus on the Family, National Right to Life Committee, Concerned Women for America, and many others.

According to its website, the World Congress of Families asserts that the "natural human family" has been established by the Creator and is crucial for society. The "natural family" is understood as a voluntary, lifelong marriage of a man and a woman, defined by procreation or adoption. Societies that abandon this family framework as the norm risk courting chaos, the website warns. Heterosexual marriage is deemed the only appropriate setting for sexual union, and alleged "deviations" such as promiscuity, homosexuality, and incest produce alienation, illness, and remorse, the website claimed. Frankly, I found it offensive that homosexuality and promiscuity were lumped into the same moral category as incest, which spoke volumes about the organization's worldview. To boot, this narrow definition of family excludes LGBT couples and non-nuclear families.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Commentary Tidbits

Texas Observer: Rick Perry's Army of God

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: C. Peter Wagner on the Japanese Emperor and the Succubus

Right Wing Watch: Rick Perry Ally Bickle Says Marriage Equality Is "Rooted In The Depths Of Hell"

SPLC Hatewatch: Anti-Gay Group Decides Slave Children Weren’t Really Better Off

Salon: The man behind the Marriage Vow

The Root: Why Does America Romanticize Slavery?

Religion Dispatches: God’s Law is the Only Law: The Genesis of Michele Bachmann 

Box Turtle Bulletin: Bachmann: Being Gay Is “A Part Of Satan”

The Atlantic: Michele Bachmann's Church Says the Pope Is the Antichrist

Bold Faith Type: What Would Jesus Cut, Cap, and Balance?

Media Matters: Beck Claims His 2010 Rally Played A "Part [In] American History," Then Starts Talking About The Messiah

Politics Plus: Republican Pseudo-Christians Hate Manatees!

Smoky Mountain News: Cowboy preacher delivers maverick graduation speech
(Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

News Tidbits

Think Progress: Pawlenty Won’t Sign FAMiLY LEADER’s Pledge After Courting Group’s Endorsement

Politico: Family Leader marriage pledge falters 

New York Daily News: Mitt Romney Refuses to Sign Controversial Family Leader "Marriage Vow"

Birmingham Post: Birmingham council leader urged to stop rally by controversial US preacher John Hagee

365 Gay: Ex-gay group ‘delinquent’ with California Board of Behavioral Sciences

Pink Paper: BBC America ends connection with site that funds anti-gay faith groups 

ABC News: Bachmann Silent on Allegations Her Clinic Offers Gay Conversion Therapy

Newman Times-Herald: Tea Party told Islam not just a religion

Michigan Messenger: Glenn signs letter warning GOP on Romney

CBS News: New York town clerk quits, citing gay marriage

NewsOK: Group sues to stop Texas governor's prayer day

Ms. Magazine: Toledo Diocese Refuses to Fund Susan G. Komen Foundation

The Advocate: Catholic Charities in Court Over Illinois Adoptions

Pennlive: State denies unemployment pay to Harrisburg employee who claimed mayor created hostile environment

American Independent: NOM, FRC oppose Obama’s international efforts on LGBT issues

Texas Independent: Despite bad science and religious content, Austin LifeGuard’s sex education program remains popular in some districts

Colorado Independent: Influential Focus on the Family affiliate both a critic, former recipient of federal funding for social issues 

Florida Independent: ACLU: Legislators ‘misled’ public about repeal of Florida’s ban on ‘taxpayer-funded religion’

Iowa Independent: Gingrich participates in lecture series, but stays mum on marriage vow

Monday, July 11, 2011

News Tidbits

New York Times: Where Worship Never Pauses (article on the International House of Prayer)

Christian Science Monitor: Glenn Beck to Israeli Parliament: Chin Up, I'm With You

CNN: Contested Israeli settlements welcome evangelical Christian tourists

Lynchburg News Advance: GOP's Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann to Speak at Liberty University

American Independent: Witnesses recall receiving ‘ex-gay’ counseling at Bachmann’s clinic

Colorado Independent: Planned Parenthood rebuts claims it misleads women, calls AUL report ‘ideologically driven’

Minnesota Independent: Religious leaders backed successful push for amendment banning same-sex marriage

Commentary Tidbits

Think Progress: Thrice-Married Gingrich Won’t Sign FAMiLY LEADER’s Fidelity Pledge Unless Changes Are Made

Talking Points Memo: Bachmann At Iowa Church: ‘Turn Away From Our Wicked Ways’ And God Will ‘Heal Our Land’

Freak Out Nation: Bachmann, Palin, Pawlenty, Santorum and Cain All Believe Being Gay is a Choice

Good As You: The TOMS Debacle: Another Crack in Focus on the Family's 'Newer, Softer' Facade

Jezebel: Why Is TOMS Partnering With An Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Group?

The Advocate: In His Own Words: How I Went Undercover at Bachmann's Clinic

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: NOM's declaration against violence rings hollow 

God Discussion: 35 Years of Prayer Couldn't Get Rid of My Homosexuality, Says Ex-Mormon Turned Atheist

- Also, this Sunday's Doonesbury poked fun at teaching intelligent design in schools.

- Finally, this chart looks at the implications of "Biblical" marriage.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bachmann and Santorum Sign "The Marriage Vow"

The Family Leader, an Iowa-based right-wing organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats, released a pledge entitled "The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family." By signing the pledge, political candidates vow to uphold a list of policy pledges related to marriage, reproductive rights, women, the military, and the economy. Given the controversial content of the document, supporters of LGBT rights and women's rights should take note.

"The Marriage Vow" celebrates the institution of heterosexual marriage, which it insists protects children, "vulnerable" women, the "rights of fathers", and the liberties of citizens. Already, the document has cast marriage in heteronormative and hierarchical terms, claiming that marriage protects "vulnerable" women and endowes fathers with certain rights. Along these lines, "The Marriage Vow" argues that protections for women and children have allegedly deteriorated as marriage has supposedly become devalued in our society. Among the examples of supposed "debasement" of marriage it cites are adultery, "quickie" divorces, domestic violence, cohabitation, and beliefs that "non-heterosexual inclinations" are genetically determined and therefore immutable (!).

These claims made my hair stand on end. First, evolving notions of marriage and sexuality are not undermining protections for women and children. Rather, protections for women and children have increased, not decreased, over the past few decades, in the form of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, child protective services, children's advocacy centers, laws criminalizing marital rape, mandatory reporting policies, awareness-raising campaigns about family violence, etc. Second, lumping nightmares such as spousal abuse together with cohabitation and evolving notions of sexual orientation is beyond tasteless, belittling LGBT people and victims of domestic violence. What does it say about the authorship's priorities when streamlined divorce laws, cohabitation, and enlightened attitudes about LGBT sexuality are held to be on the same moral level as domestic violence?

Several passages in "The Marriage Vow" urge candidates to oppose LGBT equality and maintain a heteronormative vision of marriage. Candidates who sign the document vow to uphold marriage as between one man and one woman, support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as such, oppose any effort to recognize same-sex unions, and advocate for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). To boot, signatories vow to defend the First Amendment rights of those who defend "faithful heterosexual monogamy", which I am interpreting to mean those who decry LGBT rights.

Commentary Tidbits: Response Rally Edition

"The Response", a prayer rally sponsored by Rick Perry scheduled for August 6th, is attracting even more attention because of the involvement of C. Peter Wagner, a controversial voice in the New Apostolic Reformation movement and a supporters of Seven Mountains theology. News and online commentary about the rally have been abundant, so much so that they deserve their own post. For your reading pleasure, I have assembled news and commentary on the rally below.

American Independent: What Perry and the nonprofit AFA can’t say at next month’s prayer event

Texas Independent: Perry’s prayer event part of a larger effort by conservative Christians to unseat Obama

Texas Independent: Brownback’s attendance at Perry/AFA event stirs protests in Kansas

USA Today: Critics Hit Texas Gov. Perry for Prayer Day Endorsers

Religion Dispatches: The Real Story Behind Rick Perry’s Secret Meetings with Pastors 

Texas Freedom Network Insider: Religious Right Closes Ranks Behind Perry

Talk to Action: From the 2009 Prayercast Against Healthcare Reform to Rick Perry's Upcoming Stadium Prayer Event

Salon: Extremist pastor signs on to Perry prayer event

Right Wing Watch: Rick Perry Partners With Radical Apostle C. Peter Wagner For The Response Prayer Rally

Right Wing Watch: Do Response Prayer Rally Participants Understand The Views Of The AFA?

Right Wing Watch: Rick Perry Partners With Pastor Who Thinks Oprah Is The Precursor To The Antichrist

Charisma's Articles on the LGBT Community

Charisma, an online Christian magazine, recently posted several commentaries on LGBT issues. Unfortunately, these columns demonized homosexuality and the LGBT community while celebrating so-called ex-gay programs. As the LGBT community continues to struggle for equal rights and dignity, it disappoints me that a Christian magazine would publish articles promoting anti-LGBT messages.*

First, "former lesbian" Janet Boynes (whose Minneapolis ex-gay ministry was featured in the "Pray Away the Gay?" edition of Our America with Lisa Ling) recently appeared on Charisma's front cover. In a commentary she penned for Charisma entitled "A Way Out," Boynes claims that the devil has tricked LGBT people into believing that their "sinful lifestyle" is an immutable part of who they are. She tells readers that she was "dragged" into a lesbian lifestyle because of this alleged deception, only to find escape from the "bondage of same-sex attraction" through divine intervention. Demonizing LGBT life as an evil force that threatens to destroy an entire generation, Boynes emphasizes that Christian faith can supposedly transform those supposedly misled by the devil.

Boynes insists that one of the major forces behind her embrace of the "homosexual lifestyle" was the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she endured as a child. The psychological vulnerability created by this abuse led to an sexual encounter with a woman, followed by 14 years of same-sex relationships. These relationships, she says, were unsatisfying and a source of sorrow, and true inner peace was elusive. Gay and lesbian people, she insists, allegedly know that what they are doing is destructive and sinful. Such people need Christians to reach out to them and show them mercy, free of condemnation.

I do not deny Boynes' claims of childhood abuse, nor do I deny that she may have experienced unhappy romantic relationships. However, I do not believe that her homosexuality resulted from abuse, or that abuse somehow causes someone to become homosexual. Rather, I suspect that Boynes may have been legitimately suffering because of her childhood traumas, but she mistakenly blamed her sexual orientation for her sorrow.

By branding homosexuality as a spiritual pathology, Boynes denies any legitimacy to LGBT people or their demands for justice. Despite her calls for mercy toward LGBT people, she nevertheless condemns them by associating their sexual orientation with spiritual confusion and infernal forces.

I was also struck by how Boynes preferred phrases such as "homosexual lifestyle" or "same-sex attraction" to describe gays and lesbians. In doing so, she avoided using terms that legitimize gays and lesbians, reducing homosexuality to attractions and supposed lifestyles. This language strategy is nothing new, as a workshop at Awakening 2011 demonstrated.

Second, in a July 1st commentary entitled "The Play for a Gay (Domi)Nation," Lou Sheldon laments that more and more colleges are supporting the LGBT community. Sheldon, the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, attributes these developments to a 30-year "gay agenda" campaign offending.
Sheldon describes the LGBT movement as a colossal, global "agenda of immorality" that churches are ignoring or catering to. Citing the increasing presence of LGBT characters in films and television shows, he accuses Hollywood producers and writers of chipping away at public morality. Americans have allegedly been forced to accept homosexuality by the sheer tenacity of the supposedly pro-gay entertainment industry.

Sheldon asserts that no group in America exerts such huge power over cultural institutions than gays, supposedly, pointing to pro-LGBT laws that allegedly give LGBT citizens special rights. Devoting special attention to laws legalizing same-sex marriage, Sheldon claims that LGBT activists actually want to annihilate the notion of marriage altogether.

After insisting that he does not hate homosexuals (!), Sheldon claims that many people are "trapped" in the "homosexual lifestyle" and want to be liberated from it. He spoke positively of ex-gay groups such as NARTH and Exodus International, framing homosexuality as a disorder that could be overcome. The serious ethical concerns associated with so-called converstion therapy, as well as their poor results in changing sexual orientation, were not discussed (see here, here, here, here, and here).

"The Plan for a Gay (Domi)Nation" caricatures the LGBT community as a sinister, destructive menace bent on destroying marriage and tainting morality. Conversely, it also depicts LGBT people as unfortunate people "trapped" in a lifestyle that they can escape through dubious ex-gay programs. By simultaneously demonizing and pitying LGBT people, Sheldon can tell Christian readers that he is not attacking LGBT people out of hostility, no matter how obvious his homophobia is to others. The idea that LGBT people are normal human beings seeking equal rights, or that many lead perfectly happy lives, is never considered.

There's more! Charisma also posted a commentary by contributing editor J. Lee Grady entitled, "You're Already in the Gay Debate, Why Not Learn the Argument?". Grady admonishes Christians not to be timid on the issue of homosexuality, offering four alleged "truths" on the topic. For instance, he claims that since all people are born with a propensity for certain sins, it is dubious for LGBT people to claim that they were born gay or that their homosexuality is immutable. Just because people are born with an inclination toward adultery or pride doesn't mean they must stay that way, he insists. Grady's non sequitur assumes that non-heterosexual sexuality is sinful by default, and that sexual orientation can be changed. The idea that LGBT people can live happy, ethical, spiritually rich lives is not entertained.
Grady scoffs at LGBT people who accept their sexual orientation because they are tired of being dishonest with themselves, dismissing such feelings as a cop-out. True Christianity, he insists, is about self-denial and self-control over "sinful" impulses. Sadly, he does not discuss the fact that denying one's intrinsic sexual orientation can results in depression, anxiety, and low-self-esteem, all of which drain vitality from the mind and spirit. Nor does he reflect on the ethics of lying to oneself and others, which can foster an inauthentic life and undermine trust.

Grady also claims that Christian faith can supposedly help people leave homosexuality, citing Alan Chambers and Exodus International. Again, evidence contradicting his position is not discussed (see here, here, here, here, and here).

It disappoints me that Charisma would publish a cluster of anti-LGBT articles and promote toxic assumptions about homosexuality. As many Christians and non-Christians alike are abandoning homophobia in favor of acceptance, some Christian voices still cling to anti-LGBT notions. What message do these commentaries send to LGBT Christians reading Charisma, or to young Christians who may be questioning their sexuality? These commentaries are yet another reminder of the work we still need to do in order to forge a just and tolerant society.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: 'Ex-Lesbian' Fraud Janet Boynes on Cover of Charisma

Ex-Gay Watch: Charisma Editor Promotes Gay Cure, Holds Up Alan Chambers as Example

Right Wing Watch: Sheldon: Gay Activism Is "The Very Face of Evil"

* - Charisma even posted an online list of scriptural passages condemning homosexuality, available here. Revealingly, among the five Bible passages was Leviticus 20:13, which mandates capital punishment for men engaging in homosexual acts.

Commentary Tidbits

Christian Science Monitor: Glenn Beck ends his run with Fox News. What's next?

Daily Kos: In July 4th invocation, Rep. Paul Broun compares progressive Americans to al-Qaeda

Ethics Daily: Conservative Christian Group Plots Political Revival

SPLC Hatewatch: No More Mr. Nice Guy: Patrick Buchanan and the Virtue of Prejudice

RH Reality Check: Research Underscores the Potential for a Pro-Choice Agenda Among Evangelical Youth

Think Progress: FRC Prays that Homosexuality Remains Criminalized Abroad

Salon: Bachmann signs anti-porn, anti-sharia pledge

Religion Dispatches: Who Would Jesus Starve?

News Tidbits

BBC News: Can religious teachings prove evolution to be true?

Sun Sentinel: One and a half cheers for evangelicalism

The Advocate: Right-Wing Activists: Gays Not “Best and Brightest”

Pink News: MP complains over anti-gay preacher John Hagee's UK visit

Mother Jones: Brownback Taps Lawyer for Anti-Abortion Activists for State Medical Board

Beliefnet: “Normalization of homosexuality” worries bestselling author

NPR: Illinois, Catholic Agencies At Odds Over Gay Adoptions

Michigan Messenger: Glenn: Companies Shouldn’t Hire Gays

American Independent: Bachmann vows to ban pornography, same-sex marriage if elected president

Minnesota Independent: Frank Schaeffer: Bachmann’s theology a ‘liability with the general public’

Colorado Independent: Anti-abortion group delivers report to Congress targeting Planned Parenthood

Colorado Independent: Rick Perry to headline Western Conservative Summit in Colorado

Lou Engle Uses the Joplin Disaster in Anti-Abortion Speech

Right Wing Watch recently brought attention to a June 27th talk by Lou Engle in Kansas City, MO. In the talk, Engle claimed that the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, MO were a sign from God regarding abortion. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

Lou Engle - June 27, 2011 from Bound4LIFE on Vimeo.

As hypnotic music played in the background, Engle preached feverishly about abortion. At the 0:57 mark, Engle claimed that the Joplin disaster was a divine sign regarding abortion.
"I believe that God is beginning to center his plan for a major strike against abortion. Out of the heartland of America, Missouri and Kansas. It was that way in the slavery movement. It was the Missouri Compromise and it was Bloody Kansas. I believe that the Lord is doing something in these days. Concerning Misourri, after the Joplin tornadoes hit -- this is just my perspective -- I began to share with my friends that I believe that Joplin was a sign that God's rependptive judgments are now beginning to be manifest concerning the issue of the shedding of innocent blood and abortion."
Engle then recited the story of a pastor who dreamed that he was golfing with President Obama. In the dream, when the pastor arrived at the tee, he was overcome by the spirit of the Lord and spontaneously sang lines from "America the Beautiful." Some time later, the pastor's daughter had a dream in which she saw a paper with President Abraham Lincoln's face on it. On the other side of the paper was a numerical code: 52911. This, Engle claimed, coincided with President Obama's visit to Joplin, MO on May 29th, 2011. At the gathering, when the crowd began singing "America the Beautiful," the pastor saw this as a sign to approach the president and urge him to end abortion.

Just as Abraham Lincoln had an epiphany about slavery, Engle argued, so too does President Obama need to have a spiritual epiphany about abortion. At the 8:44 mark, Engle begged God to visit dreams upon the Obama family and haunt the president until he opposes abortion.

"And we ask you to come and begin to invade President Obama's life, God. Give Michelle Obama dreams like Pilate's wife. Let the children get dreams. Send the prophets to our president ... We would ask that a black man would end abortion in America, Lord ... I pray that word will live in his mind day and night. Haunt him with the prophetic word like Nebuchadnezzar. Don't let him sleep at night. Let the babies' cries be heard, and let him arise, God, and fulfill a calling that no one would have expected."
Anti-abortion rhetoric in the U.S. has long compared abortion to race-related horrors such as the Holocaust and the enslavement of blacks. Likewise, at the 7:47 mark, Engle spoke of abortion in the same breath as racial injustice toward blacks and Native Americans.
"We ask forgiveness for the breaking of our covenants, Lord, with the Native peoples, the black Americans, the unborn, the offspring of our own womb. We stand before you God."
Engle's use of racially-charged language to oppose abortion is nothing new, as he and other anti-abortion advocates have done so before (see here and here). In doing so, such speakers try to equate abortion with the horrors of racism and oppression, or even try to pain abortion as an alleged eugenics tool.

Furthermore, Engle's use of a natural disaster to undergird a religious message is nothing new either, as other fundamentalist preachers have attributed natural disasters to God's wrath (see here). While he did not blame the residents of Joplin per se for God's wrath, he suggested that the Joplin tornadoes were a message from God to America regarding abortion. This struck me as tasteless and insensitive to Joplin's many victims, who deserve compassion and should not have their sorrow marketed for political ends.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

It's Independence Day here in the U.S., celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. Today America is brimming with cookouts, fireworks, and heartfelt displays of patriotism. Some Religious Right voices are also marking July 4th with online commentary.

- In a recent Washington Update commentary, the Family Research Council spoke warmly of Samuel Adams' legacy as a patriot. However, the commentary also dismissed claims that Christians are trying to impose their beliefs on others. Rather, the commentary claimed that anti-abortion and pro-marriage (read: anti-LGBT) advocacy are merely efforts at upholding the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. The right to life spoken of by anti-abortion advocates is endowed by the Creator, and heterosexual marriage is under the aegis of "nature's God," the piece argues. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/get.cfm?i=WU11G01&f=PG07J01)

- In an excerpt from a Focus on the Family interview with Wallbuilders founder David Barton, Barton argued that the U.S. had a strong Christian heritage. The transcript excerpt is available at CitizenLink at www[dot]citizenlink[dot]com/2011/07/01/friday-five-david-barton-on-america%e2%80%99s-true-spiritual-heritage/)

- In a July 3rd talk posted at the Coral Ridge Ministries website, Dr. D. James Kennedy described religious liberty as the most important liberty enjoyed by Americans. Such religious liberty, he claimed, is under attack, as atheists and humanists allegedly see Christianity as a huge obstacle to their takeover of the world (!). (See www[dot]coralridge[dot]org/medialibrary/default.aspx?mediaID=CRH1127_S)

When Religious Right voices try to associate America's quintessential identity with Christianity, it leaves little room for inclusion or pluralism. In a country with such rich religious diversity, to reduce American identity to right-wing Christianity is to deny that identity to millions of non-Christians. As Infidel753 eloquently observes, America does not just belong to those with a certain set of beliefs, but to all Americans, regardless of religion.

This Independence Day, let's express gratitude for the many freedoms we enjoy, including freedom of religion. Let's celebrate the diversity that makes us a rich and vibrant country.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Huffington Post: A Religious Reflection for Independence Day, 2011

CNN: Why the U.S. is not a Christian nation

Infidel753: Independence Day Post: This Land Is Our Land

Killing the Buddha: An American Eden, Dead on the Fourth of July

The Supreme Court and Video Games

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. California enacted a 2005 law to impose fines on retailers who sold violent video games to minors, which the Supreme Court struck down in a 7-2 decision, according to NPR.

The decision has drawn responses from several media observers. James Steyer of Common Sense Media, who helped construct the 2005 law, stressed the difference between the influence of books and and that of interactive media such as video games in a CBS News interview. Commentary from the Huffington Post, Wired, and the New York Times examines what the decision says about our culture, and what implications it has for gaming.

The New Apostolic Reformation and Demon Talk

In the course of blogging, I've noticed that some New Apostolic Reformation preachers attribute evils to demons, "witchcraft", and the occult (see here, here, here, and here for examples). Recently, while watching two videos from New Apostolic Reformation preachers, I was struck by their references to demons.

First, as a guest of Marcos Barrientos, Lou Engle gave an impassioned speech to a Spanish-speaking audience on May 22nd.

At the start of this video, Engle describes abortion as a demonic force that is allegedly threatening the Hispanic community. Speaking through Marcos Barrientos as his interpreter, he urges listeners to refrain from voting for pro-choice candidates.
"There's a young Hispanic lady right here ... This young lady, she called me last year, said they're building the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere in Houston. Six stories high, the fourth story for late term abortions. It looks like an ancient Aztec temple. The ancient bloodshedding that fuels demons is rising in America. Psalm 106 said you offered up your babies' blood and you gave them to demons. Abortion's demonizing the whole culture. It's fueling the powers of darkness. And when I looked at the demographics of Houston, that abortion clinic was in the middle of three super-neighborhoods. Ninety percent Hispanic. Abortion's targeting our children. You don't want to come and immigrate to America for the sake of your children, and then offer up those very babies for the destruction of your community. I hear a voice of prophesy coming out of the Hispanic people: we will never vote for anyone who's pro-choice."
Engle's May 22nd talk can be seen as part of his ongoing anti-abortion outreach to Hispanic communities, which includes projects such as AVIVA and previous talks to/about people of color. His literal demonization of abortion, however, is not new, as New Apostolic Reformation rhetoric often includes references to the supernatural.

Second, in the June 20th edition of God Knows, Generals International founders Mike and Cindy Jacobs talked with Mark Gonzalez of the U.S. Hispanic Prayer Network. Gonzalez began with a discussion of drug cartel violence at the U.S.-Mexico border, including human trafficking and killings. Although his talk began with reasonable observations about a devastating problem, the conversation took an unusual turn at the 7:17 mark.
GONZALEZ: There's really only one way, truly, to deal with those matters. And that's for the body of Christ coming together and dealing with this at the spirit level because whebn it comes to the cartel ... there's a lot of, when you get to spiritism, occultic practices, and it depends so much on that.

CINDY JACOBS: They pray to all these gods for demonic protection.

MIKE JACOBS: Even idols, Cindy. Recently they tore down some of the idols along the border that these drug cartels had been using. I think it was San La Morte, Saint Death.
I agree that the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border is harrowing, and that prayer might bring spritual comfort to communities scarred by violence. I do not agree, however, that drug cartel violence has demonic links, no do I see prayer as a concrete, practical solution to the border violence. To attribute such violence to demons is to ignore the complex roots of cartel violence, as well as the need for prudent real-life solutions to the crisis.

Why do some New Apostolic Reformation preachers blame demons and the occult for things they consider evil? Does their theology assumes that social forces have cosmic underpinnings, be they divine or infernal? Do they seek to motivate believers to resist these social forces by giving them supernatural significance? Is it simply easier to attribute situations to demons rather than analyze their messy, complex roots? Perhaps all of the above are in play.

The problem with blaming situations on demons and "witchcraft" is that it makes it nearly impossible to have rational dialogue about those issues. For example, if one assumes that abortion is demonic, one immediately excludes the possibility of respectful dialogue with pro-choice people. Why have dialogue over an evil, demonic activity? If one assumes that homosexuality is caused by demons, why listen to LGBT people's demands for rights? Demon rhetoric reduces situations to evils that must be destroyed, rather than issues that must be understood.

Parts I, II, III, IV, and V of Engle's talk are available for viewing at YouTube. Episodes of God Knows are available for viewing at godknows[dot]tv/video/

Commentary Tidbits

Kris the Sexy Atheist: Evangelical Feminism...Now I've Heard It All

Truthout: 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox News Uses

Beliefnet: Focus on the Family: 4th of July was a religious holiday

Mother Jones: Rick Perry's Prayerfest: Only Christians Allowed

Box Turtle Bulletin: Marcus Bachmann: Gays are Barbarians Who “Need To Be Disciplined”

Politicus USA: Born to Breed: An Interview With Quiverfull Walkaway Vyckie Garrison 

Salon: Now God Will Destroy America!

Huffington Post: Rapture Interruptus: Bursting the Bubble of Apocalyptic Expectation

Media Matters: Glenn Beck's Top 5 Moments Invoking Violence As A Response To "Progressives"

Truth Wins Out: Special TWO Report: How Radical American Christian Sects Are Invading Hong Kong and Beyond

Right Wing Watch: Dr. Barton Recommends Getting Your Healthcare Advice Straight From The Bible

News Tidbits

The Advocate: NOM Not Focused on Divorce or Healthy Parenting

The Advocate: Santorum: Gay Unions “Cheapen” Marriage 

National Center for Science Education: Polling global evangelical leaders on evolution

PhilStar: Philippines Christian group hits gays, lesbians who married in Baguio 

Christian Post: John MacArthur Says America Is Under Divine Judgment

San Diego 10 News: Catholic Church Denies Funeral For Local Gay Man

Beliefnet: Michele Bachmann: A ‘sense’ God calling me to presidency

American Independent: Religious right reacts to New York gay marriage vote: Prepare for ‘consequences’

Minnesota Independent: Supporters of Minnesota gay marriage ban react to New York vote

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Good Reads: KINGDOM COMING by Michelle Goldberg

Salon political reporter Michelle Goldberg maps the landscape of the American Christian Right in her 2006 book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Troubled by a sense that members of the American left and right did not just disagree over values, but occupied completely different and irreconcilable realities, Goldberg penned Kingdom Coming as an introduction to the political subculture of evangelical Christian nationalism.

Kingdom Coming introduces readers to Christian dominionism, an ideology that rejects government religious neutrality and believes that fundamentalist Christianity should govern private and public life. Such Christian nationalism, Goldberg argues, promotes the restoration of an imagined Christian America as its ideal. Modern Christian nationalism has roots not only John Birch Society, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the Council for National Policy, but in the ideas of Christian Reconstructionists such as R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North.

Goldberg discusses a gamut of prominent right-wing evangelical voices, including media mogul Pat Robertson, right-wing historian David Barton, and D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries. However, Kingdom Coming is not just a laundry list of fundamentalist leaders, but an analysis of the ideas and strategies that undergird the Religious Right. Kingdom Coming notes characteristics of Christian nationalist rhetoric -- siege mentality, totalitarian elements, distrust of Enlightenment ideas, and ultimately the construction of a distinct and separate worldview -- that make the Religious Right so worrisome to progressives and moderates.