Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Thanksgiving Family Forum: Government, God, and Gab

On November 19th, the Family Leader hosted the Thanksgiving Family Forum at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa, with CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage as keynote sponsors. The forum was an online roundtable discussion among several GOP presidential contenders, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), and businessman Herman Cain. Given that several questions posed to candidates involved religion and values, the Thanksgiving Family Forum was a feast of startling quotes. An edited video of the roundtable discussion has been posted at www[dot]citizenlink[dot]com/2011/11/19/thanksgiving-family-forum-complete-video/

Moderator Frank Luntz began the roundtable with a question about the line "so help me God" in the presidential oath of office. At the 4:11 mark, Michele Bachmann claimed that George Washington fervently believed in the force of Providence at work in the early nation, arguing that without God's aid, Americans won't be able to get the U.S. back on track.

"It reminds me that it was George Washington that added those last four words, 'so help me God,' and after he added those four words, he reached down and he kissed the Bible. And I think it's because if there was any American who had seen the hand of God rising up this nation, it was George Washington. He literally said without the aid of Providence, we wouldn't have had this land, and I think the time that we're in right now in this country is also at such a critical time, without his hand, we won't be able to get back on track."
Afterwards, Bachmann talked at length about her conversion to Christianity and experiences with God. Rick Perry also emphasized human dependence on the divine, insisting that a president needs God's wisdom and guidance to lead successfully. At the 6:14 mark, he had this to say.
"Being the president of the United States is got to be the hardest job in the world, and the idea that one of us sitting around this table could do it with our own human intellect, our capability, is beyond any of us, and we have to have that eternal wisdom that comes from God, and so 'so help me God' is almost a plea ... The idea that I would walk into that without God almighty holding me up would scare me to death."
Luntz asked the group what they consider to be the number one value that America needs to reclaim. At the 7:55 mark, Rick Santorum made the troubling claim that American civil law must agree with divine law, throwing in anti-abortion sentiment for good measure.
"America is a country that was founded on the concept that our rights come to us from our creator. Rights come to us from God, and that when God gives us rights, he doesn't say, 'Well, here are your rights, just do whatever you want to do with them." That in fact he has laws that we must abide by. Now unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our our civil laws have to comport with the higher law ... As long as abortion is legal, at least according to the Supreme Court, legal in this country, we will never have rest because that law does not comport with God's law which says that all life has value ... As long as there is a discornance between the two, there will be agitation."
Santorum them derailed into a lengthy discussion about his faith and the role of God in his election to the U.S. Senate. Hilariously, Luntz called him out on his failed reelection bid at the 9:17 mark.
SANTORUM: I knew, at that moment when I won, I had a constituency of one. And I always felt that way. I always felt like, you know, that God had sort of pulled me out and given me this opportunity. But I've got to tell you, it took me until the United States Senate to really see what God had in store for me.

LUNTZ: So can I ask you then what message was God sending to you when you lost your race for the U.S. Senate?
[Audience laughs]

SANTORUM: Can I first tell you the good news? I mean, come on, You sort of glossed over the good news to get me--I'll get to that.

LUNTZ: Quickly.
At the 10:57 mark, Newt Gingrich stressed that Americans must remember that God supposedly endows humans with rights, casting secularism as short-sighted and narrow in its political vision. His rhetoric about God allegedly being driven from the public square is a familiar Religious Right chestnut.
"It would be to ensure that every American understood that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, and therefore you have to explain the word 'creator,' and I wouldn't have anybody teaching who felt uncomfortable explaining what the founding fathers meant when they said that our rights come from our creator, because it changes everything else. 'Secular' is a term that comes actually from the Latin secularis meaning 'century,' and it basically says life is very limited, so you might as well get the most you can now. A belief in God is the precise opposite. It's a belief that we are all part of an eternity and that eternity stretches behind us and ahead of us, and therefore we have to measure what we do within the framework of God's greater plan. A country which has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn't be surprised at all the problems we have because we have in fact attempted to create a secular country which I think frankly is a nightmare. So I think the first step is--this is not sectarian. It's not Protestant, Catholic, Jewish. This is a factual historic statement. Our founding document, which is the base of our government, says we are endowed by our creator and therefore we have responsibilities as citizens to that creator, and if we simply have a system that reasserts that and educates that and tries to live up to that, we will be a dramatically better country, and other policies follow from it."
For this statement, Gingrich received warm applause from the audience. Gingrich neglected to add that not all Americans believe in God (or one god), not all Americans agree on what such a being would expect of humans, and that not all Americans want faith and government entwined. By caricaturing secular government as a short-sighted, he forgot that separation of church and state protect both from each other.

In only the first few minutes of the Thanksgiving Family Forum, candidates flaunted their Religious Right credentials to an approving audience. Amidst pious words about their faith and their visions of God in government, candidates revealed an alarming vision for America.

Stay tuned for even more quotes from the roundtable!

For more information on the Thanksgiving Family Forum, visit www[dot]thefamilyleader[dot]com/thanksgiving-family-forum. For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Why Evolution is True: Republicans insane; want to establish theocracy

The Daily Beast: Best Moments From the GOP's Thanksgiving Family Forum

Huffington Post: Thanksgiving from Hell: The Republican Family Forum

Washington Post: GOP Candidates Court Conservative Christians in Iowa

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homophobia and the Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal

On November 4th, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on forty counts of sexual abuse of minors. Pennlive reports that two additional cases of reported sexual abuse were recently opened by Pennsylvania Children and Youth Services, one of which involves a family member of Sandusky's. The Second Mile, a charity founded by Sandusky to help underprivileged youth, has come under fire by donors, and may be sued by one of the young men who reported sexual abuse.

Sadly, some voices from the Religious Right are using this situation to launch attacks against LGBT people. Rather than use this scandal as an opportunity to discuss child abuse in a constructive manner, some voices have used it as an excuse to disparage gays.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Final Thoughts

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's speech at the rally, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's speech on race, click here. To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, visit www[dot]thecall[dot]com/Groups/1000080537/TheCall/Events/Detroit/Detroit.aspx

Having shared excerpts from TheCall Detroit on November 11th, I'd like to conclude with some parting observations about the rally. Behind the spiritual ecstasy and prayer were startling messages about politics and religion.

First, Lou Engle justified TheCall Detroit by weaving it into a spiritual narrative. For example, in Part II of TheCall Detroit video archive, he described a dream he had in which he told fellow IHOP leader Mike Bickle, "We're going to Ford Field."  Since Engle frequently interprets dreams as harbingers of cosmic portent, a dream about Ford Field would give TheCall Detroit legitimacy in the eyes of his followers.

Engle insisted that he'd had reservations about hosting an expensive gathering at Ford Field. At the 1:42:48 mark of Part II, he defended his choice of venue.

"I didn't want necessarily to come to Ford Field, because it costs a million dollars, and I thought, God, if I had a million dollars, I could feed the poor of Detroit. I could buy some buildings for the poor. Now I wrestled with it in my heart. I've actually said, "God, you know"-- then I thought, you know, probably no other place could house this many people. [Applause] No, no, don't go there."
This quote was heartbreaking. Engle knew that the money used to rent a venue for TheCall Detroit could have helped the less fortunate in concrete ways. He knew how much good that money could do in an economically disadvantaged city like Detroit. And yet, he chose to host another rally instead. Why did the desire to host another public spectacle take precedent over the moral imperative to help those in need? Because, I suspect, the goal of TheCall Detroit was to promote certain political messages through public spectacle.

As with many other New Apostolic Reformation gatherings, TheCall Detroit blended spiritual and political messages. Amidst praise for God and calls for racial reconciliation were anti-abortion monologues, pro-Israel messages, and anti-Islam rhetoric. Indeed, TheCall Detroit's calls for racial reconciliation -- as hollow as some of them might have sounded -- may have served a deeper political purpose. In an exhaustive commentary at Truth Wins Out, Wayne Besen speculated that the TheCall Detroit was intended to draw African-American voters away from the Democratic party before the 2012 elections. Besen imagined their strategy as such.

1) Pick a key swing state with a beleaguered city that had an economically disadvantaged African American population.

2) Create an emotional spectacle where tearful white people pleaded for forgiveness and repented onstage for past racism.

3) Sharply define new wedge issue(s) and create a racially-based conspiracy theory that could ultimately be used against the Democratic Party.

4) Exploit these emerging wedge issue(s) to the point they become more important than fixing the economy.

5) Redefine voting criteria so candidates are primarily judged by where they stand on these wedge issue(s) – with the ultimate goal of leading many African Americans to conclude that they are best represented by the conservative GOP.
Besen was alarmed at "the conformity of the crowd and the ease in which they were led" at TheCall Detroit, no matter what strange ideas were being promoted. The atmosphere at TheCall Detroit might be partially to blame for this, in my opinion. Amidst the hypnotic drone of worship music and the rapture of communal prayer, receptive attendees would have found it easy to enter a altered state of consciousness and leave critical thought at the door. As Besen observed, the ecstasy of such communal experiences can be as powerful as a drug.

"...[T]he “highs” produced at Ford Field occurred without psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms or ecstasy. But make no mistake about it, this was no less a mental manipulation designed to flood brains with endorphins that induce an unnatural euphoria."
Having watched several segments of TheCall Detroit and listened to the rhetoric about reconciliation, I was struck by who wasn't at the table: LGBTs and Muslims. While TheCall Detroit was brimming with rhetoric about repentance for racism and anti-Semitism, I heard no repentance for homophobia or animosity toward Muslims. After all, why repent for homophobia when you've demonized homosexuality as "spiritual bondage" or "sexual immorality"? Why repent for antipathy toward Muslims when you've cast them as rivals and fifth columns? Similarly, I heard no calls for reconciliation between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as much as interfaith dialogue is needed in these times. Instead, Kamal Saleem cast Islam  in ominous shadows.

Fortunately, some observers criticized the divisive messages of TheCall Detroit. For example, USA Today reported that about 150 people participated in a demonstration against Lou Engle and TheCall Detroit. Clergy, women's rights advocates, and supporters of LGBT rights reportedly took part in the demonstration. In a press release at People for the American Way, Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit's King Solomon Baptist Church condemned Engle's divisive rhetoric and urged people of faith to work together.

In an interview with WXYZ 7, Dawud Walid of CAIR accused TheCall of making hateful statements about Islam, including claims that Muslims are demon-possessed. Walid told mosques to increase security during the rally weekend and warned Muslims to stay away from Ford Field because of "belligerent" and "provocative" people who might be there. Also, he encouraged Muslims to attend a gathering at the Islamic Center of America and discuss Islamophobia and racism there.

The New Apostolic Reformation has revealed an unsettling agenda through events such as TheCall Detroit. Those who cherish diversity and dialogue cannot afford to ignore them.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: TWO Special Report: TheCall Detroit -- A Slick Political Revival Disguised as a Religious Revival

One Utah: The Religious Right's Cheap Grace and Even Cheaper Repentance

Huffington Post: TheCall Detroit Mixes Anti-Muslim Rhetoric With Message Of Racial Reconciliation

Huffington Post: Detroit Prayer Event Puts Muslim Community on Edge

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Jews, Gentiles, and Islam

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's speech at the rally, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's speech on race, click here. To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech, click here. For final thought on TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, click here.

One of the most startling aspects of TheCall Detroit was its approach to the other Abrahamic faiths. Speakers sought to forge alliances between fundamentalist Christians and Jews, so as to bring about the kingdom of God. Speakers waxed poetic about Israel, pouring forth honeyed rhetoric about ending anti-Semitism and forging ties between Jews and Christians. On the other hand, one particular speaker cast Islam in a negative light, praising Christianity and Israel over his old Islamic faith. Given Lou Engle's history of anti-Islam comments (see here and here), I was not surprised at his choice of speakers.

As mentioned in a prior post, Lou Engle warned the audience about the alleged rise of anti-Semitism. He shared with them a dream he had while in Israel, which he interpreted as a portent of cultural healing.

"I was in Jerusalem with my friend. My friend had a dream, and in the dream, we were actually staying in Mary Magdalene's hotel, and he receives a dream of four Ruths calling us, four Ruths. Ruth Prince, Derek Prince's wife who loved Israel, was calling us. Ruth Graham, Billy Graham's wife, was calling us. Ruth Heflin, who was a worshipper and a prophet to Israel, was calling us. And Ruth of Boaz was calling us. Four Ruths. And we felt the Lord was saying to us that TheCall is to call the gentile bride back to Boaz, Jesus Christ, that we would connect with our bridegroom, Jesus, the Jewish man, and when we did that, it would release a great healing and would break anti-Semitism."
Engle introduced a Messianic Jewish speaker named Rabbi Jason Sobel, the director of the Fusion ministry. Both Engle and Sobel used the Biblical marriage of Ruth and Boaz as a metaphor for rapport between Christians and Jews, as well as for the bond between a believer and Jesus. At the 17:07 mark of Part III, Sobel claimed that rapport between gentiles and Jews strengthened the force of global revival and encouraged an outpouring of God's power.

"When Jew and Gentile unite in partnership, we see the presence, power, and provision of God released in greater measure, because God's presence and power is always proportional to the unity that exists among God's people. And the enemy historically throughout the generations has tried to divide Jew and Gentile, because he knows that when we come together and unite in love, we form an unstoppable force in the world that brings forth total transformation and revival."
By "gentiles," it was clear to me that that Sobel meant Christians. He hinted that such rapport could hasten the coming of God's kingdom on earth by saying, "When Jew and Gentile unite, we bring forth the kingdom." Another comment by Sobel at the 20:04 mark of part III clearly suggested that such rapport was meant to bring forth the kingdom of God.

"Until we deal with the root of discrimination, the root of enmity is rooted in the bitterness and the strife between Jew and Gentile. When we heal the root, we deal with the symptoms, and I believe if we love one another and walk together and bless one another, we will see life from the dead and the revival coming, an acceleration of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Amen!"
After Sobel preached, TheCall Detroit leaders led the audience in a recitation of Ruth 1: 16, in which Ruth (a gentile) pledged loyalty to her beloved mother-in-law, Naomi (a Jew). For TheCall Detroit, this Biblical passage captured the bond that they wished to forge between Christians and sympathetic Jews.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

After this recitation came one of TheCall Detroit's most controversial speakers: Kamal Saleem. At the 25:39 mark, Saleem introduced himself as an alleged former Muslim terrorist whose heart was softened by Christ.
"My name is Kamal Saleem. I came to destroy this country as a terrorist at one time. And God got hold of me, and I had a vision of Jesus Christ, and he healed my senses. [Applause] Today, we still terrorize the kingdom of hell, but as an Arab from the bosom of Ishmael, I will bow before Israel today. [Kneels, then Sobel kneels.]
At the 26:41, Saleem begged for forgiveness while heaping praise upon Israel.
"Forgive me. Forgive us. I went to Israel twice, twice, three times. Every mission, I carried my best friend with me. I went to destroy Israel, but the God of Israel stood for her, and today, I ask of you forgiveness of our jealousy and hate of you. And I ask you to receive me. As I left my father's table, I became an orphan son, but today, in Christ Jesus, I'm a son of the holy one of Israel. And I ask you Israel, forgive us, forgive us, forgive us Israel."
Saleem's cries of "Arise, oh Israel!" shook the air as the audience was swept into ecstasy. For me, however, Saleem's talk seemed to represent a rejection of Islam in favor of Christianity and the spiritual supremacy of Israel. The symbolic significance of his appearance was staggering in this context.

According to a Muslim observer at TheCall Detroit, Saleem's words grew even stranger at the night went on. In a hard-hitting commentary at Religion Dispatches, Haroon Moghul described Saleem's 3 a.m. speech about Islam.
Kamal claimed that he was raised in “jihad” in Lebanon, and kindly shared the implications with an audience that knew no better. For example, he said, when a Muslim’s blood is first shed in the path of God, he becomes a Messiah. (Unfortunately for Kamal, there is only one Messiah in Islam, and it’s Jesus—who, to take the previous speaker’s logic to its conclusion, loves us even if Lou Engle doesn’t want him to.) Kamal then told us that Islam teaches that there is only one way to go to heaven, and that is war. In fact, he shared many “facts,” the full effect of which was to convince the audience that Islam is purely demonic. Indeed, numerous references were made to “the darkness,” “the enemy,” and “false idols,” oblique enough to avoid outright outrage, but obvious enough to anyone more than half awake.

Stressing his Muslim credentials, Kamal said that one of his uncles was “the holiest of holies,” the Muslim Pope. There is no Muslim Pope, though to be fair, Kamal’s uncle might just have been lying to the poor boy. Kamal then told us that he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO (a secular organization) and went on his first mission into Israel—we’re assuming that this was a military operation—at the age of seven. At the age of eight, he went on his second mission. Years later, when he first met Christians in America, Kamal was repulsed. His initial reaction was: “I’m allergic to Jesus.” (The audience loved this part.) Unfortunately for the supposed former Muslim, nobody taught Kamal that a Muslim who does not honor Jesus is by the consensus of every school in Islam not a Muslim.
With biting humor, Moghul added that "I’m not saying Kamal Saleem is definitely a fraud; it may simply be that he was raised by one of the dumbest Muslim families in the world." Taking a more serious tone, Moghul argued that Lou Engle's choice of this man as a speaker was disingenuous, thereby revealing Engle's Islamophobic agenda.

This is not the first time Saleem has made questionable statements about Islam. During a September 20th interview with Rick Warzywak of Transformation Michigan, Saleem made strange comments about Islam in America. In an excerpt posted by Bruce Wilsom of Talk to Action, Saleem made outrageous claims that the president is a Muslim who wants to erect Sharia law in America.
"What we have to fear the most as American nation is Sharia law. Because even our president, he want to bring about Sharia law. He celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which is Ramadan in the White House. Therefore, he's about about to break down Article 6, which is the heart of the Constitution, which is separation of the church and the government. If he breaks this, the Sharia law will be supreme in America ... So in twenty years, America will be completely changing ... We [will] have to abide in a law that will be equal to our Constitution, which will be Islamic laws."
What TheCall failed to mention is that several observers have condemned Saleem's message and questioned his account of his past. Saleem, who claims to be a former Muslim terrorist turned Christian, has spoken alongside other alleged terrorists-turned-Christians, such as Walid Shoebat and Zak Anani. When the three men spoke at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2008, they drew heavy criticism from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation for their depictions of Islam. Reza Aslan summarized some of the doubts surrounding the men's accounts.

Additionally, Saleem's recent talk at the Independence Mayor's Prayer Breakfast drew criticism from some observers for reportedly misrepresenting Islam.* The St. Louis chapter of CAIR urged the Independence mayor to drop Saleem, on account of his reportedly divisive message.

Called a "fraud" and a "con artist" by Chris Hedges, Kamal Saleem has left observers with many questions about his account of his former life. In a review of Saleem's biography, The Blood of Lambs, Doug Howard raised an eyebrow to several of Saleem's claims and apparent gaps in his narrative.

Whether Saleem's claims be true or false, one thing is clear: by inviting such a divisive speaker to preach at TheCall Detroit, the event's organizers revealed a certain distaste toward Islam and an unwillingness to engage with Muslims.

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On the surface, TheCall Detroit's warm rhetoric about Jewish and Christian reconciliation seemed to be another facet of its call for racial harmony, as agenda-soaked as that call might seem. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to me that TheCall Detroit was trying to cast Jews in a larger Christian vision of the kingdom of God. To boot, by inviting a speaker with a history of hostile comments toward Islam, TheCall Detroit also demonstrated that Muslims would not be part of this striving for harmony. Amidst talk of repenting for racist wrongs and fighting bigotry, several groups -- LGBTs and Muslims, most glaringly -- were not included in the vision of reconciliation. This vision of reconciliation would be on right-wing Christian terms.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Talk to Action: Phony Ex-Terrorist Kamal Saleem in Reconciliation Ceremony at TheCall Detroit

Talk to Action: TheCall Detroit: A Window Into 2012 Religio-Political Strategies for Minority Outreach

Religion Dispatches: Jesus, Carpet Bomb My Heart: An Undercover Muslim in Detroit

Sojourners: Why I Don't Heed "The Call"

* For example, the article claims that Saleem said Islam is the only religion that allows slavery, when in fact slavery has been sanctioned by several scriptures, including the the Laws of Manu and the Bible (see here, here, and here for examples).

Commentary Tidbits

Single Dad Laughing: I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay

Triangulations: Why Yahweh Kills Innocents

Pharyngula: They deserved to die

Washington Monthly: Gingrich's "Nightmare"

Think Progress: Conservative Groups Pressure Administration To Restrict Access To Contraception

Washington Post: Bob Jones University Questions "Fundamentalist" Label

Mother Jones: Pamela Geller: Beware "Stealth Halal" Turkeys This Thanksgiving 

Right Wing Watch: Santorum: God's Law And Civil Law Must Be The Same

(Hat tip to Infidel753 for several of these links)

News Tidbits

NPR: Santorum: Early Political Work Influences Him Still

CNN: The Gospel According to Herman Cain

New Haven Register: Penn State, Catholic Church scandals show risk of child sex abuse greater when image all-important, experts say

The Advocate: Occupy Springfield Targets Scott Lively

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Black Speaker Talks About Obama and "Generational Baggage"

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's speech at the rally, click here. To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. For final thought on TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, click here

Now that we've introduced readers to TheCall Detroit and talks by Alveda King and Lou Engle, I'd like to share another video from the rally. Thanks to Wayne Besen's camera work, several videos of the event are available at YouTube, including a video of an unidentified black speaker. Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful in uncovering the speaker's name, but I would like to share quotes from his talk nonetheless.*

Much of the unidentified man's talk revolved around faith, politics, and the African-American community. At the beginning of the video, the man defends the term "Uncle Tom" as an honorable label.

"Now what's interesting is Uncle Tom in the story of Uncle Tom is actually a Christ-like figure, so to be called an Uncle Tom is actually an honor and a privilege. But due to the bitterness that has been passed down from generation to generation because of what my forefathers went through, somehow Christ-likeness became a dirty word in the black culture."
The man described the struggles faced by his father's generation, including oppression and racist violence, which left pain in his father's heart. This pain, he said, strongly influenced his father's decision to vote for President Obama in 2008. At the 2:22 mark, he lamented that his father's longing for "retribution" against whites motivated his vote

"[His father] says, "After all we've been through, I cannot drive myself to a poll with the opportunity to put a black man in the office and not do it." In other words, what was motivating and driving his vote, beyond what all the political policies or ideologies, whether they were Biblical or unbiblical, the thing that was driving him the most was the deep pain inside of his heart that said maybe if we get a black man in the presidency, then there will be retribution for all the stuff that white people have done to us. And the fact that Obama received 97% of the African-American vote ... Some people said it was a sign of how far we've come. To me, it was a sign of how far we haven't come. Then in reality, the pain of our hearts would overrule our ability to hear from God. I'm not saying that people didn't pray or hear from God on whether or not to vote for him. What I'm saying is when cultural or racial zeal or bitterness transcends Biblical zeal or Christ-likeness, then you're in sinning, you're in error."
I suspected that the speaker disapproved of President Obama, but more so that he disapproved of voting for candidates along racial lines rather than under the guidance of "Biblical zeal."

At the 0:29 mark, the speaker told the audience about the black community's "generational baggage" and the inner healing that needed to take place.

"And so as easy as it is for us to receive an apology from our white brothers and sisters, it is very hard for us to actually begin to search deeply within us and begin to confront the generational baggage that we have not yet allowed God to heal in our own hearts."
Fair enough. All cultures are shaped by their pasts, and cultures with painful histories may take a long time to collectively heal. However, at the 7:25 mark, the speaker's plan for shedding this "generational baggage" was for African Americans to repent to whites for "black ideologies" and "militancy" (!).
"As a younger man speaking to maybe some of you who actually walked through the tragedies of the sixties, the reality is there's been a generational baggage that has been passed down, and if we leave this stage and say racism is dead without repentance, we would have failed tonight. So I want to ask if we can repent to our white brothers and sisters for the the black ideologies, the black militancy that even Detroit has been a center of."
As with other speakers and their calls for racial reconciliation, this speaker's talk was heavily laden with political and racial themes. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Kamal Saleem's controversial talk at TheCall Detroit, as well as Muslim reactions to the controversial event.

*If anyone knows the name of the speaker in this video, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

News Tidbits

New York Times: Bishops Open ‘Religious Liberty’ Drive

Washington Post: Gay, Muslim groups relieved by changes to bullying bill

The Advocate: NOM Injects Race into Gay Parenting Debate

Edge Boston: Catholic Charities End Illinois Civil Unions Dispute

HIV Plus: Conservatives Outraged Over Ellen's HIV Envoy Gig

Telegraph: Church tries to 'help gay people back to heterosexuality'

KTVB: Pro-life clinic opens next door to Planned Parenthood

Texas Independent: With new spokeswoman, 40 Days for Life rolls out plans to defund Planned Parenthood locally

SPLC Intelligence Report: The Story Behind the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer

SPLC Intelligence Report: Gay-bashing 'Prophetess' Can't Stay Out of Jail

Commentary Tidbits

Camels with Hammers: Have You Ever Wished The View Was More Islamophobic?

Alternet: Beating Babies in the Name of Jesus? The Shady World of Right-Wing 'Discipline' Guides

Right Wing Watch: Republicans Advocate Censorship Of New York Exhibit

Religion Dispatches: What the USCCB's New "Religious Liberty" Initiative Took from Evangelicals 

Mother Jones: Scott Walker's New Jobs Plan: Abstinence-Only Education

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Lou Engle Talks Demons, Race, and Abortion

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's speech at the rally, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's speech, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. For final thought on TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, click here

So far, we've looked at remarks from the TheCall Detroit's opening night and a speech by Aleva King. Thanks to the footage captured by Wayne Besen, we also have a video excerpt of Lou Engle giving an anti-abortion talk at TheCall Detroit.

Engle's anti-abortion activism is well known, as are New Apostolic Reformation preachers' outrageous claims about demons (a.k.a. "powers and principalities"). At the beginning of Besen's video, Engle associated abortion with demons and human sacrifice, something he has also done at the Prayer and Prophetic Conference, Russia IHOP, and in the film The Abortion Matrix.

"[Abortion] actually fuels the demonization of the culture. We've got to get this, brothers and sisters. They offer their children to demons. Just because they had open altars then, we have stainless steel tables in Planned Parenthood. But it's still fueling the demonization of the culture. Isaiah 26:21 says, 'For behold, the Lord comes out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth will also disclose her blood and will no more cover her slain.' Let me ask you a question today. Is a baby's blood in the womb any different than a baby's blood outside the womb? It didn't say that blood pollutes land of those who have been born. It's blood pollutes the land."
Abortion, Engle claimed, has inflicted "blood guilt" upon the land. At the 2:29 mark, he says, "Blood guilt is on the land, and the only place it can be taken care of is at the cross, where Jesus shed his blood."

Engle lambasted politicians who are insufficiently anti-abortion. At the 3:43 mark, he compared such politicians to Pontius Pilate washing his hands to absolve himself of guilt for Jesus' fate.

"Pilate is the picture of candidates running for office who say they're pro-life but they give in to tumult of public opinion. And when they say that they're pro-life personally, but they actually rule pro-choice, they are actually trying to wash their hands. Shedding of innocent blood is upon our governors, our government, our own lives, our own families, but I believe there is coming a voice of a tumult of righteousness."
Themes of racial justice saturated TheCall Detroit, not only through TheCall's choice of speakers but in Lou Engle's speech. At the 4:50 mark, Engle launched into a talk about racism and violence. He claimed that God showed him that unless he was mindful of the struggles of people of color, he could not address abortion properly. He lamented that believers had not yet confronted the oppression of Chinese immigrants in American history, as suggested by a friend's dream.

"The Lord showed me I couldn't deal with abortion seven years ago unless I walked in shoes of the Native Americans, unless I walked in the shoes of the black Americans. My friend just had a dream the other day, and he saw a ledger, and it said 'blood lines and blood guilt,' and it was an accounting ledger. That God was making an account of the shedding of innocent blood, and it had African-American blood, innocent bloodshed, Native American bloodshed, and then, it said 'Chinese bloodshed,' and suddenly, it began to pop. We haven't really dealt with that, that the Chinese suffered tremendous slavery in American history and tremendous shedding of innocent blood. We looked it up and we found that  in Detroit, a Chinese man was killed by workers in the auto industry because they were angry at the Japanese car industry, and so they took it out on a Chinese laborer, and they murdered him, and it started this whole movement of Chinese voices to bring justice."
Interestingly, Engle used the term "shedding of innocent blood", which he has frequently used as a dysphemism for abortion, to describe racist violence as well. This, methinks, was not accidental. Nor was this the first time he had spoken of racism and abortion in the same breath, with his talk after the Joplin disaster as an example. Also, Lou Engle has framed abortion as an attack on Hispanic and African-American communities before (see here and here), as have other anti-abortion activists. Given the anti-abortion messages at TheCall Detroit, I wondered if such outreach to different races was an attempt to draw more people of color into anti-abortion activism. I definitely sensed this during Alveda King's speech and the video that played beforehand.

I do wonder how Engle can "walk in the shoes" of diverse communities while trying to take reproductive rights away from women of color (and women period). In my opinion, if Engle truly wanted to "walk in the shoes" of people of color, he would focus his ministry on pressing issues facing these communities, rather than brazenly trying to recruit them into his anti-abortion fight. While his attention to racism may raise awareness of the racial justice work that needs to be done, his anti-abortion message overshadowed his talk at TheCall Detroit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Commentary Tidbits

Media Matters: Limbaugh Uses Elimination Of "Christmas Tree Tax" To Cast Doubt On Obama's Christianity ... Again

Ramona's Voices: A Simple Plea: Do Not Lay Hands Upon Our Children

RH Reality Check: Radical Anti-Choice Group Puts Out "All Points Bulletin" to "Track" Pregnant Woman

Truth Wins Out: Hate Group Figures Rush to Tie Jerry Sandusky to Gay People

Religion Dispatches: Duggarmania, Stripped of Religion 

Jezebel: Catholic Group Battles Government Over Right To Deny Birth Control & Abortions To Trafficking Victims

Washington Post: Educating fundamentalists
(Hat tip to Fallen from Grace)

News Tidbits

USA Today: Bishops to address gay marriage, abortion at fall meeting

Des Moines Register: Religious leader to Train Evangelical Iowans on How to Pick a Presidential Candidate

The Daily Collegian: Westboro Baptist Church comes to protest at game

KCCI 8: Wedding Cake Battle Brews Between Couple, Baker

Florida Independent: Romney’s Christian right Florida team

American Independent: Film linking abortion and Holocaust ‘cynical’ and ‘perverse’, says ADL

American Independent: AFTAH uses Penn State rape scandal as opportunity for anti-gay speech

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Alveda King Condemns Abortion

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's speech, click here. To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. For final thought on TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, click here

Thanks to the helpful camera work of Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, several short videos from TheCall Detroit are available at YouTube. One video, which captures Alveda King's speech, illustrates how TheCall has tried to cultivate anti-abortion activism using racial justice rhetoric. Alevda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., has worked with Priests for Life to promote anti-abortion activism, and has spoken at high-profile right-wing events.

First, Besen captured a video on one of the rally's wide screens from the National Black Pro-Life Coalition. Amidst upbeat music and fast-moving graphics, racially charged anti-abortion messages flashed across the wide screen.

"Black children are aborted at a rate 3 to 5 higher."

"In NYC due to Planned Parenthood 60% of all black pregnancies are aborted." 

"It's epidemic."

"Abortion never reduces poverty. Abortion never reduces healthcare disparities. Abortion never reduces unintended pregnancy rates. Abortion reduces US."

The origins of these statistics were not given, but the message was clear: TheCall was conflating abortion with the "epidemic" reduction of the African American population. This racially charged anti-abortion message set the mood for Alveda King's talk, which touched upon race, activism, abortion, and Jesus.

King spoke at length about race and slavery, touching upon the enslavement of Africans, the work of William Wilberforce, and the activism of Martin Luther King Jr. She also spoke of how her father "rescued" her from abortion in 1950, dissuading her mother from seeing an abortion. At the 4:29 mark, she described how her father and partner changed her mind about abortion.

"Even thought I had two secret abortions in the 1960s and 70s, and a miscarriage due to the ravages of sin and secrets, God did not give up on me. In the mid-1970s, Daddy King and the father of the fifth child I was carrying convinced me spiritually, scientifically, medically and socially was truly a human being, entitiled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I was unaware that King had sought out abortions as a young woman, and I was unhappy that she sought to deny other women a medical procedure that she had secured for herself. I was also unsure how to interpret her comment about her miscarriage. However, in a commentary at the Priests for Life website, King claimed that the miscarriage resulted from complications from her previous abortions, which explains why she attributed it to "the ravages of sin and secrets."

At the 6:00 mark, King condemned racism and emphasized that humanity is one family in Jesus.
"This litle girl who is part Irish, part African, and part Native American is standing before you today to bear witness of Acts 17:26, that of one blood, God made all people to live on earth in a beloved community, and one day, to live in eternity with him, so we are one human race, not separate races. Racism is the spawn of the [inaudible] lie. We are one human family in need of the blood of Jesus."
At the 7:23 mark, King delivered a prayer, heavily laden with anti-abortion rhetoric.
"Jesus, come in against the lie of abortion, eugenics, genocide, euthanasia, and all that would destroy abundant life that our lord and master Jesus promised us. We bind murder in the womb, we bind sexual immorality, we bind idolatry. We choose life in Jesus' name."
King's mention of abortion, eugenics, and genocide in the same breath was not accidental.  Claims of eugenics and racial genocide have been common tropes in anti-abortion rhetoric, with Maafa 21, the 8:18 Movement, and last year's high-profile billboard campaign as examples.

King's talk was but one of many examples of TheCall Detroit performing outreach to diverse racial audiences. As I'll discuss later this week, TheCall Detroit also included a Native American musical performance, as well as talks by Arab and African American speakers. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Commentary Tidbits: Penn State Abuse Scandal Edition

Several commentators have compared and contrasted the Penn State sex abuse scandal involving former asisstant coach Jerry Sandusky with the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. For your edification, below are links to commentary on the Penn State scandal.

Washington Post: Why Penn State is (and isn’t) like the Catholic Church

CNN: Seeming parallels abound in Penn State, Catholic Church abuse scandals

USA Today: Catholic bishops' lesson for Penn State: Call the cops!

The Town Talk: Echoes of Catholic Church scandal at Penn State

Survivors Network of Those Abuse by Priests: The Penn State Scandal: Contrasting the School’s Approach With the Catholic Church’s Approach to Its Own Child Sex Abuse Scandal

Infidel753: Breathtaking Stupidity

Are Women Human: About Penn State

Friday, November 11, 2011

Heated Controversy Surround TheCall Detroit -- And What They Said Tonight (UPDATE II)

To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech at TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's talk, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's talk on race, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. For final thought on TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, click here

TheCall, a New Apostolic Reformation ministry founded by Lou Engle, has been preparing for months for a large-scale, 11/11/11 prayer rally in Detroit. TheCall Detroit will take place in Ford Field from the evening of November 11th into November 12th, with the intent of bringing spiritual revival to Detroit and beyond. Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out was in attendance and posted some observations about TheCall Detroit here.

TheCall Detroit has created controversy over its reportedly divisive message. Right Wing Watch has discussed Engle's anti-Islam rhetoric with regard to TheCall Detroit, as well as his prior homophobic and anti-abortion remarks. As Republic of Gilead has observed, Engle has made scathing comments about Islam at the Prayer & Prophetic Conference and the 2010 FIGHT! conference, as well as controversial comments about race in Kansas City, at Firestorm 2011, and during a Transformation Michigan conference call. Engle's troubling messages have not gone unnoticed by Detroit clergy, several of whom have condemned TheCall Detroit.

A November 8th press release by People for the American Way quoted Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit’s Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, who is also a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Williams argued that Detroit does not need "more divisiveness and fear," and that while he supports prayer, he does not endorse the use of prayer "to bash another religion, nor to hide behind the subterfuge of political gamesmanship." According to the Detroit Free Press, Rev. Oscar King, senior pastor of Northwest Unity Baptist Church, accused TheCall of "creating turmoil" in Detroit. King accused TheCall of treating African Americans and other "like we're some Third World, underdeveloped country and they're going to bring us Jesus." King and others who disapproved of TheCall Detroit reportedly planned a vigil against hate for Friday evening.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yes, the Far Right is STILL Contemptuous of Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy movement is still going strong, but as I've noted before, many figures from the far right remain contemptuous. Much emphasis has been placed on claims of isolated violence or alleged depravity, with little attention given to reports of police violence.

First, in a November 8th post at the Heritage Foundation Foundry blog, Mike Brownfield claimed that the Occupy movement is now characterized by "increasing violence married with extremist affiliations" that do not represent the majority of Americans. After lambasting Occupiers for alleged incidents of violence, he added that George Soros and "Big Labor" have been supporting the demonstrators. He insisted that President Obama and other lawmakers have been inciting protesters, and urged them to tell their "followers" to stop destroying property and launching attacks.

Second, in a November 3rd commentary at the Concerned Women for America website, Brenda Zurita painted a bawdy picture of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. After writing disapprovingly of a New York City sex education curriculum for middle and high school students, she quoted from a New York Post article claiming that Occupiers were engaging in ribald behavior. The article claimed that protesters are allegedly seeking out HIV and STD testing after "getting their freak on" with strangers. She also cited a video at Gateway Pundit, in which Occupiers appear to be practicing unison chanting. At the end of the video, the chant leader makes a joke about sex with animals, for which Zurita labels the Occupiers "miscreants." 

Third, during the November 10th edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Sean Hannity demonized the Occupiers as lawless monsters. After raging against alleged media bias in coverage of the Tea Party movement versus the Occupy movement, Hannity had this to say. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)

"It's so bad now, sexual assault at Zucotti park, women have to sleep in a separate tent at this moment. You've got anarchists, rapists, thugs, drug users, drug dealers, rioters taking over the movement. President supports them. Nancy Pelosi supports them. I mean, we've got indisputable evidence [of] anti-Semitism. We've got film footage of arson fires. You know, lawlessness, recklessness, irresponsibility of the movement top to bottom, and the press is bending over backwards in an effort to portray them as understandably angry. They're being civic-minded here. It's beyond parody, and it's journalistic negligence."
Finally, Pat Robertson weighed in again about the Occupy movement with more contemptuous words. On the October 27th edition of The 700 Club, Robertson responded to a viewer's letter asking if Christians should get involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the 56:58 mark, he had this to say. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

"I think this is a rebellion. I think it is atavistic. Nobody knows exactly what it is. They don’t know what they’re doing. Why are they there? Well they’re just mad. Well, is it right for a Christian just to get involved in a protest of anger? If you’re going to demonstrate, demonstrate for righteousness. Demonstrate to lift the yoke of oppression. Demonstrate to help those that are poverty stricken, but don’t just go out and mess up a park and just scream and tear up things. I mean, why should you get involved in something like that? It’s formless, it has no purpose, but it could be used for radicals that want to destroy this nation, and that’s the bad part of it."
Uh, Pat? Have you even been listening to the protesters? The Occupy movement is fundamentally about economic injustice and oppression. 

By stereotyping all Occupiers as violent, lascivious hordes, it becomes easier to disregard their message of economic justice or ignore their complaints of police brutality. Rather than wrestle with the ethical issues raised by the Occupiers regarding poverty, jobs, and taxes, some commentators find it easier to shoot the messengers.

Commentary Tidbits

Whatever Works: Those Commies Are Still Out There You Know ...

RH Reality Check: The Personhood Ballot in Mississippi: "Sluts," "Good Girls," and the Increasingly Blurry Line Dividing Them

Box Turtle Bulletin: French Protests American Ex-Gay Program in Tolouse

Mother Jones: Kansas Medical Board Investigates Dr. George Tiller's Colleague

New York Times: The Birth Control Solution

News Tidbits

New York Times: Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate

New York Times: Texas Gun Instructor’s Ad Leads to State Inquiry

Edge Boston: Town Clerk in NY Same-Sex Marriage Flap Re-Elected

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Prosecutors file complaint against anti-abortion protester

American Independent: Focus on the Family, NOM will host GOP presidential forum

Minnesota Independent: Minnesota Family Council backs school board candidates who support restrictions on LGBT education

The Tennessean: Ex-gay ministry backs off 'all can be cured' stance

The Guardian: Christian hoteliers appeal against ruling on gay couple sharing a room

Pink News: QC argues Christian hotel owners are “entitled to outdated beliefs”

Pink News: UK religious party leader: “Rise up” against “cultural domination of the Gaystapo”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pat Robertson Interviews Bill Bennett; Feminist-Bashing Ensues

Former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar Bill Bennett just released his new book, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, a collection of essays, letters, and poems meant to encourage Bennett's vision of manhood. The Book of Man is divided into chapters about men in war, play, work, prayer, political life, and with women and children. On the October 26th edition of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson interviewed Bill Bennett about his new book, and the two had disdainful things to say about feminism and modern males.

At the beginning of The 700 Club segment, Lee Webb introduced The Book of Man at the 18:05 mark as follows.

"What truly defines a man? Generations ago, masculinity may have been easier to define. Men were men, and honor, duty, and valor were expected. But these days, the lines are often blurred, from the feminist movement of the 1960s to current gender debates, boys are left with a confusing choice."
Revealingly, when Webb spoke of the days when "men were men," military images and a scene from the film The D.I. flashed across the screen. However, when he spoke of "blurred" lines, images of feminist marches and Chaz Bono appeared on the screen. The intent, it seems, is to equate masculinity with militarism, and to conflate feminism and transgender status with confusion about masculinity.

During the interview, Robertson praised The Book of Man, and Bennett spoke proudly of content from Pericles, Churchill, Reagan, and profiles of living soldiers. Bennett's emphasis on military leaders, and the fact that an entire chapter of The Book of Man is devoted to military-themed content, again suggested that he equated masculinity with militarism.

Bennett argued that gender signals are blurred and that people no longer understand what it means to be a man. Feminism and the gains it has bestowed upon women have frightened men, who have sunk into irresponsibility, he insisted. At the 20:37 mark, Bennett had this to say.

"[Feminism has] changed the terms of discussion. It's frightened a lot of men. It encouraged women. You know, we said, Pat, we said 'you go girl,' and the girls went, and now for the first generation in history, women graduate from college with more achievement, more education, more ambition then men do, and a lot of the men are thrown back on their heels. What do the men do? Well, unfortunately, one of the answers is they play video games ... Girls, young women complain about this, boys who will not take responsibility. And I think the answer--of course, the answer's Biblical, but I point to the founders as well. They thought three things were necessary for a boy to become a man: industriousness, work, marriage, and faith. Those are the anchors, and those are the things that bring boys to manhood. What feminism did, I think, Pat, was confuse the debate to some extent by saying those expectations that we have of boys, the kinds of responsibilities that they will need to take up as men, we're not sure we need them anymore, 'cause we're not sure we need men anymore. Well, we do need men."
Bennett provided no evidence for alleged widespread irresponsibility among males, other than citing a statistic that men are playing more video games. To boot, he seems to see academic success as a zero-sum game, in which gains for women mean losses for men. Bennett exhibited even more anxiety over successful women when he later said, "Fine. All power to the women and the girls, as long as we don’t confuse roles and the differences in genders."

At the 22:42 mark, Robertson fretted that a matriarchy might erupt if men don't assume their correct role (a strange anxiety shared by Doug Phillips in a talk at the 2011 CHAP convention). In response, Bennett claimed that feminists supposedly want real men -- as he imagines real men -- for marriage and protection.

ROBERTSON: What’s this going to do to society, though, if men don’t take their places as men, and if suddenly there’s a gap and women and we have a matriarchy. What will it do ultimately to society?

BENNETT:  I think it can hurt society, maybe grievously. Interestingly the feminists are not celebrating this Pat. They want men too. They might want to rail against this and they may want to talk about , you know, stereotypes of man and male domination and so on, but women want men. They want men for that strong arm, they want men for that protection, they want men for a partner in marriage and so it’s something that has got very blurred and what I try to do in this book is remind people of things that are true. And to the boys, as you very well said, the array of things offered on TV and elsewhere is very confusing, from macho stuff to gay culture to all sorts of things. What I got here is a point of view that is time tested, based in tradition that will get boys to manhood.
Bennett's stereotypical straw man image of feminism suggested that he'd had little exposure to real-life feminism. Has Bennett ever read anything written by feminists? Or ever talked to them in real life? I thought. Also, Robertson's anxiety over a coming matriarchy again suggests a zero-sum vision of the world, in which gains for women equal losses for men, and an egalitarian society is unthinkable.

Furthermore, Bennett's comments suggested a facile understanding of women. Has he considered that lesbians might not want to marry a man, or that some women might not want to marry at all? Has he considered that some women might want a friend and partner in a husband, rather than a "strong arm"?

Bennett's vision of manhood equates stereotypical masculinity with responsibility, ignoring the fact that a man can have one without the other. To boot, his masculine ideal excluded large categories of men, which troubled me. By describing gay culture as a supposed source of gender "confusion," he assumes that gay and bisexual men cannot embody healthy masculinity. Furthermore, by enshrining heterosexual marriage as a foundational element of manhood, he excludes gay, bisexual, asexual, and single men. By listing faith as a pillar of manhood, he excludes atheist and agnostic men from his vision of ideal masculinity. (If we assume that by faith, he means conservative Judeo-Christian faith, billions of men from other religious backgrounds would be excluded too.)

Robertson and Bennett yearn for a bygone era of rigid gender roles, unable to accept that notions of gender have changed. (Compare David Barton, Kenneth Copeland, Angus Buchan, and Doug Phillips.) What Robertson and Bennett fail to understand is that gender is a flexible social construct, and as such it can take limitless forms. Simply put, Bennett's model of patriarchal, militaristic, heteronormative masculinity is unhealthy and will no longer resonate with all men. There are many ways for men to forge healthy masculinities without shoehorning themselves into some stereotypical masculine role. A man can be responsible and hard-working while also being fair, nonviolent, and egalitarian. A man can be a peace-maker, an innovator, a hero, a questioner, and countless other things. A man can be straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual. A man can pray at a church, meditate with a sangha, or sip java at a coffeehouse atheist meeting. And, he can be secure in his masculinity WITHOUT treading on women. Contrary to what Bennett thinks, well-adjusted men do NOT feel threatened by successful women.

Times have changed, Bill, and both sexes are better for it.

Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. To watch the full episode, click here

Huckabee Compares Sexual Harassment to Ordering Fried Chicken

While I'm reconstructing a @#$%& post that was partially lost, here's a little something to shock you. According to Media Matters, Mike Huckabee made sarcastic comments about sexual harassment during the November 5th edition of Huckabee. How very Christlike ...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pat Robertson on Depression and Dabbling with Devils

Pat Robertson is no stranger to controversy, given his penchant for making controversial comments on The 700 Club. The October 20th edition of The 700 Club was brimming with jaw-dropping quotes from Robertson on mental illness and "witchcraft," which were startling in their insensitivity.

First, after a report on antidepressant use, Robertson asserted that depression springs from lack of faith. At the 12:27 mark, Robertson had this to say.

"You lose God, you lose hope, and God gives hope, and with hope comes praise and joy and happiness because you have a future. If you don't believe in the Lord, you've got no future, and everything looks dark and gloomy, so I've got to have something to kill the pain ... They use this term self-medicating. I'm not quite sure what all that entails, but its not a very pleasant thing."

Robertson's facile comment reveals a simplistic understanding of mental illness. Obviously, depression can spring from any number of causes, including traumatic experiences and chemical imbalances in the brain. To claim that depression erupts out of a lack of faith is not only incorrect, but suggests that depression sufferers are to blame for their own suffering. (Therese J. Borchard discussed this at length in a 2009 post at Beyond Blue.) Stigmatization of mental illness sufferers is nothing new, sadly, but to encourage such stigmatization is unethical.

Furthermore, assuming that faith makes depression evaporate is also facile. Some kinds of religious belief can bring comfort and healing, but toxic forms of faith can actually exacerbate mental illness. (See Religion That Heals, Religion That Harms by James L. Griffith for a fascinating discussion of this subject.) To boot, religion does not have a monopoly on psychological well-being, as this study on coping in old age suggests. Pat Robertson's comments on depression were not only insensitive, but inaccurate.

Robertson also made a strange comment during the question and answer segment of the same episode. A viewer named Amber sent in a question about her mother-on-law, who allegedly practiced palm reading and "witchcraft." We don't know what "witchcraft" meant in this context -- fortune telling, or New Age spirituality, or neo-paganism, or indigenous religious beliefs -- but Robertson was convinced that it involved "dabbling in devils." The viewer wrote that she did not want her daughter exposed to such things, and asked The 700 Club if she should cut the mother-in-law out of their lives. Robertson said that she should. At the 52:36 mark, he made the following statement.
"You cannot have yourself exposed to that. This is the daughter of the devil. Billy Graham said, if somebody marries an unbeliever, he takes the devil for his father-in-law. Well, you apparently got Mrs. Devil as a mother-in-law. I don't know how you got into this situation. Do you have a husband? What does the husband say? Is he into this stuff with his mother? ... You've got to put God first. This is a clear violation, and she is in league with Satanic forces. You cannot have a part of that, and what you need to do is to bind that in prayer, speak against it, and cast those spirits away, because this is dabbling with devils. This isn't something you want."

The callousness of this advice was breathtaking. We know nothing else about the woman's mother-in-law. Is she a good mother and grandmother? Is she kind and honest in her dealings with others? To shun someone just because they dabble in fortune telling is to judge them on account of one aspect of their lives, to the exclusion of all others.

Robertson encouraged Amber to cut ties with her mother-in-law solely on the basis of palm reading and "witchcraft." What does it say when Robertson assumes that someone's belief system is demonic, without knowing anything about it? To literally demonize practitioners of "witchcraft" and palm reading is to invite hostile treatment of such people, including but not limited to the shunning Roberts encourages.

I bring attention to these quotes not just because of their absurdity, but because of the impact they might have on others. Robertson has a significant following of Christian viewers who hold his words in high esteem. When Robertson attributes depression to insufficient faith in God, or claims that palm readers are in league with Satan, some listeners will take his words seriously. Rather than encourage listeners to learn more about depression and non-Christian belief systems, Robertson promoted ignorance, stigmatization, and fear. For a public figure who has the ear of millions of viewers, this was profoundly irresponsible.

Hat tip to Media Matters and Right Wing Watch. To watch the full episode, click here. To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Laura Droege's Blog: An open letter to Pat Robertson about antidepressants and faith

You Know What I Don't Understand?: Pat Robertson Promotes Lies About Mental Illness

God Discussion: Pat Robertson tells viewer to keep daughter away from grandmother because she reads palms and 'practices witchcraft'