Tuesday, October 30, 2012

TheCall Geneva is Coming to Switzerland

TheCall, a New Apostolic Reformation ministry headed by Lou Engle, has performed international outreach in countries such as Uganda and Brazil. On December 8-12, TheCall wll host a rally in Geneva, Switzerland. According to TheCall Geneva website, the gathering is intended to turn the heart of Geneva back to God. Geneva, a historical site of international convergence, is celebrated by the website as a  nexus for the Reformation, the birthplace of the International Red Cross, and a magnet for historical reformers and intellectuals.

Hosted by Gateways Beyond Geneva, TheCall Geneva will culminate on December 12th. TheCall Geneva website describes 12-12-12 as a date with numerical significance.
"The number twelve signifies governmental perfection and divine authority. No doubt, Geneva is a governmental city and what happens here has the potential to bless the nations. The governmental calling of this city, however, is not independent of the local Body. It is with full representation and unity of the Church—-the international and local believers coming together—-that Geneva will more effectively operate in her calling."
In an October 29th video with Stacey Campbell and Sean Feucht (see above), Lou Engle reminders viewers about the international significance of the event for Christian outreach.
"You know, it's where the U.N. is, where the nations gather together. God says, 'I'm going to gather my people together, and I'm installing my son on his holy mountain Zion.' [God] said, 'Ask of me. I'll give you the nations as your inheritance.'"
TheCall's reach extends across the globe, serving as a reminder that the Religious Right is a global phenomenon, not just an American one. Observers of the Religious Right will be waiting to hear what messages are celebrated in Geneva this December.

To learn more about TheCall Geneva, visit www[dot]thecallgeneva[dot]com and select "English."

To learn more about Gateways Beyond Geneva, visit www[dot]gbge[dot]org

For additional commentary, visit the following link.

Slaughter of the Sheep: Duck! Dominionists are Coming in for a Landing!

Quotes from iPledge Sunday

On September 9th, the Family Research Council and American Family Association hosted iPledge Sunday: A Call to Faith, Family, and Freedom. iPledge Sunday took place at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC and was simulcast to churches across the U.S. Featuring FRC president Tony Perkins, Kirk Cameron, Star Parker, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and Bishop Harry Jackson, the gathering was intended to prepare listeners for the 2012 elections and encourage them to pray and vote. For your reading pleasure, I have selected some choice quotes from the evening's transcript.

First, in an introductory video, Tony Perkins expressed his desire to help Christians influence Charlotte. He waxed poetic about the relationship between Christianity and freedom in America.
"I came here to help Christians influence this city that was once dominated by Christian influence ... The real question is will we do our part to influence America? And that is exactly what iPledge Sunday is all about. It’s a call to Bible-believing Christians across America to faith, family and freedom. Many Christians today don’t understand the foundational role that Christianity and the Bible have played in America’s success. It is an incredible story, but it’s now missing from public school textbooks and, sadly, it’s missing from many church pulpits. If more of us understood the connection between our faith and our freedom, we would not so easily cast biblical principles aside when choosing our leaders or even passing legislation or educating our children."
Perkins attributed America's economic downturn, acceptance of abortion, and struggles over LGBTQ issues as a result of Americans ignoring "biblical principles."
"We now see the results of ignoring these biblical principles. We ignored biblical principles on economics and now we have almost $16 trillion in debt. We ignored biblical principles about the family and then divorce, abortion and the redefinition of marriage became more and more acceptable. We ignored biblical principles about God-given rights in our first freedom, religious liberty, becomes expendable."
Former Growing Pains star and evangelist Kirk Cameron lamented America's debt, claiming that "devastating" spiritual developments can be seen in public schools and malls.
"Economically we’re $16 trillion in debt; morally it’s frightening to see what happens. Just go down to our local public school or our mall and take a look at see if this is the direction we want our children to continue to go. Spiritually, the things that are happening in our world and our nation are devastating to stand by and watch."
Cameron spoke warmly of the Pilgrims as he reflected on America's heritage. At length, he described the Monument to the Forefathers in Massachusetts, a granite monument commemorating the Pilgrims that depicts Christian Faith, Morality, Law, Mercy, Education, Liberty, and Peace as the foundations for society. Cameron emphasized that humans needed God to restore them to the proper path.
"Our forefathers had enough foresight to know that we would get off track, because they knew the heart of man. Man comes with instructions. And we’re told that by nature, we will drift because we are bent toward selfishness and greed as human beings. That’s why we need the spirit of God to come. We need God to straighten us out and to turn our eyes to him so we begin to love the things he loves and hate the things that he hates."
Cameron asserted that "God is the platform" for America's political situation, insisting that abortion, same-sex marriage, and alleged assaults on "religious freedom" would appall America's forefathers.
"One of our political parties right now is wondering if the name of God should be in the platform. According to our forefathers, God is the platform. When I think of how far our country has drifted, our forefathers would be rolling over in their graves to hear what we are discussing: The sanctity of life. Really? The definition of a marriage? Really? Religious freedom? Really? They would be appalled."
Among the event's speakers was Star Parker, founder of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education. Parker fumed over the alleged encroachment of "socialism" in America, the supposed hallmark of "atheist societies."
"For some reason, far too many Americans have accepted that economic issues are separate and apart from what we call social and moral issues – issues like traditional marriage and abortion. However, the Lord of the universe never got this message. The 10 Commandments, in addition to addressing family and murder, address theft and covetousness. Central to a free society and a godly nation is a nation in which private property is respected, in which it is not permissible to steal. Central to socialism is the disregard of private property, that government and politicians can decide what is right there and take from some and redistribute to others. Socialist societies are atheist societies."
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum attributed the alleged disintegration of the family, including out-of-wedlock births, for America's economic woes, a well-worn right-wing chestnut.
"The hopelessness that you’re seeing, the want that you’re seeing, yes, it’s economic, but it’s mostly because of the brokenness of the lives and the families and the communities, because now 40 percent of our children are born out of wedlock. Over – well, now roughly half of people over the age of 18 are married. That’s down from 75 percent just 30 years ago. The family is coming apart, and it is no wonder the economy is crumbling."
Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, urged voters of color to "come off of the ideological plantation" and vote in accordance with "biblical values."
"My black neighbor, my black friend, my Hispanic brother, my Hispanic friend, I want you to understand that you have got to vote your biblical values. You’ve got to decide that you’re going to come off of an ideological plantation into the freedom of the liberty of the sons of God ... This is the call to biblical fidelity. We’ve got to believe that somehow, in God’s economy, the reason that the pressure is so heavy on America right now economically is that we have not been biblically faithful ... God’s first institution is marriage. And so if we turn against him on this situation, we then will fail."
Jackson claimed that resistance to same-sex marriage would heal America's woes, asserting that "if we will guard the institution of marriage, if we will give ourselves to healing marriages on our watch, God will heal our nation."

Commentary Tidbits

Prairie Nymph: I Left Fundamentalism for Moral Reasons

The New Civil Rights Movement: Hurricane Sandy: Minister Blames Gays and "Pro-Homosexual" Romney and Obama

Hot for Jesus Former Fundie: Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive: The Christian Tradition of Legitimizing Rape

Daily Kos: The Whore With the White Coat

Green Eagle: Conservative Cant Explained

(Hat tip to Infidel753 for several of these links)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Jim Garlow on Sexual Orientation

Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in La Mesa, CA spoke with Wayne Grudem, co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, on issues surrounding the 2012 presidential election. During "Biblical Issues for this Election," they spoke at length about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues, during which Garlow insisted that sexual orientation is merely a modern "construct."
"There are those that try to content, 'Well, I was born this way.' Well, there is no scientific evidence of that. We don't know what the causative factors are. But the Bible does not address orientation, to my knowledge. The Bible does address the issue of practice, so we're not talking about orientation, how one sees themselves. That's a modern phenomenon. Only in the last few years they've started using those kinds of constructs. We do know the Bible talks about practices, any practices."
Garlow also claimed that every "healthy heterosexual male" has an inclination toward polygamy, a statement that says volumes about his attitudes on sex and gender. Unfortunately, Garlow does not seem to realize that there are males and females who might be drawn to multiple partners throughout their lives, males and females who are happy with monogamy, and males and females who are asexual. Garlow compared homosexual feelings to adulterous temptation, lumping them together with other kinds of sinful "brokenness."
GARLOW: I would contend that every male, every healthy heterosexual male I know has a pernicious tendency towards polygamy. We have that capacity, but we don't act out on it. We don't act on it. In the same way that a person may have a pernicious tendency toward same-sex attraction. They don't have to act out. That is a practice or an act. We're not talking about orientation, because all of us have enough wrong orientations within us. We've got a lot of corruption, a lot of brokenness within every single one of us. We don't have to act out on any of those, including that same-sex attraction.

GRUDEM: Or give legal endorsement and approval and promotion to it. And once it's required by law, then it has to be taught to the children in all the schools of the nation, as something that's morally ... right.
As I listened to Garlow's words, I realized how similar they sounded to Exodus International's rhetoric at the two Exodus events I infiltrated (see here and here). Like Exodus' speakers, Garlow conflated homosexuality with other forms of sexual "sin" and "brokenness," refusing to acknowledge sexual orientation as innate. The words of Garlow, Grudem, and Exodus International all served the same purpose: to delegitimize calls for LGBTQ equality and erase non-heterosexual sexual orientations. The more I listen to Religious Right rhetoric, the more connections I notice among the rhetoric of its members.

(Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

FRC and Liberty Institute Release Report on "Religious Persecution"

In August, the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute released a collaborative report entitled The Survey of Religious Hostility in America. The report alleges that religious freedom is under attack in the U.S. by a "radicalized minority ... driven by an anti-religious ideology" that allegedly threatens First Amendment freedoms. Religious freedom has come under fire, it claims, because of a "radical shift in our culture’s worldview that started with the rise of secularism following World War II and has accelerated with each passing year of the twenty-first century." It chides the Obama administration for supposedly neglecting freedom of religion in its public statements, preferring to speak of "freedom of worship" that stops at the public square.

The Survey of Religious Hostility in America lists over 600 incidents of alleged "religious attacks and hostility" in the U.S. Listed among these supposed attacks are cases related to public prayer, Ten Commandments displays on state and federal land, and religious content in public schools. Other alleged "attacks" on religious institutions included a 2007 case that revolved around an accreditation controversy for a Texas school that wanted to use "seminary" in its name. Another involved confidentiality issues involving a pastor who revealed a congregants extramarital affair to his church's congregation. Others still involved public proselytization, pamphleting, homophobia in the workplace, so-called "conscience clauses" for pharmacists and other medical professionals, and other matters.

As I skimmed over these alleged cases of persecution, I shook my head. Controversies over church-state separation and proper use of public lands do NOT constitute persecution. Looking askance at medical professionals who refuse to provide reproductive products and services does NOT constitute persecution. Calling out workplace homophobia, or warning an especially noisy preacher to lower his volume do NOT constitute persecution. My impression of the report was that persecution was being conflated with attempts to enforce church-state separation with conservative Christians.

Cries of victimhood and religious persecution are nothing new from the Religious Right. Predictably, they usually revolve around alleged oppression of Christians, to the exclusion of other faiths. Are the groups that produced this report equally up in arms about discrimination against atheists, pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, or other religious communities?

Right-wing cries of religious persecution are especially abrasive in the face of actual religious persecution worldwide. Religious Right voices who insist that they are being persecuted would do well to read the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which outlines what actual violations of freedom of religion look like: arbitrary restrictions on or punishment for religious assembly, free speech, changes in religious beliefs, and so forth. They would do well to look at the State Department's indicators of a lack of religious freedom. Included among these indicators are discrimination against religious persons, restrictions on religious beliefs and alliances, and in especially egregious examples, torture, detention without charge, and flagrant violations of other human rights. They would do well to study actual cases of religious persecution against Christians in countries like Pakistan and Egypt.

Are Christians or other law-abiding groups being incarcerated, tortured, or killed for their beliefs in the U.S.? Are they being prevented from assembling, worshiping, or speaking freely as people of faith? Are they being prevented from or forced into changing their belief systems? Until we can genuinely answer yes to those questions, please spare us the histrionics.

To download The Survey of Religious Hostility in America, visit downloads[dot]frc[dot]org/EF/EF12H29.pdf

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Raymond Raines and the Religious Right: The Myth that Will Not Die

Washington Post: Conservative Groups Release Survey on Religious Persecution

Commentary Tidbits

The Onion: God Distances Self from Christian Right

CNN: When ‘God’s will,’ rape and pregnancy collide

Truth Wins Out: ‘Ex-Gay’ NARTH Therapist James E. Phelan Says That Dominant Women Demasculinize Men

Texas Freedom Network Insider: Texas GOP Congressman Accuses Democratic Opponent of Baby-Killing, Rejecting God

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: AU Urges IRS To Investigate Texas Church That Urged Votes For ‘The Mormon, Not The Muslim’

Salon: “The Revisionaries”: Texas schoolbook battle — crazier than you thought!

Alternet: Oral Sex, Yoga, and God's Eternal Wrath: Inside the New Hipster Megachurch That Tells Modern Women to Submit

The Stranger: Church or Cult? The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church

Kris the Sexy Atheist: It's Called Child Abuse, Not Love

News Tidbits

ABC News: Chick-fil-A Benefited from Summer's Gay Marriage Flap With More Customer Visits

News 9: Oklahoma: Catholic Priest Builds Chapel Next To Warr Acres Abortion Clinic

Gaystar News: Extremist Christian says gays have stolen ‘all the nice looking black men’

Washington Post: ‘Deserving of death’ scripture comment downplayed by Maryland anti-gay marriage leader

Christian Science Monitor: Richard Mourdock: The theology behind his rape comments

Gaystar News: Liberia Christians say God wants gay sex to stay illegal

Helsingin Sanomat: Finland: HS Infiltrates "Pray Away the Gay" Camp

al-Arabiya News: Bishops seeking to revive Catholicism are worried by Islam

Friday, October 26, 2012

Flashback: Bob Larson Casts Out Gay Demon

Bob Larson of Spiritual Freedom Church is a Christian author and so-called exorcist who boasts that he has performed over 15,000 exorcisms. For a fee, visitors to his website can even undertake a "demon test" to see if they are possessed. His three teenage daughters, Brynne, Savannah, and Tess, also claim to be adept demon exorcists.

In a YouTube video making the rounds in the blogosphere, Larson claims to be exorcising a gay demon from a middle-aged man. Calling the creature a "filthy stinking sex demon," he beseeches the man to accept Jesus.

At first, I laughed at the sheer absurdity and hamminess of the video. Upon reflection, however, I looked at the video with sorrow. The notion that homosexuality results from demonic activity is not unheard of in fundamentalist Christian circles, both in the U.S. and abroad. It frames homosexuality not only as a supernatural evil, but as a spiritual pathology to be cured, rather than a normal variation of human sexuality. Such superstitions both reflect and fuel homophobia, with devastating consequences for LGBTQ people. It is these superstitions we must challenge.

Hat tip to Gaystar News. For more information on Bob Larson, click here

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Think Progress: Gay ‘Exorcisms’ Distract From The Real Harms Of Ex-Gay Ministries And Anti-LGBT Beliefs

Gawker: Here’s a Man Undergoing a Gay Demon Exorcism

Progressive Puppy: Fundie Pastor Confronts Devils, Performs Gay Exorcisms

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gay Man Alleges Church Imprisoned and Physically Abused Him

A 22 year-old man has filed a complaint with law enforcement against his childhood church, claiming that the church imprisoned him for being gay. According to the Kansas City Star, Michael Lowry filed a complaint against Word of Faith Fellowship Church for reportedly confining him for four months against his will. Lowry claims that he was held in a church building from August to November 2011, where church staff subjected him to physical and emotional abuse. The confinement followed years of harassment and exorcisms from church members who believed that his homosexuality was the result of demonic influences, he alleges. Lowry states that his handlers locked him in a church building, knocked him unconscious, and forbid him from communicating with his family, finally allowing him to leave in November 2011.

According to the Kansas City Star, church co-founder Jane Whaley stated that Lowry was housed in a dormitory because his parents kicked him out of their home. He was free to come and go, she claimed, but said that he was later asked to leave because of his behavior. When asked why Lowry would make such claims, Whaley claimed that he had been goaded into filing the complaint by disgruntled former church members. She told ABC News that the church is not against gays, but added that several members have supposedly been "delivered" from their homosexuality. "As far as this church being against gays, that's absurdity. There are eighteen people in this church who have been delivered, they're not homosexual anymore, but if they were they could still stay in the church," she said.

World of Faith Fellowship, located in Spindale, NC, was founded by Sam and Jane Whaley in 1979. A protestant non-denominational church, World of Faith Fellowship has mission branches in Ghana and Brazil. The church has come under scrutiny for alleged physical and spiritual abuse before. According to a 2000 article in the Daily Courier, former members accused the church of physically abusing children, subjecting members to surveillance, and "blasting" (in which members form a circle around an individual and "pray" in a loud, shrill manner for minutes or hours at a time). One former attendee alleged that church members used "blasting" on her son when he was about a year old. They also allegedly subjected the same boy to hours of "blasting" when he was older for supposedly having "homosexual devils" and "feminine spirits."

ABC News states that the church was investigated for past child abuse, and that co-founded Jane Whaley was convicted of abuse (a conviction that was eventually overturned). The church later sued the North Carolina Department of Social Services over the child abuses charges, which were eventually expunged.

The World of Faith Fellowship website offers details on its attitudes toward LGBTQ persons. The website describes different categories of prayer, including "blast" prayer, insisting that prayer can dismiss "demonic" influences such as substance addiction and homosexuality. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/our-church/prayer) Furthermore, it claims that all manner of people came to the church seeking salvation, including the "demon-possessed", substance abusers, "fornicators" and homosexuals. Thus, homosexuality is categorized as a spiritual pathology alongside addiction and possession. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/pastors-and-ministers/heart-of-sam-and-jane)

The World of Faith Fellowship website also addresses past allegations of child abuse and "cult accusations, claiming that the church had been subjected to "major persecution." Lamenting that it was the victim of "hate crimes," the church boasts that God "vindicated" it as it struggled for its religious freedom. In doing so, the World of Faith Fellowship depicted itself as a victim of hostile, ungodly forces. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/our-church/from-persecution-to-vindication)

The nonprofit group Faith in America has come to Lowry's side, urging the U.S. government to investigate his disturbing claims. According to an October 19th press release, Faith in America has urged the FBI's Civil Rights Program and the U.S. Department of Justice's Hate Crimes Division to investigate Lowry's case. The press release quotes Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, as calling the case "disturbing."
“If Lowry’s account of what happened is accurate, there is no question that these actions constitute a serious hate crime. In my six years of working to educate people about the harm caused to gay and lesbian people by religion-based bigotry, this is the most disturbing story I have encountered. This young man has had to flee his family and his community with little more than a few personal belongings. He feels he has been exiled, shunned, humiliated and denied the pursuit of happiness that most young people would be enjoying at his age. No church should be allowed to subject its members to physical, emotional, and psychological abuse because of a church's views on sexual orientation."
Lowry's charges against the Word of Faith Fellowship must be taken seriously and investigated. The church's statements are homophobic, to be sure, but a full investigation will reveal whether or not those attitudes devolved into imprisonment and violence.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

Canyonwalker Connections: Back to the Start: The Real Roots of Exodus

The Atheist Camel: Take the National Quiz of Shame

This Week in Christian Nationalism: The Congressional Prayer Caucus and the House Science Committee — A Disturbing Combination

I Kissed Reality Goodbye: Power Dynamics in Evangelicalism

Speaking When the World Sleeps: The escapism of forgiveness

News Tidbits

Minnesota Public Radio: Love is love vs. sin is sin in Moorhead marriage amendment debate

International Business Times: Woman Lives Biblically: Rachel Held Evans Calls Husband 'Master,' Cuts Hair And Writes About It

New York Daily News: Conservative political writer and evangelical college president alleged to have had affair

Wall Street Journal: Akin Bonds Ever Tighter With Evangelicals

BBC News: Gay couple win Berkshire B&B refusal case

The Guardian: Mention of vagina causes evangelical bookshop to refuse book, claims author

New York Times: Texas Judge, Siding With Cheerleaders, Allows Bible Verses on Banners at School Games

Washington Post: Report: Knights of Columbus and allies are leading funders of anti-gay marriage drives

Washington Post: Survey: Young evangelicals at odds with their political parties

Reverend Delivers Anti-Gay Speech with Surprise Ending

This video has been making the rounds in the blogosphere, and for good reason. At a Springfield, Missouri city council hearing, Rev. Phil Snyder of Brentwood Christian Church delivered a speech on Council Bill 2012-226, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. His talk began with the homophobic rhetoric we've come to expect from the Religious Right, but the surprise ending was fantastic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

RH Reality Check: Live Action Blows Another "Undercover" Mission

Human Rights Watch: ‘Traditional Values’ code for human rights abuse?

Human Rights Campaign: The Roman Catholic Hierarchy’s Devotion to Fighting Marriage Equality

SPLC Hatewatch: Polarized Election Season Marked by Extremist Candidates

Alternet: Another Right-Wing Phony Embroiled in Sex Scandal -- Why Does Sexual Hypocrisy Flourish on the Right?

News Tidbits

Huffington Post: Scott DesJarlais, Pro-Life Republican Congressman And Doctor, Pressured Mistress Patient To Get Abortion

The Advocate: Pastor Wanted To Slap Woman for Objecting to Antigay Posters

CBC News: Non-Christian prison chaplains chopped by Ottawa

Washington Post: Evangelical leaders try to get out Christian conservative vote despite objections to Mormonism

New York Times: One Man Guides the Fight Against Gay Marriage

New York Times: Christian Group Finds Gay Agenda in an Anti-Bullying Day

Gaystar News: Canada gay 'cure' doctor arrested for sexually assaulting men

Los Angeles Times: Live from the Holy Land ... our rival's logo!

The Observer: Ugandan MP Ogwal Asks African MPs to Reject Homosexuality

Baltimore Sun: Black, gay and Christian, Marylanders struggle with conflicts

Friday, October 19, 2012

Disturbing Conditions in Ghana's Christian Prayer Camps

Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this month documenting human rights abuses in Ghana's pentecostal and evangelical prayer camps. "Like a Death Sentence": Abuses Against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Ghana discusses the plight of persons with mental illness in Ghana's psychiatric facilities and residential prayer camps. For the purpose of this blog, I'd like to focus on Ghana's prayer camps and the problems reported therein.

The report describes these prayer camps as privately owned Christian institutions tied to pentecostal and evangelical denominations, often run by self-styled "prophets." The camps exist to to provide communities with counseling, spiritual healing, and charitable endeavors (i.e., orphan and elder care). Some camps attempt to heal people with mental health problems through prayer and traditional remedies, even though the "prophets" and staff often have little or no mental health care training. In a country where most citizens cannot afford psychiatric care, prayer camps provide a less expensive -- albeit problematic -- alternative.

Several hundred prayer camps exist, although the exact number is unknown because the camps are not regulated by the state. The Ghana Evangelism Committee has reportedly undertaken a survey to count the camps. Many of the camps are under the authority of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), which oversees Ghana's 122 churches and evangelical organizations. However, the report states that the GPCC's oversight of the prayer camps is limited. GPCC guidelines prohibit prayer camps from chaining or imposing fasting on ill residents, and dissociated from at least one camp (Edumfa Prayer Camp) for violating other standards.

After visiting eight Ghanan prayer camps between November 2011 and June 2012, Human Rights Watch found that people with mental illness often suffer human rights abuses such as involuntary admission, inadequate shelter, unhygienic conditions, chaining, forced fasting, and denial of medication. Even children were subjected to abuses such as chaining and forced fasting.

Most of the people with mental health problems interviewed at prayer camps by HRW were taken there involuntarily because they allegedly demonstrated confused, restless, or aggressive behavior. HRW found that at four prayer camps, residents were chained to floors, trees, or other structures until the religious leader in authority confirmed that they were "healed." Some respondents told HRW interviewers of forced fasting at the prayer camps. Staff and religious leaders at seven prayer camps insisted that fasting was necessary to starve evil spirits and facilitate divine healing.

At some prayer camps (i.e., the Jesus Divine Temple), staff and the "prophet" did not allow people with mental health problems to take prescription medication. One respondent said that this was because angels allegedly do not allow medication. Only one of the eight camps observed allowed medical care for residents with mental health problems.

Ghana has made efforts to improve the lives of persons with mental health problems. Ghana's 2012 Mental Health Act and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are positive steps. However, no system currently exists to monitor prayer camps, the report states, so monitoring and stopping abuses at the camps remains problematic.

Human Rights Watch is not the first voice to decry human rights abuses at Ghana's prayer camps. According to a 2008 article in Modern Ghana, an investigation of Ghana's prayer camps by the Commission for Human Rights Initiative confirmed that many camps in the Volta and Central regions provided proper shelter, water, sanitation, and electricity. Unfortunately, it also found that many camps chained, physical abused, and denied food to mentally ill residents. These human rights abuses were justified by people at the camps as means of exorcising evil spirits.

A 2009 article in Global Health also stated that mentally ill residents at Ghana's prayer camps are sometimes chained, especially if they displayed aggression, wandered off, or behaved disruptively. Two Christian pastors argued that chains were necessary to restrain violent persons, while another claimed that he used chains because he could not afford to build structures to house mentally ill residents  at his camp. However, the article was quick to add that chaining and shackling are not always means of restraining violent persons, but also as a means of punishment, since mental illness is commonly seen as a product of immoral behavior. Beatings of mentally ill residents served a similar punishing purpose.

In a commentary at the Ghanaian Chronicle, Helena Selby explained that many people in Ghana believe that evil spirits inflict mental illness, leading them to seek spiritual treatments for mentally ill loved ones. She lamented the poor conditions of prayer camps she visited, which included isolation and chaining. Selby decried the superstitions undergirding such prayer camps and called for greater public education regarding mental illness.

"The existence of numerous prayer camps in Ghana and their extreme stressing of their teachings on superstition have resulted in people veering away from the reality of mental illness. People get confused everyday as to what causes mental illness. If that be the case, perhaps public education by the government and stakeholders of mental health can help people have a better knowledge about mental illness."

These Christian prayer camps remind us of the dangers of labeling mental illness as a spiritual pathology, a tendency not limited to Ghana. I recall Pat Robertson's 2011 comments about mental illness, when he attributed depression to a lack of faith in God. I recall Therese J. Borchard's frustration with religious leaders who assured her that only faith is needed to dispel depression. Attributing mental illness to some spiritual shortcoming does a grave disservice to persons struggling with mental health issues. Mental illness does not stem from demonic possession or moral failings, but from organic and psychological causes.

However, the abuses taking place at prayer camps need to be understood in their Ghanaian context. Prayer camps' abuse of mentally ill residents seems to stem from superstition, mental illness stigma, and a dire lack of affordable, comprehensive mental health resources. These factors must be taken into account in order to craft an effective response to the prayer camps.

Pentecostal and evangelical leaders, both in Ghana and abroad, need to condemn human rights abuses in Ghana's prayer camps. Chaining, physical abuse, forced fasting, and other abuses are being perpetrated in the name of these faith traditions, which should alarm its adherents. Additionally, they must strive for public education on mental illness and funding for medically sound mental health services in countries such as Ghana. Ghanaians struggling with mental illness deserve no less.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

No Longer Quivering: The Duggars Campaigning For Todd Akin

Love, Joy, Feminism: Was Slavery a Good Thing? Examining Doug Wilson

Media Matters: Fox's Steven Crowder: "If You're A Christian, You Can't Vote For" Obama Because "Your Values Preclude You"

Huffington Post: Gay Bashing by Churches Is Why a New Pew Poll Shows America Losing Its Religion

Huffington Post: Sexual Misconduct and the American Prosperity Gospel

Religion Dispatches: Let's Make it Legal to Execute Disobedient Children!

Human Rights Campaign: Key NOM voice says gays need to be ‘saved’, remain celibate

Salon: Seven right-wing radicals in Romneyland

Los Angeles Review of Books: Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Wolves

News Tidbits

al-Arabiya: Cardinal causes uproar with ‘Muslim scare’ video at Vatican

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: Gay couple thinks hate crime is linked to local pastor’s anti-gay article

Gaystar News: Australian Christian Lobby says marriage campaigners motivated by the devil

Gaystar News: Newark Archbishop says ‘support marriage equality? Don’t take Communion’

1070 WINA: Hundreds of pastors back political candidates, defy tax rules

Athens Banner-Herald: Broun: Evolution, big bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell"

Air Force Times: Airman’s Bible exiting; some see controversy

Washington Post: Pope Benedict XVI convenes bishops to confront ‘tsunami’ of secularism

Metro Weekly: ACLJ Attorney Fired After Online Accusations of Gay Relationships

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Gay marriage “endangers religious liberty”: Catholic bishop of Yakima

On Top Magazine: Mormon Conference Reaffirms Church's Opposition To Gay Marriage

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Right-Wing Russian Group Wants to Ban Gay Clubs

Global media outlets and human rights groups have taken note of another affront to LGBTQ equality it Russia. Gaystar News reports that a Russian nationalist group called Narodny Sobor (the People's Council) have urged Moscow's political leaders to ban gay bars and clubs in Russia's capital. Narodny Sobor co-chairman Oleg Kassin said that "homosexuality, as well as its propaganda, is a grave sin," insisting that legislation banning gay clubs would not violate international law. Kassin complained that gay clubs allegedly "entice immature souls" into the LGBTQ world, thereby depicting the LGBTQ community as predatory. Interfax Religion reports that the organization is also seeking a general ban on "same-sex love," a move mirroring anti-LGBTQ efforts in other Russian cities such as St. Petersburg.

This is not the first time Narodny Sobor has raged against affronts to the Orthodox Church. According to Interfax Religion, in 2007 the group urged Moscow's public prosecutor to try scientist Vitaly Ginzburg for allegedly "inciting religious enmity." In an interview with Vesti Obrazovaniya, Ginzburg frowned upon teaching religion in schools, much to Narodny Sobor's outrage.

Additionally, Narodny Sobor filed a complaint against the Forbidden Art exhibition in Moscow's Sakharov Museum, according to BBC News. Oleg Kassin called the exhibit, which contained controversial images of Jesus Christ, "provocation" and "anti-Christian." According to the Christian Science Monitor, Alexander Lapin, head of Narodny Sobor's Moscow branch, rejoiced when he heard the court's decision and said the matter was about "incitement of religious hatred."

Narodny Sobor's nationalist political agenda has set its sights on many issues in Russia, but the LGBTQ community remains one of its targets. In a 2011 video of the Narodny Sobor Moscow conference, Alexander Lapin lambasted "perverts" alongside "minorities" and "self-proclaimed intellectual leaders" for allegedly holding sway in Russia. At the 1:24 mark of a Narodny Sobor video, Lapin had this to say. (See www[dot]youtube[dot]com/watch?v=kqsYGWh5fL4)
"They try to propagate consumerist liberalism, atomization, and dissipation of our nation, so that every man should be for himself and so that all sorts of minorities, perverts, sects, crooks, and self-proclaimed intellectual leaders could rule the show. Whereas we put forward the idea of Russian spiritual socialism standing for the public interests ... In my view, our main task is to save the Russian spirit from blight and blurring."
Narodny Sobor's antics are chilling amidst the wave of homophobia sweeping Russia right now, such as anti-gay legislation in cities such as St. Petersburg. For instance, Human Rights Watch recently observed that a violent attack on a Moscow gay club last week occurred shortly after Narodny Sobor called for a ban on homosexual "propaganda" in Moscow. While the organization denies any illegal wrongdoing, the fact remains that the group is contributing to a political atmosphere of homophobia in Russia, to the detriment of Russian LGBTQ persons.

The antics of Russian Religious Rights groups such as Narodny Sobor deserve international attention. Like its American analogs, Narodny Sobor uses the language of alleged religious persecution, sexual "perversion," and nationalism -- parallels that observers should explore in greater depth. Its attempts to silence the voices of the LGBTQ community, artists, and critics are disturbing and well-deserving of outcry.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

The Daily Beast: ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ Pastors Don’t Care About Religious Freedom

Friendly Atheist: My Day at the ‘America for Jesus’ Rally

Alternet: The 10 Most Dangerous Religious Right Organizations

Love, Joy, Feminism: “A truly loving husband won’t take advantage”

The Maddow Blog: Akin reverses course on arrest disclosure

Ms. Magazine: The “Threat” of Sharia Law and the War on Women

News Tidbits

CNN: Pastors prepare to take on IRS over political endorsement ban

Arizona Daily Star: Evangelical Christians fill streets in Jerusalem in support of Israel

Arutz Sheva: Jerusalem Activists: Beware Concerned Christians

Chicago Tribune: Jewish congregation split during days of reconciliation; Rabbi's shout-out to visiting Michele Bachmann riles some

Washington Post: Judge dismisses Pa. suit over ‘Year of the Bible’

Los Angeles Times: Anti-Muslim film puts Christian TV in global spotlight

BBC News: Conference claims same-sex marriages 'undermine family unit'

The Guardian: 'Conversion therapy' for gay patients unethical, says professional body

The Advocate: Dan Savage Says Tony Perkins 'Sits on a Pile of Dead Gay Kids'

Washington Blade: Bishop Harry Jackson says he placed ‘curse’ on Blade

Good Morning America: Texas Cheerleaders Fight Back Over Bible Verses

Buzzfeed: Akin In 2008: Doctors Give Abortions To Women “Who Are Not Actually Pregnant”

California Bans Conversion Therapy for Minors

On Saturday, September 29th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that would ban so-called "conversion therapy" for minors. Calling attempts to cure homosexuality "nonscientific" and "quackery" in a statement quoted in the New York Times, Brown drew praise from LGBTQ rights activists.

I applaud California's decision to regarding this homophobic "therapy," which is not only dubious, but potentially destructive. In a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation concluded that sexual orientation change efforts are unlikely to be successful and may actually cause harm. Researchers have warned that patients of conversion therapy not only have abysmal rates of sexual orientation change, but also report problems such as low self-esteem and depression. In some cases, such as Kirk Murphy's, conversion therapy has ended in tragedy.

Of course, members of the Religious Right see the new law differently. Cue the outrage and lawsuits!

First, in an October 1st news release, Liberty Counsel announced its intention to file a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that supports "conversion" therapy. Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver claimed that the new legislation violates parental rights and would force mental health professionals to ignore or change clients' religious beliefs.  

The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group, also announced plans to file a federal lawsuit to seek an injunction against implementation the law. In a September 30th press release, PJI president Brad Dacus called the legislation a "freedom-killing bill," criticizing it for making no exceptions "for young victims of sexual abuse who are plagued with unwanted same-sex attraction." 

To boot, ABC News reports that three plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against California state officials, alleging that the new law violates freedom of religion and speech. The plaintiffs claim that the ban on conversion therapy would allegedly impede their counseling practices.

Religious Right commentators have wasted no time in voicing their outrage. First, in an October 2nd commentary at Charisma Magazine, news editor Jennifer Leclaire expressed outrage at Brown's decision. "Since when is helping a confused teenager under assault by powers of this dark world a dustbin of quackery?" she asked. Leclaire wrote that she does not believe minors are born gay, that homosexuality involves a "spirit of immorality" and "sexual brokenness," and that attempts to change one's sexual orientation involves "set[ting] the captives free." Predictably, she caricatured LGBTQ-affirming counseling as something that would "affirm and encourage experimentation." In keeping with Religious Right homophobia, she thus depicted homosexuality as a spiritual pathology that someone oppresses those who experience it. In hyperbolic fashion, she wondered if California lawmakers would ban the Gospel, anti-LGBTQ ministries, and tax-exempt status for churches. In doing so, she equated homophobia and conversion therapy with Christian faith, depicting the California legislation as an attack on Christianity. The fact that people can be Christians without embracing homophobia or pseudoscience was not considered.

Second, in an open letter to Senator Ted Lieu, a key supporter of the legislation, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) called the legislation "an act of childhood endangerment" and an affront to parental rights. The letter blasted the bill for its supposed whiff of "fascism and ex-gay bashing" and for "promoting homosexual behavior to sexually confused youth."  

Right-wing airwaves have lambasted the law as well. On the October 2nd edition of Issues, Etc., the National Organization for Marriage's Ruth Institute president Jennifer Morse expressed disapproval of the law. She insisted that she's met people who claim to have changed their sexual orientation. (Hat tip to Equality Matters.)
"What the gay lobby wants us to believe is that if you’re gay, you’re gay, and there’s absolutely no possibility of anybody ever changing their sexual orientation from gay to straight. Now that’s a very, very strong position for them to take because all it requires is one counter-example to disprove it, right? All you have to do is have one person who says “hey, I changed,” you know, and that extreme claim that they’re making is down the tubes, right? And you know, I’m acquainted with people who tell me that at one time in their life they were of homosexual orientation and now they’re telling me they are not of homosexual orientation. So what am I supposed to believe? That they’re lying to me?"
On the October 2nd edition of The Janet Mefferd Show, Save California president Randy Thomasson framed conversion therapy as just another "controversy" in society. He encouraged pastors and counselors to defy the law and continue promoting conversion therapy. (Hat tip to Equality Matters.)
"The homosexual activists say, 'I want to wipe out our rivals here.' Well, look, if somethings's controversial, then you can't wipe it out. Otherwise, you have to apply the same rule. Let's wipe out regressive therapy, which is controversial. Let's wipe out tarot card therapy ... Let's wipe out chiropractic care. Let's wipe out vaccinations. Let's wipe out chemotherapy. You can't, in a free society, get rid of all controversies. You have to allow controversy and disagreement within a free society. In fact, tolerance means that you have to disagree with something in order to tolerate it, so what's disagreeable, you sometimes have to allow, and this should be allowed. And that's why we're calling upon knowledgeable pastors and courageous counselors to defy this law and continue helping the souls of children who have gender identity confusion."
Additionally, Linda Harvey of Mission America weighed in on the new law during the October 5th edition of her radio show. Harvey suggested that the law would do a disservice to "troubled" youth who are "struggling" with homosexuality or "gender confusion." The idea that such youth might only be "struggling" because people in their lives have convinced them that homosexuality is sinful or pathological was not entertained. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"If a teen is struggling with homosexual feelings or gender confusion and has been convinced he or she may have been born gay, counselors in California will not be able to tell them there is no science to back that up nor to warn them and help them to begin to change these feelings. Many people have overcome homosexual desires but in California such advice will not be coming from school counselors or other therapists a parent might choose, instead they will be helping troubled youth feel comfortable with deviance."
Harvey went on to demonize homosexuality as a sin, framing homosexuality and Christian faith as mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed. The new law, she insisted, was a supposed attack on religious freedom.
"Religious freedoms are being assaulted by the left regularly now and every Christian family needs to stay informed to understand what is happening. We always have a choice to believe God, in season or out. In the Bible, homosexuality is always a sin and there’s no indication our Lord acknowledges anything like a homosexual orientation. Yes people can have persistent struggle with the same sin but are we ever supposed to adopt a sin identity? No. We are supposed to flee sexual immorality and we are also warned by Jesus not to draw children into sin. But when government tells people they must allow their children to be led into homosexual sin, it is definitely time for new leadership."
The tired rhetoric here is all too familiar. Once again, Religious Right figures depict homosexuality as a spiritual pathology or burden from which youth must be "freed," or an alleged affront to religious freedom, or an attack on parental rights, or an attack on Christianity, ad nauseum. Research on the shortcomings of conversion therapy, as well as horror stories from its survivors, have yet to change their minds. Fortunately, enlightened citizens and lawmakers are reaching logical conclusions about conversion therapy, so let's hope that this new California law is only the beginning.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Southern Poverty Law Center: California ‘conversion’ therapy ban is important step for protecting LGBT youth

Human Rights Campaign: Gov. Brown Signs SB 1172 Protecting California’s Youth

The Wild Hunt: Pagan Psychotherapist Celebrates Conversion Therapy Ban in California

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: California's ban on 'ex-gay' therapy causing controversy, will be challenged in court

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

News Tidbits

Commentary Tidbits

A Voice from the Foothills: Knee-Jerked into the Mouth

Truth Wins Out: Ex-Gay Lobby Objects to Limited Ban on Conversion Therapy

A Post-Mormon Life: Who Owns The Term Mormon?

Herald Scotland: Children of God ... bred to take over the world

Religion Dispatches: Pastors Urged to Defy IRS to Defeat Evil, Hitlerian Obama

America for Jesus Rally -- Saturday

(To read about the America for Jesus youth rally on September 28th, click here)

The America for Jesus rally took place on September 28-29 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA. After Friday night's Awakening youth rally, a Solemn Assembly took place on Saturday, broadcast live on the GOD TV website. The Solemn Assembly's content was even more blatantly political than the youth rally's content, brimming with pro-Israel, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-abortion messages from prominent Religious Right speakers.

I tuned into GOD TV's live feed of the event around 11 a.m. Eastern as musicians were performing Christian music for the praying audience. The lead singer begged Jesus to bless America, lamenting that "we have devalued blood, we have devalued the blood of Jesus, royal blood shed for us." The crowd, a diverse mix of races and age groups, was dotted with American and Israeli flags and the occasional cross. Occassionally, the bellow of a shofar would ring out. In the distance was a Family Research Council bus similar to one I saw at the Values Voters Summit in Washington D.C. earlier this month.

Jim Garlow of Skyline Church took to the stage, asking listeners, "How did our nation get in the situation it's now in? What happened that would allow us to kill 55 million babies in the womb?" He expressed dismay that America was allegedly redefining marriage and plummeting into a debt-ridden "economic suicide." Garlow blamed these supposed ills on silent pulpits in the U.S., which started on July 2nd, 1954, when "166 years of pulpit freedom" was allegedly undermined by the Johnson Amendment. The result of the amendment was that "muzzled and intimidated" pastors began to "self-censor" themselves on issues such as homosexuality, marriage, and abortion, because "Biblical application" to national life was . "People no longer recognize authentic biblical preaching, and it's time to turn that," Garlow insisted.

Garlow asked pastors to exercise "Biblical authority" and celebrate their "pulpit freedom" by defying the Johnson Amendment from October 7th until the election. America would not witness a spiritual turnaround until the pulpits were unmuzzled, he insisted. The tax exemptions awarded to churches did not come from the IRS, but from the Founding Fathers who understood that government has no authority to dictate a church's message, Garlow claimed. After giving a shout-out to the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) he promoted the Pulpit Freedom website.

Garlow's speech quickly turned to the subject of same-sex marriage. Four states would soon be voting on same-sex marriage, and thus those states need the support of people with "Biblical values" to defend "traditional, Biblical, natural marriage," he told the audience. He likened "religious liberty" and the "radical homosexual agenda" to two locomotives racing toward each other on a train track, adding that the two cannot exist in the same nation at the same time. Parental rights, religious liberty, and personal freedoms would all be jeopardized if the definition of marriage were expanded to include same-sex couples, he claimed.

Next, Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel took to the stage, delighting in the sight of so many American and Israeli flags in the crowd. He told listeners that they must stand with Israel, as they share common values with the Jewish people and America was supposedly founded on a "Judeo-Christian" foundation. America, which exalts the divine as "one nation under God," is a "shining city on a hill," but that shining city is now jeopardized by "forced abortion funding" and redefinition of marriage, he claimed. "We are deeply sorry that in this land, under our laws, we kill a child every 20 seconds," he prayed. "Forgive us that your pulpits have been silenced."

After Staver spoke, right-wing history author David Barton of Wallbuilders addressed the crowd. Barton discussed the Great Awakening of the 18th century, with emphasis on preacher George Whitfield. Barton described how Whitfield's "Father Abraham" sermon encouraged Christians to transcend their sectarian differences, as well as how it supposedly influenced the Founding Fathers. He also spoke of Congress calling Americans to prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving throughout its history, trying to depict America as a historically prayerful country. The America for Jesus rally was "rekindling a covenant" made earlier in America's history, Barton said.

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In keeping with the rally's pro-Israel theme, several Messianic Christian speakers delivered pro-Israel rhetoric. The next speaker was Jonathan Cahn of the Beth Israel Worship Center/Jerusalem Center in Wayne, NJ. Cahn, author of The Harbinger, affectionately pointed out an "Arab believer who loves Israel" in the audience.

Cahn preached that when a nation is in danger of divine judgment, God calls his people to repentance. He plugged The Harbinger, claiming that it explains the September 11th tragedy and America's economic downturn as signs of impending judgment. When ancient Israel turned away from God, nine warnings (harbingers) appeared in the land, he claimed, and the same nine harbingers are now appearing in the U.S. because America has turned from God. Like Israel, America was founded on God's will and blessed more than any other nation, Cahn asserted, but it has driven God out of government and culture while sacrificing the lives of unborn children. However, God will heal the land if Americans humble themselves before him again, Cahn assured the audience, stressing that America's hope lies with Jesus rather than the president, military, or economy.

Robert Stearns appeared after Cahn, repeating many of the same messages he delivered to the youth rally on Friday evening. He delivered a prayer of repentance for the "apathy" and "silence" that have characterized the church for the past century, begging that the crowd's shouting and rejoicing would spill out from churches into universities, media, and Congress. He blew his shofar three times, with the crowd shouting and cheering on the third bellow.

Sid Roth of It's Supernatural, who introduced himself as "the Jewish man who's red-hot for Jesus," reminded politicians of Genesis 12:3, a passage he interpreted to mean that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people and scorn those who disrespect the Jews. He called "dividing up God's land" a "tipping point" for the U.S., insisting that Israel is not the Jewish people's land or the Palestinian people's land, but God's land. God has arranged a "long-term lease" of Israel to the Jewish people, and as the U.S. does to Israel, God will do to the U.S., he warned. Cindy Jacobs of Generals International echoed his sentiments, assuring the audience that God is willing to forgive the U.S. just as he forgave ancient Israel.

Other speakers grieved for a supposedly tainted America, bringing talk of demons and dark forces to the stage. Phil Cappuccio of Kingdom Life Covenant Church in Hershey, PA urged listeners to repent because the "waters have been polluted" and death haunts the land. Bishop Bill Hamon of Christian International Ministries preached that it was time to release God's people from "demonic activity," joyous that Stearns' shofar would blast millions of demons from the area. Hank Kunneman of One Voice Ministries asked God to descend upon America and allow the "demonic veil" to be lifted off the nation.

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The America for Jesus rally, which took place forty days before the U.S. presidential election, seemed to be an attempt to energize the Religious Right base. With its unabashed homophobia, anti-abortion rhetoric, and pro-Israel sentiments, the rally would have reminded right-wing voters about key Religious Right issues. Although I did not hear speakers promote any candidates, this was an undeniably political rally with a familiar Christian nationalist message.

For more information on the America for Jesus rally, click here and here