Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back on 2012

2012 also afforded me time to fiddle with oil paints.
2012 is coming to a close, and another year beckons. In a few hours, 2013 will arrive with the promise of new experiences. I look forward to another year of work, friends, family, reading, travel, gardening, brewing beer, fiddling with oil paints, and blogging. For Republic of Gilead, this means another year of observing the Religious Right, reporting on regional events, and sharing commentary with my readers.

Before we bid adieu to 2012, I'd like to highlight some of the regional events I attended in person this year. Some were unsettling Religious Right gatherings, while others were refreshing opportunities to learn and recharge.

(1) On September 22nd, I observed Exodus International's Love Won Out Conference at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.

(2) On August 28th, I observed an Exodus International equipping event for service providers at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.

(3) On June 30th, I attended 2012 Creation Northeast, an annual Christian music and culture festival at Agape Farm in Mount Union, PA. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found!

(4) While enjoying the food, music, and vendors at 2012 Harrisburg Pride at Riverfront Park in Harrisburg, PA, I witness several Christian "faith healers" in action.

(5) On January 27th, I volunteered at the fantastic 2012 Creating Change Conference in Baltimore, MD, hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

I'd like to thank all of Republic of Gilead's readers, for whom this blog is a labor of love. Thank you all for reading, commenting on, and sharing these blog posts. Let's continue to keep a wary eye on the Religious Right together!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chicago Magazine's Exposé of IFB: The Berean Pastors Respond

Chicago Magazine recently published a hard-hitting exposé of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church. "Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church" discusses the inappropriate behavior of Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammon, Indiana, which culminated in a scandal surrounding his sexual abuse of a teenage girl. According to CBS Chicago, Schaap pleaded guilty earlier this year to transporting a minor across state lines to engage in sex acts. (Hat tip to the Ramblings of Sheldon)

The abuse scandal should come as little surprise to those familiar with Schaap's unsettling behaviors and attitudes. His utter contempt for females was demonstrated in one sermon dripping with misogyny. Furthermore, the Chicago Magazine article references to Schaap's increasingly brazen behavior, such as his 2010 "Polishing the Shaft" sermon in which he made suggestive gestures with an arrow. (NSFW!)

A man like that has no business in a pulpit. Sadly, Schaap was not alone. Chicago Magazine documents the controlling behaviors, misogyny, and sexual misconduct allegations of other preachers in the IFB church, including that of late IFB leader Jack Hyles (Schaap's father-in-law).

Curious about what one controversial preacher has to say about another? Look no further.

As discussed in a prior post, Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC landed in hot water this spring when he told congregants to punch "effeminate" sons. His disturbing comments earned him condemnation from many quarters, including LGBTQ advocates and clergy. Also, Harris has made sexist comments in several Berean podcasts (see here and here). Since the "punching sermon" controversy, I have listened to Berean Baptist Church's podcasts from time to time, and when the Berean pastors voiced their thoughts on Jack Schaap, I had to share them.

On December 20th, Berean Baptist Church pastors Sean Harris, William J. Sturm, and David McManus shared their thoughts on the Chicago Magazine exposé in a podcast entited "Let Us Pray: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church". The three pastors discussed the history and controversies of the IFB church, acknowledging IFB leader Jack Hyles as both an "early megachurch builder" and a deeply flawed man. Regarding Schaap, the three men disapproved of Schaap's behavior and the unhealthy church culture that granted Schaap impunity. David McManus compared the Schaap sexual abuse case to the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandals, noting that both institutions gave excessive spiritual authority to their leaders. At the 26:06 mark of the podcast, the three pastors had this to say.
HARRIS: What is going on in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches across the nation where this type of a culture, Bill, is allowed to occur? How does a guy preach a sermon and for all practical purposes, it looks as though he's masturbating, and nobody says 'that's enough'? Are there no lines in the sand?

STURM: ... This is a cultural issue of, we have one pastor, he's right below Jesus and above the congregation. He need not be questioned, especially if he grips hard a King James version of the Bible, and never mind the fact that his mind might be full of filth because he wears a shirt, a tie, and has a King James Bible and a tapered hair cut, and as long as he has all those things and is dogmatic on all those things, and oh by the way, if he has a bus ministry* ... He must be right with the Lord.

MCMANUS: And have we not just totally subjugated the priesthood of the believer in this idea that we have to elevate a man to a position where I can't be spiritually fed, I can't get in touch with my savior unless he is the one that's preaching? Where else have we seen these sexual sins going on? The Catholic Church, and there's a parallel here. I need that priest in order to intercede for me, in order to pray and to confess and to do these different things, and we've got that molestation sin that's prevalent in the Catholic Church, and I think there's a parallel here. We have elevated a man to the position of, like you said, just below if not close to being equal with Christ.
The Berean pastors' condemnation of Schaap's behavior was spot-on and insightful. However, I found Harris' comments highly ironic. This was, after all, a man who told his congregation to punch "effeminate" sons and crack their limp wrists, all while his audience laughed and said "amen". Did anyone in his audience that Sunday say 'that's enough'?

On the other hand, I wondered if these comments were a sign that Berean Baptist Church is now taking pastoral accountability seriously. The "punching sermon" firestorm might have reminded Berean's leaders that a pastor must be held accountable for his words and actions, and that pastors acting without accountability run the risk of doing harm. Only time will tell if Sean Harris and his colleagues have used the firestorm as an opportunity to evolve.

To listen to Berean Baptist Church's podcasts, visit www[dot]bbcfnc[dot]org/media-audio[dot]php

* Sturm is referencing the strict standards of personal appearance in IFB "Hyles churches", as well as Jack Hyles' bus ministry.

Exodus International Releases Blooper Reel

Exodus International released a "blooper reel" of goof-ups from its 2012 videos. I spent less time laughing and more time cringing.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Aztecs, Warlocks, and Blood: Quotes from TheCall Aviva

TheCall Aviva took place on September 1st, 2012 at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California. The event was a prayer gathering hosted by Aviva, "a Hispanic-led prayer movement for revival" according to its website. Now that TheCall's website features a video archive of its past rallies, I was able to watch several segments of TheCall Aviva.

Prominent among the TheCall Aviva 2012 speakers were two New Apostolic Reformation preachers: Cindy Jacobs of Generals International and Lou Engle of TheCall and the International House of Prayer. Amidst Jacobs' and Engle's bombastic messages about idolatry, demons, and prophesy, one could detect a strong anti-abortion undercurrent. Much of Jacobs and Engle's talks were characterized by unvarnished attempts to recruit Hispanics into anti-abortion activism. TheCall Aviva was not the first time Engle in particular had spoken of race and abortion in the same breath (see here, here and here), so an event linking anti-abortion activism and Hispanic identity was a natural outgrowth of Engle's ministry. To shed light on the racial and abortion-related themes at TheCall Aviva, I have shared several quotes from Jacobs' and Engle's talks.

First, at a "PreCall" gathering, Cindy Jacobs acknowledged the racism and struggles faced by Hispanics in the U.S. However, she claimed that God would grant Hispanics immigration reform in exchange for their opposition to abortion. At the 2:21 mark of the PreCallAviva 02 video, Jacobs had this to say.
"The Holy Spirit showed me clearly that as the Latino community moved to a pro-life position and took a stand for righteousness and justice, that God would begin to give justice in immigration. And we're seeing it happen, aren't we?"
At the 5:20 mark, Jacobs told the audience that Hispanics would be a seminal force in ending abortion in California and the country as a whole.
"There's going to be in word, in deed, not just word, that Latinos are pro-life. Something new is beginning here in this nation, here in California. It's so historic, and it will be said, says the Lord, that this was the generation that stopped abortion. And it will be said that the Latino community, you were the key to stopping abortion."
Jacobs urged listeners to donate money to TheCall, insisting that some people would be called by God to "give largely". She prayed to God to "anoint your people to give" to TheCall for the sake of immigration reform and anti-abortion activism. "How much do you want California to turn?" she asked. "How much do you want the Latinos to arise? Then you give in proportion to your need. You give in proportion to what you want God to do."

Jacobs would continue to preach about abortion (the "shedding of innocent blood") at the Aviva rally itself. At the 8:37 mark of the Aviva 06 video, Jacobs attributed the ascendancy of abortion to idolatry and "Baal worship" among the Mayans. She blamed California's economic dire straits to the proliferation of sins in the state.
"We want to overthrow the culture of death, but in order to overthrow the culture of death, we need to understand there was an ancient sin that brought the culture of death. It was called the shedding of innocent blood. And the shedding of innocent blood opened up something in the heavens that allowed abortion to come in, and the Mayans worshiped in a way the sun, but death. It was really that Baal worship, and that's the strongman, and we have come to this point of worship in communion where we have the sword of the Lord. We have authority now to pull down the stronghold. Leviticus 18:25 says that because of these ancient sins -- idolatry, sexual sin of all kinds, and even shedding of innocent blood -- Biblically we understand that the Bible says that the land will vomit out its inhabitants. So therefore, the land cannot prosper. Let's think of California today. Cities going bankrupt! Listen to me! City after city going bankrupt! Could it be that the cup of iniquity is full?"
Jacobs prayed for California to become a "pro-life state" so that its spiritual power would "cancel out the shedding of innocent blood". At the 11:04 mark of the Aviva 06 video, she claimed that Hispanics have unique spiritual influence against abortion, given the Mayan and Aztec blood in some of their lineages (!).
"We know that the Mayans have come this way, and many Latinos are descendants of the Mayans or Aztecs, so there's great authority today to take down the culture of death."

Lou Engle, overflowing with anti-abortion enthusiasm, spoke at several points during the Aviva gathering. Blood seemed to preoccupy him, as his speeches brimmed with talk of the blood of Jesus, the "bloodshed" of abortion, and the blood spilled in ancient human sacrifices. For example, at the 1:32 mark of the Aviva 04 video, Engle spoke of abortion in the same breath as drug cartel violence and street crime.
"We're entering into this moment, and it many ways its a centerpiece of why we've come here. We have come to break the death culture over the Hispanic world and community. We are going to bring the blood of Jesus to bear on the bloodshed of drug cartels, on the bloodshed of innocent murders in the streets, on the bloodshed of aborted babies, millions of them. There is a better blood today than the blood of those babies. They cry for justice and judgment."
Engle showed a slide on-screen that read "The World's Largest Abortion Clinic Targeting Latinos & Black Americans". The slide showed a reproductive health clinic next to an ancient Aztec temple where human sacrifice took place. At the 5:00 mark of the Aviva 04 video, Engle correlated abortion with ancient Aztec human sacrifice, insisting that "it's the same temple".
"On the right we see an Aztec temple. Blood sacrifices were done in full human view. On the left is a similar kind of structure. It's the largest abortion facility in the western hemisphere. Six stories high. It is in the middle of three Hispanic neighborhoods and one African-American neighborhood. The ancient temple is rising again. You can't see the bloodshed in the one on the left, but God sees the bloodshed ... Today, we have sanitized our sacrifices."
Engle warned his Hispanic listeners that abortion clinics were in their neighborhoods, anguished that "thousands and thousands of your people are going there". He spoke at length about how the "shedding of innocent blood" through abortion appalls God, and how God will demand judgment for such bloodshed. He cited Numbers 35:33-- "Do not pollute the land where you are; bloodshed pollutes the land" -- urging Hispanics to repudiate abortion. At the 11:48 mark of the Aviva 04 video, Engle compared Hispanic immigrants to the chosen people of the Bible immigrating to a new land.
"This passage was spoken to a people that were immigrating into another land. When you enter into the land, don't offer your children and the blood of your babies. Hispanics immigrated into California. There was righteousness on you. There was family in you. There was the fire of revival in you, but we begin to worship the gods of California, and people in the church offered up their babies' blood, and California--the land is polluted with blood and it demands a day of reckoning."
Outrageously, Engle claimed that abortion is a form of child sacrifice to demons. Engle has made similar claims about abortion before at TheCall Detroit, the Prayer and Prophetic Conference, and Russia IHOP, as have other anti-abortion activists (see here and here). At the 13:35 mark, he claimed that "witches and warlocks" understand the relationship between abortion and demons far better than many preachers.
"Brothers and sisters, the offering of our children in abortion is actually to demons. Abortion is fueling the demonization of a whole culture. Why do the witches and warlocks understand this more than the pulpits of America? Where is the preaching of the prophets in the pulpits telling the people that we're offering our children to demons?"
In conclusion, TheCall Aviva tried to recruit Hispanics into anti-abortion activism by linking anti-abortion attitudes to Hispanic identity. Abortion was depicted as an alleged threat to the Hispanic community and a sin hearkening back to their ancestors' practice of human sacrifice. Magnetic preachers compared Hispanic immigrants to the chosen people of yore, promising that if they condemned abortion, God would bless their community with immigration reform and a prosperous land.

This use of race rhetoric struck me as cynical. Instead of contributing to the discussion of reproductive issues and the Hispanic community, Jacobs and Engle talked about demons and Aztec sacrifices. Instead of focusing on real ways to bring about immigration reform, Jacobs promised it as a divine bribe in exchange for anti-abortion activism. This simplistic appeal to race suggests a simplistic understanding of the issues facing Hispanics.

Finally, TheCall Aviva's approach to abortion left no room for the messy complexities of real life. Abortion was branded as murder of innocents, a sin that defiles the land, and an idolatrous sacrifice to demons, but never as a complex social issue deserving of debate. The causes of unwanted pregnancies, the need for medically necessary abortions, and women's reasons for seeking abortions were neglected in favor of black-and-white rhetoric. By demonizing abortion, Jacobs and Engle made meaningful discussion of abortion impossible.

Jacobs and Engle have their sights set on Hispanics as the next wave of anti-abortion Christians. The question is, will the Hispanic community take the bait?

For more information about Aviva, click here.

To watch video recordings of TheCall Aviva or other TheCall gatherings, click here.

News Tidbits

United Press International: Hobby Lobby contraception appeal denied

Christian Science Monitor: Who's Filling America's Church Pews

Reuters: Website helps Dutch Catholics "de-baptize" over gay marriage

Raw Story: Italian priest’s Christmas flyer: Women incite domestic violence with cold dinners

Friday, December 28, 2012

Flashback: "Ex-Gay" Speaker Richard Cohen at the World Congress of Families VI

The right-wing World Congress of Families VI took place on May 25-27, 2012 in Madrid, Spain, where Religious Right activists from around the world discussed abortion, homosexuality, and demographic winter. Having shared details of NOM president Brian Brown's remarks at the conference, I'd next like to discuss a talk by so-called "ex-gay" speaker Richard Cohen. Cohen is the author of Coming Out Straight and Straight Talk About Homosexuality and the director of the International Healing Foundation, an organization based in Bowie, MD that offers seminars on "unwanted same-sex attractions". Cohen, whose "ex-gay" activism has been documented by Ex-Gay Watch, Box Turtle Bulletin, and Truth Wins Out, tried to defend his position by citing the APA (with glaring omissions) and outmoded theories of development.

Cohen began his talk by describing his own struggles with "same-sex attraction", which culminated with marriage to a woman and fatherhood. At the 3:37 mark of the video, Cohen insisted that people are not born with feelings toward members of the same sex. He accused experts whose research suggests otherwise of wanting to justify their alleged "homosexual feelings."
"People are not essentially born with homosexual feelings. There have been many scientific studies conducted over the last particularly three decades trying to purport a genetic, biologic, or hormonal basis for [same-sex attraction]. Many and most of those researchers are homosexually oriented; therefore they're trying to justify their homosexual feelings, trying to say we're born that way. However, in 2008, the American Psychological Association said essentially no one is born with SSA."
Actually, what APA guidelines state is that sexual orientation exists as a continuum rather than a rigid set of categories. What APA document Cohen supposedly cited when he made his assertion about sexual orientation is unclear to me.

In his haste to cite the APA for legitimacy, Cohen conveniently failed to mention the APA's disapproval of "ex-gay" therapy and repeated support for the LGBTQ population. For instance, he failed to mention a 2010 statement by the APA expressing concern over "ongoing efforts to mischaracterize homosexuality and promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed and about the resurgence of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)." The statement reminded mental health professionals that insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate the efficacy of SOCEs. The APA affirmed its position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, adding that "same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity."

Cohen also failed to go into detail about a 2008 APA publication endorsed by thirteen professional associations entitled Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth. This APA publication disapproved of efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy, warning that such efforts have "serious potential to harm young people". Funny how Cohen left all that out when he brought up the APA.

At the 5:42 mark, Cohen used outdated Freudian assumptions to argue that homosexuality is an "emotionally-based condition." He conflated sexual orientation with gender identity, arguing that people exhibiting same-sex attraction allegedly received insufficient parental love and gender modelling.
"Homosexuality is principally an emotionally-based condition ... In my professional experience, there are three main desires that drive homosexual feelings. Number one, it's a need for the same-gender parents or same-gender peers love. Two, it's a need for gender identification, and three, in some cases, it represents fear of intimacy with the opposite sex. Scientific research over the past eighty years identifies many potential causes that will lead an individual to develop homosexual feelings. My therapeutic colleagues and I have observed in those with unwanted SSA two things driving this desire. Number one, it's always the result of unresolved issues or wounds of the past, and number two, it's a legitimate need for unmet love."
Cohen summoned several volunteers on stage. Using the volunteers as part of his storytelling, Cohen recited claims of how inside a gay man is a "little kid" who allegedly internalized his mother's femininity and did not receive enough love or "internalize masculinity" from his father. He told a similar story of how alleged failures of development and attachment create a woman who is attracted to other women. Cohen did not seem to realize that gender identity exists on a wide continuum and is wholly distinct from sexual orientation.

Hilariously, after branding LGBTQ persons as unhealthy, broken people, Cohen spoke of love. At the end of his talk, Cohen urged listeners to offer "unconditional love" and "lay down the weapons of judgment" to people with same-sex attractions. The fact that his attitudes promotes judgmental, harmful attitudes toward LGBTQ persons seemed to escape him.

Cohen's ideas about sexual orientation echo the dubious and homophobic rhetoric of the larger "ex-gay" movement. Unfortunately, the World Congress of Families VI symposium provided Cohen with an international audience for his ideas. Let's hope Cohen's "ex-gay" work comes under as much scrutiny abroad as it has in the United States.

For more information about Richard Cohen and the International Healing Foundation, visit www[dot]comingoutloved[dot]com

(Hat tip to Good As You)

Flashback: NOM's Brian Brown Speaks at the World Congress of Families VI

My holiday vacation has freed up time for me to catch up on a substantial backlog of blog topics. Better late than never!   --Ahab

As discussed in a prior post, the World Congress of Families VI took place on May 25-27, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. The symposium regularly brings together far-right activists from around the world to discuss abortion, homosexuality, and demographic winter. Among the WCF's partners are American Religious Right groups such as the American Family Association, AFTAH, the Alliance Defense Fund, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.  Progressive observers who are concerned about how the American Religious Right networks with its international counterparts should pay close attention to World Congress of Families gatherings, as it offers a glimpse of the Religious Right's ideology and strategy.

National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown spoke at the World Congress of Families VI, encouraging anti-gay activists worldwide to resist same-sex marriage. In a video recording of his talk, Brown depicted the fight against LGBTQ equality as the struggle of sensible, ordinary people rather than that of "elites" who have supposedly abandoned marriage. Brown imagined campaigns against same-sex marriage as "counter-insurgency" efforts that require effective messages, funds, and "muscle" (volunteers) to be effective.

At the 4:41 mark of the video, Brown claims that western "elites" have "abandoned marriage", but that the ordinary people still understand the merits of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
"The elites throughout the western world have abandoned marriage. This is a reality. The people, however, their intuition, their conscience, even those that aren't particularly religious still understand this simple truth that there's unique and special about the union of one man and one woman. They may not believe that because of religious reasons. It may just be because their reason tells them this. But if we can speak to their hearts, we can still win the marriage issue."
At the 5:16 mark, Brown described campaigns against same-sex marriage as a "counter-insurgency", outlining NOM's strategy for opposing LGBTQ rights.
"There are three key components to any counter-insurgency. And elections for marriage are an example of a counter-insurgency. I spent a lot of time discussing this with a friend who was a general who fought in counter-insurgency, and we came to this agreement. And that is, in order to win elections, we need three primary things. We need message, money, and muscle. In each of the campaigns that I've outlined, a lot of money was spent on researching what messages worked with the people of each of these states. The messages were not always the same. Now we know that the truth is on our side. We know that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. We know that because of our faith, bit pure reason allows us to get to this."
At the 6:13 mark, Brown claimed that a multitude of cultures uphold marriage as a monogamous, opposite-sex union, oblivious to the many different ways that marriage has been defined by cultures throughout history. He offered legitimacy to opposite-sex marriage as a setting for reproduction, ignoring the fact that many opposite-sex couples choose not to have children, and many same-sex couples successfully raise biological and adopted children.
"Why do people in very different cultures over the span of eons of history all agree that there's unique and special about a man and a woman? Cultures that don't have modern nation-states still regulate the union of a man and a woman and dictate that there's something unique and special about it. Well, there are three reasons. One, relationships between men and women make babies. It's pretty simple. Two, that society needs babies. Those societies which don't have babies are not part of those societies that anthropologists can go and research and be one of the many societies that we know much about. This is fairly simple. Number three sounds simple but is actually profound, and that is that when a baby is born, there is bound to be a mother present. However, marriage is that institution by which men and fathers are connected to any children that are born out of that relationship. Same-sex marriage, any attempt to redefine marriage, most profoundly changes and alters the bond between fathers and any children that might be born. So without even getting into the reality that God has dictated in scripture that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, we can know there there is something unique a special."
Brian Brown's rhetoric should not surprise us, as it contains the same flawed arguments against marriage equality that we're used to hearing from the Religious Right. However, we should take note of his emphasis on reproduction, particularly at a conference that warns of alleged demographic winter and frowns upon abortion and family planning. Brown's focus on reproduction as the legitimizing trait of opposite-sex marriage fits neatly into the World Council of Family's worldview, in which reproduction is championed and retrograde attitudes about marriage and sexuality are celebrated.

Also, Brown's three-pronged campaign strategy of "message, money, and muscle" is nothing new or remarkable, as most social change campaigns rely on messaging, funding, and volunteer labor. However, the recent successes of the LGBTQ rights movement suggest that NOM's strategy is not unbeatable, and that the organization may want to reconsider its stance.

(Hat tip to Good As You)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

The Immoral Minority: German Investigative Reporter Infiltrates Fundamentalist Christian College

Jezebel: Operation Rescue Hilariously Declares ‘Pre-Born Children’ the Winner of Its Annual Anti-Abortion Award

Military Religious Freedom Foundation: MRFF Responds to Family Research Council's Absurd "Rebuttal" of Efforts to Eliminate Unconstitutional Forced Prayer at West Point

CNN: Six things I don't want to hear after the Sandy Hook massacre

Washington Post: Faith-based procrastination

News Tidbits

Associated Press: Pope Stresses Family Values as Gay Marriage Gains

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: Americans Learned Little About the Mormon Faith, But Some Attitudes Have Softened

Gay Star News: Piers Morgan: 'Amend' Bible to allow gay marriage

Mail & Guardian: South Africa: New Johannesburg church has more than a whiff of cult

The Berean Pastors Reflect on the Newtown Tragedy

Earlier this year, Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC found himself in the middle of a media firestorm. During a "Marriage Sunday" sermon, Harris told congregants to punch "effeminate" sons. Ever since the controversy, I've taken an interest in Berean's rhetoric, listening to their podcasts from time to time in search of controversial messages.

With the Newtown shooting drawing so much attention from the nation, I was eager to hear what the Berean pastors had to say about the tragedy. What I found was a mixed bag, with the Berean pastors making both sensitive and insensitive remarks about Newtown.

On one hand, the Berean pastors seemed to be trying to add constructive observations to the public conversation about violence. On December 17th, in a podcast entitled "Violent America Wonders Why", William Sturm rejected the idea that widespread gun ownership is correlated with violence. Rather, he blamed society glorification and normalization of violence for brutal crimes such as the Newtown massacre. "America is a culture that absolutely craved violence," Sturm stated, telling listeners that if they seek out ultraviolent entertainment, allow children to play violent first-person shooter video games, or become mired in anger, they are part of the problem. At the 5:01 mark, Sturm criticized people who blame politicians for America's problems without doing their share to stop violence.
"I am irritated, aggravated, nauseated, annoyed and frustrated at the believers who want to hound their president, their representatives, their senators and bemoan all that is wrong in America when they won't even fix their own front yard. It's easy to slam a politician. It's hard to take something from one of your children, and to remove something, an influence of some type from their life and for just a few moments, understand that you have just disappointed them. That's the hard work."
On the other hand, Sturm also used the Newtown tragedy to disparage non-Christians. On December 16th, in a podcast entitled "Obama Cries, Quotes Scripture in Speech on Conn. School Shooting", Sturm was pleased that Obama quoted the Bible during his speech on the massacre. At the 2:50 mark, Sturm gloated that President Obama supposedly left out Muslims and atheists.
"I think it's interesting that first of all, we need to point out that he did not quote the Quran. I think that should be pointed out. I think it should be pointed out that he was willing to, for just a few brief moments, ostracize the Muslims, to make them feel like they were unincluded. Why did he not quote the Quran? Why did he not quote simply the Torah, to endure [sic] the Jewish folks to himself? why did he have to quote anything? He right flat out probably offended the atheists, and before anyone says something stupid like, well, the separation of church and state ... don't even bring that dog to the fight. The truth is, it's not in the constitution, and only a novice would bring that up."
Actually, it is. Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," while Article VI states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." But I digress.

Sturm's interpretation of the President's speech indicate a deep contempt for non-Christians and an eagerness to see them delegitimized in the public realm. He should reflect on the fact that people of many faiths contribute to American society, and that people of many faith were horrified by the Newtown shooting, not just Christians. Sturm should remember that fundamentalist Christians do not have a monopoly on American identity, compassion, or sorrow.

Finally, in a December 16th podcast entitled "The Hero of Sandy Hook: Vicki Soto", Sean E. Harris recounted the heroism of Vicki Soto, who tried to protect children from Lanza's rampage. He also spoke reverently of the Sandy Hook Elementary principle and school psychology, who demonstrated bravery during the massacre. In doing so, Harris demonstrated sensitivity and respect for victims. However, at the 9:01 mark, Harris claimed that the Gospel, not legislation, was the real answer to mass violence.
"The Gospel's the only solution to this. There are not enough laws that could be enacted to solve this problem. We already have the law that communicated all that needs to be communicated. The law's very simple. The law's very simple. Thou shalt do no murder. Thou shalt do no murder. That's the law. That's the plain and simple law. That law's not sufficient, and adding two more laws or three more laws or four more laws is not going to do anything to correct depraved situations. And certainly safeguards can be taken, and we should look for every measure of safeguard we can, but I want to remind you what the word of God says ... We're to do everything we can to prevent these kind of tragedies, everything we can to safeguard children. Do all we can, but safety belongs to the Lord."
I did not find this comment particularly constructive. Instead of hoping that a return to the Christian Gospel will solve America's violence problem, we need to explore the roots of mass violence and developed multi-pronged strategies for preventing future tragedies. Lasting solutions to any social problem includes cultural change and community awareness as well as legislation, so automatically dismissing any new laws is premature.

In short, the Berean pastors' response to the Sandy Hook tragedy was mixed. Some of their comments encouraged sensitivity, respect for lives lost, and personal efforts to change our culture of violence. On the other hand, other comments used the tragedy as an excuse to take jabs at non-Christians, or promote a Gospel solution to violence when far more efforts are needed.

To listen to Berean Baptist Church's podcasts, click here.

The Religious Right is STILL Blaming Newtown on Unrelated Things

As mentioned in prior posts, the Religious Right wasted no time in issuing insensitive responses to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Voices from the far right continue to blame the tragedy on atheism, evolution, abortion, insufficient national piety, or Satan himself. Instead of taking part in our national soul-searching or contributing to the national conversation on guns, violence, and mental health services, the Religious Right clings to simple answers that promote its agenda.

First, in a December 17th statement at the American Values website, Gary Bauer used the tragedy as a cheap excuse to lash out at atheism, evolution, and national impiety. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. See www[dot]amvalues[dot]org/eod/?p=1641)
"What is happening in our society that spawns these young, twisted men who can kill the innocent so easily? First and foremost, as a nation, we are running from God ... Today’s children are taught by our culture that we are a cosmic accident. Something slithered out of the primal slime and over billions of years evolved into a human being. We are cousins, ten times removed, to the ape at the zoo eating his own excrement.

God is pushed out of every public place. The number of Americans professing they are atheists, agnostics or faithless grows yearly and is reported breathlessly by happy social scientists and reporters as evidence that we are putting away the old superstitions."
Next, on the December 17th edition of Generations Radio, host Kevin Swanson and David Buehner used the Newtown shooting as an opportunity to condemn abortion, birth control, and national impiety. Swanson predicted that the Newtown shooting would lead to an increase in homeschooling in Connecticut, and that President Obama would fail in his attempt to address mass violence because he allegedly neglected the church and the Holy Spirit. Hyperbolically, Buehner insisted that increasing "tyranny" would not halt anarchy, as the two forces feed off of each other.

Predictably, Swanson claimed that schools, abortion laws, the media, and the president encouraged "rebellion" against God, complaining that the fear of God (the source of all morality in his eyes) is not taught in schools. Swanson attributed America's high rates of violence to impiety as well as "environmental factors" such as abortion and contraception. At the 4:07 mark, he raged against abortion, dismayed that the media gives attention to the Newtown massacre but ignores abortion. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. See www[dot]oneplace[dot]com/ministries/generations-radio/player/the-connecticut-school-massacre-a-very-sick-nation-317156.html)
"I think part of that [violence] is due to the sort of environmental factors that feed into it. It's also due to the fact that we have a huge abortion holocaust that was inspired by Colorado in 1967, when we first legitimized abortion in the sate, and of course the 1973 Roe v. Wade also legitimized abortion. And America has been really, the leader. Think about the leaders in birth control. Think about the leaders in surgical abortions. Really, America has been at the forefront of leading abortion around the world, and Dave, this has not been mentioned. We've talked about the 20 children slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut last week, but we hardly ever mention--I haven't heard on a single news story the other 5,000 killed yesterday, and it probably was more than 5,000 if you include the abortifacient birth control pill that is being used by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Christians around America, and that probably was not mentioned yesterday as people were lamenting the loss of the 20."
At the 5:13 mark of the program, Swanson and Buehner lambasted American society for its alleged defiance of God, speaking of the Newtoqn massacre in the same breath as abortion, same-sex marriage, and explicit rap music.
SWANSON:  America has been stunned by what happened. I think there is still somewhat of a conscience. There may not be a conscience about killing the unborn children, there may not be as much of a conscience of killing twenty-seven year olds, but apparently when these bodies of little six and seven year olds riddled by bullets are being examined by the experts, hundreds of thousands and millions of people in America are still somewhat stunned, apparently they have some level of moral outrage left for the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut.

BUEHNER: Kevin, I think you’re exactly right. The liberals are proposing that we as a nation follow a kinder, gentler flavor of rebellion against God. They’d like a rebellion that stops a little short of murdering kindergartners. They want the rebellion that involves gay marriage. They want the rebellion that embraces rape rap and abortion and a media that is in utter defiance against the law of God. That’s the kind of society they want. They want a society that’s in rebellion, but not that much rebellion.
Finally, Dan Delzell, pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska, penned a December 21st commentary on the shooting for the Christian Post. Delzell's well-meaning but misguided commentary lamented the loss of innocent life while attributing Adam Lanza's rampage to infernal influences. He wrote that "[w]hen Adam entered the school, it was like Satan himself was entering. The evil angel had a very willing vessel through whom to work." (Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars)
"We will never know what voices Adam Lanza heard in his head....or what they were telling him. But whatever was going on at the time, Adam made the decision....and acted on his wicked intentions....and decided to do it, do it, do it. That degree of cold-blooded viciousness must in some way be connected to the influence of Satan."
Delzell attempted to make sense of the carnage through theodicy, asking why an all-powerful God did not prevent the massacre. He concluded that God allowed this horror to happen so as to allow free will in the world, which would allow humans to love God more sincerely (!?).
"Could God have stopped the horror at Sandy Hook? Of course. Could God have stopped Osama bin Laden before 9/11? Of course. Could God have stopped Hitler before his crusade against the Jews? Of course. Could God have stopped Adam and Eve from sinning? Of course. God could have made robots instead of people....which would have left free will out of the equation....and no choice on any matter. But that is not what God did. He loved man and He wanted man to love Him back....and to do so from the heart."
While Delzell clearly meant well and took the loss of life at Newtown seriously, his simplistic explanation for the tragedy offered little insight. Instead of exploring the real-life roots of mass violence and the means by which we can prevent it, he blamed Satan.

These and other Religious Right reactions to Newtown disappoint me. At a time when our country needs insight from all quarters into mass violence, too many voices from the right can offer only judgment, superstition, and politically charged agendas. As tempting as it might be to accept neat, simple explanations for the Newtown tragedy, we must find mature answers to our questions.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Betty Bowers on the Westboro Baptist Church

Ever wonder why the Westboro Baptist Church is scorned by many, but other Religious Right homophobes are taken seriously by the media? Betty Bowers offers an answer in her latest video.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Calling Out Religious Right Insensitivity After Newtown

As discussed in two prior posts, the Religious Right wasted no time in concocting self-righteous, insensitive responses to the Newtown tragedy. Fortunately, principled voices have called out such tasteless responses to the shooting, urging readers to reject toxic theology and approach the tragedy with clear heads and compassionate hearts.

First, University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler rejects the callous theology of those who blame the Newtown tragedy on impiety. In a December 15th commentary at Religion Dispatches, Butler condemns "their punitive--and puny--belief" and their right-wing ideology, urging evangelicals to disavow religious leaders who exploit the Newtown tragedy.
"The time has come to confront, without reservation and unceasingly, the type of theological evil that emerges from figures like Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer—who after yesterday seem little different from the Westboro hatemongers. It is not about “reaping and sowing,” David Brody. The nation reaped this whirlwind not because of God's absence, but because of an absence of limits on the power of the NRA and its particular interpretation of the Second Amendment. That group and its ideology have become an omnipotent force that holds a gun, fixing its sights on all of us as a nation. God is not lobbying on Capitol Hill about guns. God isn’t making state laws more lenient for concealed carry. God is not selling assault rifles at gun shows without so much as a three-day waiting period.

God did not give David an AK-47 to tackle Goliath, but a slingshot.

Listen up, evangelicals and conservative Christians. You can’t say that because God isn’t in a classroom, that we as a nation have reaped what we’ve sown—and then ask for guns in schools at the same time. Those children and teachers were innocent. You can’t compare this to abortion. It’s a false equivalence. If you continue to allow these theological hacks to speak for you, or if you as clergy repeat this asinine excuse to your congregation this Advent season, you lead your people astray, and you have blood on your hands as well."
San Diego State University professor Edward J. Blum offers a poignant commentary on the Newtown tragedy at the Huffington Post. As a father whose eight-month-old son recently passed away, Blum was pained when his child's well-meaning grandmother asserted "God has a plan for this." Blum was also sickened by people who preach that the Newtown tragedy was part of some divine plan, urging quiet, attentiveness, and compassion instead of simplistic (and hurtful) theological speculation.
"Perhaps God is more like the whisper in the wind that the biblical Eljiah experienced or like the Jesus who knelt silently when the "adulterous woman" was brought before him. Perhaps he knew, as my friend Jonathan Walton - now the pastor at Harvard University's Memorial Chapel - knew that one can mourn with another without telling them how to interpret the events. Reverend Walton's text message to me after my son's death is the only one I have kept: it reads simply, "sigh." He knew as a father and as a brother that this was not the time to counsel.

So as we mourn the many losses; as we hug our children; as we have our debates over gun control; and as we wonder where God is, perhaps we can think about what we say and what we do not. Perhaps in this moment "sigh" is better than childish theology; perhaps to remain attentively quiet is what God would ask of us - because that is what God seems to do too."
Finally, in a December 16th post at No Longer Quivering, Suzanne Calulu urges readers to leave spiritually abusive churches that blame the Newtown tragedy on impiety. She lists several toxic responses from some churches that blame supernatural forces or an insufficiently Christian society for Friday's bloodshed.
1. “It was God’s will that this happened.”

2. “God is punishing our nation/state/school/society for immorality.”

3. “When we took God out of the schools this is what happens.”

4. “Demons were involved! Demons because we have turned from God.”

5. “This happened so God could be glorified through the outcome.”

6. “This happened so that people would turn back to God and pray.”

7. “If they had just been home schooling their children like proper Christian families this would not have happened.”
I'm grateful for voices such as these, meeting insanity with sanity, meeting inhumanity with unrelenting humanity. As the Religious Right continues to spew venom in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, may compassionate and principled voices condemn their callousness.

Commentary Tidbits

Friendly Atheist: We Don’t Need to Force God Into Our Schools; Mass Murders Happen in Religious Places, Too

The New Civil Rights Movement: Bashir To Huckabee: CT Massacre Had Nothing To Do With Kids Not Praying

Truth Wins Out: TWO Investigation: ‘Ex-Gay’ Rock Star John Paulk Exposed As Fraud…Again

Butterflies and Wheels: The archbishops want more women dead

Religion Dispatches: Pam Geller’s Latest Subway Ad Inadvertently Attacks Hebrew Bible

New York Review: Our Moloch

News Tidbits

Huffington Post: Family Research Council Sued For Sexual Harassment, Discrimination

Chicago Mag: Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church

Washington Post: Phelps’ son condemns Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket Newtown funerals

Yahoo News: Protests of Westboro Baptist Church Erupts on the Web

ABC News: Activists Protest Pope's Comment on Gay Marriage in St. Peter's Square

KPBS: Point Loma Nazarene Christian College Says No To LGBT Organization

The Advocate: New Jersey Lawmakers Move to Tackle Conversion Therapy

The Advocate: Ugandan Trans Man Calls Antigay Rev. Ssempa a 'Hooligan'

New Vision: Uganda's Seventh-Day Adventist Church speaks out on Anti-homosexuality Bill

Pennlive: Knights of Columbus involvement in mentoring program draws fire from school board member

CTV News: Salvation Army Volunteer Tells Gay Rights Supporters Not to Donate

Insensitive Religious Right Reactions to Newtown Tragedy

The U.S. is still reeling from the December 14th mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 27 victims. Compassionate people across the country have reacted with donations, vigils, and an outpouring of support for those impacted by the tragedy. Others have ask how the U.S. can prevent such violence by expanding the public conversation on our culture's glorification of violence, the merits of gun control, and the state of our mental health services.

Unfortunately, Religious Right figures such as Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer, and Steve Deace have responded to the tragedy with insensitive comments, blaming the tragedy on insufficient national piety. Over the past few days, other Religious Right voices have followed suit, using the tragedy as a cheap opportunity to lash out at abortion, evolution, and insufficient religiosity.

First, First, during the December 17th edition of Family Talk with Dr. Dobson, James Dobson speculated that the shooting was an example of God's judgment. At the 16:07 mark of the radio show, he argued that God has allowed judgment to fall on Americans because of the proliferation of atheism, abortion, and LGBTQ equality. 
"Something has gone wrong in America. We have turned our back on God. I mean, millions of people have decided that either God doesn't exist or he's irrelevant to me, We have killed 54 million babies, and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too. A lot of these things are happening around us ... I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty, and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on. We're seeing things happen that didn't happen just a few years ago, and there's a reason for it. Something has gone wrong in this country."
In a December 14th column at Charisma News, Alex McFarland of the Christian Worldview Center grieved for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, offering condolences to all those impacted. Unfortunately, he also blamed the all-too-common mass violence in America on rejection of "Biblical principles", which supposedly created fertile ground for evil to take root. McFarland believes that the country must return to "God's morality" to prevent future massacres.
"As our nation mourns the loss of precious, innocent children and the staff members who were responsible for guiding and teaching them, we must consider the true source of the problem, which is not guns--it’s morality. We must return to the source of absolute truth--God and His Word--and recognize that abolishing of these Biblical principles from our society leaves the opportunity for pure evil to take root and the result can be what we saw today: the worst school massacre in our nation’s history.

The sixth commandment is clear: You shall not murder. And yet, there are so many today who don’t know the commandment, don’t know why it is wrong, and don’t know that God’s truth is absolute--there is no justification for breaking it. We must return these laws and principles, as well as discussion of them, to our homes and dinner tables, our schools, and our public squares. By teaching God’s morality, we will raise up a generation in which fear of the Lord will help to prevent tragedies like the one experienced in Connecticut today."
Randy Thomasson right-wing group Save California issued a statement offering condolences to those impacted. Unfortunately, the statement quickly devolved into an attack on abortion and  "godless evolution". (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.
"We should be all the more grieved and all the more resolved to stop murders before they start. The answer is teaching the fear of God and love for God in schools and throughout society. Because mass murder is another example of societal degradation, a deadly consequence of promoting murderous abortions, godless evolution, and gratuitous violence. How opposite of teaching children that all people are worthy because they were created by God, that all innocent human beings deserve protection because they're made in God's image, and that every person is accountable to God when He judges the world."
In a recent press release, Operation Save America lambasted an interfaith memorial service for the Newtown shooting victims, calling it an "abomination" and an "affront to Almighty God". The organization failed to consider that not all of the mourners likely followed the same faith, or that the interfaith service might have given comfort to the victims' loved ones. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch)
"Watching the Memorial service for the twenty-six precious lives taken from us was painful to say the least, but it was far more painful to the God who made America great. Newtown cancelled Christmas so it could properly mourn. How foolish, yet typical of governmental strategy to replace God. The "Interfaith" service was an affront to Almighty God. Those claiming to be His priests barely mentioned His Name --Jesus! After all, He is the only God there is!"
Tastelessly, Operation Save America used the massacre as a another shameless opportunity to mock contraception, anti-bullying policies, and the alleged neglect of divine law.
"What happened? We violently removed the fear of Almighty God from the hearts of our children. We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order. Our strategy has replaced God's Truth. We are losing our kids because we are ignoring God's Law. Our government cannot fix us!"
John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, used the shooting as an opportunity to preach about hell. In a December 15th commentary at the Desiring God website, Piper wrote that "what we saw yesterday in the Newtown murders was a picture of the seriousness of our own corruption." He used the tragedy to make moral comparisons between murder and anger, arguing that both are sins against God. In essence, he detracts from the horror of the Newtown massacre by citing it as just another example of human sinfulness for which we should all repent. (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
"...[T]he murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship."
Sadly, this is nothing new. The Religious Right has a disgusting habit of blaming victims or unrelated scapegoats (LGBTQs, pro-choice persons, non-Christians) for catastrophes, with Hurricane Sandy as a recent example.

In a prior post on the Religious Right "blame game" after catastrophes, I speculated on why so many right-wing voices feel the need to blame victims or unrelated scapegoats. One possibility is that Religious Right figures who do so may be trying to psychologically distance themselves from the victims. By believing that the victims or scapegoats provoked catastrophy by stirring God's anger, commentators can then conclude that they can avoid catastrophe themselves by pleasing God.

Another possibility is that those who blame victims or scapegoats may subscribe to toxic theodicy. If God controls all things, and if God is just, why would God allow tragedy to befall innocent people? The idea that violence and death can claim innocent people anyone, anywhere may be too much for them to bear. To preserve the idea that God is just, Religious Right voices may assume that tragedy victims or scapegoats must therefore have done something deserving of divine punishment.

Or am I over-analyzing here? Maybe the root of these attitudes is nothing more than self-righteousness and spite. Whatever the origin of such attitudes, they should be condemned as insensitive and irrelevant to the tragedy at hand. The victims of Friday's rampage deserve better.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Newtown Tragedy: How to Help

In the wake of the shocking school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, several organizations are accepting donations for those affected. As the Newtown community copes with the recent tragedy, the United Way and Newtown Parent Connection have stepped into action.

First, the United Way of Western Connecticut, in partnership with Newtown Savings Bank, has created a fund to provide support services to impacted families and the community. For more information or to learn how to donate, visit their website.

Second, Newton Parent Connection is a nonprofit that offers drug and alcohol counseling and a bereavement support group. On December 16th, the group will offer a trauma support session for anyone impacted by the Newtown tragedy. The organization is currently accepting donations that will be donated to those directly affected by the shooting, according to their website. (Hat tip to the Huffington Post)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Commentary Tidbits

A Voice from the Foothills: Is It Time NOW?

Good As You: Focus on the Family's Glenn Stanton: Gays are "cultural constructs", "political statements"; only fifty years old

Kopsa Mississippi: Governor Bryant, Our Father, Baby-Daddy, Holy Miracles and Repopulating the Earth

Religion Dispatches: Guns and Babies: What Newton Does NOT Teach Us

The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: Deace and Fischer Respond (UPDATED)

A disturbing tragedy has befallen a Connecticut school. According to the Washington Post, 20 year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut on Friday, where he proceeded to kill 20 children and several adults before committing suicide. Lanza had also murdered his mother, a teacher, that day. The New York Times recounts stories of horror from students and employees at the school, who described hearing the sound of gun fire, hiding in closets, huddling in gym corners, and fleeing outside. President Obama gave a nationally televised address, expressing grief at Friday's loss of life.

What would motivate someone to murder over two dozen people in cold blood? Did Lanza have a history of violence? How do surviving students, school staff, and loved ones process a horror of this magnitude? Could this massacre have been prevented? The Newton community and the nation as a whole have many questions and few answers as they respond to this tragedy.

To my disgust, it wasn't long before some Religious Right voices used the tragedy as a soap box. For example, Right Wing Watch reported that talk show host Steve Deace used the tragedy to pontificate about bearing arms, atheism, abortion, and entertainment. Deace made the following observations about America's alleged "culture of death" on his Facebook page.
"Insanely tragic scene in Connecticut, and already there is a rush to politicize it. For example, the White House reiterated its support for an assault weapon ban, however that wasn't even the type of weapon they're saying right now was used. But I'm sure there are some honest people who care about human life that think banning guns would avert these tragedies, and not just folks out to disarm the citizenry as a check and balance on tyrannical government. If you're one of them, I have a proposition for you. If you're willing to agree with me up front that asking kids to write suicide notes in schools, teaching them there is no God and thus no real purpose to their lives, letting children see movies glorifying the occult and gory violence, and that allowing and subsidizing parents killing at least 4,000 of their own children each day contributes to this culture of death, then maybe -- just maybe -- we can have an honest conversation about guns. But if you can't see that ultimately this is a cultural/spiritual problem then the reality is you don't really care about human life. You really care about politicizing yet more gun violence in what is supposed to be a gun free zone."
Right Wing Watch also documented the reaction of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who tastelessly used the tragedy as an opportunity to promote religion in schools.
"You know, the question's going to come up -- where was God? I thought God cared about the little children, God protected the little children. Where was God when all this went down, and here's the bottom line. God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now we have spent, since 1962 ... we have spent fifty years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you before football games, we don't want to pray to you at graduation, we don't want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech, we don't want anybody referring to you, we don't want your word read in our schools. So in 1962, we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963, we kicked the word of God out of schools. In 1980, we kicked the Ten Commandments out of schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system, and I think God would say to us, 'hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. I am a gentleman.'"
UPDATE: In a similar vein, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee used the massacre as an opportunity to call for more faith in schools. During an interview with Fox News on Friday, Huckabee lamented that "we've systematically removed God from our schools" and hinted that this state of affairs was partially to blame for the tragedy. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage becuase we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life?" he said. If people would make room for God at the "front end", Huckabee argued, "we wouldn't have to call him to show up when it's all said and done at the back end." (Hat tip to Politicus USA)

To be fair, some Religious Right organizations posted sensitive, sympathetic statements in response to the Newton shooting, such as Concerned Women for America (see www[dot]cwfa[dot]org/content.asp?id=21787). Focus on the Family posted a column today on helping children cope with trauma. (See family[dot]custhelp[dot]com/app/answers/detail/a_id/26257/)

Only time will tell how other Religious Right voices will respond to the tragedy. Hopefully, other voices will be more sensitive than Deace, Fischer, and Huckabee. The shooting victims are NOT political mascots, and a senseless tragedy is NOT the time to spout irrelevant right-wing rhetoric.

Commentary Tidbits

Kopsa Mississippi: We Can't Talk About Teen Pregnancy in Mississippi Without Talking About Religion

Daily Monitor: Desmond Tutu To Ugandan MPs: God does not discriminate among our family

Think Progress: NARTH: Gay-Affirming Therapists Are Biased Against Clients’ Religious Beliefs

Voxxi: Top 10 doomsday predictions that didn't come true

RH Reality Check: "Abortion Doesn’t Unrape You:" Following Election Disaster, Anti-Choice Activists Look to Re-frame Discussion of Rape

Los Angeles Times: For Scalia, no gay people, just gay sex?

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Scott Lively’s Mafia God

News Tidbits

Indian Country Today Media Network: Will Arson Attack Cause Holy War Between Born-Agains and Natives?

New York Times: Church Opens Arms to Muslim Group, and Is Taken to Task

Pink News: Pope uses ‘peace’ day message to attack same-sex marriage

Pink News: Pope gives blessing to Uganda’s anti-gay parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga

Public Religion Research Institute: Americans More Likely to Attribute Increasingly Severe Weather to Climate Change, Not End Times

The Advocate: Dan Savage Wants Liberals To Recover 'Hijacked' Christianity

Gay Star News: Mission America’s Linda Harvey: Gays are not people

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gay-Friendly Queen James Bible Released

Homophobes from the Religious Right are fond of quoting scripture to justify their homophobia. Now, a new project has produced a Bible with non-homophobic language. The Queen James Bible is a Bible translation "edited to prevent homophobic misinterpretation of God's Word", according to its website.

The Queen James Bible website argues that homosexuality was first mentioned in the 1946 Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. No prior Bibles mentioned homosexuality outright, it claims. The name of the Bible is an affectionate reference to King James I, who was instrumental in the creation of the King James Bible and whom some scholars allege was bisexual.

The Queen James Bible tackles scriptural passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Levitical prohibition on sexual relations between males (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). The editors use familiar LGBTQ-friendly interpretations of these passages. For instance, the Sodom and Gomorroah story in which the men of the city threaten Lot's angelic guests is interpreted as a story about rape and humiliation, not homosexuality. The Levitical passages are interpreted as bans on same-sex sexual activity in the context of idolatrous worship, not necessarily blanket bans on all same-sex relations. The editors discuss the subtleties of Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible, such as toevah (traditionally interpreted as "abomination") and malakoi (traditionally translated as "soft" or "effeminate") often explored in LGBTQ theology. The result is an English-language Bible that strives to avoid the homophobic language of previous translations.

The editors of the Queen James Bible admit that scripture contains contradictions and unjust passages, but these passages were beyond the scope of their LGBTQ-focused project.
"The Queen James Bible resolves any homophobic interpretations of the Bible, but the Bible is still filled with inequality and even contradiction that we have not addressed. No Bible is perfect, including this one. We wanted to make a book filled with the word of God that nobody could use to incorrectly condemn God’s LGBT children, and we succeeded."
I am not a Biblical scholar, so I do not know how accurately the Queen James Bible captures the spirit and letter of the original texts. In the interpreters' haste to expunge homophobia from the Bible, I worry that they may be softening scriptural passages that are genuinely homophobic.

Nevertheless, an LGBTQ-friendly interpretation of the Bible is a noble endeavor and a loving gift to LGBTQ Christians and their allies. Religious Right homophobes have used scripture to shame and condemn the LGBTQ community, and I'm pleased to see LGBTQ persons of faith taking scripture back. By presenting the scripture with nuance, the Queen James Bible can help expand the conversation about faith, sexuality, and scripture.

(Hat tip to Gay Star News and

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Religious Right Around the Globe: L'institut Civitas Fights Against LGBTQ Equality in France

The struggle for legalization of same-sex marriage rages in France just as it does in the U.S. After French President François Holland supported same-sex marriage during his election campaign, the French cabinet approved draft legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in November, according to the New York Times. However, advances in LGBTQ rights have roused the anger of the French Religious Right, including L'institut Civitas.

L'institut Civitas, a French right-wing Catholic organization, is a staunch opponents of LGBTQ rights in France. Reuters reports that Civitas has ties to the right-wing National Front and the Society of Saint Pius X. According to its website, Civitas' aim is to prepare Catholic laypeople to restore une France chrétienne, a "Christian France" -- reminiscent of the American Religious Right's ambition to restore a "Christian nation". (See www[dot]civitas-institut[dot]com/content/section/4/26/)

Over the past few weeks, Civitas has organized rallies opposing same-sex marriage in French cities, drawing thousands of supporters as well as colorful FEMEN protesters. At one such rally in November, Civitas president Alain Escada told supporters that same-sex marriage was a "Pandora's box" that would supposedly open the door to polygamous and incestuous marriages, reports Lifesite News.

Similarities between Civitas' rhetoric and American Religious Right rhetoric are striking. In a December 12th blog post entitled "Le 13 janvier, tous à Paris!", Escada belittles same-sex marriage with language similar to that of American anti-gay activists. Escada claims that if France legalizes same-sex marriage, France's future would be jeopardized and children would suffer. Only a man and a woman can bring about the birth of a child, he argues, urging readers to take up activism against same-sex marriage. The fact that love and marriage can be legitimate without the creation of biological offspring was not considered, nor was the fact that couples can nurture and raise children who are not their biological offspring. (See www[dot]civitas-institut[dot]com/content/view/849/1/)

Like its American counterparts, Civitas complains about alleged persecution and anti-Christian sentiment when others criticize its views. For example, in a December 4th commentary entitled "Cet antichristianisme qui se développe en France" ("This Anti-Christianity that Grows in France"), Escada accused opponents of anti-Christian hatred. Escada claimed that protesters at a Symposium for Life event in Biarritz were united by their "visceral" anti-Christian sentiments and their desire to undermine morality and the family. "Pour les fondamentalistes de la laïcité, l'ennemi c'est le christianisme." -- "For fundamentalist secularism, the enemy is Christianity", he wrote. (See www[dot]civitas-institut[dot]com/content/view/851/1/)

To garner public opposition to same-sex marriage, L'institut Civitas urges supporters to sign an online letter rejecting LGBTQ rights. In the letter, Civitas accuses President Hollande of allying with the "homosexual lobby". The letter rejects same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, arguing that such rights violate nature and the laws of God. Predictably, it alleged that such rights would undermine society and the family. Civitas cites the discredited Regnerus study to back up its dubious claim that same-sex families are more likely to produce children with psychopathologies. The letter's most revealing line asserts that marriage is not about love, but about biological reproduction and family unit formation. (See www[dot]nonaumariagehomosexuel[dot]com)
"Le mariage n'est pas une reconnaissance sociale de l'amour mais un engagement du couple à constituer une famille et, de manière biologique et anthropologique, à assurer la pérennité de la société et du pays."

("Marriage is not a social recognition of love, but a commitment of the couple to start a biological and anthropological family to ensure the sustainability of society and the country.")
L'institut Civitas also smiles on other anti-LGBTQ initiatives in France such as Elus Locaux pour la Famille. Elus Locaux pour la Famille has posted an online statement urging French elected officials to oppose marriage equality. The statement argues that same-sex marriage is "sterile" and "against nature", as the institutions of marriage is supposedly intended to create families. Furthermore, Elus Locaux pour la Famille insists that granting adoption rights to LGBTQ persons would be "contrary to the bests interests of the child." (See www[dot]eluspourlafamille[dot]org)

French officials have taken note of Civitas' Religious Right activism. Reuters reports that president Francois Hollande announced the creation of an agency that will track separation of church and state in France. The agency would not only focus on radical Islamic groups, but on right-wing Christian groups such as Civitas which push "the limits of legality," Hollande said.

French LGBTQ rights supporters must remain vigilant, keeping a wary eye on their Religious Right as they struggle for LGBTQ equality. In that regard, progressives on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have similar obstacles to overcome.

Commentary Tidbits

Midwest Voices: Criticism of "ReignDown" appearance washes off Brownback

Raw Story: Christian radio host: Punch atheists ‘in the mouth’ for their ‘war on Christmas’

Think Progress: Family Research Council Dumps UPS For Not Humoring Boy Scouts’ Discrimination

Religion Dispatches: Was Blind But Now I See: The Debut of a New Anti-Abortion Strategy

Reason Being: The Declaration of Independence: A Deistic Document

Daily Kos: Scott Lively thrilled Uganda will only jail the gays for life instead of kill them

News Tidbits

Topeka Capital-Journal: ReignDown USA, Brownback draw crowd to prayer movement

BBC News: US evangelicals question Republican ties

Huffington Post: Rick Perry: Banning Abortion is "My Goal"

Detroit Free Press: EMU to pay $75,000 to counseling student Julea Ward who refused to counsel gay client

U.S. Catholic: Bishops blast Poland for signing pact to fight violence against women

The Portsmouth News: Gay marriage will ‘pervert’ families, says Portsmouth bishop

The Grio: Justice Scalia makes incendiary remarks on LGBT rights at Princeton

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ruth Institute Booklet Blasts Feminism and "Socialism"

The National Organization for Marriage's Ruth Institute recently released a booklet entitled Freedom, the Family, and the Market: The Socialist Attack on the Family by Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Roback Morse. The document blasts "socialist ideology" for allegedly launching an attack on marriage and the family. In effect, Morse creates an illusory shadow enemy on which to blame social developments that she disagrees with, then offers right-wing Christianity as an antidote. She speaks of socialists and left-leaning people interchangeably, branding progressives and liberals as "socialists" -- while ignoring the fact that not all left-wing persons identify as socialists or embrace its principles.

Morse argues that nefarious "socialists" are determined to abolish marriage and eliminate gender differences. To boot, she disparages feminism for encouraging equality, which she incorrectly caricatures as men and women being identical. Morse frowns upon because allegedly "[m]en and women are so different that they are highly unlikely to volunteer to behave identically in all the ways that would be necessary to create identical incomes." Feminism, she insists, is to blame for developments such as no-fault divorce, unmarried parenthood, and the alleged encroachment of the state into family life.

As an alternative to the straw man caricatures of socialism and feminism she creates, Morse proposes right-wing Christianity. She praises Christianity for supposedly "defending the weak", including fetuses. Additionally, she celebrates Christianity for embracing alleged differences between the sexes. Morse frames marriage as a heterosexual union in which a man and a woman play complimentary roles, which she contrasts to an ugly caricature of "socialist" marriages in which spouses supposedly compete for dominance. Morse recycles the old, tired arguments that egalitarian sexual ethics supposedly force the sexes to exploit each other. For instance, she claims that "socialist" men exploit women for sexual gratification, and women exploit men for reproductive purposes. The idea that egalitarian couples (same-sex or opposite-sex) could have happy, health relationships never seems to occur to her.

Morse quickly descends into a romanticized vision of stereotypical gender roles, arguing that women long for children and men develop love through sexual desire. Predictably, she states that sex and reproduction cannot be separated. A man's sexual attraction to a woman turns to love, Morse claims, and under Christian influences, it obliges him to love the children she births. Women's supposed desire for children begets love for the father of those children, she claims. The idea that men and women do not fit into stereotypical boxes is not considered. Furthermore the idea that couples can deeply love each other without having children seems alien to her, as does the idea that not all relationships are suitable environments for childbearing and not all reproduction begets mutual love.

In a flashback to the 1950s, Morse demands that women avoid vocational education, get married, and become stay-at-home housewives before pursuing a career. Again, she fails to consider that not all women desire this path, not all men can support a wife and children on one salary, and that being competitive in the workforce later in life can be extremely difficult.

Morse, like many Religious Right opponents of LGBTQ equality and feminism, doesn't realize that she is living in 2012. Gender roles, sexuality, economic conditions, and workplace demands have changed drastically over the past decades. We simply will not go back to an outmoded 1950s vision of reality. To boot, Morse fails to recognize that not everyone is a straight, cisgender, reproducing, Christian walking-gender-stereotype. The rich diversity of humanity and the many life paths open to us is to be celebrated, not disdained.

In short, Morse's hysterical attack on sinister socialist-feminist forces simply isn't based in reality. Recycled right-wing rhetoric and stale gender stereotypes simply do not reflect the reality of most Americans. Because of that, it will not resonate with level-headed people who understand that they're living in 2012.

(Hat tip to Equality Matters)