Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Back from Alexandria!

I just returned from a work-related trip to Alexandria, VA, so I'll be posting more on the Hilltop Conference and the latest Religious Right shenanigans soon. In the meantime, indulge in the cuteness of cockatiels.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Saturday at the Hilltop Conference: First Impressions

To read about a Hilltop Conference talk by  Faytene Grasseschi of TheCry and Benjamín Núñez of VENPRONTO, click here. To read about George Otis Jr.'s talk on societal decline, click here. To read about Lou Engle at the conference, click here.

On Saturday, April 13th, I observed the Hilltop Conference at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn in Arlington, Virginia. Sponsored by the anti-abortion group Bound 4 Life and the Justice House of Prayer D.C.(a Washington D.C. ministry with ties to the International House of Prayer and TheCall), the Hilltop Conference was a two-day gathering of music, ecstatic prayer, and faith-related talks. Among the speakers were Lou Engle of TheCall, George Otis Jr. of the Sentinel Group, Faytene Grasseschi of the Canadian ministry TheCRY, and many more.

Writing at the Bound 4 Life Blog, JHOP D.C. director Matt Lockett spoke of the Hilltop Conference as a "continental convergence" for North America. He was likely referring to speakers who heralded from Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
"Leading into the gathering, I had felt the Lord was prompting me to invite leaders from both Mexico and Canada. I didn’t fully understand what the Lord wanted to do, but I had sensed that He wanted to create a synergy in prayer for LIFE in all three nations. As I discussed this with my Canadian friend Faytene Grasseschi, director of TheCRY Movement, she said, “This sounds like some kind of ‘continental convergence.’” Immediately, I knew God was after a three-fold cord among our nations in which we would bless one another and contend for each other’s destinies. Life for North America!

Acts 17 tells us the Lord determined the boundaries of the nations before they rose and fell, and we know that He has selected Canada and Mexico to be the “neighbors” we are to love as ourselves. Already JHOP DC and Bound4LIFE have experienced the benefit of the profound generosity of our brothers and sisters from Canada and Mexico. Now we have the opportunity to contend and sow generously back into our sister, Canada."

Approximately 200 people were in attendance, and I was immediately struck by the diversity of the attendees. I was under the impression that JHOP mainly targeted young adults, so I was surprised to see attendees of all ages. Moreover, the conference sported white, black, Asian, and Hispanic participants in healthy numbers. Whether this was a reflection of the racial diversity of the Washington D.C. region, or the result of JHOP outreach to diverse populations, I don't know.

In the main conference hall, merchants sold books, DVDs, and outreach materials by Lou Engle, George Otis Jr., and Bound 4 Life. At the front of the hall was a stage on which worship musicians played long sets of worship music before speakers gave their talks. These musical sets could last 30 minutes to an hour, during which worshipers would sit rapt, sway, jump, or dance to the music. The music consisted of the droning, hypnotic worship songs I'd heard at other New Apostolic Reformation events, with slow, gentle lows and ecstatic, fast-paced highs. The fact that these ecstatic worship sessions always preceded talks made me wonder if they were intended to put attendees in a highly emotional, receptive state of mind before speakers preached their messages. Whatever the intended effect, the place was jumping!

Later, when I told a friend about the music afterwards, he likened its high and low rhythms to a sine wave, speculating that the highs and lows were intended to induce a mesmerizing effect. The lows would lull worshipers into a sense of safety and peace, while the highs would induce ecstasy. He encouraged me to conduct an experiment the next time I found myself at an ecstatic prayer gathering. "Plug your ears and watch what the other people are doing," he said. "Then, unplug your ears, close your eyes, and listen to the music. If the rhythm of the music and the worshipers matches, they're responding to the music. If not, all the jumping and dancing is an expected response."

* * * * * * *

Watching the participants during ecstatic prayer, as well as eavesdropping on conversations, proved interesting. I distinctly remember a red-haired woman, kneeling on the ground with her arms outstretched as worship music poured through the conference hall. During one especially ecstatic prayer session, I watched a forty-something man jumping up and down for several minutes, swept up in spiritual excitement.

Between talks, I overheard bits of a conversation between two men in a nearby row, musing on what they'd drawn from the conference. 'God's got a mission for us, so we've just got to do what God asks of us," one man said. The spiritual excitement, uninhibited worship displays, and unquestioning acceptance of a divine mission were not limited to the youth, but were the bread and butter of believers of all ages at the event.

* * * * * * *

On the exhibit table, amidst Life Bands and worship music CDs were books and pamphlets by the conference speakers. While at the Hilltop Conference, I picked up reading materials such as the Bound4LIFE Field Guide and The Call of the Elijah Revolution: The Passion for Radical Change by James W. Goll and Lou Engle. The Call of the Elijah Revolution begins with a forward by Dutch Sheets stating that America is caught in the grip of Baal. Sheets laments that "the Baal spirit" pervades nearly every dimension of modern society, and he blames the Baal spirit for "every ungodly and immoral movement" in the U.S., including abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. God, he argues, wants believers to sever their ties to Baal and honor their covenant with God. Christians are not at the mercy of "ungodly" politicians, atheists, humanists, or the gay community, Sheets insists, reassuring believers that God will predicate his actions on what believers decide to do.

The Call of the Elijah Revolution calls on "holy revolutionaries" to engage in intercessory prayer and fasting while opposing "false ideologies" such as abortion, violence, and general moral decay. These modern-day Elijahs, the book claims, have been entrusted with revival and spiritual renewal. The book encourages spiritual mentoring among believers, collaboration between different generations of believers, and passionate spiritual devotion.

To my consternation, the book devoted a chapter to the Jezebel and Ahab spirits, described as demonic entities who have corrupted the American landscape. Ahab and Jezebel were a corrupt king and queen from 1 Kings 16-22, but New Apostolic Reformation preachers also refer to them as demons. The chapter lambastes "prophets of Baal" under Jezebel's influence, including New Age gurus, secular humanists, proponents of pluralism, pagans, and forces in the entertainment industry that produce corrupting music and television shows. The chapter did not speak of demonic influences symbolically or allegorically; it warned that literal demonic forces were saturating society. Lou Engle has spoken of Jezebel as a demonic spirit in several public talks (see here and here for examples), as has GOD TV co-founder Wendy Alec in a "prophesy" posted online.

Bound 4 Life banner at
the Hilltop Conference
The Bound4LIFE Field Guide stresses the importance of intercessory prayer to end abortion, explaining the purpose of the Life Band, Silent Sieges (silent anti-abortion demonstrations) and the red LIFE tape that Bound 4 Life supporters wear on their mouths. The field guide also defined Bound 4 Life terminology, laid out the principles of the Bound 4 Life effort, and discussed strategies and logistics for conducting Silent Sieges.

On the final two pages of the field guide were anti-abortion statistics, which annoyed me for several reasons. First, the field guide offers statistics for "babies being aborted" or "babies who died from abortion", instead of "pregnancies terminated" or "fetuses aborted". Second, many of the statistics were presented without citations. Finally, several statistics were controversial. For example, the field guide claimed that only 1.7% of abortions were performed to preserve the health or life of the mother, and only 0.3% were due to rape, leaving 98% of abortions due to "inconvenience" or being "unwanted". I raise an eyebrow to this statistic, given that rates of rape-related and high-risk pregnancy are substantially higher than suggested here. One study found that the per-incident rate of pregnancy resulting from rate was 6.42%, compared to 3.1% for consensual sex. According to a 2010 article in Contraception, 19% of women surveyed had experienced pregnancy coercion. Yet another study of women seeking protection orders found that 20% of respondents had experienced a rape-related pregnancy. Given that rape-related pregnancy is not uncommon, especially among vulnerable populations such as domestic violence victims, I seriously question Bound 4 Life's claim that only 0.3% of abortions are due to rape.

What is the field guide trying to imply by insisting that few abortions are due to health concerns or rape, and that most are unwanted or "inconvenient"? That abortion is somehow unnecessary? Even if these statistics were sound, would that somehow undermine the right of women to control their own bodies? Shoehorning all abortions into rape-related, health-related, or "inconvenient" also oversimplifies the reasons why women experience unwanted pregnancies. What about cases of birth control sabotage by a controlling partner? What about non-viable or severely deformed fetuses? What about women and families who lack the economic and psychological resources to deal with an unwanted pregnancy? The Bound4LIFE Field Guide left me shaking my head.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Hilltop Conference! I'll be posting commentary on talks by George Otis Jr., Netz Gómez, Benjamín Nunez, and Lou Engle.

For more information on the Hilltop Conference, click here.

For more information on the Justice House of Prayer, click here.

For more information on Bound 4 Life, click here.

Commentary Tidbits

SPLC Hatewatch: Howard Phillips, Architect of the Religious Right, is Dead

God Discussion: Focus on the Family's "TrueU" takes on "new atheism"

Truthout: Plan B Ruling: Fox and Family Research Council Seize Opportunity to Spread Misinformation

Queerty: FRC President Tony Perkins Blames Mass Murder On “Sexual Liberalism”, “Family Breakdown”

Rachel Held Evans: Why I Don't Witness to People on Airplanes

GLAAD: They Want Our Rights and an Echo Chamber: Can't Have Either

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: WND Promoting Anti-Gay Scott Lively's Revisionist Pink Swastika and the Call to Kill Gays

RH Reality Check: Brownback, Jesus and Mary: Religious Freedom Apparently Doesn’t Apply To Women Seeking Abortion

News Tidbits

Topeka Capital-Journal: Abortion foe can shield some private conversations

The Wichita Eagle: ACLU protests creationism group's Kansas event

The Guardian: Homophobic teacher loses appeal against classroom ban

The Advocate: 6 Scout Supporters Who Say Gays Are Child Molesters

Catholic News Agency: Bishop laments 'gay marriage' approval in New Zealand

Earth Day 2013 Ridiculed by Religious Right

April 22nd is Earth Day, an annual day devoted to environmental activism. Established by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, Earth Day is now an international event devoted to environmental issues.

While many people use Earth Day to raise environmental consciousness, lobby for enlightened environmental legislation, or take part in eco-friendly community projects, the Religious Right uses it as an opportunity to grumble about environmentalism. As in past years, Religious Right voices are lambasting Earth Day, framing Christianity and environmentalism as diametrically opposed. The idea that Christian faith and environmental consciousness can overlap, as in the case of ecotheology and faith-based green initiatives, is not considered. Furthermore, instead of painting an accurate picture of environmentalism's rich diversity of thought, they caricature environmentalism as a monolithic movement characterized by fear, pseudoscience, Earth worship, and even outright rebellion against God.

First, in an April 19th commentary at Vision Forum Ministries. Jeffrey D. King seeks to dismantle the so-called "slogans and pseudoscience that surround this high holy day of environmentalism" to reveal environmentalism's "true agenda". King insists that "the primary goal of those driving it is not to “save the earth,” but to conform Western civilization to socialistic ideals." Earth Day 2013, he claimed, would be marked by "anti-Christian propaganda" and "outright hypocrisy" as environmentalists disregarded the fruits of manufacturing and the energy industry. He caricatured environmentalists as milquetoast "greenies" who rebel against God's command to subdue the earth. 

"The Bible makes it clear that it is our duty to exercise godly dominion over the earth, subdue it, and be fruitful in the process ... Wise men use great tools, and the axe is one of the most fundamental tools of dominion and stewardship available to mankind. Throughout history, the axe has transformed the world by bold adventurers who tamed wildernesses, by Puritan visionaries who founded nations, and even by an Anglo-Saxon missionary, Boniface, who sparked revival in the lives of eighth-century Thor-worshipping pagans by hacking down their sacred oak tree ... With the bankrupt worldview of rank socialists and environmental pantheists threatening our culture and livelihoods, it’s time to reclaim the axe."

Second, E. Calvin Beisner, founder of the anti-environmentalism Cornwall Alliance, wasted no time in making a statement before Earth Day. In an April 14th press release entitled "Should Nature Be Valued Over Humanity?" Beisner defended economic development over environmental concerns, arguing "because economic development not only makes environmental stewardship affordable but also provides the best protection of the world's poor from disease, hunger, and premature death, development must not be shunted aside in a quixotic quest after environmental desiderata, particularly when, as with global warming, the science and economics are far from clear and compelling." 

Also, in an April 3rd commentary at the Cornwall Alliance website, Beisner claimed that fear dominates environmentalism, which can be rooted in environmentalism's alleged rejection of God. 
"The prevalence of Earth worship among environmentalists—worshiping the creature rather than the Creator—is the root explanation of the widespread foolishness of so many environmental fears ... Fear of environmental catastrophe grows out of lack of fear of God. That, I would argue, is the real root of the environmental scares that have plagued the modern world. Indeed, Green fear mongers are far more afraid of the Earth—a fact epitomized in the title of James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia—than they are of Earth’s Creator, who is the real holy and just Judge.

Eco-fears will continue–with or without scientific basis—until people repent and fear the Lord, for “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7–8)."

Finally, in an April 22nd column at the Washington Times, Robert Knight demonized Earth Day and environmentalism as a "pagan religion" that is "driven by fanatics". "There’s a clear line between worshipping the Creator and mistakenly worshipping the creation," Knight wrote, oblivious to the fact that (1) most environmentalists do not worship nature, and (2) there's nothing inherently wrong with that if you've chosen it as your spiritual path. Knight alleged that environmentalism was having a detrimental impact on fossil fuel jobs and unemployment.  

The Religious Right can caricature and demonize environmentalism all it wants, but more and more people know better. As the reality of climate change and pollution become impossible to ignore, enlightened people are becoming more environmentally conscious. As the importance of a clean, sustainable world becomes apparent, enlightened people are striving toward ecologically sound attitudes and practices. The Religious Right can lob ad hominem attacks at Earth Day, but it cannot halt society's increasing awareness.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wise Words After the Boston Marathon Attack

On Monday, April 15th, two explosions went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, resulting in fatalities and scores of injuries. The explosions came from two rudimentary bombs likely constructed from kitchen pressure cookers and metal debris, reports the Los Angeles Times. Authorities are seeking a man seen on video for questioning, although no arrests have been made at this time, reports CNN.

My thoughts are with those hurt by the explosions, many of whom sustained devastating injuries. My thoughts are with Boston, which will need strength and healing in the wake of this tragedy. Finally, I hope that authorities can quickly track down those responsible and hold them accountable before the law.

The progressive blogosphere has been busy documenting the far right's response to the tragedy, and I have included links to some of the more absurd or shocking responses below. This time, instead of cataloging Religious Right responses as I usually do, I'd prefer to highlight some wise words in the wake of the attack.

Whenever a terrorist attack occurs, speculations fly and whole groups are scapegoated, often before all the facts are available. As the far right speculates and simmers, calmer voices are urging Americans to remain mindful and wait for facts to emerge. Political Research Associates, a watchdog group that monitors the far right, released a statement with wise words. In an April 16th statement entitled "Resisting the Marathon of Fear",  PRA executive director Tarso Luis Ramon reminded readers that now is the time for "mourning and affirming our common humanity – in part, by challenging efforts to manipulate anger and suffering for cynical purposes." Ramos encouraged readers to approach the incident with level heads.
"Resist the rush to judgment. Responsibility for this horrible act has yet to be established. Early press accounts are often inaccurate. We are reminded of the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when “terrorism experts” were quick to suggest that foreign, Arab terrorists were likely behind the bombing. Of course, a U.S. citizen, Timothy McVeigh, was found to be responsible.

Challenge efforts to blame or demonize groups of people. The Tea Party Nation homepage declares, “It is a pretty safe bet right now that this attack was carried out by an Islamist.” Fox News contributor Erik Rush blames Muslims for the Boston Marathon bombings via his Twitter account. When challenged, he doubled down on his accusation: “Yes they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.” Such demonization is no less dangerous for being predictable. We caution against blaming any group of people based on their faith, nationality, or ideology.

Beware attempts to expand police powers. Violent public attacks are often followed by appeals to cede our liberties to achieve greater security. Calls to enhance government surveillance of domestic groups with “extremist” ideas were widespread, strident, and bipartisan following the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, leading to passage of draconian national security laws. That mid-’90s legislation provided the basis for some of the most notorious domestic abuses of the George W. Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Panic rarely yields sound policy. (http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/Repression-and-ideology-13.html)"
When acts of violence and cruelty take place, we must not forget the good people who help victims. Amidst the sorrow surrounding the bombing, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt has uplifting words. (Hat tip to Infidel753).
"But here's what I DO know. If [the perpetrator is] one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."
In the wake of the Boston bombing, we must remain vigilant, but also compassionate, reasonable, and level-headed.

For additional commentary on the far right and the Boston bombing, visit the following links.

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Cindy Jacobs Claims God Warned Her about Boston Attack

Religion Dispatches: Who Bombed the Boston Marathon?

Right Wing Watch: Beck: Muslims Responsible for Boston Bombing Because American Terrorists Always Target the Government

Media Matters: Pat Robertson On Boston Bombing: "Don't Talk To Me About 'Religion Of Peace,' No Way"

Infidel753: The Boston murders and the Nutty right

Monday, April 15, 2013

Angus Buchan's Mighty Men Conference Coming to the U.S.

For years, conservative evangelist Angus Buchan hosted Mighty Men conferences at Shalom Farm in South Africa. These men's conferences, which drew worshippers in the thousands, sought to cultivate spiritual revival among Christian men. Unfortunately, Angus Buchan promoted misogynist messages at these gatherings (more here).

Now, the Mighty Men conference is coming to the United States, thanks to a partnership between Buchan and a U.S. church. An American Might Men Conference will be held on Friday, May 3rd at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hosted by World Outreach Church, the event will feature preaching by Angus Buchan and musical performances by Charlie Daniels and the Katinas.

World Outreach Church senior pastor G. Allen Jackson and Buchan first met at the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel, according to the Daily News Journal. The two men have collaborated for several years to bring Mighty Men to the U.S. Their partnership extends to the pulpit as well; Jackson shared lessons from Buchan's life in a September 16th, 2012 sermon at World Outreach Church, and Buchan himself preached to the congregation the day before. (See www[dot]wochurch[dot]org/media/audiosermons.htm)

The Murfreesboro gathering will help men on their spiritual journey, G. Allen Jackson said in a press release. "God has built something within us that has extraordinary impact once we combine what drives us with God's resources.  This conference will help men take another look at how we are doing with life. Our 90-minute event will pay attention to the rapid pace re-set with God solutions. When men lead with God, they find greater reward. Increased faith is on the rise."

What can American men expect from a Mighty Men gathering? If prior gatherings are any indication, they can expect not only music, prayer, spiritual upheaval, and guttural "amen" chants, but male headship messages from Buchan himself. As described in a prior post, GOD TV archived segments from one of Angus Buchan's Mighty Men's Conferences at his farm in Greytown, South Africa. In a talk to a mixed-gender audience, Buchan encouraged women to submit to their husbands, blaming women who criticize their husbands for broken families. (See 24:10 mark of www[dot]god[dot]tv/node/393)
"Madam, when you come home -- correction, when your husband comes home -- you're going to see a man in the house, you're going to see somebody probably do this [Buchan kneels] and ask you to forgive him ... Please forgive him and then help him. Don't correct him in public. I don't care if you've been walking with Jesus longer than him. He's got the Holy Ghost inside him now ... Never criticize him in front of your children, ever. That's why we've got so many broken families in this country. You break your men down, and then the children have no one to look to. That little boy, that's his hero. Make him a hero unto his children, and you'll see a new nation."
At the 39:47 mark, he urged women to remain stereotypically feminine and refrain from competing with men.
"Please remain feminine. Don't try and compete with the men. You don't have to. We actually don't want you to. We want you to be feminine and beautiful and petite. Any woman can do that. Let us men be men. Let us protect you. Let us open the door of the car so you can sit in. I can do it myself. No you can't, and you should never do it. These young men know when they take that young girl out for a meal next Friday night, they're paying for everything, aren't you boys? ... We're not into this going-dutch stuff. My wife has never paid for anything in her life."
At Mighty Men conferences in South Africa, Buchan used conservative Christian rhetoric to affirm retrograde gender roles and male "headship" over families. Buchan found a receptive audience for this message in South Africa, where thousands of men sought ostensible comfort and power in his message. In America, where Religious Right men eagerly consume such messages, the Mighty Men gathering might find a similarly receptive audience.

But what about women, non-sexist men, and LGBTQs -- groups that are subordinate at best and invisible at worst in this kind of worldview? They should be concerned about the messages about to come out of Mighty Men. Knowing Angus Buchan's attitudes toward women, gays, and men who do not embrace stereotypical masculinity, observers should pay attention. Just as feminists were rightly concerned about the Promise Keepers rallies of the 1990s and 2000s, so too should enlightened observers keep an eye on the Mighty Men.

For more information on the Mighty Men Gathering in Tennessee, visit www[dot]wochurch[dot]org/mightymenusa/

For more information on Angus Buchan and Shalom Ministries, visit www[dot]shalomtrust[dot]co[dot]za/

Commentary Tidbits

The Guardian: The Christian fundamentalism behind Ron Paul's home-schooling curriculum

Salon: Organic Eden Foods’ quiet right-wing agenda

Mother Jones: Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession

Right Wing Watch: Michele Bachmann to Headline Conference with 9/11 & Sandy Hook Truther, Birthers and Anti-Gay Activists

The New Civil Rights Movement: Has NOM’s Work Been Fomenting Anti-Gay Violence In France Over Marriage?

Box Turtle Bulletin: Opponents Call for “Blood” as France Fast-Tracks Remaining Marriage Votes

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Todd Bentley Claims Miracles in South Africa, “Hundreds of Muslims and Hindus” Converted

News Tidbits

The Hill: Family Research Council says 'don't send a dime' to GOP

BBC News: US Catholic nuns criticized for their "radical feminism" in Vatican report

The Advocate: Rick Santorum Doesn't Understand Why He's a Danger to Kids

Philadelphia Inquirer: Gay marriage support costs Democratic candidate Christian band gig

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chalcedon Presbyterian Church Pastor Defends Slavery

Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering recently posted a video of Joe Morecraft, pastor of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church of Cumming, Georgia, defending slavery. To give readers a sense of Morecraft's theology, Chalcedon's front page announces a "Christ / Politics / Morality Seminar", which includes lectures from the late Christian reconstructionist author R.J. Rushdoony.

Morecraft cites Proverbs 11:29 -- "the foolish will be servant to the wise-hearted" -- to defend the idea that irresponsible people should be enslaved by sensible, godly masters. Morecraft was not citing Proverbs 11:29 figuratively, but literally. At the 2:12 mark of the video, he insists that slavery has a place in "godly cultures".
"There is a place for slavery, then, in godly cultures. It's the only place you can keep a fool under wraps. It's the only way you can keep a man from ruining other people's families. He has a slave mentality, doesn't want to live for the future, doesn't care for the past, doesn't have any commitment to family, lives only for the present, wants to be a dependent, doesn't want the responsibilities and freedom of maturity. Put him in somebody else's service where they can watch over him and make him do right work even though he doesn't want to do it. I didn't say that. Says it here [in the Bible]."
At the 3:32 mark, Morecraft claimed that men who did not want to adopt the station of an adult could opt to remain enslaved in ancient Biblical times. He sneers at men who wear earrings, although what he thinks of women who wear earrings is anyone's guess.
"In the Old Testament ... If a man was in your service and was an indentured servant, and he did not want the rights and the freedoms of a mature, independent man, he could become your permanent slave. And what he would do, he would put his ear on the threshold of your door and there would be a nail pound[ed] through his ear. Pierced ears in men was a sign of slavery. Still is."
Morecraft ignores what the Biblical passage in question really says. Exodus 21:2-6 states that if a slave-owner gives a wife to his male slave, the wife and any children belong to the slave-owner indefinitely. If a male slave is set free, his wife and children are forbidden from going with him. If the male slave chooses to stay with his family, he is condemned to lifelong slavery after his ear is pierced with an awl. In other words, a slave-owner coerced his male slave to remain in bondage by holding the man's family hostage. This was NOT a matter of genuine choice for any of the slaves involved.

If Morecraft performed a thorough reading of his Bible, he'd realize that slavery under the Hebrews was a cruel, unjust institution. Contrary to Morecraft's words, slavery was not a means of teaching responsibility to wastrels, but a coercive form of labor bondage and sexual servitude. Slave-owners purchased slaves as chattel (Leviticus 25:44-46) or captured them in war (I Chronicles 5:18-22; II Chronicles 28:6-8). Warriors captured foreign women and enslaved for sexual use (Numbers 31:1-18). Even children were forced into bondage (Deuteronomy 20:13-14). Slave-owners could torture their slaves short of immediate death (Exodus 21:20-21) and force male slaves to choose between their families and freedom (Exodus 21:2-6). In short, Biblical slavery was NOT a beneficial institution, but a violent and exploitative one.

We need look no further than our heritage for evidence of slavery's atrocities. Has Morecraft forgotten the chilling legacy of slavery in American history? Human beings reduced to chattel, forced labor, forced ignorance, torture, sexual violence, families rent asunder, and a host of other horrors were the fruits of slavery in the U.S., as even a casual student of U.S. history knows. Is THIS what Morecraft wants us to return to? Is THIS what Morecraft considers a virtuous practice?

Even today, slavery exists across the globe in the form of debt bondage, labor trafficking, and sex trafficking. Unlike Morecraft, activists (both Christian and secular) recognize these human rights violations as evil and work diligently to combat them. If other Christians have been inspired by their faith to defend human rights, what's the hold-up with Morecraft?

In short, Morecraft has become so fixated on his particular interpretation of scripture that he ignores basic ideas of right and wrong. By its very nature, slavery is an affront to intrinsic human dignity. No person, no matter how allegedly "irresponsible", deserves to be dehumanized as chattel. Morecraft needs to reexamine his conscience and recognize slavery as the evil it truly is.

Vyckie Garrison reminds readers that "Pastor Joe Morecraft’s theocratic vision of building a Christian nation is one more reason why freedom-loving Americans must vigilantly guard our cherished Separation of Church and State." If we value human rights and wish to preserve the progress that society has made, we need to reject the disturbing ideas of Christian reconstructionists as well.

Russian Orthodox Diocese of Chicago Releases Statement After DOMA and Prop 8 Hearings

Think only right-wing evangelicals and Catholics send mixed messages about LGBTQ persons? Think again. Even the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is doing it.

On April 9th, the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Chicago released a statement in the wake of recent Supreme Court hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 (more here). On one hand, the document condemns same-sex marriage and reminds readers that the Russian Orthodox Church will not sanction such unions. insists that "living a homosexual or any other sinful lifestyle" is incompatible with Christian faith and church teachings. To boot, it adds that people "actively engaging in any immoral or unnatural pursuits" cannot take part in a full sacramental life. (See www[dot]synod[dot]com/synod/eng2013/20130409_enchicagoresolution.html)

On the other hand, the document tries to soften its homophobia by discouraging believers from ostracizing LGBTQ persons. The authorship stresses how "empathetic" the church is to people who "suffer" with same-sex temptations.
"It should also be made clear that living a homosexual or any other sinful lifestyle is not compatible with Christianity and this has always been the teaching of the Church. That being stated, it is also crucial to state that the Church is a Spiritual Hospital and all those wishing to receive the healing freely offered by God through their repentance and God’s Grace are fully welcome. This includes those who have participated in immoral or unnatural acts of any kind as well as those who are tempted by such sins. The Church is empathetic to those who suffer in such a way and offers them support, healing, and Christian love. Those actively engaging in any immoral or unnatural pursuits cannot live a full sacramental life within the Church. However, this does not mean that we seek to drive away or ostracize those who have transgressed in such a  way. Rather, we must make all efforts to draw those in such an unfortunate situation back to chastity and the opportunity to again partake in the Life Giving Mysteries of the Church and to engage the struggle for their salvation within the parish community."
Translation: we love LGBTQ people, we just hate it when they expect equality or any chance of having a fulfilling sexual or romantic life.

The document continues, urging Orthodox clergy to condemn homosexuality and other "unnatural expressions" as sinful. However, clergy are supposed to do so lovingly, while inviting LGBTQ people to repent for their alleged sins.
"It is crucial that our clergymen not shy away from the position of the Church as regards the sinfulness of homosexuality and other unnatural expressions of the God-given gift of human sexuality – but it is also crucial that such statements be made with love and with a corresponding invitation to repentance and reconciliation with the Church."
Can we please dispense with the prejudice masquerading as "love"?

Can we please stop defending unfair policies and antiquated church doctrines in the name of "love"?

Can we please stop justifying corrosive rhetoric as some sort of kindly outreach to the LGBTQ community?

Can we please accept LGBTQ people for who they are, instead of demanding self-hatred and celibacy from them?

Like other voices opposed to same-sex marriage, the Diocesan Chancery document is yet another example of how those opposed to LGBTQ equality present their message as a somehow loving one. Real love is respectful. Real love is affirming of others' humanity. Real love encourages others to flourish. What the LGBTQ community needs is a love that affirms equality, not inequality.

Commentary Tidbits

Huffington Post: Why Americans Love Creationism

Americablog: “Powerful Jewish forces” in America concern lead religious right group with ties to GOP

Homeschoolers Anonymous: Fundamentalist Homeschooling Is A Poison: Isaiah’s Story

RH Reality Check: Legacy of Tiller’s Murder: Anti-Choice Terrorists Threaten Staff at Wichita Clinic

Salon: Will the Christian right flee the GOP?

Prairie Nymph: Peaceful Protest

Philadelphia Magazine: Family Research Council Unveils Homophobic Web Page

Feminist Sonar: Sexual Assault & Disability: Purity Culture

Right Wing Watch: Linda Harvey: Day of Silence 'Manipulating' Kids to 'Enter A Lifestyle Which Itself Will Be Incredibly Harmful To Them'

News Tidbits

Baltimore Sun: Ben Carson steps down as Hopkins commencement speaker

Radio Free Europe: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill Says Feminism Is 'Very Dangerous'

Washington Post: Suicide of star pastor Rick Warren’s son sparks debate about mental illness

Gay Star News: New links show how US Christian right exports gay hate to Uganda

The Seattle Times: Washington: State sues florist over refusing service for gay wedding

Queerty: Etsy Shop Owner Refuses Same-Sex Couple’s Marriage Business, Claiming “Christian” Values

Pink News: American Decency Association: ‘Television shoves homosexuality down our throats’

MSN: GSN developing church-based dating show

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Report Highlights "Ex-Gay" Groups in Latin America

Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank that monitors the Christian Right, recently released a new report on the so-called ex-gay movement. The Ex-Gay Movement in Latin America: Therapy and Ministry in the Exodus Network highlights the international outreach of the Exodus Global Alliance, particularly in the Americas.

The report begins with a discussion of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, a 2010 gathering in Cape Town, South Africa that drew evangelical Christian leaders from 198 countries. Exodus Global Alliance, a coalition of ex-gay groups, was not only present at the global conference, but an active participant. According to the Lausanne website, the 2010 conference schedule included a session entitled "Sexuality: Creation, Brokenness, Truth and Grace", in which several Exodus speakers disseminated disturbing messages about LGBTQ people to an international audience.
"Bryan Kliewer, Director of Exodus Alliance, challenges the Church to see the homosexual community as a deliberately unreached people group. Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, critiques common Evangelical slogans about ministering to homosexual people and calls Christians to be full of grace and truth without contradiction.

Willy Torresin, a Minister in Brazil, gives his testimony as a Christian worker seeking help to work through his struggles with homosexuality. He tells of the failure of the church, his entry into gay culture, followed by his encounter with the transforming love of God.

Bryan Kliewer looks at New Testament passages that can help us shape a ministry to homosexual people, drawing upon the examples of Jesus and Paul. They express the hope for change, breaking social rules to reach others, refusal to condemn, and contextualized sharing of the gospel.

Henok Ghebrehiwot, Director of Bethseda Restoration Ministry in Ethiopia, looks at trends and figures concerning the homosexual population in Africa. He proposes that Africa take a lead in ethics, truth and grace. Heisha Fernandez of Exodus Latin America reminds Christians that all must go through the process of change following our conversion. She issues a call to the church to seven elements of ministry to homosexual persons."
The report cites the Lausanne conference as an example of the so-called ex-gay movement's global reach. Even though Exodus International executive director Alan Chambers publicly rejected the idea that most gays can be made straight in 2012, Exodus Global Alliance and its global affiliates are still spreading troubling messages about gays and lesbians worldwide.

While disagreement exists among Exodus Global Alliance affiliates whether homosexuality can be "cured", the groups still associate homosexuality with sin and promote homophobic messages. As the report points out, the ex-gay movement is adaptable, promoting homophobic ideas even if it is not universally promoting conversion therapy per se.
"Cracking ex-gay therapy’s pseudoscientific veneer and forcing it to retreat to the conservative religious sphere would be a victory for the LGBTQ community. However, while Exodus may currently be in a time of turmoil, and the ex-gay movement faces challenges in the United States and in Latin America, the Christian Right’s ability to adapt suggests continued reason to be wary of the exgay therapy and ministry complex in its various expressions. In contrast with conversion therapy, asserting the right to “choose” support from Christ in rejecting unwanted same-sex attraction poses a more slippery approach to conversion that can be shielded by religious liberty claims."
As the title suggests, The Ex-Gay Movement in Latin America focuses on the work of Exodus affiliates in Central and South America. Political Research Associates looks at the history of Exodus evangelism in Latin America, as well as resistance to ex-gay efforts by Latin American LGBTQ activists, lawmakers, professional associations, and health organizations. The report also explores how changes in the Latin American political climate have resulted in the growth of evangelicalism in politics, a shift toward more progressive political agendas, and the evolution of the LGBTQ rights movement. These developments have forced Exodus affiliates to adapt while maintaining a homophobic agenda.

The Ex-Gay Movement in Latin America provides snapshots of various ex-gay groups that previously operated or currently work under the auspices of Exodus Global Alliance, including Aguas Vivas ("Living Water"), Exodus Brasil, and Exodus Latin America. The report explores the networking between the ex-gay movement and other Latin America right-wing groups such as Alianza Cristiana de Iglesias Evangélicas de la República Argentina.

It would be a mistake to assume that the ex-gay movement always presents a united front. The schism between Exodus International and Restored Hope Network over whether or not gays can be "cured" is well-known, but disagreements have also erupted Among Exodus' Latin American affiliates. For example, in 2012 Exodus Latin America states that its American counterpart's rejection of "curing" gays violated the principles of the Exodus Global Alliance. Controversies and mixed messages over conversion therapy still continue among ex-gay activists in Latin America, the report observes.

The report concludes with a warning about the Exodus Global Alliance and other ex-gay forces abroad. It encourages human rights advocates across the globe to "learn from each other across borders and continue to expose the true foundations of these approaches so that cries of religious liberty do not shroud and justify an active homophobia."
"In Latin America, even as Brazil conversion therapists fight against the government shutting down their work, ex-gay ministries continue, albeit without broadcasting that they are offering a “cure.” Exodus Latin America promotes a heavily psychologized form of mission work that circulates discredited canards about homosexuality stemming from family dysfunction. So even while reparative and conversion therapy are on the defensive, many of their harmful interpretations remain strong in church groups around the hemisphere ... Furthermore, while the Exodus network comprises a major segment of the Latin America exgay movement, other players are actively spreading their mission from the United States to Latin America including the NARTH offshoot Renacer; the International Healing Foundation; and Setting Captives Free’s Puerta de Esperanza.

This suggests that cross-border solidarity among those challenging ex-gay ministries is vital and worth additional investment. U.S. advocates can publicize the Latin America tours and visits of U.S. ex-gay ministries peddling harmful approaches that don’t pass legal muster in the countries they are visiting. They can challenge Exodus Latin America for brokering those visits. And they can challenge companies that benefit from the ex-gay groups. Such was the case in 2011 when AllOut.org’s online campaign led Pay-Pal to cut ties with four organizations that spread hatred and discrimination."
Political Research Associates excels at reminding activists that the Christian Right's machinations are not limited to the U.S. This report serves as another reminder that LGBTQ rights supporters must stay informed about Religious Right activism abroad and express solidarity with the global LGBTQ community.

Commentary Tidbits

Los Angeles Times: Right-wing religious nuts limit Republican Party's future

Alternet: 9 Tactics and 5 Mistaken Beliefs: The Christian Right's New 'Religious Liberty' Campaign Deconstructed

RH Reality Check: Emergency Contraception and Moral Panic: Dissecting the Newest Misinformation Campaign

The Way Forward: The Gay Problem in the IFB Church

The World Is Not Enough: Fundamentalism east and west

News Tidbits

Baltimore Sun: Anti-abortion group stirs speech debate at Hopkins

Raw Story: Former Navy chaplain: ‘Biologist’ Jesus opposed ‘three women and a dog’ marriage

Philadelphia Gay News: Pennsylvania Senate to consider ban on ‘ex-gay’ therapy

BBC News: Brazil's outrage over 'racist' evangelical politician

Gay Star News: South Africa gay 'cure' school found guilty of human rights violation

The Advocate: Antigay Rally Held at Ugandan Activist David Kato's Grave

Seeking Help from My Readers (UPDATED)

Over the past few weeks, an annoying tech problem has emerged on my blog. As my of you have noticed, Republic of Gilead had been spontaneously redirecting visitors to spam pages. I've tried to get to the bottom of the problem, without success.

I've run Republic of Gilead through site scanners such as Sucuri and Web Inspector, but neither revealed any problems. My webmaster tools show no malware infection. Thinking the problem was my computer, I ran diagnostic scans through several security programs, but none located any viruses or malware. Finally, I submitted my blog as a possible malware infectee to Google, but I haven't received any response.

I'm at a loss. If any tech-savvy readers can shed light on what's going on and how to correct it, I would appreciate it.

4/10/13 UPDATE: After removing "Sociable" from my blog, the problem has resolved itself. Thanks Loni!

Commentary Tidbits

Religion Dispatches: Wichita, the Sequel: A Clinic Reopens at Ground Zero in America’s Fight over Abortion

Canyonwalker Connections: Day of Dialogue: Sacred Bullying from Focus on the Family

Love, Joy, Feminism: The Bizarre Libertarian/Christian Reconstructionist Alliance

Good As You: Pastor: Keep relationship with LGBT kids (so you can rescue them from 'repulsive lifestyle' like a 'real man' would)

Right Wing Watch: Matt Barber Praises Pastor Behind Uganda's 'Kill The Gays' Bill

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: Gay-hating pastor Scott Lively finds new foothold in Oklahoma

The Atlantic: Meet Cleta Mitchell, the Conservative Movement's Anti-Gay Eminence Grise

News Tidbits

New York Times: Ban on Free Condoms Jeopardizes Group’s Work With Catholic College

Los Angeles Times: In rare event, woman leads prayer at major Mormon conference

Raw Story: Detroit Catholic leaders suggest self-excommunication for same sex marriage supporters

Raw Story: Rick Santorum’s plan to revitalize the GOP: Defund Planned Parenthood

ABC News: Santorum ‘Leaving the Door Open’ to 2016

Huffington Post: Family Research Council Exec Praises Michele Bachmann Anti-Muslim Campaign

Georgia Voice: Exodus International president to speak in Atlanta on 'Overcoming the Stigma' of homosexuality

Monday, April 8, 2013

New York Judge Rules for Expanded Access to Plan B

Friday was a good day for reproductive rights. On April 5th, Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District of New York ruled that the Plan B (a popular emergency contraceptive) be made available over-the-counter for consumers of all ages, reports the New York Times. The ruling gave the Food and Drug Administration 30 days to comply. He condemned a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which blocked over-the-counter sale of Plan B to those under the age of 17 (more here).

In a memorandium on the case, Judge Korman observed that "this case involves the constitutional right to obtain and use contraceptives," observing that "restriction on the sale of time-sensitive levonorgestrel-based contraceptives to pharmacies and health clinics, which affects all women, implicates this right." He lambasted Secretary Sebelius' 2011 decision as "unreasonable" and "arbitrary".
"The decisions of the Secretary with respect to Plan B One-Step and that of the FDA with respect to the Citizen Petition, which it had no choice but to deny, were arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable ... As I have previously observed, the obstructions in the path of those adolescents in obtaining levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives under the current behind-the-counter regime have the practical effect of making the contraceptives unavailable without a doctor’s prescription. Consequently, the decision of the FDA denying the Citizen Petition is reversed, and the case is remanded to the FDA with the instruction to grant the Citizen Petition and make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days."
As with any major decision regarding women and girls' control over their wombs, the Religious Right is loudly weighing in. Cue the usual ugly accusations against emergency contraception!

In an April 5th press release, Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, criticized the decision. Higgins claimed that girls and young women could be given Plan B against their will. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/newsroom/family-research-council-plan-b-ruling-disregards-serious-health-concerns)
"There is a real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent. The involvement of parents and medical professionals act as a safeguard for these young girls.  However, today's ruling removes these commonsense protections."
Concerned Women for America wasted no time in condemning the decision. In an April 5th press release, CEO Penny Nance called the decision a "social experiment" on girls' bodies, claiming that the measure would place "politics over the health and well-being of our kids." Concerned Women for America director Janice Shaw Crouse called emergency contraception medications "high-potency drugs", insisting that political and financial gains were behind the decision. (See www[dot]cwfa[dot]org/content.asp?id=22132)
"Once again, those who yell the loudest about caring about the nation's children and youth are using our kids in a special interest experiment. Plan B, popularly called the "morning-after pill" is a much-higher-dosage version of the regular birth control pill (which used to require a doctor's prescription and continued doctor's supervision). It is irresponsible to advocate over-the-counter use of these high-potency drugs, which would make them available to anyone - including those predators who exploit young girls.

This is a political decision, made by those who stand to profit financially from an action that puts ideology ahead of the nation's girls and young women. Where is the scientific data and solid reasoning behind a decision that endangers minors?"
Writing at the Catholic View for Women, Priests for Life executive director Janet Morana called the decision "misguided", insisting that it constituted an "assault on parental rights". In a bizarre twist, she claimed that universal over-the-counter access to emergency contraception with teach boys that their sexual actions have no consequences, thereby leading to more rape (!?). (See www[dot]thecatholicviewforwomen[dot]com/blog/index.php/judges-ruling-on-morning-after-pill-puts-teenagers-at-risk)
"It is yet another boon for boys. Instead of teaching boys and young men to respect women, to understand that “No” means “No,” we are telling them that actions no longer have consequences, that whatever has been done can be undone. Will this ruling lead to more date rape? I think it will."
Actually, a study published in a 2005 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that increased access to emergency contraception was not correlated with greater risk of unwanted sexual activity among adolescents.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms resorted to the fear mongering and the tired argument that emergency contraception is an alleged "abortifacient", ignoring evidence that Plan B does not abort existing pregnancies. In an April 5th press release, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms executive director Jason J, McGuire makes ominous claims about EC but cites no sources for his claims. (See www[dot]nycf[dot]info/component/content/article/37-home-page-items/738-new-york-federal-judge-directs-fda-to-make-emergency-contraception-available-to-minors)
“The U.S. District Court’s decision in this case is troubling on several levels. First, the court dismissed the question of whether so-called emergency contraceptives (EC) act as abortifacients, while conceding that there is no definitive research answering that question one way or the other. In so doing, the court sidestepped a key issue regarding the safety of these drugs, as well as their appropriate level of availability. Second, the court also declined to address certain health and safety consequences of EC. EC has been linked to an increased risk of future ectopic pregnancies in women, and research has shown a correlation between increased EC availability and frequency of STD infections.”
Actually, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that emergency contraception access had no adverse effect on STD infection risk. Similarly, study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2009 found that emergency contraception use among young women did not significantly predict STD infection. If right-wing voices are going to make bold claims, they really need to start backing them up with evidence.

McGuire continued his fear mongering, alleging that predatory men would give EC to underage victims to eliminate pregnancies.
"Making EC available over-the-counter would allow men who have committed statutory rape to purchase EC and offer it to young girls that they have impregnated in order to conceal their crime. It would also allow predators to make EC a part of a date-rape cocktail.”
Once again, the Religious Right is painting women's reproductive freedom in ominous colors. Without citing any evidence, voices from the Religious Right have made outrageous claims about Plan B access for teens, alleging that it will result in everything from sexual assault to ectopic pregnancies to disease. The fact that emergency contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies and all of the potential health problems and life disruptions that come with them is not considered. The fact that emergency contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies among rape victims and all of the potential traumas it can exacerbate is not considered. As usual.

If the Religious Right would stop spouting anti-contraceptive propaganda for a moment, it would discover that emergency contraception is an important boon for girls and women. According to the CDC, approximately one in nine women ages 15-44 have used emergency contraception, suggesting that the need for Plan B is real. Timely access to emergency contraception will help prevent unwanted pregnancies and give women and girls greater control over their reproductive lives. Friday's decision could be a step toward greater reproductive justice in the U.S.

For rape victims, emergency contraception access is crucial, whether they receive it as part of a forensic exam or seek it out on their own. The results of a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Forensic Nursing suggests that emergency contraception might even play a role in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms among sexual assault victims. Among populations dealing with high rates of sexual assault, improved emergency contraception access can be vitally important. Friday's decision, in short, is relevant to the fight against sexual violence as well.

Whether the ruling will be disputed remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the fight for contraception access is far from over.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Anti-Gay March in Uganda as Human Rights Delegation Blasted by Ugandan MPs

March was a tense month for LGBTQ rights in Uganda. First, Gay Star News reports that on March 31st, an anti-gay march led by Christian leaders took place in Mukono, Uganda. Pastor Solomon Male and Rev. Thomas Musoke led a march of approximately 100 people near the burial site of David Kato, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was murdered in 2011. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) director Pepe Julian Onziema, Male complained that the Ugandan government had made an insufficient effort to pass a draconian anti-gay bill currently under consideration. Male also reportedly named SMUG staff during his speech, showed the crowd a gay adult magazine to demonize LGBTQ people as dangers to children, and claimed that David Kato's grave had become a place for "foreigners" to perform a "pilgrimage to homosexuality".

According to Gay Star News, SMUG research manager Richard Lusimbo speculates that American evangelical leaders have been goading Male to promote homophobia in Uganda.
"I believe that Male is being pushed and funded by US evangelical groups to preach anti-gay hate -- he made allegations to incite fear and hatred, saying that homosexuals are recruiting children, scaring local parents ... creating a scary image of LGBT people as something alien imposed by the West."
Lusimbo blasted the leaders of the march for disrespecting the dead and causing Kato's mother anguish, calling their actions "unafrican".

Disturbing demonstrations such as this remind the world that homophobia is still very much alive in Uganda. The demonstration follows other recent controversies surrounding LGBTQ rights in Uganda, such as President Yoweri Museveni's controversial comments about gays and lesbians as he received a visit from a U.S. human rights delegation in March. The delegation was met with harsh and sometimes absurd rhetoric from Uganda's leaders. For example, according to the Observer, Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni told the delegation that the draconian anti-gay bill currently under consideration was not intended to persecute LGBTQ persons (!). MP Kabakumba Masiko Labwoni argued that the delegation "can't impose on us issues that are against our culture, and it is prohibited for you to come here and start promoting homosexuality." Ugandan MP Alice Alaso also lashed out at the delegation over their approach to homosexuality.
"We already have enough laws that meet international standards and some of them penalise same-sex marriage and when we go by the Bible which I glorify, sodomy is punishable. So, we don't want to go against African culture and at the same time act contrary to God's commandments because whites want it ... You [westerners] have imposed on us enough of your bad practices, right from guns, and we shall not allow homosexuality in Uganda because the Bible forbids it."
After the delegation's visit, MP David Bahati, the architect of Uganda's controversial anti-gay bill, defended the bill as a means of "stopping the promotion of homosexuality, stopping the funding of homosexuality, stopping the inducement of children into homosexuality and operationalising the prohibition of same-sex marriage [as] stipulated in the constitution."

At the Sunday march and the human rights delegation visit, the same, tired refrains are the same: homosexuality is a sin against God, an alleged western import, a danger to children, ad nauseum. To observers of the American Religious Right, the homophobic themes are all too familiar.

Lusimbo's speculation, if correct, suggests that the American Religious Right still has the ear of right-wing leaders in Uganda. American Religious Right figures such as Lou Engle and Scott Lively must take responsibility for their past endorsement of homophobia in Uganda. Moreover, all American Christian leaders must recognize the dangers of promoting homophobia at home and abroad.

Uganda's religious and political leaders must also reexamine their homophobia, recognizing that anti-gay sentiments are the real western imports into Africa. As political leaders and public servants, they are obligated to research the issues that their policies are intended to address. Open-minded research on their parts would show them that LGBTQ rights are human rights, that LGBTQ persons have existed in all eras and societies, and that gays and lesbians are not monsters. In the global struggle for LGBTQ equality, responsibility and knowledge are vital to overcoming bigotry.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Warren Throckmorton: Uganda Watch: David Bahati Vows to Press Ahead with His Anti-Gay Bill

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: Ugandan anti-gay pastors hold hate rally next to gay hero David Kato's grave

Commentary Tidbits

Wall of Separation: Hypocrisy Alert: Religious Right Likes Pulpit Politics Only When It Tilts Their Way

Essence: Yes, You Can Be Religious AND Support Marriage Equality

The Advocate: Guess What — We're the Oppressors

The Daily Beast: The Coming GOP-Evangelical Divorce

News Tidbits

CNN: At evangelical colleges, a shifting attitude toward gay students

CNN: Condoms on campus? No thanks, we're Catholic, college says

WTSP 10 News: Controversial Gainesville pastor Doctor Terry Jones, known for burning Qurans, moving church to Bay area

Christian Science Monitor: Senior Catholic clerics weigh in on gay marriage

USA Today: Gay conversion therapy sparks culture war in New Jersey

On Top Magazine: FRC Asks Pastors To Pray Against Gay Marriage On Easter Sunday

Gay Star News: Catholic bishops warn Ireland: Don't legalize gay marriage

Pope Francis' Response to Clergy Abuse in Argentina Under Scrutiny

Is the new Pope prepared to address clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church? Maybe not. A March 18th article in the Washington Post explores Pope Francis' anemic response to clergy sexual abuse during his time as the head of the Buenos Aires Archdiocese.

Before the papal conclave elected Pope Francis (formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio) as the new pontiff, he held authority over Father Julio Cesar Grassi in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Grassi, celebrated for his anti-poverty and education initiatives, established the Felices los Niños ("Happy Children") foundation to help underpriviliged youth. However, Grassi was later convicted of sexually abusing a child and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In June 2012, a court rules that Grassi should be released from house arrest, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. Grassi was reportedly never ejected from the priesthood.

According to the Washington Post, Archbishop Bergoglio refused to meet with Grassi's victims or the victims of other clergy under his authority. Even when offending clergy were arrested and incarcerated, he did not apologize to victims or offer financial restitution. The article stressed that while there is no evidence Bergoglio covered up clergy abuse, he did not act swiftly or take strong action to protect children. To boot, the Associated Press reports that Grassi is currently free pending his appeal, due in part to the Argentine church's court filing on his behalf.

Similarly, after another Buenos Aires Archdiocese priest, Father Mario Napoleon Sasso, was accused of sexually abusing children, he was sent to the La Domus Mariae  clergy rehabilitation center. Sasso was convicted in 2007, sentenced to 17 years in prison, but later paroled. Families of Sasso's victims reportedly asked to see Bergoglio, but never received a response.

Observers have expressed outrage and disappointment in Bergoglio's response. In a March 19th press release, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) demanded accountability from Pope Francis on the Grassi case.
"History, psychology and common sense suggest that Fr. Grassi is guilty, that Pope Francis is wrong, and that kids are at risk in Buenos Aires. It feels very much to us like this is yet another of the thousands of cases in which powerful Catholic officials use their vast influence to help a proven predator, rather than suffering victims and vulnerable kids."
According to Voice of Russia, Anne Barrett Doyle of Bishop Accountability said that Bergoglio was "very unsympathetic towards victims" in two priests' cases.
"What seems to have happened here is very serious. Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have basically put children in harm’s way by facilitating the freedom of Father Grassi. And first of all he has to undo the harm he has done. But also he has violated what is becoming recognized worldwide as a best practice of catholic bishops which is – to remove from the ministry any priest whose guilt has been established in child sexual abuse case.

It is absolutely shocking that Cardinal Bergoglio was so reckless and irresponsible. And we also urge him to put pressure on the current Buenos Aires Archbishop to release the records of all the credibly accused priests in Buenos Aires, to release a list of their names as it was done here in the United States."
Writing at Friendly Atheist, Sara Lin Wilde lamented that Bergoglio's response to clergy sexual abuse was all too similar to that of other Catholic leaders.
"Since the problem of molester priests is only beginning to come to light in South American Catholicism, he could have done a great deal of good by confronting it directly, setting the stage for leadership and moral clarity in those under his care. Instead, he has upheld the traditional approach: burying his head in the sand and showing reluctance to address a moral issue that should be profoundly unambiguous."
Clergy sexual abuse is a serious issue that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades (if not centuries). The Catholic Church desperately needs a pope who is willing to hold clergy perpetrators accountable and make systemic changes to prevent abuse. Given what is known about Pope Francis' response to clergy abuse in Argentina, however, I'm not holding my breath.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Religion Dispatches: New Report Raises Questions about Pope Francis’ Response to Sex Abuse Scandal

Buzzflash: Pope Francis’ Silence on Pedophilia and Argentina’s “Dirty War”