Sunday, June 30, 2013

Just for Fun: My Worldview Is Delightfully, Hilariously Unbiblical!

Back in 2011, Jack Heller blogged about two online "Christian worldview" tests, the Nehemiah Institute test and the Worldview Weekend test. Heller, an assistant professor at a Christian college, noted with some amusement that he failed the Christian worldview tests. He noted the shortcomings of the tests, including important spheres of life that they neglected, false dichotomies, lack of nuance on controversial issues, and their homogeneous view of Christianity.
"Both the Nehemiah Institute and Worldview Weekend categorize their questions into areas of thinking. The Nehemiah Institute’s categories are Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, and Social Issues. Worldview Weekend has more categories—Civil Government, Economics, Education, Family, Law, Religion, Science, and Social Issues. But while Worldview Weekend has more categories than the Nehemiah Institute, neither test is comprehensive enough to cover all the important areas of one’s thinking. Neither test, for example, considers what a person might think about ecology. Neither test broaches the subject of aesthetics. Neither test asks anything about how a person chooses entertainment. Neither has anything about labor, leisure, sexuality (other than the sinfulness of homosexuality), health, poverty, race and ethnicity, natural resources, urban life, rural life, and the human body. Yet these subjects have significant influences on people’s lives, perhaps for many people even more influence than the subjects included in the tests. Furthermore, Christian thinking about these subjects often contrasts with the thinking of those from Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic faiths. What is especially curious about the narrow categories of these tests is that the writers who most popularized worldview thinking within modern evangelicalism—such as Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and Arthur Holmes—did write about ecology (Pollution and the Death of Man), aesthetics (Art and the Bible, How to Read Slowly), poverty, and race.

My contrast of the Christian faith to some of the world’s other major faiths reveals another shortcoming of these tests: They represent all worldviews as a contrast between theism and secularism. For the authors of the Worldview Weekend test, what is a Communist/Marxist/Socialist/Secular Humanist Worldview if not simply an exponential intensification of the test’s Secular Humanist Worldview? Where would there be an accurate assessment of the worldview of a Hindu, an Orthodox Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Muslim, an animist? Nor do these tests distinguish between Christian faiths (Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) and between those faiths commonly regarded as Christian sects (Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example)."
Curious, I took the World Weekend worldview test, and immediately noticed its loaded questions. Such questions left little room for nuance or alternate positions on many different social and moral issues. Soon, it became clear that the tests conflated a "Biblical worldview" with a right-wing, small-government, dominionist Religious Right view. As Heller wrote, "Another problem with both worldview tests is that their makers confuse having a Christian worldview with their own ideologically biased interpretations of American history or political science."

Questions intended to gauge someone's liberal leanings were ridiculous caricatures of leftists, rather than realistic snapshots of how progressives and moderates think. Consider some of the questions on economics and the state:

Physically and mentally healthy adults that do not work should not be protected from suffering the consequences of their actions.

Individual freedoms would be advanced and protected under a one-world government under United Nations authority.

When you study the Bible as a whole, it becomes clear that God is very supportive of an economic system that is based on private property, the work ethic, and personal responsibility.
Also, take a gander at some of the questions on morality. The questions correlate unbelief with freewheeling morality, and tolerance with relativism. The fact that non-Christians and non-conservatives can have robust, sophisticated moral systems is not considered.
If God does not exist, all things are permissible.

If it "works" for you then it must be true.

Immoral ideas that are put into practice have consequences.

Biblically minded Christians should look at the issues of the world as falling into one of two categories, the secular and the sacred.

The Bible says, judge not lest you be judged, which means we are not to judge the choices or behavior of a person as right or wrong. We all make mistakes, and thus we should not judge someone's actions or behavior according to any particular standard.

One of the greatest virtues one can posses is the virtue of tolerance as defined by our postmodern world; namely, we accept everyone's lifestyles as equal.
Don't get me started on the questionnaire's gauge of social issues.
Pastors and Christians that speak out publicly against homosexuality should be prosecuted for hate speech and a hate crime.

The federal government should fund school-based health clinics which would include safe-sex counseling.

The federal government should be directly involved in determining which students go to college and which students go into the work place and what jobs they hold.
I seriously doubt that the creators of this "worldview" test did research on the moral reasoning and values of groups outside their bubble, or else their questionnaire would have been more nuanced.

After I took the test, I earned a -33 score out of 162 possible points, earning me the totally unbiased, non-buzzword-laden label of ...

Communist/Marxist/Socialist/Secular Humanist Worldview Thinker!

To take the Worldview Weekend test, click here. 

Amnesty International Report Highlights U.S. Religious Right, Homophobia, and Uganda

Earlier this month, Amnesty International release a report entitled Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report documents anti-LGBTQ legislation in many sub-Saharan African countries, as well as persecution by law enforcement, state actors, and non-state actors.

Amnesty International observes that American Religious Right figures have encouraged homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Uganda where a draconian anti-gay bill is under consideration.
“Newer evangelical churches in Africa often receive funding from their counterparts in the West, particularly the USA. In Uganda, religious organizations like the Family Life Network work closely with US evangelicals. The Family Life Network hosted a conference in Uganda in 2009 which featured representatives from Exodus International, a US-based Christian organization with the stated aim of ‘converting’ gay and lesbian people to heterosexuality, as well as Scott Lively, an American minister who has campaigned in several countries for the criminalization of ‘public advocacy of homosexuality’. Speakers claimed that gay activists from the West paid young people in Uganda to ‘recruit’ others into homosexuality. On 14 March 2012, the US-based Center for Constitutional rights filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda. The suit argues that Lively’s actions in Uganda, including his campaign to strip LGBTI persons of basic human rights, constitutes persecution.

US-based funding for religious groups that actively advocate against homosexuality in Africa has come not just from evangelical churches, but also from US government agencies. Pastor Martin Ssempa, who runs the Makere Community Church in Uganda and who has vocally opposed homosexuality as well as condom use and women’s rights, received money under the Bush administration from a US programme designed to combat HIV/AIDS.”
The report also highlights the complex relationship between faith and the African LGBTQ community. Amnesty International notes that some African lawmakers and religious leaders cite Christianity or Islam when condemning the LGBTQ community. Some religious groups and interfaith coalitions have been vocal in their homophobia and calls for discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, the report acknowledges that many LGBTQ Africans find strength and solace in their religious faith, and that some African clergy (i.e., Bishop Senyonjo) affirm the humanity of their LGBTQ brethren. For LGBTQ Africans in homophobic congregations, however, confiding in religious leaders about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or negative experiences could result in expulsion or public humiliation.

The Amnesty International report notes the irony of using religion-as-African-identity arguments to justify homophobia in Africa, given the role of American preachers in fomenting homophobia there.
"Religion is often conflated with notions of culture and tradition, and then used as a justification to condemn same-sex sexuality. The very existence of LGBTI Africans is often denied and same-sex sexuality or behaviour is largely blamed on the West. Meanwhile, the loudest and most public Western influence on this issue arguably comes from Western preachers, like Pastors Rick Warren and Scott Lively, who actively fund and promote homophobia in Africa"
Read the full report for a in-depth look at homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa, including ways that religion has both exacerbated and confronted bigotry there.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Charisma Magazine Goes Ballistic Over SCOTUS Decision

The Supreme Court's June 26th rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 have drawn praise from supporters of LGBTQ rights, as well as condemnation from national and regional Religious Right groups. Charisma Magazine, the Christian website that brought us scintillating commentary on demon sex and smelly poltergeists, has gone ballistic over the ruling. Several Charisma commentators with reputations for bombastic columns have penned commentaries on the Supreme Court decisions. Predictably, these commentaries draw from the usual Religious Right rhetoric, claiming that the SCOTUS decisions will result in persecution of Christians, the end of marriage, and a new Christian cultural revolution.

First, in a commentary piece entitled "Supreme Court Decision a Call to Pray for Spiritual Awakeing", Assemblies of God general superintendent George O. Wood frowned upon the scorn heaped on homophobes. Ridiculously, he claimed that LGBTQ progress would herald marginalization and persecution of Christians. The idea that both LGBTQ persons and Christians can enjoy rights, or that someone can be both Christian and LGBTQ escaped him.
"You see this animus in Christians being labeled as haters, homophobes and bigots when the reverse is true. Humanitarian care and love for neighbor is a timeless value demonstrated daily by Christians. If the culture can dehumanize followers of Christ by attaching hateful labels to them, then it’s only a matter of time until Christians are first marginalized for their faith, deprived of their First Amendment rights and ultimately persecuted."
The ever-dramatic Jennifer Leclair depicted the Supreme Court decision as a harbinger of the end times. In the bombastically-named column "Satan's End-Time Strategy to Outlaw Traditional Marriage in Full Swing", Leclair lamented that "the gay agenda has won a victory in the rapidly degenerating land of the free." She wondered aloud if governments will forbid marriage (!?) now that DOMA has been struck down. Calling the LGBTQ movement a "satanic agenda to end a godly institution", she painted same-sex marriage in ominous colors. "I believe the institution of traditional marriage will come under attack in parts of the earth as the deceptive gay marriage agenda continues to gain momentum," she wrote.

Leclair claims that America is seeing Romans 1 play out in real time, a possible reference to God's wrath against a sinful people (Romans 1:18-20), or more likely a reference to a passage condemning homosexual behavior (Romans 1:24-27). She decried apostasy and divergent Christian theologies as a symptom of the end times, a result of "deceiving spirits" that are leading Christians toward a "harlot church".
"We are in the latter times. We are in the end times even now. And many are indeed departing from the faith. Less than 1 percent of 18- to 23-year-olds have a biblical worldview, according to a recent Barna Group survey. Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, LifeWay Research reveals. And the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that half of former Protestants who left the church said they turned away from their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings—and about 40 percent said they did so because they do not believe in God.

We are in the latter times. We are in the end times even now. And some are indeed giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. Look at the likes of Rob Bell, with his “no hell” theology; John Crowder, with his distorted hypergrace messages; and Carlton Pearson, with his universalistic “gospel of inclusion.” Then there’s the false justice movement that talks about Jesus while holding Bible studies, worship meetings and performing good works—but it’s a different Jesus at the center. These are just a few of the doctrines of demons circulating through the church today that are leading us toward the end-time harlot church."
So-called "ex-gay" activist Janet Boynes penned a June 27th commentary entitled "God Is Still on the Throne", in which she too criticized the Supreme Court decision. Such rulings "remind us of man’s proclivity for making bad decisions that contradict God’s Word," she wrote, urging readers to press on and maintain faith in God.
"We are constantly bombarded with distortions and derision from the naysayers in the gay community, but in the end what they say really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what God says. In the remnant church of the last days, His Word is the only thing that will sustain us ... Let me remind you there are many men and women who have been changed through the power of the Holy Spirit and have left the homosexual life. Many marriages and families have been restored. Even if you haven’t heard about them, they are out there. God will, in His time, bring their testimonies to light.

We know that homosexuality is dividing families, political parties and churches all over America. Nevertheless, God is still on His throne! If you have a family member or friend living a homosexual life, don’t despair. God saved you, didn’t He? What He did for you, He can and will do for them. Grab hold of His word: “You and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:14)."
In a June 27th column entitled "The Black-Robed Regiment, Then and Now: A Fresh Call to Revolution", Michael Brown expressed dismay that nine Supreme Court justices could have such "sweeping authority". In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, Brown accused today's clergy of losing their "moral authority" and "leaving a gaping hole in the soul of the nation" for not engaging in activism with sufficient passion.

Brown asked where one could find "the calls to take up the cross and follow Jesus, regardless of cost or consequences" among religious leaders. Lest he be accused of zealotry, Brown claimed that "[w]hat the world calls fanaticism and much of the church calls extremism, God calls normal." He called for a passionate revolution among Christians in the face of an evolving society.
"Where were our national Christian leaders when the Supreme Court removed organized, public prayer from our schools in 1962 or when the Court declared abortion on demand to be the law of the land in 1973? Why were there so few who took a solid stand?

For the most part, when we have taken action, we have joined ourselves to a political party, only to find ourselves used for their purposes. Otherwise, we have either thought the social realm was not our responsibility; that Jesus was coming at any moment and so things will only get worse; or that the way to win a spiritual war is to become angry conservatives.

Surely we can do better than that. Surely we can—no, we must!—rise up into the revolutionary, Jesus-exalting, Word-based, Spirit-empowered calling that is on our lives, a calling that is on all believers but in particular on the leaders who must the lead the way.

Surely we cannot allow the moral standards of our society be determined by an unelected, unanointed black-robed regiment sitting in Washington, with all respect to their proper authority and with massive respect for the courageous voices among them.

It is time for the leaders to arise—to get alone with God, to get filled afresh with His Spirit, to get clear marching orders from heaven and to make a new commitment to be part of a Jesus-centered, moral, cultural and spiritual revolution."
Brown has been up in arms over LGBTQ progress recently, so the sentiments in his June 27th commentary were nothing new. For instance, in a June 26th commentary entitled "The Battle Is for Your Child's Future", Michael Brown insisted that readers must say "enough is enough" to where society is going. He criticized the American Academy of Pediatricians for rejecting homophobia and promoting LGBTQ visibility, then fumed over the case of a six year-old transgender girl who can now use her school's girl restroom.

We can expect much more of such rhetoric as our country evolves and as fundamentalist Christians are forced to confront secular society. Behind the rhetoric about demons, marriage, persecution, and revolution is fear -- fear of a world that is leaving less and less room for intolerance, ignorance, and fundamentalism.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Even in My Neck of the Woods, the Religious Right is Mad Over SCOTUS Decisions

On June 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and decided that an appeal of a federal court decision that found California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional had no legal standing. Across the nation, supporters of LGBTQ equality were delighted, and homophobes were disgusted.

Reactions are similarly divided in my home state, Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court decision drew praise from Pennsylvania political leaders and LGBTQ rights advocates, such as Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Rep. Steve McCarter, and the Pennsylvania LGBT Equality Caucus. The historic Supreme Court decisions come at a time when two pro-LGBTQ Pennsylvania lawmakers are proposing a bill to allow same-sex marriage in the Keystone state.

Amidst the joy of pro-LGBTQ Pennsylvanians comes the chagrin of right-wing lawmakers, clergy, and activists who oppose same-sex marriage in the Keystone state. Without further ado, here is a snapshot of Pennsylvania Religious Right reactions to the Supreme Court's decisions.

First, in a June 26th press release, the Pennsylvania Family Institute emphasized its "commitment to preserving the traditional definition of marriage" following the Supreme Court's decisions. The statement lamented the fact that states which have "redefined marriage" have the power to "force that policy on the federal government". Pennsylvania Family Institute president Michael Geer stressed that his organization would resist same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
"Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as it has always been defined across Western Civilization, remains intact, and Pennsylvania Family Institute will continue to defend it against political and legal assault ... Pennsylvania’s marriage policy is worth defending because it encourages an ideal family structure—marriage—where children can be raised by both a mother and a father.  Same-sex marriage sacrifices that fundamental right of children in favor of notions such as the emotional fulfillment of adults."
Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts (16th District) was similarly disgusted with the ruling. In a June 26th statement on his website, Rep. Pitts repeated the usual right-wing rhetoric about marriage, claiming that the definition of marriage has been static for millennia and that  marriage equality will somehow harm children.
"I cannot disagree more with today’s Supreme Court decision. Congress was well within its rights to define marriage on the federal level as it has been construed for thousands of years. The people of California voted in a fair and free referendum to protect traditional marriage. In both of these cases, the people acted through the democratic process to define marriage as between one man and one woman and now see their decision invalidated by the court.

I believe this will have negative consequences for children, who are best raised by a mother and a father. We redefine marriage at the expense of strong families, the essential building block of our society.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg expressed disapproval of the Supreme Court decisions in a June 26th statement. The diocese insisted that "redefining" marriage serves no one's human rights, arguing " it is not discrimination to treat differently things that are different." Marriage and the well-being of society are at risk, the statement concluded.
"The Church teaches that everyone has inviolable dignity and deserves love and respect.  There are many ways to protect the basic human rights of all, but today’s redefining of marriage serves no one’s rights, least of all those of children.   Everyone should be treated equally, but it is not discrimination to treat differently things that are different.

The difference is the difference. Men and women matter. They are equal but different. Sexual difference is essential to marriage.

We see the issue as not about equality, but rather about the purpose of marriage. We see marriage as a communal good that through the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman can bring life into the world, not one that is simply for the emotional benefit of 2 people.

Marriage belongs not to the State nor to the Church, but is a natural institution which both should recognize. In today’s decisions the State is overreaching in redefining it. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth. These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance."
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was unhappy with the decision, as was to be expected. "[T]he Proposition 8 ruling refuses to affirm the process envisioned by our founders for the American people to express its will. These great moral issues of our time should be left to the democratic process, not to five activist judges," Santorum said in a statement, according to Pennlive.

Pennsylvania has a strong right-wing presence, as these quotes suggest and my own experience has shown me. However, I have faith in enlightened Pennsylvanians and want to see LGBTQ rights blossom in the state. Supporters of equality in Pennsylvania will have to go up against retrograde attitudes such as these, but I firmly believe that the struggle can be won.

(Hat tip to WGAL 8)

Commentary Tidbits

Mother Jones: Rick Santorum Named CEO of a Christian Film Studio. Here's What He Actually Knows About Movies.

Daily Nation: The miracle healing that never was

Religion Dispatches: Message to Anti-Gay Pastors: Double Down

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: Exodus International Gone but Ex-Gay Impact Continues

Alternet: Minister Seduced Girls with Promise that Sex Would 'Heal' STDs and Early Pregnancy

News Tidbits

Pennlive: Gay Pennsylvania lawmaker wants censure of colleague over 'God's law' veto

Raw Story: Federal appeals court could still overturn Obamacare birth control mandate

San Francisco Chronicle: Operation Rescue says headquarters vandalized

Deuche Welle: Uganda's homosexuals targeted by US evangelicals

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Supreme Court Rulings A Major Victory for LGBTQ Equality, to the Religious Right's Chagrin

Wednesday was a historic day for the American LGBTQ community. on June 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of federal benefits, reports Reuters. Additionally, the court decided that supporters of California's Proposition 8 (which bans same-sex marriage in California) had no legal standing to appeal the federal district court ruling that struck it down. Thus, a lower-court ruling that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional will stand.

The decision was greeted with joy by LGBTQ equality activists, including Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD,; Lambda Legal, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Celebrations across the U.S. marked the monumental decision, showing that the struggle for LGBTQ equality has overcome two major hurdles.

Meanwhile, homophobes from the Religious Right are disgusted. And I couldn't be happier.

First, in a June 26th press release, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) expressed "dismay and outrage" at the Supreme Court decision. NOM president Brian Brown lambasted the alleged "miscarriage of justice" which would embolden "corrupt politicians".

"In a miscarriage of justice the US Supreme Court has refused to consider the decision of a single federal court judge to overturn the perfectly legal action of over 7 million California voters who passed Proposition 8 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman," said Brain Brown, NOM's president. "The Supreme Court's holding that proponents of an initiative had no legal right to appeal ignores California law and rewards corrupt politicians for abandoning their duty to defend traditional marriage laws. It's imperative that Congress continue to preserve the right of states to protect true marriage and refuse to recognize faux marriages performed in other states or countries."

Second, in a statement at the Concerned Women for America website, Penny Nance and Janice Shaw Crouse likened the SCOTUS decision to Roe v. Wade, branding the decision a repudiation of "Judeo-Christian principles that have stood the test of time." 

"The Supreme Court rulings fly in the face of reams of research showing that the best household arrangement for children is a married mom and dad. It contradicts centuries of experience across time and cultures for the best family structure for strong nations. It represents a national experiment in social reconstruction at the expense of our children's futures and the future of America. These decisions repudiate--with a vengeance--the sacred trust of the founders who built this great nation 'under God' and on a foundation of Judeo- Christian principles that have stood the test of time."

>Next, Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was similarly bombastic. A June 26th article at Charisma News quoted Land as calling the day "a devastating day for traditional marriage and religious freedom."

"Defining marriage for the American people is way above the Supreme Court’s pay grade," Land claimed. "God created marriage, and He has defined its parameters, regardless of what the majority of Supreme Court justices might think.”

In a statement entitled "Supreme Court's Refusal to Redefine Marriage Nationwide Allows American People to Consider Consequences of Redefinition", the Family Research Council warned that opposition to same-sex marriage would intensify as people "experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage." Regarding the DOMA decision, FRC president Tony Perkins argued that individual states should not be able to "impose" different definitions of marriage on the federal government. Predictably, Perkins asserted that FRC would continue to resist same-sex marriage.

"What is inevitable is that the male and female relationship will continue to be uniquely important to the future of society. The reality is that society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad. We will continue to work to restore and promote a healthy marriage culture, which will maximize the chances of a child being raised by a married mother and father.

PinkNews reports that Chick-fil-A chief operating officer Dan Cathy expressed disappointment on the ruling via Twitter. "Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies," he reportedly tweeted before being deleted.

Finally, former governor Mike Huckabee expressed his grief over the SCOTUS decisions via Twitter.

It's a new dawn for human rights and equality in the U.S. While the struggle is not over, a major hurdle has been cleared, much to the chagrin of the homophobic Religious Right. We can't let up now!

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Salon: Best of the worst: Right-wing responses to the court

Los Angeles Times: Gay marriage opponents caught in a vortex of public opinion 
Media Matters: "Supreme Court Overrules God" And Other Right-Wing Media Reactions To The Marriage Equality Victory

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Huffington Post: Breaking News: 34% of Your Fellow Citizens Want a Theocracy

Alternet: Are the Bible Thumpers Losing Their Grip on Our Politics?

Think Progress: Focus On The Family Leads Effort To Defend Ex-Gay Ministries After Exodus Shuts Down

The Wartburg Watch: The “Faith” of an Abuser and Wallop Your Woman?

Truth Wins Out: Wayne Besen Speech in Oklahoma City On ‘The Rise and Fall of the Ex-Gay Myth’

News Tidbits

Washington Post: Rick Santorum now running Christian movie studio

The Advocate: The Conservative Hang-up: How marriage equality opponents, obsessed with sex, lost America

SheWired: Girl Barred From Christian School's Football Team Because of Boys' 'Impure Thoughts'

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: Ex-gay survivors: Exodus kingpin pulled wool over eyes of TV viewers

Gay Star News: New Jersey set to be second US state to ban ‘gay cures’

Florida Baptist Witness: Huckabee to pastors: ‘Feed the sheep’

ABC News: States Fight Discrimination Toward Gay Foster Kids

Edge Boston: Jamaica Church Leaders Rally For Anti-Sodomy Law

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Religious Right Reacts to Exodus International's Closure

June has been an explosive month for the so-called "ex-gay" movement. A recent apology by Exodus International president Alan Chambers, followed by an announcement that Exodus International would close, has sent shock waves through the ex-gay community. The Religious Right has reacted with disappointment and disdain, clinging to the dubious belief that homosexuality is sinful and that LGBTQ people can somehow change their sexual orientation.

On June 21st, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly issued a statement regarding Exodus International's apology and closure. Framing homosexuality as a form of sexual sin, Daly insisted that people can still find "true happiness in stewarding their sexuality according to God's plan".
"We understand God’s original intent was for marriage to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman, with children as a natural result. But we also realize that all of us sin in many ways.

“We believe there is hope for those who struggle sexually. Be it a struggle with lust, adultery, pornography addiction, pre-marital sex, same-sex attractions or issues related to identity – there is hope. The hope of a Christian is that our behavior becomes more in line with God and God’s will. He wants us to drink from His full cup of grace and truth – because it’s through Him we can overcome lifelong struggles with sin.”

“God’s help usually doesn’t come as a ‘fast fix.’ It’s often a long process. Many times it takes counseling, Bible study, prayer and community support – but it can be done. Here at Focus we’ve seen marriages reconciled. We’ve seen people who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction change. We’ve seen people experience real transformation in their thoughts, behaviors, attractions and identity. We’ve seen people find true happiness in stewarding their sexuality according to God’s plan, even when that means sacrifice."
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an anti-LGBTQ organization, released a statement on Exodus International on June 20th. NARTH acknowledged ex-gay ministries that plan to continue their work after Exodus International's closure.
"As we understand it, Exodus was a public relations voice and referral clearing house for hundreds of individual, primarily evangelical ministries who serve church members who are experiencing unwanted homosexual feelings. These hundreds of individual evangelical Protestant ministries along with the outreach ministries in the Catholic, Jewish and Latter-day Saint faith communities still exist and we imagine that they will always exist as long as we have individuals who find homosexual sex incongruent with their personal or religious values."
In a commentary piece at Charisma Magazine, Michael Brown listed six lessons that Christians can learn from Exodus International's closure. Brown defended the dubious idea of sexual orientation change and claimed that Alan Chambers does not speak for the "thousands" of ex-gays and ex-gay ministries.
"When a ministry or church or organization departs from its calling and purpose, it will no longer be backed by God ... Right now, the world is mocking the idea that homosexuals can change, either by the gospel or by professional counseling or both, while many in the church are even questioning whether change is possible.

But Exodus is not closing because God no longer transforms homosexual men and women. It is closing because it has lost sight of its original mission and vision.

Alan Chambers, the current leader of Exodus, has stated publicly that he does not believe change in sexual orientation is possible, also claiming that practicing, unrepentant homosexuals who profess faith in Jesus are heaven-bound and saved. This means that Exodus stopped offering hope to struggling homosexuals and even stopped effectively calling them to holiness.

In that light, while the announcement of the closing of Exodus is bad news because of the reproach it brings to the gospel and the discouragement it brings to gay strugglers, it is good news because Exodus was no longer serving its God-ordained purposes."
Brown claimed that "a massive spiritual attack on those who stand on the front lines of ministry to homosexual men and women" is taking place, as the "world" seeks to discredit the ex-gay movement. He framed homosexuality as incompatible with Christian faith, branding it a sin alongside "rampant no-fault divorce, pornography and immorality in the church".
"There is no way to appease gay activists without departing from the truth of the Word. When I am asked by church leaders what we can do to minister more effectively to the LGBT community, I state that we must first repent of our own sins—including rampant no-fault divorce, pornography and immorality in the church—and then we must ask God to break our hearts with His love for homosexual men and women.

At the same time, I fully realize that unless we celebrate homosexuality, embracing it as morally and socially equivalent to heterosexuality, and unless we tell “gay Christians” that they can follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time, we have not gone far enough in their eyes.

The written apology issued by Alan Chambers leans in the dangerous direction of complete moral capitulation and should serve as a strong warning for the rest of us who want to stand for compassion without compromise."
Finally, in a June 22nd column at Renew America, Mark H. Creech scoffed at the idea of innate sexual orientation, claiming that it is "a broad term developed in modern times to provide credence for the growing number of sexual perversions." He criticized Exodus International for allegedly weakening its message with non-Christian contaminants.
"To water down this message with outside worldly, unbiblical influences, is to risk the loss of Christian identity and collapse, which is exactly what happened to Exodus International.

Indeed this is a landmark event. And every Christian denomination, church, church school or university, organization and ministry, should take note with fear and trembling. Exodus International took flight from its own promised land of deliverance and exists no more."
For all the damage it has done, Exodus International is at least willing to admit its mistakes. Its former allies among the Religious Right, however, still cling to the myths that Exodus International once embraced. I can think of nothing more ridiculous than clinging to a false ideology that has harmed so many people.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Some "Ex-Gay" Ministries Will Continue After Exodus International Bombshell

Earlier this week, Exodus International president Alan Chambers offered an apology for harms committed and announced that the organization is shutting down. While this is a tremendous blow to the so-called "ex-gay" movement, it is far from a death knoll. Other ex-gay groups, such as affiliates of the Restored Hope Network, plan to continue their efforts. Additionally, some ex-gay ministries formerly affiliated with Exodus International plan to continue, such as the Free! ministry operating out of the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. As you may recall, the West Shore Evangelical Free Church hosted Exodus International gatherings -- an equipping event for service providers and a Love Won Out conference -- that I infiltrated in 2012.

We still have work to do. The struggle for LGBTQ equality is making progress, but we must continue to challenge homophobic organizations and so-called "ex-gay" ministries.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Logos: Fundamentalist Christians, Science, and the Democracy

National Journal: Overheard at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority Conference'

Religion Dispatches: Are You Doing Your Part in the Baby War?

The Wartburg Watch: A Cry For Justice: Domestic Violence and the Church

Think Progress: Focus On The Family: Transgender Young People Don’t Exist In ‘Physical Reality’

Lez Get Real: Focus on the Family Ignores History, Claims Children Need Mother, Father

The Daily Beast: Meet The Husband and Wife Novelists Talking Israel to The Christian Right

Truth Wins Out: Idiots and Exorcists Now Lead ‘Ex-Gay’ Industry

Alternet: There Are Now As Many Nonreligious Americans As Evangelicals -- 6 Ways Politicians Can Court Their Vote

The New Civil Rights Movement: Reality TV Star And Eldest Son Of “19 Kids And Counting” To Lead Anti-Gay Hate Group

Gay Star News: The religious lobby’s lies on Jamaica gay sex court case

News Tidbits

The Advocate: An Exodus From the 'Ex-Gay' Movement?

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Religions seen slow to go green; Pope has chance to inspire

Edge Boston: Conservative PAC Issues Warning Over White House Pride Month Ceremony

RTV 6 ABC: Ball State panel scrutinizes honors science course

CNN: Superman: Flying to a church near you

Arkansas News: Groups pondering ways to restrict sales of morning after pill in state

NBC KXAN: Interview questions spark criticism, possible legal action

Washington Post: Josh Duggar moving to D.C. for political job with Family Research Council

Irish Times: Ireland: Anger over ‘vigil for life’ leaflets given to pupils in Dublin primary school

Christian Science Monitor: As Spain's people drift from Catholic Church, government cozies up

Edge Boston: Brazil Lawmakers OK Bill For Treatment of Gays

Pink News: UK: Gay ‘cure’ therapy NHS ban motion gains cross-party support

Gay News Network: Philippine Archbishop Says It's Okay for a Gay Man and a Lesbian to Marry

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Exodus International Is Shutting Down

On June 19th, Exodus International president Alan Chambers posted a public apology for the harm that the so-called "ex-gay" organization had caused. Now, Exodus International has announced that it is shutting down. According to the announcement, Exodus' board of directors reached their decision after a year of discussion.
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

Chambers continued: “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”
Alan Chambers and the board of directors plan to create a new ministry, Reduce Fear, with the goal of helping churches "become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities." The nature of Reduce Fear remains to be seen, as will the reception it received from the LGBTQ and faith communities.

Exodus' apology and closure comes amidst a second Lisa Ling investigation into the so-called "ex-gay" movement, scheduled to air tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). (To read about her first exposé in 2011, click here.) It also comes as Exodus International hosts its 38th Annual Exodus Freedom Conference. Finally, the bombshell follows publicized dissent within the ex-gay community, such as Exodus International's recent decision to withdraw from the Exodus Global Alliance.

I'm relieved that Alan Chambers has recognized the error of his ways and that Exodus International is closing its doors. His apology was refreshing in its honesty and humanity. However, a public apology and closure don't erase the organization's many sins. Exodus International has promoted homophobia and spiritually poisonous messages for years, harming countless LGBTQ people in the process. Events such as the Love Won Out conference spoke of homosexuality and dysfunction in the same breath, while framing LGBTQ status and Christian faith as mutually exclusive. The organization has targeted service providers who work with LGBTQ persons, promoting toxic messages at equipping events such as the one I infiltrated in 2012. Let's not forget that Exodus board member Don Schmierer participated in an anti-gay conference in Uganda in 2009, which preceded the introduction of a draconian anti-gay bill currently under consideration in that country. Exodus International has a lot to answer for, and it will have to work long and hard to undo the damage it has inflicted.

The LGBTQ community has received the news with a wide variety of responses. Truth Wins Out, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, commended Alan Chambers for his apology and looked forward to the day when he could be considered an ally.
"His written apology was open and one-hundred percent honest, and quite frankly, it took a real man to write it; to acknowledge the pain that Exodus has caused over the years; to apologize without equivocation, and with specificity; and to do all this with his own livelihood on the line. Much work remains to be done to defeat the lie of “ex-gay”/reparative therapy, but this is a huge step in the right direction. In his talk tonight, I saw a humble, honest, and most importantly authentic man who isn’t afraid to face the music, and to do what he can to fix the problems he’s had a part in creating.

Alan stated in his talk tonight that he doesn’t want to see another “ex-gay” organization fill the void left by Exodus’s closing, but called on the Church to actually become a safe place for gays and lesbians. Of course, the Restored Hope Network is having their conference in Oklahoma City, featuring the biggest quacks in the “ex-gay” industry, so they’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure that Alan’s vision of the Church being a loving place will never come to pass. Thus, our work must continue. Exodus was a large pillar in the “ex-gay” world, but this fight is far from over."
Writing for Ex-Gay Watch, Mike Airhart sees the Exodus International apology and closure as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it liberates moderate members to seek out freedom, but on the other hand, it also helps hardliner ex-gay activists avoid accountability.
"Closing the organization so soon after the apology may give moderate Exodus leaders a chance to start over, free from the baggage of impenitent and allegedly abusive members — or it may allow those unapologetic members to escape ongoing confrontation with the consequences of their alleged abuse.

The closure of Exodus forces remaining ex-gay activists to make clear choices: Do they follow the new ministry’s model of reluctant grace and self-denial; do they affiliate with [Restored Hope Network's] political and religious extremism; or do they seek out the religious and personal freedom that — critics say — both Exodus and RHN have denied to them?"
Apologies and closures do not negate the past, however, and Rev. Canon Albert Ogle is holding Exodus International accountable. In a June 15th commentary at San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Ogle reminds readers that Exodus International and the Exodus Global Alliance have perpetrated great harm across the globe. 
"Chamber’s organization on May 28 withdrew from Exodus Global Alliance after 18 years of membership. The Global Alliance has networks in South America, Brazil, Indian Asia and Africa. They are most famous for presenting four papers and organizing a series of workshops at a large Evangelical Conference in Capetown, South Africa in 2010 where 4,000 leaders heard about their quackery and proceeded to implement a series of anti-gay laws across the continent that would reply on this misinformation as a basis for punitive actions against LGBT people.

Even the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Law in Uganda has the premise that gay orientation is deliberately chosen and can be reversed to heterosexuality. The Capetown Conference attendees (organized by Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who preached at the closing ceremonies) were given enough significant misinformation about LGBT people that Exodus and the Global Alliance probably need to apologize to more than a few million people in the U.S. alone. They need to apologize to the whole LGBT global movement.

Compared to the invasion of Iraq based on the false premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, the Evangelical Christian community can be forgiven for years of anti-gay persecution because it was misinformed by Alan Chambers and his international network. The damage is profound."
Other still remain angry at Exodus International. At Americablog, John Aravosis dismissed Exodus' apology, arguing that Chambers' statement did not begin to capture the devastation that ex-gay programs inflict on LGBTQ people.

"These people have been spreading lies for decades, treating people for something that can’t be treated, using false “cures,” giving false hope, and helping to feed the stigma of being gay, and the pain many felt. I got news for you – there is no “good.”  There are no thousands of people “positively affected,” unless you mean all the quack faux-scientists and religious right hate-mongers who have profited quite nicely from the climate of anti-gay hate that Exodus International helped buttress.  Yes, they all did quite well, thank you.  The rest of us, not so much.

Let me tell you about someone who wasn’t “positively affected.”  My cousin was disowned by his parents because he’s gay.  And what did his parents do when they first found out about their son?  They sent him some brochures from their priest, for an ex-gay ministry to “cure” him.  These people gave my cousins’ parents a false and hate-filled hope, they helped his parents hang on to a rationale for disowning their own son.  Where is the good in that, Alan? Tell me, where?

So spare me the excuses about how only “some” people caused harm.  And spare me the half-hearted apology about how a few bad apples overshadowed all of your “good ” work.

The only good that Exodus International ever did was shutting down."
Exodus International's bombshell is a major blow to the ex-gay movement, and a sign that the faith community is slowly rejecting homophobia. I hope recent events mean that the end of toxic ex-gay ministries is approaching.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Salon: “Ex-gay” Christian group to LGBT people: We’re sorry

Slacktivist: ‘Ex-gay ministry’ Exodus International apologizes, says it will close and stop hurting people

Rachel Held Evans: Alan Chambers of Exodus International Apologizes to LGBT Community

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Exodus International Issues Apology

:: jaw drops ::

Exodus International, a prominent "ex-gay" ministry, recently posted an apology penned by Alan Chambers. In the online statement, Chambers apologized for harm and stigma caused by Exodus International.

Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 

And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.

Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated. 

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 

What do my readers think? Can Chambers and Exodus International be forgiven for years of homophobic and spiritually toxic messages? Has the organization done too much damage to be forgiven? How will the Religious Right community react Chambers' apology? How will members of the LGBTQ community, especially those who have suffered at the hands of so-called "ex-gay" programs, respond?

(Hat tip to Box Turtle Bulletin)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Human Rights Campaign: Report: Conservative Catholics Targeting Anti-Poverty Mission for LGBT-Associations

Politicus USA: How Christian Myth Overinflates the Religious Right’s Sense of Self Importance

Washington Post: Jeb Bush’s ‘fertility’ argument: Why conservatives privilege biology over justice

New York Times: The Pope’s Gay Panic

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: New Hampshire Court Strikes Down Tax-Credit Aid To Religious Schools

Salon: GOP plan to appeal to millennials: “Make abortion funny”

Stuff Fundies Like: The Impossible Dream

Bitchspot: Religion: Not Just Parishioners Are Running Away

Earth and All Stars: A conservative Christian lexicon

Good As You: 'Gays Against Gay Marriage' = The New 'Ex-Gay'

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Anti-gay hate group leader supports homophobic Russian bill

Right Wing Watch: Conservative Latinos Slam Anti-Immigrant Voices at Ralph Reed Conference

News Tidbits

Washington Post: International Criminal Court dismisses abuse claims against the Vatican

NPR: Pope's Reference To 'Gay Lobby' Broaches Taboo Topic

Christian Science Monitor: School prayer: 50 years after the ban, God and faith more present than ever

Pink News: New ‘Gay Marriage No Thanks’ group launches with ‘ten good reasons’ to oppose equal marriage

News Day: Zimbabwe: ‘Hell for gays' if President Mugabe's Zanu PF party wins elections

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Vision Forum Hosting the History of America Mega-Conference

Love, Joy, Feminism recently posted on an upcoming conference hosted by Vision Forum, a Christian homeschooling organization seeped in Christian Patriarchy ideology. The History of America Mega-Conference will take place on July 2-6 at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg in Camp Hill, PA. Vision Forum's website claims that the left is "stealing our history", describing the conference as an antidote to alleged "revisionism" and "politically-correct" messages about America's past.
"Are you and your children equipped to defend America’s godly heritage against today’s fierce onslaught of historical revisionism? ... Are you and your children equipped to answer the politically-correct, historical revisionism that dominates higher academia and the mass media today — to defend our nation’s godly heritage with nuance and precision against the fierce onslaught of secular skepticism?

Antagonists to the Christian faith are stealing our history, and it’s time we take it back. The engaging messages given at this conference will arm your family with the truth to combat the lies of the Left — to have a sure foundation for the 21st century.

Were our Founding Fathers Deists? How should we view our government’s treatment of American Indians? What are we to make of the War Between the States? These and other raging controversies will be answered."
What struck me about the conference agenda is the absence of women. All the listed speakers are men, and the website states that the conference will discuss "the men and the movements that have shaped our culture" (emphasis mine). I'm curious as to how the conference will depict the roles of women, people of color, immigrants, and non-Christians in American history.

The History of America Mega-Conference will present American history through the lens of a conservative "Christian worldview", as suggested by some of the workshop titles.
 The Panorama of God's Providence in the History of America

The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration

The Colonial Period, Part I: Biblical Family and Civil Government in England and America

Why 19th Century American Literature Was at War with God
Past events and statements by Vision Forum have depicted the past in a distorted manner, whether the topic was the Titanic tragedy, the environmental movement, or American food culture. I expect the History of America Mega-Conference to embody the same agenda, and I'd like to listen to the workshops first-hand to be sure. Fortunately, I live within driving distance of Harrisburg, so I sense an infiltration opportunity. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: I just registered! Check back for my report in July!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

News Tidbits

ABC News: Christian College Expels Lesbian Student, Asks for Tuition

Huffington Post: Alan Chambers, 'Ex-Gay' Group Leader, Apologizes For Practices On Lisa Ling's Special Report

The Advocate: Dan Savage On Ending 'Ex-Gay' Camps

Pink News: Psychotherapists slam ‘gay cure’ app still available from Google app store

Radio Iowa: Activist filing complaints against NOM, Bob Vander Plaats & Rick Santorum

Gay Star News: LGBT-friendly Christians urge Hong Kong to protect sexual minority rights

Pew Research: LGBT and Religion: Difficult Terrain

Washington Post: A decade later, Southern Baptists adapt to different political climate, culture, influence

Huddersfield Daily Examiner: Faith healer blames 'phantom hands' phenomenon for women's grope claims

Commentary Tidbits

Friendly Atheist: Public School Superintendent Tells Graduating Students to Live Up to God’s Expectations

RH Reality Check: Abortion a Low Priority on Day One of Religious Right Gathering

Gay Star News: A David and Goliath court battle with gay rights taking on religious hate in Jamaica

Think Progress: Focus On The Family: Children Deserve ‘Biological Families’ From ‘Natural Marriage’

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thursday at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference

The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference is currently taking place from June 13-15 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. Sponsored by the Mazzoni Center, the annual conference draws thousands of transgender and gender-nonconforming people as well as LGBTQ allies. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the conference with several colleagues on behalf of my workplace, and the experience was a delight.* (Being across the street from the Reading Terminal Market and its delicacies didn't hurt either!)

I wanted to blog on the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference because of what it teaches the world about the transgender community. The Religious Right has doggedly opposed equality for LGBTQ persons and promoted attitudes that delegitimize transgender and gender-nonconforming people. However, events like this are proof that the transgender community is strong and vocal, determined to create a place for itself in the world.

What immediately struck me was how welcoming and safe the conference space felt. The mood in the air was cheerful, and the thousands of attendees from all walks of life were friendly. When I noticed that many teenagers and young adults were present, I was relieved that the conference gave them a supportive space to be themselves.

The schedule was an embarrassment of riches, with dozens of workshops on parenting, romantic relationships, employment, health issues, social justice, and the arts. The workshops were also reminders that many groups make up the transgender community, and that transgender identity intersects with race, national origin, age, disability, religion, and many other identities.

For me, a strong reminder of this intersectionality was a workshop I attended on Thursday morning, "Transitioning Times Two: Exploring the Journeys, Challenges, and Hopes of Trans Refugees". The workshop explored the struggles and hopes of those who are both transgender and refugees or asylum seekers, highlighting the discrimination, violence, administrative hurdles, and resettlement challenges that they encounter.

Yet another reminder of this intersectionality was a workshop I attended in the afternoon, "Violence and Trauma in the Lives of Transgender Older Adults". Presented by FORGE, the workshop discussed discrimination and violence experienced by transgender persons across the lifespan, and the impact victimization has on their physical and mental health. The workshop also shed light on the unique characteristics of transgender elders that can give them resiliency and insight.

Transgender persons experience disproportionate levels of violent victimization, but their experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are not always positive. "Transgender Injustice: Police Encounters and Incarceration" discussed these negative experiences, reminding attendees of their rights and of advocacy groups working to help.

I was struck by the conference's attention to faith and spirituality, a reminder that the transgender community is giving voice to dynamic interpretations of faith. The conference featured workshops on transgender spirituality from Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, pagan, Unitarian Universalist, and Native American traditions. Rituals and active spiritual practices also took place, including a transgender-led Catholic mass, Native American smudge and drumming circles, and a yoga session. Transfaith, an interfaith nonprofit, hosted a conference pre-event on June 12th for attendees of all spiritual paths.

Such displays of belief show that spirituality is dynamic, and that transphobic interpretations of religion are not the only interpretations. The Religious Right would do well to remember that its rigid notions of sexuality and gender identity are not shared by all believers, and that its views on religion are not the last word.

The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference gave me confidence that many people are striving to transform communities and foster social justice. After blogging so much on Religious Right voices that stuff life into binary boxes of saved/unsaved, righteous/sinful, male/female, and heterosexual/"abomination", it's refreshing to be among people who reject those black-and-white categories. The attendees and programs were a reminder that the world is a dizzying, colorful reality that can't be confined to any binary.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, click here. To learn more about the Mazzoni Center, click here.

* Except for driving to Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania Turnpike through torrential downpours, lightning, and the occasional spray of hail.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Aljazeera: A peek into a pro-life paradise

Talk to Action: The Church Child Sex Abuse Scandal Widens and Deepens

Godless in Dixie: Evangelical Christianity and Low Self-Esteem

GLAAD: Anti-LGBT commentators versus responsibility: One case study on a larger problem

Truth Wins Out: Vaudeville Vladimir Ruins Russia

RH Reality Check: Why a Catholic School Teacher Was Fired for an IVF Pregnancy—And Why She Was Awarded $171,000

News Tidbits

Reuters: Killer of Kansas abortion doctor disciplined in prison for comments

Reuters: Evangelical Christians gain political clout in Catholic Brazil

The Globe and Mail: Anti-gay marriage protesters interrupt French Open final

Pink News: Scotland: Catholic adoption charity to start legal challenge against same-sex adoption ruling

CNN: Republican Party to step up outreach to evangelicals

WSPA 7: Freedom From Religion Foundation Sends Warning After Grad Speech

Interfax: Russia: Monks shouldn't use Internet, says Patriarch Kirill

Lou Engle Wants Funding for Missionary Efforts

Remember Lou Engle's Ekballo initiative, which encourages Christians to serve as missionaries around the globe? Engle is asking followers to fund it via Twitter.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Kenya: Reinhard Bonnke Hosts Revival with Leader Accused of Crimes Against Humanity

This June, Reinhard Bonnke of Christ For All Nations (CFAN) traveled to Kenya to host the Great Jubilee Crusade in Nairobi's Uhuru Park. CFAN's accounts of the gathering included the usual claims of faith healing, with a shout-out to the Green Family (owners of Hobby Lobby) for sponsoring the event.

Among the high-profile attendees was Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who spoke of God and national prosperity. "“I urged all Kenyans to submit to God and pray for His guidance in building a prosperous nation which all citizens can be proud of. The year of Jubilee is the year of forgiveness, reconciliation, and the year to open a new chapter as a nation," he said, according to Jamhuri Magazine.

Reinhard Bonnke's willingness to include Kenyatta in his revival gathering surprised me, given the charges against Kenyatta of an alleged role in post-election violence years ago. In late 2007 and early 2008, the re-election of Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki was disputed by challenger Raila Odinga. Amidst claims of vote-rigging, brutal violence erupted in the aftermath of the election, with scores of people dead, according to BBC News and the New York Times.

In 2011, the International Criminal Court (ICC) summoned Kenyatta and five other men for their reported role in Kenya's post-election violence. All six accepted the summons. Kenyatta denied any role in crimes against humanity and insisted that he would be vindicated at his ICC trial, reports BBC.

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenyatta and several other men stand accused of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual violence, deportation or forcible transfer, and other inhumane acts. The prosecution alleges that the accused did so to attack perceived supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement and keep President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity in power. To carry out atrocities, the accused allegedly recruited the Mungiki, a Kenyan criminal organization with a history of police killings, ethnic strife, and extortion. A recent article in the Daily Nation states that Kenyatta's lawyers are trying to postpone his ICC trial until January 2014, a move that ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opposes.

The ICC trial involving Kenyatta has been marked by disturbing controversies. A February 2013 BBC News article said that dozens of potential witnesses for the case have reportedly gone missing, although these claims are difficult to independently verify. "Each one of them was involved in the post-election violence in Naivasha and Nakuru ... they all disappeared without trace," said Pail Muite, a lawyer representing the wives of several of the vanished men.

With these charges in mind, Kenyatta's comments about forgiveness at CFAN's Great Jubilee Crusade take a different tone. According to Standard Digital, Kenyatta prayed for forgiveness from anyone he had wronged.

"This is a year ... to forget all the wrong things that have happened to us and unite in God ... I am not bitter with anybody. And if there is anybody I have wronged, I pray that he or she may forgive me. If there is anyone who has wronged me, I also forgive them."

CFAN's account of Kenyatta speech was enthusiastic, with no mention of his pending ICC trial. With allegations of violence and an ICC trial hanging over Kenyatta, I wonder what Bonnke's reasoning was for including him in the Great Jubilee Crusade. Did he simply want a powerful, well-recognized leader to promote his Christian message? How does he feel about these serious allegations of crimes against humanity?

I realize that Kenyatta has not been convicted of crimes against humanity at this time, and that he is entitled to a fair ICC trial. Still, these allegations should give preachers such as Bonnke pause. If Bonnke and CFAN aren't careful, they may court controversy over the worshippers they keep company with.