Saturday, August 31, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

God Discussion: Taking dominion: Champion the Vote unites with Hispanic New Apostolic Reformation movement

The Nation: Mexico's Abortion Wars, American-Style

Wonkette: Christian School that Have Creationist Quiz is Mercifully Euthanized\

Ramblings of Sheldon: The False Illusion of Free Will in Christianity

Good As You: Focus on the Family Director Chastises 'Earthy King' Obama for Basing Civil Law on Something Other Than God

Sarah Over the Moon: Maybe God is a “bitch”

Science League of America: Textbook Battle in Texas

Truth Wins Out: Bradlee Dean’s Radio Program Claims Half Of All Big City Murders Are Committed By Gays

Friendly Atheist: David Barton: If There’s No Prayer at a Public School Graduation, That’s a Promotion of Atheism

News Tidbits

Bloomberg: California Gay Conversion Therapy Ban Upheld in Appeal

Washington Post: In Pentecostal Churches Throughout the Country, Messages in Tongues on the Decline

Wall Street Journal: Anti-Gay-Marriage Church Had Dancers at King Commemoration

The Ledger: Pastor Looking for New Place to Burn Qurans Due to Flooding in Mulberry

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Frederic C. Rich: Take the Religious Right Threat Seriously

The September issue of Church & State, the magazine published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, interviewed Frederic C. Rich. Rich is the author of Christian Nation: A Novel, a speculative novel about America's descent into theocracy. The interview was full of insights into politics and religion, but one passage about the Religious Right was so spot-on that I had to share it.

Q. What can Americans do to prevent the kind of scenario outlined in Christian Nation from happening?

A. First and foremost, take it seriously. Everything depends on that. No one will be motivated to vote, speak or act to stop Christian fundamentalism if he or she believes they are a bunch of cranks. Listen to what they say, consider the possibility that they mean it, think about how fanatical movements have seized power through human history, and accept that our democracy, which strong, is not invulnerable.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Books from the Religious Right: BE INTOLERANT by Ryan Dobson

At the 2011 CHAP convention, I picked up a copy of Ryan Dobson's 2003 book, Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid. Ryan Dobson, son of Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, has a long history of anti-choice, and anti-Obama comments on the Family Talk radio show, as documented by Right Wing Watch. He's also an unabashed supporter of "male headship", insisting that “The man should be the overall leader of the household ... We’ve raised a generation of little boys" in a 2010 New York Times article on Christian martial arts. Be Intolerant, with Dobson's sullen glower on the front cover, offers a glimpse into how he sees others.

Dobson complains that the fear of offending others, of being labeled intolerant and bigoted, is moral cowardice that prevents many Christians from speaking the truth. However, Dobson proudly proclaims that he is "totally, radically intolerant" in that he speaks openly about things that are right and wrong. The goal of Be Intolerant, he explains, is to lead people "out of the darkness of political correctness" into the light of truth.

Dobson accuses American culture of practicing moral relativism, which he blames on Enlightenment and postmodern ideas. He grossly caricatures Enlightenment ideas as promising that science and technology will solve everything, which only led to greater exploitation. To call this a grossly inaccurate parody of the Enlightenment would be an understatement.

Has this guy even studied the Enlightenment? Was he out sick when his high school history class covered it? I thought.

He then conflates tolerance and acceptance for others with moral relativism, creating a caricature of a freewheeling society with no moral compass.

Christianity is the only alternative to moral relativism, he argues, and believers have an obligation to share Biblical truth. His book is intended for young Christians who feel torn between God and the world, he explains. The fact that someone can tread many other paths besides fundamentalist Christianity and hollow relativism is never considered. Such a simplistic vision presents the world in black and white terms, ignoring anything outside two binary possibilities.

Dobson constructs a farcical straw man argument about society's moral relativism, then knocks down the strawman by slamming society's alleged moral relativism as meaningless and hypocritical. The problem is, American society doesn't remotely resemble Dobson's caricature. Americans of all stripes do have moral codes and deeply held convictions, but because they look different than Dobson's, he refuses to acknowledge them. American society does have some common values -- the Bill of Rights is but one example -- but Dobson refuses to discuss the interplay between collective and individual values.

Be Intolerant is extremely dismissive of sexuality outside of marriage, abortion, environmentalism, the LGBTQ community, and marginalized groups in general. A recurring subtext of the book is that opinions that differ from Dobson are not worthy of consideration. Why learn about other people and paths when they're WRONG, WRONG, WRONG and need to be taught THE TRUTH? What Dobson doesn't realize is that this attitude is more likely to alienate people than convert them.

Dobson complains that "[o]ur culture loves a victim", sneering at those who call themselves marginalized because they've "been picked on, pushed around, inconvenienced, or even slightly embarrassed in gym one day". The idea that some groups actually are marginalized in our society -- that some groups have endured long histories of erasure, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and violence -- escapes him.

Privileged much? I thought.

Predictably, Dobson insists that he shows such intolerance out of "love", a love that doesn't want to see his friends ruin their lives. The fifth chapter of the book is even entitled "How to be Intolerant -- In Love". The fact that such self-righteous "love" may not feel very loving to others, or that it might even do real damage, is never considered. Simply put, love that tears down, silences, and infantilizes others is not love.

Be Intolerant can be summed up as "I've got the Bible so I'm right, and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong!." Dobson shows little curiosity about why others might not believe the same things as him or lead lives that look different from his. This reluctance to learn about people who are different from him, to hear their stories and reasoning, is very revealing.

Both the style and substance of the book left me unimpressed. First, his tone is juvenile and antagonistic. Be Intolerant reads more like a disgruntled teenager's journal than a mature guide to Christian living. Dobson might have used this tone to make his book seem rebellious and irreverent to young readers, but it came off as grating. Furthermore, Dobson's black-and-white, God-versus-the-world thinking is simplistic. Human beings are far more complex and diverse than he gives them credit for, and there are many paths in life besides fundamentalism and relativism. His vision of Christianity is monolithic, in that he fails to recognize that Christians have very diverse opinions about social issues and faith.

My biggest complaint against Be Intolerant is that it conflates intolerance with moral courage. In reality, Dobson's intolerance is merely ignorance and a refusal to respect others who are different. True moral courage involves helping others flourish and upholding their rights, even if they are different from us. Truly loving people will listen to others, ask for their stories, respect their intrinsic humanity, and help them flourish. To do that, we must reject self-righteous intolerance and cultivate humility in its place.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Media Girl: Gangsta' Christians: Ryan Dobson's spiritual ghetto

Musings of the Stupidest Smart Guy I Know: Be Intolerant by Ryan Dobson

Commentary Tidbits

The American Prospect: Jesus Voted against Your Sins

Buzzfeed: How A Global Anti-Gay Activist Reached Into Russia

Slate: We Should Be Taxing Churches

Alternet: God’s Foreign Policy: Christian Zionism

The Australian: Gen Y believers 'tired of Christian Right'

Wall of Separation: Religious Right Throws Fit Over Muslim Display In Kansas Public School

The Advocate: Anti-Marriage Equality Arguments Are Only Getting Dumber

The American Jesus: What If Jesus Had A Gag Reflex?

Dallas Observer: There's a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland's Fort Worth Church

RH Reality Check: ‘Priests for Life’ Sues to Block Birth Control Coverage Compromise

News Tidbits

ABC News: Churches Changing Bylaws After Gay Marriage Ruling

Raw Story: Tennessee church bans family after daughter wins same sex benefits from town

Carolina Live: School board member hopes to put prayer back in school

Think Progress: Congressional Hopeful Proposes Anti-LGBT Pledge and Religious Test For Candidates

Metro Weekly: New Mexico Supreme Court rules photographer cannot deny services to same-sex couple

Singapore Law Watch: Compensate woman fired for adultery, church told

RT: Russians launch dedicated center to fight ‘atheist extremism’

Interfax: Russian Church spokesman defends Isinbayeva for backing anti-gay propaganda law

Jamaican Gleaner: 'Somebody must stand up to homosexuals': Jamaican pastor

Pink News: Bishop of Honolulu: Equal marriage could lead to polygamy and incest

Monday, August 26, 2013

Religious Right Angry Over New Jersey Ban on Conversion Therapy for Minors

On August 19th, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a measure that bans state-licensed mental health care professionals from practicing conversion therapy with minors, reports Reuters. The measure inspired three New York lawmakers to proposed similar legislation banning conversion therapy for minors, according to New York Daily News. Gov. Christie's decision has been applauded by LGBTQ rights activists and slammed by the Religious Right.

Conversion therapy -- often nicknamed "ex-gay therapy" -- posits that gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation and thus become heterosexual. Such so-called therapy posits that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is inherently pathological. However, such "treatment" has long fallen out of favor with mental health professions. In a 2009 review of research on sexual orientation change efforts, the American Psychological Association concluded that "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates." The Pan American Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and other health groups have criticized conversion therapy, while research has shown sexual orientation change efforts to be highly dubious. New Jersey's ban on conversion therapy for minors is a positive move meant to protect children and youth from homophobic quackery posing as therapy.

After Gov. Christie signed the conversion therapy ban, Liberty Counsel quickly announced its plans to file suit to challenge the legislation. In an August 19th press release, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver claimed that conversion therapy helps youth deal with same-sex attraction after being sexually victimized (!).
“This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky. Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors."
Staver incorrectly attributes non-heterosexual orientations with sexual victimization, thereby making a false and dangerous correlation between gays and child abusers ("...the likes of Jerry Sandusky"). Unfortunately, plenty of homophobes worldwide cling to this toxic correlation, with vicious incidents in Australia and Russia as but two examples. Furthermore, this is not the first time Religious Right voices have invoked the Sandusky case in order to depict homosexuality as pathological or predatory. I am disgusted that Liberty Counsel would oppose legislation meant to protect minors from quackery, AND use such inflammatory language when doing so.

Sadly, Liberty Counsel is not the only Religious Right voice condemning the legislation. Other homophobic voices have criticized Gov. Christie's decision, using a plethora of homophobic myths to do so.

First, in an August 20th press release, the Family Research Council expressed disappointment with Gov. Christie's decision to sign AB 3371 into law. Peter Sprigg, the FRC's senior fellow for policy studies, claimed that the bill violates the rights of clients seeking treatment. Despite evidence to the contrary. Sprigg insisted that sexual orientation change therapy is successful, and that its risks must be weighed against the alleged "risks associated with homosexual conduct".

"The New Jersey bill strips away a core ethical principle of the counseling profession-the right of the client to set his or her own goals for therapy. Under this bill, even if a young person, the person's parents, and the therapist all agree on the goal of seeking a change in sexual orientation, the iron hand of the state will forbid it. This law tramples on the rights of minors, parents, and therapists alike."

FRCAction president Connie Mackey called the bill "a shocking invasion into the privacy of the relationship between therapist and client", defending conversion therapy as a free speech issue.
"Values voters are looking for candidates who will lead the way to preserve the right to live out one's faith.  Unfortunately, Governor Christie has decided to join with those seeking to restrict the free speech rights of those deemed to hold politically incorrect views."

In a commentary piece at World Net Daily, Linda Harvey blasts Gov. Christie for siding "with those who want to sell “gay” behavior to kids, even publicly chastising those who question it." She spoke disparagingly of anti-bullying and pro-equality efforts meant to help LGBTQ youth while hurling angry comments at Christie. In a scathing tone, Harvey repeated the myth that homosexuality springs from sexual victimization and alleged "indoctrination".
"So now Christie favors teens being denied the opportunity to overcome homosexual desires, which are not inborn but often the byproduct of early sexual exposure or molestation. No science has found a gay gene, but Christie said he believes people are born this way and that it’s not a sin.

There are only a few reasons why an alleged “conservative” politician supports such fascist left-wing schemes. Perhaps Christie doesn’t really have much of a heart for kids. If 12-year-olds are indoctrinated at school into thinking they are homosexual and end up the victims of advances by HIV-infected predators, maybe the governor is not too concerned. If New Jersey HIV incidence relating to homosexual practices continues to rise among youth, perhaps he can point to some other factor. Not his fault."
In an August 20th column at Charisma Magazine, Larry Tomczak called the bill an "erosion of parental rights" and complained that it would force "scores of counselors to withhold counseling that is consistent with their conscience and professional training." Tomczak framed conversion therapy as an alleged means of protecting children from an hypersexualized world menaced by the "gay agenda".
"Young people today face challenges in the realm of sexuality that are unparalleled in our history. When you and I were growing up with our Roman Catholic training, we never faced the avalanche of pornography and celebration of homosexuality prevailing in the media, schools, government and entertainment there is today.

Multitudes of young children and teenagers are wrestling with sexual identity as they come of age. To capitulate to the gay agenda and stonewall providing options for those who are asking for them really is unconscionable."
Tomczak proceeded to regurgitate the usual fundamentalist chestnuts about gays: no one is born gay, practicing same-sex intimacy is sinful, the "homosexual lifestyle" is fraught with health risks, ad nauseum.

In short, Religious Right voices are defending conversion therapy for minors as a free speech issue, a medical rights issue, a response to predation, and a weapon against some insidious "gay agenda". It never occurs to them that such therapy is dubious, and that it harms young people by forcing them to condemn and repress an intrinsic part of who they are.

As science demonstrates the dubious character of conversion therapy and enlightened people recognize that being LGBTQ is not unhealthy, we can expect to see bans on conversion therapy for minors in more states. However, we can expect the Religious Right -- convinced that homosexuality is pathological and determined to promote homophobia -- to resist those efforts. The struggle against this quackery will be long, but if it protects young people from dubious and harmful "treatment", it will be worthwhile.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Focus On The Family Praises Ex-Gay Therapy, Wonders If Chris Christie Approves Of Adultery

Truth Wins Out: Homo-Cons Displeased With New Jersey Bill Banning ‘Reparative’ Therapy For Minors

The Guardian: New Jersey's ban on gay conversion therapy is a victory over religious nuts

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

The Atlantic: The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America's Churches

The American Jesus: Did John Hagee Accidentally Spill The Beans On Fundamentalism?

Formerly Fundie: Standing With Israel: How bad theology duped us into supporting terrorism and oppression

Equality Matters: Liberty Counsel Champions "Peaceful" Hate Group Leader Behind Uganda's "Kill The Gays" Bill

SPLC Hatewatch: Ron Paul, Birch President to Speak at Anti-Semitic Conference

RH Reality Check: The Deeply Disturbing World of Modern Anti-Abortion Activism

Mother Jones: This Latest Effort to Close Abortion Clinics Is the Strangest One Yet

Deity Shmeity: Boycotting Boycotts

Hello Giggles: How I Became a Reformed Homophobe

Slaktivist: Gary Bauer’s Big Book of Genesis Legislation

Salon: These are the 34 states that fund crisis pregnancy centers with taxpayer dollars

Mediaite: Kid Prays for Obama, Christian Conservatives Lose Their Minds

News Tidbits

CNN: New Jersey outlaws gay conversion therapy for minors

Washington Post: Conservatives vow suit over New Jersey gay conversion law

BBC News: HIV patients told by Pentecostal pastors 'to rely on God'

The Telegraph: 'Persecuted' British Christians need to 'grow up', says former Archbishop Rowan Williams

Gay Star News: Australia: Crowds turn out for final gay marriage push before election in Melbourne and Brisbane

Monday, August 19, 2013

Catholic Church Fights Abuse Victim Bill in California

In California, a proposed bill that would extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims has encountered fierce resistance from Catholic Church leaders and its allies. California Senate Bill No. 131 would extend the statute of limitations for recovery of damages suffered due to childhood sexual abuse. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that SB 131 failed to secure enough votes to leave the California lower house appropriations committee and go to the Assembly floor. The panel reportedly plans to take up the bill again next week. If passed, SB 131 would be a boon for clergy abuse victims seeking redress from the Catholic Church, allowing them more time to seek justice in the courts.

Joelle Casteix, western regional director of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), stressed the importance of legal recourse for victims of childhood sexual abuse. "The best way to expose child predators, help victims heal and keep kids safe right now is by opening up the courtroom doors to victims of child sexual abuse," she told the Orange County Register.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has been fighting SB 131 tooth and nail. According to the Los Angeles Times, a group affiliated with the church has recruited five lobbying firms to neutralize SB 131. Large California diocese and allied groups have accused SB 131 of targeting religious and nonprofit organizations while ignoring sexual abuse in public schools.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been particularly vocal in its resistance to SB 131. An action alert on the Archdiocese website urges congregants to fight SB 131 as part of "faithful citizenship". Furthermore, it criticizes SB 131 because the bill allegedly "fails to protect all victims of childhood sexual abuse, discriminates against Catholic schools and other private employers, and puts the social services and educational work of the Church at risk." Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez framed the fight against SB 131 as a religious freedom issue, telling parishioners,  "Let's pray for our religious freedom … and let's exercise that freedom by contacting our legislators about SB 131", according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) also blasted SB 131. In a May 7th statement, the CCC complained that SB 131 " will do nothing for the overwhelming majority of victims and shockingly little to most abusers." The CCC has issued an action alert on the bill to Catholic churches, urging citizens to pressure their lawmakers into voting no on the bill.

Various Catholic parishes and individual churches in California have joined the attack on SB 131, echoing the rhetoric of the CCC and the Los Angeles Diocese. (See here for an example.) Dutifully, they claim that the bill unfairly targets Catholic institutions and ignores children abused in public schools.

At times, the rhetoric against SB 131 becomes acerbic. The Media Report posted a vicious commentary on SB 131 last month, blaming the bill on "anti-Catholic zealots" and "cash-hungry contingency lawyers" who stand to win "humongous settlements" if it passes. The commentary demonized SNAP as an "anti-Catholic group" with a "notorious Church-suing lawyer" in tow. The commentary painted SB 131 supporters as malicious, claiming that "the fact that not all dioceses have been bankrupted is what seems to bother those who want to see the passage of the unfair SB 131 the most."

However, some observers are unimpressed with such machinations. John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, dismissed claims that the bill would harm Catholic schools. "I feel the argument that this bill will result in the diminution of Catholic schools to be offensive and disingenuous," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Professor Marci A. Hamilton of Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law has spoken in favor of statute of limitation reform for abuse victims. In an August 8th commentary at SOL Reform News, Professor Hamilton observes that California's Catholic Church is using the same strategy to obstruct statute of limitation reform used by other dioceses. She argues against the church's claims that SB 131 is anti-Catholic and biased against nonprofits. 
"This is the same playbook that was first conjured up by now-Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput when he was the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado.  The main idea is that, once SOL reform is proposed in the legislature, the bishops then mobilize their parishioners against it, with messages that misrepresent the actual impact of such legislation, and then play a false anti-Catholic card to really get their parishioners out of the pews and onto their computers and phones.  The trouble is that neither claim is true, nor is either truly in the spirit of Catholic teachings."
Unfortunately, she's right. The Catholic Church has a long history of resisting legislation that would expand the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims. In many states, the church and its lobbyists have pressured legislators to water down bills and encouraged congregants to sway their lawmakers, according to the New York Times and Philadelphia Weekly.

Professor Hamilton chides church leaders for betraying Catholic principles regarding justice and trying to bar sexual abuse victims from the justice system. "What religious values sanction the bishops’ fabrication of arguments against victims’ access to justice?" she asks. 
"For the Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children, and their continued endangerment, however, are not acts sanctioned by theology.  And, while the bishops have observed in the past a theologically-based “rule against scandal,” which led them to shield abusers to protect the reputation of the Church, they now say that they are engaging in “zero-tolerance” of abuse, and “cooperating” with authorities.  They are also committed, we are told, to transparency.

So, what religious values are served by their opposition to victims of childhood sexual abuse?  I am told that Catholic theology does embrace the pursuit of justice.  While the Church litigators fighting the victims of the Catholic hierarchy and priests in court frequently intone Canon Law to avoid discovery and liability, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which John Paul II issued in 1992, is also part of their theological system ... Where are these values in the public relations-fueled campaign against victims’ access to justice?  Nowhere.  Instead, the plea to parishioners tells them that SOL reform is about money, or more specifically, about putting services and schools at risk."
Victims of sexual abuse, including clergy abuse, deserve the right to seek redress in a court of law. By obstructing efforts to make legal redress easier for victims, the Catholic Church is behaving dishonorably. Is the church hierarchy more worried about lawsuits and monetary losses than justice? Is it more concerned about deflecting from its systemic clergy abuse problems than making amends to victims? People of conscience need to call out Catholic leaders for their obstructionism and demand fairness for clergy abuse survivors.

Commentary Tidbits

The American Prospect: The End of the Evangelical Era

Slate: Latest Anti-Choice Tactic: Class Warfare

Moment Magazine: Messianic Jews: Israel’s Best Friends or Jews’ Mortal Enemies?

Washington Post: Dispelling the myth of a ‘Christian nation’

Think Progress: Virginia’s Right-Wing ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ Caught On Tape Lying To Women

Think Progress: Conservatives Object To New California Law Protecting Transgender Students

Right Wing Watch: NOM's Bill Owens Praises Russia Anti-Gay Law

Women's eNews: Abortion Heat Hits Alabama's 'Saturday Women'

News Tidbits

Edge Boston: Judge: Uganda Gay Rights Suit Against Scott Lively Can Continue

Radio Free Europe: Russia's 'Traditional Values' Lawmaker Faces Online Backlash

Ms. Magazine: VA Gubernatorial Candidate Announces Plan to State-Fund Religious Schools

Wichita Eagle: Anti-abortion groups to again ask Wichita City Council to rezone area near women’s clinic

Kansas City Star: Abortion rights activists borrow technique from opponents in Wichita protest

Washington Post: Evangelical ‘Messy Middle’ is more accepting of gays

Los Angeles Times: Reading Bible aloud outside DMV wasn't illegal, judge rules

ABC News: ‘Preachers of L.A.’ Reality Show Brings Flash, Controversy

Washington Blade: Controversial conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson to speak at Values Voters Summit

Gay Star News: Baptist church in Alaska bans Boy Scout troop because of change in gay scout policy

The Advocate: 'Ex-gay' Donnie McClurkin Fired from MLK Concert

Raw Story: Christian TV host tries to exorcise ‘demonic spirit’ from Obama

International Business Times: Icelanders Protest Evangelist Franklin Graham By Reserving Tickets To His Festival With No Intention Of Showing Up

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Religious Right Applauds Russian Anti-Gay Bill

In June, the Russian government passed a controversial law banning gay "propaganda", enraging human rights supporters worldwide. In a unanimous vote of 436-0, Russian parliament approved federal legislation banning the dissemination of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors, according to the Guardian. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation into law, in a blow to both free speech and LGBTQ rights.

The law has come into effect amidst an increasingly homophobic cultural climate in Russia, with high-profile cases of anti-gay violence and torture igniting global outrage. Alarmed by their increasingly hostile homeland, some LGBTQ Russians have sought asylum in more welcoming countries.

The anti-gay law has brought controversy to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as Russia's Interior Ministry has announced that the anti-gay propaganda law will not be suspended during the games. In a half-hearted attempt to quell controversy, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko assured the public that the law would not interfere with athletes' private lives, according to the Associated Press. "We want to protect our children whose psyches have not formed from the propaganda of drug use, drunkenness and non-traditional sexual relations," he said. The International Olympic Committee has forbidden athletes from using the Sochi games as a platform for pro-LGBTQ activism, according to MSN News. Understandably, LGBTQ rights supporters have expressed outrage, with some calling for a boycott of the games, others calling for a venue change, and some calling for public shows of pro-LGBTQ solidarity at the Sochi Olympics.

In yet another example of right-wing callousness, voices from the Religious Right have defended Russia's anti-gay propaganda law. Several Religious Right figures have praised Russia for allegedly defending the family and protecting youth, ignoring the devastation caused by homophobic attitudes and retrograde policies in Russia.

First, RIA Novosti quoted Larry Jacobs, managing director of the World Congress of Families, as he contemplated Russia's future as a right-wing ally. “Russia could be a great ally for conservatives, on issues like defending the family, abortions, even strengthening marriage and promoting more children,” he tolds RIA Novosti. Earlier this summer, Jacobs also spoke to End Times radio host Rick Wiles about his organization's plans to host its next global summit in Russia. According to Right Wing Watch, Jacobs praised Russia for preventing the "corruption" of children.

"The Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world; at the UN they really are the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith ... And the homosexual propaganda—the law in the Russian Duma it passed on first reading, it would ban propaganda to minors, preventing them from corrupting children. What a great idea and the rest of Europe is going the other way, legalizing LGBT propaganda."

Right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan has come under fire for praising Putin's alleged moral backbone. In an August 13th commentary at Town Hall entitled "Post v. Putin -- Whose Side Are You On?", Buchanan frowned upon America's "moral and cultural elites" for pressuring Putin on LGBTQ rights. "We can no longer even agree on what is good and evil," he wrote, insisting that America has lost sight of its moral moorings compared to Russia. He sneered at progressive commentators for comparing the oppression of the LGBTQ community in Russia to the oppression of Jews under the Third Reich. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"What this reveals is the distance America has traveled, morally and culturally, in a few short years, and our amnesia about who we Americans once were, and what it is we once believed. 

Only yesterday, homosexual sodomy, which Thomas Jefferson said should be treated like rape, was outlawed in many states and same-sex marriage was regarded as an absurdity."
Ever the homophobe, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association told Voice of Russia that the Russian government is "right to be concerned with propaganda". 
"Russia is not being homophobic, it’s homorealistic – the Russian government is trying to take the issue into consideration and establish public policy to contribute to public health, as this lifestyle is not be promoted, endorsed or granted special legal protection." 
Fischer defended Russia's ban on LGBTQ "propaganda", arguing that it protects youth and affirms heterosexuality as "God's design". 
"I think the Russian government is right to be concerned with propaganda on teenagers who are at the age of struggling through sexual identity issue and we should help to channel these urges in productive behavior. Heterosexuality is God’s design. Policies that encourage young people to think this are good ideas." 
Right Wing Watch reports that William Owens, the religious liaison for the National Organization for Marriage, praised Russia's anti-gay law. In an August e-mail to the Coalition of African-American Pastors, Owens disparaged LGBTQ activists and applauded Russia "for taking a stand for children!" 
"When I heard the news report regarding Russia’s new law prohibiting the propagating of homosexuality I was intrigued but the outcry that followed from the American news media, the LGBT community, and gay rights advocates was very disturbing ... Friend, this response from the homosexual community is absurd. Since when does America have the right to force its immorality, depravity, and sin on another nation? We are currently witnessing the free fall of our nation. Over the past five years, we’ve moved from a super power position to a nation that is perceived to be weak and contemptible. This overall decline of our nation has proven to be an unequivocal manifestation of a ‘heavenly verdict’ against the nation.


With the battle for the family waging across this nation, instead of condemning a sovereign nation for its laws we need to be changing ours. The family unit is under attack and we must stand against those who want to redefine and destroy it. The family is the foundation of a society and the glue that holds it together. I applaud the Russians for taking a stand for children!

And though I cannot honestly speak to the morality of Russia or its leaders, I can say that it appears that the leaders of Russia are attempting to stem the tide of moral decline in ‘their’ country. And I do acknowledge that things are not ideal there, but it seems to me that we need to take the beam out of our own eye before we are in a position to take the beam out of theirs! America is not in a position to judge or impose our so-called ‘morality’ on anyone, let alone a sovereign nation!" 
The American Religious Right is not alone in its defense of Russia's anti-gay policies. Unfortunately, Canada's far right has also leaped into the fray. In an August 7th press release, Real Women of Canada criticized Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, for frowning on homophobia abroad. Real Women of Canada slammed Baird for "working extensively behind the scenes to prevent Russia from passing legislation designated to protect Russian minors from homosexual propaganda." Ironically, the group condemned Baird for allegedly imposing his "intolerant world" on Russia. 
"It is a fact, that homosexual activists in Canada are intolerant of any resistance to their demands, and, as such have become a tyrannical minority.

Conscientious objections based on religion and traditional values have led, in Canada, to public officials, educators and business owners facing heavy fines and lengthy court battles for rejecting the homosexual lifestyle.  This is not democracy.  It is not equality.

This is the strange, intolerant world Mr. Baird wishes to impose on sovereign countries, despite their own cultures and religion which find this unreasonable and unacceptable.


Mr. Baird’s actions are highly offensive to conservative taxpayers.  He cannot and must not undermine other countries’ sovereignty and dignity, rooted in stable family structures and religious faith, in order to impose his own value system on them." 
Homophobic figures from the Religious Right have shown their true colors. Indifferent to the harm that homophobia and unjust laws are inflicting on LGBTQ Russians, Religious Right voices celebrate Russia's slide into bigotry. Russian and North American homophobes may spout the same rhetoric about protecting children and safeguarding morality, but their true motivations are cold.

The Religious Right's global efforts reveal much about its goals, whether it's applauding anti-gay legislation in Russia, cultivating homophobia in Uganda, or networking with international counterparts at the World Congress of Families. As I've argued before, the Religious Right is a global issue, and we would do well to monitor and decry its international activism.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

PolicyMic: Russia's Anti-Gay Law, Spelled Out in Plain English

Equality Matters: Right-Wing Media Act As Russia's PR Agents In Anti-Gay Crackdown

The New Yorker: The Battle Over Russia's Anti-Gay Law

Friday, August 9, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Hagee: Western Civilization Based on Torah

Rachel Held Evans: Christians and Education Inequity: An Interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham

Pennlive: A lack of intelligent design in lawmaker's proposal

GLAAD to Donald Trump: Tell the Family Leadership Summit that Being Gay Is Not a Public Health Risk

Salon: Stop Asking God to Do Your Job!

Think Progress: Focus On The Family: California Teachers Will Be ‘Identity Keepers’ For Transgender Students

Gay Star News: Can Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis quell gay hate in Africa?

Right Wing Watch: Live Action Rally: Abortion Providers Just as Bad as the Taliban

News Tidbits

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Hospitals can't deny admitting privileges to abortion doctors, AG says 

KOB News 4: Activists using out-of-state teens for abortion protests

Gay Star News: 'Ex-gay' Christian gospel singer to perform at Martin Luther King memorial

Raw Story: Southern Baptists tell Supreme Court: Neutral legislative prayers means the Unitarians win

Associated Press: 'We've been here before,' judge tells dad in family's 2nd faith-healing death case

The Advocate: Rick Santorum on Liberals And Gym Showers

Irish Independent: Cancer drug trials: Specialists say Church has no right to interfere

NPR: Activists Fight Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Thoughts on Trafficking and the Religious Right

Last week, I attended a professional training on gangs and sex trafficking, presented by several law enforcement officials from around the country. The all-day training, which explored gang culture, the dynamics of gang sex trafficking, and law enforcement and criminal justice strategies for combating trafficking, was an intense experience. The training, combined with a recent FBI crackdown on juvenile prostitution, has focused my attention on trafficking, which I’d like to talk about.

For the past six years, I’ve work at a progressive nonprofit that addresses violence. In that time, I’ve learned about the pervasive reality of violence against women and children. Sadly, prostitution and sex trafficking are among the many forms this violence takes across the globe. People involved in the sex trade often live within cultures of violence, experiencing disproportionate rates of sexual and physical assault. Psychological trauma and health problems are predictable results. Women living in poverty, First Nations/Native American women and girls, and LGBTQ youth are at disproportionate risk of sex trade involvement, illustrating the intersections of economic injustice, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and sex trade involvement. Think legalization of prostitution is an easy answer to these problems? Not necessarily. In short, when we speak of the sex trade, we must acknowledge its violence and injustices, as well as the need for sophisticated solutions in tackling it.

On a hopeful note, amazing people are actively confronting prostitution and trafficking. Organizations such as the Polaris Project and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking work diligently to combat prostitution and trafficking. Service providers such as Samaritan Women, Thistle Farms, and GEMS (featured in the documentary Very Young Girls) provide assistance to survivors of the sex trade. These organizations, and many more, give me hope that trafficking can be overcome.

For those out there who claim that anti-trafficking sentiments are the fever dreams of “moral guardians”, who belittle service providers as part of some “rescue industry”, who delude themselves into believing that sexual exploitation doesn’t exist, save it. Spare me your ignorance. A robust body of research says otherwise. Law enforcement and criminal justice professionals say otherwise. Most importantly, survivors of trafficking say otherwise.

I remember a man I met last year at a conference in Washington D.C. who dismissed sex trafficking as a “moral panic”. His combination of arrogance and bald-faced ignorance floored me. Are you an idiot? I thought. Do you read newspapers? Have you done even two minutes of research on the subject? I thought to myself. Such ignorance is dangerous, because it blinds people to a very real social problem that must be addressed.

In short, prostitution and trafficking are serious problems that require insight, collaboration, and hard work. Slowly, the problem is registering in the public’s consciousness, where increased awareness may help bring about prevention and solutions.

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Because prostitution and sex trafficking are serious issues, it disturbs me when the Religious Right uses anti-trafficking rhetoric to push its agenda. More and more, I hear voices from the far right using trafficking to bludgeon enemies or attack reproductive rights through shallow moral equivalency.

  • During the controversy over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) earlier this year, Penny Young Nance of Concerned Women for America blasted the full version of VAWA for allegedly neglecting trafficking victims. Nance alleged that Senator Patrick Leahy's amendment to VAWA would supposedly decriminalize prostitution of minors and eviscerate "conscience protections" of religious groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nance not only fails to provide evidence for these claims, but ignores VAWA's many provisions for serving sex trafficking victims, combating trafficking, and punishing traffickers. (More here.)

  • In 2011, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) refused to allow its programs to share information on contraception or abortion with sex trafficking victims, the Department of Health and Human Services denied its anti-trafficking grant request. Rather than offer said services to trafficking victims, a USCCB spokesperson accused the Department of Health and Human Services of "politicizing the grant process", according to CNN.

  • New Apostolic Reformation preacher Lou Engle has a history of suggesting moral equivalency between abortion, "sexual immorality" and trafficking. For instance, in his 2009 book Nazirite DNA, Engle claims that God is raising up believers to "tear down altars" of pornography, abortion, "sexual immorality", and sex trafficking. During OneThing 2011, Lou Engle's comments suggested a moral equivalency between reproductive choice and sex trafficking. "I tell you, I believe we are heading into a moment when God wants to make war on sex trafficking. He wants to make war on the abortion of babies and the destruction of women's lives, and a people that are hearing the prophetic voice are not playing games," he said. (More here.) At OneThing 2010, Engle lumped sex trafficking together with Hollywood moguls, earthly rulers, and the "pagan priests" of academia as evils that God would overthrow. (More here.)

  • The Iowa-based Family Leader organization also suggested that trafficking, promiscuity, and abortion are somehow morally equivalent. During the 2012 presidential race, the Family Leader released a pledge entitled "The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family." Signatories vowed to protect women and the "innocent fruit" of sexual union from trafficking, prostitution, pornography, promiscuity, infanticide, and abortion. (More here.)

  • In 2011, following the release of a controversial LiveAction video, the Religious Right accused Planned Parenthood of ignoring or abetting sex trafficking. (The fact that Planned Parenthood informed federal authorities of suspected sex trafficking escaped them.) For example, the Family Research Council and LiveAction co-sponsored a webcast entitled "Expose Planned Parenthood", alleging that Planned Parenthood had done wrong by trafficking victims. (More here and here.) During the 2011 Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference, Michele Bachmann called for a defunding of Planned Parenthood, accusing it of overlooking trafficking of girls. (More here.)

Trafficking victims deserve better than this. They deserve to be treated as human beings, not political banners.

Enough with using trafficking rhetoric to slam Planned Parenthood and VAWA, which actually help trafficking victims in concrete ways. Enough with attacking reproductive rights by placing abortion in the same moral category as sex trafficking. The Religious Right needs to show actual concern for women and girls, instead of using sex trafficking as a cheap rhetorical device to promote its anti-choice, anti-woman agenda. Trafficking deserve serious thought and action, not shallow lip service by Religious Right forces with agendas. We must call out the far right when it tries to use trafficking rhetoric for inappropriate ends.

Commentary Tidbits

Alternet: 5 Biblical Concepts Fundamentalists Just Don’t Understand

Heresy in the Heartland: Voiceless Women: Arda J. Rushdoony

Lady Atheist: Homeschoolers and Quiverfull Families 

God Discussion: The workplace viewed as 'biggest mission field in the world today' for 7 Mountains Christianity

Indian Country Today Media Network:  Why Papal Bull Claiming Dominion Over Non-Christian Lands Still Matters

Think Progress: Chicago Cardinal Pulls Funding From Immigration Groups For Supporting Same-Sex Marriage

Truth Wins Out: Russia’s Anti-Gay Pogrom Has Disturbing Parallels to Medieval Anti-Semitism

The Moscow Times: Dangerous Alliance Between Church and State in Russia

Huffington Post: Alan Chambers, Exodus International's Former President, On Sexual Labels, 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

Freak Out Nation: Christian radio ad explains that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark, Amen

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Fringe Conspiracy Theories Promoted At “Prophecy Summit” Attended by Joseph Farah

News Tidbits

Ms. Magazine: Man Who Planned to Murder Planned Parenthood Doctor Sentenced to 10 Years

Philadelphia Inquirer: Pennsylvania lawmaker's education bill reignites creationism debate

Gay Star News: Christian party claims heterosexual Australians oppressed because gays earn more

Hindustan Times: India: Mumbai’s LGBT community reacts online to Goregaon priest’s anti-gay sermon

Pink News: ‘Ex-gay’ group PFOX claims ‘gay cure’ therapy awareness could have prevented AIDS epidemic

Pink News: Anti-gay evangelist Scott Lively accuses Supreme Court judge of being a ‘homosexualist’

Daughter of Lesbian Couple Condemns Gays at Foresquare Conference

Loving the Homosexual Community from The Foursquare Church on Vimeo.

Following the closure of Exodus International and the abysmal failure of a recent "ex-gay" rally, it would be easy to assume that ex-gay ministries are on the decline. Unfortunately, plenty of such ministries remain active, as one unpleasant video reminds us.

Stephanie Singer, founder of Will Not Ministries, spoke at Foresquare Church's 2013 convention in Dallas, Texas earlier this year. Truth Wins Out and Good As You have brought attention to a video excerpt of her talk, in which she vacillates between love for the LGBTQ community and condemnation of homosexuality.

Will Not Ministries resembles ex-gay ministries in its messaging. In its vision statement, Will Not Ministries stereotypes LGBTQ people as somehow broken and in need of healing. "In a culture that believes broken relationships are normal, Will Not Ministries desires to bring light to the brokenness of homosexuality and help people see complete healing and restoration," the website states. In a pamphlet entitled "What You Need to Know", Singer promotes inaccurate and outmoded theories about "same-sex attraction", arguing that "lack of healthy affirmation from the same sex" and "lack of same gender friendships at a young age" steer people toward the gay "lifestyle". In short, Will Not Ministries claims to welcome and minister to gays while condemning homosexuality as something unsound. (Sound familiar?)

Singer told listeners about the very different worlds she navigated in her youth. "I was raised by two lesbian mothers and a Christian father," she explained, as if to suggest that Christianity and lesbianism were mutually exclusive categories. Her father brought her to his church, where she felt that she didn't fit in and eventually left. Meanwhile, Singer was raised by a lesbian couple and mentored by four lesbian women, all of whom she spoke of with warmth. However, she quickly blamed those mentors for her later sexual identity and alienation from the church, arguing that because her loved ones were lesbian, "therefore I thought that I was gay. I was loved straight out of the church." She eventually joined a southern California church that accepted her despite her "butch" appearance, where God's love called her to repentance and "broke the bondage of deceit".

Singer told the audience that she prays for Christians to "take back this territory that's been stolen from us." At the 2:16 mark, Singer toggled between messages of love for the LGBTQ community and language that condemned LGBTQ people in no uncertain terms. She warned that pro-LGBTQ messages were being taught in schools and that gays are allegedly loving youth out of the church, thereby depicting gays as a threat to the young.
"There's many people like how I was that are in your churches right now that have same-sex attraction. It's all over TV now. It's become the new normal. It's being taught in our children's schools, and this cannot just be another option. There needs to be freedom and fullness. We need to not only get equipped ourselves, but we need to equip our churches for this ministry, because it's in our families, our friends, it's in our workplace now. I believe that the church needs to start loving the homosexual community back into wholeness, and stop letting them love our children out."
First of all, religious homophobia, no matter how sugar-coated, will not help anyone cultivate "wholeness". It will, however, pit people's sexual orientation against their spirituality and teach them that their normal feelings are somehow pathological. Second, LGBTQ people are not inherently "broken" or spiritually lost. Singer, like other Christian ex-gay speakers, frames Christian faith and homosexuality as mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that many people are both LGBTQ and Christian.

Finally, Singer's talk demonstrates hostility toward her lesbian mothers and mentors. Instead of accepting the female role models of her youth and using her experiences to cultivate an enlightened outlook, she had embraced homophobia. How did her mothers and mentors feel when she decried homosexuality on stage, I wonder?

Singer's talk represents a tragedy, in that it tells the story of a woman who chose intolerance over love and acceptance. Her words serve as a reminder that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric still thrives in some religious circles, as well as a call to resist prejudice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Political Research Associates: Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance

Infidel 753: Is the Christian Right still a threat?

Seeking the Light: The One That Got Away: Josh Powell and the Others That Didn't

R. L. Stollar: How I Learned To Stop Being Afraid and Love Other Religions, Part I, II, and III

The Advocate: The Last Time I Went to Catholic Church

Edge Boston: Pope’s Revolution; Not All are Pleased

Slaktivist: Texas’ new law bans biblical abortions

Out Traveler: An American Gay in Uganda: Visiting Earth's Most Homophobic Place

Good As You: We get it, new Boy Scout rival -- you are incredibly anti-LGBT

RH Reality Check: Men Are From Mars, Women Don’t Want Sex: Abstinence-Only Curricula Rife With Gender Stereotypes

News Tidbits

Raw Story: Abuse at Ecuadorian ‘gay conversion’ facilities shocks authorities

Think Progress: Cardinal Downplays Pope Francis’ Gay Remark: Homosexual Acts Are Still A ‘Sin’

CNN: Cardinal Dolan: Pope was `on a high' during gay remarks

Taking Points Memo: Santorum: Media Took Pope’s Comment On Gays Out Of Context

Pew Research: Public Opinion on Abortion

Short Delay in Posting

I need to have my computer repaired, so posting at Republic of Gilead will be sporadic until next week. Thank you for your patience!

In the meantime, enjoy a music interlude: "Over" by Sensuous Enemy.