Monday, March 31, 2014

Ugandans March to Celebrate Anti-Gay Bill

A draconian anti-gay bill in Uganda gained international attention when the America Religious Right's anti-gay activism in Uganda came to light. The anti-gay bill was signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year, to the horror of LGBTQ rights activists. Now, Museveni is using the anti-gay law to rally his supporters.

On March 31st, supporters of the anti-gay law took part in the "Uganda Pride" procession in Kampala, marching from Makerere University to Kololo Airstrip, according to UGO News. Marchers carried Ugandan flags and homophobic signs that read "Homosexuality + AIDS = 100%" and "Museveni, We the Children Thank You for Saving Our Future".

Among the marchers was Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist featured in the Vanguard documentary Missionaries of Hate. The Daily Monitor reports that other high-profile political and religious leaders were in attendance, including Ugandan parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, Pastor Simon Peter Emwau, and Mufti Ramadhan Mubajje. Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, head of Uganda's Anglican Church, spoke of LGBTQ issues in antagonistic terms. "The Lord has the power to help us Ugandans to overcome the battle against homosexuality," he said, according to Reuters.

President Yoweri Museveni spoke at the rally accompanying the march. After thanking MP David Bahati (the political leader who spearheaded the original bill), Museveni slammed "big countries" for allegedly ordering around Uganda. "When big countries started giving us orders, I don’t like orders, especially from outside and I don’t know why these people became preachers for others?” he told listeners, according to the Daily Monitor.

Reuters reports that the World Bank suspended a loan to Uganda and several European countries threatened to halt aid after Museveni signed the anti-gay bill into law, but Museveni dismissed these consequences. "When you hear these Europeans saying they are going to cut aid ... we don't need aid in the first place," Museveni said, according to Reuters. "A country like Uganda is one of the richest on earth."

Museveni asserted that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that ancient African cultures labeled gays as ekifiire ("walking dead"). He mocked same-sex sexual acts as "unhealthy" because they ignore the "specialized" design of human reproductive organs. “I came to learn that homosexuality was unhealthy and this is because they go to a wrong address. Sexual organs of a human being are highly specialized,” he told the audience, according to the Daily Monitor.

In effect, Museveni is presenting himself to the Ugandan people as a defender of national sovereignty. By suggesting that western calls for LGBTQ equality are an encroachment on Ugandan sovereignty, and that resisting international pressure is an act of autonomy, Museveni is packaging himself as a courageous leader.

Sadly, the opposite is true. Scoring cheap political points by scapegoating an oppressed population is anything but brave. By marginalizing LGBTQ Ugandans, Museveni is helping to oppress the very citizens he is obliged to protect. By focusing public attention on a boogeyman, he is deflecting attention away from real problems and cultivating homophobia than can only harm Uganda.

The homophobic rhetoric at "Uganda Pride" isn't so different from that of the American Religious Right: scapegoat a vulnerable group, lash out at said group as a distraction from other issues, and trumpet oneself as a defender of faith/family/nation. More and more Americans are seeing through this tawdry rhetoric, and we can only hope that Ugandans will too.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Commentary Tidbits

Adipose Rex: Mostly I am yelling

Love, Joy, Feminism: World Vision and Gay Christians

Patrol Magazine: Evangelicalism is Shrinking Itself to Death

Alternet: I Knew Fred Phelps -- I'm Proud to Say He Hated Me

The Guardian: Fred Phelps doesn't deserve your grave dancing: Let's forgive and forget his hate

World Magazine: Set adrift: One prominent proponent of ‘biblical patriarchy’ destroyed his ministry with his transgressions

Warren Throckmorton: Former Executive Pastor Repents for Culture of Fear at Mars Hill Church

Warren Throckmorton: Mark Driscoll’s Sermons Keep Disappearing

Women's eNews: Hobby Lobby Case Could Deliver Women a Bitter Pill

RH Reality Check: This Is How Anti-Choice Brainwashing Starts

News Tidbits

NPR: Justices Divide By Gender In Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Charlotte Observer: Franklin Graham: I’m speaking out like my father did

Huffington Post: ATHLA, Anti-Gay Harlem Church, To Be Protested By LGBT Activists

Tulsa World: Schlafly brewery, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in trademark war

Windy City Media Group: Conversion therapy ban advances to Illinois House floor

Pink News: Tennessee: Bill to permit anti-gay religious discrimination in schools passes

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thoughts on Love, Hatred, Frank Schaefer, and the Late Fred Phelps

Rev. Frank Schaefer gained national attention last year when he was defrocked by United Methodist officials for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding. An appeal hearing for Schaefer is scheduled for June, according to the Washington Post. The Pennsylvania pastor is the focus of a documentary in the works called An Act of Love, which is currently seeking funds through Kickstarter.

On March 16th, I had the pleasure of hearing Rev. Schaefer speak at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg. The atmosphere at the church was welcoming, with Silent Witness Peacekeepers greeting visitors at the entrance from under rainbow umbrellas. After performances by the church choir and the Harrisburg Men's Chorus, Schaefer told his story to the congregation from the pulpit.

Love was a recurring theme through Schaefer's talk. His decision to officiate at his son's wedding was an act of love and worship, for which he was punished. Schaefer lamented the heartbreak that his gay son endured due to the religious homophobia he encountered growing up, saddened that much of the church is trapped in "homophobic captivity" even today. Schaefer's Christian faith was rooted in acceptance and love, a love that infused his support for the LGBTQ community.

This talk of love from contrasted sharply with the hatred of an anti-gay man who was in the news that week. Not long after Schaefer's talk in Harrisburg, Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps died at the age of 84. Phelps and his family protested outside the funerals of AIDS victims and U.S. soldiers, brandishing signs that read "God hates fags" and claiming that their deaths were God's punishment for America's acceptance of gays. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church became a symbol of naked religious homophobia, stripped of any "loving" pretense or "family values" rhetoric.

Fred Phelp's reported wrath toward his family was as fierce as his hatred of gays. According to his estranged son Nate, Fred Phelps brutally beat his children with a barber's strap, mattock handle, and fists. Fred Phelp's world was one of rage, hatred, and unforgiving judgment against those who offended him.

Phelps' founded a church imbued with his sentiments, but in the end, his own creation turned on him. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Phelps was excommunicated by the Westboro Baptist Church board of elders shortly before his demise.

Schaefer's act of love contrasted sharply with Phelp's legacy of hate, and the two events left me thinking about the impact of love and hate. Hatred, while a powerful motivator for the Religious Right (whether it admits it or not), cannot sustain them for the long term. This is not to say that the Religious Right is weak; to the contrary, it has shown itself to be powerful, influential, and destructive on a global scale. Rather, a long-term vision for a better world can never be built on hatred, be it hatred for gays, women, or whoever the nearest "other" is. Hatred defines itself against others, dividing instead of uniting. Hatred devours. Hatred cannot create or sustain a better world. The hateful, authoritarian vision of the Religious Right is anemic for this reason, and someday, it will fail. Observers saw the hatred burning in Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, and realized that it offered nothing of worth.

The love that Rev. Schaefer speaks of is a love that affirms the intrinsic humanity in all of us. Social progress is realized when that love cries out for justice and lifts up the marginalized. Love -- along with focus, determination, cooperation, and righteous anger -- is what has brought us so far in our struggles for equality. Love affirms. Love embraces others. Love creates. Love sustains. A truly loving vision not only imagines a better world, but finds ways of building it.

By showing the world how poisonous hatred is, Fred Phelps unwittingly helped love flourish in the hearts of his opponents. By showing warmth and acceptance to his son, Rev. Frank Schaefer helped love flourish as well. Here's to a vision of a world with less hatred and more humanity.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Washington Post: Why Fred Phelps was so useful to the gay rights movement

Truth Wins Out: If Fred Phelps Is Near Death, We Shouldn’t Be Stomping On His Grave

The New Civil Rights Movement: First Westboro Protest Since Death Of Fred Phelps Met With Condolences

Commentary Tidbits

Religion News Service: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? The Supreme Court will decide

Church & State: Persecution Complex

Political Research Associates: Updating the Image of Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry

Pocono Record: Why Catholic Church still gets picked on

On Faith: WWJM? Who Would Jesus Marry?

Good As You: To be clear, Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy is still promoting anti-gay voices

Stuff Fundies Like: Keeping Young Fundamentalists In The Camp: A Response

Los Angeles Times: When American Christian evangelicals export hate not love

GLAAD: The next anti-LGBT export target: Peru

Slaktivist: Sex abuse in the church: Demonizing the demonic at Charisma magazine

Doug's Dribblings: God As Psychotic 

News Tidbits

CBS News: Hobby Lobby case fires up women, conservatives on Supreme Court

Pew Research Center: Support for gay marriage up among black Protestants in last year, flat among white evangelicals

Religion News Service: Mormon women seeking priesthood to be shut out of Temple Square

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Dan Cathy seeks to put gay marriage flap behind Chick-fil-A

Dallas Morning News: Ted Cruz talks religious liberty with Iowa home-schoolers, demurs on 2016 plans

Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Catholic teacher contract specifies banned practices

Huffington Post: One Year Of The Equality House Across The Street From Westboro Baptist Church

NPR: Westboro Baptist Will Find Justification To Continue, Pastor's Son Says

Boston Globe: Worcester Diocese is guilty of antigay bias, Coakley says

Gay Star News: Australia’s largest ‘ex-gay’ ministry announces it will close down

South China Morning Post: Hong Kong: Gay teachers banned from International Christian School in Sha Tin

World Vision Reverses Decision on Hiring Employees in Same-Sex Marriages

Two days after announcing that it would accept employees in same-sex marriages, World Vision has changed its tune. Christianity Today and World Magazine reported today that the U.S. branch of the Christian charity reversed its decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages.

An official statement by World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere claims that the board "made a mistake" and "failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners".
"Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our national employment conduct policy. The board acknowledges they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman ... We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness."
The statement contained a halfhearted affirmation of LGBTQ people's humanity, insisting that "we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect."

Just not hired for jobs at Christian charities. Or allowed to marry. Or granted the privileges that heterosexuals take for granted. Please.

The news disappointed me, since World Vision could have set a good example for LGBTQ-affirming policies in faith-based organizations. What happened? Did World Vision's board cave in to pressure from Religious Right voices? Did they fear that offending anti-gay Christians would cost them donations and collaborative partners? Did anti-gay leaders win out over pro-LGBTQ figures in some internal struggle over the policy? Whatever their reason, the decision to reverse the policy was an act of moral cowardice. Discrimination has no place in the workplace.

World Vision's work does immense good around the world, and I do not question their devotion to the hungry, the sick, and the war-weary. However, the organization's vision of justice should include LGBTQ people, who have been marginalized yet again by this reversal. When will World Vision's rhetoric of Christian unity match its practice?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

World Vision Welcomes Employees in Same-Sex Marriages

World Vision, one of the largest Christian charities in the U.S., recently announced a policy change that has sent shock waves through the evangelical community. On March 24th, World Vision's U.S. branch announced that it will employ Christians in legal same-sex marriages, according to Religion News Service. The organization's employee conduct manual will no longer define marriage as between a man and woman, and will acknowledge same-sex marriage as compatible with its requirement of “abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage” among employees.

An official statement from World Vision explained that conflicts over LGBTQ rights in the Christian community have been "tearing apart the Body of Christ", and that the World Vision board does not want such tensions to impair its mission. The statement stressed that it has not endorsed same-sex marriage, but has merely deferred to local churches on the matter.
"But since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board -- in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally -- chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.

I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone ..."
In an interview with Christianity Today, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained that the policy change represented Christian unity, not compromise. Stearns also insisted that the decision was not influenced by activists, employee groups, or legal pressure. "We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," he told Christianity Today.  "This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church."

World Vision's decision, while not momentous or controversial, is still a step forward. When a large Christian charity makes a public decision not to discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages, it sets a positive precedent for the faith community. Homophobia should never impede charitable work, something that World Vision has come to understand. While I still disagree with some of World Vision's employee policies, I feel that this decision was an enlightened step in the right direction.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) applauded the policy change. Ross Murray, GLAAD director of news, praised World Vision's decision to focus on charitable world rather than exclusion.
"While this shift may be considered insignificant by some, it demonstrates a recognition that more Christian denominations recognize LGBT people and marriage equality. It also asserts that LGBT discrimination is not a core component of World Vision's Christian identity. The organization chose to focus on its mission to bring relief to people worldwide, as opposed to spending its energy keeping out those who wish to help support that mission."
Unfortunately, voices from the Religious Right quickly slammed the decision. Anti-gay figures such as Peter LaBarbera, Linda Harvey, and Bryan Fischer took to Twitter to lambaste World Vision for its anti-discrimination stance, as documented by Truth Wins Out.

Reactions from right-leaning Christian leaders were swift.  During an interview with the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber spoke of World Vision's decision in venomous terms. He cited a warning in Revelations 13 in which people would need the mark of the beast to engage in commerce. At the 1:28 mark of the Right Wing Watch video above, Barber claimed that Stearns would have to explain himself to God someday.
"I'm more concerned with World Vision. I mean, I'm concerned for Richard Stearns. I'm concerned for his relationship with Christ. He's going to have to answer to God for this, and so are the people who are facilitating this within World Vision. To do things in the name of Christ that God calls an abomination, I wouldn't want to be standing before God and having to explain myself."  
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, blasted World Vision's decision in a March 24th online statement.
"I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God.

World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin."
Bethlehem College & Seminary chancellor John Piper was also unhappy about World Vision's move. In a March 25th post at Desiring God, he claimed that World Vision's decision "trivializes perdition" by failing to lump same-sex intimacy together with other sins.
" treat regular homosexual intercourse as less dangerous than fornication, adultery, greed, theft, and drunkenness is to treat perdition as if it were a small thing, or not really coming. The same text that imperils active fornicators and adulterers and thieves and coveters, also imperils those who practice homosexuality."
Piper argued that World Vision's decision placed it firmly in the liberal Christian camp, which would allow "worldliness" to weaken the organization from within.
"...World Vision has aligned itself with liberal Christians who choose not to renounce homosexual practice. Culturally, historically, and biblically this is a huge step toward the powerlessness and growing irrelevance of the mainline liberal establishment. You cannot undermine biblical authority, and trivialize perdition and its blood-bought remedy, and expect to maintain a vibrant spiritual base. It isn’t going to happen.

This means that, without repentance and change, World Vision will go the way of worldliness and weakness. A great superstructure will remain for a season, but the Christian soul will disappear. And who will suffer most? The poor."
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in a March 24th commentary piece that World Vision's decision was wrongheaded. He claimed that Christians "empower darkness" when they refuse to warn others about sinful behavior invoking judgment.
"At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish ... We empower darkness when we refuse to warn of judgment. We empower the darkness when we refuse to offer forgiveness through the blood of the cross."
R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized World Vision's alleged "flawed moral vision" in a March 25th commentary piece at his website. Mohler stressed that same-sex intimacy is sinful, accusing World Vision of failing to name sin.
"The leader of World Vision U.S. now claims that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the sinfulness of same-sex sexuality and relationships, but he also claims a “mission of building the kingdom.” The Apostle Paul makes homosexuality a kingdom issue, and he does so in the clearest of terms ... The worst aspect of the World Vision U.S. policy shift is the fact that it will mislead the world about the reality of sin and the urgent need of salvation. Willingly recognizing same-sex marriage and validating openly homosexual employees in their homosexuality is a grave and tragic act that confirms sinners in their sin — and that is an act that violates the gospel of Christ."

Mohler insisted that a Christian organization's operations and theology cannot be kept separate, chiding World Vision for allegedly throwing off theological responsibility.
"The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry."

As LGBTQ rights gain momentum, Christian congregations slowly welcome LGBTQ persons, and Christian organizations such as World Vision adjust their stance on same-sex relationships, the Religious Right grows angry and bewildered. As more Christians choose unity and service over bigotry, the Religious Right's homophobia will become an increasing outlier.

3/26/14 EDIT: World Vision reversed its decision, unfortunately. More here.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Sojourners: World Vision and the State of American Evangelicalism

Zach Hoag at the Nuance: Farewell, Gospel Coalition

Rage Against the Minivan: On World Vision, gay marriage, and taking a stand on the backs of starving children

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Commentary Tidbits

ACLU: Buddhist Student, Religious Liberty Prevail In Louisiana

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Fake Ex-Terrorist Is “Keynote Speaker” At Holocaust March of Remembrance Event

Freak Out Nation: Stuff happens: Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church is dying

Friendly Atheist: Fred Phelps, Founder of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, is on the ‘Edge of Death’

MSNBC: Santorum to GOP: ‘Stop nominating folks who apologize’ for values

News Tidbits

Associated Press: Founder of anti-gay Kansas church in care facility

MSNBC: Mississippi ‘religious freedom’ bill on life support

The Baltimore Sun: Gay 'conversion therapy' bill withdrawn as advocates pursue regulatory oversight

The Star-Tribune: The Death Sentence of AIDS: Newly minted Wyoming lawmaker stands by controversial book

Kenya: Anti-Gay Activists Want to "Prevent Sodom Completely"

Now that Uganda and Nigeria have signed new draconian anti-gay bills into law, other anti-gay efforts in Africa are gaining international attention. Recently, anti-gay activists have unveiled a new initiative against the LGBTQ community in Kenya. A press release posted at the Save Our Men Initiative Facebook page announced the launch of Zuia Sodom Kabisa (Swahili for "Prevent Sodom Completely") in Nairobi on February 28th. The statement demonizes gays as "moral deviants" whose are forcing their "decadence" on Kenyan society, and whose "onslaught" has the full support of western governments.
"The voice of the homosexuals is becoming louder and bolder every day in Kenya. The support the homosexual community is getting from Western governments like Netherlands and Germany has given Homosexuals boldness that borders on intimidation for the few voices of reason that are standing against their onslaught. The vocal and incessant support the homosexuals are getting from President Barak Obama of USA is worrying. Whole nations like Uganda have been threatened with dire consequences for making a decision to ban homosexuality based on scientific-cultural facts and sound moral considerations.

Save Our Men Initiative (SOMI) in conjunction with the Church, Professionals, council of elders and religious groups, are hereby making their stand against this moral decadence that is posing a real threat to the core foundation of the Kenyan society. We insist that this is a moral issue which goes against the conscience of the silent majority in Kenya. This is about few moral deviants forcing their values and unnatural behavior on the quiet majority with the aid of Western governments who could otherwise be spending their resources in stemming the crisis in Syria and elsewhere. The west has a misplaced set of priorities when it comes to morality."
These anti-gay activists worry that Kenya may interpret its constitution in a gay-friendly manner. Earlier this month, Zuia Sodom Kabisa launched a petition drive to collect one million signatures against homosexuality, according to the Star. The petition is intended to warn Kenyan parliament against a "liberal interpretation" of the country's constitution "in favour of the homosexual community".

The launch of Zuia Sodom Kabisa comes as Kenyan lawmakers are pushing for stronger enforcement of Kenya's anti-gay laws.  Kenya's penal code already defines physical intimacy "against the order of nature" as a felony punishable by 14 years in prison, and "gross indecency" between males as punishable by 5 years in prison, reports Reuters. According to Voice of America, Kenyan MP Irungu Kang'ata has asked the country's ruling party to outline measures that the government has taken to uphold anti-gay laws. Kang'ata, the head of a new anti-gay caucus, may introduce new legislation imposing additional penalties on gays if parliament deems current laws insufficient, Voice of America reports.

LGBTQ rights supporters have expressed concern over these developments. Eric Gitari, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Kenya, worries that government persecution of LGBTQ people would be a slippery slope to greater human rights violations. "If we are going to look into the bedrooms of people and supervise what they are doing, what is going to stop the government from looking at our emails, hacking into them, from listening to our phone conversations, from looking at our bank accounts and checking our transactions," Gitari said, according to the Christian Post.

Kenyan MP Irungu Kang'ata and Zuia Sodom Kabisa supporter Archbishop Arthur Kitonga participated in a panel discussion with K24 Evening Edition on the topic of gays and lesbians. At the 4:44 mark. Gitonga condemned homosexuality as contrary to the Bible, championing the Biblical mandate to men and women to be fruitful and multiply. He also seemed to suggest that Kenya's population would not have grown to over 40 million if gays had prevailed.* 
"When God created Adam and Eve, he blessed them and he told them to be fruitful and to multiply. When we began this world, when Kenya was born, now we are celebrating the Jubilee year, even if we started with the gays, we would not even be 40 million. There would [inaudible] there would be more people and in the next 30 years, there will be nobody in Kenya. The will of God is for people to multiply and to be fruitful and to be happy, so it is not scriptural, and the Bible says heaven and earth shall pass but the word of God will be fulfilled. There is judgment for gays after this life ... Gay is not biblical. It's not in the Bible, and if we can follow the scriptures very well, we know why God judged and destroyed the land of [inaudible] in the time of [inaudible] because of sodomy." 
At the 12:13 mark, Gitonga quoted Leviticus 20:13, which condemns sexual relations between men as a capital offense. At the 12:57 mark, Gitonga and K24 Evening Edition host Belinda Obura discussed the claim that African homophobia is a western import.
OBURA: So what is your argument to those who state that fellow Christians are the ones who are advocating to those principles coming from a certain aspect of the west? There are those who are pushing for it, but there are those who are stating that you're overzealous Christians and you're just wanting--they've not found a place anymore in the west to be able to advocate for their [inaudible] gays [inaudible] and have brought it to Africa?

GITONGA: Those are not committed Christians. They are fake Christians ... It's just a matter of carrying the word "Christianity", and it's not in their heart. But those who believe in the word of God, it doesn't matter which country they come from, it doesn't matter who is who, you have to follow the word of God.
Obura asked Irungu Kang'ata if the recent wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa was motivated by political ambition. At the 9:24 mark, instead of wrestling with Obura's question, Kang'ata spoke of homosexuality and bestiality in the same breath (a tired but familiar trope used by American Religious Right figures as well).
OBURA: Is it really about maintaining African culture, or is it about getting political endearment? As many people have been stating, that is what African politicians are doing, stating Ugandan president Museveni coming up for re-election, doing that as well. What's your take?

KANG'ATA: ... The reason why we don't support gay is that one of the arguments that [inaudible] support gay [inaudible] this is something that is consensual, there is no victim. If we are to agree to such kind of a theory, then to me all the victimless crime in our statute books have to go. For instance, bestiality. It is against the law to sleep with an animal. Well, if you're saying there's nothing wrong with me sleeping with a another man, what wrong is there for me to sleep with a cat, with a dog, with a monkey? There is nothing wrong!
Kang'ata and Zuia Sodom Kabisa rely on old, tired rhetoric to justify their homophobic stance, rejecting LGBTQ equality as an alleged western imposition. Their homophobic chestnuts -- LGBTQ rights as a threat to the country, equality allegedly being "forced" on the majority, gays as "deviants", homosexuality and bestiality as twin behaviors -- bear a remarkable resemblance to the anti-gay rhetoric of the American Religious Right.

Will Kenya follow in the footsteps of Uganda and Nigeria, signing even harsher anti-gay measures into law? Will the Kenyan LGBTQ community succeed in enlightening their fellow citizens, or will homophobic attitudes prevail? Will the international community take notice and call out anti-gay efforts in Kenya? How will the American Religious Right react to these developments? Kenya is the latest example of homophobia's global reach, as well as the need for global LGBTQ activism.

* Because I struggled with the speakers' accents, and because of the poor audio quality of the video, some parts of the panel discussion were inaudible.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Commentary Tidbits

Slaktivist: ‘God is Done with You’: Pensacola Christian College and Sexual Violence

Politico: The Cookiecott

Rachel Held Evans: Patriarchy and Abusive Churches

The Christian Chronicle: Inside the 'Duck Dynasty' church

Right Wing Watch: Scott Lively Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis, Lauds Russia As Human Rights Leader Of The World

The Atlantic: Can Megachurches Deal With Mega Money in a Christian Way?

Huffington Post: Bigotry for Me, But Not for Thee: The Religious Right and Its Selective Use of Anti-Discrimination Law

Yahoo: Duggar Girls Reveal the Creepiest Part of Growing Up With 19 Kids and Counting

Jewish Daily Forward: Christian Conservative Blames 'All Problems' on Jews

The Advocate: NOM Can’t Shut Me Down

Radio Praha: Anti-gay law mandates mob violence, says maker of God Loves Uganda

News Tidbits

Politico: At CPAC, Rick Santorum disses CPAC

NPR: Kentucky Southern Baptists Draw Crowds With Gun Giveaways

Washington Blade: New York archbishop uncomfortable with civil unions

BBC News: The people who believe in medical miracles

Pennlive: Duggar sisters spill on 'Growing Up Duggar,' grandma's advice and pride

Washington Post: Anti-Muslim speakers still popular in law enforcement training

Human Rights Watch: Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law Challenged

Hull Daily Mail: Hull LGBT Christian Fellowship set up to combat homophobia in the church

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No, the Jezebel Demon Is Not the Root Cause of Clergy Abuse

Charisma, an online Christian magazine, has left me shaking my head countless times over the years. Commentaries on smelly poltergeists and the dangers of demon sex were good for a chuckle, while other commentaries raging against the Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 brimmed with the usual Religious Right rhetoric about "persecution". However, one recent column left me so angry that I had no choice but to draw attention to it.

In a March 7th commentary piece at Charisma, Jennifer LeClaire expressed outrage at sexual abuse scandals in both Catholic and Protestant churches. After citing several heartbreaking examples of sexual abuse in churches, LeClaire chided Christians for failing to rally against abuse and the media for failing to devote adequate attention to the issue.
"Evangelicals put so much effort into battling issues like gay marriage and abortion, which is all well and good, but where is the crusade against sexual abuse in the church? The secular media is reporting these instances, but it seems unless it’s a megachurch pastor or a celebrity preacher involved, cases of kids being molested in Protestant churches continue arising without much attention."
LeClaire begged clergy abuse victims to speak out, notify police, and reach out to God for solace and justice. At first, I was relieved to see Charisma take abuse seriously. This is fantastic, I thought. They get it. They're talking about a serious issue like adults.

My relief was short-lived, unfortunately. Further down in the commentary, LeClaire speculated on the roots of sexual abuse in churches. Did she blame authoritarian church structures? No. Poor screening procedures for clergy, church staff, and volunteers? No. A lack of organizational accountability? No.

She blamed the Jezebel demon.
"In my book The Spiritual Warrior’s Guide to Defeating Jezebel, I point to one root of this sort of immorality. In charismatic circles, we call it the spirit of Jezebel, which is essentially a spirit of seduction that woos people into immorality and idolatry. (See Revelation 2:20.) Sexual predators carrying the Christian banner have been seduced and deceived by this spirit, which has somehow justified sexual abuse in their darkened minds. The spirit of Jezebel has formed a stronghold over our nation ... I am convinced that many of these sexual abusers had broken, wounded hearts of their own—perhaps they were molested as children—and have given over to the lusts of the flesh through the temptations of seducing spirits that justify the behavior."
I was livid. Charisma columnists have an annoying habit of blaming demons for problems, but this time, the magazine went too far. This kind of superstitious thinking reduces a serious, complex problem to the mischief of an invisible boogeyman. To end sexual abuse in churches, congregations must tackle authoritarian power structures, patriarchy, lack of oversight, and barriers to institutional accountability, not imaginary spirits.

Furthermore, the Charisma article absolves perpetrators of their actions. When perpetrators commit abusive acts, they make a calculated, deliberate choice to abuse, and thus are morally culpable for their actions. By blaming clergy abuse on the Jezebel demon, LeClaire deflects culpability away from abusers onto an imaginary demon.

LeClair was right when she called for readers to take abuse seriously, but wrong when she reduced the problem to evil spirits. Now is not the time for superstition. We need mature strategies for ending abuse in our communities.

Commentary Tidbits

National Catholic Reporter: Francis, you must meet victims of clergy abuse

Mercy Not Sacrifice: Why English Majors Make Lousy Fundamentalists

Mother Jones: Meet the American Pastor Behind Uganda's Anti-Gay Crackdown

Christian Science Monitor: Why has so much of Africa suddenly become so intolerant?

The Advocate: Number Crunch: A Church in Crisis

Bilerico Project: 'I'm Not Homophobic': Bigots Sometimes Lie

Recovering Grace: Bill Gothard Resigns from IBLP Presidency

Chicago Now: Bill Gothard resigned! There is hope for justice

Political Research Associates: Right-Wing Evangelicals in Uganda: Telling the Whole Story

Salon: How Hobby Lobby supporters talk about “religious liberty”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: ‘Religious Liberty’ Does Not Justify Performing Harmful ‘Reparative’ Therapy On Minors

News Tidbits

BBC News: Pope hits out at criticism of Church over sexual abuse

Washington Blade: Republicans ignore LGBT issues at CPAC

The Morning Call: PA Gov. Tom Corbett to head to Vatican with Philadelphia mayor and archbishop

The Daily Californian: Love thy sister

Reuters: Uganda defends anti-gay law at main UN rights forum

Religion News Service: African church leaders resist gay rights, call it a colonial import

New York Times: From Mormon Women, a Flood of Requests and Questions on Their Role in the Church

Huffington Post: Michele Bachmann: American Jewish Community 'Sold Out Israel'

Edge Boston: Witness in Michigan Trial Testifies ’Gays Going to Hell’

CNN: Sex abstinence program among Obama's targeted cuts

Gay Star News: Christian NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins on welcoming a gay teammate: 'Nobody's perfect'

The Mississippi Press: Mississippi House committee advances 'religious freedom' bill

Infidel753 on Fundamentalists Losing the Culture Wars

Earlier this month, Ross Douthat penned a commentary entitled "The Terms of Our Surrender" for the New York Times. Douthat reflected on the growing acceptance of LGBTQ rights in our society and the defeat of Arizona's SB 1062, lamenting that anti-gay voices are being "marginalized" and left fewer public spaces for "dissent". Fellow blogger Infidel753 took offense at Douthat's column on how the homophobic right should "negotiate surrender" in the culture wars, condemning the hubris of anti-gay, fundamentalist Christians ("Christianists").
"What the hell makes you think you deserve any magnanimity in your defeat?  You've had the upper hand for centuries, and what did you do with it?  To this day, Christianists relentlessly smear, defame, and attack gays, atheists, sexually-active single women, biological scientists, and anyone else whose behavior or thinking doesn't conform to the primitive taboo system of your barbaric and ridiculous religion.  Not an atom of magnanimity there.  American Christianist spokesmen cheer on and encourage brutal Christian thugs in the governments of Russia, Uganda, and Nigeria when they enact outrageous laws to enable hideous persecution.  You're still fighting to deny gay people the right to marry in the states where they haven't yet won it, and before Lawrence v. Texas swept away the last laws against homosexuality itself, you supported those, too.  You still smear Darwin as a progenitor of the Nazi regime, which actually banned his writings.  You supported and defended racist subjugation of black Americans, the very racism you now claim should not be compared to your hostility to gays.  What magnanimity did Alan Turing or Oscar Wilde get?  What magnanimity did Galileo or Bruno get?  Or Hypatia?  You wrecked our entire fucking civilization and plunged it into a thousand wasted years of stagnation and backwardness, and then fought against rebirth every step of the way.  And you guys don't change.  The only reason you aren't still brutalizing and terrorizing the rest of us is that you've lost the power to do it -- the majority of "Christians" in the Western world now only "believe" in a superficial and almost meaningless sense, and would recoil in healthy repulsion at the ghastly human costs of actually enforcing the taboo system.  You true believers are back in the minority now, and it's going to stay that way."
Infidel's full commentary is posted here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Commentary Tidbits

Think Progress: Dismantling The ‘Religious Liberty’ Talking Points Used To Justify Anti-LGBT Discrimination

Media Matters: CNN And MSNBC Expose The Anti-Gay Group Behind Arizona's SB 1062

Internet Monk: When “Christian” Teaching Enables Abuse of Power

Istoria Ministries: Bill Gothard: His Umbrella of Protection Teaching Provides an Umbrage for Perverted Behavior

Huffington Post: Putin's 'Holy Russia' Goes to War

News Tidbits

Raw Story: LGBT Bible belt residents relieved after GOP ‘religious freedom’ bills take a beating

Washington Post: No longer loyal to Scouts, boys join Trail Life

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia House approves monuments to MLK, Ten Commandments for Capitol grounds

Aljazeera America: A nun's secret ministry brings hope to the transgender community

Gay Star News: Nigerian Anglican Church requiring office holders to denounce homosexuality

Religion News Service: US evangelicals on the defense over Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act

Associated Press: Vatican Official Against Uganda's Anti-Gay Law

Christian Post: Rick Warren Squashes Rumors; Says He Strongly Opposes Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Law

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Gothard Scandal: Toxic Attitudes Are Part the Problem

Religion News Service reports that Bill Gothard of the Institute in Basic Life Principles has been placed on administrative leave after female employees accused him of sexual harassment. Gothard's leave comes after Recovering Grace posted stories from former IBLP staff accusing Gothard of sexual misconduct and intrusion into their romantic lives.

Gothard's teachings have attracted thousands of Christian homeschoolers and Quiverfull families, including the Duggars, Religion News Service states. Survivors of Gothard's ministry, such as Micah Murray and Jeri Lofland, have called Gothard's empire a "cult".

The accusations against Gothard must be taken seriously and investigated. The women coming forward must be listened to and offered safe spaces to speak. In the meantime, the scandal is an opportunity for public conversations on sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, the dangers of a "cult of personality", and institutional accountability. Unfortunately, some voices from the Christian Right have squandered this opportunity, reducing the Gothard scandal to a matter of "sin" or alleged persecution rather than a serious situation.

First, Michael Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College and founder of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), posted a statement on Facebook regarding misconduct by Christian leaders. (Hat tip to Homeschoolers Anonymous.)
"I continue to hear distressing news about the moral conduct of Christian leaders and speakers some of whom were/are popular in the homeschooling movement. Of course, anyone can sin–including me. But I cannot be so gracious about protracted patterns of sin that reveal a deep hypocrisy.

From my own observation there is a central problem that often accompanies these kinds of failures. All leaders have to have a certain amount of ego strength to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of the naysayers who attack anyone who attempts to lead. But, that basic strength can get out of control. Consider it a danger sign when the leader never shares the spotlight with other leaders in the organization. Consider it another danger sign when the leader does not have anyone in his organization with both the power and the character to tell him “no” at times."
In my opinion, Farris' comment neglected the larger issues at hand. For instance, if the accusations are true, how was Gothard able to abuse his station with impunity for so long, and what role did his Christian Patriarchy ideology play in rendering his victims vulnerable? What can institutions do to protect staff from sexual victimization? Instead of addressing these issues, Farris chose instead to talk about sin, "ego strength", and sharing spotlight.

It's vital that we recognize sexual abuse is calculated, criminal, and morally unacceptable, rather than just "sin" or a misuse of "ego strength". R.L. Stollar at Homeschoolers Anonymous was disgusted with Farris' language, arguing that sexual abuse goes far beyond "sin" and "hypocrisy".

"Taking advantage of and molesting children and young adult women isn’t simply “sin” or “hypocrisy” which “anyone” can fall into. Taking advantage of and molesting children and young adult women is criminal behavior. It is sexual abuse, plain and simply. This isn’t a question of people’s fallibility; it isn’t a question of “ego strength,” unless you somehow believe leaders are innately abusers.

And it sure as hell isn’t a question of “basic strengths.” Sexual abuse isn’t a “basic strength” that “can get out of control.” It’s not something that comes from “too much of a good thing.” Michael Farris’s attempts to spin these situations away from criminal activity and into the realm of “we’ve all fallen short” is self-serving, inexcusable, and horrifying. It is yet another example that he is in denial about abuse within the movement he himself helped to build."
Second, Kevin Swanson responded to the accusations against Gothard with sarcasm and ad hominem attacks. In a Generations with Vision radio show entitled "Why the Old Fundamentalism Is Cracking", Swanson began his show with condemnation of the "Neronic agenda", in which "aberrant sexuality is being celebrated and encouraged and funded by your public dollars". He talked at length about how "God's law" is a superior moral path to the alleged freewheeling morality of the modern age. This segued into his discussion of the Gothard scandal, which was less about Gothard's reported misconduct and more about mocking those who brought the misconduct claims to light.

"Patheos and Spiritual Sounding Board are dancing on the grave of Bill Gothard and the whole ATI thing right now," Swanson claimed, demonizing the websites as degenerate blogs eager to convert Christians to a heathen agenda. He provided no evidence for his wild claims against either website. At the 9:31 mark, he had this to say.

"Friends, right now Patheos and Spiritual Sounding Board are the apostasizing websites working hard to drive another 10% out of the organized, historical, biblical churches to a pro-homosexual, pro-socialist, pro-evolution pro-atheist agenda. They're just so excited ... They're sort of like the proselytes of the left."
At the 10:20 mark, Swanson warned listeners about believing what they read on websites, arguing that witnesses in a civil or church court are necessary to corroborate abuse claims.
"As Christians we ought to be very careful when we see these things on public websites, news sites presenting this information. We ought to demand two or three witnesses in a proper church court or a proper civil court."
At the 10:37 mark, Swanson accused Patheos and Spiritual Sounding Board of being unconcerned about corroborating claims. He accused the two websites of gleefully seeking to tear down a Christian leader so that they can celebrate depravity.
"But Patheos and [Spiritual] Sounding Board doesn't really care that much about it. They just get very excited about the fact that there may be some problem, some compromise in the life of a spiritual leader, and if they can find that, they can find the compromise, the moral compromise in the life of a leader, they get very excited because now they know that they can toss out everything that guy ever said about God, Jesus, honoring mothers and fathers, etc. etc. If that be the case, they can throw all that out and they can do whatever they want, and how fun that can be! They don't have to worry about this adultery thing anymore, don't have to worry about homosexuality, don't have to worry about incest, don't have to worry about pedophilia, we can just celebrate! We're free from anything that this Christian leader every said because there may be some moral compromise in his life."

I'm used to bombastic words and ad hominem attacks from Swanson, but these comments were twisted and offensive, even for him. Swanson refused to consider the possibility that the accusations against Gothard could have substance, or that websites bringing accusations to light might have noble motives for doing so. By lobbing baseless insults at Patheos and Spiritual Sounding Board, Swanson deflected from the sexual abuse issue.

Swanson's other recent comments about abuse, while less vitriolic, still reflected his skewed priorities. In the February 19th edition of Generations with Vision, Swanson acknowledged the existence of sexual abuse in churches, but seemed more concerned about how abuse damages churches and encourages apostasy. What about how abuse harms victims? What about how abuse is indicative of deeper institutional problems? I thought.

Swanson's response to the Gothard scandal is an all-too-common knee jerk reaction. When a popular leader is accused of wrongdoing, misguided supporters will deflect attention from the accusations and demonize the accusers. Rather that confront the accusations and what they might suggest about an idol, some prefer to mock and silence those who allege abuse. If accusations grow too numerous to ignore, some might downplay abusive acts as mere sins or indiscretions. The outward appearance of a church and the illusion of a happy ministry become more important than truth and accountability.

These kinds of attitudes are the problem. 

When toxic attitudes like these are pervasive in a community or an institution, it becomes very difficult to tackle institutional problems like abuse. Honest conversations and abuse prevention efforts are hampered when such attitudes prevent people from acknowledging abuse in the first place. Victims are humiliated or cowed into silence, while perpetrators commit crimes with impunity.

It's time to recognize sexual abuse in churches as a grave crime, one that perpetrators inflict consciously and willfully. It's time to recognize that justice and truth are more important than preserving a ministry's reputation. It's time to recognize how abuse thrives in environments tainted by patriarchy, authoritarianism, and a lack of accountability. It's time to stop silencing victims. It's time to stop deflecting attention from accusations and start taking them seriously.

In short, toxic attitudes about abuse have to go.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Spiritual Sounding Board: Kevin Swanson Defends Bill Gothard’s Sexual Harassment Charges While Publicly Trash Talks Blogs  

Chicago Now: Bill Gothard, sexual predator in Oak Brook, still goes uninvestigated by police

Love, Joy, Feminism: Bill Gothard, Sexual Predator

Ramblings of Sheldon: Exposing the IFB: Pastor Bill Gothard and Advanced Training Institute