Saturday, November 29, 2014

More Religious Right Figures Respond to Ferguson

As discussed in a prior post, the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson after the shooting death of Michael Brown has generated outrage and debate across the country. Several Religious Right figures have weighed in on the grand jury decision, and I'd like to highlight a few of their responses.

First, Cindy Jacobs, a New Apostolic Reformation preacher with a history of bizarre and racially awkward comments, posted a surprisingly sensitive commentary piece after the grand jury decision. In a November 26th post at the Generals International website, Cindy Jacobs claimed that members of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders had several "dreams and visions" of riots in American cities, suggesting that they had supernatural premonitions of the Ferguson riots. Amidst her strange claims, however, was sympathy for all parties involved in the Brown case and a call for racial justice. "We are Americans and one nation under God, indivisible!" she wrote. "Every single American matters."
"As I reflect in prayer on the situation, my heart goes out to all the families involved in this tragedy. If I were the parents of Michael Brown, I would be in shock that my child left home one morning and was dead that same day. The grief from both the trauma and loss can only be borne through God's supernatural help.

For the police officer who is now receiving death threats, I can only wonder how he is concerned for his pregnant wife and unborn child. The recent statistics that I looked up said that so far this year, 105 officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. (1) In the midst of the pain of Ferguson, we need to be grateful for our first-responders and pray for them--particularly for their safety.

I believe that we need to cry out to The Lord to heal the pain of racial injustice in our nation. Evidentially, there is a lot that still remains! Racism needs to be rooted out wherever it exists, in whatever community it wants to rear its ugly, hate-filled head."
Alveda King, an anti-abortion activist and niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged a peaceful response following the grand jury decision. In a column posted at the Priests for Life website, Alveda King condemned the Ferguson riots, calling for peace as the best way to honor Michael Brown's memory.
"America, we are truly better than this. Michael’s memory deserves better than this. Michael stole cigarettes. This was a crime. Yet, we have elected at least two presidents who admitted to smoking illegal marijuana in their youth. A crime is a crime. How do we know how Michael’s life may have turned out? Tragically we will never know.

America, we are at a crossed road. Will we settle for burned out cities or will we pray for an arising of hope?

Michael Brown’s parents are calling for peace and justice. We can best honor Michael by agreeing with his parents."
I was disappointed, however, that Alveda King lumped racial tension and violence together with abortion and "sexual immorality".
"Not only are we still grappling with racial strife; what Uncle [Martin Luther King Jr.] aptly described as “man’s inhumanity to man” has escalated in Century 21 to mirror “the days of Noah;” with abortion, sexual immorality, unholy war, greed, violence, much assault on God’s people running rampant."
Bishop Harry Jackson, founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, noted the relationship between racism and Ferguson. In an interview with the Daily Signal, Harry Jackson discussed racism in America, describing the response in Ferguson in terms of black frustration.
"I think what I'm seeing here is a lot of black frustration. Certainly last night is not just a response to a verdict. In my opinion, it is a response to a lifetime of anxiety, problems, and frustrations."
Other Religious Right figures responded to the grand jury decision and the ensuing riots with much harsher language. During the November 26th edition of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson demanded that those who are upset with the grand jury decision "just cool it", arguing that the Michael Brown case was not about social justice. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"African Americans in this society for decades have been subject to discrimination. There's no question about it. And there has been police brutality in various cities. There's no question about that. But right now, we live in what amounts to a pretty much even-tempered type of society. Police are very careful in dealing with people. They're trained to be careful with minorities. The abuses of the past [are] pretty much a thing of the past.

But this young man in Ferguson ... He went into a convenience store and picked up some cigars, didn't pay for them, walked out. There's a  video of him talking to the clerk and ignoring him and busting out right past him with this stolen property ... When this police officer tried to apprehend him, he charged the police officer, charged into his car and began beating on him.

Now, what kind of thing is that? He resists arrest, he attacks a police officer, he robs a store. That doesn't make him a hero! That doesn't make him a martyr! ... It's certainly no excuse to burn a town apart, to overturn police cars, bring in the Al Sharptons of the world and other racial agitators to have them ... talk about social justice. This isn't a case dealing with social justice."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

News Tidbits

The Daily Beast: The Godfather of Right-Wing Radio

The Advocate: Right-Wing Group Targets Trans-Friendly Federal Nominee

Raw Story: Duggar family gives thanks for fetal personhood laws and GOP midterm wins

Reuters: Uganda plans to pass new version of anti-gay law by Christmas, says lawmaker

Commentary Tidbits

Danthropology: Freedom From Religion Foundation urges IRS to investigate Ark Encounter

Towleroad: Linda Harvey's New "Ex-Gay" Book Is the Perfect Christmas Gift for Your Child

Mediaite: Catholic Org Blames Comedy Central for Why Many Muslims ‘Hate’ Our Freedoms

The New Civil Rights Movement: Benham Brothers Defend 'America's Family,' The Duggars, From 'Those Who Hate Truth'

Voices from the Right Respond to Ferguson

On August 9th, Michael Brown, a young African American man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, during an altercation in Ferguson, MO. As outrage over Brown's death mounted, Ferguson would become the focal point of a heated national discussion about race and police violence. The harsh response by local law enforcement to Ferguson demonstrators, including the arrest of journalists and the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and LRAD, was condemned by human rights organizations

On the evening of November 24th, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch announced that a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson. Local demonstrators protested the decision by blocking Interstate 44 and intersections in nearby Clayton, while other protests took place in cities across the U.S.. Despite pleas for peace by President Obama and Ferguson clergy, riots broke out in Ferguson, with images of looters and burning buildings dominating the news. Many Ferguson business owners found their businesses vandalized or destroyed the next day.

Observers from across the political spectrum have offered commentary on the grand jury's decision and the Ferguson riots, and the Religious Right is no exception. While some figures from the right have called for unity, others have used recent events to criticize the left and the media.

First, two voices from the Southern Baptist Convention have called for unity and justice following the grand jury decision. In a commentary piece entitled "Ferguson and the Path to Peace" SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore laments that racial tensions still plague America. "The tension [in Ferguson] ought to remind us, as the church, that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us," he wrote. Moore calls for racial unity and recognition of all people as part of the Body of Christ.
"So what should we do? In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?

The answer for the Body of Christ starts with a robust doctrine of the church lived out in local congregations under the lordship of Christ. The reason white and black Americans often view things so differently is because white and black Americans often live and move in different places, with different cultural lenses. In the church, however, we belong to one another. We are part of one Body."
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar, acknowledged the existence of flawed systems in America and promoted a message of racial justice. In a transcript of a November 25th podcast, Mohler praised President Obama for urging restraint and calm following the grand jury announcement. Mohler seemed to take African American complaints of institutional racism seriously, urging Christians to demand accountability and justice from fallible institutions.
"...There are many people who are saying the system is broken. Well in one sense, Christians understand that every system is only as good as the human beings fragile frail and sometimes downright faulty involved in the process. There is no perfect system, not humanly speaking, because human beings are involved in it. And this means that some of the accusations and concerns coming from the African-American community have to be taken very seriously. Christians should be at the forefront of demanding that these concerns be thoroughly vetted, heard, and considered, because after all we do know that as important as these systems are, every system indeed breaks down at the very fallibility of human beings. It is no insult to the system, it is no insult to the society, to make very clear that we have to watch continually that we’re living up to our ideals – including the ideal of equal standing, equal justice, before the law."
Mohler also expressed disapproval of the Ferguson riots, writing that "the kind of reform, the kind of improvement in justice that is needed in our society cannot be brought about by flaunting that form of justice with the kind of injustice that was seen on the streets."
"The rule of law cannot be improved, nor corrected – much less reformed – by lawlessness. And the subversion of the rule of law on the streets of Missouri last night is a refutation of the claim that this is being done in the name of justice."
However, other Religious Right voices were quick to criticize Michael Brown, the left, and the media following the grand jury announcement. For example, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer spoke approvingly of the grand jury's decision. In the November 25th edition of Focal Point, Fischer discussed the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson, speculating that Michael Brown was under demonic influence during his encounter with Wilson. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"I think that at this point there was a demonic presence that was operating inside Michael Brown's body, activating him, energizing him, driving him forward in this homicidal rage. So when he says he looked like a demon, I think that's because he was looking into the eyes of a demon that was driving Michael Brown to do what he did."
Fischer described Brown's death as a "tragedy" and a "heartbreak" because of his "wasted potential", but added that he saw Brown as responsible for his own demise.
"Who is to blame here? Who's fault is this that this young life has been snuffed out? I think you look at the evidence, you have to say, well, I think we're going to have to expect Michael Brown to take full responsibility for his own death."
American Family Association news director Fred Jackson also weighed in on the grand jury decision. During the November 25th edition of Sandy Rios in the Morning, Jackson expressed disapproval of the Ferguson riots and denied that Wilson's actions were motivated by Brown's race. Jackson spoke several times about absolute truth and moral responsibility, arguing that truth is "under attack today" with regard to the public response to the Brown case. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Absolute truth is defined by scripture, the Bible, God’s word. That’s how it’s defined, and when you violate that, there are consequences. Now you may get away with it for a while, for a period, but God says there will be consequences ... When you do not have a dad figure around, there is not someone there in authority to demonstrate there are consequences to violating the rules. If you don’t have that presence in the family, you’re going to have problems."
In a November 25th commentary piece at the National Review, Dennis Prager called for "moral clarity" regarding racial tensions in the U.S.
"For decades now, we have been told that there is a black–white divide regarding how members of each race perceive racial matters in America. The problem with this belief that is that it renders moral judgment — of white police, of black crime and black incarceration rates, of white judges and jurors, and of black riots and protests — impossible ... Many blacks see racism almost everywhere — especially in arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates, and in white police interactions with blacks. On the other hand, whites (specifically, whites who are not on the left) think that white racism has largely been conquered, and therefore blacks’ disproportionately high arrest and conviction rates are the result of black behavior – particularly the high out-of-wedlock birth rate that has deprived the great majority of black children of fathers – not white racism."
Prager criticizes those who fail to condemn the Ferguson riots, as well as those who look at the Brown case through a racial lens. He calls current race attitudes "damaging", arguing that such attitudes ignore "objective truth and moral truth". Prager blasts liberals for supposedly treating truth and morality as subjective, writing that, "For every black and every white unwilling to condemn the protests over Michael Brown’s killing that took place before any relevant facts came out, their half-hearted condemnation of the riots notwithstanding, truth doesn’t matter."

In a November 24th column at Red State, Erick Erickson points to the Ferguson unrest and writes that "This is what happens when everything becomes political," adding that "Michael Brown’s death should not be political." He complains that many Americans cannot have honest conversations about the Brown case because of "too many agendas" at work. Many factions (especially the media) want to inflame tensions, Erickson argues, making it unlikely that issues surrounding race and the Brown case will be resolved any time soon.
"The sad truth is that too many young black men have been, for so long, told they are victims that they’ve started acting as if they are not responsible for their actions and that society is out to get them.

And you know what?

In a lot of cases, it is true. Society is out to get them. Instead of judging them individually, police and others judge young black men collectively. In a group? Probably up to no good, whether it is true or not.

Conservatives have a tendency to say young black men need to rise so far about the stereotyped behavior they cannot be blamed. Liberals say that is unfair. And the truth is that in some cases they could rise as close to the standard of Jesus as possible and some policeman somewhere still might pull them over.

If only we could all rely on our better angels. But I am a pessimist on this issue. Too many people on both sides have too much of an incentive to keep tensions going. It is a TV ratings bonanza for cable news and reality shows. Too many profit off it."
Erickson accepted the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson. "The facts and witnesses show that Michael Brown was a thief. The facts and witnesses show Officer Wilson was doing his job," he wrote.

To watch key videos related to the grand jury decision, visit the following links.

CNN: Ferguson grand jury announcement

C-SPAN: President Obama on Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Vice: Highlights from Live Coverage in Ferguson, Missouri

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gordon Klingenschmitt Wins Colorado House Seat; Scott Lively Loses Election Bid

I have a substantial blog backlog right now, so it's taken me a while to post commentary on the November 4th election.  -- Ahab

The November 4th election earlier this month was sobering and full of unpleasant surprises. Republicans gained a majority of Senate seats, which disappointed those hoping for Congressional support for progressive legislation. Republican successes may have been due in part to support from their traditional base. According to exit poll data from NBC News, 78% of white evangelical/born again voters and 61% of other Protestants voted Republican in the House of Representative races.

Several strident members of the Religious Right ran for office in this year's election, including Gordon Klingenschmitt and  Scott Lively. Running as a Republican against Democrat Lois Fornander, Klingenschmitt won the District 15 seat in Colorado's House. According to the Colorado Gazette, he received nearly 70% of the vote.

Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain, was reprimanded in a military court in 2006 for appearing in uniform at a political protest, according to the Washington Post. Currently, Klingenschmitt hosts the Pray in Jesus Name show, which he uses as a vehicle for anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ messages. Right Wing Watch has documented Klingenschmitt's shocking statements and actions, including his "exorcism" of a rape victim, his claim that President Obama is infested by demons, his support for homophobic discrimination, and his promotion of vicious anti-LGBTQ stereotypes. I fully expect him to continue his right-wing from his new seat in the Colorado House, which should worry the citizens of Colorado.

Klingenschmitt was genuinely shocked that observers would find his election victory horrifying. "Why would people hate a chaplain? I'm just a guy who believes the Bible. I love Jesus. I love people. I'm a man of faith and compassion," he said in a recent edition of Bible News Radio. Voters who cherish religious freedom in the face of "backlash against the name of Jesus" were responsible for his election victory, he insisted. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"There is a backlash against the name of Jesus. People do not want God to rule their hearts, and a lot of people are offended when a chaplain or a man of faith gets elected to political office. But thank God, the voters in my district were very conservative and very open to religious freedom."
He told Bible News Radio that he received death threats from a gay activist, which is how his opponents allegedly act when their "agenda" is thwarted.
"I did report these death threats to the FBI, and today I got a letter from the FBI saying 'you have been entered in our system; we are still investigating; it looks [inaudible] that there was a crime, an actual crime committed against me when this gay activist called me up and literally told me he was going to slit my throat, and he started screaming 'I'll kill you!'. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you realize that these people are serious, and they have an agenda, and it's a political agenda, and if they don't win, then they want to carry out violence. In seven years of daily blogging, I have never once written that I hate anybody, never once written that I fear any person, and ye, those are the left-wing allegations that come against us. 'Oh, you're a bigot, you're a hater, you're too Christian, and you're homophobic.' Well, it's not homophobia when they really are threatening to kill you."
On the bright side, Scott Lively lost his bid for the Massachusetts governor seat. Lively, author of The Pink Swastika and a globetrotting opponent of LGBTQ equality, ran under "the miracle ticket", with platform goals such as "Restore respect for marriage and the natural family" and "Rebuild the inner-city family by restoring Fatherhood in the home". According to Edge Boston, Lively received 18,992 votes, and the fact that nearly 19,000 people thought that Lively would make an acceptable governor alarms me.

In a November 9th blog post, Lively blasted voters for supporting a "lesser evil", disgusted that Charlie Baker won the Massachusetts governor seat.
"In the times we live in, it has become commonplace for believers to substitute their own reasoning for the wisdom of God.  But there is nothing new under the sun.  This was the same in Elijah’s time.  So in this election we have seen Christian and pro-family voters across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, both Protestant and Catholic, deliberately cast their votes for Charlie Baker, a man whose hands drip with the blood of the innocent unborn babies and whose tongue rationalizes the promotion of sexual perversion to school-children.  They have chosen to support what they believe is the “lesser evil” rather than trust God and stand on His truth."
He praised the voters who "did not bow their knee to evil", applauding them for trusting God.
"We have a remnant of nearly 20,000 people who have proved by their vote that they trust God, not their own human reasoning, to heal our land.  We have a core of trustworthy men and women with whom to work to restore the commonwealth."

Lively concluded the commentary piece by mocking human rights organizations that have criticized him or taken legal action against him for his anti-LGBTQ activism.
"...I am being sued for “Crimes Against Humanity” by a Marxist law firm trying to take away my First Amendment rights and destroy me the way the LGBT bullies try to destroy anyone who gets in their way – from Anita Bryant in the 1970s to Phil Robertson in 2013.  It’s the classic Saul Alinsky strategy of malicious slander and character assassination.  And in the middle of the campaign the largest homosexual activist organization in the world, the so-called Human Rights Campaign piled on, naming me the Global LGBT Movement’s Public Enemy #1."

Outrageously, he claimed that his political efforts had crippled the "anti-Lively coalition" opposing him, and that the public now recognizes him as a "kind-hearted Christian".
I believe my faithfulness in stepping out into the political arena to preach the gospel has spiritually broken the back of the anti-Lively coalition and demolished its campaign of defamation.  The public has seen me in the debates and other venues and know I am a sincere and kind-hearted Christian man, whether or not they agree with my views.  They will never again believe the vicious LGBT lies trying to paint me as a genocidal monster.  The Lord has vindicated me in an entirely unique way.
Oooooookay then. Despite the disappointments of the November election, the fact that this guy failed to win the Massachusetts governor race brings me comfort.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Mother Jones: This Anti-Gay Candidate's Message Is Bigger in Moscow Than Massachusetts

Wonkette: Gordon Klingenschmitt To Slay All The (Literal) Demons In The Colorado House

Raw Story: Colorado elects Obama exorcist who wants to spank transgender children

Slate: Gays Harbor Demons and Wear Diapers. Meet the Craziest Anti-Gay Legislator in America.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

News Tidbits

Religion News Service: Evangelicals Split Over Obama's Immigration Action

Washington Post: Faith groups divided over God’s role in climate change, natural disasters

Christian Post: Christian University Stands by Decision to Keep Bill Cosby as Speaker at Benefit Dinner

The Advocate: 90,000-Plus and Counting: Petition to Cancel Duggars' Show Gains Momentum

Raw Story: Kirk Cameron is begging fans to help boost his movie’s putrid rating on Rotten Tomatoes

Edge Media Network: Ex-Gay Calls on HRC to Pay for Co-Founder's Conversion Therapy

Arkansas Online: Gay-marriage opponents rally at Capitol, pray at state's high court

Detroit Free Press: Archdiocese bans gay rights speaker from Detroit parish

Korea Times: Gay rights opponents block hearing in Seoul, South Korea

Commentary Tidbits

Salon: Glenn Beck’s Santa nightmare: Why his new Kris Kringle story will horrify you 

Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers: Ranger Suicide Prevention Becomes Christian Sermon

SPLC Hatewatch: Political Right Reacts With Fury to Obama Immigration Plan 

SPLC Intelligence Report: East of Eden

Religion Dispatches: Pope, Christian Conservatives Team Up to Promote Patriarchy

Think Progress: Vatican Humanum Conference Erases LGBT People With Trite Gender Norms

The Daily Beast: Is Pope Francis Backpedaling on Gays? 

Right Wing Watch: Texas Approves Textbooks With Moses As Honorary Founding Father

Huffington Post: Why Kidnapped For Christ Is The Most Faithful Film Of The Year

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Growing Protestant Presence in Latin America

Last week, Pew Research Center released a report on the evolution of religion in Central and South America. Religion in Latin America: Widespread Change in a Historically Catholic Region documents the decline of Catholicism and the rise of Protestantism, especially Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity, in 18 Latin American countries and Puerto Rico.

While most Latin American countries still have Catholic majorities, Protestant numbers are growing. While 84% of respondents report being raised Catholic, only 69% currently identify as Catholic. Additionally, while only 9% of respondents report being raised Protestant, 19% currently identify as Protestant.

In many Latin American countries, large percentages of Protestants identify as Pentecostal or attend a church that is part of a Pentecostal denomination, according to the Pew Forum. A significant percentage of Latin American Catholics also identify as charismatic, highlighting the growth of charismatic movements within Catholicism. Substantial numbers of Protestants and a minority of Catholics report that they have witnessed exorcisms or experienced "gifts of the Holy Spirit".

A troubling trend reported in the Pew Center's research was the widespread embrace of "prosperity theology", the belief that God will bestow wealth on believers. Large percentages of Latin American Protestants and Catholics reported believing that God will grant wealth and health to those who have faith.

In an interview with Pew Research Center's Fact Tank, Andrew Chestnut offered explanations for the growth of Pentecostal Protestantism in Latin America. Chestnut, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, offered several reasons for the growth Pentecostal Christianity among Latin Americans, such as the appeal of healing ministries and prosperity theology, similarities between preachers and their congregants, and Pentecostalism's successful absorption of Latin American cultures.

These changing religious demographics could have wide-reaching effects if Religious Right organizations can command lasting loyalty from Latin American Protestants. As discussed in prior posts on Belize and Brazil, American Religious Right organizations such as the ACLJ, C-FAM, Alliance Defending Freedom, and so-called "ex-gay" ministries have sought to expand their influence in Latin America. Members of Brazil's Religious Right, like their Americans counterparts, have loudly opposed LGBTQ rights. Evangelical protestants are a political force to be reckoned with in Brazil, both as politicians and voters. Will the Religious Right continue to use the rise of Latin American Protestantism, and in particular Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations, to their advantage? Or can Latin America's believers take a different path?

News Tidbits

Raw Story: Disrupter of Muslim prayer at National Cathedral: God and Drudge sent me

Huffington Post: Thousands Sign Petition To Cancel TLC's 19 Kids And Counting Over Stars' Anti-LGBT Sentiments

Religion News Service: Mormons change rules to allow moms, divorced women to teach religion 

Kansas City Star: Legally married same-sex couples won’t be allowed to stay together at City Union Mission

Buzzfeed: This Lawyer Thinks LGBT People Are Trampling On The Rights of Christians

Christian Science Monitor: Why are Korean missionaries flocking to Kenya?

UGO News: Ugandan President Museveni: Do Not Wed Gay Couples In Our Churches

Commentary Tidbits

The Daily Beast: What’s Next for Anti-Democratic ‘Religious Exemptions’

Homeschoolers Anonymous: Doug Phillips Excommunicated from Boerne Christian Assembly

Mother Jones: Catholic Church Argues It Doesn't Have to Show Up in Court Because Religious Freedom

Human Rights Campaign: Funding for Anti-LGBT National Organization For Marriage Drops by Over 50%

Rachel Held Evans: The False Gospel of Gender Binaries

Huffington Post: This Right-Wing Legal Powerhouse Wants to Make Gay Sex Illegal

The Gospel, Homosexuality, & the Future of Marriage Conference: Denny Burk on Transgender Issues

To read about Rosaria Butterfield's talk at "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" conference, click here. To read about Albert Mohler's talk, click here.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosted a national conference entitled "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" in Nashville, TN on October 27-29. In an earlier post, Republic of Gilead shared quotes from Albert Mohler's talk, in which the retrograde flavor of the conference was apparent. In this post, I'd like to share quotes from Denny Burk's talk, "Is There a Slippery Slope? A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy". Burk sought to delegitimize transgender identity as something pathological and beyond the pale of God's will, all while praising complementarian gender roles as God's alleged plan for humanity.

Denny Burk, a professor of biblical studies at Boyce College (a branch of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), opened his talk with a prayer in which he asserted that "everyone, all of us, feel deep conflicts and groanings because of fallen nature." It quickly became clear that Burk was largely dismissive of transgender identity. At the 5:48 mark, he described society's evolving notions of sex and gender as a situation in which "a person is whatever they think themselves to be".
"We're living in the middle of a culture right now that has been, not for the last decade, but for the last decades been in an enormous transitions in terms of our understanding of gender and sexuality, and this transition presents us with a challenge. The spirit of the age has redefined gender as a spectrum with no normative connection to a person's biological sex, so in this way of thinking ... a person is whatever they think themselves to be, as long as it's sincerely held and felt."
At the 6:46 mark, he claimed that the "biological realities" of sex and gender have been dismissed in today's world in favor of a "self-perceived" perspective on gender.
"Gender is more or less self-perceived and self-determined not by the biological realities that the Creator has embedded into every cell in our bodies, but by psychological realities that people feel powerfully."
At the 7:25 mark, Burk explained that the "slippery slope" in the title of his talk referred to the unknown ramifications of LGBTQ progress and evolving notions of gender.
"We call it a slippery slope simply because a revision of sexual and gender norms has implications beyond the original revision. And so, while  many people in our society are beginning to accept ... the revision on gay sexuality, same-sex sexuality, it's not at all clear to me yet where we're going in terms of this revision on gender and transgender."
The LGBTQ cause has been a success, Burk observed, telling listeners that the LGBTQ movement is winning the culture war. As a result, society is increasingly condemning those who "believe what the scriptures teach" and reject LGBTQ rights. At the 11:02 mark, Burk complained that anti-gay and anti-trans voices are increasingly being criticized as "throwbacks".
"The public is increasingly seeing this issue as a civil rights issue, the next step in society's march toward greater freedom and equality. That's what it is. That's a moral issue in the way it's being presented. And so, to oppose that progress is increasingly seen as backwards and irrational. Because 'gay is good', the public space can no longer tolerate those who would say it's not good, which makes it a problem if you believe what the scriptures teach and you bring that message into the public space. Those who say 'gay is not good' are throwbacks and they stand in the way of human rights and social progress."
Similarly, he warns listeners at the 15:28 mark that those who continue "holding to what the Bible says" regarding binary gender categories will meet with opposition.
"It is not merely that we will be treated as old-fashioned for holding the line on Biblical gender norms. We're going to be facing the same kind of challenges for holding to those norms that we're facing now for holding to what the Bible says about marriage. In other words, there's going to be the same kind of opposition from the outside to being faithful inside the church."
Burk imagined gender affirmation surgery in pathological terms, speaking of it in the same breath as body integrity identity disorder, a condition in which one wishes to amputate part of their body. (Burk discusses this in greater depth at his blog.)  He dismissed transgender identities by insisting that God created humans with static, binary sex and gender roles at the 17:04 mark.
"At the heart of the transgender revolution is this. It's the notion that psychological identity trumps bodily identity ... meaning that your gender identity has no necessary connection to your bodily identity. This view says that your personal sense of identity determines you gender and your sexual identity, potentially, not the body that God gave you. This is a reversal of Christian teaching from time immemorial that in the beginning, God made them male and female, which is an affirmation in Genesis 1 that says that there's a basic biological distinction that God has embedded into the race. We're male and female."
Burk argued that Christian communities need to confront transgender issues with "truth-telling" and "gender discipling". At the 24:31 mark, he claimed that believers must "tell the truth" by insisting that natal sex and gender identity must coincide, regardless of how one feels.
"We have got to tell the truth about what the Bible teaches about gender, and among other things, the Bible is clear that there's a normative connection between biological sex and gender identity. Now when I say normative connection, I do not mean that everybody feels things as they should. I'm saying that sometimes when there is dissonance between those two realities, the Bible is telling us the norm we should be feeling."
Burk frowned upon parental approval of minors' gender transitioning and gender fluidity. For example, he lamented the "moral confusion" exemplified by a camp for gender-nonconforming boys he learned about in the media. He insisted that most children grow out of their transgender feelings, asking, "Why would you change a body of a child in the midst of that reality?" he asked.

A better approach to gender, Burk insists, is the paradigm of evangelical Christian complementarianism. At the 29:59 mark, Burk praised rigid, binary gender roles as godly, dismissing other approaches to gender as a "choose-you-own-adventure story".
"This is exactly where the Christian vision of humanity has so much to offer people ... The Bible puts solid ground beneath our feet so that we don't have to guess at what it means to be male and female, so that parents don't have to sow even more confusion into their child's bewilderment. The spirit of the age tell us that raising a little boy to be a little boy can be cruel and abusive if that boy wishes to be a girl. They're telling us that gender is a choose-you-own-adventure story, and the parents' job is just to get out of the way and let it happen. The Christian vision is different from this and so very freeing and affirming of what we were really meant to be before God."
Burk insists that God created humans as only male and female, with gender roles as an innate distinction rooted in nature. At the 30:58 mark, he urged parents to instill binary gender roles into their children.
"God did not make us into undifferentiated automatons. On the contrary, he made us male and female, and that fundamental, biological distinction defines us. Gender norms, therefore, have their roots in God's good creation, and they're revealed in nature, and they're revealed in scripture. The task of parenting, the task of discipling, requires understanding those norms and to inculcate those norms into our children, into those who want to follow Christ."
In Burk's call for "gender discipling", I recognized a contradiction in complementarian thinking that I've seen before. If rigid, binary gender roles are innate, why do they need to be taught? If such roles are programmed into all humans, why do so many people fail to fully conform to those roles, or reject them altogether? If gender is static, why have notions of gender varied widely across time and cultures? Could it be that gender is a social construct, not a fixed, God-given reality?

Burk complained that society has become so "awash" in feminism and sexual revolution ideas that most people have forgotten what God commands regarding gender roles. For example, he explains at the 34:17 mark that he's raising his son to be a leader and provider, in contrast to how he's raising his daughters.
"There's a way of raising my son that differs with the way I'm raising my little girls, and it's not about getting him to like sports and trucks and hunting. Frankly, I don't care about that. What I do care about that he learn to be a leader and a protector and a provider."
Shouldn't we encourage all children to be leaders? I thought. Shouldn't we teach everyone to provide for their loved ones and protect others? It saddened me that Burk's daughters were not being encouraged in the same manner as his son. The link between rigid gender roles and patriarchy was clearly on display.

Throughout the talk, I was puzzled as to why Burk lumped transgender issues together with polygamy in his title. At the 35:46 mark, he explained that transgender advances erode norms surrounding sexuality and gender, which will lead to polygamy (!).
"We hold them together in this talk simply because there's a way that you can talk of them both as on a slippery slope. We hold them together simply because polygamy is an entailment of the worldview of the program of the sexual revolutionaries, whether they realize it or not. For this new understanding of gender and sexuality ... it's giving us not just a new definition of marriage; it's giving us a new definition of what it means to be a human being, and that new definition comes with an entirely new set of norms ... Once you remove the heterosexual norm, none of the other norms are stable anymore. The monogamous norm, that's not stable anymore. The permanence norm, that's already gone because of no-fault divorce."
What Burk fails to realize is that LGBTQ advances reflect justice, not some catastrophic destabilization of norms, and that polygamy does not logically follow from LGBTQ equality. Conveniently, he ignored the fact that polygamy was sanctioned in many parts of the Bible that he and his brethren hold so dear. To boot, polygamy is compatible with the rigid gender roles Burk advocates, as evidenced by patriarchal societies that practice polygamy. Burk's claims played to the fears of the audience, but did not say anything accurate or useful about LGBTQ issues or polygamy.
*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I sighed throughout the talk. Burk spent nearly an hour talking about transgender persons, but it was clear that he did not respect them or understand their lived experiences. Transgender identity simply did not fit into his notions of binary sex and gender, but the growing presence of transgender people in society meant that he could not ignore them. Rather than adjust his belief system to accommodate the existence of transgender persons, he dismissed them as unhealthy.

Dismissing transgender people has devastating consequences. The belief that transgender identity is not legitimate, that transgender persons stand outside the norm, feeds into transphobia. If we are to end transphobic discrimination and hate crimes, we must eliminate the transphobia that feeds it.

To boot, Burk's insistence that God "made us male and female" completely ignores intersex people. Complementarian thinking simply cannot countenance the existence of people whose biological sex does not fit neatly into male or female.

Burk's talk, in essence, was a stubborn attempt to cling to binary notions of sex and gender. However, as much as Burk insists that binary gender roles are normative for the human race, history suggests otherwise. Many cultures across time have recognized third and fourth genders such as the hijra of India, the katoey of Thailand, the burrnesha of Albania, and the various "two-spirit" categories among Native American tribes, to name but a few. Humanity's understanding of gender has always been expanding and evolving, and the growing visibility of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the 21st century is an example of that evolution, not a harbinger of decadence.

Gender is a spectrum, and gender diversity has always existed, regardless of complementarian attempts to shove people into gender boxes. Furthermore, by shoehorning people into arbitrary roles, complementarians ignore individuality. We are all unique, and one's uniqueness is often too big to fit into a narrow gender role. This is anathema to complementarians, as their form of patriarchy requires rigid dividing lines between males and females in order to maintain a gendered hierarchy.

In short, Burk's talk revealed his discomfort with evolving notions of sex and gender. The Religious Right, baffled at society's evolving notions of sex and gender, can no longer ignore the existence of LGBTQ people. Alarmed that their binary, hierarchical vision is no longer the norm for many people, they double down on messages about alleged "biological realities". They frighten audiences with warnings about impending polygamy and degraded morals, rather than learn about the people they fear. The Gospel, Homosexuality, & the Future of Marriage Conference seems to be a product of that fear, rather than an attempt to bring Christians to a deeper understanding of gender diversity and sexuality.

Monday, November 17, 2014

News Tidbits

Washington Post: Vatican rep: 2015 ‘ideal time’ for pope New York visit 

Al Jazeera America: US bishops may tighten restrictions on Catholic hospital mergers

The Advocate: Mississippi 'All God's Children' Pro-Equality Campaign Draws Ire of Baptist Leaders

Christianity Today: Jerry B. Jenkins Suddenly Shuts Down Christian Writers Guild

Lancaster Online: Warwick cancels school-day abstinence presentations

Religion News Service: Kenya’s Catholic bishops: Tetanus vaccine is birth control in disguise

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News: U.N. panel raises concern about "ex-gay" therapy in U.S.

Huffington Post: BET Editor Clay Cane Slams Black Church For Conversion Therapy: ‘Being Gay Is Not A Sin'

New York Times: Latin America Is Losing Its Catholic Identity

New York Times: The Duck Dynasty Family Plans a Musical in Las Vegas

Huffington Post: The Duggars Allegedly Remove Photos Of Same-Sex Couples Kissing From Their Facebook

Commentary Tidbits

The Junto: Godly Heritage and Plantation Chic: The Case of Vision Forum

Gawker: Village Idiot Kirk Cameron Wants Women to Know Their Place in the Home 

Alternet: Welcome to the Big Business of Christian Purity 

Religion Dispatches: Feeding the Hungry vs. Antigay Activism: A Double Standard for Religious Freedom?

Human Rights Campaign: 10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family

Spiritual Sounding Board: Fear within the Homeschool Movement Interferes with Sex Abuse Victims Getting Adequate Help and Justice for Perpetrators

Mother Jones: This Anti-Gay-Marriage Group Is Really Excited That It Just Helped Elect Pro-Gay-Marriage Candidates

The Advocate: Why Won't U.S. Catholic Bishops Listen to Gay Laypeople?

Raw Story: Kirk Cameron: Don’t drink the pagan ‘Kool-Aid’ about Christmas, historians ‘don’t know this stuff’

Slate: Russia Gets Religion: Is Vladimir Putin trying to build a new Orthodox empire?

The World According to Homophobes

The film clip above contains graphic language. NSFW!

Filmmaker Emmanuelle Schick Garcia is exploring the roots of global homophobia in a new documentary, The World According to Homophobes. The film provides a disturbing look into homophobes' fixation on same-sex acts, gender roles, and sexual shame, drawing from footage filmed in four countries. "Why are homophobes equally fascinated and repulsed by homosexual sex acts?", Schick Garcia asks at her Indiegogo page.
"As the clip above shows, homophobes have a some "interesting" views on homosexual sex. In fact, for homophobes, the issue of homosexuality seems to trigger discussion of genitals, sex (especially anal sex) and indignation that homosexuals are not ashamed of their sexuality.

Even people that could be deemed intelligent, seem to be very immature and uncomfortable when discussing sex, sexuality and the body ...

After observing the marriage equality debates in France I was struck by one important difference between the opposing sides. While homosexuals were talking about love and equal rights for their unions and families, homophobes ranted about bestiality, pedophilia, polygamy and sex. Homosexuals were characterised as immature, suffering from narcissism (because they fell in love with their own sex) and being too sex crazy to ever be a responsible spouse or parent. This made me wonder, in the eyes of homophobes, did homosexuals represent sexual liberation and freedom? Were homophobes envious of the perceived sexual freedoms of homosexuals?

With this film, we hope to spark an intelligent debate about the origins of homophobic cultures and shame, in the hopes that homophobes will turn their judgements inward, finally seeing their homophobia as something that has less to do with homosexuals and more to do with their own relationship to sex and the body."
To learn more about The World According to Homophobes, visit the film's Facebook page. (Hat tip to Huffington Post.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Gospel, Homosexuality, & the Future of Marriage Conference: Mohler on "Moral Revolution"

To read about Rosaria Butterfield's talk at "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" conference, click here. To read about Denny Burk's talk, click here.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosted a national conference entitled "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" in Nashville, TN on October 27-29. The conference focused on issues surrounding sexuality, marriage, and the LGBTQ community, as demonstrated by its workshop offerings. The ERLC website offered a glimpse at the conference's conversation on America's "moral revolution surrounding homosexuality".
"Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America? While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman. The gospel announces that the story of Jesus is greater than the sum total of our sexual desires."
Videos of the conference are available at the ERLC website, and I listened to several talks in order to hear what messages were being shares at the gathering. My first selection was a talk entitled "Aftermath: Ministering In A Post-Marriage Culture", in which Albert Mohler discusses how evangelicals are to respond to changing societal attitudes on LGBTQ persons.

Mohler cast advances in LGBTQ rights as a "moral revolution" in which what was once condemned and what was once celebrated have swapped places. At the 4:27 mark, he cites Theo Hobson while discussing how U.S. culture has changed. The implication, it seems, is that LGBTQ status was once condemned but is now "celebrated", and that conservative Christians who refuse to celebrate their LGBTQ neighbors are now condemned, to their chagrin.
"Theo Hobson says that moral revolution is different than a moral shift or a moral change because it does change everything in the culture. The culture becomes completely realigned on the other side, and he says in order for this to happen, three things have to take place ... The first thing that has to take place for a moral revolution, a massive U-turn in the culture is that what was condemned has to be celebrated ... Something that was nearly universally condemned is now nearly universally celebrated. It's normalized ...

That's just the first of three necessary dimensions of the moral revolution. The second comes when that which was celebrated is condemned ... You think about the definition of marriage, and you think about the moral response to same-sex relationships and same-sex acts, when you think about it in the context of the sexual revolution in general, it's not just that what was condemned is celebrated, but that which was celebrated is now condemned. And so, in much of our society today, the sin is not certainly homosexuality, but what is simply dismissed as homophobia ...

Hobson says there's been a third dimension that becomes necessary, and that is ... thirdly, those who refuse to celebrate are condemned. And that's where we are, and we sense that, and Gospel-minded Christians who are seeking to serve under the lordship of Christ and under the authority of scripture are wondering, how in the world did this happen?"
I found this interpretation of history unsatisfying, because it assumes that our society is monolithic in its views. Condemned by whom? Celebrated by whom? Mohler's comment about "what is simply dismissed as homophobia" also troubled me, as it suggested that he did not take homophobia seriously. Anti-gay bigotry is very real, as demonstrated by the condemnation, discrimination, and violence that LGBTQ people still endure.

Nevertheless, Mohler is not alone in his bewilderment at losing the culture war. Like other fundamentalist Christians, he realizes that not all Americans share his views, and struggles to understand what the next step is.

Mohler's attitude toward transgender persons was not reassuring either. At the 9:27 mark, he pointed out that gender identity issues have triggered as many social upheavals as sexual orientation. Mohler suggested that transgender persons spring from a post-Fall world in which "confusion" and "rebellion" reign.
"In the transsexual, transgender revolution, the revolt against the fixity of gender, that we're also looking at a testimony to what happens in a Genesis 3 world east of Eden. When we're now entering a level of confusion that Biblically would be defined as a form of rebellion that at the level of identity should leave us very humbled by what this tells us about humanity at large."
Mohler quoted from Romans 1 (which condemns same-sex intimacy as shameful, among other sins), using it to launch a discussion about the righteousness of God as revealed in scripture. Despite God's truth, all humans still suppress truth and succumb to confusion, he argued, and that Romans 1 is an indictment of all sinful humans, not just those who engage in same-sex behavior. Mohler disagreed with preachers who claimed that America's immorality would cause God to give up the nation to sin, arguing that humans have already been given over to sin since the Fall at the 19:19 mark.
"Here's a real problem again with evangelical preaching. A lot of evangelical preachers will preach a text like [Romans 1] and they'll say, 'America, you better wake up because otherwise, God will give us over. If America doesn't turn from its wicked ways, and if America doesn't get itself right and in accordance with the law of God, then God's going to give us over just like he gave over so many empires and civilizations and nations before.' It's too late! We were given over in Genesis 3. This is not something that just might happen. This is something that just did happen with Adam and Eve, our first mother and father."
As I listened to Mohler, his interpretation of Romans 1 sounded like an elaborate way of saying "Gays are sinners, but then again, we're all sinners." He failed to realize that casting sexual orientation and same-sex intimacy as sinful are still homophobic, and that such attitudes are still destructive to LGBTQ people. Whether or not we're all sinners, sexual orientation and gender identity should not be cast as something negative.

At the 26:36 mark, Mohler discussed 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, arguing that Christians should not shun "sexually immoral people" and questioning whether that would even be feasible in our society. Instead, Christians should be a "gospel people" to "sinners of every single variety".
"Paul says in [1 Corinthians] chapter 5 they were not even to have fellowship -- he says, 'I wrote to you in my letter' --that's the one we don't have, one of the two we don't have -- he says, 'I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people'. I was taught that as a boy in Sunday school and church. We're not to associate with sexually immoral people. No one ever got to the next part of that verse. In the text in chapter 5 he says in verse 10, 'not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters, then you need to go out of the world'. I think the evangelical church I knew as a boy was fairly happy with that, with being out of the world, if that meant not having to deal with this. 

We're not living in a situation in which that is possible. We're not living in a situation in which that can correspond in any way to gospel faithfulness. The clear distinction here between the church and the world is made abundantly clear by Paul. We're not to associate with sexually immoral people inside the church, but in the world, we're to be a gospel people, and that means we're in contact with sinners of every single variety."
Even though Mohler did not seem to accept same-sex intimacy and transgender status, he claimed that he was evolving on issues of sexuality. At the 29:23 mark, he repented of his prior anti-gay statements and admitted that "human sexual affective profiles" are more complex than he thought.
"One of the things we should not be embarrassed to say is that we are learning. One of the embarrassments that I have to bear is that I have written on some of these issues now for nearly thirty years, and at a couple of points, I have to say I got that wrong, and we've got to go back and correct it, correct it by scripture. Now early in this controversy, I felt it quite necessary in order to make clear the gospel, to deny anything like a sexual orientation. Speaking at an event for the National Association of Evangelicals, twenty-something years ago, I made that point. I repent of that. I believe that a Biblical, theological understanding, a robust Biblical theology would point to us that human sexual affective profiles, who we are sexually, is far more deeply rooted than just the will, if that were so easy. But Genesis 3 explains that, helps us to understand that this complex of same-sex challenges coming to us is something that's deeply rooted in the Biblical story itself, and something we need to take with far greater seriousness than we've taken in the past."
His repentance notwithstanding, it soon became clear that Mohler was still clinging to a right-wing understanding of sex, relationships, and reproduction. At the 31:48 mark, he claimed that divorce, cohabitation, and contraception have contributed far more to the alleged "subversion of marriage" than same-sex marriage.
"We come to understand that rupture in the universe, that rip in creation of human sin and sexual sin in particular, we come to understand that now we are seeing the flowering of virtually all this simultaneously. We need to admit it didn't start with same-sex marriage. We need to admit it didn't start with same-sex relationships. It didn't start with those who are advocates for normalization of homosexuality in various forms. It didn't start with the transgender movement. It started with heterosexual sin. It started with the heterosexual subversion of marriage ... 

If you were to rewind history to the beginning of the 20th century, not one Christian denomination of any sort had anything but absolute theological opposition to contraception, and it was the Anglican church that was the first to break on that in the  early pre-war period between World War I and World War II. And quickly things happened and a lot of it happened without much forethought whatsoever ... 

And then came the divorce revolution. The divorce revolution has done far more harm to marriage than same-sex marriage will ever do. Long before the proponents of same-sex marriage showed up, heterosexuals showed how to destroy marriage by making it a tentative, hypothetical union for so long as it may last, turning it merely into a contract to be treated as any other contract, as a consumer good to be continued so long as it brings both parties mutual benefit. And then cohabitation. I mean, now we're looking at the fact that the census bureau tells us that the first intimate relationship, the first residential relationship for most adults is cohabitation ... The inevitable social pathologies that come from that are just massive."
Americans are increasingly rejecting these rigid beliefs, and as a result, fundamentalist Christianity no longer holds the power over society that it once did. Mohler grieved for this loss of power, complaining that his ilk no longer had the credibility and dominance they once did. At the 38:15 mark, he encouraged listeners to recognize the current state of affairs.
"We are accustomed to ministry from the topside of the culture, not from the underside. We are accustomed to speaking from a position of strength and respect and credibility, and now we're going to be facing the reality that we are already, in much of America, speaking from a position of a loss of credibility, speaking from the underside, speaking from the wrong side of the moral equation ... This is something all of us now have to face, because if we're involved in Christian ministry now, this is what's staring us, right now, in the face, this moral revolution."
For all Mohler's talk about learning, repenting, and living as "gospel people", his beliefs about sexuality remain stagnant. Despite his soft words, he still looked askance at LGBTQ status, divorce, cohabitation, and contraception, much like other Religious Right voices. Indeed, his talk seemed more focused on coping with the growing acceptance of these things than on cultivating a more enlightened understanding of Christian sexuality. Having listened to the first of the ERLC conference talks, I'm not optimistic about what the other talks will offer.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Advocate: Southern Baptist Conference Wrap-Up: Shifting Rhetoric, Maintaining Anti-LGBT Beliefs

Religion Dispatches: LGBT Christians Respond to Southern Baptists’ Call For Kindness, Understanding

Think Progress: How The Southern Baptists Are Still Completely Failing Transgender People

Think Progress: Three Days In Nashville Talking To Southern Baptists About Homosexuality

News Tidbits

New York Times: A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians

Pew Research Center: Religion and Electronic Media

Lancaster Online: Retired Mennonite pastor loses credentials after officiating at his son's same-sex wedding

NBC News: Prominent Preacher Myles Munroe Killed in Small Plane Crash in Bahamas

Pink News: Court smacks down Westboro Baptist church’s bizarre legal challenge

Gay Star News: Petition calls for US college to revoke honorary degree from anti-gay pastor 

Gay Star News: Christian university in Korea: 'No jobs for homosexuals'

Commentary Tidbits

Political Research Associates: From Singapore to Arizona: Right-Wing Groups Invade Classrooms and Curriculum

Diary of an Autodidact: Patriarchy, Christian Reconstructionism, and White Supremacy

Religion News Service: Why Mark Driscoll’s fall and Mars Hill’s breakup issues a warning for megastar pastors

The Atlantic: The Warrior Wives of Evangelical Christianity

Love, Joy, Feminism: What Kirk Cameron Doesn’t Know about Ben and Jessa Duggar

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tweets and Rallies Take a Stand Against I Stand Sunday

As mentioned in a prior post, prominent Religious Right figures gathered in Houston for I Stand Sunday on November 2nd. Fortunately, I Stand Sunday did not go unchallenged by Houston's LGBTQ community.

First, GetEqual organized a press conference in favor of legal protections for Houston's LGBTQ community. On November 1st, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, TX hosted a press conference of faith leaders in favor of LGBTQ rights and the HERO amendment. GetEqual also hosted the Stand for Love event on the evening of November 2nd to counter the homophobic messages of I Stand Sunday.

Second, Montrose Grace Place (an organization housed in Grace Lutheran Church that provides services for homeless LGBTQ youth) hosted Positive Impact Day, where it collected clothing, toiletries, and other donations for homeless clients. The event's Facebook page asserted that "While the HERO opposition is creating noise about taking rights away, we’ll be creating a positive effect on the lives of people in Houston." (Hat tip to Lone Star Q.)

One of the volunteers at Positive Impact Day criticized the victim rhetoric of Houston's anti-LGBTQ pastors, pointing out how homophobic rhetoric is linked to LGBTQ homelessness. "These five pastors have done a great job of portraying themselves as victims," Kristen Capps told the Houston Chronicle. "The type of rhetoric that is going to be heard at this event tonight is what creates the need for this."

Finally, supporters of LGBTQ equality condemned I Stand Sunday on Twitter using the hashtag #IStandSunday. Below is a small sample of tweets condemning the homophobia and transphobia of I Stand Sunday.

Religious Right Persecution Complex on Display at I Stand Sunday

Houston's Ordinance No. 2014-530, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), prohibits employment, housing, and services discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories. Anti-LGBTQ activists blasted the ordinance, smearing HERO as an alleged threat to religious liberty.

According to Religion News Service, Houston Mayor Annise Parker was a strong supporter of the HERO ordinance. This October, opponents of HERO sued Mayor Parker, seeking an injunction to suspect the ordinance and place a repeal on the November ballot, reports Lone Star Q. After the suit launched Houston city attorneys issues subpoenas to five pastors seeking all speeches and sermons related to HERO, LGBTQ issues, or Mayor Parker. Mayor Parker later withdrew the subpoenas, reports Religion News Service.

The Religious Right used the withdrawn subpoenas and the HERO ordinance as a rallying cry, culminating in an event devoted to blasting LGBTQ equality and lamenting the supposed persecution of Christians. I Stand Sunday took place on November 2nd, 2014 at Grace Church in Houston, TX. The gathering was sponsored by Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Radio, and other Religious Right groups. I watched a video recording of the event and found it brimming with the Religious Right's usual persecution rhetoric and unease with LGBTQ equality.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins opened the event by praising the subpoenaed Houston pastors. "If the pastors would not stand, we have no one to stand with. Thank you, pastors, for standing for God's truth," Perkins said at the start of the event. "I believe this is a night, Nov 2nd 2014, that we will remember until the Lord returns," he told the audience.

After Rick Santorum spoke in a pre-recorded plug for his new film One Generation Away, seven Houston pastors at the center of the subpoena controversy spoke on stage. Pastor after pastor depicted the withdrawn subpoenas as a heinous attack on religious freedom and freedom of speech. First, Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church, described the subpoena controversy as the means by which the HERO ordinance became a national "firestorm" at the 34:40 mark.
"This is what happens when we stand together, right here. We've been in this battle regarding this ordinance now for many months, but when the mayor decided to send subpoenas to all of us, it seemed like it was the match that was the ignition needed to raise a firestorm all over the nation."
Hernan Castaño, pastor of Iglesia Rios De Aceite, cited his heritage while condemning the subpoenas at the 37:16 mark.
"As a Hispanic American, as a pastor of this city, as the son of parents that came from South America with a dream to live in the nation of the free and the nation of the brave, I stand here today with you, as you stand with me, to continue living that dream. The dream that every vote counts, the dream that no signature will be ignored, the dream that every voice will be heard. I stand here today with you that I may speak, preach, and teach on the issues that deal with society, the issues that the Bible speaks about, and be not afraid to be condemned, to be subpoenaed, or to be intimidated by attacks."
Magda Hermida, founder of Magda Hermida Ministries, likened the subpoenas to oppression in communist Cuba at the 39:26 mark.
"My husband and I left Castro's communist Cuba to seek freedom in the United States, and thank God, we found it here, and we have been blessed by it for almost fifty years. We used to live in Cuba through a police state in which  our possessions, our speech, our faith were monitored closely by the government, with the fear of punishment if we said something or did something those in power didn't like. We never thought we would see the happening that is now in this country, here in Houston, in our beloved America, but it is here, and it is now. This mayor wants to use her power to see the sermons of our pastors and use them against us. The police state this creates, it is saying that my husband and I are [inaudible] in Cuba."
As if the Cuba hyperbole wasn't outlandish enough, a video presentation used a Nazi Germany hyperbole to convince listeners that American religious liberty was under threat. In a short video entitled "I Stand Sunday: Learn from History", Mike Huckabee and Eric Metaxas discussed Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his resistance to Nazism. As images of Nazi Germany flashes across the screen, Metaxas compared Nazism's threat to the church to the alleged threat that "big government" poses to religious freedom today. At the 1:09:19 mark, he had this to say.
"[Bonhoeffer] knows that its possible to wake up the German church, and he does everything he can, but they don't wake up. Bonhoeffer saw that they had lost. The church was unwilling to take a stand, and at some point, the battle was over. In Germany in the thirties, you had the different sides, different parts of the church unwilling to link arms in a sense, and in retrospect, you think, 'oh my goodness, imagine not linking arms against Adolf Hitler'. Here you have such a clear enemy of the church. Now, many of them were ignorant. They did not understand what an enemy he was of the church, but Bonhoeffer was trying to wake them up and say that, 'listen, we are all united in this. We all need to link arms and fight as one and hold this line or Germany and the German church will die'. Here's a picture of religious liberty under siege, and Bonhoeffer, for whatever reason, sort of like a prophet, was the only one to really see this with clarity ... The parallel today is simply that you have a government estate which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful and is beginning to push against the church. There's a window of opportunity where we can fight. If we don't wake up and fight before then, we won't be able to fight. That's just what happened in Germany, and that's the urgency we have in America now."
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee painted an ominous picture of alleged religious freedom and Christian passivity. At the 1:14:16 mark, Huckabee warned Christians that they already have a stake in abortion and alleged threats to religious freedom.
"When the government comes to your pastor and says cough up all of the sermons, sermon notes, and the correspondence that the pastor has had with his own parishioners, you are already involved. When they come to your church and begin to approve or disapprove what is said from your pulpit, my dear friend, you are involved. When 55 million babies in this nation have been murdered in their mothers' womb since 1973 that would have been a workforce, a prayer force, you already are involved."
Huckabee urged the audience to vote, arguing that voting was part of their Christian duty at the 1:15:01.
"We cannot blame the people who don't love God. We'd better look inwardly and say it's because we've told our people that they can effectively be wonderful Christians, just going to church and reading their Bibles and praying, and voting wasn't that important. Now we're beginning to reap what we have sown, and it is time we plant some new seeds of citizenship in the ground of the United States of America, and become involved, be the salt and be the light."

Huckabee then asked audience members to hold up their smartphones with photos of any loved one whom they would die for. "If you would die for the image on that screen, could you not at least vote so that they would not live in an America where they would be told they could not pray and preach and worship and believe as their conscience would tell them to do?" Huckabee asked, and the audience burst into applause.

The gathering not only depicted religious liberty as under attack, but mocked LGBTQ rights. For example, Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom,  painted LGBTQ equality as an affront to religious liberty, insisting at the 1:37:58 mark that "these subpoenas, though, are one front in a rapidly developing conflict, and the philosophy underlying this conflict is that sexual liberty trumps everything, including religious liberty." He called the Houston subpoenas "an unprecedented attack on religious liberty".
Phil Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty, implied that the HERO amendment would lead to men in women's restrooms by making a transphobic joke that he would never enter the ladies room. At the 1:45:24, he said this.
"For all you ladies in Texas, trust me when I tell you this. When you're seated in your restroom, putting on your Mabeline, when I need to take a leak, I'm not going there."
As a side note, Robertson lamented the absence of Christianity in America's political discourse at the 1:46:45 mark.
"The reason the political pundits argue ad hominem, ad infinitum -- the reason no one ever changes their mind on television, night after night after night after night --they call each other left, right, liberal, right-wing, left-wing -- but there's never any gospel there, ever. No talk about sin. No talk about repentance. None. No talk about Jesus the son of God, nothing! And we wonder why we wound up like we are."
David and Jason Benham, sons of anti-abortion activist Flip Benham, were also on hand at I Stand Sunday. The Benham brothers talked about the HGTV show they lost due to David's homophobic rhetoric, as well as the "firestorm" that erupted over Phil Robertson's interview with GQ Magazine. (As discussed in a prior post, Phil Robertson made homophobic comments in a 2013 interview with GQ Magazine's Drew Magary.) The Benham brothers grieved that they did not stand up for Robertson out of fear of losing their HGTV show, which they lost anyway. The fact that Robertson made troubling comments about gays, African Americans, and non-Christians did not seem to perturb the two men.

At the 2:04:39 mark, David Benham made a vague statement about resisting the "prevailing worldview" that is seeping into churches. Given the context of his speech, I can't help but wonder if the "worldview" he was referring to was acceptance of LGBTQ people.
"We have lost the meaning of resistance, Godly resistance, in our churches today. We have replaced it with relevance. When a prevailing worldview comes to the church, it is up to us to restate, reaffirm and reapply Biblical truth. It is not up to us to simply reconcile the scripture to the prevailing worldview so that we might be more relevant."

The more of I Stand Sunday I watched, the more I realized that the gathering wasn't really about subpoenas, but about reinforcing Religious Right ideology before the November 4th elections. Speakers told listeners that they were on the side of God, that challenges to their beliefs constituted "persecution", and that LGBTQ advances were a threat to their rights. Hyperbolic rhetoric comparing the U.S. to communist Cuba and Nazi Germany created a siege mentality, instilling listeners with a sense of moral urgency. Listeners were urged to vote for the sake of their future. The problem is, none of this rhetoric was grounded in reality.

No one is taking Christians' freedom of religion away. No one is silencing or oppressing Christian religious leaders. No one is hurling Christians out of the public square. Advances in LGBTQ rights are about equality and fairness, not stifling religious freedom. The rhetoric of I Stand Sunday, no matter how passionate, doesn't change these facts.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Think Progress: Thousands Rally Against LGBT Rights In Houston

GLAAD: LGBT advocates tell the truth about Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance on #IStandSunday

Right Wing Watch: Eric Metaxas Is Not At All Being 'Hyperbolic' When He Warns That America Is At Risk Of Turning Into Nazi Germany