Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Commentary Tidbits

The Sacramento Bee: Using schoolkids to promote religion is a shameless ploy

Spiritual Politics: Why Arab states are banning Ridley Scott’s Exodus

On Faith: 10 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Religion 

The Inquisitr: Michelle Duggar’s Big Secret? Anti-LGBT Reality Star Has Openly Gay Sister

Friendly Atheist: How Christians Reacted After Ex-Pastor Ryan Bell All But Confirmed He’s an Atheist

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: World Of Trouble: A U.S.-Based Movement Seeks To Forge A Global Alliance For Faith, Family, And Fundamentalism

Warren Throckmorton: The Title of Mark Driscoll’s New Non-Profit is Trademarked by Two Other Organizations

The New Civil Rights Movement: 17 Year Old Transgender Teen Leaves Suicide Note Blaming Her Christian Parents 

News Tidbits

Huffington Post: Mormon Allies Promise LGBT Christians: You Can Sit With Me At Church

Washington Post: After living without God for a year, former pastor Ryan Bell no longer believes

LGBTQ Nation: Transgender teen struck and killed on Ohio interstate in apparent suicide

Pink News: UK Catholic Bishop: Marriage is an ‘unbreakable union of man and woman’ 

The Guardian: Ireland's lack of action on blasphemy law disappoints atheists and secularists

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Republic of Gilead's 2014 Retrospective

As 2014 draws to a close, let's look back on Religious Right happenings this year.

  • Intense events in Ferguson, Missouri were met with a spectrum of responses from the Religious Right, some compassionate, others contemptuous.

  • Earlier this month, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, detailing the CIA's use of torture against detainees. Sadly, many right-wing observers sneered at the report.

  • Two prominent leaders in the Christian Patriarchy and homeschooling movements -- Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips -- came under fire after women accused them of sexually abusive behavior.

  • World Vision, one of the largest Christian charities in the U.S. announced that it would employ Christians in same-sex marriages in March. Following outrage from the Religious Right, it reversed its decision shortly thereafter.

  • GOD TV, a Christian network specializing in New Apostolic Reformation preachers and events, experienced a major upheaval when CEO and co-founder Rory Alec stepped down. His wife and co-founder Wendy Alec later shared details of his resignation and the disintegration of their marriage.

  • In Missouri, Jackson County prosecutors dropped murder charges against Micah Moore, who had confessed to killing his friend Bethany Deaton. Moore, Deaton, and her husband had close ties to the International House of Prayer (IHOP), which performed damage control after the murder. Moore's attorneys submitted a motion claiming that Moore's statements about Bethany Deaton's murder were not corroborated by evidence, and that his "confession" came after a chaotic IHOP prayer session and exorcism.

  • The Values Voters Summit, an annual gathering of conservative politicians and Religious Right figures, convened in Washington D.C. this fall. The usual narrow-minded wingnuttery was on display.

  • The World Congress of Families received more international criticism for its retrograde stance on reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. The WCF coped with logistical headaches and protesters at its conference in Melbourne, Australia this summer. The organization also received scathing criticism for its ties with Russia, where WCF staff attended the "Large Families: The Future of Humanity" conference alongside international Religious Right figures.

  • The Southern Baptist Convention has kept itself busy, hosting conferences on sexuality in April and October. The content of those conferences, sadly, failed to truly expand the faith conversation surrounding sexuality.

  • The Vatican came under fire in 2014 for its response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. In January, Vatican representatives appeared before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, where a U.N. panel grilled them on the Vatican's failings. The committee later released a report criticizing the Vatican for failing to adequately respond to the abuse crisis. Of course, none of this has stopped the Vatican from seeing itself as a moral authority on matters of sexuality, as the Humanum conference demonstrated.

  • 2014 was a taxing time for the African LGBTQ community. Several African leaders passed draconian anti-gay legislation, echoing the sentiments of their American counterparts. In January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law. After waffling for a time on Uganda's anti-gay bill, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law in February. (Uganda's Constitutional Court struck down the law in August.) Homophobia continues to fester in Kenya. The role of the American Religious Right in encouraging homophobia in Africa continues to enrage LGBTQ rights activists.

I wish everyone a safe and happy New Year. Here's to blogging on even more Religious Right stories in 2015.

Don't Be Sheepish! Swing by Sheep Dip!

Sheep Dip sent intrepid sheep journalist Ramm Stein to Vatican City to report on the Global Gathering of Ironic Mansplaining. Check it out!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Humanum: Pope Francis on Marriage and Family

To read an introduction to the Humanum conference, click here. To read about Russell Moore's talk, click here. To read about Rick Warren's talk, click here. To read about Theresa Okafor's commentary, click here.

Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman conference convened in Vatican City on November 17-19. Sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the conference began with an address from Pope Francis on the importance of marriage and family.

The media has devoted much attention to Pope Francis' reformist leanings, the most recent of which was a scathing Christmas address to the Curia. To be fair, Pope Francis has carried out financial reforms in a church renown for corruption, which have included appointing a new president for the Vatican Bank and replacing the board of Vatican City's Financial Information Authority.

The Pope's sensitive comments about gays have given observers hope that the Catholic Church is evolving on LGBTQ issues. In 2013, Pope Francis shocked the world when he told the media, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?". Earlier this month, Pope Francis spoke about how the church in Buenos Aires helped parents support their gay and lesbian children, the Independent reports. Also, Pope Francis recently demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal anti-gay Vatican figure, according to MSNBC.

However, Pope Francis' Humanum address suggests that little has changed in terms of the Vatican's positions on LGBTQ issues, marriage, and family. For all his inclusive-sounding sound bites, Pope Francis endorses a heteronormative vision of marriage with no room for same-sex couples.

The Catholic Herald published a transcript of Pope Francis' opening address to Humanum. Pope Francis waxed poetic about "the complementarity of man and woman" as the basis for moral living.
"It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions."
Pope Francis quickly explained that "complementarity" did not refer to rigid roles, as American complementarians have understood the term. This puzzled me, as "complementarity" implies that men and women do fit into essential, corresponding roles across cultures. Where does individuality fit here, amidst these gender roles? Where do LGBTQ people, asexuals, singles, and celibates fit into this paradigm?
"When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma."
The tone of the address quickly took on a right-wing flavor. Pope Francis lamented that marriage and the family are allegedly in a state of "crisis", with more and more people choosing not to marry.
"We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable."
More and more, the address resembled the exhortations of American right-wing figures. The Pope associated the alleged decline of marriage with poverty, and that children have a right to both a father and a mother. (Does any of this sound familiar?)
"Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis ... The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity."
The haunting similarities continued. Near the end of his address, Pope Francis claimed that heterosexual marriage was an "anthropological fact", and that believers must not be "swayed by political notion" regarding the nature of marriage. The fact that marriage (including same-sex marriage) has taken many forms across time and cultures escapes him. Furthermore, same-sex marriage is not about trivial "political notions", but equal rights.
"Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se."
Pope Francis' address falls flat for several reason. First, Pope Francis' glorification of heterosexual marriage ignores the ugly realities of some marriages. While some unions are happy and healthy, others are plagued by domestic abuse, infidelity, and an absence of trust. Marriage can be good for people whose relationships are healthy and whose temperaments are suited for married life, but marriage is not a universal good per se.

Second, Pope Francis speaks highly of heterosexual marriage and families, lauding their contributions to society. Does he have the same appreciation for LGBTQ and non-married persons? LGBTQ people, singles, and divorced people make important contributions to society, and I worry that such rhetoric devalues their contributions in its lionization of married heterosexuals. Similarly, as he glorifies of heterosexual families, does Pope Francis have the same appreciation for single parents, childless couples, and childfree people? Isn't it ironic that a celibate cleric is extolling the virtues of marriage and family?

Pope Francis' address, in essence, was about affirming heterosexual marriage as normative for all people, complete with gender roles ("complementarity") and childbearing. There is little room for individuality in this normative vision. For all of Pope Francis' LGBTQ-friendly sound bites, his Humanum address shows that his worldview is decidedly conservative and heteronormative. As Jeremy Hooper writes at Good As You, "At the end of the day, he is still at "culture war" against my marriage. My home. My family."

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The New Civil Rights Movement: At Marriage Meeting With U.S. Anti-Gay Leaders, Pope Decries 'Spiritual Devastation' Of New Morality

Political Research Associates: A Manhattan Declaration Reunion in Rome: Conservative Catholic-Protestant Alliance Strengthens

Good As You: At least three NOM personalities at Vatican Humanum conference

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Humanum: An Introduction

Now that my flu is slowly subsiding and my blog backlog has been whittled down, I can finally devote attention to last month's Humanum conference! 

To read about Pope Francis' opening address at Humanum, click here. To read about Russell Moore's talk, click here. To read about Rick Warren's talk, click here. To read about Theresa Okafor's commentary, click here.

Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman conference convened in Vatican City on November 17-19. Sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the gathering brought together religious leaders from around the world to discuss marriage and family life, specifically "the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman". Among the speakers at Humanum were Southern Baptist Convention ERLC president Russell Moore, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Several videos glorifying heterosexual marriage and childbearing were screened at Humanum, including Marriage, Culture and Civil Society, The Destiny of Humanity: On the Meaning of Marriage, and The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children. Controversy erupted over whether or not discredited researcher Mark Regnerus helped create these videos.

The conference emphasized the centrality of heterosexual marriage, leaving little room for non-nuclear, non-heterosexual couples and families. The Humanum affirmation exalted heterosexual marriage as the foundation of society, stressing that heterosexual marriage "is not ours to alter".
"For marriage is no mere symbol of achievement, but the very foundation—a base from which to build a family and from there a community. For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter. It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Humanum and its heteronormative messages are only the most recent reminder of how the Catholic Church really sees LGBTQ people. The conference came on the tail of a controversy surrounding a Vatican statement on gays. Back in October, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convened at the Vatican to discuss family issues in the Catholic Church. The Synod released a document stating that gays have "gifts and talents to offer the Christian community", reports Religion News Service. While the document did not condone same-sex marriage, it observed that gays have a place in the faith community. "Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing ... them ... a place of fellowship in our communities?", the document asks.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin called the document "a light in the darkness". TWO Care's Wayne Besen was less enthusiastic, but acknowledged that the document was "an improvement over the status quo". Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, was hopeful that the document would pave the way for future changes in the Catholic Church. "This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long," De Bernardo said in a statement published by Windy City Times. "It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road."

Anti-gay outrage quickly followed. Shortly thereafter, the General Secretariat of the Synod released a declaration calling the statement a mere "working document" in response to observers assigning "a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature". On October 14th, the Synod released a statement stressing that, "In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created." So much for extending a tiny tidbit of kindness to gays! Humanum, with its glorification of heterosexual marriage, reminds us that the Catholic Church has little love for same-sex couples.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Humanum conference tells us several things about the current state of the Catholic Church. First, Humanum elevates heterosexual couples with children to an exalted status. Such families are glorified as the foundation of society and the fertile soil from which the next generation grows. What about the contributions of other people who participate in society? Non-nuclear families, singles, divorced people, LGBTQ persons, and childless and childfree people make contributions to society as well, but their gifts feel downplayed amidst the Humanum rhetoric. Don't get me started on the irony of celibate clergy and monastics defining marriage and family for others!

Second, the presence of American evangelical leaders highlights the continuing relationship between the Catholic Church and conservative Protestants. On issues of reproductive rights, sexuality, and family, right-wing Protestants have long collaborated with conservative Catholics.

Third, for all of Pope Francis' progressive-sounding statements and good PR, his Humanum address reveals his retrograde views on gender, marriage, and family. As I'll discuss in an upcoming post, Pope Francis' rhetoric sounds suspiciously similar to that of anti-LGBTQ activists: men and women as "complementary", the family in "crisis", heterosexual families as an anthropological "fact" and the foundation of society, children's right to a father and mother, etc. The Vatican's attitudes toward sexuality, marriage, and family haven't changed much, if Pope Francis' address is any indication.

For Humanum's participants, are marriage and family institutions, or idols? Can they offer strategies for supporting all families, or are they content to lionize families that fit a certain mold? Is Humanum about fostering healthy marriages and families, or about glorifying a paradigm?

In upcoming posts, I'll discuss the personalities and speeches at Humanum more in depth. To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Wonkette: Vatican Throws Festival Of Homophobia

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

GLAAD: Humanum at the Vatican: Courting inequality at expense of goodwill

News Tidbits

Associated Press: Pope Francis Delivers Blistering Christmas Message To Vatican Curia

Reuters: Financial fraud uncovered at branch of Catholicism’s Franciscan order

MassLive: Springfield official at Hanukkah menorah lighting: 'Jesus is the reason for the season'

Huffington Post: A Special About Guys Who Are Attracted To Men But 'Aren't Gay' Is Coming To TLC

Commentary Tidbits

The Guardian: 'Every illness is a spiritual problem': How evangelical Christian communities see mental health

Homeschoolers Anonymous: The Mental Health Denialism of Voddie Baucham

Slate: Creativity for Creationist

Spiritual Sounding Board: Mark Driscoll’s New Website, New Image, and the Stuff He Forgot to Mention

Warren Throckmorton: Mark Driscoll Launches New Official Website

What Would J.T. Do?: Anti-gay “religious freedom” bill being debated in Indiana

The Advocate: The Religious People Who Give Us Hope for Religion

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Gospel, Homosexuality, & the Future of Marriage Conference: Talking About LGBTQs But Not With Them

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

One of the most striking things about "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" conference this fall was how speakers talked about LGBTQ people instead of with them. Most of the speakers at the conference were heterosexual religious leaders, and several frowned on same-sex marriage, transgender status, and so for.

This is a longstanding trend among the Religious Right, who declare LGBTQ status sinful while rarely inviting LGBTQ people to the conversation -- not so-called "ex-gay" speakers who fight their sexual orientation and frame it as a "struggle", but LGBTQ people who accept their sexual orientation without shame.

At the Southern Baptist Convention's ERLC conference, Christians and the LGBTQ community were understood as two separate categories. The idea that LGBTQ Christians exist and might want to take part in the conversation was not considered, apparently. This occurred to me as I listened to Rosaria Butterfield's conversation with Russell Moore. Butterfield, the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was a former professor at Syracuse University who had been in relationships with women, but is the wife of a pastor and a homeschooling mother.

At the 1:20 mark, Moore asked Butterfield what she thought the Christian community misunderstood about the LGBTQ community. This puzzled me, since it assumed that LGBTQ status and Christian faith were exclusive categories. What about LGBTQ Christians? They have a foot in both communities, so wouldn't they be the best people to ask? I thought.
MOORE: What do evangelical Christians just not get about the LGBT community?

BUTTERFIELD: One of the first things that I firmly believe you don't get is that in this very room and in all of your encounters, you will meet and know and love people whose original sin has left the thumbprint of unwanted homosexual desire. People are not different. Original sin is the great leveling playing field. It has democratized everything, and without meaning to ... you are presuming that without even knowing the people with whom you're speaking that they need to be fixed and fixed up in a specific way. 
At the 3:33 mark, Moore asked Butterfield what she thought the LGBTQ community should know about Christians.
MOORE: What do you think the LGBT community does not understand about evangelical Christians?

BUTTERFIELD: Well, I think it would be impossible for anyone apart from the bounded system of the Christian church to know anything about the means of grace. I think the means of grace are things that we have at our fingertips. It is part of the great spiritual inheritance of being a child of the living God.
There is a reason why openly LGBTQ Christians are not invited to such conversations, why the Religious Right talks about LGBTQ people as that group over there instead of with them. It's easy to objectify a group over there. It's much more difficult to objectify people when you engage with them as people. When LGBTQ people discuss the truths of their lives -- their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and experiences -- it challenges onlookers to accept them as human beings who deserve respect. Condemning a group as sinful, unbiblical, and unhealthy becomes much more difficult when one hears their stories, stories that demand validation.

Where there is ignorance, intolerance thrives. Enlightened people must replace bigotry with knowledge and empathy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

News Tidbits

Merry Christmas! For your listening pleasure, here's "Christmas in the Ashram" by Small Potatoes. Om Noel!

The Telegraph: Creation Museum founder Ken Ham: Christmas Town 'is God’s work against the devil’

The Baton Rouge Advocate: American Family Association defends Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's prayer rally at LSU

On Top Magazine: Anti-Gay Rights Activist Calls 'Ex-Gay' Therapy Bans 'An Assault Against God Almighty'

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News: Two homophobes found not guilty of mischief at college campus

The Advocate: Virginia LGBT Community Responds to 'Ex-Gay' Billboard: 'We Are All Born to Love'

Gay Star News: Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson 'trying to figure out' if being gay is a choice

Raw Story: Indiana church that fired gay choir director closing after attendance withers away

Edge Media Network: Tony Perkins: Gay Rights Will Destroy US Economy

Edge Media Network: Two US. Pastors Share 'Golden Enema' Award in Russia

Commentary Tidbits

Merry Christmas! Enjoy Patton Oswalt's hilarious deconstruction of the "Christmas Shoes" by Christian group NewSong. (Slightly NSFW.)

Warren Throckmorton: Mark Driscoll Launches New Official Website

Washington Post: Why white evangelicals rule the midterms 

Jezebel: Major Anti-Abortion Groups Funded by Crusty Male Billionaire

Human Rights Campaign: 10 Things You Should Know About the Liberty Counsel

Alternet: Do Right-Wing Christians Want People to be Destitute?

Exploring Mormonism: How a coffee shop is like an airline 

Religion Dispatches: 6 Overlooked Takeaways From a Reviewer of Controversial Texas Textbooks

Gay Star News: 10 Christians who proved to be real Christians by supporting gay rights

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: The video Bobby Jindal probably doesn't want you to see before his prayer rally

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from Republic of Gilead!

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

I hoped that my holiday vacation would give me time to catch up on blogging. Unfortunately, I got the flu for Christmas! I'll resume blogging soon once I'm feeling better,  but in the meantime, enjoy some gothic Christmas cheer.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

News Tidbits

New Orleans Times-Picayune: What the Christian group holding Bobby Jindal's prayer rally has said about homosexuality, Eric Garner, and more 

NBC WAVE 3: Ark Park billboards pop up after state pulls plug on tax incentives

The Advocate: Report Debunks Right-Wing Claims of Military Persecution of Christians

The Daily Beast: Beaten By His Church for Being Gay

Pew Research Center: U.S. nuns face shrinking numbers and tensions with the Vatican

New York Times: Vatican Report Cites Achievements and Challenges of U.S. Nuns

Associated Press: 2nd victim added to pope's sex abuse commission

New York Times: Can’t Have Your Cake, Gays Are Told, and a Rights Battle Rises

Washington Post: Some conservatives urging right not to serve gays on religious grounds

Commentary Tidbits

E! Online: Jim Bob Duggar Says Petition to Cancel 19 Kids and Counting Has Only Given His Family's Show "More Exposure"

Slate: Hate on Trial: What the Case Against Scott Lively Really Means

Friendly Atheist: Torture is Okay, Because God Sanctioned Brutality in the Bible, Says Bryan Fischer

Mother Jones: This GOP Lawmaker Wants a Woman to Get Permission From the Father Before Having an Abortion

The Daily Beast: The 26 Next Hobby Lobbys

Think Progress: Virginia Billboard Promoting Ex-Gay Therapy To Remain In Place

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Response Louisiana Comes Under Fire

As discussed in a prior post, the Response Louisiana will take place in Baton Rouge in January 24th. The gathering will take place at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the Louisiana State University campus, a decision that has drawn fire from opponents of the rally.

A project called Organizing Against Hate Groups is speaking out against the figures hosting and attending the Response Louisiana, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. According to their Facebook page, Organizing Against Hate Groups will hold a demonstration outside of the Peter Maravich Assembly Center on January 24th, followed by workshops on social justice and grassroots organizing.

The project counts several regional LGBTQ and women's rights groups among its sponsors, including Feminists in Action, Qroma, the Louisiana LGBTQ Business List, and NOW Shreveport. A statement by Organizing Against Hate Groups criticized Jindal for breaking bread with homophobes and anti-choice activists.
"On January 24th. Governor Jindal plans to take his first steps in running for the presidency by hosting a prayer rally on the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge.

Unfortunately, he has again chosen to ally himself with the radical Christian right, and by this I mean the right-wing of Christians. The people who want to re-criminalize homosexuality and applaud the actions of the Ugandan government which is trying to make homosexuality punishable by death. These are the same people who blame natural disasters on unwed mothers, abortion, and marriage equality.

These are the same people who are fanatical about abortion laws but think that helping poor people when they need help is destroying our country. These are the same people claiming persecution in the US yet support countries like Uganda attempting to make homosexuality punishable by death.

We are protesting this event not because it is a Christian event, we are protesting because this is our campus, and we do not accept their message of hate and exclusion.

We are also hosting break out sessions to help train people on how to be better community organizers in their areas of interest ranging from effective use of social media to engaging in civil disobedience, and more.

These individuals claim to be part of a moral majority, but we know that there is no morality in their words. There is no morality in hate.

LSU has a saying “Love Purple, Live Gold.”

It is our responsibility to Live Gold by taking a stand and saying no more, so come join us on January 24th at 9am."

Louisiana State University Students are also petitioning LSU's administrators, urging them not to host the Response Louisiana on campus. A petition entitled "Ban the American Family Association from rallying on campus at LSU" condemns the American Family Association, one of the sponsors of the rally, as an anti-gay hate group. Inflammatory statements by AFA representatives run contrary to LSU's code of conduct, the petition argues.
"In LSU's own code of conduct it outlines a "commitment to community" that expects that students will:

"hold myself and others to the highest standards of...personal, and social integrity"

"practice justice, equality, and compassion in human relations"

"respect the dignity of all persons and accept individual differences"

If students are held to these standards of basic decency, why do the same rules not apply to visitors to LSU's campus? As a member of the LSU student community, it saddens and offends me that our administration would welcome to campus a recognized hate group whose vile rhetoric targets gay and transgendered people, Muslims, immigrants, and other marginalized groups. Such action undermines the safe, tolerant, respectful atmosphere that LSU seeks to provide for its diverse community. Please help me in petitioning the administration to reconsider letting an unabashedly bigoted group rally on our campus. LSU is better than that."
Another petition reminds LSU administrators of its commitment to equality, alarmed that "the university has agreed to allow Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to host an on-campus, politically-motivated prayer rally in January which distributes materials blaming recent tornadoes and hurricanes on LGBT people." The petition also urges LSU not to host the Response Louisiana, an event that would fly in the face of LSU's non-discrimination policies.

Not everyone in Louisiana is excited about the Response Louisiana's upcoming "revolution of righteousness". As rally organizers champion a right-wing vision for America, opponents continue to remind them that their vision is flawed.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Response Louisiana Scheduled for January 2015

In August 2011, the Response Rally took place in Reliance Stadium in Houston, Texas, which I had the dubious pleasure of live-blogging. The gathering, promoted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was intended as a day of Christian prayer in the midst of economic decline and "moral relativism". Sponsored by the American Family Association and the International House of Prayer, the Response Rally featured a plethora of anti-gay and anti-abortion speakers from the Religious Right, including James and Shirley Dobson, John Hagee, Mike Bickle, Alveda King, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, and Rick Perry himself. Now, Louisiana plans to host its own Response Rally.

The Response Louisiana is scheduled to take place on January 24th, 2015 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. According to the Response website, the gathering will be a time for "humility and repentance" as worshipers ask God to intervene in America's struggles.
"We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially, or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles. The Response: Louisiana is committed to prayer above politics, to seeing the church moved to stand for righteousness, and to pray for God’s mercy for America.

According to the Bible, the answer to a nation in such crisis is to gather in humility and repentance and ask God to intervene. The Response will be another historic gathering of people from across the nation to pray and fast for America."
The front page of the Response website describes just what is wrong with America, according to its organizers.
"America is in the midst of a historic crisis. We are besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. Our nation is faced with fatherless homes, an epidemic of drugs and crime in our inner cities, a saturation of pornography in our homes, abortion, and racism."
Right Wing Watch recently brought attention to a Response Louisiana prayer guide, which gives readers a taste of the rally's right-wing tone. The guide insists that sin has intensified to a level never before seen in America, thanks to abortion, LGBTQ rights, adult entertainment, and "apostasy". I would argue that America was the setting for far more heinous sins in the past, including slavery, conquest, and ethnocide. Do the prayer guide authors really think that LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights are so monstrous as to dwarf these national sins?
"We have watched sin escalate to a proportion the nation has never seen before. We live in the first generation in which the wholesale murder of infants through abortion is not only accepted but protected by law. Homosexuality has been embraced as an alternative lifestyle. Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and Washington, D.C. Pornography is available on-demand through the internet. Biblical signs of apostasy are before our very eyes. While the United States still claims to be a nation “under God” it is obvious that we have greatly strayed from our foundations in Christianity."
A host of New Apostolic Reformation figures are featured in promotional videos for the Response Louisiana, including Jim and Rosemary Garlow, Cindy Jacobs of Generals International, and Jennifer LeClaire of Charisma Magazine (yes, that Jennifer LeClaire) . Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal has also launched a promotional video for the rally, in which he promised a spiritual revival that could put America back on track. "What we really need in these United States is a spiritual revival," he said. "It is time to turn back to God."

As Right Wing Watch has observed, Bobby Jindal has been wooing the Religious Right as of late, possibly in preparation for the 2016 election. Will the Response Louisiana provide him with enough allies on the Religious Right to be a political contender? Or will it fail to provide him with sufficient political momentum, as was the case with Rick Perry after the first Response Rally? Will ties to anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion figures earn him friends among conservatives, or only serve to alienate liberal and moderate voters?

Right-Wing American Figures to Speak at Jamaican Conference

Today, anti-gay figures from the U.S. joined their Jamaican counterparts for a conference in Kingston, Jamaica. The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, the Jamaica Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, and Jamaica CAUSE hosted International Human Rights Conference 2014, with "The Family as a Strategy for Development" as this year's theme. The Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society has advocated in favor of the country's anti-sodomy law and opposes LGBTQ rights, as demonstrated by its media resources.

For those who could afford the $1500 admission fee, or for students who received free admission, the conference offered talks by Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver and Liberty University professor Judith Reisman, among other speakers. A past conference also featured U.K. and U.S. Religious Right speakers such as AFTAH's Peter LaBarbera and Christian Concern's Andrea Minichiello Williams.

Mat Staver, a prominent voice from the American Religious Right, received a dishonorable mention in Human Rights Campaign's Export of Hate report for his international anti-LGBTQ activism. His anti-LGBTQ statements have been extensively cataloged at Right Wing Watch. Staver has made bombastic statements about reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, as well as blasting bans on "conversion therapy" as alleged affronts to religious freedom.

Judith Reisman, a major voice in the anti-Kinsey movement, is the author of several books lambasting Alfred Kinsey and his research into human sexuality, including Sexual Sabotage, Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences, and Stolen Honor, Stolen Innocence. Like Staver, Reisman has promoted homophobia both at home and abroad. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Reisman was tapped earlier this year to serve as an "expert witness" in a Jamaican case challenging the constitutionality of its anti-sodomy statute. She came under fire last year from LGBTQ rights advocates when she was scheduled to speak before Croatian parliament. (Hat tip to Bartholomew's Notes on Religion.)

Jamaica has earned a reputation as a hostile place for the LGBTQ community, where anti-gay legislation, homophobic violence, and homelessness are among the challenges faced by LGBTQ Jamaicans. Unfortunately, the American Religious Right has a history of promoting homophobia in Jamaica, and given their past statements, I worry that Staver and Reisman may do the same.

(Hat tip to Right Wing Watch and Human Rights Campaign.)

News Tidbits

The Guardian: Sex abuse report: Bob Jones University fosters culture of victim-blaming

American Prospect: Report: Bob Jones University Responded to Rape Claims with Woeful Ignorance of the Law, Often Blaming Victims 

Greenville Online: Solicitor Walt Wilkins will launch investigation into BJU abuse response

Huffington Post: Bill Nye: Creationism Is 'Raising A Generation Of Young People Who Can't Think'

Raw Story: Arizona pastor tricks Holocaust survivor into appearing in his anti-Semitic film

CBS News: Bill would let Michigan doctors, EMTs refuse to treat gay patients

Texas Observer: ‘License to Discriminate’ Bills Pile Up in Texas Legislature

NBC 12: Openly-gay model in 'Nobody is born gay' billboard reacts

Commentary Tidbits

Glory to God for All Things: Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers

Mediaite: Rick Santorum Announced He’s Running for President and Nobody Noticed

Rosa Rubicondior: Pope Francis Just Can't Hide His Misogyny

Huffington Post: Christians Do Not Need an Olive Branch From the LGBTQ Community

Religion News Service: Evangelicals respond to torture, Mormons not so much

Religion News Service: Is there a right way to respond to extreme homophobia?

Ark Encounter Denied Roughly $18 Million in Tax Incentives

Answers in Genesis, the organization behind the infamous Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, plans to open a Noah's Ark theme park. Ark Encounter, scheduled to open in Williamstown, Kentucky in summer 2016, will include a full-scale replica of Noah's ark as described in Genesis 6. However, when an Ark Encounter job posting required applicants to provide a "salvation testimony" and affirm a statement of faith, Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged Kentucky's Tourism Development Finance Authority to deny state tax subsidies to the project.

The Tourism Authority agreed. Earlier this week, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the theme part planned will not receive roughly $18 million in state tax incentives. Ark Encounter was denied the tax incentives over concerns that awarding such incentives would violate church-state separation, the article explains. Americans United applauded the decision.

According to the Washington Post, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet sent a letter to Answers in Genesis arguing that the Noah's Ark park resembled a ministry rather than a tourist attraction, and that its hiring practices failed to meet state requirements for tax incentives.

Answers in Genesis may challenge the decision in court, according to the Associated Press. In a video statement, Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham offered his side of the issue, urging Christian groups to take note of Kentucky's decision. (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
"This employment issue is a matter of great importance not only to AIG, but to every Christian organization, to every church that doesn't want to give in to demands from the government to hire non-Christians. In fact, every religious organization should be worried at what the state of Kentucky is trying to do."
What is so confusing about this? Answers in Genesis is a religious ministry. Ark Encounter promotes religion -- in this case, a literal interpretation of the Great Flood story -- and hires only employees who embrace a particular interpretation of Christianity. If Kentucky were to offer tax incentives to Ark Encounter, it would raise problems for church-state separation. Whether Answers in Genesis takes this decision lying down remains to be seen.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Think Progress: Noah’s Ark Loses $18 Million In Tax Breaks

Danthropology: Ken Ham continues to lie about the Ark Encounters employment discrimination

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: Ky. Officials Reject ‘Ark Park’s’ Request For $18 Million Tax Rebate

Friday, December 12, 2014

News Tidbits

New York Times: Bob Jones University Faulted Over Treatment of Sex Abuse Victims

USA Today: Kentucky rejects $18M in tax incentives for Noah's Ark park

Associated Press: Noah's Ark Builders May Fight Kentucky Tax Break Rejection

Q Notes: Anti-gay N.C. church members indicted on felony kidnapping, assault against gay man

Windy City Times: Agenda for Synod on Family previewed, DignityUSA responds

LGBTQ Nation: Lawmaker responds to anti-gay billboard with bill to ban ‘ex-gay’ therapy for minors

Commentary Tidbits

Slate: Kentucky Revokes Tax Exemptions for Biblical Ark Park, Citing Religious Discrimination

Political Research Associates: Gimme that Old Time Revisionism: Southern Baptists Seek to Redefine Separation of Church and State

Slaktivist: Ignorant Christians need to STFU about ‘the poor you will always have with you’ until they can be bothered to understand what Jesus actually said

Wonkette: Family Research Council Will Fix Constitutional Flaw That Allows Trans Americans Too Much Freedom

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

More Right-Wing Voices Respond to Torture Report

As discussed in an earlier post,  the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just released its Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, a report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees. Right-wing commentators continue to deride the report, defending detainee mistreatment as justified by law and ignoring the moral implications of torture.

Some figures dismissed the report even before its release. According to a December 8th article in the New York Times, former vice president Dick Cheney admitted that he had not read the Senate committee report, but that his support of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program remained solid. "What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it," he told the New York Times. "I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program." Cheney called the report's claim that the CIA misled the White House "a crock", insisting that the CIA "ought to be decorated, not criticized."

Even after the report's release, some right-wing figures defended CIA brutality. In an interview with CNN today, former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Illinois) defended CIA torture as a necessary tool in the fight against extremism. He pointed out that extremist groups do not honor the Geneva Convention, which apparently gives the U.S. license to ignore the Geneva Convention in his eyes. (Hat tip to Raw Story.)
"Everybody is all abuzz that we had to do some pretty tough things to fight an evil enemy. I'm glad they put the report out. I'm glad, though, because I I don't think we should be ashamed of what we put out. Again, we're fighting an evil enemy. There are times when we need to get our hands dirty when we fight than enemy ... I don't have a problem with what's released. I think we can never ever forget who we're dealing with. I mean, we're dealing with ISIS, Al-Qaeda. They don't abide by the Geneva Convention. They can't even spell the Geneva Convention. This is a different kind of war."
When Carol Costello confronted him about the disturbing treatment of detainees detailed in the report, he defended such inhumane treatment as a valid way to defeat "animals".
COSTELLO: Is an American hero someone who is instructed by our government to conduct rectal force-feedings on a prisoner, or chain someone naked to a concrete floor until he dies, or nearly drown them two to three times a day? Is that the definition of an American hero?

WALSH: It may, Carol, be part of the job description. Our men and women, and again, the CIA, they've been on the ground--

COSTELLO: Really!?

WALSH: Absolutely. Look, we forget as Americans who we're dealing with. Got to be frank. We're dealing with animals. We're dealing with groups of people who behead, blow up, exterminate people--

COSTELLO: So we too should be animals?

WALSH: The way you defeat an animal, Carol, often times, is to act like one.
The American Family Association's Sandy Rios commented on the CIA's "so-called torture" during the December 9th edition of Sandy Rios in the Morning. Rios was disgusted at the release of the report, not at the mistreatment of detainees described therein. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"People are speculating, why in the world now? Why now release this? You're going to hear further in this report that CIA agents who were working during that time are going to be in great danger, plus countries abroad that have cooperated with us where we sent some of the prisoners and interrogated them, we're revealing all of it, just laying it all bare today, today, just has to be done today! In the midst of the fact that we still have hostages held by ISIS, we have men and women fighting overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we must, because we have this high moral ground, 'societal and constitutional values' says Diane Feinstein ... When I see the Islamists beheading, cruelly torturing and beheading Americans, I’m not too concerned about waterboarding them. Really, I'm not ... That’s not like we beheaded them to see what it felt like."
During the December 9th edition of Focal Point, American Family Association's Bryan Fischer insisted that "there was nothing illegal about the interrogation techniques that were used by CIA operatives." He insisted that mistreatment of detainees "worked", arguing that "waterboarding is not torture". Are you sure about that, Bryan?

"Do not forget that these detainees have no constitutional rights, because they're not American citizens; they have absolutely no constitutional rights that they can claim, and they have no Geneva Convention rights," Fischer stated. The fact that human beings have fundamental human rights, regardless of nationality or protection under documents, escapes him. Fischer's defense of detainee mistreatment smacks of legalism, in which disturbing behavior is acceptable as long as it conforms to regulations. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

I keep hearing common refrains in these commentaries. Oh, the bad guys did it too. Oh, the rules said it was okay. Don't you understand that these are not solid arguments for torture? Even as children we learn than two wrongs don't make a right, that an opponent's unethical actions do not justify our unethical actions. To boot, appeals to authority do not erase the moral stain of torture. Torture is immoral, whether or not it is permitted by the regulations of a particular setting.

I'm sick of right-wing voices who see moral decay everywhere except where it festers. If your value system doesn't compel you to reject torture, your value system is broken.

News Tidbits

Wichita Eagle: Kansas religious conservatives want to revive controversial ‘religious freedom’ bill

MSNBC: ‘Religious freedom’ measure moves forward in Michigan

The Guardian: Israel indicts Texas Christian for plot to attack Muslim sites in Jerusalem

Time: Republican Party Leaders Offered Free Trip to Israel Next Year

LGBTQ Nation: ‘Ex-gay’ group erects billboard in Richmond declaring ‘nobody is born gay’
Religion News Service: “I won’t be a weapon anymore,” says former symbol of ex-gay movement

On Top Magazine: Tony Perkins: Gay Marriage Foes On 'Winning Side' Of History

Commentary Tidbits

Infidel753: The Religion of Exclusion

RH Reality Check: Michigan GOP Passes Religious Freedom Bill Legalizing Discrimination

Think Progress: High School Coach Allegedly Kicked 3 Girls Off The Team After They Would Not Say A Mormon Prayer 

Wall of Separation: Movement Seeks To Remove Anti-Atheist Bias From State Constitutions

On Faith: The Five Most Disturbing Things About a Benny Hinn Miracle Service

Salon: Rick Perry: The Bible proves that poverty is inevitable

Human Rights Campaign: Exporters of Hate Visit Jamaica 

What Would JT Do?: The moral hypocrisy of the religious right

Cynthia Jeub: Freeing Self-Deceived Fundamentalists

Salon: The dangerous myth at the heart of conservative ideology

Right-Wing Voices Sneer at Senate Committee Torture Report


This week, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, a harrowing report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees. According to the report, CIA interrogations of detainees were far more vicious than the CIA described to lawmakers, with physical violence, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, rectal rehydration, and threats of violence against loved ones among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on detainees.

The report states the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was not an effective strategy for collecting intelligence. To boot, the CIA's arguments for the use of these techniques rested on incorrect claims regarding their effectiveness. Outside attempts to exert oversight over the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program were stonewalled, the report states, with the CIA impeding White House, Congress, and Office of Inspector General oversight. Not surprisingly, CIA personnel were rarely held accountable for inappropriate activities and violations of CIA policies, the document argues.

Global human rights organizations have expressed outrage at the CIA actions described in the report, urging further investigation of torture. According to the Atlantic, Senator John McCain asserted that the torture described therein "compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights."

Americans from across the political spectrum, including conservatives, have expressed disgust at CIA mistreatment of detainees. For example, Rod Dreher argued that the report "shows our government’s capacity for committing barbaric evil" and mused on what the report says about the U.S.
"This is a matter of deep conscience. What kind of country are we? Is this what America is? Is this what we defend? The worst kind of barbarism? In particular I want to say to my fellow Christian conservatives: think hard about this report, and the idolatrous attitude that so many of us have toward America. We are America’s good servants, but God’s first. When our country has done evil, we must not hesitate to condemn it, and work to reform it. What we must not do is fall victim to an instrumentalist mentality that calls evil acts good because they achieved, or are believed to have achieved, desired results."
Unfortunately, several right-wing voices refuse to take the report seriously or wrestle with the moral implications of torture. In the days before the report's release, Fox News featured several voices defending "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a means by which the CIA allegedly saved American lives. During the December 8th edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Karl Rove claimed that such harsh techniques kept America safe, blasting those behind the report as "desperate" and eager to "smear" the CIA. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
 "We aren't going to convince the hard left, but we do need to remind the American people, the vast majority of whom are not part of the hard left, that these techniques worked in a dark moment for our country to keep our country safe ... People who want to diminish the CIA, regardless of the impact on our allies, regardless of the security of the United States. They've spent $40 million and six years coming to this moment, and they're desperate before they lose control of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to smear the CIA, and shame on them for doing so."
During the December 8th edition of The Five, Eric Bolling applauded the CIA's techniques, insisting that it produced quality intelligence. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"I celebrate what the CIA did in the aftermath of 9/11. Three-thousand people lost their lives downtown. We were angry. America was on our heels. We didn't know what to do, and the CIA came forward, and they aggressively interrogated, legally, aggressively interrogated some bad guys, and they got some intel that led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Why are we apologizing for it? I'm not really sure."
During the December 8th edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity showed little concern over the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture, convinced that it saved Americans. Noticing a pattern? (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"John Kerry asked [Sen. Diane Feinstein] to delay the release of the committee's report on "CIA torture and rendition" during the Bush administration, so we get this on the same day that Obama is releasing how many people from Gitmo? Five people? Six people? So Bush tortured terrorists and Obama releases them ... I don't give a flying rip because I am certain that American lives were saved ... I don't care that we waterboarded Kalid Sheik Mohammed."
We know now that, according to the report, "enhanced interrogation techniques" were not an effective strategy for gathering intelligence. Even before the report's release, their effectiveness in amassing intelligence was debatable, with former intelligence agents admitting doubt about the efficacy of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, etc.

Even after the release of the report, some voices from the right remained unmoved. On the December 9th edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, some commentators were dismissive of the report. Jesse Watters told viewers, "I don't want to know about it; I think people do nasty things in the dark, especially after a terrorist attack." Andrea Tantaros saw no need for transparency at the CIA, defending the CIA's actions as a necessity after 9/11. Americans need not be upset over the torture report, she explained, because such practices have supposedly been stopped. The report's release, in her eyes, was a Democratic distraction. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"Sunlight at the CIA? I'm sorry. That's one place I don't need sunlight. I don't think they need to give me a lot of transparency at the CIA. Look, thousands of Americans were killed after 9/11. The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe. These terror tactics have been stopped because as a country, we decided we are better than this, so we stopped them, which is my point. Then then why are we putting out this memo? ... It's about politics. It's about Democrats being so fundamentally lost as a party, Harris, they have to return to an old playbook, the plays that they ran right when Obama got into office trying to prosecute CIA officials for these terror tactics, and that same playbook that they feel got them the House of Representatives back."
I was appalled by these flippant attitudes toward torture, toward waterboarding, physical abuse, and rectal rehydration, which a senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights called "a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment." In their moral apathy, they disregarded brutal treatment of detainees as somehow justified by September 11th, as if two wrongs could make a right.

We're capable of better moral reasoning than this.

Torture is not only ineffective, but immoral, whether the targets of torture are criminals or one of the 26 detainees who did not meet the standard for detention. A state that tortures is a state that has abandoned its founding principles and any moral high ground. When human dignity is diminished in this way, it allows for many other human rights to be violated, with hideous consequences.

It will take many years and intensive reform before the U.S. can remedy this sin. Until then, we must call for intelligence strategies that actually keep Americans safe, instead of barbarism that fails to keep anyone safe. We must demand transparency from our government. We must demand that those who were responsible for torture be held accountable.

As for the right-wing voices who blast same-sex marriage and contraception coverage as immoral, but sneer at a torture report, your moral compass is broken.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Ben Irwin: If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then I don’t want to be a Christian

Religion Dispatches: Torture Denial: U.S. Flunks the Religious Acid Test

Mother Jones: Here Are Some of the Worst Conservative Reactions to the CIA Torture Report