Monday, January 26, 2015

News Tidbits

Edge Media Network: Possible GOP Candidates Pitch Ideas at Conservative Forum

Raw Story: ‘Our god wins’: Bobby Jindal tells atheists his hate group prayer rally is ‘a time-honored tradition’ 

New York Times: As Vatican Revisits Divorce, Many Catholics Long for Acceptance

Pew Research Center: House Catholics are trending Republican

The Detroit News: West Michigan towns riled by atheist's crusade

The Lynchburg News & Advance: Transgender community rallies against conversion therapy

The Telegraph: Vicar tries to stop Rev Libby Lane being consecrated as Church of England's first female bishop

Commentary Tidbits

Godless in Dixie: Sex and Christianity Make Strange Bedfellows

Freak Out Nation: Unhinged Woman Climbs Onstage At Iowa Freedom Summit, Starts Rambling Incoherently

Al Jazeera America: The culture wars come to Duke

RH Reality Check: ‘Legitimate Rape’ and the March for Life

The Irish Atheist: The Troll from Under the Bridge

Salon: “The world has gone to hell”: A weekend at the Iowa Freedom Summit 

Mother Jones: Despite Legalizing Gay Marriage These States Forbid Teaching About Gay Sex 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bill Jack, Who Demanded Anti-Gay Cake, Is Filling in for Kevin Swanson

As discussed in a prior post, Worldview Academy co-founder Bill Jack has filed a religious discrimination complaint against Azucar Bakery in Denver, Colorado. Jack filed the complaint after bakery owner Marjorie Silva refused to write an anti-gay message on a Bible-shaped cake, according to KDVR Fox 31.

I recently learned that Bill Jack not only promotes his right-wing worldview at Christian homeschool events, but that he's an interim co-host on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision show. Bill Jack and Steve Vaughan have been co-hosting Generations with Vision during Kevin Swanson's sabbatical, showing themselves to be every bit as right-wing as Swanson. I've provided a few Generations with Vision quotes from Bill Jack to paint a portrait of the man behind the anti-gay cake controversy.

First, in a January 14th show entitled "Cannibalism!", Jack briefly discussed the book Savage Harvest by Deckle Edge, which discusses the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961. At the 9:22 mark, Jack claimed that the New Guinea Asmat tribe, which allegedly killed Rockefeller, fell into violence and depravity because they turned from God.
"They performed perverted sex acts. They practiced polygamy. They drank each other's urine. They covered themselves in human blood. These are disgusting practices, and these are a people who had abandoned or had drifted away from God, so they had accepted myths, and they were practicing the results of these myths. And so what happened was they had become cannibalistic."
Vaughan and Jack also discussed Ryan Bell, the Seventh-Day Adventist pastor who stopped believing in God after living as an atheist for a year. At the 14:03 mark of "Cannibals!", Jack called atheism a "parasite" on Christianity.
"Atheism is really just a parasite on the body of Christianity. They cannot have a culture that is good without God. Men cannot be good without God, despite what people like Richard Dawkins, famed atheist, says ... Without God, you cut the heart out of civilization. Without God, you cut the heart out of history."
In a January 7th show entitled "Sex, Lies, and the Genderbred Person", Jack blasted people who looked askance at the Response Louisiana. At the 7:49 mark, he mocked dissenters as "Christophobes" who allegedly seek to oppose Christianity and stifle free speech.
"There is this call for a revival, and to express free speech by praying to God, by talking to God, and there are those who want to squelch free speech on a tax-paid institution's campus, hosted by the governor of the state. You know what? If Christians were protesting the LGBTQ rally at LSU, Christians would be called censors and bigots ... So what we have here is the opposition to Christianity ... Christophobes who are trying to squelch free speech, who are trying to be censors and bigots because they don't want to allow free speech. They don't want to allow the discussion of an opposing world view. That is happening all over the country."
Later in "Sex, Lies, and the Genderbred Person", Vaughan and Jack criticized comprehensive sex education, including sex ed provided by Planned Parenthood. At the 26:50 mark, Jack claimed that Planned Parenthood wants to make "pigs" out of children.
"This is what Planned Parenthood does. They want your children to be pigs. They want them to wallow in the muck. And what we need to do is, we as Christians need to expose evil ... Shine the light of truth and grace on such activities. So I urge you as homeschooling parents to investigate what's being taught in public school and to expose it."
In a January 2nd episode entitled "From Heil Hitler to Heil the Secular State", Vaughan and Jack criticized an anti-gun advertisement filmed at a charter school, likening such messages to Hitler Youth propaganda. "The school has become an enclave of totalitarianism in our day, just as it was in Hitler's day," Jack said at the 7:28 mark. Jack accused ominous movements of targeting young people at the 10:48 mark, oblivious to the fact that this is exactly what fundamentalist Christian homeschool advocates like himself do.
"It doesn't matter whether it's a totalitarian government or even the most benign and, well, apparently innocent attempt to bring about peace and justice. They always go with the youth. They try to indoctrinate the youth."
The irony continued at the 1:45 mark, when he lamented that young people are supposedly being used as "puppets" and "pawns" by progressives.
"Ideas do have consequences. Good ideas, excellent consequences; bad ideas, devastating consequences, and it is our youth who suffer. It is our youth who are being used as puppets and as pawns, and that is why we need to re-establish a Biblical worldview in our culture. We need to establish truth and justice based on God's word, not on some man's view."
Jack mused on "The Poisonous Mushroom", a story from an anti-Semitic children's book called Der Giftpilz. At the 23:10 mark, he likened public school education to Hitler Youth indoctrination.
"They're teaching anti-Christian doctrine, they're teaching secularism to students through arithmetic, through geography, through history, through psychology,  through every subject area, and most parents are not aware of what's happening, and as a result, children are being used. They are being, well, enlisted into the modern-day Hitler Youth movement. And pretty soon, parents are going to reap what they sow if we don't wake up and realize how the government schools are abusing our children."
In conclusion, Bill Jack's commentary on Generations with Visions reveals a great deal about his outlook. In Jack's eyes, secularism, non-Christians, LGBTQ rights advocates, and Planned Parenthood are depraved opponents of Christianity, ensnaring the next generation with their wiles. In this paranoid worldview, Christians are to imbue the surrounding culture with a "Biblical worldview", lest society continue to sink into sin. Those who think otherwise are caricatured as modern-day Nazis, indoctrinating children through a modern-day Hitler Youth.

By smearing others in this manner, Jack reveals his black-and-white, us-versus-them view of the world. His bakery stunt can be understood as a way to challenge a society he sees as corrupt. In short, Bill Jack displays the paranoia and siege mentality commonly seen among Christian fundamentalist, and fundamentalist homeschool advocates in particular.

(Hat tip to Homeschool Apostate.)

News Tidbits

USA Today: 'Roe v. Wade' turns 42; thousands march in opposition

The Guardian: Thousands gather in 'March for Life' as activists seek to halt abortion 'through prayer'

Washington Post: Atlanta fire chief files discrimination complaint after losing his job over a religious book

Religion News Service: Baptist college president Ergun Caner resigns, citing son’s suicide

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Robertson family, business of Duck Dynasty fame to become focus of international traveling science exhibition

Gay Star News: ‘Ex-gay’ movement pioneer turned critic John Evans has died aged 80

Pink News: Catholics and Evangelicals join forces to ‘fight’ same-sex marriage

Commentary Tidbits

Explorations in Egalitarianism: John Piper, Rape, Seduction, and Sin-Leveling

The Root: I Spent MLK Day With Presidential Hopeful Ben Carson. Here’s What I Learned

Right Wing Watch: Bobby Jindal's Prayer Warriors Fret About Protests, Declare 'No-Go Zone For Demons'

Dianna E. Anderson: Christ Under the Gun: Owen Strachan Is Wrong About American Sniper

Wall of Separation: Ark Encounter Gave Kentucky Officials Inflated Attendance Projections

No Longer Quivering: March For Life Day & the Duggar’s Growing Political Activism: This Is Why They Are Dangerous for Our Country 

Salon: Religious right’s pope problem: Why Rick Santorum & co. are so desperately confused

Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 March for Life Held in Washington D.C.

On January 22nd, the 2015 March For Life took place in Washington D.C. The annual rally marks the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which acknowledged a woman's right to have an abortion. Thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered on the National Mall to hear speakers at the march rally, including Rev. Joseph Kurtz (the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), Carl Anderson (Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus), and various lawmakers. C-SPAN posted footage of the 2015 March For Life, which can be viewed here.

The D.C. metro area was brimming with anti-abortion gatherings in conjunction with the March for Life, including the following events:

  • Choices 4 Life sponsored an evening talk in Mount Vernon, VA on January 20th entitled "Rape Conception Myth Busters". The workshop was intended to help anti-abortion activists respond to questions about rape-related pregnancies.
  • Heritage Foundation hosted a panel discussion on January 20th entitled "Welcoming Every Life: Choosing Life After an Unexpected Prenatal Diagnosis", which discouraged parents from aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome and other disabilities.
  • The National Prayer Vigil for Life took place on January 21st at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
  • The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sponsored a Vigil for Life at the Mother Seton Church in Germantown, MD, the same town where Dr. LeRoy Carhart performs late-term abortions.
  • Students For Life hosted their 2015 National East Coast Conference on January 23rd in Upper Marlboro, MD, featuring speakers such as Family Research Council's Josh Duggar, Live Action's Lila Rose, Operation Rescue's Troy Newman, and Abby Johnson.

On the same day as the March for Life, the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family unveiled an upcoming conference. Evangelicals for Life will take place alongside the 2016 March for Life. "[W]e're wanting to cultivate a new generation of born-again men and women who care about the unborn, who care about their mothers and who care about consciences that are torn apart by the culture of death," said ERLC president Russell Moore, as reported in the Baptist Press.

Some Religious Right voices remain smug about the state of the anti-abortion movement. In a January 23rd commentary piece, Concerned Women for America's Penny Nance claimed that the March For Life was the "worst nightmare" of the pro-choice movement.
"The March for Life is always a somber event, even as we celebrate the enormous support for life in recent years. We march to remember the more than 56 million lives lost to abortion since the horrendous Roe v. Wade decision and to keep reminding the nation that we are better than this. We must do better.

And we are. For the first time in a long time more young people consider themselves pro-life than pro-“choice.” The abortion industry is so concerned about this trend they have even considered dropping the whole pro-choice label. The March for Life is the abortionists’ worst nightmare as the nation’s capital is overcome by thousands of young pro-life supporters and they are reminded of what the future awaits for them."
Considering that most Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, I think Nance is overplaying her hand here.

After the March For Life, some Religious Right figures reflected on the future of the movement. Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice-president of the Family Research Council, gave his fellow activists advice on how to ensure that abortion goes the way of slavery.
"When in the midst of a battle, it is hard to envision how to keep winning once the immediate fight is won, especially when the current battle is widespread and complex. But if social conservatives really want not just political victories but a shift in the cultural mindset such that abortion-on-demand will become as anathema as slavery, we need to think hard about what we can do to keep changing hearts and minds as we wage our present war against anti-natalism and human indignity and, once victory is achieved, how to sustain it indefinitely.

Does any of this mean pro-life advocates should decelerate our efforts? Not at all. But it does mean we need to expand the reach of our arguments about the dignity of human sexual intimacy as something reserved for two-gender, life-long marriage and the dangers of sex outside of the marital covenant. Education, persuasion, political activism and Godly prayer must always be our companions in this effort."
What can I write about the March for Life that I haven't mentioned before? The rhetoric, the arrogance, the attacks on reproductive freedom, the utter lack of empathy for women with unwanted pregnancies never changes. If we cannot reason with anti-abortion activists like these, we must resist their efforts to undermine reproductive rights.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Slate: What Frustrated Pro-Life Activists and Politicians Are Saying at March for Life

Mother Jones: The Group Behind America's Biggest Anti-Abortion March Now Says Birth Control Causes Abortions

RH Reality Check: I Am Tired of Politicians Using My Grief for Their Gain

The Daily Signal: 24 Signs Spotted at the March for Life

Thursday, January 22, 2015

News Tidbits

CBC News: Pope Francis says Catholics don't need to breed 'like rabbits'

Associated Press: German rabbit breeders criticize pope's sex comments

Religion News Service: Days after ‘rabbits’ remark, pope praises big families

New York Times: To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From Saint

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: House abortion vote scuttled amid objections by moderates, Georgia Right to Life

Huffington Post: Obama Is 'Not A Christian' Because He Supports The LGBT Community, Bryan Fischer Claims 

The Advocate: Illinois, Virginia Seek 'Ex-Gay' Therapy Bans

LGBTQ Nation: Springfield, Mo., bishop objects to Catholic hospital’s same-sex benefits

Christian Post: 'Darkness' of Sexual Culture 'Gone Mad' Threatens America's Future, Says Evangelical Leader Tony Perkins 

Commentary Tidbits

The Nation: The Movement to Put a Church in Every School Is Growing

Al Jazeera America: Conservatives misfire on ‘pagan green’ pope’s encyclical

Mediaite: Rick Santorum Did Not Appreciate the Pope’s Breed ‘Like Rabbits’ Comment

Political Research Associates: Natural Deception: Conned By the World Congress of Families 

Washington Post: Republicans pulled a classic bait-and-switch with abortion bill

Ms. Magazine: New Study Shows More Than HALF of Abortion Clinics Face Threats

Salon: The right’s home-school conspiracy: How I helped GOP launch a religious war

Right Wing Watch: Lindsey Graham Tells Anti-Choice Activists: Need To Find 'Way Out Of This Definitional Problem With Rape'

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Who Is Bill Jack, the Man Who Demanded an Anti-Gay Cake from Azucar Bakery?

In 2014, several bakeries across the U.S. drew criticism for their refusal to bake cakes for same-sex couples. Now, an anti-gay Christian is unhappy with a Colorado bakery that refused his request for a homophobic cake. The man at the center of the controversy, Bill Jack, has a long history of fundamentalist Christian work.

According to KDVR Fox 31, Bill Jack filed a religious discrimination complaint against Azucar Bakery in Denver, Colorado, after the bakery refused to write an anti-gay message on a cake. Azucar Bakery owner Marjorie Silva said that Jack requested a Bible-shaped cake depicting two men holding hands with an "X" over them, inscribed with an anti-gay message. Silva refused to write the words, uncomfortable with presenting "hateful words" on a cake. In an earlier article at KDVR, Silva described him as "pushy and disruptive".

Bill Jack is co-founder of Worldview Academy, a Christian organization devoted to "helping Christians to think and to live in accord with a biblical worldview so that they will serve Christ and lead the culture". Worldview Academy hosts youth camps across the U.S., which instill young people with a "biblical worldview". Bill Jack also spent several years with the Caleb Campaign, a creationist youth ministry.

I recognized Bill Jack as a recurring teen track speaker at the annual convention of the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP). Every spring, CHAP hosts its annual convention at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA. The conference is decidedly conservative, with content that encourages suspicion of mainstream society and a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. I first blogged on the CHAP convention in 2011, after I observed talks by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Doug Phillips of the now defunct Vision Forum. I continue to keep an eye on the CHAP website whenever the convention returns to Harrisburg, even if I can't attend in person.

Recently, CHAP made audio recordings of its 2014 convention workshops available for free download, including recordings of Bill Jack's teen track. Jack's workshops framed the world in dichotomous terms, one in which Christians battle against a monolithic secular society. Mainstream society was depicted not only as sinful, but something that Christians must "capture" and transform, lest it "capture" young Christians. Jack's worldview may help us understand why he locked horns with an Colorado bakery.

Given Jack's stance toward LGBTQ issues at CHAP, I'm not surprised that he asked a baker to make an anti-gay cake. In a CHAP 2014 workshop entitled "Counterfeit Reality", Jack spoke of same-sex marriage, incestuous marriage, man-car marriage, and pedophilia in the same breath. At the 0:28 mark, he had this to say.
"Can I legally marry my sister? ... No. It's outlawed in states. There are incest laws, right? There are laws against marrying too closely in the family. Can I marry my car? No, because it's an absurdity, right? So we draw lines everywhere. Just because two people love each other doesn't mean that they can get married, because marriage has a different set of rules than just the emotion of love, correct? ... There is an organization called North American Man-Boy Love Association, and these are men who want to have sex with little boys, and they say there shouldn't be any laws against that."
Jack looked askance at mainstream society in several talks. In one CHAP 2014 workshop entitled "Counterfeit Reality", Jack argued that mainstream culture is filled with "myth-information", a false reality based on secularism. In another workshop entitled "Seven Habits of Highly Suppressive People", Jack claimed that people who suppress God's truth do not honor God, and therefore become "futile in their speculation", leading to ideas such as evolution.

Jack's antipathy toward mainstream society was on full display in a teen track talk entitled "The Four Duties of a Good Soldier of Christ Jesus". During the talk, Jack encouraged teens to be "good soldiers" for God. "If you want to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, you need to understand your duties," he told listeners. Their first duty, he explained at the 34:12 mark, was to avoid being "captured".
"First duty of a good soldier, first duty: do not get captured. Do not get captured, because not only are you of no use to your side, but the enemy will use you against your own troops. We have seen that numerous times in numerous conflicts in recent years where in the Middle East, the enemy has said, 'You bomb these positions [and] you will be killing your own troops because we have taken some captive, and we're going to place them in these strategic locations, and if you send missiles there, you will be killing your own troops'."
Specifically, teens were to evade "capture" by secular culture. "Secularism is not held up as the best thing in most cultures," he insisted, ignoring the existence of secular states and secular proponents worldwide. At the 35:21 mark, Jack demonized secularism as an alleged religion that seeks to exclude God from society.
"Secularism is what were talking about here in context. Secularism is the belief that there may or may not be a god. According to Webster's dictionary, secularism is indifference to or rejection of or exclusion of religion and religious considerations. Now I hate to take exception with your great-great-great-great-granduncle Noah, but this is not the proper definition of secularism. In fact, he would take exception with that if he were living because he took his definitions from scripture. This is not the proper definition of secularism. Secularism is not exclusion of religion, it is not the rejection of religion, it is  not indifference toward religion. Secularism IS a religion. It is the belief that there may or may not be a god, but even if there is, he is irrelevant in history, art, science, literature, music, philosophy. You see, we compartmentalize our lives. We become schizoid. Do not be taken captive."
In keeping with the war theme of his talk, Jack encouraged his young listeners to take the surrounding culture "captive" at the 38:08 mark.
"If you're not to be taken captive, then what should you do as a good soldier of Jesus Christ? Take something captive. What should we take captive? Well, if you take a look at the command, it is that we are to capture the culture, not the flag."
Amidst his talk of the Great Commission and multiplying the kingdom of God, Jack scoffed at "fun" as one of the corrupt values of mainstream culture. At the 20:21 mark, he called fun "unbiblical".
"'Fun' is an unbiblical word. Fun depends upon circumstances. Fun is driven by environment ... You know what the closest reference to 'fun' is in scripture? You know what the closest reference is? It is the the word 'folly'. What does folly mean? Foolishness. Goofiness. Silliness. Stupidity."
At the 21:15 mark, he criticized mainstream culture for allegedly holding fun in such high esteem.
"Fun is what we hold as our highest value in the culture. We have become a nation of fun junkies, and that's not what scripture calls us to, is it?"
Good soldiers don't have fun, Jack insisted. Rather, Christians are to have joy, which comes from obedience to God. A "worldview of difference" distinguished fun from godly joy, he told his teenage audience. Jack playfully coached his teenage audience on how to reply "Nooooo" when their parents asked them if they had fun at the CHAP convention.

Jack's stunt at Azucar Bakery may be a reflection of the worldview he put forth at the 2014 CHAP convention. If one sees mainstream society -- including its growing acceptance of LGBTQ equality -- as a deluded, sinful force, one will feel compelled to challenge it. If one believes that right-wing Christians are at war with a corrupt culture, acts such as the bakery stunt take on larger significance.

While people who think like Bill Jack are not uncommon, I remain optimistic. More and more people recognize the merits of pluralism and a secular state. More and more people are advocating for LGBTQ equality. I have a feeling that many youth who participated in Bill Jack's workshops at CHAP will someday realize that they are not in a zero-sum battle against mainstream society. Jack's bakery stunt may be an attempt to "capture" culture, but in the long run, it will not succeed.

UPDATE: I discovered that Bill Jack has been providing commentary on Kevin Swanson's rabidly right-wing Generations with Vision show. I explore his commentary on the show in more depth here.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Talking Points Memo: Man Files Discrimination Complaint After Denver Bakery Won't Make Anti-Gay Cake

The New Civil Rights Movement: Anti-Gay Religious Zealot Files Discrimination Charges Against Pro-Equality Baker

To download audio recordings of workshops from the 2014 CHAP convention, click here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

OneThing 2014: Reinhard Bonnke's Stories

To read about Mike Bickle's talk at OneThing 2014, click here.

OneThing 2014, hosted by the International House of Prayer (IHOP), took place on December 28-31 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Among the speakers was Reinhard Bonnke, founder of Christ for All Nations (CFAN). Bonnke, a German missionary, regularly preaches around the globe at CFAN rallies characterized by witchcraft warnings and alleged faith healing. Bonnke and CFAN courted controversy after inviting Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to the Great Jubilee Crusade in Nairobi in 2013.

Bonnke spoke at OneThing on December 30th, where he shared loosely connected anecdotes about faith healing, preaching, and conversion. His talk brimmed with New Apostolic Reformation tropes such as divine dreams, faith healing, and conversion of foreigners, but offered little spiritual nourishment, in my opinion.

Bonnke urged the audience to recognize "their own possibilities in God" and emphasized the importance of evangelism. "America shall be saved. America will be saved! That is God's plan," he told listeners.

At the 4:09 mark, Bonnke shared a story from his youth in Germany. When Bonnke was a teenager, his pastor father told him about an alleged faith healer who converted his grandparents to Christianity.
"I studied the family tree of the Bonnke family and discovered that my family was a godless family! And I said to my father, I said, "How did God break into our family since Grandpa and you are outstanding men of faith?" And he told me a story that had a mighty impact on my life ...

In 1922, there in east Germany, those huge forests, forested areas, my grandfather was very sick. He suffered from a disease the doctors couldn't diagnose. He was sensitive to touch or to movement. He was screaming day and night. He had excruciating pains. The whole village could hear him scream ... There was no hope. There was no help. There was no Jesus.

And then a miracle happened. An American missionary from Springfield, Missouri got lost in the forest and came to our village, and as those early evangelists worked in those days, his first question was, "Are there any sick people here?" ... That man, his name was Luis Graf, entered the house of my ancestors like a burning torch of the Holy Spirit. He preached the Gospel, and then he said, "The Lord has sent me to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit!" He stepped to the bed of my grandfather, grabbed his hand. That moment, a jolt of power shot through my grandfather. He jumped out of bed, totally healed! ... That day, my grandfather and my grandmother became wonderful, born-again Christians."
I've always been uncomfortable with Bonnke's talk of faith healing. The practice -- which appeals to the gullible, the uneducated, and the desperate -- offers false hope but no results, making it unethical and dangerous. Like many other fanciful stories shared by New Apostolic Reformation figures, this faith healing tale fed the magical thinking of the audience.

Bonnke discussed his early missionary days in Lesotho alongside his wife and three small children.  Heartbroken over his failure to convert his target audience, Bonnke fasted and cried out to God. At the 14:13 mark, he described a dream in which the Holy Spirit allegedly told him that Africa would be converted to Christianity.
"Then, in the night, God gave me a dream. I saw in that dream a map of Africa, and suddenly I saw how the whole continent became washed in the precious blood of Jesus. I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit cry, "AFRICA SHALL BE SAVED!" ... The Lord gave me the same dream, the same vision in a dream in four consecutive nights."
Given that Islam has grown rapidly alongside Christianity in Africa, and that traditional religions still maintain a presence on the continent, I don't see Africa becoming completely Christian any time soon. God-fueled dreams are a common trope among New Apostolic Reformation preachers, so Bonnke is in good company.

After his Lesotho trip, Bonnke traveled to South Africa and founded CFAN, he explained. Bonnke went on to tell more fanciful stories about his ministry, including the time a fellow preacher in Maseru flaked out of preaching at Bonnke's church. When Bonnke lead that Sunday's worship service himself, the Holy Spirit was "mightily" present, he claimed, and God allegedly healed several blind women in attendance. In another story, Bonnke bragged about preaching at a prayer rally in Nigeria, where 500,000 people had gathered, he claimed. The pastors alongside him wept with joy because most of those in attendance were Muslims, he told listeners, and many of those Muslims accepted Jesus as savior that day. Somehow, I remain doubtful that Bonnke and his colleagues healed the blind or converted hundreds of thousands of Muslims to Christianity in one day.

Each generation takes the baton of evangelism, he told the audience. "If the men don't go, the women will go," he said. "If the women don't go, the children will go. If the children don't go, the stones will cry out, but the Gospel will be preached in the mighty name of Jesus." He urged listeners to recognize the "finger of God" when it pressed them into service, reminding them that the "fingerprint" of God would always be upon them if they refused.

Bonnke hopped from story to story, making it difficult to discern the central theme of his talk. However, the topics of his anecdotes -- faith healing, dreams from God, "saving" foreigners, and Christianity's rivalry with Islam -- have come up before in plenty of New Apostolic Reformation talks. A familiar world unfolded in his talk, one of miracles, visions, and callings from the Creator himself.

The magical thinking in Bonnke's talk, like that of other New Apostolic Reformation preachers, struck me as hollow. Dreams, promises, and tales of faith healing may enchant listeners, but what spiritual nourishment do these fanciful ideas provide? Does magical thinking help believers practice introspection, cultivate respect for others, or engage the world in positive ways? No. Does it help believers navigate the world of facts so that they can face reality? No. The magical thinking of the New Apostolic Reformation can thrill believers, but it offers little in the way of substance.

Rosa Rubicondior on the Fundamentalist Mind

Why are fundamentalists so easily manipulated? In a recent post on the debacle surrounding The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Rosa Rubicondior offered insights into the fundamentalist mind. Even though Rosa is describing Christian fundamentalist, the observation would hold equally true for fundamentalists and ideologues of any stripe.
The reasons for this vulnerability to frauds is probably all too obvious to people who have decided to be led by the evidence, wherever it may lead, and who base their conclusions on evidence, reserve judgement when the evidence is lacking and change their minds when the evidence changes. Christians have a sacred and fixed conclusion which has to be defended and protected at all costs, even at the cost of intellectual honesty and personal integrity. Their mind has to be firmly closed to contradictory evidence when even considering that the conclusion might be wrong risks the wrath and damnation of their imaginary 'friend' in the sky.

Because their conclusion has to be defended and because they have no evidence on which it is based, and despite their frequent disparaging of evidence in favour of 'faith', they are a ready, willing and eager market for people trying to sell them confirmation and lies dressed up as evidence. This makes them almost uniquely vulnerable to frauds and liars and why so many preachers and Christian apologists are almost indistinguishable from con artists and fraudsters. They are indistinguishable because, for the most part, that's exactly what they are. Parasites exploiting vulnerable and defenceless hosts.
Read the whole post. (Hat tip to Infidel753.)

News Tidbits

The Daily Beast: The South’s Billboard Holy War

Associated Press: Pope strongly defends church teaching against contraception

Washington Post: D.C. area bishop’s bid to lead racial unity effort draws fire from black pastors 

New York Times: Mormon Church Threatens Critic With Excommunication

The Independent: 80 per cent of gay and lesbian Mormons have tried to change sexual orientation, says survey

LGBTQ Nation: Atlanta fire chief back on job, is new face of Georgia ‘religious freedom’ fight

Edge Media Network: Ex-Gay Group Now Casting Minors for Lawsuit 

The Advocate: Minister Touts 'Conscious Choices' About Rejecting Attraction to Men

The Advocate: Gay Brother of 'Conscious Choices' Minister Speaks Out

Gay Star News: Zimbabwe 'prophet' endorses Mugabe's threats to behead gays

Commentary Tidbits

SPLC Hatewatch: As RNC Gathers, More Prominent GOP Members In Bed With Extremists

Radar Online: Duggar Family Has ‘Endured Vicious Ridicule,’ Mike Huckabee Claims In New Tell-All

Los Angeles Times: Will the Bible become the official state book of Mississippi?

New York Times: God, Gays and the Atlanta Fire Department

Think Progress: Anti-Gay Conservatives Stage Rally To Demand The Right To Have Bigots On The Government’s Payroll

Time: How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage

Washington Post: Divorce ban shows Catholic church power in Philippines

Religious Right Reacts to Leelah Alcorn's Death

On December 28th, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn) was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 71, near her home in Kings Mills, Ohio, according to WCPO 9. Alcorn, a 17 year-old transgender girl, reportedly posted a suicide note online lamenting that her parents did not accept her as transgender. According to the note, Leelah's parents took her to Christian therapists who told her that she was "selfish and wrong", reports the Guardian.

Leelah's sorrow was not unique. Research indicates that transgender persons experience high rates of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, no doubt due to the relentless transphobia they experience. After her mother reportedly disregarded her gender identity and prevented her from transitioning, is it any wonder that Leelah grew despondent?

Friends and transgender rights advocates attended vigils in Alcorn's memory, both in Ohio and around the world. On January 10th, supporters of transgender youth attended a rally outside the Carnegie Library in Washington D.C. in memory of Leelah, followed by a march through downtown Washington, reports the Washington Blade.

Leelah's reported negative experiences with Christian therapists have fueled criticism of conversion therapy for minors. According to Gay Star News, the Transgender Human Rights Institute posted an online petition urging lawmakers to enact the "Leelah Alcorn Law", which would ban conversion therapy for transgender persons.

Despite the outpouring of compassion for Leelah and transgender youth like her, many voices from the Religious Right have responded to her death with condescension and scorn. Several Religious Right commentators refused to acknowledge Leelah's feminine identity, repeatedly referring to the youth with masculine pronouns. Moreover, several blasted transgender status as a sign of derangement or spiritual pathology.

First, in a December 31st column at Charisma Magazine, Michael Brown admitted that "we must recognize that issues of transgender identity often run very deep and cannot be trivialized or taken lightly." However, he also claimed to know people who abandoned their transgender identity because they "found a better way". (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
"I personally know individuals who once identified as transgender and who no longer do, and they are so thankful to God that they found a better way. They emphatically discourage parents from affirming their children as transgender (while even more emphatically urging those parents to show unconditional love to their kids). Should we ignore what they have to say? ... Some of these individuals remained suicidal even after having sex-change surgery, and in some notable cases, which I mentioned in my article "Sex Change Regret," some have committed suicide after coming out as the opposite of their biological sex.

Don't their deaths count as much as the death of Joshua-Leelah?"
Brown refuses to take transgender identity seriously, convinced that people can transcend deeply-held feelings about their gender identity. To boot, he ignores the toxic effects of transphobic discrimination and violence, which can plunge transgender people into despair regardless of where they are in their transition. Instead of telling transgender people to find "a better way", we need to confront transphobia.

In a January 7th commentary piece at Renew America, Gina Miller called Leelah Alcorn "mentally ill", blasting Leelah for "selfishly forcing the driver to run him down". Miller accused transgender people of having "a deeply disturbing mental and spiritual sickness", claiming that "demon possession" can play a role in LGBTQ identity. Callously, Miller accused the "sexual anarchy movement" of using Leelah Alcorn's death to further their agenda. (Hat tip to Raw Story.)
"Naturally, the radical homosexual activist community is seizing on this horrific suicide as an excuse to falsely blame the young man's death on the Christian beliefs of his parents. This is to be expected today in our truly insane society, in which all manner of deception and lies are embraced by a fringe minority and spread far and wide by a complicit, dark-minded media. Members of the sexual anarchy movement have in their cross-hairs anyone who publicly opposes their tyrannical agenda, and they will not hesitate to cravenly use an awful event like this kid's suicide to further that agenda.

Just about the only people left with the courage to tell the truth about immoral, unhealthy and unnatural homosexuality and "transgenderism" are Christians. Others are too scared to speak out against it, foolishly don't care one way or another, or they support this degeneracy. Far too many people don't understand the danger to our society and our freedoms posed by this evil movement. It is Christianity that these people seek to thwart and Christians they seek to silence, because the lovers of perversion despise the truth we tell about them and their agenda."

In a January 6th post at the Illinois Family Institute website, Laurie Higgins was dismissive of the transgender community in the wake of Leelah Alcorn's death. She sneered at the idea of transitioning, calling it "butchery", "another deceitful Leftist term", and an indication of "serious delusion or disordered desire". Higgins claimed that rates of depression and suicidal ideation are so high among transgender persons in part because they recoil from God's truth. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Perhaps the depression and suicidal ideation that gender-confused teens, post-op “transsexuals,” and homosexuals experience results in part from societal disapproval, but perhaps their anguish results at least in part from apprehension of the truth that God has written on their hearts regarding homoerotic activity, cross-dressing, and bodily mutilation ... Homosexual and “trans” activists are not interested in finding ways to mitigate suffering unless such ways include promoting their assumptions about homoerotic activity and gender confusion. They will tolerate no discussion of theories regarding causation that may undermine their social and political goals of compulsory affirmation of their non-factual beliefs. The promotion of their self-serving sexuality ideology supersedes everything, including the welfare of others."

Finally, R.C. Sproul Jr. discussed Leelah Alcorn's death in a January 7th podcast. In a transcript of the podcast, Sproul defended the Alcorns for rejecting Leelah's transgender identity, disparaging "the boiling cauldron of sexual identity politics". (Hat tip to Joan's Pants.)
"...Consider the tragic case of Joshua Alcorn. This young man recently took his own life, and left behind on social media his explanation for why. Joshua wanted to go through that process by which some men disfigure themselves and take in chemicals all designed to make him appear like a woman. His parents, professing believers, supported neither this process, nor the notion that Joshua was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Now to be sure the death is a terrible, terrible tragedy. This young man was struggling with deep despair. But the “lesson” we are called to learn by the world, that too many professing believers are owning, is that Joshua is dead because of his “cruel, narrow, believing parents.” And we Christians are supposed to repent for our lack of understanding of those struggling with sexual identity. The trouble is, apart from Fred Phelps perhaps, I’m unaware of Christians lacking in understanding for anyone struggling with sexual identity, or any other sin for that matter. I am aware that there are Christians, sadly too few, who are unwilling to call evil good in the boiling cauldron of sexual identity politics. The tragedy of the death of Joshua Alcorn is tragic because of Joshua’s death, not because we Christians won’t get with the program of our postmodern sexual free fall."

What part of ubiquitous transphobia do these commentators fail to grasp? What aspect of Leelah's suffering was unclear in her final message? These commentary pieces are heartbreaking in their refusal to acknowledge the realities of transgender life.

It saddens me that so many Religious Right figures cherish their facile gender paradigms more than the well-being of LGBTQ youth. The attitudes displayed in these commentary pieces are the problem. Too many people ignore the lived experiences of transgender persons, lecture transgender people on how to live their lives, and sneer at the LGBTQ community. If we are to prevent transgender suicides, we must confront these attitudes. We must accept transgender persons and listen to them.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Guardian: Homophobic, transphobic parents make abusive homes. Let's help LGBT kids get out

Time: Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide: Conversion Therapy Is Child Abuse

Think Progress: Leelah Alcorn And The Quiet Genocide Of Transgender People

Love, Joy, Feminism: Leelah Alcorn and Evangelical Storytelling

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gov. Bobby Jindal Hosts Prayer Gathering

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently hosted a prayer gathering at the governor's house, in anticipation of the upcoming Response Louisiana rally. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Commentary Tidbits: Charlie Hebdo Edition

On January 7th, gunmen killed twelve people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine based out of Paris, France, reports NPR. Charlie Hebdo was renown for its satirical take on politics, religion, and current events. Witnesses claim that the gunmen shouted "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") during the siege, suggesting that the attack was motivated by Islamic extremism. One of the suspects, Hamyd Mourad, surrendered to police, while two other suspects, Cherif and Said Kouachi, remain at large. Cherif Kouachi reportedly had ties to radical Islamists, according to the Guardian.

Mourners hosted vigils at the Place de la République in Paris, as well as in cities worldwide, according to the Guardian. The hashtag #jesuischarlie trended on Twitter as observers showed solidarity with the slain. Muslim leaders around the world have loudly condemned the attacks, while others fear that the incident could inflame anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe.

Commentary abounds on the importance of free speech, free press, and the right to criticize religion in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. To read commentary on the attack, visit the following links.

Infidel753: Je suis Charlie

Good As You: Conservative Radio Host Erick Erickson Equates Gay Activists with Paris Terrorists

Juan Cole: Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists in Paris

Christian Science Monitor: Charlie Hebdo attack: Why Western satire especially riles some nations and groups

NPR: 'Charlie Hebdo,' A Magazine Of Satire, Mocks Politics, Religion

The Daily Beast: Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Our Duty Is to Keep Charlie Hebdo Alive

Sunday, January 4, 2015

OneThing 2014: Mike Bickle's Nightmarish Vision

To read about Reinhard Bonnke's talk at OneThing 2014, click here.

Every December, the International House of Prayer (IHOP) hosts its annual OneThing celebration. OneThing gatherings feature music, ecstatic prayer, and talks from New Apostolic Reformation speakers on everything from the end times to anti-abortion activism to overseas missionary work to shunning non-Christians. OneThing 2014 took place on December 28-31 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The gathering featured speakers such as Christ For All Nations' Reinhard Bonnke and various IHOP leaders, including Mike Bickle.

Mike Bickle delivered a talk on December 28th entitled "The End-Time Crisis: God's Response to the Rage Against Jesus" (available at YouTube). Bickle's talk focused on Psalm 2 and its supposed implications for today's degenerate society. I was startled by Bickle's ominous rant, which was paranoid even for him. With feverish intensity, Bickle foretold violence in the streets, incarceration of Christians, and state-sanctioned slaughter of believers, magnifying the usual Religious Right persecution complex into an end times nightmare.

"There is a crisis that's in the land that's escalating quickly," Bickle told the audience. I believe that we're in a season actually in human history, and we're entering a new hour, a very, very sober time." Bickle cited Psalm 2 as a descriptive Biblical passage for today's society. At the 5:01 mark, he interpreted Psalm 2 in such a way as to suggest that today's leaders despise God and seek to remove God's word from society.
"For three verses, David describes their rage against God, against his Christ, the anointed, the Messiah. What the rulers of society want to do, according to David, they want to remove the influence of the word of God out of society and away from culture entirely, that's their goal. You can see that trend escalating right now. Many of the kings, but also the rulers of society, which are not the kings, the leaders in industry and business and sports and media, they're taking a bold stand, challenging the truths of the word of God, wanting to remove the influence of the word of God out of culture entirely, that's what their design is, according to David."
Throughout his talk, Bickle raged at leaders of society for wanting to free themselves from God's "bondage". At the 25:07 mark, he claimed these leaders reject God because they've grown tired of slavery under the Almighty.
"They see the word of God as slavery. They see the moral standards of Jesus' leadership as slavery that is hindering their human potential, hindering and interrupting the dignity and equality of humans. They say, 'let's take the word of God, the bonds that enslave us, let's cast them away, let's break them! Let's show God who's in control."
Later in Psalm 2, God tells the leaders of the earth that their machinations will fail. At the 6:32 mark, Bickle had this to say.
"He tells the kings of the earth, 'Your plans will come to nothing! For I've already determined that my son will be acknowledged as king in every nation of the earth, and I'm going to speak and move and act against you, and I will break your powers so you will not be able to resist my king effectively.' They will for a season, but only for a short season."
Bickle elaborated on the significance of Psalm 2, telling listeners that many "kings" of the earth are resisting Jesus, and that much of the Christian church stands with them. Some people in the church even oppose God's truth under the guide of scholarship and biblical literacy, he claimed. At the 13:37 mark, he accused these Christians of giving lip service to Jesus but being "biblically illiterate".
"Right now a lot of believers are intimidated by the stand that the leaders of culture are taking against the Christ. Many in the church are echoing the stand of these leaders. They don't know the Bible. They're biblically illiterate. They have language -- 'Jesus' -- they know how to say grace, they know how to say 'kingdom of God'. They don't know the details, I mean, even the broad strokes of what the Bible said. So the voices of the culture seem convincing. Many people in the church are confused."
Older generations are in a better position to appreciate the supposedly sinister changes in American society, Bickle argued. At the 16:45 mark, he listed the "gay agenda" and the "explosion of pornography" as signs of a society plummeting into darkness.
"Those of you that are in your twenties and younger, you can't maybe fully appreciate appreciate the escalation, the speed of which this is increasing like those of us that might have a forty-year-plus point of view looking back. I mean, the escalation is so intense. I mean, the phenomenon in the last five years of the gay agenda taking center stage in the conversation of our culture. This was unthinkable ten years ago! There were whispers ten years ago. The explosion of pornography in the last five years ... Where this will be in ten years is a moral crisis in our nation beyond anything we can imagine. And then ten years after that, and ten years after that if the Lord tarries."
Heterosexual marriage was also imperiled by the advance of the "gay agenda", he argued. "Today, they're already talking about outlawing marriage, making the institution of marriage obsolete because of the controversies," Bickle claimed at the 40:10 mark.

Of course, Bickle denied that he hated LGBTQ people. At the 31:53, he insisted that he loved all people regardless of sexual orientation, right before warning his audience that the gay agenda was about to teach homosexuality to small children. Um, Mike? Spouting homophobic vitriol isn't loving, I thought.
"I love all human beings, regardless what their sexual orientation is, but God has clear definitions and standards of what love is. We have to line up with the Lord and with his Christ, and not against him ... In a few moments from now, they'll be teaching the six years-olds, in first and second grade, third and fourth grade, they'll be teaching them the details of homosexuality as part of mandate, by law, in the curriculum."
One example of the spiritual confusion engulfing the church is the emphasis on feelings, Bickle claimed. At the 18:07 mark, he warned that young people who have been "seduced by the lies" of the surrounding culture use their feelings as the measure of truth. Was this a subtle jab at gay and transgender youth, I wonder?
"The father has very strong feelings about how many in the church are echoing the popular sentiments of culture, the preachers that are telling lies about the word of God to keep it popular, keep it positive; the young people that don't have a biblical foundation that are seduced by the lies, thinking that the things they feel must be the standard of truth, for they feel it, so it must be true. Their feelings are real but they're not based on truth."
No IHOP gathering would be complete without anti-abortion rhetoric, and OneThing 2014 was no exception. Bickle blasted abortion as another sign of a fallen society, raging against "50 million babies, slaughtered in their mothers' womb, applauded by their culture."

Love, as the fallen culture allegedly defines it, disgusted Bickle. At the 29:22 mark, he contrasted God's love with "humanistic love", which many people allegedly worship as an idol now.
"God is calling young people to be bold, to take a stand for truth ... with humility, with love, love as God defines love, not as the humanistic culture. Right now, love is god to many people. Humanistic love is their god, and they'll throw a little Jesus language in every now and then, but humanistic love is the god they're worshiping and serving. God says 'No, it has to be love on my terms. I'm the God of love. Love is not god. I am the God who is love.' They're very different. Human sentiment is not the final word of what love is, but the written word of God."

Bickle's talk took an ominous turn, with visions of draconian persecution and violence. At the 14:46 mark, he claimed that criticism of God by celebrities and political leaders would give way to outright persecution of Christians. Believers who teach their children about salvation or criticize same-sex marriage will be arrested and incarcerated, he warned.
"It's going to escalate beyond the opinion of sports figures, movie stars, famous singers, famous actors, political leaders. It's going to go beyond their opinions ... They're going to use the power of the state eventually to enforce their ways. The days are coming where if a mom and dad tells their five year-old child, 'There's only one way of salvation', it'll be considered a crime. They tell their child, 'Homosexual marriage is contrary to the word of God, the Bible calls it a sin', they'll actually go to jail for it."
The paranoid predictions continued. At the 20:07 mark, Bickle warned that at impending financial crisis would produce nightmarish "violence in the street" soon.
"I'm not even talking yet ... [about] the financial crisis that's right around the corner, far beyond 2008. There is a financial crisis looming over this nation and the nations of the earth. But this financial crisis will create a state, a context for violence in the street beyond anything we could imagine."
The height of society's depravity would be the wholesale slaughter of Christians, Bickle told the audience. At the 40:57 mark, Bickle spouted paranoid predictions about world leaders passing legislation that would order the execution of believers as "enemies of society". The fact that governments murdering Christians en masse around the world would be both insane and logistically impossible did not occur to him.
"The rage is going to escalate. They will kill believers ... The day is coming where the kings of the earth, in their rage, will establish legislations where they will kill believers in the nations of the earth. They will see them as enemies of society, believers. They will see them as enemies of the people. This is an hour for you and I to decide are we going to go deep in the Lord and be faithful to truth?"
After frightening his audience with visions of violence, Bickle offered the antidote. Prayer, he assured them, could set back the crisis by several decades. How convenient, I thought. Praying with IHOP will avert the impending nightmare. 

Jesus will prevail over all the nations, and God will laugh at the "kings" of the earth for their hubris, he said. Bickle urged listeners not to be silenced or intimidated by the voices of the surrounding culture, since victory is assured.

Bickle comforted his audience with the assurance that some political leaders still love God, even though the percentage is small. Really? I thought. The Religious Right was still a strong presence in politics, the last time I checked. Bickle praised Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for arranging the Response Louisiana rally, and Texas Governor Rick Perry for arranging the 2011 Response rally.

Mike Bickle's OneThing talk can be summarized as such: The world is decaying because of non-Christians and phony Christians and abortion and dirty pictures and gays! The outside world is the enemy! They'll arrest us and kill us, and the only way you can stop it is to pray with IHOP!

Only a fearful worldview could produce this vision of the future. Only a worldview that sees outsiders as a poisonous force could produce this us-versus-them attitude. Fear, bigotry, paranoia, and insularity do not make for good spirituality.

This isn't healthy. IHOP enthusiasts, wake up.

To download the talk, visit mikebickle[dot]org/resources/series/onething-conference-2014

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Humanum: Theresa Okafor Offers Commentary

To read an introduction to the Humanum conference, click here. 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.

Humanum organizers posted videos not only of conference speakers, but of observers as well. Among the observers was Thereas Okafor, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage in Lagos, Nigeria and World Congress of Families regional director in Africa. Okafor received the World Congress of Families' 2014 Natural Family Woman of the Year Award for her "outstanding contributions to promoting a greater understanding of the centrality of the "natural family"", according to a press release. Not surprisingly, Okafor has a history of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ statements, as demonstrated in a 2012 interview with Europeinfos.

Throughout the short video, I was struck by how Okafor's rhetoric resembled that of her western counterparts. At the beginning of the video, she described marriage and family as institutions that must be protected, as they are supposedly coming under attack.
"The family is a reality that cannot be denied. It's a social reality, it's biological, it's metaphysical, it's something we cannot deny, and the family is what determines the sustainability of society. And so, in Africa, we seek to protect the family against those who seek to fragment it."
Okafor praised "the western religion" for its contributions to Africa.
"Think African families stand to give back what we received from the West. Obviously, the western religion came to Africa, bringing lots of values, lots of principles of fraternity, of harmony, of complementarity between the man and the woman."
I was puzzled that Okafor referred to Christianity as a western religion, since Christianity emerged in the near east and spread to northern Africa early in its history. Perhaps Okafor meant western interpretations of Christianity that have been spreading across the continent.

Like her American counterparts, Okafor frowned upon the alleged relegation of children's upbringing to schools and the state. Was this a jab at secular schools?
"Marriage needs to be protected. Marriage needs to be preserved, and also, the upbringing of children is not something that needs to be relegated to the state or to the schools. It's something that should take place in the family."
Okafor's video commentary is a reminder that such rhetoric is not limited to the U.S. Religious Right activists speak in similar terms across the world, no doubt because of Religious Right networking.

Humanum: Rick Warren on Marriage

To read an introduction to the Humanum conference, click here. To read about Pope Francis' opening address at Humanum, click here. To read about Russell Moore's talk, click here. To read about Theresa Okafor's commentary, click here.

Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman took place in Vatican City on November 17-19. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Foest, California, devoted his talk to exalting heterosexual marriage and laying out requirements for sustaining it.

Warren began his talk by claiming that heterosexual marriage is under attack, much like his right-wing brethren. At the 3:11 mark, he insisted that heterosexual marriage has been ridiculed and dismissed by many people.
"Sadly, today, we all know marriage is dishonored by a lot of people. It's dismissed as archaic, man-made tradition. It's denounced as an enemy of women. It's discouraged as a career-limiting choice. It's demeaned in movies and television. It's delayed out of fear that it will limit one's personal freedom. So today, instead of being honored, marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined. What are we going to do about this? The church cannot cower in silence ... The stakes are too high."
Warren proceeded to share suggestions for safeguarding heterosexual marriage. At the 4:31 mark, he argued that God's will is the final authority on what constitutes marriage.
"Affirm the authority of God's word. That's the starting point. We don't base our worldview on fads, or feelings, or opinions, or political correctness. We build our lives on the unchanging truth of God's word."
After quoting from the New Testament, Warren argued that Jesus laid out five convictions about marriage that are "unchangeable, incontrovertible, and unmovable". At the 6:40 mark, he insisted that binary gender categories and heterosexual marriage were decreed by God, and the only acceptable setting for sexual activity is heterosexual marriage (for the sake of procreation, of course).
First ... gender is God's idea. God chose to make us either male or female, our identity is either a man or a woman. It's far deeper than a sociological construct, psychological condition, a personal preference. God made us male and female.
Second ... marriage is God's idea. He defines it. He defines it, not us. It's not a man-made idea that we can just toss away. God created marriage.

Number three, sex was created for marriage. God created the male and female body parts to fit naturally together. That's obvious, but they don't just fit together, they fit together for a purpose, and that is the creation of life, and even if you disbelieve the Bible, every human body and every living person is a witness and a testimony to God's intended purpose for sex. Sex was not created for recreation, but it was created for connection of a husband and wife and procreation of life."
As I argued in a prior post, none of these practices are eternal or divinely ordained. Whether fundamentalists want to admit it or not, people simply don't fit into neat, binary boxes. Notions of gender and marriage have varied widely across cultures and eras, as have notions of what constitutes licit sexual activity. Additionally, the Biblical God does not offer sound advice on what constitutes moral marital and sexual behavior. Practices such as polygamy, concubinage, and forced marriage were justified in different books of the Bible that Warren holds dear, but we rightly reject those practices today.

At the 9:54 mark, Warren continued to list Godly expectations of marriage, including the lifelong permanence of marriage and the illegitimacy of same-sex marriage.
"The fourth thing Jesus said in that passage was that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Now there are many other kinds of relationships, but those aren't marriage. Definitions matter. And then fifth ... marriage is to be permanent. Jesus repeats Genesis saying what God has joined together, no human being should separate."
The fact that marriages involving two men or two women can be successful, that same-sex marriages can be characterized by love, trust, and honesty, escapes him. To boot, Warren ignores the fact that divorce is sometimes good and necessary when marriages become toxic and reconciliation is impossible. How does pressuring couples to stay in miserable marriages benefit anyone?

At the 10:15 mark, Warren insisted that his statements about marriage were true, regardless of whether other people agreed with them.
"We know that all five of those truths that I just gave you are disputed, debated, and denied today, every one of them. But a lie doesn't become a truth, and wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good just because it becomes popular. Truth is truth."
He encouraged religious leaders to celebrate heterosexual marriage in their congregations through testimonies, regular renewals of vows, and rewards for people in long-term marriages. But many churches already treat married heterosexual couples as a superior caste, I thought. Won't this make singles, divorced people, and LGBTQ people feel even more excluded?

Warren listed the supposed benefits of heterosexual marriage, telling listeners that married people are healthier and more financially successful than their single counterparts. God created marriage because a single mother with a child has never been a viable economic entity, he said. This slap in the face to divorced women and single mothers stunned me. Sometimes single mothers don't have a choice in the matter. Sometimes being a single mother is better than staying in an abusive relationship. Often, non-nuclear family arrangements can be successful. Furthermore, this argument attributes poverty among divorced women and single mothers to the absence of a husband. Such thinking ignores societal factors that burden unmarried women, such as pink collar ghettos, the exorbitant cost of child care, and a frayed social safety net. Glorifying heterosexual marriage won't solve these problems; fair social policies will.

Warren repeated an old argument against same-sex marriage, insisting that children who grow up with a father and mother are healthier and more successful. However, research shows that children raised by same-sex couples also do very well, so being raised by an opposite-sex couples is not in and of itself what produces well-adjusted children. Maybe the most vital variable is having two stable, responsible adults in a child's home, rather than the sex of those adults.

Naturally, Warren had to depict marriage as under attack. He encouraged the audience to engage the media because "opponents of marriage" are out-marketing fundamentalist Christians. At the 18:14 mark, he had this to say.
"Right now, friends, the church is being out-marketed by the opponents of marriage ... and the minority view is getting the majority of the press. And they're the minority, they're so far the minority, and yet you would think they were the majority."
I assume that by "opponents of marriage", Warren meant supporters of same-sex marriage. If so, supporters of LGBTQ equality are not a minority anymore, either at home or abroad. Even if they were a minority, it would not make their demands any less legitimate.

Despite his refusal to take same-sex couples seriously, Warren adamantly denied that he was homophobic. At the 24:05 mark, he claimed that the public has accepted two alleged lies about the subject.
"Our culture has accepted two lies today. One of them is that if you disagree with somebody's lifestyle, then you either hate them or are afraid of them. I don't hate them and I'm not afraid of them. I'm not phobic, and I'm not hateful. I just disagree. That's a myth. And the other is that if you love somebody, you must agree with everything they believe or do. Well, that's nonsense because nobody agrees with everything you do, including your wife or your husband, or whatever. Both of those are nonsense."
The gusto with which the Religious Right opposes LGBTQ equality tells me that yes, they do hate and fear the LGBTQ community on some level. Decrying a fundamental part of a person's identity is hateful. Accepting someone's sexual orientation and gender identity is loving and respectful, because those traits are inseparable from the person's nature. Finally, denying rights to LGBTQ people is profoundly hateful. You're not phobic? Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night? I thought.

In conclusion, Rick Warren's talk at Humanum contained the same Religious Right rhetoric on marriage that I've heard over and over: marriage is a heterosexual institution, gender is binary, divorce is bad, marriage is under attack, we're not haters. The Religious Right seems to think that if it repeats statements enough times, those statements become true.