Tuesday, March 31, 2015

News Tidbits

NBC News: What Would Ted Cruz Do, Ask Pro-Immigration Evangelicals?

MassLive: Springfield pastor Scott Lively looks to expand his brand of Christian ministry to California's legal system

Al Jazeera America: Rape victims ‘hopeless’ after Bob Jones University response

Pink News: Indiana Governor: We will ‘fix’ religious freedom law even though it doesn’t discriminate

Christian Science Monitor: Arkansas follows Indiana into 'religious freedom' fight

News.com.au: Poland: Priest carries out mass exorcism at religious camp for children — leaving them screaming and in tears

Sydney Morning Herald: Sydney mother pleads guilty to manslaughter of her son, 7, who had 'plethora of injuries'   (Trigger warning)

The Guardian: Church sorry for saying a 'faith filled' Jill Meagher would not have been killed

The Guardian: Northern Ireland: 'Gay cake' bakery discriminated against client over sexual orientation, court told

Commentary Tidbits

Deity Shmeity: The Tipping Doubt

Montgomery Advertiser: Constitution, not Bible, is supreme law of the land

Think Progress: The True Intent Of Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill, According To The People That Helped Write It

Media Matters for America: Fox News' Dishonest Defense Of Indiana's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Law

Good As You: Indianapolis Star to Governor Pence: FIX THIS NOW

New York Times: In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry

Huffington Post: Anarchy Arrives in Indiana as America's 21st Century Religious War Heats Up

LGBTQ Nation: The campaign to undermine pro-LGBTQ churches

Right Wing Watch: After Being Stripped Of A Committee Assignment, Klingenschmitt Suspends His 'Pray In Jesus Name' Show

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin

Some time ago, after I reviewed the Botkins' "Ready for Real Life" webinar series, a reader pointed me to a 2013 sermon by Geoffrey Botkin. On September 29th, 2013, Botkin delivered a sermon at Christ the King Church in Centerville, Tennessee (where he serves as an elder) entitled "How Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals, Part III", available at Sermon Audio. Geoffrey Botkin is the head of the Western Conservatory of the Arts, a ministry that promotes Christian homeschooling and Christian Patriarchy.

I regret that I put the sermon on the back burner for a long time, but I finally sat down and listened to Botkin's talk. Now I realize why my reader encouraged me to listen.

The sermon offered a disturbing glimpse into Geoffrey Botkin's world, a world in which outsiders are to be hated, five year-olds can be "false prophets", and rape victims who don't cry out for help are deserving of death. Botkin's world is one of us-verses-them thinking and unforgiving legalism, with little room for tolerance or empathy. Since Botkin is a respected figure in some Christian homeschooling and Christian Patriarchy Movement circles, I wonder how many others in those movements share his disconcerting opinions.

Botkin began his sermon by emphasizing the importance of teaching children morals. He quoted Proverbs 28:4, telling listeners that it encapsulates Christian life. In Botkin's eyes, Christians are engaged in an ongoing conflict with the "bad guys", as he explained at the 2:46 mark.
"This is the essence of the Christian life. This is the essence of every life on earth. Either we're on one side of a conflict, an eternal conflict ... There is an enmity placed by God between the good guys and the bad guys, and it never stops. It never sleeps, ever."
At the 3:41 mark, he stressed that the struggle between the righteous and the wicked has no middle ground.
"There's no middle ground. There's no no-man's land ever in this conflict, in any generation at any time. And so when we speak at Christ the King Church about the church militant, and you've heard that term, and the church since the reformers has used that term -- the church militant -- the church has to be involved on one side or the other of this conflict. And churches can get on the wrong side of it and be fighting against God, or they can retreat and pretend that there is no conflict ... They are praising the wicked. They are cooperating with the wicked."
Parents must be part of a "family militant" alongside the "church militant" as part of the Great Commission. Parents must know where the dividing lines are in this conflict, Botkin said, adding that they must define sin for their children living in the midst of an "irreverent" culture. Words such as pornia, "sodomy", "treason", "idolatry", and others must be defined so that children understand what sin is, he stressed.

Botkin repeatedly depicted the outside world as a dangerous, corrupting influence. We urged his audience to avoid "friendship with the world", reminding listeners not to be unevenly yoked with unbelievers. Even small children can be "false prophets" and "stumbling blocks" to one's children, he warned at the 25:01 mark, telling parents that their children should not play with "covenant breakers".
"There's such a thing as false prophets who come enticing your children, and they can be very, very young. They can be four years old. They can be five years old. Jesus said woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks. Did you know little children can be a stumbling block to your children in the twinkling of an eye in things that they say to your children, things that they show to your children, things that they introduce to your children? It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come. Jesus Christ has said this, and so parents, this is our warning. We've been warned! ... There will be stumbling blocks. Plan on it. There will be stumbling blocks at the church, at the meeting of the church, driving to church, in your own home there will be stumbling blocks ... The one that is used by Satan to be the stumbling block, he's in big trouble, even if he's five years old."
Satan deploys evil five year-olds to corrupt the righteous? Did Botkin watch The Omen too many times? I thought.

Botkin's talk grew even more disturbing as he segued into a discussion of sin, correction, and punishment. If someone sins or strays from the Bible, believers should admonish them and try to lead them back to God, Botkin said. However, Christians must not be passive bystanders when they encounter unrepentant evil-doers, citing Deuteronomy 13:6-11 (in which God commands believers to execute idolaters, even among their loved ones) as an example of steadfast justice. "This is how the law of God prescribes that this kind of enticement be handled," he insisted.

This is madness, I thought. We know better in the 21st century. It is not moral to attack others just because they follow a different belief system. This is barbaric.

Concealment of a crime is itself a crime, he explained, warning listeners against being party to crimes through inaction. People have an obligation to intervene when they witness crimes, or at the very least let out a hue and cry, Botkin argued. Shockingly, he even applied this line of thinking to rape victims. Quoting Deuteronomy 22:23-27, Botkin observed that in Biblical times, a rape victim was to be executed if she didn't cry out. "Why? Because it was in the city and she didn't cry out and a crime was committed. And so, the cry is very important here," he said at the 59:31 mark. In a chilling segment at the 1:00:11 mark, Botkin argued that a rape victim deserves death "if she goes along with the crime".
"She cried out. She was not going to conceal a crime being committed. She cried out for help, and there was no one to help her. She's not guilty, but the man who committed the crime is. But if she goes along with the crime and does not cry out, then she's guilty too and is worthy of death because it's a capital crime."
First, an ancient legal code that sees women as chattel is not a sane blueprint for 21st century moral behavior. Second, it never occurs to Botkin that a rape victim might have legitimate reasons for staying silent during an assault. What if the attacker covered the victim's mouth? What if the attacker threatened to kill the victim if he or she made noise? What if the victim experienced tonic immobility? What if the victim was incapacitated due to date rape drugs? What if a vast power differential existed between the perpetrator and victim (i.e., a prison guard attacking an inmate)? What if the victim was too young to understand what was happening? What if the victim was just scared? 

This is all beside the point, however. A sexual assault victim is never culpable for his or her victimization. Responsibility for the crime lies with the perpetrator alone. Executing a rape victim is the height of barbarism, which is why enlightened societies no longer do so. Botkin's cold adherence to iron age edicts leaves little room for empathy or justice. Given the Christian Patriarchy Movement's low opinion of women, celebration of male dominance, and scandals, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at Botkin's views.

Botkin's 2013 sermon reminds us that fundamentalist legalism can be taken to chilling extremes. In Botkin's world, an inerrant interpretation of scripture must be preserved at all costs. Those who do not adhere to said doctrines are demonized as "bad guys" with whom one is at war. According to such thinking, even when the doctrines are cruel and unjust, they must be followed implicitly. In Botkin's black-and-white world, obedience to the doctrine trumps empathy, justice, or brotherhood.

News Tidbits

9 News: Klingenschmitt scolded on house floor

Talking Points Memo: Who Is The Mysterious Lawyer Behind California's 'Kill All Gays' Drive?

Q Notes: Anti-LGBT ‘religious freedom’ bill comes to North Carolina

Washington Blade: Archdiocese of Washington joins effort to kill D.C. gay rights measure

Metro Weekly: Ted Cruz: 10 anti-gay statements

Commentary Tidbits

Against the Greater Light: The True Message of God's Not Dead

Pandagon: Phil Robertson’s version of “morality” is ugly and immoral (Trigger warning)

Huffington Post: A Christian Oligarchy to Call Our Own

Mother Jones: Indiana Just Made It Easier to Discriminate Against Gay People—And Just About Anyone Else

Alternet: Why a Gay Man Like Me Is Going to Make It Hard for Indiana Shopkeepers to Exercise Their 'Religious Liberty'

Warren Throckmorton: George Barna, Please Meet the Barna Group

Right Wing Watch: Klingenschmitt Apologizes: 'Everything I Did About That Report Was Wrong'

Sunday, March 29, 2015

U-Turn Conference: Quotes from Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee

To read about George Barna's talks at U-Turn, click here and here. To read about Paul Blair's talk, click hereTo read about David Barton's talk, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. Since I only stayed for the morning talks, I missed the panel discussion featuring Sandy Rios, as well as Mike Huckabee's video. Fortunately, Right Wing Watch was also monitoring U-Turn, and they have since posted video clips from the conference.

First, during a panel discussion entitled "A Ministry Perspective", Sandy Rios blasted same-sex marriage while displaying the persecution complex so common among Religious Right figures.
"There is persecution afoot. It's abroad ... but it's also here, and I want to speak about one part of it quickly. Homosexual marriage is bringing about the tip of the spear of the battle that we're going to face."
Also in keeping with the Religious Right's persecution complex was Rios' warning that Christians would soon suffer martyrdom for their beliefs.
"I would recommend that you stop playing it safe. The Bible says if you can't keep up with men, how will you run with horses? You must prepare for martyrdom. I don't know what it's going to look like, but it's coming."
Rios pandered to ugly stereotypes about transgender people, warning the audience that their female relatives would be forced to share public restrooms with "men dressed like women". She urged listeners to take a stand against LGBTQ rights as a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage approaches.
"There are wives, your sisters, your children who now are going to be forced to go into public restrooms and share them with men dressed like women. This is in epidemic proportion in gyms, in schools. In Massachusetts where homosexual marriage has been legal for ten years, the stories would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. And ladies and gentlemen, Supreme Court will make a decision on whether homosexual marriage will be the law of the land in April, and if they do, every single person in this room is going to be forced to make a choice. And I'm just telling you, even if you don't want to engage in this battle, you will, and your people will, and you'd better stand."

Next, Mike Huckabee addressed U-Turn attendees in a video message near Mount Carmel in Israel. Huckabee was disappointed that pastors have supposedly failed to preach on present-day issues, in keeping with previous U-Turn talks that encouraged pastors to discuss politics from the pulpit.
"We wonder why our culture has turned godless. We wonder why people don't grow up understanding the fundamentals of natural law, the moral basis of our Judeo-Christian founding as a nation. Might it be that the problem is not the history classes in our high schools, but the pulpits of America who have not taken what they even believe and applied it to the pulpit and to the people?"
Huckabee's message urged religious leaders to "stand in the gap" by preaching on pressing issues. "God wants us to stand in the gap, and sometimes my heart's broken because in our own country, a lot of pastors will stand in the pulpit, but they won't stand in the gap," he said.

Rios and Huckabee, like U-Turn's earlier speakers, warned listeners that their country was spiraling downward due to advances in LGBTQ equality and "godless" thinking. Such rhetoric was intended to inspire pastors into action, to encourage them to preach to their congregants on pressing issues. U-Turn is a reminder that the Religious Right is mobilizing as the Supreme Court's April decision draws near and the 2016 election looms.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

U-Turn Conference: George Barna's Disturbing Talk on "Brokenness"

To read about George Barna's earlier talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about Paul Blair's talk, click hereTo read about David Barton's talk, click here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. George Barna's second talk of the morning, "A Roadmap for the Future: Where Do We Go From Here", began with observations about leadership in congregations, issues of the day, and Christian discipleship. However, the tone of the talk changed sharply when Barna waxed poetic about "brokenness".
"One of the things that I've discovered about discipleship is that there are a number of things that God does in the lives of his disciples, and one of the things he invariably does with anybody who's going to make any kind of a difference is he breaks them. Now, I will tell you this. As I've studied the sermons that are being preached across America today, it is very, very rare to find anybody who preaches about brokenness, about anybody who encourages their congregants to allow God to break them. See, because that's become un-American. In America, we teach that we're overcomers. We're victors. We're triumphant. We're strong. We make it happen. We solve problems. See, but God's way is no, when you're weak is when you're strong. When you're broken is when you're usable."
"We've got a vast majority of people who are accepting Christ as their savior without brokenness," Barna complained, telling listeners that faith requires being broken in "sin, self, and society".

I was disgusted. Challenges make us better people, but traumas that break our spirits prevent us from flourishing. Barna's belief that only a traumatized, "broken" person can serve God ignores the fact that traumatic experiences can cause lifelong psychological and physical harm. The myth that suffering and trauma make us spiritually stronger ignores all the evidence that trauma undermines our well-being. (I encourage people to read about the ACE study to learn more about trauma's devastating effects.) Instead of telling people that God wants them "broken", we should help them find healing and cultivate resilience.

Moreover, Barna's ideas about "brokenness" discourage us from showing compassion toward those who have been traumatized. Barna discouraged audience members from alleviating the suffering of those who are being broken by crisis.
"God gives us the privilege of experiencing crises in our life. He gives us crisis. It might be a physical crisis, it might be an emotional crisis, it might be a financial crisis. There are all kinds of crises that he uses. I found that as I did the research, among those people who have been broken, number one, they had to be broken multiple times because typically we think, 'Oh my gosh, this is an awful circumstance, I've got to overcome it,' and on our own power, we try to undo what God was doing, so God has to give us another opportunity, which means another crisis ... More often than not, churches get in the way of people being broken, and what I mean by that is we're trying to love people, and so when we see somebody endure a crisis, we come up alongside them and say, 'Hey, let us love you, don't worry about it, we're going to overcome this, we're going to wipe this out of your memory, we're going to wipe, we're going to take care of this, you won't even remember that this happened to you' ... See, the whole point is that God needed that person to deal with that situation in order to understand their own depravity and their need for him.

So, we really need to rethink how you come alongside people who are struggling and suffering. Are you trying to take away the pain? Are you trying to alleviate the suffering? Are you trying to ignore what God is putting them through? That doesn't help them. That doesn't help the church. It doesn't help the culture. And so we've got to come to grips with the necessity of being broken."
Being broken is a privilege? God breaks us to teach us how depraved we supposedly are? What kind of spiritual sadomasochism is this? I thought. The faith that Barna described was one of pain and debasement, with God playing the role of a cosmic torturer who breaks the spirits of his victims. I want no part of a deity who abuses his children instead of uplifting them.

We have a moral obligation to prevent trauma and offer succor to those who have been traumatized. If we assign any value to the intrinsic dignity of others, we should "get in the way of people being broken". If we value social justice, we must recognize that some forms of trauma are the result of oppressive systems, and that we have a moral imperative to challenge those systems. No, Mr. Barna, I am not going to ignore the battered woman, the abused child, the hate crime victim, the veteran with PTSD, or the impoverished family going hungry. If your deity can't get with that, you can keep him.

To read additional commentary on U-Turn, visit the following links.

Americans Against the Tea Party: Radical Pastors’ Network Wants Right-Wing Pastor Who Can ‘Call Down God’s Fire’ on America

Lancaster Online: Pastors must take the lead to change the nation

Right Wing Watch: Pastors Network's Sam Rohrer: Gov't Officials' Job Is To 'Promote God’s Moral Law'

Friday, March 27, 2015

News Tidbits

Talking Points Memo: California AG Kamala Harris Plans To Fight 'Kill All Gays' Proposal

Greenville Online: BJU faulted for response to GRACE report

Georgia Voice: ‘Religious freedom’ bill author McKoon has ties to anti-LGBT Georgia ministry

Ms. Magazine: Masked Intruder Attacks Last Abortion Clinic Standing in Mississippi

Pew Research Center: Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty

Religion News Service: Southern Baptist race summit calls for focus on reconciliation

Toledo Blade: Williams County school district promotes sectarian policies, ACLU alleges

Philadelphia Inquirer: LGBT advocates ponder how to benefit from Francis' visit

The Column: Shame, shock therapy, and Christ: Experiences from inside Minnesota’s ex-gay movement

Arizona Capitol Times: Senator explains church law comment 

Commentary Tidbits

Washington Post: 19 states that have ‘religious freedom’ laws like Indiana’s that no one is boycotting

Valerie Tarico: Children as Chattel: The Common Root of Religious Child Abuse and the Pro-Life Movement

Infidel753: To liberal supporters of Pope Francis

Think Progress: When ‘Religious Liberty’ Was Used To Justify Racism Instead Of Homophobia

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

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic: Hampstead Churchgoers Face Mob

Right Wing Watch: Arizona Lawmaker Who Floated Mandatory Church Attendance Has A History Of Extremism  

RH Reality Check: MRAs for Jesus: A Look Inside the Christian ‘Manosphere’

Salon: “Wrath upon those who do evil”: Why Ted Cruz chose Liberty University to launch his campaign 

Raw Story: ‘Prayer warriors’ protest pro-LGBT documentary, and film star’s response is perfect

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Indiana: Gov. Pence Signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act Into Law


Earlier today, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 568, better known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law, reports NPR. The legislation decrees that the state "may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability".

In a press release, Governor Pence invoked the Hobby Lobby Case case and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act while defending his support for the bill. Pence claims to have signed the bill to support "the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith" at a time when "many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action". He denied that the bill would allow discrimination in Indiana.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.

The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.

One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.

Fortunately, in the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means.

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action. At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes. And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action.

In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.

This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith."
LGBTQ rights activists, civil liberties advocates, and political leaders warn that the legislation will legalize discrimination. Indianapolis mayor Greg Balland released a statement claiming that "RFRA send the wrong signal" and that he doesn't believe the legislation accurately reflects Indiana or Indianapolis, reports Fox 59.

Meanwhile, business leaders worry that the legislation will make it difficult for Indian businesses to recruit and retain workers, while sports and entertainment leaders warn that the legislation could have negative economic impacts. NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement expressing concern about how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could impact its athletes and employees. (Hat tip to the Washington Post.) The CEO of Gen Con, which hosts an annual gaming convention in Indiana, sent a letter to Mike Pence warning that, "Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against out attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years." (Hat tip to Gay Star News.)

Some faith groups found the bill offensive as well. According to Christianity Today, the Disciples of Christ may decide against holding their 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis due to the bill. "We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race," its leaders wrote in a recent press release.

The effects of this legislation remain to be seen, but the implications are disturbing. What recourse will LGBTQ people have if business owners refuse to serve them on account of religious homophobia? What about employees whose employers look askance at their sexual orientation or reproductive health practices? When did religious sentiments trump so many other rights in this country?

The reasoning behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should be familiar to all of us by now. The Religious Right's persecution complex, the myth of endangered "religious liberty", and the idea that faith trumps other people's rights are driving new legislation with worrisome implications. Bigotry rooted in religion is still bigotry, and no amount of religious belief justifies discrimination.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Mic: "Religious Freedom" Bills Are the Newest Front in the War on LGBT Americans

Media Matters: Fox News' Dishonest Defense Of Indiana's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Law 

The New Civil Rights Movement: Indiana Governor Mike Pence Has Signed 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law

Monday, March 23, 2015

News Tidbits

New York Times: Ted Cruz Hopes Early Campaign Entry Will Focus Voters’ Attention 

Los Angeles Times: Ted Cruz courts young evangelicals for uphill presidential bid

Pink News: Anti-gay Republican Ted Cruz pledges to ‘uphold the sacrament of marriage’ while launching Presidential bid

Washington Post: Virginia’s Liberty University: A mega-college and Republican presidential stage

The Guardian: New Rick Perry hire sent email saying children's lives would be harmed by female president

Huffington Post: Bob Jones III Apologizes For Saying Gays Should Be Stoned To Death

LGBTQ Nation: Groups for, against LGBT rights stage dueling rallies at Texas state capitol

Omaha World-Herald: Incoming State Patrol superintendent criticized for religion at work

KCRA 3: Can California ballot proposal legalizing killing of gays be stopped?

Commentary Tidbits

Micah J. Murray: Dear Christianity, I Have a Few Questions

News One: Creflo Dollar Ministries Pulls Jet Fundraiser Page, But You Can Still Give

The Atlantic: What Do Religious Women Think of the Contraceptive Mandate?

The Root: Same-Sex Marriage Is Happening. It’s Time for Christians to Recognize It as the Right Thing

Jezebel: Anti-Abortion Website Whines About Being Bombed ... With Glitter

Rolling Stone: Meet Alex Jones

Dianna E. Anderson: Convert or Perish: Is The Evangelical Church Inherently Violent?

Think Progress: Lawmaker Whose Adopted Daughter Was Raped Wants To Restrict Abortion For Rape And Incest Victims 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

U-Turn Conference: David Barton on Preachers and "Biblical Values"

To read about Paul Blair's talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about George Barna's talks, click here and here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. Among the conference's high-profile headliners was David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders and the author of several contested books on American history.

In a talk entitled "When Pastors Stand for Truth: A Historical Perspective", Barton began by reassuring the audience that America is still a blessed nation, invoking "American exceptionalism". While other nations are experiencing revolutions and new constitutions, America has stayed politically stable. The U.S. is also economically prosperous and productive, producing countless patents, discoveries, and innovations, he observed.

The difference between America's past and present has to do not only with its leaders, but with its religious leader, Barton asserted. He spoke warmly of historical preachers such as Rev. Harry Hoosier and the Black Robe Regiment, disappointed that preachers are barely covered in American history. Barton claimed that the Declaration of Independence sprang from the teachings of colonial preachers, ignoring the Enlightenment origins of its ideas.
"When you look at the Declaration [of Independence] and look at all the rights that are set forth in the Declaration of Independence, historians have documented that every single one of those rights had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. What that means is the Declaration of Independence is nothing more than a listing of the sermons we've been hearing in the church for the last twenty years leading up to the Revolution."
Barton longed for a past in which religious leaders spoke before legislatures and opened state government sessions with prayer.
"You can imagine if we tried to do this today, you know exactly what would happen. 'You can't do that! That's unconstitutional!' Time out. It's the guys who gave us the documents that were the ones who were doing this."
Pastors preached on the issues of their day, Barton told the audience, including homosexuality and judges. After criticizing modern-day conservative pastors for their reluctance to criticize gays, Barton praised Benjamin Goad's 1674 anti-gay treatise, The Cry of Sodom. He scapegoated judges for a myriad of policies he disagreed with, including church-state separation, same-sex marriage, and abortion.
"The righteousness of the land is determined by the judges in that land. As I'll point out to you, it wasn't legislatures that gave us homosexual marriage, it was judges that gave us homosexual marriage. It was not legislatures who said kids can't pray before football games, it was judges who said kids can't pray before football. It was not legislatures who said we're going to have abortion on demand, it was judges who told us ... The righteousness of the land is determined by the judges, which is why God gives explicit instructions for what judges should do."
Barton told the audience that historical pastors preached on a variety of other issues, such as gambling and candidates for elections. He pointed out with chagrin that the IRS forbade churches from promoting candidates in 1954, likening the policy to prophets such as Elijah and Nathan shrinking away from condemning corrupt kings.

Since the Bible discusses political matters, the church should discuss political matters instead of shying away from politics, he argued. Convinced that the Bible supports right-wing policies, Barton cited the Gospels as he argued for the illegitimacy of same-sex marriage, the capital gains tax, and the minimum wage. After quoting Malachi 2:9, Barton argued that just as ancients consulted priests on legal matters, so too should pastors be empowered to comment on the law, since God's law trumps human law.
"You want to learn something about [inaudible], don't go to an attorney, go to a preacher. Why? Because the Bible gives 613 civil laws on how to run a country. The Bible has 613. So if you want to know what the law says, consult God's law ... Don't worry about man's law. It's got to conform to God's law, and that's why you went to the priest to find out about the law, and that's why we preach those kind of sermons, because the word of God deals with all these areas."
The problem is, those 613 laws were produced by a savage iron age culture and have no place in 21st century America. Barton conveniently forgets that many Old Testament edicts were vicious and unjust, such as laws condoning slavery, ethnic cleansing, sexual abuse of war captives, and capital punishment for smart-mouthed children, gay men, rape victims, brides who don't bleed on their wedding nights, followers of other faiths, and people who labor on the sabbath. Even the most rigid fundamentalist would recoil from these practices, since our society embraces a more enlightened moral code than our iron age ancestors. Despite what Barton would have us believe, biblical laws do not provide an appropriate blueprint for 21st century jurisprudence.

Christians have been pressured to "compartmentalize our faith" by "people who hate what we do", Barton told the audience. "We've compartmentalized our faith, which now causes many Christians to believe that there's a difference between the secular and the spiritual. God didn't believe that," he said. God's word speaks to every aspect of life, including government debt, taxes, and education, he assured listeners. Once again, the idea that iron age laws are ill-suited for a 21st century society escapes him.

In the 1960s, Christians redefined the Great Commission as a mandate to evangelize and convert, rather than to disciple people in morality, he claimed. As a result, Christians and non-Christians are becoming indistinguishable in their moral attitudes. Converting people to Christianity without teaching them values is dangerous, Barton argued, pointing to Africa as an example of the consequences. While many African nations are Christian, corruption, poverty and mistreatment of women still fester on the continent, he noted.
"Did you know in the 20th century, we successfully evangelized several countries in Africa? They now for three generations have been 90% Christian nations. We have several countries in Central America. 90% Christian ... Five years ago, statistically speaking, they looked at those countries in Africa that are now 90% Christian. In those countries, AIDS rates have increased, government corruption has increased, mistreatment of women has increased, and poverty has increased. Oh great! We're a Christian nation! Really? Where's the discipleship? Christian behavior should change and make things better. It's not doing that, and that's the aspect we've got to get back into as the church."
Wow. Does the term "white man's burden" ring any bells for you? I thought.

Barton lamented the fact that more churches are not involved in political matters, since churches were seminal in the founding of the United States. To remedy this situation, Barton suggested a threefold solution. First, Christians must be familiar with the Constitution, since ignorance will kill the country.

For starters, they should familiarize themselves with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and so should you, I thought to myself.

Second, the church should be fighting offensively, not defensively. Barton accused the church of once playing defense on issues such as school prayer while groups such as the ACLU play offense. Now, Christian advocates for student prayers, Bible clubs, etc. are going on the offensive, a strategy of which Barton approved. Third, Christians must be familiar with the Bible in order to understand and assert Biblical values.

Much like Barna, Barton paints a picture of a fundamentalist-friendly American past in order to justify right-wing activism today. His audience will be much more enthusiastic about eroding church-state separation, obstructing LGBTQ equality, and elevating the wealthy if they believe that American history vindicates them.

Like Blair, Barton forgets that he shares the U.S. with diverse Christians and non-Christians. His vision for America excludes them, and the blurring of the secular and fundamentalist religious worlds he seeks would impinge on their liberties.

Barton speaks warmly about "biblical" values, but only cites the Biblical passages that reinforce his belief system. The Bible is a collection of books written in different eras and cultures, and it does not present a unified moral code or government template. To boot, many of the values celebrated in the Old Testament are barbaric and grossly inappropriate for 21st century America, but Barton conveniently ignores them. Barton is actually championing right-wing, dominionist values, which he justifies with cherry-picked scriptural passages.

Blair, Barna, and Barton spent the morning of March 19th wooing listeners with pious talk, visions of a golden past, and calls for political action. Judging from the audience's rapt attention, applause, and sporadic calls of "Amen", the three men made an impact. The Religious Right is working hard to energize their base as the 2016 election draws near, but will they mobilize enough voters to sway the election?

News Tidbits

Religion News Service: Vatican Accepts Resignation Of Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Accused Of Sexual Harassment 

Raw Story: Gov. Sam Brownback: Forcing women to have babies is part of ‘pro-economic growth agenda’ in Kansas

SF Gate: ‘Shoot the gays’ initiative likely to be circulated

WLTX 19: Bob Jones III apologizes for anti-gay comments from 1980

The Advocate: Anti-Conversion Therapy Bills Advance in Three States

Commentary Tidbits

Darcy's Heart-Stirrings: Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings 

The Daily Beast: Meet Bibi’s New Tribulation-Courting, Jew-Converting, Demon-Exorcising American Allies

Alternet: The Christian Right Still Dominates the GOP -- Is There Any End in Sight?

The New York Times: A Christian Nation? Since When?

Vincit Omnia Veritas: The Conversation We Need to Have About Gay Rights

Saturday, March 21, 2015

U-Turn Conference: George Barna on Values

To read about Paul Blair's talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about David Barton's talk, click here. To read about George Barna's other talk, click here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. The conference focused on the alleged fallen state of the U.S. and the importance of politically active pastors and Christians. After Paul Blair's talk, George Barna of the Barna Group delivered a talk on politics and values in America. In a talk entitled "The Necessity of Engagement: A Statistical Perspective", Barna depicted an America devoid of vision and mired in political passivity, a situation he urged religious leaders to correct.

At this moment in history, people must reflect on what made America great, he told the audience. The source of America's historical greatness, he claimed, was a dynamic partnership between the family, church, and government. All three institutions once shared a common vision that provided people with purpose, hope, leadership, and accountability. The result of this partnership, Barna claimed, was that the government was based on biblical values and limited its intrusion into the family and church, while the family obeyed the rule of law.

Today, the strength of the U.S. is being dissipated due to a lack of a shared vision among its people, he said. Most Americans believe that the U.S. is in decline, the government will not change for the better, and being politically active is efficacious, Barna told the audience. Parents no longer believe that they have a duty to raise children to be good citizens, preferring to let schools teach citizenship. However, declining public schools are failing to teach children to be good citizens, he claimed. Pastors, for their part, are reluctant to engage in matters of politics and citizenship for fear of running afoul of the IRS, he said, adding that churches are abdicating their political influence.

Barna depicted the U.S. as a country losing its Christian faith (ignoring the fact that people of many faiths and no faith make up its citizenry). According to Barna Group research, fewer Americans see faith as important or espouse a "biblical worldview", he told listeners, adding that many pastors don't even embrace a "biblical worldview. The growing numbers of "unchurched Americans" troubled him, as did the decreasing influence of the Bible in America.

There's more to this country than just fundamentalist Christians, you know, I thought. The rest of us are Americans too. Barna's America was a Christian America, it seemed, and his moral vision encapsulated only conservative Christians.

Government, he lamented, is not guiding the American people toward a shared vision. Citizens increasingly have little confidence in the three branches and agencies of the federal government. Many voters are insufficiently informed to make educated voting decisions, he claimed, and born-again Christian voters are no exception. Plenty of Christians do not vote and have not registered to vote, he complained.

Is this about getting out the Religious Right vote for the 2016 election? I wondered.

Barna was disappointed that few churches are allegedly using "biblical" teachings to influence public policy. As a result, America has passed legislation that is supposedly incompatible with the Bible.
"What happens is, we wind up putting policies into place that look like this, things like removing the Bible and prayer from public schools, legalizing abortion, legalizing same-sex marriage, allowing the government to spend way beyond its means, allowing people to work on the sabbath, protecting pornography as free speech, facilitating divorce, penalizing families, reducing religious liberties, instituting unprecedented expansion of entitlement programs, enabling government eavesdropping and data collection on all citizens and businesses, pursuing foreign policies that continually and severely weaken our economy and our global relationships and our security, creating countless laws through judicial rulings and executive orders in disobedience to the Constitution. You see, nobody's holding these people accountable."
Barna complained that voters are not advocating for limited government, despite allegedly wanting to see limited government. He also disapproved of the supposed abandonment of early American values in favor of new, ungodly values, which he blamed for America's alleged decline.
"To what do we attribute the wholesale abandonment of principles and practices that made America great? I suggest that a lot of it lies in the shift in our core values that we have allowed to take place. See, the primary values of early Americans were diverse in their coverage. In comparison, America's values today are much more narrowly focused. We embrace a larger number of values and they're clustered within a smaller number of categories, and the reason for that is today's values are much more self-centered and less other-centered ... As you look at early America's core values, there are a number of them ... Things like contentment and hard work and recognizing and living up to civic obligations and duty, truth and honesty, recognizing and living the importance of the rule of law, frugality, chastity, simplicity. That's something you build a strong country out of because it's common sense and it's based on God's core principles. But when you look at that other list of current American values, what do you see? Things like comfort and entertainment, experiences, expressiveness, individuality, personal control, self-reliance and independence, speed, things that have nothing to do with honoring God and living the way that he's called us to live."
These drastic changes in values have created a culture in which divorce, premarital sex, and same-sex relationships are considered moral, Barna fumed.
"One of the kinds of decisions that these types of values drive has to do with our perceptions of what's acceptable morality, and so when you look at what people believe without morality in America today ... 69% of Americans say that getting a divorce is a moral behavior. 67% say an unmarried woman having a baby is a moral behavior. 66%, two-thirds, say that a sexual relationship between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman is morally reasonable. It goes on and on. Stem cell research, gambling, sexual thoughts or fantasies about people you're not married to, cohabitation, the death penalty. People think all of these represent godly morality. Look at the fact that six out of ten [people] say gay or lesbian relationships, doctor-assisted suicide -- the majority of people say this is acceptable morality."
"Everything is permissible" in American society now because "we've allowed degradation of our religious beliefs," Barna insisted. According to Barna, the American Dream has been replaced by the New Millennium Dream, characterized by tolerance, "customized family", entitlement to rights and services, working only as hard as necessary to get by, and situational truth. Present-day America is different from the America of the 1600-1800s.

Barna partially blames the media and entertainment industry on this alleged shift in values. Ironically, he claimed that the media is feeding people a false version of reality. I'm more concerned about how the Religious Right misrepresents reality, I thought.
"Most Americans do not actually experience reality. What they do is they wait for the media to explain to them what reality is, and so we're being fed a perception of reality that bears no resemblance to what our dreams have been or what the future could be."
American churches need to measure transformation rather than money, square footage, or attendance, Barna told listeners. Religious leaders need to shape people's priorities, lest they fail to take voting seriously and become disengaged from what the government is doing.

Barna's simplistic picture of the American moral landscape sugar-coated the past and dismissed the many positive values of the present. First, in his eagerness to exalt America's past, he ignored the many ugly values that infused that past: racism, ethnocentrism, tolerance of slavery, Manifest Destiny, sexism, and religious intolerance. We should not blindly glorify a past in which women were second-class citizens, blacks were slaves, whites colonized Native American lands and subjected indigenous populations to ethnocide, and people were oppressed for their religious beliefs.

Second, Barna was so eager to demonize the present that he ignored the moral progress than 21st century Americans have made. If Americans are supposedly failing to be other-oriented, how do we explain the abundance of charitable giving and the millions of Americans who volunteer? The countless people who advocate for social justice -- racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, fair conditions for workers -- suggest that other-oriented values are alive and well. The passion with which many people engage politics and legislation could not burn among a passive populace. The America I live in is not a cesspool of selfishness and apathy, but a country with millions of engaged, enlightened citizens. What America is Barna living in?

Barna's caricature of modern morality focused heavily on family and sexuality, suggesting a certain discomfort with relationships that do not fit a married, heterosexual, childbearing mold. It is revealing that family and sexuality issues consumed so much of his attention, rather than other moral issues such as corporate corruption, poverty, interpersonal violence, climate change, and environmental harm. Morality encompasses much more than bedroom habits, but these other moral issues do not rile up Religious Right audiences quite like same-sex marriage and divorce do.

For a speaker who waxed poetic about religious freedom, Barna grossly misunderstood the concept. He listed IRS limitations on clergy politicking, bans on school prayer, and labor on Sundays as signs of American moral decline, rather than examples of healthy church-state separation. If Religious Right figures despise "big government" intrusion into citizens' lives, why would they want government to impose religion on its citizens?

It appears that Barna was trying to encourage his audience to be more politically active by depicting their present world as morally impoverished. To inspire them, he reminisced about an early American golden age that never truly existed and offered a moral vision that was inappropriate for the 21st century.

Friday, March 20, 2015

U-Turn Conference: Paul Blair on God and Government

To read about George Barna's talks at U-Turn, click here and here. To read about David Barton's talk, click here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. As mentioned in a prior post, I spent the morning observing U-Turn, where I listened to talks by David Barton of Wallbuilders, George Barna of the Barna Group, and others. With the exception of Sandy Rios, all the speakers were men, and with the exception of Joseph Green, overwhelmingly white.

A common theme among the talks was that the U.S. had fallen away from its founding biblical principles, and that fundamentalist Christians needed to reclaim the country for Christ once again. To achieve this goal, pastors were to become politically active and disciple their flocks toward conservative political ends. In essence, U-Turn was about rallying fundamentalist evangelical pastors to get their congregants politically active for conservative causes. With the 2016 election just twenty months away, U-Turn was well-timed.

Several hundred people were in attendance to hear speakers describe the alleged fallen state of our culture. I walked into the auditorium in the middle of an introductory talk by Sam Rohrer, president of the American Pastors Network. Rohrer claimed that God created civil government as an instrument of his authority, and that the Bible contains content relevant to government issues. Christians must speak the truth in the public square, he told the audience. God has raised people up, but if we want to accept God's blessing, we must do "God's will, God's way", he asserted.

Pastors and politicians are both leaders, even though politicians often see religious leaders as merely a "conduit" for votes in "nice territory", Rohrer said. While "jurisdictional difference" distinguishes pastors and politicians, both have similar duties as leaders. The message, it seemed, was that pastors must be prepared to guide their congregants into political matters.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

After a short video promoting the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ took the stage. I cringed at Blair's "machine gun" style of preaching, since he spoke so quickly and loudly that it was difficult to digest what he was saying.

In a talk entitled "The Pastor's Impact: A Biblical Perspective", Blair claimed that it's easy to see why America is in its current condition. Only 9% of born-again Christians espouse a "biblical worldview", while many other Christians have embraced a "postmodernist" worldview, he insisted. Americans have accepted "Platonic Greek" ideas that compel them to keep Jesus in church and outside of other areas of their lives, he argued.

"Civil liberty and religious liberty travel as a pair," Blair told listeners, warning them that to lose one is to lose both. Shortly after the birth of the Christian church in the Book of Acts, Christians experienced persecution throughout history, only enjoying full freedom in the United States, he claimed. Blair listed the Catholic Church as a historical force that oppressed Christians, and I found the fact that he did not consider Catholicism to be a form of Christianity revealing.
"Look back in biblical history. We see the birth of the church in Acts chapter 2, and by Acts 4, we see the church suffering persecution, first by the Sanhedrin, then by the pagan Roman Empire, then by the Holy Roman Catholic Empire during the dark ages, down throughout the centuries. Even around the world today, we're seeing Christians beheaded and impaled and crucified because of their faith. Only in America, and only for the last two-hundred years have we been able to enjoy both civil and religious liberty. We're not the rule. We're the exception to the rule."
In his haste to depict Christianity as an oppressed victim, Blair ignored instances throughout history when Christians (and yes, Catholics are Christians) were politically and socially dominant.

Blair painted a paranoid picture of the government, warning listeners that public education and Common Core were governmental means of controlling the population. He argued that for a dictatorship to take root, it must exercise iron-fisted control over education, media, and conscience. Is this a not-so-subtle jab at President Obama? I wondered.
"Understand that for any tyrannical dictator to enforce his tyrannical control over your person, he must first assume control over your mind. So in order for a dictatorship to be established, first thing they're going to do is nationalize education. Folks, the Bible says its up to the parents to train up their children in the way they should go, but the government seeks to nationalize education. Hello? Common Core? The next thing [is that] they have to control the media, so they can control the flow of information into what you believe the truth is that's out there. And then, finally, you also gave to remove any religious liberty. You cannot have freedom of conscience. Because you cannot have the ability to disagree with the government. Whatever the government chooses to do must be right."
Blair listed two variations of government tyranny: "atheistic communism", in which the government bestows rights and determines what is right and wrong, and theocracy, in which disagreeing with leaders is condemned as both heresy and treason. To escape from such tyranny in the form of a state church, the Pilgrims came to America on board the Mayflower, he noted. The Pilgrims sought civil and religious liberty and understood that God established home, church, and civil government, he argued.

The United States was established with a "biblical worldview" in mind, Blair claimed, listing three biblical principles on which America was supposedly founded. First, the purpose of the government is to ensure the good of the people. Quoting Romans 13:1-4, he argued that the purpose of government is to punish evil and protect good, not to oppress. Next, a written constitution laying out the law for everyone is vital, he said. Rule with the consent of the governed is a godly principle, he added. Finally, Blair emphasized that an absolute standard of truth exists as defined by the will of God. While humans are free to legislate laws, no human law should contradict the will of God as set out in scripture, he insisted. According to Blair, same-sex marriage laws contradict God's will.
"Is there anywhere in the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22 that tells you what the speed limit on Broadway should be? No, no. So that area is free for man to legislate and determine what is a safe yet effective speed for driving down Broadway. However, what is the definition of a marriage? One man, one woman. Who said so? God did!" [Audience applauds]
I sighed at Blair's tired and familiar arguments. The Religious Right's insistence that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles ignores the fact that Enlightenment ideas, not biblical ones, shaped the formation of the U.S. Cherished American rights such as freedom of religion did not spring from the Bible, a fact Blair ignores.

While discussing the history of the Constitution, Blair ranted against the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage, the federal government, and public schools in an effort to defend state rights. The federal government is supposed to be bound by rule of law, but it doesn't honor its boundaries because the people are now "sheep" now. "Judge Roy Moore is a hero!" he proclaimed.
"What happens if the federal government tries to assume more power than what the Constitution gives them? Oh, I know what we've been taught in school. We're supposed to go and pray and beg before the Supreme Court that they will rule 5 to 4 in hopes of allowing the states to continue to determine what natural marriage is. Folks, that is not what the Constitution says... The states are supposed to hold the federal government accountable. We're the ones that created the federal government, not the other way around! Ladies and gentlemen, understand we are not three hundred and eighteen million people ruled by a little dictator in Washington D.C. and nine attorneys in black robes. We are a union of sovereign states that delegated by compact few and designed responsibilities to the general government to take care of the general welfare of the whole. They don't have the right to exceed the limited powers that we gave them ... We have been trained in our government-controlled schools to worship at the altar of the federal government."
On screen, Blair had prepared a "summary of 2014", listing alleged signs of governmental failure, including national debt, NSA spying, Obamacare, Common Core, "discrimination" against the Tea Party, "discrimination" against Christians on military bases, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Blair raged against same-sex marriage, warning the audience that their ability to practice job discrimination against gays was in imminent danger.
"If the court rules that homosexual marriage is natural and normal, and you have to support it, then they will be putting your choice of sexuality, which is behavior, on the same plane as your gender, which you're born [with], or your race, which you're born [with]. And as a Baptist minister, for example, I can discriminate in my hiring practices. For example, I don't have to hire anybody who's a non-Baptist because I am a Baptist minister. However, it would be illegal for me to say, 'I'm only going to hire white Baptists.' That would be discrimination, would it not? And it would be. But if they legitimize homosexual marriage and put it on the same plane as race, then I also won't be able to discriminate against hiring only heterosexual Baptists. Gentlemen, this is the camel's nose underneath the tent. This line cannot be crossed."
The solution to America's problems will not come from trusting politicians, he argued. Christians must be informed, and pastors must disciple their flocks. Pastors are to make sure their flocks hear the gospel, equip them to share the gospel, and educate them in a "biblical worldview", he emphasized. To this end, Blair encouraged listeners to watch videos from the Truth Project and plugged several fundamentalist apologetics websites, including Answers in Genesis.

Blair's "Nehemiah Strategy" was a vision in which the church would reclaim the community, communities would reclaim the city, cities would reclaim the states, and states would reclaim the nation. "Let's reclaim America for Jesus Christ," he concluded.

Blair's hypocrisy was breathtaking. While cultivating the myth of Christian persecution in America, he saw nothing wrong with oppressing gays. While raging against a supposedly tyrannical government, he saw nothing wrong with government encroachment on LGBTQ rights or reproductive rights. The federal government, LGBTQ community, and educational system were cast as scapegoats in his narrative, reduced to boogeymen who stifle believers.

Paul Blair, like many Religious Right commentators, seemed outraged that the U.S. government fails to obey the will of fundamentalist Christians. Blair envisioned an America by and for fundamentalist evangelicals, with little thought for millions of progressive or mainline Protestants, Catholics, or non-Christians. The spirit of democracy, in which all citizens have a voice and everyone's basic rights are to be protected, was lost on him.

The essence of Blair's talk seemed to be that fundamentalist Christians should be outraged by the current state of their country and politically "reclaim" the land. However, fundamentalists share that land with others groups, and those groups will not be silent.

Stay tuned for more posts on talks by David Barton and George Barna! To read additional commentary, visit the following link.

Right Wing Watch: Pastors Network: America Going Down the Tubes, Needs Pastors To Call Down Fire

Christian University Tells Gay-Straight Alliance it Can't Raise Funds for Homeless LGBTQ People

One of Jesus' most beloved teachings was the importance of showing generosity and compassion to those less fortunate. One would think that a Christian institution would support charitable efforts meant to help those in need. Unfortunately, one Christian university sees things differently.

Eliel Cruz, a blogger for Religion News Services, was co-creator of a gay-straight alliance at Andrews University, a Seventh-Day Adventist university in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Recently, the AULL4One alliance planned to sell baked goods to raise funds for Project Fierce, an organization that tackles homelessness and housing issues facing Chicago's LGBTQ population. In a March 11th blog post at Faithfully LGBT, Cruz wrote that Andrews University forbid AULL4One from carrying out the bake sale. Cruz was disappointed.
"How are LGBT people supposed to believe they are loved by Christians without tangible acts of love? If theology is going to get in the way of supporting LGBT homeless youth, how will we ever talk about other topics that aren’t as easy to agree on as the fact that LGBT homeless youth deserve care and compassion?"
According to an online statement, AULL4One requested permission to hold the fundraiser from Andrews University Campus Ministries Department, but their request was denied. The fundraiser for Project Fierce was not compatible with the university's mission, they were told, and the administration suggested that they support the Night Ministry instead. AULL4One asked for permission to support the Center on Halsted Street, another LGBTQ charity, but the administration denied this request as well.

AULL4One would not be denied. Undaunted, the group has launched an Indigogo fundraising campaign for Project Fierce that has raised over $15,000 at the time of this blog post. In an online statement, AULL4One framed its decision as an act of Christian moral duty.
"Once it became clear to AULL4One that we were not going to be allowed to publicly fundraise on campus, the members decided together to still pursue the fundraiser. We cannot let policy nor politics become obstacles to serving and helping people ...

While Andrews University has every right to deny any event on its campus, we believe this refusal is contradictory to Jesus' repeated calls to help those in need. While we realize this can be a very heated conversation, helping LGBT homeless youth -- a population in need -- should be an issue anyone and everyone can support. The reasons for the online fundraiser are three-fold: 1) to promote awareness of problems affecting LGBT homeless youth, 2) fundraise for Project Fierce, and 3) call into question the actions taken by the university. We seriously and earnestly seek to uphold Andrews University's mission: "seek knowledge, affirm faith, and change the world." It is with that mission statement in mind that we refuse to stay silent."
The university is defending its decision. In a press release, Andrews University president Niels-Erik Andreasen stressed that the university has no objection to helping homeless youth, but that it declined a request to endorse a fundraiser because of "the perceived advocacy stance of the proposed organization." The student handbook allows groups to raise funds for nonprofits whose missions do not conflict with that of the school, he explained.

This controversy is yet another example of how intolerance undermines compassion. When an institution is so opposed to LGBTQ equality that it refuses to endorse a fundraiser to help homeless LGBTQ people, something is wrong. Because LGBTQ people make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth and adults, and because their experiences on the streets are harrowing, decency should compel us to support them. AULL4One understands this basic truth, and Andrews University's needs to understand it too.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Guardian: Christian charities preach helping the less fortunate, unless you're gay

Think Progress: Christian College Tried To Stop Bake Sale For Homeless LGBT Youth, But They Raised Thousands Anyway

The New Civil Rights Movement: Christian College President: We Canceled Bake Sale For LGBT Homeless Youth Because Of Their 'Advocacy'

(Hat tip to Blue Nation Review.)

News Tidbits

New York Times: Evangelicals Aim to Mobilize an Army for Republicans in 2016

New York Times: Huckabee Pursues Unconventional Ways to Fund a Campaign

Washington Post: Leesburg council member claims God — not government — ended slavery

Christianity Today: Dozens of Children Abused at Evangelical Commune, Adult Survivors Allege

Religion News Service: Vatican drops image of bound woman after complaints

Commentary Tidbits

Blaise Foret: Why I Left IHOPKC and How I was Treated When I Left

This Brother: The Impetus of Patriarchy

On Faith: The Bad Biblical Scholarship of Christian Radio

Women's eNews: 50 Shades of Grey Hits a Red-State Sweet Spot

Buzzfeed: The Question On Every Creationist’s Mind

Dianna E. Anderson: Apocalypse When? How I Grew Up Afraid of The End of the World

Raw Story: ‘Your world is on fire’: Ted Cruz scares the hell out of a terrified little girl in New Hampshire

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Capitalism, Anti-Environmentalism, and Disease at 2015 CPAC

The 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) took place on February 26-28 in National Harbor, Maryland. Organized by the American Conservative Union and sponsored by high-profile conservative groups, CPAC is an annual gathering of right-wing political figures and commentators, where inflammatory rhetoric is common. Scheduled speakers at this year's CPAC included Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Laura Ingraham, Jeb Bush, and Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association.

Other commentators have already discussed 2015 CPAC's trite rhetoric, sexism, uncomfortable "humor", and ties to controversial groups such as ProEnglish. For your reading pleasure, I'd like to share some lesser known quotes from CPAC's keynote speeches and workshops.

Robert Doar, Morgridge Fellow on Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at a workshop entitled "How Capitalism Empowers the Poor". Doar argued for the merits of a strong economy, which would increase the number of jobs available to low-income Americans, as well as work requirements for assistance programs. While Doar acknowledged that conservatives "need to make peace with the social safety net", he looked askance at the "welfare system" at the 5:00 mark.
"We need to acknowledge that there are going to be some people who can't work, or elderly or disabled, and there we need to have some avenue of support, and we need to acknowledge that. We also need to convey to people that we care about these issues and we care about the extent to which the economy is not producing jobs or opportunities and the extent to which whatever supports we have in place don't work effectively. If we write off those issues, if we act like that's not our game, that's somebody else's game, but there's also a policy objective, because when we give up that terrain and we give the impression it's not something we care about, then the terrain is won by the other side. Polices get put in place that reward dependency, and reward assistance and don't reward work or families and instead set people back ... They become enslaved. They become captured by the welfare system of the United States which rewards dependency."

In another workshop entitled "Climate: What Tom Steyer Won't Tell You", panel speakers condemned environmental policies and the work of environmental activist Tom Steyer. At the 9:52 mark, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX, 17th District) insisted that the liberal "climate agenda" would undermine U.S. energy production.
"In order to have a great American future, we've got to have energy security. This administration has done everything it can to stop or thwart American energy production. Now the private sector's been able to overcome those headwinds, but it's getting tougher and tougher. At the same time, they're trying to stop domestic energy production. They're spending billions on failed green energy programs like Solyndra. We've seen that. There's a lot that Tom Steyer won't tell you about the Obama-Steyer climate objective, or the climate agenda that many liberals have. Here are the six inconvenient truths about that agenda that I think you need to know. It kills U.S. jobs, it costs trillions of dollars, it's based on junk science, it's based on fantasy technology, and it uses manipulated cost-benefit data, and last, it doesn't even pass the smell test."
Myron Ebell, director of Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, spoke ill of global climate initiatives at the 18:58 mark, accusing them of stifling economic growth.
"I want to start in 1992. That's when President Bush flew to Rio for the Earth Summit and signed the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. That was when the leaders of almost every country in the world decided to put a noose around the global economy ... The next step after 1992 was during the Clinton administration when Bill Clinton and Al Gore cooked up what became the Kyoto Protocol. Now, you will recall that the U.S. Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but if you want to thank President George W. Bush for that, that's okay, but in fact, he did virtually nothing to stop the tightening of the noose. So we go next to President Obama who is part of this agenda ... It's how you take control of the U.S. economy through environmental regulations over energy use. If you control what kind of energy people can use and how much, you control the economy."

At a workshop entitled "Would the Pilgrims Still be Welcome Here?", panel speakers lamented the alleged war on (fundamentalist Christian) religious freedom. "The greatest threat facing the future of our country is the loss of religious freedom," claimed Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. At the 10:35 mark, Perkins likened anti-gay discrimination and denial of birth control coverage by businesses to the struggle of the Pilgrims.
"The president has repeatedly said that we have the freedom of worship. That is a truncated view of the freedom of religion. The Pilgrims came to this country after they had gone to Holland. They were driven out of their country because of a corrupt church and a corrupt state, and they wanted to not just have freedom of worship, to choose to go to a church on Sunday and spend an hour or two on an appointed day of the week. They came here to live their life according to their faith, and there's a big difference, and that's what's at risk in the Hobby Lobby case ... Small businesses, photographers, wedding cake makers, florists who are losing their businesses because they refuse to leave their faith at home."
At the 15:40 mark, panel moderator Cal Thomas voiced his contempt for "government schools", appalled that they teach children evolution.
"I have a certain prejudice about the government schools. I think that for conservatives and Christians or people of faith, of any faith, to put your child in a school where they teach them that they evolved from slime and their nearest relative is down at the zoo and that's why they like bananas on their cereal is working against the faith and values that you believe in. Better to put them in a private school where your faith and values are reinforced instead of a government school, and especially universities where they have teachers trained to do away with it."

Finally, one speaker at CPAC was even more bizarre and offensive than the usual fare. The 2015 winner of the Andrew Breibart Defender of the First Amendment Award was Phil Robertson, the infamous patriarch of Duck Dynasty. After sauntering on stage in camouflage clothing with his wife in tow, Robertson sighed that "all of us ought to be able to speak freely where we didn't have to be awarded." At the 24:51 mark, Robertson defended capitalism against its detractors, arguing that capitalists who benefit from capitalism never condemn it (!?).
"I am a God-loving, Bible-believing, gun-toting capitalist! [Audience cheers] Always remember, when you hear a guy or a gal ad infinitum attack the results of capitalism, which is capital, and you have a steady attack on those people who receive the capital ... when you hear someone badmouthing them ad infinitum, you can be sure of one thing. He's not a capitalist! I've never heard a capitalist badmouth the result of capitalism, have you? Not one."
At the 35:40 mark, Robertson began a bizarre rant against sexually transmitted disease, using it to promote married monogamy.
"One hundred and ten million Americans now have a sexually transmitted illness. One hundred and ten million! ... I don't want you, America, to get sick. I don't want you to become ill. I don't want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don't want you to die early. You're disease-free and she's disease free, you marry, you keep your sex right there, you won't get sick from a sexually transmitted disease! Come on!

There is a penalty to be paid for what the beatniks, and who morphed into the hippies [did]. You say, what do you call the hundred and ten million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses? It's the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll have come back to haunt us in a bad way ... You want a godly, Biblical, medically safe option? One man, one woman, married for life."
2015 CPAC serves as a reminder that America's far right still nurses a persecution complex, sneers at environmentalism, and ignores the excesses of capitalism. Unfortunately, the worldview of the far right does not equip its followers to confront the social and environmental realities in front of their faces.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

SPLC Hatewatch: Extremist Highlights from CPAC 2015

The Advocate: Decoding CPAC Celebrities' Mixed Messages on LGBT Issues

Raw Story: Republicans still fighting the ‘War on Women’ at CPAC — here’s why