Monday, February 29, 2016

News Tidbits

The Hill: Hobby Lobby founder endorses Rubio

Washington Blade: GOP candidates clash in debate over ‘religious freedom’

Fox 13: Same-sex couple claims LDS Church congregation harassed them over disciplinary council

Associated Press: Missouri measure seeks religious exemptions on gay marriage

WLWT 5: Kentucky businesses could soon deny services to gays

The Guardian: Coalition of 400 companies fight Georgia's proposed 'religious liberty' bill

West Virginia Public Broadcasting: No Longer RFRA, What You Need to Know About W.Va.'s Religious Freedom Protection Act 

WBAY ABC 2: Church cuts ties with Appleton Boy Scouts over gay adult leaders

The Advocate: After Raucous Meeting, Florida School Board Votes Down LGBT Antibias Policy

Kilgore News Herald: Longview bakery clashes with Kilgore couple over same-sex wedding cake

Commentary Tidbits

Sydney Morning Herald: Child sexual abuse: Are churches covering up or opening up?

Bloomberg: Why it’s so hard to run an abortion clinic, and why so many are closing

Revolutionary Faith: Driscoll’s “Confessions”: The Gospel of Masculinity

Talking Points Memo: Are Evangelicals Supporting The Unrepentant Donald Trump?

Alternet: The Case Against 'Saving' Marriage

Friendly Atheist: This is the Disturbing Material Ohio Students Were Taught in a Faith-Based Sex-Ed Program

Sunday, February 28, 2016

LGBTQ Protesters Make Their Voices Heard at Proclaim 2016 Convention

As mentioned in a prior post, the Proclaim 2016 convention took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee on February 23-26. Organized by National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), the annual gathering of conservative Christian media professionals and commentators had the following highlights:

  • The convention featured appearances by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, who discussed immigration, Supreme Court nominations, Planned Parenthood, and the economy.

  • Rafael Cruz, the controversial father of Sen. Ted Cruz, delivered a speech in which he lionized Israel, sneered at Palestine, and claimed that the Bible inspired American democracy. "We are a constitutional republic not because of Plato; we are a constitutional republic because of Exodus 18:21-22, because those framers were seeking the perfect form of government, and they encountered it in the word of God, because many of the freedoms we have today were enjoyed in that early Jewish state after Abraham came to the promised land," Raphael Cruz said in his talk at Proclaim 16. Cruz seemed to have forgotten that the ancient Israelites did not enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from cruel or unusual punishment, the right to due process, or the right to a trial by jury.

What intrigued me the most about Proclaim 2016 was the presence of LGBTQ rights demonstrators. LGBTQ rights activists made their voices heard at the convention so as to condemn the homophobia of its organizers and speakers.

On February 16th, Yazmeen Nuñez, Director of Programs and Communications at Soulforce, put out a call for action at Proclaim 2016. She reminded readers that American Religious Right outreach to foreign countries has had dire consequences for LGBTQ people in the global south. Nuñez urged supporters to condemn the NRB's homophobic code of ethics, to which NRB global affiliates must agree before they can access Christian resources for their communities.
"Our first action will be targeting the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) as they convene in Nashville, TN, in late February for their annual expo. NRB is an international network of fundamentalist Christian communicators with a great amount of cultural and political influence; their code of ethics explicitly forbids any one of their 1,400+ global affiliates from broadcasting any messaging that affirms the LGBTQI community. In other words, they have a requirement to condemn the lives of LGBTQI people in order to have access. Both here and abroad, theirs are some of the only theological and spiritual resources that small-town faith leaders can access in under-resourced areas.

You can join us in several ways: Come on over! If you will be in the Nashville area, come to our trainings or direct actions! If not, we invite you to engage other ways: start the hard conversations about power and citizenship; watch the Religious Right carefully and look for strategic points for demanding accountability; share these ideas widely with our fellow Church."

Members of Soulforce's Know Your Neighbors project made their presence known at the convention. During Rick Warren's talk, they marched through the room holding banners that read "Lev. 19:16 Stop Killing Us" and "Spiritual Violence Is Killing Us" while singing "I'm in the Lord's Army".

Leviticus 19:16 forbids God's people from spreading slander or endangering the lives of others. The Leviticus 19:16 banner was probably meant to condemn the Religious Right's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and activism in viciously homophobic countries. It may have also been an indictment of Rick Warren himself, who came under fire for promoting homophobia in Uganda.

According to the Advocate, the demonstrators later formed a prayer circle in the conference center lobby, but were escorted off the premises by security personnel. Conference attendees reportedly cried out "They're not really praying" and "Homosexuality is an abomination". Observer Eliel Cruz shared video clips of their prayer in a series of tweets.
"We celebrate the light of God that created darkness and dark bodies and queer bodies and queer desire. We celebrate that God who loves us and our families and our people. We beg, we beg for the mercy and forgiveness of the souls of those who are killing us, and we call them into Christian account ... We will pray without ceasing as is the call of our God that tell us we must, we must, we must hold each other accountable, because we are accountable for the lives of our brothers."
I applaud the Know Your Neighbor protesters, not only for condemning the NRB's homophobia, but for refreshing the public's memory about the Religious Right's export of homophobia abroad. The LGBTQ community has not forgotten the Religious Right's sins overseas, and it will continue to demand accountability.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Media Matters for America: Cruz, Carson To Attend Right-Wing Media Convention Featuring Anti-LGBT, Anti-Muslim Extremists

The New Civil Rights Movement: Facebook Executive To Headline Anti-LGBT Religious Conference

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

News Tidbits

Pink News: Closure of ‘Jesus would stone homos’ church delayed amid legal challenge

Religion News Service: More women sue home-schooling guru for sexual harassment

Associated Press: Georgia governor says changes in works on religious exemptions bill

Associated Press: St. Louis archbishop seeks to cut ties with Girl Scouts

The Guardian: Missouri Catholics in cookie crisis as archbishop questions Girl Scout values 

Christian Science Monitor: How Southern states are now challenging gay marriage

Washington Blade: Liberty Counsel lawsuit against Va. school district dismissed

Buzzfeed: Australia: 40 Religious Leaders Have Told The PM A Marriage Equality Vote Is A Terrible Idea

Commentary Tidbits

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Did God Ever Send YOU a Thank-You Note?

Unseen Perfidy: I Grew Up in a Southern Baptist Elementary School

Mother Jones: Ted Cruz's Dad: My Son Ran for President After God Sent His Wife a Sign

Forward: Why Ted Cruz's Preacher Sidekick Is No Friend of the Jews — or Israel

Godless in Dixie: What the Story of Lot Tells Me About the Bible

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter is Trumping!

Huw Parkinson just released a parody video with Donald Trump as a Game of Thrones character. Not surprisingly, Trump fits right in! (Hat tip to BBC News.)

News Tidbits

New York Daily News: Two women share shocking accounts of forced labor and sexual abuse by prominent Christian leader Bill Gothard    (Trigger warning)

Reuters: Kentucky Noah's Ark park developer may alter religious worker rules

WTVQ: The Ark rises, despite controversy

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Judge tells Chino Valley school board to stop prayers in meetings

Edge Media Network: Utah Lawmaker: Mormon Church 'Snuffed Out' Discussion of Hate Crimes

USA Today: Ted Cruz uses faith freely on campaign trail

LGBTQ Nation: Ted Cruz: ‘Disastrous’ marriage ruling led to ‘unprecedented’ ‘persecution’ of Christians

New York Times: Pope Francis Suggests Donald Trump Is ‘Not Christian’

Pink News: Donald Trump tells evangelicals: You can trust me to overturn gay marriage ruling

Associated Press: Tennessee senate: OK to deny counseling due to religious beliefs

Commentary Tidbits

Daily Beast: Controversial Megachurch Pastor Mark Driscoll Finds a New Flock

I'm Dany Kelley: The Stories We Tell: Purity Culture Edition

Gawker: Donald Trump’s New Enemy, Pope Francis, Is Going to Have to Answer to ISIS 

The Tennessean: Fear, loathing drive anti-gay, transgender bills in Tennessee

Right Wing Watch: Cruz Campaign Quietly Admits 'It Was A Mistake' To Attend Radical 'Kill-The-Gays' Conference 

The New Civil Rights Movement: Facebook Executive To Headline Anti-LGBT Religious Conference

Sunday, February 21, 2016

As Zika Spreads Through Latin America, Catholic Leaders Stand by Doctrine

An outbreak of the Zika virus has turned the world's eyes to Latin America and ignited controversies over abortion, contraception, and the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

The Zika virus is spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes genus. Zika virus produces symptoms such as rash, joint pain, fever, and conjunctivitis, according to the CDC. Currently, several South American, Central American, and Caribbean countries are sites of active Zika virus transmission, the CDC reports. Zika has two known strains -- one that originated in Africa and another that originated in Asia -- with the Asian strain responsible for the outbreak in Brazil.

Zika triggers fear because of possible link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the body's nerves, resulting in nerve damage, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Zika also arouses fear because of the probable link between Zika infection in pregnant women and the subsequent birth of babies with microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby's head and brain are abnormally small. (More here.) Microcephaly is associated with intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, hearing and vision problems, and seizures. According to the World Health Organization, six countries and territories have reported an increase in the incidence of microcephaly and/or Guillain-Barré syndrome following Zika outbreaks.

Global health authorities are taking the Zika threat seriously. The International Planned Parenthood Federation has stressed the importance of contraception and abortion in addressing Zika's effects. The World Health Organization recommends that medical professionals provide contraception and contraceptive counseling to people in Zika-affected regions, so as to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexual transmission of the virus. An emergency committee convened by the Director-General of the World Health Organization is urging medical professionals to standardize and enhance surveillance for microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in Zika-affected areas.

The Zika outbreak has brought urgency to the struggle for reproductive rights in Latin America. Caring for microcephalic children can exacerbate the challenges faced by women and families in poverty, and understandably, many women want to avoid giving birth to microcephalic babies.

Unfortunately, contraception access in poor and rural areas of Latin America is often unsatisfactory. Furthermore, laws in most Latin American countries restrict or forbid abortion, placing pregnant women with Zika in a frightening position.

Terrified of giving birth to babies with microcephaly, Latin American women are seeking abortions through underground channels. The Washington Post reports that Women on Web (a Canada-based organization that provides abortion medication to women in countries where abortion is banned) is receiving 40-50 requests a day from women in Latin America.

Officials in Brazil, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Colombia  have warned women not to get pregnant during the Zika outbreak. However, demanding that women avoid pregnancy in countries with large unmet contraceptive needs and strict anti-abortion laws is absurd. For example, Morena Herrera, president of Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen's Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) in El Salvador, pointed out the absurdity of such calls. Herrera reminded BBC News that many women in El Salvador lack information about contraceptives.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Contraception and abortion are vital tools for preventing human suffering in Zika's wake. Furthermore, condoms can prevent Zika transmission through sexual contact, yet another reason to encourage contraception. Sadly, many Catholic leaders refuses to acknowledge this.

During an in-flight press conference en route to Rome on February 17th, Pope Francis discussed abortion and contraception in the midst of the Zika crisis. (Hat tip to New York Times.) Pope Francis called abortion "an absolute evil", emphasizing that, "Abortion is not a lesser evil. It is a crime." ("L’aborto non è un 'male minore'. E’ un crimine.") However, he added that avoiding pregnancy in that context is not an absolute evil.

Mind you, he did not say that contraception is now morally permissible, just that it is not an absolute evil.

Pope Francis' lukewarm words are a slight improvement over the Catholic Church's traditional stance, but he still forbids abortion and still stops short of fully condoning contraception. Also, Pope Francis has not changed church doctrine on contraception, so the church's official ban still stands.

Bishop Noel Antonio Londono of the Diocese of Jerico, Colombia, argued that the Pope's remarks are not a "blank check" to use contraception. In the context of the Zika crisis, "there are people who need to protect themselves," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Other Catholic leaders in Zika-affected countries continue to forbid abortion and contraception, even as the threat of microcephaly looms. Pedro Mercado, deputy secretary of la Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia (the Episcopal Conference of Colombia), stressed in a February 9th statement that "the priority should be to eliminate mosquitoes that transmit the disease and not the lives of innocent children."("La prioridad debe ser acabar con los mosquitos transmisores de la enfermedad y no con la vida de niños inocentes".)

In Brazil, where over 4,000 infants have been born with microcephaly since the start of the Zika outbreak in early 2015, Catholic leaders remains inflexible. The Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil (the National Conference of Bishops in Brazil) has released several statements condemning abortion and contraception. CNBB statements stress the importance of sanitation in tackling Zika, not not reproductive freedoms. For example, in a February 4th statement, CNBB officials encouraged anti-Zika initiatives such as improved sanitation, but forbid abortion.
"Merece atenção especial o vírus zika por sua provável ligação com a microcefalia, embora isso não tenha sido provado cientificamente. A gravidade da situação levou a Organização Mundial da Saúde a declarar a microcefalia e o vírus zika emergência internacional. O estado de alerta, contudo, não deve nos levar ao pânico, como se estivéssemos diante de uma situação invencível, apesar de sua extrema gravidade. Tampouco justifica defender o aborto para os casos de microcefalia como, lamentavelmente, propõem determinados grupos que se organizam para levar a questão ao Supremo Tribunal Federal num total desrespeito ao dom da vida."

"The Zika virus deserved special attention because of its probable link with microcephaly, although this has not been proven scientifically. The gravity of the situation led the World Health Organization to declare microcephaly and Zika virus an international emergency. The alert, however, should not lead us to panic, as if we are facing an invincible situation, despite its extreme gravity. Nor does it justify advocating abortion for cases of microcephaly, as certain groups have regrettably proposed, organizing to take the matter to the Supreme Court [and showing] a total disrespect for the gift of life."
A February 12th statement by Cardinal Odilo P. Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, condemns abortion as well. Arrogantly, he claimed to understand the distress of women who worry that they may give birth to microcephalic babies.
"Como era de se esperar, o aumento dos casos de microcefalia nesses tempos de zika reanimou os defensores da "descriminalização" do aborto: querem aproveitar a psicose geral para conseguir a aprovação do Congresso Nacional, ou pelo casuísmo no Supremo Tribunal Federal, as possibilidades de mais um caso de "aborto legal"...

Compreendo a aflição das mulheres, que se vêm na situação de gerar um filho com microcefalia. Elas precisam ser amparadas e preparadas para terem seu filho e cuidar dele adequadamente. E a mulher tem uma grande capacidade de acolher e amar o que é pequeno, frágil e necessitado de proteção e amparo. Que outra coisa poderia ser feita, sem deixar de ser uma decisão nobre e digna da condição humana?"

"As might be expected, the increase in microcephaly cases during these Zika times revives advocates of "decriminalization" of abortion. They want to take advantage of the general psychosis to get the approval of Congress, or use casuistry in the Supreme Court [to open] possibilities for more cases of "legal abortion"...

I understand the distress of women who find themselves in the situation of conceiving a child with microcephaly. They need to be supported and prepared to have a child and care for him properly. The woman has a great ability to accept and love what is small, fragile and in need of protection and support. What else could be done, without ceasing to be a noble and dignified decision [with regard to] the human condition?"
In a February 10th statement, Guarabira Bishop Francisco de Assis Dantas de Lucen warned against abortion and "contraceptive mentality" during the Zika crisis.
"Envia-nos na defesa do direito à vida como expressa a própria Constituição Federal e não usar o Zika vírus por sua possível ligação com a microcefalia para alargar a agenda do aborto e mentalidade contraceptiva..."

"Send us in defending the right to life as expressed in the Federal Constitution, and not using the Zika virus and its possible link with microcephaly to broaden the agenda of abortion and contraceptive mentality..."
Even in dire circumstances, many Catholic leaders still forbid  practices can prevent a great deal of human suffering. Sanitation practices meant to reduce mosquito numbers are important, but by themselves they are not enough. Measures must be taken to prevent unwanted births and sexual transmission of the virus.

Fortunately, some Latin American women have disregarded the Catholic Church's teachings on family planning. Substantial percentages of Latin American women use modern contraception methods, according to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. As mentioned above, many Latin American women are seeking abortions underground. Ordinary people understand the importance of preventing unwanted pregnancies, even if Catholic leaders remain oblivious.

However, for women in poor or rural areas, contraception access can be limited. For women throughout Latin America, abortion remains illegal. Instead of recognizing these problems, Catholic leaders clings to harmful doctrines that ignore realities on the ground.

* Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese translations were derived from Google Translate, with small modifications for the sake of clarity.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bruce Gerenscer on the Religious Right's Waning Power

Bruce Gerenscer posted an insightful commentary piece on the Religious Right's waning influence and disconnection from millennials. In one segment, he argues that the Religious Right uses persecution rhetoric to induce a siege mentality in their remaining followers and ensure their loyalty.
"Part of me wonders if uproar over Scalia, same-sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, and the 2016 Presidential election is really all about keeping Evangelicals in the fold. People such as Franklin Graham, Tim Wildmon, Tony Perkins, and James Dobson know that Evangelicalism is losing young adults at an alarming rate. Even when young adults remain in the church, they are more likely to support same-sex marriage and abortion rights and are more likely to vote Democrat. These liberal-minded Evangelicals helped put Barack Obama in office in 2008 and 2012. Knowing they cannot retreat from the culture war, Evangelical parachurch groups increasingly resort to using methods meant to keep their supporters in a constant state of spiritual and political agitation. Anything that is perceived as an “attack” on Evangelical Christianity is quickly reported and added to daily email missives sent to supporters. From the war on Christmas to cries of religious persecution, Evangelical leaders paint a dire picture of the future for American Christians. Some even go so far as to suggest that Evangelicals will soon be rounded up and jailed for their beliefs."
Read the full commentary piece.

Monday, February 15, 2016

National Religious Broadcasters Is Hosting the Proclaim 16 Convention

National Religious Broadcasters, an association of Christian broadcasters, is hosting its annual convention this month. Proclaim 16 will take place on February 23-26 in Nashville, Tennessee and will feature workshops, luncheons, and films for figures in the Christian broadcasting industry. Proclaim 16 will also include a presidential candidate forum. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have confirmed their attendance, according to a press release posted at Religion News Service.

I had hoped that the event would serve as a snapshot of Christian broadcasting, with Christians across the social and political spectrum in attendance. Unfortunately, a noticeable right-wing current runs through the event, as evidenced by its speakers and workshops.

This year's convention will feature right-wing speakers such as Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham, Southern Baptist Theological Seminar president Albert Mohler, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, Jeanine Pirro of Fox News' Justice with Judge Jeanine, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, Christian filmmakers Stephen and Alex Kendrick (of Fireproof and War Room fame), and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.

Among the exhibitors are not only Christian publishers, radio stations, and networks, but Religious Right groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom, Answers in Genesis, and the American Family Association.

The convention's workshop schedule offers both professional broadcasting advice and fundamentalist propaganda. Many of the workshops are devoted to innocuous topics such as social media, marketing, advertising, and international outreach. Others, such as "When A Crisis Happens, and Reporters Come Knocking", sound both amusing and revealing.
"Honestly, it just takes one thing. One mistake. One accusation - true or false. One misstatement or one misstep, and your entire ministry, organization, or business can come crumbling down around you. The truth is that Christian organizations are often the worst at handling the press, and if you don't manage them, they will manage you. So, what are you going to do if your senior pastor or senior executive is caught in an affair, if your right hand is accused of embezzling money, or if a disgruntled employee goes to a reporter with lies or launches a social media campaign against you? How are you going to handle it when the press comes knocking? You had better have a game plan ready because they are on their way, whether you're guilty, or not."
"Israel: Hope in a Region of Crisis", describes Israel as a lone island of stability in the Middle East (because Jordan, Turkey, etc. apparently don't count).
"As the entire Middle East is being dramatically shaken and undergoing historic changes, there is one place of stability — the state of Israel. Nevertheless, Israel faces a relentless campaign of misinformation that requires a robust response and educational programing. This session of well-informed speakers will give Christian broadcasters a better understanding of the issues and of what God is doing in the midst of it all."
"Christian Genocide" highlights a grim reality -- persecution of Christians in the Middle East -- but also accuses the government and media of silence. The workshop organizers conveniently forgot that global persecution of Christians and other religious minorities has received ample attention from the U.S. government and media for some time.

"ISIS and other Islamic terrorists are persecuting and executing Christians, destroying church buildings, and driving believers out of the Middle East. Hear first-hand stories of what has happened, and why. This session will also expose the media and government silence on this issue. It will also show you how to pray, how to speak up, and how to stand up for the persecuted Church. "
"The Future of Our Freedoms in America" will feature familiar fundamentalist tropes about alleged Christian persecution and supposedly subverted religious liberty.
"Court decisions, executive orders, legislation and regulations have subverted the rule of law in America and placed our fellow citizens and organizations at risk. Freedom of speech and religious liberty have come under unprecedented pressures and economic freedom in America has drastically declined over the past seven years."
Other workshops, such as "Why the Jihadists Want to Take Away Our Freedom of Speech - And How Our Government and the Left are Helping Them Do it" and "Losing the Freedom to Believe: Redefining Marriage", will likely do the same.

It disappoints me that a convention devoted to Christian broadcasting wouldn't make more room for progressive Christian voices. Progressive Christians can be found among both broadcasters and the listening public, and their voices could enrich the convention. Unfortunately, this convention leans stubbornly right.

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill Release Statement

On February 12th, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Havana, Cuba to heal a thousand year-old rift between their respective churches, Voice of America reports. According to USA Today, the meeting is the first time heads of the two churches have come together since the Great Schism of 1054, when eastern and western Mediterranean Christians split apart.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill have since released a joint statement encouraging unity of purpose between Catholics and Orthodox believers. The statement addresses urgent issues facing the two religious communities, such as persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, the Syrian refugee crisis, and armed conflict in Ukraine.

The attention that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill have given to these humanitarian crisis is noble. However, their comments about other social issues suggest that the two leaders still hold narrow-minded opinions on secularism and LGBTQ issues.

First, the statement contains language about supposed affronts to religious freedom in secular countries that sounds very similar to that of the American Religious Right. Paragraph 15 laments the alleged "restrictions to religious freedom" that Christians endure in secular countries.
"At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life."
The statement also indirectly devalues same-sex marriage. Paragraph 20 complains that "other forms of cohabitation" are receiving the same respect as opposite sex marriage, and that gender roles in marriage are being "banished from the public conscience". Given Patriarch Kirill's offensive comments about LGBTQ persons, as well as Pope Francis' failure to bring about meaningful policy change on LGBTQ matters in the Catholic Church, this should not surprise us.

"The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience."
Much to my amusement, the statement urged Catholic and Orthodox Christians to raise their children in the same religious faith that they received from their parents. Perhaps the Catholic and Orthodox churches are losing so many members that they desperately want the next generation of believers to stay in the faith.

"God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ."
What really brought Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill together for this historic meeting? Was it the realization that good relations between the churches would help them address global challenges such as war, religious persecution, and refugees? Was it the cessation of Cold War-era tensions between the two religious communities? Was it political opportunism on Russia's part? Or was it the fact that both religious traditions are losing members and facing real challenges to their authority and teachings?

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

NPR: Pope Francis Meets Head Of Russian Orthodox Church In Havana

Religion News Service: Putin may benefit from meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

Pew Research Center: Concern for Christians in the Middle East helps drive historic meeting between Catholic, Orthodox leaders

News Tidbits

Pink News: The Pope and head of the Russian Orthodox Church release statement against gay marriage

New York Times: Catholic Leaders Say Zika Doesn’t Change Ban on Contraception 

Huffington Post: GOP Congressmen Oppose Abortion Rights For Women With Zika In Developing Countries

The Times of Israel: Cruz rejects evangelical backer’s controversial Hitler comments

Associated Press: West Virginia House approves religious exemptions bill

Associated Press: Virginia state Senate passes protections for same-sex marriage opponents

SBS: Pastors, politics and anti-gay rhetoric: Uganda's election cometh

Commentary Tidbits

Corner of Church and State: Justice Scalia's legacy on religion

Miscellanea Agnostica: Vatican Abuse Panel May Be Unravelling

Samantha Field: Socialization isn’t a freaking joke

Washington Post: Virginia: Religious freedom or license to discriminate?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Shelter for Homless LGBTQ Youth Wants to Buy Homophobic Church's Building

NOTE: This post contains profanity.

ATLAH Worldwide Missionary Church, a congregation in Harlem, New York, is a constant source of controversy. James David Manning, the pastor of ATLAH Worldwide Missionary Church, is infamous for his homophobia. His most ridiculous and memorable claim was that Starbucks puts "sodomite semen" in its lattes. ATLAH regularly posts messages on its marquee such as "Jesus Would Stone Homos ... Stoning Is Still the Law" and "Harlem Is a Sodomite Free Zone; Stop Sodomizing Our Children in Schools Across America", according to Huffington Post. Predictably, Manning's reactions to pro-LGBTQ demonstrators outside his church has been hateful and angry.

Last summer, ATLAH and Oath Keepers co-hosted an Independence Day gathering in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The event was ostensibly about racial reconciliation, but quickly turned into a circus with anti-government rhetoric and chants of "Sodomites, go to hell!".

Now, ATLAH is in financial trouble. DNAinfo reports that a New York judge ordered ATLAH Worldwide Church to be sold at a public foreclosure auction on February 24th. The church failed to pay more than $1 million to creditors, including $194,000 in unpaid water bills. Manning has a long history of financial woes, including nine federal tax liens stretching back to 2002, according to DNAinfo.

When news of the auction became public, a New-York based organization that serves homeless LGBTQ youth went into action. The Ali Forney Center launched the #HarlemNoHate campaign to raise money to purchase the building, and recently reached its fundraising goal of $200,000, according to the Advocate. In order to be a competitive contender in the auction, #HarlemNoHate will continue to fundraise. 

In a commentary piece at Huffington Post, Ali Forney Center executive director Carl Siciliano explained why the organization wanted to buy the ATLAH building. First, New York has a large number of homeless LGBTQ youth who need housing, but a limited number of shelter beds. Second, the ATLAH building is in walking distance of the Ali Forney Center's drop-in center in Harlem, where homeless LGBTQ youth receive health care, educational services, and vocational services. Third, the ATLAH building would be an ideal space for the organization's catering program, which would provide work training for LGBTQ youth. Siciliano also recognized the symbolic importance of turning a bigoted church into "a space of compassion and healing".

Manning is not taking the news gracefully. In a profanity-peppered video entitled "Foreclosure Tax Message to My Enemies", Manning claimed that gay men would give birth before they would ever own his church building.
"To all the sodomites that think that you're going to purchase this church in a foreclosure sale, let me tell you something. Before you can ever own the Lord's house, 'cause that's what this is. This is the Lord's house. This ain't no damn bath house. This ain't no f*g house. This is the Lord's house! And before you can ever own this property, hook or crook to own this property ... men who are f**s with testicles will be carrying babies in their testicles and giving birth to them through their anus! That's how impossible it is for you to get this house. When you start carrying a baby in your bags and birthing that baby through your a**, then you can own this house ... All you f**s can go to hell! And do it now! I'M JAMES DAVID MANNING, EVERYBODY! I'M THE LORD'S!"
Okay then.

The imminent foreclosure is bringing out even more venom from Manning. In another video entitled "Sodomites Plan To Kill Dr. Manning In The Street", Manning imagined himself as a persecuted hero for the common man. At the 13:16 mark, he shouted the following rant, before crying out, "Bill de Blasio, you grabbed the wrong n****r's church when you grabbed James David Manning!"
"How many people in Harlem [inaudible] and across America have been evicted from their apartments? Landlords wouldn't given them services, continued to harass them, raise the rent so that the landlords can thrown them out and put the sodomites and others into an apartment that was once $170 a month, now going for $3700 a month. How many people that we never heard about in the media ... because they didn't have the visibility or the standing politically that I have? How many people have faced what I'm facing, and nobody came to help them? How many families have been thrown to the street? How many small churches with just a few members have been crushed by the city of New York? ... These people are suffering. They're homeless today. They don't have a place to worship today because no one came to help them.

But bless God, by the strength of Almighty God, what these sodomites, what de Blasio and Cuomo--what they have done is they have awakened a sleeping giant. And now, I shall stand for all the poor people. I shall stand for all of the foreclosed people, all of the people who have been evicted, all of the people that are homeless because of laws and practices that are unjust laws and unjust practices, and all the landlords that are greedy and have no concern, and the community leaders and politicians that will not stand with the people. I have now been raised up to be a voice crying out in the wilderness. It must stop!"

Being evicted? Being denied housing services? LGBTQ people can relate, I assure you. Oh, you want to talk about people who are homeless because of unjust practices? Let's talk about LGBTQ youth who were kicked out of their homes by homophobic and transphobic parents. You know, the people that the Ali Forney Center helps?

With ten days to go before the foreclosure auction on the ATLAH building, we can expect more venom from Manning and more support for #HarlemNoHate. Let's hope that the Ali Forney Center succeeds in purchasing the building and providing more services for New York's homeless LGBTQ youth. If nothing else, the karmic irony would be delicious.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Wall of Separation: Haters (Not) Gonna Hate: Infamous N.Y. Anti-Gay Church Now For Sale At Auction

New York Daily News: LGBT spiritual group Rivers of Living Water attempts to buy famously anti-gay Atlah Church in Harlem

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mike Bickle's Endorsement of Ted Cruz Offends Jewish Groups

Last month, presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced an endorsement from Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. Bickle's homophobic and sexist comments have been well-documented at this blog and others, as have his paranoid End Times speeches. However, it is Bickle's shocking statements about Jews that have landed him and Cruz in hot water.

Bickle has a long history of disturbing statements about Jews. Bruce Wilson, co-founder of Talk to Action, created a montage of such statements, including Bickle's claims that Jews will be thrown into concentration camps in the End Times, that Jews will convert to Christianity en masse, and that God used Adolph Hitler to pressure Jews to convert to Christianity. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch and Think Progress.)

  • "Israel's condition before Jesus returns -- not every Jew, but many -- is prison camps. There are so many Bible verses on this, it is staggering." (2009)

  • "A lot of Israel's going to get converted, but a lot of Israel's going to worship the Antichrist. A lot of Israel is going to have revival; a lot of Israel's going to fall away. Portions of Israel will be supernaturally protected, and portions of Israel will die and go to prison camps." (2006)

  • "One third of Israel's going to get radically saved and become lovesick worshipers of Jesus. One third of Israel? There's about fifteen million Jews on the earth at this point in time. That's four, five million people ... They end up dying, or if they survive, they get radically converted at the Second Coming. And many are going to get converted between now and then. We're not giving up on Israel until the Second Coming. Matter of fact, it's the efforts of leading people to the Lord right now that is significantly related to the events that are going to happen that are going to lead up to the Second Coming. So there are more Jews getting saved right now in Israel than in any time in history." (2006)

  • "Two-thirds [of Jews] will die in the rage of Satan and in the judgments of God, and the one-third, every one of the one-third will be in the land before it's over and they'll be worshipers of Jesus. Now the Lord's bringing back multitudes now to give them a chance, to give them every opportunity to say yes to salvation and the land ... The Lord says, 'I'm going to offer two strategies to Israel, to these twenty million.' He says, 'First, I am going to offer them grace. I am going to send the fisherman.' ... Do you know how a fisherman does their thing? They have the bait in front, luring the fish. It's a picture of grace. The hunters are opposite. Instead of luring them in front, hunters drive with fear from behind  ... He says, 'And if they don't respond to grace, I'm going to raise up the hunters.' And the most famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolph Hitler. He drove them from the hiding places. He drove them out of the land." (2004)

Bickle's church has also taken an awkward stance on Jews. The International House of Prayer runs a project called the Israel Mandate, whose mission is to "mobilize intercessors in the Church to pray for Israel, and to stand with and encourage Messianic believers in Israel." The Israel Mandate's resource list is brimming with books that link Israel to a fundamentalist Christian vision of the End Times. The project's "Prayer for Israel" section predicts war and bloodshed in the Holy Land during the End Times, Jesus' military victory, and Jesus ruling over the world from his throne in Jerusalem. In other words, the Israel Mandate seeks to convert Jews to Christianity and promote End Times beliefs about the supremacy of Jesus over Israel.

Several Jewish leaders were disgusted. According to the Times of Israel, the Anti-Defamation League called Bickle's statements "abhorrent, intolerant and unacceptable", urging Cruz to "clearly and forcefully reject Bickle's hateful ideas." In a February 9th press release, the National Jewish Democratic Council demanded that Cruz account for his ties to Bickle.
"It is profoundly troubling that Sen. Ted Cruz proudly trumpeted the endorsement of such a controversial figure who holds such offensive views. In announcing Bickle’s support, Sen. Cruz said, ‘we will fight the good fight, finish the course.’ We call on Sen. Cruz to clarify his position and explain why he chose to highlight someone who is ‘notorious for having said that God sent Hitler to hunt Jews for not accepting Jesus as the messiah.’"
As of February 11th, the National Jewish Democratic Council was unsatisfied with the Cruz campaign's response.
"Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz must clarify if he stands with Pastor Mike Bickle and his belief that G-d sent Hitler to hunt Jews for not accepting Jesus as the messiah. The Cruz campaign’s response from criticism from NJDC and the ADL of one of its featured endorsers falls woefully short. We remain troubled that rather than distance himself and refute Bickle’s offensive rhetoric, the Cruz campaign has doubled down, merely restating the senator's position on Israel and attempting to minimize Pastor Bickle's role as an endorser. We call on Sen. Cruz’s campaign to speak clearly when it comes to such an offensive statement. As the ADL said, ‘We hope that when these comments are called to the Senator’s attention, he will clearly and forcefully reject Bickle’s hateful ideas.’ Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for Sen. Cruz to do so."
Bickle has since gone on the defensive. In a February 12 statement posted at the IHOP website and the Times of Israel website, Bickle insisted that the media distorted his words. "Taking Scripture out of context is routine to the secular media," he wrote. Bickle emphasized that he was appalled by Hitler's actions and that he meant to encourage solidarity with Jews during the End Times.
"I have been alarmed in recent days to hear that comments I made in a sermon several years ago were taken to be anti-Semitic. Today I write to clarify my beliefs.

The false statements circulating in the media distort what I said. I have been and remain committed to the spiritual and material defense of Israel and the Jewish people, as is my ministry. When I paraphrased from the difficult passages of Zechariah 12:1-3, Zechariah 14:1-3, Zechariah 13:8-9, and Jeremiah 16 in the sermon excerpt that has been circulated of late, I did so with one main intent: to stir the American church to stand with Israel in time of a future persecution as foretold by most of the Jewish prophets in the Bible. Various Old Testament prophets prophesy dark days for Israel before the Messiah returns, and I read these prophecies with dread. My message is that the Church must respond like Corrie ten Boom’s family—by standing with Israel instead of drawing back in fear and silence.

The prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah are difficult and easily misinterpreted to the biblically illiterate. Taking Scripture out of context is routine to the secular media. But let me be clear: I have made support for Israel and the Jewish people a central part of my ministry. For the last 15 years, our ministry has hosted several two-hour prayer meetings for Israel each week.

Some have misrepresented my remarks on Hitler being among the ‘hunters’ mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:16), but let me make clear: what Hitler did was evil, an utter atrocity to the Jewish people and to all of mankind. The creation of the modern state of Israel after the Holocaust is a testament to God’s enduring love for His beloved people.
Mike Bickle can backpedal all he wants, but his disturbing statements are still disturbing. End Times preachers such as Bickle see the Jews as potential converts and/or supporting characters in bizarre End Times stories, but rarely as people. Furthermore, anyone who see Adolph Hitler as the tool of a righteous God is morally and spiritually bankrupt. The Cruz campaign should be ashamed of Bickle's endorsement, but as we've seen before, Cruz has a soft spot for offensive preachers.

News Tidbits

The Advocate: Congress Members Urge FTC to Stop 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

The Guardian: Liberty Counsel: The law firm whose mission is to defend 'God's authority' 

The Guardian: Catholic bishops not obliged to report clerical child abuse, Vatican says

Womens eNews: California’s New Law Spotlights Crisis Pregnancy Centers

NPR: Professor Who Said Christians, Muslims Share A God Is Leaving Christian College

Pink News: Charity head Franklin Graham demands US-wide ‘referendum’ on scrapping same-sex marriage

Pennlive: Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson says U.S. 'a dangerous place' ahead of Harrisburg visit

Commentary Tidbits

Just One Train Wreck After Another: American Pastor Tells Descendants Of Slaves It Wasn’t As Bad As They Think – Abraham Lincoln begs to differ

Washington Post: Could the Zika virus move Catholics to reconsider birth control?

Right Wing Watch: Franklin Graham: Christians Must Take Over Every Mayorship In The Country To Stop 'Evil' LGBT Rights

Huffington Post: Harlem No Hate: Reasons Why Ali Forney Center Is Seeking to Acquire Site of ATLAH Hate Church

Michele Bachmann: We're Being Invaded!

Anti-refugee paranoia is still alive and well among the Religious Right. During the February 6th edition of Understanding the Times with Jan Markell, former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann described Muslim refugees in ominous terms and claimed that "western Christendom" was being invaded by Islamic extremists. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

At the 28:33 mark of the show, Bachmann claimed that jihadists who want to undermine the pillars of the world are deliberately invading "western Christendom".
"This clearly is an invasion. This is a planned invasion, not only in Europe but also in the United States, I believe for the specific purpose of destroying western Christendom, because that has been the strength of the world economically, but also the strength of the world in terms of leadership, the nations that are known as western Christendom."
At the 26:47 mark, Jan Markell insisted that an Islamic extremist caliphate seeks to destroy "Judeo-Christianity" in the west, a task made easier by Europe's supposed abandonment of God. I'm familiar with Judaism and Christianity, which are two different faiths, but I've never encountered this "Judeo-Christianity" religion of which Markell speaks.
MARKELL: If we're talking about Islamists coming into the western world -- and we can focus on Europe, but for the sake of time today, let's just focus on America -- but again, if this is the spreading caliphate, and that's what I see it as ... part of the goal of that caliphate is to destroy Judeo-Christianity, Judeo-Christian values, to destroy Judaism and Christianity. That's going on as we speak in Europe, and of course, we know that Europe kicked God out about fifty years ago, but now the predominant faith there in a few years is going to be Islam. How do you see that same situation morphing here in America?

BACHMANN: It already has begun to morph. We saw this mass migration, this people movement, which is a historic people movement of Muslims from Islamic nations tending to be the most radicalized nations, from those nations into nations that are know as western Christendom. So you don't see this mass migration into Russia, or into China, or into Indonesia. This mass migration is all headed toward western Christendom.
Ms. Bachmann, please look at a map. Syrian refugees are fleeing to Europe because it's closer to the Levant than China or Indonesia. Thousands of miles of rough terrain in dangerous countries lie between Syria and east Asia. Also, more Syrian refugees might consider relocation to Russia if Russia wasn't deeply hostile to their kind.

At the 31:49 mark, Bachman claimed that extremist imams are sending thugs into western countries with orders to undermine European countries, cultivate rape culture, and spread Islam.
"The more that come in, the more they act upon their religious convictions, and their stated religious convictions--the imams from the original countries that they come from, they recruit and send these guys to come in and to bring about this destruction. Right now in Europe, it’s called a rape culture that’s coming into Sweden and Germany and all across Europe for the specific purpose of Islamizing these countries, and they are falling."
Bachmann framed religious differences as a zero-sum game in which Christians must go on the offensive or be overwhelmed by Muslims. At the 32:57 mark, she warned listeners about "civilization jihad" involving an "invading army" of sexual predators.
"Where we don't defend our faith, when we aren't on offense, not only are we on defense, we'll lose it, because one thing we need to understand, Jan, is that Islamists have a plan. They have a plan to destroy western Christendom. It’s called civilization jihad. By bringing Islamists into our country and destroying us from [with]in, they don’t need to just have a nuclear bomb. If they send their invading army into our countries, and if young men are doing what they did on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, and other places where they are literally sexually attacking and raping and groping women and causing them to fear, we are looking at a completely ramped-up level of invasion, one like we have never seen before. Not only is Europe getting that, the United States is getting that."
What can I say about this kind of anti-Muslim, anti-refugee paranoia that I haven't said before? By instilling fear in their listeners, Markell and Bachmann cultivate a siege mentality among fundamentalist Christians. By demonizing all Muslim refugees as extremists, Bachmann scapegoats an entire group of people, including its law-abiding members. By blaming the New Year's violence on jihad, Bachmann ignores the complexities of rape culture in Europe's minority enclaves and reduces victims of sexual assault to political tools. Bachmann is so eager to uphold a fundamentalist Christian persecution narrative that she paints a picture of the world that is paranoid and inaccurate.

News Tidbits

Edge Media Network: 'Gay Conversion' Therapists Find Safe Haven in Israel 

Buzzfeed: New York Governor Announces Steps To Ban LGBT Conversion Therapy

Huffington Post: New York Bans Insurance Coverage Of LGBT 'Conversion Therapy' 

DNA Info: Homophobic Pastor's Harlem Church Up for Public Auction Over Unpaid Debts

CNN: At Ted Cruz event, Phil Robertson calls gay marriage 'evil' 

Georgia Voice: 'Pastor Protection Act’ passes in Georgia House

Pink News: God told me to only marry straight couples, Texas judge claims

Seattle Times: Former Mars Hill pastor to start new church in Phoenix

The Guardian: Northern Ireland 'gay cake' couple: 'We don't hate anyone. It's done out of love for God'

The Advocate: Italy: Gays Compared to Nazis at Massive Homophobic Rome Rally

Commentary Tidbits

Al Jazeera America: Does America need saving from the Quiverfull movement?

Los Angeles Times: Ted Cruz embraces apocalyptic preachers and anti-gay militants

ABC News (Australia): Fear at worst, submission at best: A story of family violence and the Pentecostal church

The Advocate: Suicides or Not, LDS Is Harming LGBT Youth

Washington Post: The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations

The Wartburg Watch: Do the Complementarian Mandates of Submission and Male Leadership Attract Domestic Abusers?

Religion News Service: Trump is a huge ‘loser’ with GOP Protestant pastors

Rolling Stone: Meet the Evangelicals Who Hate Donald Trump

Homeschoolers Anonymous: Michael Pearl’s Advice is Child Abuse (According to His Own Definition)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sporadic Blogging

I'm dealing with some personal matters right now, which leave me with less time for blogging. My posts will be sporadic for the time being.

In the meantime, enjoy some Korpiklaani.

Monday, February 1, 2016

News Tidbits

Hawaii News Now: Hawaii lawmakers: Ban gay conversion therapy for minors

Georgia Voice: Anti-gay preacher, LGBT community prepare for back-to-back rallies at Georgia Capitol

Buzzfeed: Ted Cruz’s Iowa Backers Blast The Attacks From Huckabee Allies

Washington Post: Marco Rubio talks to Iowa about God

New York Times: Indictment Deals Blow to GOP Over Planned Parenthood Battle

Reuters: Texas Supreme Court sides with cheerleaders on ‘Bible banners’

Associated Press: Judge Sides With Ark-Building Group on Tax Incentive

Associated Press: Court to weigh practice of Christian prayers at meetings

MSN News: Self-avowed anti-Islam activist arrested in connection with the Oregon 'militia' investigation

Commentary Tidbits

On Faith: The Bad Biblical Scholarship of Christian Radio

Sojourners: Dr. Larycia Hawkins on the 'Inquisition' at Wheaton and Why She Wants to Stay

SPLC Hatewatch: Anti-LGBT Hate Group Liberty Counsel to Defend Indicted Anti-Abortion Activist

Washington Post: In the age of Trump, grim warnings from Holocaust survivors