Friday, November 21, 2014

Montana and South Carolina!

The same-sex marriage ban in South Carolina was struck down at the district court level. The 4th Circuit denied an appeal. The Supremes didn't grant a stay. Even before that stay was officially denied, a judge began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A district court in Montana declared that state's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The state AG has vowed an appeal, though he probably won't get very far – the 9th Circuit has already ruled that such bans are unconstitutional. Marriages have begun.

So, yeah, South Carolina is getting same-sex marriage before Michigan – where the AG has filed briefs saying that because of the 6th Circuit decision to uphold the state's ban he wants to declare those 300 same-sex marriages from last March to be voided. Which makes this cartoon appropriate. I'm sure we'll get same-sex marriage before Mississippi – won't we?

The National Organization for Marriage has seen its fundraising plummet (only 50% of what they took in last year) and appear to be near death. Yay! Alas, since they are losing traction in America they are looking for friendly countries to set up shop – like Russia.

Truth and Reconciliation

I am finally able to publish my post about the Just Resolutions between Rev. Ed Rowe and Rev. Mike Tupper and those who filed complaints against them. The details were presented at a gathering in East Lansing last week. Ed and Mike are the Michigan United Methodist pastors who performed same-sex weddings. The Just Resolutions are the agreements they reached with the Michigan bishop. More details in my brother blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Holy Terror, part 2: Cast of characters

White discusses several leading people in the modern fundamentalist movement and what they contributed to where we are today. Some are well known – we've been battling them for 30 years. Others are new to me. White knew most of them personally and worked with them on a variety of book and film projects. The first one mentioned is Billy Graham, but mostly to say that while Graham was the best known Evangelical of the 20th Century, he was not a Fundamentalist. So, onward.

Next is Francis Schaeffer. He expounded on fundamentalist principles at L'abri, his compound in Switzerland. He wanted to restore fundamentalist principles to a religion that had strayed too far and he wanted to restore those same principles to America, which had also strayed too far (much more on this later). He was waging war to save both church and state. Schaeffer's 1981 book A Christian Manifesto was a call for fundamentalists to become politically active, to reclaim America for Christ.

No doubt Schaeffer was sincere in his beliefs and his goals. But his writings and speeches were full of incorrect interpretations (such as the Supreme Court and their ruling on prayer in public school) and hyperbole to rally the troops. Those techniques have been used consistently since then.

Though Schaeffer considered homosexuality to be "a part of the abnormality of the fallen world," he didn't exploit fear of gays for his fundraising.

The son of Francis is Frank Schaeffer, who grew up in the compound and is now repudiating his father's work. I wrote about Frank a few times in the past: here, here, and here. He apparently has a regular gig at Huffinton Post explaining fundamentalism while debunking it. This Frank Schaeffer is not the United Methodist pastor who performed a same-sex wedding for his gay son. That one spells his name with only one "f" and I frequently misspelled it when I wrote about him.

W. A. Criswell was for fifty years the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. In 1969 he preached a sermon titled, "Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True." This was the "shot heard round the denomination" and started the purge of progressives and moderates from the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1980 Criswell preached his first sermon against homosexuality. This sermon is the source of most of the lies that have been told and retold about us: He said the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality rather than inhospitality as the bible itself says. He misused the six other "clobber" passages to condemn us. He used faulty science to claim homosexuality is an acquired sickness that is curable. He conjured fear of gays and lesbians, on the march to secure rights. He railed against the teaching of sex education in schools. He used a few examples to declare all gay people live miserable lives. He concluded by saying gays may also accept the healing power of Jesus. And if they don't...

Before he died in 2002 at the age of 92 Criswell saw and regretted the pain caused by his demand that everyone agree with him about the inerrancy of the bible. Though Criswell laid the foundation of the Fundie view of homosexuality (and probably didn't regret that), he did not use homosexuality and fear of it to raise money.

About the time Francis Schaeffer was writing his Christian Manifesto Jerry Falwell was developing the Moral Majority. Schaeffer had put out the call to war; Falwell recruited and trained the troops. His first difficulty was getting over a psychological barrier – all his training was towards shunning those outside his denomination, but he needed fundamentalists in other denominations to help wage his war. Falwell later said, "Francis Schaeffer told me that in the past God used pagans to accomplish his will. Why shouldn't we?"

Falwell was a master of spin. His platform has four planks: Pro-life (women shouldn't have control over their reproductive rights), pro-family (no rights for gay people), pro-moral (but our definition of morality), and pro-American (making this a Christian nation by ending the separation of church and state).

Falwell, Paul Weyrich (a Jew), and Richard Viguerie (Roman Catholic) mastered mass-market mail to rally the troops to begin electing like-minded supporters to every level of government. In the 1980s they exploited fear of the "godless Soviet empire." Once communism collapsed in Europe Falwell and company exploited fears of millions of unborn babies and of the gay agenda. His letters described all this as a declaration of war. Their high point (so far) was in 2004 when their minions elected a fundamentalist president and established a firm hold on the House and Senate.

Pat Robertson created his own separate media empire and used it to push the Fundie agenda, including bashing sexual minorities. That empire is huge, reaching millions, and is well funded.

James Dobson also had a huge following through his own media outlet, Focus on the Family. He became the enforcer. If he didn't like what a politician was doing he would rant about it, prompting his listeners to inundate the politician's mail, email, and phone. It got to the point that some politicians called Dobson before a major decision. That was especially true of Bush II when the decision was judges for federal courts and justices for the Supreme Court (more on this later). Through this Dobson showed his intent of driving moderates out of the GOP.

Dobson created action councils around the country. While many of them had the word "family" in the organization's name, the names were different enough to avoid easy tracing back to Dobson. These local councils could do the political enforcement at the local and state level. Through his empire Dobson has become "the most powerful and the most influential voice on the religious right."

A key part of Dobson's efforts was to use the lies Criswell developed to demonize gay people. Part of it was because he saw us as a threat, part of it was because he could raise millions of dollars that way.

Mel White includes D. James Kennedy in this cast of characters. Kennedy is the head pastor of the huge Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in South Florida. Kennedy uses that platform to spout a more extreme version of what Dobson, Robertson, and Falwell say.
D. James Kennedy was the perfect shepherd to guide his flock away from the real problems of justice, mercy, and truth every Sunday with a fundamentalist Christian mix of patriotism, cheap grace, pseudopsychology, and scary apocalyptic warnings of what might happen to America if... If the evil Soviet empire triumphs... If homosexuals have their way with our children... If feminists destroy the family... If pro-abortionists continue killing a million unborn babies yearly... If criminals, teenage gangsters, drug peddlers continue to roam our streets.. If pornographers... If the internet... If Hollywood... If activist judges... If Hillary Clinton...
Kennedy was a signer, though not author, of A Manifesto for the Christian Church that was signed by 460 Fundies in 1986. This document includes a list of essential truths. At the top of the list is the inerrancy of the bible, which is
the test for all truth, including philosophies, books, values, actions, and plans, and the final measurement of all God wants mankind to know about law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science.
According to the Manifesto when a nation obeys the bible it will be blessed, when it disobeys it will be cursed. It is America's task to teach the rest of the world of God's laws. In the list of social evils, abortion is at the top followed by homosexuality, well above treatment of the poor (#5) and racial discrimination (#8). Since the bible must be taken literally the response to homosexuality must be the death penalty.

Schaeffer issued the call to arms. Criswell supplied the propaganda and the urge to purge. Falwell and Robertson supplied the troops. Dobson bullied the politicians. And Kennedy trumpeted their ultimate dream.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Holy Terror, part 1: Fear

I'm reading the book Holy Terror, Lies the Christians Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality by Mel White. There are lots of important things from this book to share, so I'll be doing it over several days.

Mel White is an Evangelical Christian and he is clear to say while all Fundamentalists are Evangelical, not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalist. He's definitely not a Fundie. White was a ghostwriter, writing the biographies of some of the top Fundies, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. White is gay and spent 30 years trying desperately not to be. He finally admitted it wasn't working. He acquired a partner and started the organization Soulforce, which works to combat the harm the Fundies are doing to us. All of that is recounted in his autobiography Stranger at the Gate. You can get both books on the Soulforce website.

The book Holy Terror was published in 2006 at the height of the Bush II presidency and just after a bunch of states (including Michigan) voted in Marriage Protection Amendments. This was about the time that such an amendment didn't make it through Congress though there was a strong push for it. White added a preface in 2011 for the paperback version.

But now it is 2014 and those same-sex marriage bans are falling like dominoes. Is White's book still relevant? One need only look at last week's election and check out the nuggets in the various state GOP platforms that specify what Fundies intend for us – both America and sexual minorities (and anyone who isn't a straight, white, male fundamentalist).

In the week before the election NPR did a piece featuring an Evangelical pastor who complained that the GOP doesn't seem to be listening to his fellow Fundies as intently as they had in the past. Or at least not talking up the issues as much as before. This pastor warned that his flock might become disillusioned and decide not to vote (Yay!).

But White says part of that is because the Tea Party is championing many of the Fundie issues and many on the religious right are glad to have a secular cover for their religious goals.

White begins with definitions of fundamentalism from a variety of writers. Here are some of them.

From Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth:
I define fundamentalism as the attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world. … What really lies behind fundamentalism is fear, a profound insecurity that makes you feel when you meet someone who doesn't like you or who doesn't agree with you that that challenges and threatens your very being. Aggression is always a sign of insecurity, and insecurity is always at bottom a lack of faith, not the presence of it.
John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop:
[Fundamentalist Christians are] those whose religious security is rooted in a literal Bible. … they do not want that security disturbed. Fundamentalists are not happy when facts challenge their biblical understanding or when nuances in the text are introduced or when they are forced to deal with either contradictions or changing insights … For biblical literalists there always an enemy to be defeated in mortal combat.

Edward John Carnell, former professor and president of Fuller Theological Seminary:
Fundamentalism is orthodoxy gone cultic. … The mentality of fundamentalism is dominated by ideological thinking. Ideological thinking is rigid, intolerant, and doctrinaire; it sees principles everywhere, and all principles come in clear tones of black and white; it exempts itself from the limits that original sin places on history; it wages holy wars without acknowledging the elements of pride and personal interest that prompt the call to battle; it creates new evils while trying to correct old ones.

I want to branch off White's story to look at that first definition, that behind fundamentalism is "fear, a profound insecurity." White doesn't look any deeper. For that I turn to a book by John Shelby Spong, who has also been battling fundamentalism. The book is Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I both do and don't recommend this book because the change Spong is talking about is much deeper than avoiding fundamentalism and turning to love. Spong says that fear is a fear of death, or more likely, a fear of what happens after death. To me this means Fundies are desperate to get into heaven and afraid they won't make it. So Fundies are ordering their lives in a vain attempt to please God. They load up on rules, thinking that by doing these things and not doing those they attract God's favorable attention. They see God as the sheriff ready to make the bust, not as the embodiment of love. To order their own lives Fundies need to block out the rest of the world, or better yet, make sure the world conforms to their understanding. That combined with their fear means the Fundie is after power, and when one has power one inflicts violence to keep it.

Spong discusses another fear, that of not being able to control everything. If they can't control something directly, they want a God who will control it for them. That control is desired (begged for) for such things as health (about as controllable as the weather) and riches. They're desperate for that control while some of us understand that control isn't possible and are able to deal with that. This idea will be important in White's book later on.

That takes the cake

Since the district judge struck down the Michigan same-sex marriage ban and 300 couples got married before a stay was issued, Gov. Rick Snyder has been saying yeah, those marriages are legal, but the state isn't going to recognize them or provide any benefits. Now that the 6th Circuit overturned the district court and upheld the ban Snyder says, "it is as if the marriages never existed." Sweet guy.

Now that the Michigan legislature is heading into its lame-duck session (and the GOP is contemplating all kinds of mischief) there has been talk of finally adding sexual minorities to the state's civil rights act. Well, some sexual minorities. There's lots of resistance to adding transgender people. I've been getting emails from gay rights organizations saying they will oppose the inclusion of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the law if transgender people are excluded.

The civil rights bill has brought out a companion bill – a Religious Freedom Act which would allow people to discriminate (violate the civil rights law) against gay people if not discriminating violates religious beliefs. See, we're not supposed to discriminate against religious beliefs either. We need balance.

Commenter Joel summarized it this way:
I cannot understand the cognitive dissonance required to both want to protect a gay person's right to buy a cake and a bigot's right not to make a cake for that gay person.