Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holy Terror, part 4: Idols

In the last post of this series I was feeling a bit glum because I reported on the false statements used against us. Now comes a topic I report with glee. This post covers what is false about the Fundamentalist Christian religion. This is a core part of Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality.

Right there at the top of the Top Ten, those Commandments Fundies want to carve into monuments, paint on walls in school cafeterias, and use as a substitute for American law (but don't actually intend to follow), are these:
* You shall have no other gods before me.
* You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven or on earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.

Simplified, that second one means don't create idols or false gods and worship them. White proceeds to list and describe the idols that Fundies worship.

God as Idol
This god isn't the god of the bible. Yeah, this god is created by stringing together unrelated biblical verses, but it was created to justify prejudices. And it is the same god that approved of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the war against Native Americans, and slavery, and opposed women's rights.

But this doesn't describe the God of the bible – the whole bible. All of the bible points to Jesus. Jesus summarized the Top Ten into two Great Commandments:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
White responds to those gathered at Glen Eyrie, the retreat that presented the battle plan against us:
Wasn't it plain to them that this ancient holiness passage from Leviticus [the one that calls for homosexuals to be put to death] that they were using as a law to support their prejudice was trumped, invalidated, annulled, quashed, overthrown by the two great commandments? Had they learned nothing about how God views the "untouchables" from the example of Jesus, who embraced the "untouchable" leper; who praised the "untouchable" bleeding woman; who drank from the bucket of the "untouchable" Samaritan whore; who dined with the "untouchable" Jews who collected taxes for Rome; who let the "untouchable" prostitute pour expensive perfume on his feet and dry them with her hair; and who healed the "untouchable" homosexual companion of the "untouchable" Roman centurion?
The lesser god, the one who supports Fundie prejudices, is an idol. He who worships a lesser god violates the Top Ten and the Two Great commandments.

Bible as Idol
Fundies speak of an inerrant bible, one that was essentially dictated by God. This is bibliolatry, defined as "having an excessive reverence for the letter of the Bible" The Fundie says: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. No questions. No discussions. No possible change of mind or heart.

But... The commandments of Jesus contradict those of Moses. Who wins? The bible is the story of God and those who encounter him. It wasn't supposed to be a guide to biology, geology, or astronomy. What about the Spirit of Truth who has been speaking through "Copernicus, Galileo, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bach, Handel, Newton, Darwin, Kepler, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pasteur, Einstein, George Washington Carver, Rachel Carson" and many others? White wrote:
Nevertheless, an inerrant Bible as they define it is the frame through which fundamentalists view the world. That frame can bounce off every idea you throw at it if your understanding of a biblical verse doesn't agree with theirs. They aren't interested in the meaning you find in a biblical passage. They aren't even interested in the truths scholars, historians, and linguists find there. For fundamentalists, the canon is closed. No more inspiration is needed. The Holy Spirit is as unnecessary for understanding holy writ as is the knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. Fundamentalists know exactly what every verse means and woe be unto those who disagree.

Many Fundie leaders pull out particular verses to create bogus spiritual laws. An example: Want to be rich? See Luke 6:38 – "Give [to my ministry] and it shall be given to you..." This implies that the giver, or the Fundie preacher, can control God – my giving requires God to give me wealth. Other spiritual laws promise health, success, and salvation. But religion isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Fundies worship the text of the bible, not God. This is idolatry.

Family as Idol
Every Fundie organization that exists to harm us either has the word "family" in its name or at least has protection of the family as a top goal. Declaring harm to the family is the easiest and most emotionally charged (and thus vote getting) way for them to reach their goal of declaring homosexuality harmful in general.

In the previous post of this series I included a quote from Robert Skolrood, one of the leaders. I repeat it here (and add some more):
It is impossible for Christianity to make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity. It denies life, it denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family. What these people are against is absolute values. And Christianity is one of the stumbling blocks in their way.
White breaks it down in more detail than in the previous chapter.

"… impossible … to make peace... " That's mostly because Fundies have decided it is impossible. Our existence is too much of a challenge to their beliefs. So another way to reach them must be found.

Homosexuality "denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity" Oh? Rick Warren, sounding very Fundie, wants to force candidates for public office to answer questions about abortion, embryonic stem cells, same-sex marriage, cloning, and euthanasia. Warren declares them as non-negotiable, as if they were foundation principles of Christianity. But aren't the foundation principles, taken from Matthew 25, supposed to be about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, finding shelter for the homeless, and all the rest?

Homosexuality "denies life" Homosexuals don't make babies and without babies there is no national future. Never mind that many same-sex couples make great parents.

Homosexuality "denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit" It is this claim that prompts a lot of screeching about gays not really wanting to marry and wanting to destroy marriage.

Homosexuality "denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family." Ah, now we get to the core of the matter. When the family is described as a root structure there is a particular structure, a chain of command, in mind. White wrote:
God speaks to Jesus; Jesus speaks to men; men speak to women; women speak to children (and then to men of color, women of color, children of … but that's another story)
White expands on that:
For Fundamentalist Christians, if God's chain of command is broken, chaos will prevail in the family as it does in the military, and homosexuals represent the greatest threat to that chain. …

Then along comes "Steve," the dangerous "homosexual activist" who is definitely not submissive to authority but insists on defying it. … Rigid gender roles have been established since the beginning of recorded history. Keeping men in charge and women in their place is the way civilization has always worked. Accepting homosexuality not only flies in the face of natural creation (or so they think) but it threatens the overthrow of heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia … all established cultural norms.
Yeah, gay men might give women ideas. So Fundie men are fearful of losing their position at the top of the heap. This is a very strong fear.

And what happens if heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia are overthrown? Suzanne Pharr gives us an idea. There won't be tomboys or sissies. We will love anyone we want. We will be free to show affection to anyone even if they aren't a potential mate. Isolation will diminish. Jobs will be open to all. Men who don't have to assert their manhood will become less violent – something that will affect national and international politics. We'll wear whatever clothes match our personal comfort and style. There will be no gender roles.

All of that sounds pretty good to me.

Hollywood is very good at displaying the idealized family. That's bad enough for those who don't come from an ideal family. But Fundies take it one more step, condemning those who don't conform to their ideal. And a lot of families simply cannot match the Fundie ideal family. The family is an idol worshiped by fundamentalists.

Nation as Idol
We've heard the loud voices proclaim that: (1) America is a Christian nation that is held in special favor by God. (2) because of homosexuality God is (or will) withhold that favor and America will be destroyed. Therefore there must be an effort to (3) reclaim America for Christ. That comes with the understanding that something must be done about "the gay problem."

We've also long heard that the Founding Father's were Christian (actually, most were Deist) who intended America to be Christian (never mind that the only mention of religion in the Constitution is that pesky bit about not establishing a state religion). So we've been arguing over the real meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

But the claim to America being a Christian nation uses a much older document – the Mayflower Compact signed on November 11, 1620. That's a little document written and signed by a group of fundamentalists fleeing persecution but intent on establishing some persecution of their own. Yes, the Mayflower Compact says the colony was established "for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith." But this claim that it is our founding document ignores that the majority of the passengers on the Mayflower were colonists without religious convictions and did not sign the Compact.

As we've seen and heard over the last 20 years there has been a strong effort to make that establishment clause in the First Amendment become meaningless. White documents the efforts and the rhetoric that go into the Fundie claim, much I've already analyzed here.

Back in 2002 Bush II gave a speech on Ellis Island surrounded by the Fundie leaders who worked hard to get him elected. In that speech Bush referred to American as he used the phrase "that light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it."

A British commentator noticed the similarity of that phrase to one in the bible referring to Jesus. That means with Fundie encouragement America is ranked with Jesus as
one brought into the world to bring God's plans into fulfillment. To suggest that a sovereign nation state with political priorities and military budgets has somehow a divine status is in my opinion at least as close as you can come to idolatry.
White concludes this section by writing:
When the Bible, or the family, or the nation are adored, blindly, excessively, when they are so important that they take the place of God, they become idols. Unfortunately, idols fail. And when the people who believed in those idols with all their heart experience that failure, it leaves their lives in chaos.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Holy Terror, part 3: Battle plan

For many years my parents (or my grandparents, when they were alive) would organize family reunions. I rarely saw more distant relations outside of these gatherings. Alas, my parents and their siblings and cousins are too old to do the work to make these events happen.

Back in 2003 a distant cousin (I couldn't tell you the relationship) volunteered to host a reunion of my Dad's family at her place near Colorado Springs. This was quite a change from our usual venues in northern Ohio. So, it was more than a one-day trip. We had a chance to see many sights in the area. I had a chance to see how big the Focus on the Family compound is (though I had no intention of going inside).

One of those sights was Glen Eyrie. It is a big house built in 1871 and remodeled in 1881 to resemble a castle. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and used as a conference and retreat center. During our visit I'm pretty sure we didn't go into any of the buildings. Instead, we were given a CD we could put in the car's sound system to drive around the grounds and look at the exterior of the buildings. The CD talked of the fine religious work done on the grounds by The Navigators, a Christian group that owns the place that has the purpose of training people to share their faith. That means they are Evangelical, though not necessarily fundamentalist.

I mention all this because in 1994 Glen Eyrie was the site of a three day conference that planned the "short term" solution to gay and lesbian Americans. With this I continue my series of posts on Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. White relied on conference materials and audio tapes of the event to tell us about it. The attendees were leaders of anti-gay groups from across the country, though specifically excluding the big names (mentioned in part 2) so that the movement would have the appearance of being grass-roots and that the big players couldn't get it done without the little guy's help. The urgency and importance of the meeting were asserted from the start with Will Perkins saying, "If we lose this battle, there are no moral absolutes left for this nation." White wrote:
From the opening moments of their Glen Eyrie conference these fundamentalists Christians were evoking God's guidance on their plan to deprive lesbian and gay Americans of all the civil rights and protections guaranteed them by the U.S. Constitution. It was obvious that they believed that the war they were waging against us was a holy war and that their efforts to "end homosexuality in America" were done in God's name and with God's blessing.
A big part of the problem, according to the attendees, was that most pastors were wimps on the issue and they didn't know how to present a compelling argument against homosexuality. So this conference planned to supply that without drawing the pastor into controversies.

The main part of the Glen Eyrie conference was a presentation of the Glen Eyrie Protocol, how the Fundies were to wage war against us, their battle plan. It has three main parts.

First, prove that heterosexuality is best for individuals and society. Translation: homosexuality is destructive to both the individual and society. Yeah, the tone was supposed to be positive, but that didn't last. Attendees were cautioned to use scientific data, not biblical arguments. That's because biblical arguments didn't resonate with those who weren't religious.

The AIDS epidemic had been ravaging gay communities for more than a decade by the time of this conference. That became the prime piece of evidence that homosexuality was destructive. There were lots of examples of gay men coming out to their parents by telling Mom and Dad they were dying of AIDS.

As for actual "science" there was Paul Cameron, who back in 1983 has been tossed out of the American Psychological Association for shoddy "research." But why quibble over that detail when Cameron was able to produce such useful studies as The Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do, Child Molestation and Homosexuality, What Causes Homosexual Desire and Can it Be Changed?, and Same Sex Marriage: Til Death Do Us Part? Yes, every one of these is as vile as their title suggests and every one of them is stuffed full of lies. But they provided the needed scientific foundation for the battle. That "toxic waste," as White calls it, is still being used to poison minds.

Second, prove that homosexuality is NOT immutable. Translation: homosexuality is a choice and that homosexuals can change. To help with this was the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuals, or NARTH. This was the top organization in reparative therapy and they had the roster of psychoanalysts and psychologists to back them up. Several denominational organizations sprang up: Courage for Catholics, Evergreen for Mormons, JONAH for Orthodox Jews, and the big one Exodus. There was a ready supply of "ex-gays" to give testimony to religious broadcast programs.

Nearly all participants of these programs discovered they didn't work. Alas, many concluded the fault was their own and suffered great psychological harm and many committed suicide. We can rejoice that in 2013 the head of Exodus admitted failure to change anyone's orientation, apologized for the pain, and closed the organization.

Even so, this part of the battle plan has been effective. From a 2003 survey by the Pew Forum:
People who believe homosexuality is a choice, as opposed to a trait people are born with, are far more opposed to gay marriage, as are people who believe homosexuals can change.

Third, demonstrate why society needs to make certain demands on people sexually. Translation: government needs to be persuaded to use its power to enforce fundamentalist Christian sexual morality, especially on homosexuals. This part of the plan is deeply rooted in the idea that America is supposed to be a Christian nation built on absolute, God-given morals. The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are supposedly dependent on these absolute morals.

This part of the plan is built on four principles:
* Convince elected officials to take a stand against pro-gay legislation.
* Eliminate government funding of immoral behavior – including funding for AIDS research and prevention (yup, it's our own fault if we contract AIDS and we deserve to die).
* See a spiritual awakening. Translation: give gays and lesbians a last chance to confess their sin and be guided into an ex-gay ministry.
* To strengthen the male/father image. Translation: reinforce patriarchy and make sure sex education is only about abstinence until marriage.

Robert Skolrood, one of the leaders, gave this rallying cry:
Homosexuality denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity. It denies life, it denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family. What these people are against is absolute values. And Christianity is one of the stumbling blocks in their way.
White explains the "root structure":
God has given each of us a role to play in sustaining life on this planet. A gay man who refuses to do his God-given duty as husband and father helps bring down the entire structure.

I've heard the comment that when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, Fundie groups needed a new way to raise money. Raising the specter of Godless Communism just didn't sweeten the pot like it used to. So Fundies turned to demonizing us to raise funds. White dismisses that comment. While Fundies did indeed raise millions off our backs and did so not long after the Iron Curtain fell, we weren't just a convenient target. These people genuinely believed we were (and are still) a dire threat to everything they hold dear.

This Glen Eyrie meeting described the "short term" solution. This solution included: deny all rights to same-sex couples, end all sex education except abstinence, stop gov't support of safe-sex progams and AIDS research, prevent gays from adopting, remove lesbian and gay teachers and pastors, remove hate-crime protections, prevent laws that ban discrimination, ban gays and lesbians from the military, recriminalize homosexual behavior, and do whatever else they can to keep us in the closet (or convince us to become straight). White asks the important question: If this is the short term solution, what is the long term solution?
Once fundamentalist Christians have successfully dehumanized our lives, demeaned our relationships, denied us our rights, devastated our families, destroyed our influence in church and society, and driven us back into our closets, what comes next?

This was a difficult post for me to write. It wasn't because the words didn't flow. It was having to spell out one false statement after another, knowing they were intentionally false and with the purpose of doing harm to me and my kind. We have been living with, trying to combat, and suffering from the poisons these statements have injected into the national conversation for 20 years now. I take great comfort that even with these poisons regularly hurled at us the public opinion of same-sex marriage, public accommodation laws, and hate crime laws has consistently shifted in our favor over the last 20 years and is now a majority opinion. Because of this very effective campaign, the GOP is still against us. In spite of it the nation is embracing us. These false statements are still out there and still do harm. Thankfully, more and more people see them as false.

There is another sign of hope, though it comes with pain. At the age of 12 Ryan Robertson told his parents he was gay. They, Rob and Linda, guided Ryan into a reparative therapy program. It didn't work and Ryan died of a drug overdose at the age of 18. Rob and Linda could have left their church. Instead, they chose to challenge the false teaching. The church leadership is having harder time simply branding them as no longer being a "real" Christian. Rob and Linda are using blogs and social media to find and band together with other parents who choose the love of a child over church doctrine. Various seminary scholars are becoming more vocal in their challenge to doctrine. The closure of Exodus has raised the question, "If I can't change my kid into being a straight Christian, then what?" Linda Robertson said:
I got a lot of emails from parents who said, "I don't know one other parent of a gay child. I feel like in my community, I don't have permission to love my child." They have a lot of questions. But then they're going back to their churches and speaking to their pastors, speaking to their elders and speaking to their friends, saying, "We have a gay child. We love them and we don't want to kick them out. How do we go forward?"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In another's shoes

In an article reprinted on AlterNet Roman Krznaric talks about empathy. That word is gaining buzz because of "empathy marketing." The more a corporation can see the world through their customer's eyes, the more effective the sales. But instead of selling another pair of shoes why not walk in someone else's? Krznaric tells us of five people who did just that.

Goivanni Bernadone, a son of a wealthy merchant, was troubled by the contrast between the beauty of St. Peter's at the Vatican and the beggars outside. So he swapped clothes with one of the beggars for a day. He became Francis of Assisi and founded the Franciscans, a religious order of brothers dedicated to living in poverty like those they serve.

Beatrice Webb was doing research into urban poverty in 1887. She stepped away from her comfortable life to experience work in an East London textile factory. From that experience she published Pages From a Work-Girl's Diary which caused a sensation. Webb campaigned for improved factory conditions and for the trade union movement.

In 1959, white John Howard Griffin used medication and sun lamps to darken his skin. He then spent six weeks traveling the Deep South as a black man, experiencing racism. He wrote the book Black Like Me and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1983 G√ľnther Walraff of Germany started two years living as a Turkish immigrant worker, enduring harsh working conditions and harsh treatment by other Germans. His book Lowest of the Low led to criminal investigations of illegal labor and resulted in improved protection for contract workers.

In the late 1970s at the age of 26 Patricia Moore put on makeup to look old, wore fogged glasses to simulate vision problems, wrapped limbs and hands to simulate arthritis, and wore uneven shoes so that she hobbled. She traveled around America trying to walk up and down subway stairs, open store doors, and use can openers. She used that experience to design products, such as thick-handled potato peelers, that are now common in kitchens. She was also influential in getting the Americans With Disabilities Act passed.

There are ways each of us can practice experiential empathy, including a "wealth swap" or a "God swap."

The love you feel for your family

A pleasant Thanksgiving Day today. Dad, Mom, Sis, and Niece came for the afternoon. I roasted turkey (not a whole bird) and supplied the mixed veggies and squash. Sis brought the rest – fries (definitely not traditional), drinks (non-alcoholic!), and pie. Niece brought the game Clue and we (all but Mom) played a round. A pleasant day.

I've been posting so sporadically lately that I forgot to mention that as of ten days ago I've been writing this blog for seven years. This post is number 2766.

The big marriage equality case in Michigan, the one headed to the Supremes, started out as an adoption case. It was the judge who said to the lesbian couple the reason why they couldn't adopt each other's kids was because they couldn't get married. The couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, had adopted three special needs kids – more precisely, one is the legal parent of two of them and the other is legal parent of the third. The kids would be in a big mess if their legal guardian was incapacitated or died. The other parent is legally a stranger.

Here's an indication how good DeBoer and Rowse are as parents – they've adopted a fourth special needs child. The judge in the case said, "I've had a chance to follow the love you feel for your entire family."

Many years ago gay organizations took on Westboro Baptist Church. It wasn't through confrontation, but by using Westboro's visit to a town as a fundraiser. Gays and allies would pledge per minute of protest. The longer the protest, the more money was raised. The money would go to a local gay organization.

That idea is spreading. The German town of Wunsiedel is where Rudolf Hess, a deputy of Hitler, was buried. So for the last 25 years a neo-Nazi group has held a march through town. This year others pledged by meter walked with donations going to a program to help neo-Nazi members leave the organization. All this was a surprise to the marchers.

I had written about the stinging dissent when the 6th Circuit refused to declare bans of same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. There is one notable person who paid attention to that dissent. He is Paul Pfeifer, Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. His interest is personal – he is quite fond of his two grandchildren and their two moms. Now, he's not quite sure of this same-sex marriage thing, but those grandchildren need more protection they currently get under Ohio law. He also says the marriage ban doesn't belong in the Ohio constitution, so let's hurry up and vote for a repeal. Good to see he gets it – somewhat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Arkansas, Mississippi!

A federal judge struck down the ban to same-sex marriage in Arkansas. The ruling came with a stay, pending an expected appeal to the 8th Circuit. There is a separate case before the state's Supremes. That one is an appeal of a county circuit judge's ruling that allowed 541 same-sex couples to wed earlier this year before the state Supremes put a stop to them.

A few hours later another federal judge did the same to the ban in Mississippi. It also came with a stay, pending appeal to the 5th Circuit, where there is already a case from Texas.

Isn't it nice that these rulings are becoming so routine I don't exclaim over the various ideas in the rulings? I didn't even read them.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Caught between

Instead of listening to Obama's speech on immigration this past Thursday evening I went to a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert. Four of the five works on the program were new to the orchestra, one a world premier. I had a fine time.

So I heard about what the prez. did through the regular news media, mostly NPR. The big question pundits batted around was why did Obama do it and why do it now after John Boehner said such action would "poison the well" (never mind that Boehner put a concrete cap over the well long ago). The answer to that question seemed to be such things as: (1) Because the Senate passed an immigration bill 16 months ago and the House hasn't taken it up and likely won't. Or (2) Because Obama could.

Essayist Terrence Heath proposes another possibility, one he considers "brilliant." This has a few pieces to it:

* There really isn't anything the GOP can do in response because the steps Obama took are all legal.

* The news is bringing out the conservative crazies, who are spouting all kinds of nasty – accusing Obama of such things as leading up to a civil war. Latinos know they are the target of that nastiness.

* The GOP can placate the crazies only by alienating Latinos. The GOP needs the crazies to stay in power now but will need the Latino vote to keep power in 2016. Because of Obama's move they won't get both.

One big regret – Obama didn't do this a month ago when it might have made a difference in the last election.

Using his senses

After my post yesterday I went out to a movie. It is one with rave reviews, but the only time I could see it during it's weeklong run was 9:45 on a Friday night. The movie is The Way He Looks and was shown at Cinema Detroit. I've been at this cinema once before. It's in an old elementary school and is minimal operation, but it shows movies not shown anywhere else in the area. I'm still puzzled by the pool table in the boys room.

Alas, there was a glitch last night. The movie is from Brazil, so is in Portuguese. When it started the subtitles weren't showing and it took a couple minutes for the staff to catch on. Then it took 25 minutes of fussing over the equipment and another false start before the small audience could watch and understand. The subtitles were finally in place, though we also got a frame counter on the screen as well. When the movie was over (at midnight) the owner gave us passes for a future show.

The story is about Leonardo and his friend Giovana. They are in high school. Some of their classmates make fun of Leo because he is blind. He uses a noisy braille typewriter in class, appears to stare straight ahead, and needs Giovana to walk him home. His parents are overly protective to the point he considers a foreign exchange program to get out from under them.

Then Gabriel joins the class. Soon Giovana feels ignored and it takes a while to sort through all that, with lots of misunderstanding along the way. So what in all that teenage angst caught my attention? The story explores (at least a little bit) the idea of sexual attraction in the blind. If Leo can't see and be aroused by the human form how does he discover he is gay?

The actor who played Leo did such a convincing job playing blind that I wondered if they found a blind actor. I don't know the answer to that. Though I thought the other aspects of the story were a bit lightweight, Brazil has nominated the film as their submission for best foreign film Oscar.

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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kansas! South Carolina in process

A District Court judge struck down the Kansas same-sex marriage ban. The state asked the Supremes for a stay. The Supremes denied the stay. Marriages have begun.

There is an interesting bit on the reply from the Supremes: "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas would grant the application for stay." That caught a lot of attention. Why did the two justices feel the world should know how they voted? Do they want to make it clear how anti-gay they are? Does that mean Alito and Roberts refused the stay? And does that imply when the 6th Circuit cases are decided the vote will be 7-2 or at least 6-3 instead of the expected 5-4?

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback vows to fight on with an appeal to the state Supremes. The AG claims the ruling applies only to the two counties named in this particular suit, not the entire state. So most county clerks are being cautious.

In South Carolina a District Judge struck down the states same-sex marriage ban. Surprising nobody the AG has filed an appeal with the 4th Circuit, which had previously overturned Virginia's ban. This time the AG has the 6th Circuit ruling to claim that South Carolina's ban is different enough to warrant "their day in court."

A complaint was filed against another United Methodist pastor over same-sex marriage ceremonies. This one has a twist. Detail at my brother blog.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Missouri, West Virginia!

News of the week...

Michigan's same-sex marriage case will go straight to the Supremes, rather than trying for a different result from a hearing by the full 6th Circuit. Surprising nobody (since they were on the winning side) Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and AG Bill Schuette (both just re-elected) vowed to continue to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban., though they did promise to cooperate with the lesbian couple in this case to get it before the Supremes as quickly as possible.

The dissenting judge in the case, the one who thought her colleagues violated their oaths of office, included this musing in her dissent.
Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens. Perhaps that is the case, but it does not relieve the dissenting member of the panel from the obligation of a rejoinder.

A federal judge in Missouri struck down that state's same-sex marriage ban. This is on top of the ruling that seemed to apply only to St. Louis.

Another federal judge struck down the ban in West Virginia, even though same-sex marriages have already begun there through the Supremes refusing to hear the 4th Circuit case.

Because they know Congress and many state legislatures won't act a few progressive groups put minimum wage initiatives on five state ballots. All five passed (and they weren't squeakers), including the four in red states.

Michigan's initiative process sends the proposal first to the state legislature. It goes to the voters only if the legislature doesn't act. So signatures were gathered for raising the minimum wage. The state did act – by raising it to a much smaller number than was in the initiative. At least it got raised.

Another winner was gun reform. Washington state's initiative passed by nearly 60%. An advisory referendum in Cook County, IL passed by 86.5%. Governors in New York, Connecticut, and Colorado signed gun restrictions and were re-elected. So was Maine's Senator Susan Collins.

Cardinal Raymond Burke has been quite loud in saying the Catholic Church should continue to trumpet social issues (such as discrimination against us) even though Pope Francis has been talking of a kinder, gentler approach. So Francis removed Burke as head of the Vatican's "Supreme Court" and gave him the ceremonial job of Patron of the Order of Malta.

The Parliament in Uganda didn't like that their nasty anti-homosexual bill was invalidated by their country's Supreme Court (on technical grounds). They're working on a replacement. This one is worse because it also bans "promotion" of homosexuality. That means anyone who just mentions homosexuality – newspaper article, Twitter account, LGBT human rights groups – would violate the law.

The Human Rights Campaign has launched a TV campaign across the Deep South. The first ad is of the mother of a gay son who is calling for people of faith to do a better job treating sexual minorities.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Just resolution

The case of the Michigan pastors who performed same-sex marriages has been resolved. Read more in my brother blog.

Still space in the deserts

When church evangelizers come to my door I take time to talk to them. I interrupt their spiel and ask them how their church treats gay people. I want them to know why I'm not interested in their church. One came this morning just as I finished my time on the exercise bike. I didn't get her denomination, but it is only the more conservative churches that do this sort of thing. Before she could hand me her brochure I asked. Her reply was that gay people were welcome. And when you have a gay couple sitting in your pews? We teach them what the Bible says. What does it say? She surprised me. She didn't turn to a clobber passage, she turned to words of welcome. But then there was a bit of a slip. She said something about gay people not fitting into God's plan because they don't reproduce. Ah! I said with 7 billion people in the world it was hardly necessary for gay people to reproduce. Oh, she said, there's still plenty of room for more people. We haven't filled the deserts yet. I tried to say we are to take care of the earth, not overrun it, but I couldn't think fast enough to say the words. She replied God said right there in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. At that point I declared all that to be quite ridiculous and gently closed the door.

This evening I saw the movie The Overnighters at the Detroit Film Theater. The town of Williston, North Dakota is at the center of the oil fracking boom. Thousands of workers, many looking for a second chance, are drawn there. But the town isn't building new housing fast enough. The movie is a documentary of one of the pastors who opens his church to allow the men to sleep on the floor or to sleep in their cars in the parking lot. He is shown as a very compassionate man, helping the newcomers any way he can. Many church members are upset at the ongoing intrusion. After a teacher is murdered townspeople are distrustful of the newcomers and those who harbor them. A couple of the men turn against him, though the situation is not well explained. The church fills up so he invites a man to stay in his house and the guy turns out to be a registered sex offender because of an indiscretion in his youth. The town paper latches onto the story. The city council wants to shut him down over fire code violations.

(Spoiler alert!) If all that wasn't enough... about the time he is shut down he finds he must admit that he has always "suffered from same-sex attractions" – I hate the way it was phrased, but in this case it was likely the way the pastor saw it. His marriage crumbles and he feels he has let down his four kids. He resigns as pastor and doesn't have much luck finding work in the oil fields.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No seat at the table

There was a United Methodist panel discussing homosexuality and managing to do it without any actual homosexuals present. Details on my brother blog.

Michigan (sigh)

Three full months after the hearing in August, the 6th Circuit finally ruled on the same-sex marriage cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The three judge panel ruled 2-1 that the bans are upheld. Sorry sis, no party yet. Though there are over 30 other states that will legally perform your ceremony and where you may want to move to. Look at the purple states (for gay, not politics) in this map.

Though I haven't read the ruling (it doesn't sound like pleasant or worthwhile reading), I've read some analysis of it, such as the one from Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad. The ruling doesn't say whether or not same-sex marriage violates the Constitution. Instead, the lead judge, Jeffrey Sutton, goes on at length on why he's not allowed to rule on the underlying issue and must allow the state to do what it wants.

Last week I wrote about the case in Puerto Rico and how it was based on the 1972 dismissal by the Supremes of the Baker v. Nelson case. The Supremes said there was no "substantial federal question." Therefore, says Sutton, there is no case for me to consider.

And if that isn't enough of an excuse Sutton has a few more for us. (1) As in fine conservative tradition if it ain't in the Constitution it ain't a federal right. And "gay marriage" isn't in the Constitution. Um, dude, we don't want to get "gay married" we want to get married. (2) Also in conservative tradition, judges should leave as much power with the states and Congress as possible, let the legislative process work as it should. The customary political process is so "fair-minded." Perhaps that part was written before Tuesday's election – a remedy through this state legislature that just became more red? (3) Gosh, there's just millennia of tradition. (4) We need to proceed with caution. So if you want me to actually take up the case somebody better give me explicit instructions.

The dissenting judge, Martha Daugherty, isn't buying.
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state's constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, the majority sets up a false premise – that the question before is "who should decide?" – and leads us through a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism.
She goes on to point out the judiciary was set up to avoid tyranny of the majority. And then she accuses her colleagues of betraying their oaths by not doing their jobs.

Waldman reminds us that before the Supremes decided not to rule a month ago (only that?) Ruth Bader Ginsberg (I hope she lasts another two years!) said there is something that might prompt the Supremes to take up same-sex marriage – whether the 6th Circuit upheld bans. She specifically mentioned the 6th Circuit. And now the 6th Circuit has done exactly that.

An appeal to the Supremes is in the works. Perhaps there will be a ruling by June.

As for that rulng, Ted Olson, lead lawyer in the Calif. Same-sex marriage case that made it to the Supremes a year ago, says the nation has reached a "point of no return." The Supremes allowing same-sex couples in all those states to marry and then snatching that right away would be inhuman and cruel and inconsistent with what it has said so far.

Missouri? Kansas!

A Missouri Circuit Judge has overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The Missouri Constitution violates the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

I'm not sure why (I haven't delved into the details) the ruling seems to apply only to the city of St. Louis. Marriages have begun. Other counties are holding off.

A federal judge has ruled that Kansas may not enforce its ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling comes with a week-long stay to allow the state to appeal. But this appeal will go to the 10th Circuit which has already ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in Utah and Oklahoma. All other states in the 10th Circuit allow same-sex marriages.

There are still two states in Circuits affected by last month's refusal by the Supremes that don't yet have same-sex marriage. Those two are South Carolina and Montana.

Six judges in various counties in North Carolina have resigned. Their reason is their position requires them to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and their religion prohibits it.

Little to say

I have very little to say about the election results. First is this cartoon by Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press which sums up my views (it is about the Koch brothers, you may have to click on the little image in the corner). It ran in last Sunday's edition. There is also Jon Stewart's fine (and crude) summary.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad wrote that gay rights have gone from a Democratic problem (2004) to a Democratic gain (2012) to nothing at all.

If I see a post of how sexual minority candidates and issues fared (current indication: not well), I may tell you about it.

There is, however, one race to mention now. Gary Glenn, head of the American Family Association of Michigan, author of Michigan's 2004 Marriage Protection Amendment, and scourge of sexual minorities and our issues, has, alas, won his seat to the Michigan House, where he will continue to demonize with ready access to fellow lawmakers.

On to another topic.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Call now...

I'm on the mailing list for, a progressive organization outside any single campaign. It is good to hear bits of news about progressives, though for the last month their emails have been almost exclusively "urgent" requests to contribute money to their campaign assistance efforts. Some days I would get 2-3 donation requests and then perhaps a repeat – hey, did you see my note? The tone of the messages have been either dire warnings or exclamations that we're really close – maybe 8-9 Senate races within the margin of error.

Amongst my web browsing this week I came across this: Sean McElwee, in an article posted on Huffington Post, explains why voter turnout efforts matter in four charts. The first chart shows voter turnout by income over the previous 3 elections. Even in 2008 (the highest turnout of the three) only 48% of those who earned less than $10,000 a year voted. The participation rate increased steadily for rising income. Only 71% of those with an income in the $50-75,000 range participate. But 98% of those who are in the 1% of the wealthiest vote.

The second and fourth charts shows nonvoters are more likely support liberal causes than voters. The third shows that those who vote tend to favor lower taxes while those who aren't registered to vote tend to favor more government services. Conclusion: Increasing voter turnout "is an important first step toward a more equal democracy and would bring force politicians to consider the interests of low-income voters."

Then there is this tidbit: The number of billionaires globally has more than doubled between March 2009 and March 2014. There are now 1645 of them. And the top 85 have collectively seen their wealth increase by $668 million a day (that works out to about 7.8 million a day each). By my calculation that means it takes them about four hours to earn the maximum they are allowed to give directly to House and Senate races every two years.

So when started sending out requests for Get-Out-The-Vote efforts I paid attention. This afternoon I took part in a phone bank to urge progressive voters in Kentucky to turn out to defeat Mitch McConnell. I called them for a 15 minute training session. Then through their online hub they called me and used a dialing program to connect me to those registered to vote. As each call went through, and after the system (at least tried to) verify it wasn't an answering machine I was connected and a script popped up on my computer complete with voter's name. Hopefully, they would promise to vote. Many times they refused the call in some manner. Saturday afternoon must not be a good time to call. That got discouraging after a while, even though I'm one to not talk to political people on the phone. Once I indicated on the website what happened during the call I clicked on a button to say I was ready for the next call. Then I waited, sometimes for more than a half minute for their system to find a live person for me to talk to. That gave me time to clean out my email imbox Over about 90 minutes I had at least 35 calls (I may have missed tallying a few). The MoveOn site tallies over 4 million calls have been made, over 200,000 calls during my 90 minute effort.

You can do this too. They will continue calling through Tuesday.

Dogged by an old dismissal

Back in 1970 Richard Baker fell in love with John McConnell. They applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis. Gerald Nelson, the county clerk, denied their request. Baker sued for a license in a case known as Baker v. Nelson. He lost every step of the way through the Minnesota Supremes. In 1972 the federal Supremes responded to the appeal by saying, "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question."

In layman's terms that means the Supremes said they didn't have jurisdiction because the issue didn't involve federal law or the Constitution (remember this is 1972). That dismissal has been dogging marriage equality cases ever since, with cases arguing why Baker no longer applies.

Baker and McConnell eventually found a clerk to issue a license and a pastor to perform the ceremony. The two haven't been involved in the recent marriage equality cases because they consider themselves having been married since about 1972.

That brings us to the marriage equality case from Puerto Rico. Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad explains the importance. First, since the Supremes haven't ruled on a marriage equality case Baker is still in effect as their last word. Second, Circuit and especially District courts are reluctant to challenge a ruling from above, which is why we didn't get a flurry of rulings until after the DOMA case last year. So the judge in Puerto Rico who denied hearing a marriage equality case could be said to be following the instructions from the Supremes.

Waldman goes on to document the legal progress we've made since 1972 and how that allows many District and Circuit courts to dismiss Baker and its implications.

That Puerto Rico case is headed to the 1st Circuit. All the states in the 1st Circuit already have marriage equality so that Circuit hasn't ruled on the matter. Also, the 1st Circuit upheld Baker just two years ago. Perhaps the 1st Circuit will set up the conflict that will prompt the Supremes to take a marriage equality case – if the 5th or 6th Circuits don't get there first.

Model v. reality

My friend and debate partner, who has a PhD in Mathematics, has talked quite a bit lately about how every person has a mental model of their personal world and uses that model to make sense of the world and to make decisions. Over the last couple years (since I read a book during General Conference) my personal model includes a section on power – a recognition when someone is acting to project power and an understanding of when people are affected by power.

There remains a fascinating question of what happens when a person's model (or even a group's model) strays a long way from reality? For many of us our models are useful because they help us understand and negotiate our way through reality. We tend to revise our model when we see a discrepancy. But what if a person instead tries to revise reality?

I wrote a while ago about the mess that was created when a school board tried to make their history books more patriotic. I finally have time to look at an article on Salon by Sean McElwee. He discusses the fallacies behind conservative arguments, the places where their models don't match reality. Editing school books is an attempt to modify reality instead of the model. Some areas of descrepancy:

Everything was awesome before welfare and if we get rid of welfare things will be awesome again. Before welfare private charity took care of the poor. But support for the poor is much older than the programs FDR put together. In many eras of history the church did the taxing instead of or in partnership with the state. There has never been a successful purely voluntary public assistance program that made much of a dent in need.

Slaves really had a pretty good deal, well cared for from birth to death. This claim is made to support the idea that blacks are responsible for their own success or failure. But the legacy and weight of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and persistent racism are what is keeping black people down.

American violence can spread democracy. Nope, can't work and there are many failed attempts. There is usually an ulterior motive of stealing a country's resources. All those failed attempts are why there is such a need to rewrite history books.

Conservatism used to be about preserving tradition and preferring the familiar over the unknown. But conservatism today in America is full of racism, conspiracy, free market dogma, bad Biblical interpretation, and sentimentalized past. We can't afford their redefinition of history.

Our system isn't working

I wrote about my complaint of the Detroit Free Press and its endorsement of incumbent GOP Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. That endorsement prompted a response from Jack Lessenberry, political analyst for Michigan Radio. Lessenberry notes the Freep didn't like Snyder's record on the environment, education and transparency. Then he wrote:
Harsh words. But now here’s the shocking part: The newspaper then endorsed Snyder’s reelection!

They did this because they said in spite of all that, the governor had shown leadership skills, and felt Democrat Mark Schauer had failed to show he could lead anywhere.

What the paper is saying, whether it realizes it or not, is that our system just isn't working.

What’s most stunning about that is not who the newspaper is supporting. Anyone reading their full endorsement article might be more inclined to apply for asylum in Canada than vote at all. What the paper is saying, whether it realizes it or not, is that our system just isn’t working. Not for you; not for me. Not for our state.

And that may just be the biggest story of all.
Lessenberry comments on the cost of running for office, and says:
So, how can normal, decent, non-wealthy people run for office without selling their souls to special interests?

Increasingly they can’t, and don’t.
He concludes by saying:
Eight days from now, we’ll have a national election in which a majority of those eligible to vote won’t even bother.

History has many examples of societies where citizens felt helpless before a system they felt powerless to change.

Usually, what eventually happens isn’t pretty.

Being shot is a nutritional supplement

In a news item from Michigan Radio (meaning it isn't a story and not online) there was the comment of another use of Michigan's Emergency Manager law. That law allows the state take over control of a city that has scary finances. The elected officials are moved aside and the EM has free rein to do whatever it takes to make the city's budget balance with manageable debt, including forcing new contracts on unionized city employees. A lot of Michigan residents decry the law because for the duration of the EM's work the city is not run by elected leaders – democracy is usurped. It is probably no coincidence that nearly all cities that have had an EM are majority black, so there is an element of racism too.

Back to the most recent comment about the EM. Residents, most of whom are black, voted, then found their vote was made meaningless through the EM. So they get used to the idea that it isn't worth the bother to vote at all. And the GOP prevents another minority person from voting.

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention has denounced ex-gay therapy, the effort to supposedly help gay people become straight. It is good to see they consider such therapy to be useless and harmful. So, yeah, if you're gay you're going to remain gay. But that doesn't mean the SBC has changed any other aspect of their view of gay people. If you're gay you still had better remain celibate.

Of course, the GOP doesn't like anything Obama proposes, and they do it just because. The latest incident: Obama appointed an Ebola Czar, who isn't a doctor. GOP House member Jason Chaffetz ranted why doesn't the Surgeon General be the head of the Ebola response? The answer to that is rather simple. At the moment the office of Surgeon General is empty. Obama nominated someone. But that someone suggested that being shot by a gun would be bad for a person's health. The NRA had a fit. Apparently they think being shot is a nutritional supplement. Nah, the GOP doesn't intend to actually govern.

A couple maps give a sense of world population and how it is distributed. One was created in 2004 and projected population in 2005. The second was created this year projecting population for next year. Both maps are built on a grid with each square of the grid representing a million people. So, yes, in this year's map China fills 1306 squares and India fills 1060 squares. In contrast, USA fills 322 squares and Canada fills a thin strip of 35 squares. In Africa Nigeria pops out with 184 squares.

A professor and grad student at University of Southern California wanted to see if politicians acted on biases. They sent emails to over 1800 legislators across the country asking what kind of documentation was needed when voting. Some letters were signed with Anglo names, some with Latino names. The difference in response rates wasn't between Dem and GOP lawmakers, but between GOP lawmakers who did or didn't sponsor voter ID laws. And the gap was huge. To put the study in context, it is reasonable to say the lawmakers who sponsored voter ID laws are biased. It is not proven that the bias prompted the sponsorship of such laws.