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“Bigotry, The Bible And The Lessons Of Indiana”: The View Of Gays, Lesbians And Bisexuals As Sinners Is A Decision, Not A Choice

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.

Most parents of gay children realize this. So do most children of gay parents. It’s a truth less ambiguous than any Scripture, less complicated than any creed.

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

“Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time,” said David Gushee, an evangelical Christian who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. He openly challenges his faith’s censure of same-sex relationships, to which he no longer subscribes.

For a very long time, he noted, “Many Christians thought slavery wasn’t sinful, until we finally concluded that it was. People thought contraception was sinful when it began to be developed, and now very few Protestants and not that many Catholics would say that.” They hold an evolved sense of right and wrong, even though, he added, “You could find scriptural support for the idea that all sex should be procreative.”

Christians have also moved far beyond Scripture when it comes to gender roles.

“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”

And we could say the same about the idea that men and women in loving same-sex relationships are doing something wrong. In fact the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have said that. So have most American Catholics, in defiance of their church’s teaching.

And it’s a vital message because of something that Indiana demonstrated anew: Religion is going to be the final holdout and most stubborn refuge for homophobia. It will give license to discrimination. It will cause gay and lesbian teenagers in fundamentalist households to agonize needlessly: Am I broken? Am I damned?

“Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said.

Polls back him up. A majority of Americans support marriage equality, including a majority of Catholics and most Jews. But a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that while 62 percent of white mainline Protestants favor same-sex marriages, only 38 percent of black Protestants, 35 percent of Hispanic Protestants and 28 percent of white evangelical Protestants do.

And as I’ve written before, these evangelical Protestants wield considerable power in the Republican primaries, thus speaking in a loud voice on the political stage. It’s no accident that none of the most prominent Republicans believed to be contending for the presidency favor same-sex marriage and that none of them joined the broad chorus of outrage over Indiana’s discriminatory religious freedom law. They had the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary to worry about.

Could this change? There’s a rapidly growing body of impressive, persuasive literature that looks at the very traditions and texts that inform many Christians’ denunciation of same-sex relationships and demonstrates how easily those points of reference can be understood in a different way.

Gushee’s take on the topic, “Changing Our Mind,” was published late last year. It joined Jeff Chu’s “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” published in 2013, and “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships,” by James Brownson, which was published in 2013.

Then there’s the 2014 book “God and the Gay Christian,” by Matthew Vines, who has garnered significant attention and drawn large audiences for his eloquent take on what the New Testament — which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.

Evaluating its sparse invocations of homosexuality, he notes that there wasn’t any awareness back then that same-sex attraction could be a fundamental part of a person’s identity, or that same-sex intimacy could be an expression of love within the context of a nurturing relationship.

“It was understood as a kind of excess, like drunkenness, that a person might engage in if they lost all control, not as a unique identity,” Vines told me, adding that Paul’s rejection of same-sex relations in Romans I was “akin to his rejection of drunkenness or his rejection of gluttony.”

And Vines said that the New Testament, like the Old Testament, outlines bad and good behaviors that almost everyone deems archaic and irrelevant today. Why deem the descriptions of homosexual behavior any differently?

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 3, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | Homophobia, Indiana, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Religion Won’t Save Cruz’s White House Bid”: Evangelical Appeal Only Takes You So Far

Given that Ted Cruz formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in the most overtly religious way possible, pollsters, pundits, and the public will quickly begin to speculate about the role of faith in the 2016 GOP nominating contest.

Unfortunately for Cruz, there is little reason to believe that the Republican Party is going to nominate someone who looks and talks like a televangelist. Yet evangelical elites’ stature within the GOP coalition assures that the party will cater to some—though not all—of their priorities.

Cruz announced his candidacy to a packed convocation at Liberty University. Founded by Jerry Falwell, the famed fundamentalist pastor and political operative who died in 2007, the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus is a bastion of cultural conservatism. The optics of Cruz’s speech, which reporters likened to a sermon, were clearly designed to highlight his evangelical bona fides.

Americans, and especially Republican primary voters, will now take a closer look at Cruz.

Well-known in political circles for his Tea Party-fueled campaign for Senate in 2012, Ted Cruz defied the Beltway expectation that freshmen senators should learn the ropes, quietly deferring to and learning from party elders. Instead, Cruz quickly jumped headlong and uninvited into high-profile political fights, taking it upon himself to help sabotage the Senate’s relationship with the Obama administration and with the House of Representatives.

Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, Cruz has shown that he has the ambition and sense of self-importance to think himself the best person for the job, but only his most ardent supporters could possibly think he seems “presidential.”

Cruz’s path to the GOP nomination (if there is one) centers around one goal: becoming the conservative movement’s alternative to the party establishment’s candidate of choice. Unfortunately for Cruz, it will not work.

With varying degrees of success, GOP presidential aspirants titillate conservative evangelicals with the idea that someone who shares their values could become president. A generation ago, Pat Robertson and Patrick Buchanan gave voice to grassroots longing for rhetoric about faith and values in Republican politics. In 2008, Mike Huckabee won eight states and more than 4 million primary votes before withdrawing in March. A motley crew of characters split evangelicals’ allegiances in 2012. Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic, received vital evangelical support in winning primaries in six conservative states.

Evangelicals often prefer GOP primary candidates who end up losing the nomination to whoever the party establishment prefers. The nominee ends up being someone the party feels is a safer bet for the general election but whose religious commitment evangelicals greet with private, and sometimes public, skepticism.

Pundits overstate the notion that evangelicals “hold their noses” to vote for candidates like John McCain or Mitt Romney. But it is clear that evangelical leaders harbored doubts about recent GOP nominees’ personal faith and commitments to evangelicals’ core issues.

McCain somewhat overcame his failure to win over evangelicals by adding Sarah Palin to the 2008 ticket. Romney’s Mormon faith was an issue because a majority of evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians.

But McCain’s and Romney’s success ironically points to the reasons for Cruz’s pending failure. Political science research points to the outsized and unseen power of party insiders in presidential nominations. Less scientific but no less true is the oft-made observation that the GOP in particular defers not only to the establishment, but also to whichever candidate has “paid his dues” and seems to be “next in line.”

Cruz has repeatedly defied and alienated the Republican establishment, and no candidate has ever won the nomination without significant support from party insiders.

After the Liberty University speech, a Cruz staffer employed a March Madness metaphor, claiming that the senator is the top seed in the Tea Party bracket and in the evangelical bracket.

Unfortunately for Cruz, whichever candidate wins the establishment bracket will almost certainly win the nomination.

Activating a key GOP constituency like anti-government libertarians or conservative evangelicals is only a viable strategy if it is combined with significant establishment appeal. For this reason, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and even Rand Paul are better positioned than Ted Cruz.

In previous Republican nominating contests, Cruz’s outspoken evangelical faith could have been a political advantage. But white evangelicals are now so used to working with Catholics on sex-related issues that a candidate’s evangelical identity hardly matters.

This cycle’s GOP nominating contest features a large number of Catholic candidates. Given evangelicals’ primary support for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum at various points in the 2012 race, Catholic GOP politicians who share evangelicals’ opposition to abortion and concerns about religious liberty should feel secure in their ability to attract and retain evangelicals’ support.

Fears that Ted Cruz would be trounced in November 2016 like “a Republican George McGovern” are vastly overstated. But Ted Cruz’s fervent evangelical faith, however sincere, does nothing to advance his credibility as a contender for the nomination.

 

By: Jacob Lupfer, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Evangelicals, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why We Fight”: The Right And Wrong Reasons For Outrage

That was an incredibly moving scene in Paris yesterday, the largest civilian mobilization in French history, which is quite a history. We must hope that the humanist (an important word to which we’ll return) solidarity on display there can be sustained. To see so many people from so many religions and non-religions and so many different countries all saying the same thing is an all-too-rare sight in this petulant world.

But a little part of me wondered from time to time if we all really are saying the same thing. Let us suppose that Charlie Hebdo had published a cover showing Jesus and Mary Magdalene and a couple of the disciples besides absorbed in a sexually adventuresome tangle, and a couple of deranged militant Christians had gone in there and mowed the staff down. Or let’s imagine it was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob similarly depicted, or Moses, and a couple of Jewish religious fundamentalists had committed the slaughter. How would, and should, our reactions be the same, and how would and should they be different?

This is where certain lines and distinctions can be drawn. Everyone left to right would criticize mass murder. We’re all against that. The Christian and Jewish identity organizations would all denounce them. Abe Foxman would put out a reassuring statement. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League…well, actually, based on his dubious response to this tragedy, it would be a little harder to predict how much sleep Donohue might lose over the murder of Christian blasphemers.

But by and large, that’s the easy part. Now come the harder parts. Would we be chanting Je Suis Charlie in ideological unison the way we are now? I think we most certainly would not be. Would conservative Catholics, even those not out there on Donohue’s unique wavelength, link arms with liberals and secularists to defend the right of a blasphemer of Jesus? Would Benjamin Netanyahu, in my Jewish hypothetical, have made a special pilgrimage to Paris to express his solidarity with the dead who had so defamed his faith? I think never in a million years (and by the way, remember that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did do precisely this by attending Sunday’s March).

I think it’s pretty obvious they would not be nearly so enthusiastic about the sanctity of Charlie Hebdo’s rights to make satire in these cases. I, for my own part, would be, as would (I think) most of my friends. Then there’s a contingent to my left (yes, conservative readers, there is a contingent to my left, and they’d be delighted to fill you in on my numerous apostasies and on mainstream liberalism’s pusillanimity more generally) that would respond to the inevitable “they got what was coming to them” nudge-and-wink rhetoric from conservatives by opposing all that even more vociferously.

Each of these three tendencies is distinct, and each is protesting in this case against, or in behalf of, somewhat different things. All oppose murder and support free speech in vague terms, but after that they diverge. The theological-conservative tendency says Je Suis Charlie chiefly out of its revulsion at Islam and fear about its power—fear that it can strike us anywhere anytime. For them, a slaughter by an extremist Christian or Jew would not be qualitatively even the same kind of crime, because this crime to them is absolutely emblematic of a religion whose inherent qualities provoke this fanaticism, and which terrifies them.

On the…I’m grasping for an adjective here; multicultural is too tread-worn. So let’s just say on the left, there is condemnation of the killings, of course, and defense of Hebdo’s rights. But the greater preoccupation on the left is to preempt and counter the theo-conservatives and to search high and low for evidence of racism on the part of others—including Charlie Hebdo itself, for some of the cartoons that we know about, the one about the Nigerian girls most notably, but even some of the anti-Islam ones. Fear of power comes into play on the left also, but in a very different way than on the right. People on the left, who will tend to see Muslims as victims of Western power objectives and think Christians and Jews have plenty enough power to fend for themselves, will be more likely to see Muslims in general (though not mass murderers) as victims.

Both of these positions are relativist in almost exactly the same way. They’re mirror images of each other of course, but for both, how to respond to this atrocity is chiefly about which set of actors threatens their world view—Muslims (for the right) or the mostly Christian and somewhat Jewish capitalist power structure (for the left).

But the response should be about humanist values and nothing else. This isn’t about power relationships or who’s offended and who’s not. It’s certainly not about racism, either Charlie Hebdo’s or the right’s, and it isn’t even about free speech per se. It’s about the specific right to commit blasphemy, especially through satire, an activity that, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted a few days ago, is “directly responsible for modernity.” Obviously it’s not the only precondition of modernity, but it’s up there.

The Christian and Judaic systems do have more modernity than Islam has right now, there’s no doubt about that. This is the smidgen of a point the right has, although 1) I hate to cede that point to “the right,” because it is a fundamentally liberal point that liberals should be willing to make, i.e. that the Muslim world needs more liberalism, and 2) the right embeds it in so much paranoid and bilious upholstery that it gets buried and alienates many who might otherwise agree. But I do wonder what would happen to an American publication that published a blasphemous drawing of Jesus and friends of the sort I described above.

The editors probably wouldn’t end up dead. But note that I feel comfortable only saying “probably,” not “definitely.” Without question they’d get death threats, hundreds or thousands of them, and they’d need police protection, and they’d lose advertisers and sponsors and maybe be forced out of business and not be able to find decent new jobs. None of those things is painful death, so that’s a difference and an important one. But it’s not as clean a distinction as merely defending the right to commit religious offense, period. That’s what modernity is, and we could use a little more of it ourselves.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Religion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Having Trouble Threading The Needle On Crazy”: When You Court Crazy Long Enough, It’s Hard To Put It Back In The Box

A fight brewing in Virginia’s highly competitive 10th congressional district shows just how tough it’s becoming for conservative Catholic candidates to move to the center to woo moderates when they’re beholden to a base that’s now as unhinged on contraception as it is on abortion.

Three-term state delegate Barbara Comstock is vying in a crowded Republican primary field to replace retiring Congressman Frank Wolf in a purplish district that stretches from the moderate suburbs of Fairfax Country to the still bright red reaches of rural Virginia.

The candidacy of the former Bush administration official was off to a strong start, with the backing of numerous GOP insiders, including fellow conservative Catholic Rick Santorum, and the state’s business community. But despite a solid anti-abortion record she’s coming under fire from the influential LifeSiteNews for joining in a request last year to the Department of Health and Human Services to make oral contraceptives available over-the-counter.

Now it should be noted that this wasn’t due to a sudden fit of moderation but of political calculation. It came one month after Bobby Jindal penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying that the Republican Party should “take contraception out of the political arena”—and by inference diffuse the “war on women”—by pushing for the Pill to be made available without a prescription. “I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control,” he wrote.

According to Jindal, it was the perfect solution. Women could get all the birth control they wanted and employers with religious objections to contraception wouldn’t be “forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others.” The only problem was, as women’s health advocates were quick to point out, women would have to pay for something they would otherwise get for free under their insurance and Jindal’s nifty little work-around did nothing to address access to expensive, long-acting forms of birth control, which would still require a prescription.

Motivation aside, the request won Comstock praise from conservative columnist Mona Charen in the National Review, who called her the model for fighting the “war on women” meme. “It’s hard to paint her as someone who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant when she advocates making birth-control pills easier to obtain,” she wrote.

But Comstock’s political ploy may have backfired. LifeSiteNews lambasted Comstock as a Catholic for promoting access to birth control, rehashing every conservative canard about oral contraceptives, from discredited claims that they cause breast cancer to everyone’s favorite far-right myth that the Pill is actually an abortifacient.

And disgraced former Bush “Catholic advisor” Deal Hudson joined in the fray with a column for Catholic Online in which he took Comstock to task for being insufficiently Catholic for voting against a measure to strip abortion coverage out of the state’s insurance exchange, which she claims was a procedural maneuver to register her opposition to ObamaCare.

The push back induced Austin Ruse of the truly wingnut Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to call for an intraparty cease-fire on contraception in Crisis magazine, where he warned that fighting birth control was futile and asked, “Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?

Even someone as far right as Ruse, who’s no stranger to crazy, grasps that attacking Comstock on birth control will destroy her ability to court moderates, but it just goes to show that when you court crazy for long enough, it’s hard to put it back in the box.

 

By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, February 20, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Expanding Conservative Religious Fanaticism”: The Contraception Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception

Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.

Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.

Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.

In the 1970s, the “Masters and Johnson of Christianity,” Ed and Gaye Wheat, published Intended for Pleasure, a bestselling Christian sex manual with a chapter on “planning and achieving parenthood,” with extensive information about artificial contraceptive methods. Alfred Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in 2006 that although the “birth control revolution…let loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity,” it also “offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.” A Guttmacher Institute report released in 2011 revealed that three-quarters of Protestant American women were using some form of artificial birth control.

When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.

It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.

 

By: Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, The American Prospect, November 26, 2013

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Contraception, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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