Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Christian Thing To Do

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

by Derek Penwell for Provoketive Magazine:

The church where I serve made a decision this past year to support its ministers in refusing to sign marriage licenses until the rights of marriage could be conferred upon LGTBQ couples. The decision brought national attention–the overwhelming majority of which was positive.

One group in particular who responded to the decision surprised me. I never saw it coming. Some of the most gratifying reactions came from the adult children of some of the older members of our congregation, which is to say, from young people who had dropped out of church a long time ago. From across the U.S. I got word from these displaced folks. They emailed, called, messaged me through social media, and, the ones who still live close by, button-holed me on the street. Their comments shared one thing in common: “I’m so proud to tell my friends that the church that did this cool thing is the church I grew up in.”

Then, a couple of them proceeded to say something that was hard to hear: “I never thought I’d see a church do something so Christian.”

Embedded in that response, I think, is something worth hearing about the way an increasing number of young people experience the church. According to a recent article on Sojourners Blog, Millennials are headed for the exits–even among Evangelicals. Why? According to the article, which cites research by the Barna Group, “Research indicates younger people are not only departing from their elders on ‘social issues,’ such as same-sex marriage and abortion, but on wealth distribution and care for the environment, as well.”

One way to look at the difference Millennials represent on these kinds of social issues is that they’ve been seduced by an increasingly secular society. From the time they were young, this thinking goes, the culture has offered Millennials a vision of human life that is often at odds with the vision claimed by churches, one focused less and less on God. Politically, “liberals” have successfully appealed to youthful passion and idealism, rendering them dewey-eyed woolgatherers who know little, either about God or about how the world “really” works. As a consequence, Millennials come to their convictions about the purpose of human life and its just embodiment either as a result of theological ignorance or theological rebellion. The implication is that if they really new about Christianity, they wouldn’t believe such outrageous things about marriage and economic equality and environmental responsibility.

There are a couple of different responses that come to mind, if this is the way you frame the problem of the disappearance of young adults. On the one hand, you could just tell young people they’re wrong, and they need to get right. In many cases, this was the strategy employed by the Greatest Generation when Baby Boomers started questioning organized religion in the 1960s and 70s. For those who think this kind of “unvarnished truth” strategy is the way to go, it might be helpful to contemplate its success when used on an earlier generation–take a look at The Big Chill, for instance.

On the other hand, you might look at the exodus of Millennials as a failure of relevance. Churches got sidetracked, started focusing on stuff Millennials found pointless–stuff like bigger buildings, keeping up social appearances for the country club set, right wing politics, etc. If you interpret irrelevance to be the reason young people don’t want anything to do with the church, you have an easy way to address the issue … be more relevant. Find cool looking people to play cool sounding music. Say “dude” a lot. Make sure you know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. Easy.

There are couple of different branches of über relevance available, too. If you’re sympathetic to the whole mega-church movement, sprinkle some Jesus over the top of ordinary stuff young people like, and voilà, instant relevance. Christian rock climbing. Christian aerobics. Christian skateboarding. Christian Screamo bands. The possibilities are endless.

If you find an emergent emphasis more to your liking, you’ll need another set of accoutrements. Tattoos are good. Piercings and ear gauges add a nice touch. Make sure to do some outings in a pub, with lots of locally micro-brewed fare. Relevance isn’t too far off.

And while I happen to think the emergent movement is much more theologically interesting for a whole host of reasons other than just those things that accessorize it, like the mega-church stuff, if it’s just a marketing strategy for obtaining relevance, I think it’s doomed to drive Millennials away. Millennials have been socialized to be amazingly aware of being marketed to, and they react poorly to such poses adopted solely for the purpose of “winning” their spiritual “business.”

I find all of these ways of reading the departure of young adults from the church dismissive, sharing a common misconception that what’s wrong, what’s driving Millennials away from the church, resides somewhere outside the church (either with Millennials themselves or with the culture that produced them)–or that if it is the church’s fault, the problems are merely cosmetic, easily remedied by superficial tweaks here or there.

There’s another way of reading the generational tea leaves, however, one that places responsibility on the church not for failing to be relevant, but for failing to be faithful to the Jesus found in the Gospels. Maybe the problem is that Millennials hear about Jesus and then take him at his word. Maybe they really believe that stuff Jesus says st the beginning of his ministry in Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then, they go to church, and instead of hearing about how to live with those who’ve been kicked to the curb, how to be Christ to a world caving in on itself, they hear about how the church’s job is to maneuver itself into positions of power, respectability, relevance, etc. They hear about committee meetings and deficit budgets and why it is imperative that we “keep Christ in Christmas.” They hear a baptized politics that exhorts them to be good moral “individuals” who seek a “personal relationship with Jesus,” but their relationship to the poor and the powerless, their relationship to an economic system designed to serve the interests of those already on top at the expense of those on the bottom, their relationship to a government that starts preemptive wars based on a conceit, their relationship to God’s creation–these are largely matters of indifference to the church. These young people go to church and hear why (if they happen to be at a conservative church) gay people are going to hell, or (if they happen to be at a more “progressive” church) why it might upset the ecclesiastical apple cart if we were to say that gay people are created in the image of God–exactly the way God wanted them.

All of which is to say: Maybe it’s not Millennials who’ve left the church, so much as that the church has left Jesus–and Millennials are the only ones brave enough to recognize that the emperor has been parading about without the benefit of clothes. If that’s the case, the church would do well to quit worrying so much about whether Millennials are leaving the church, and start investing time and effort and resources into looking more like Jesus. Then Millennials might finally see something for which it would be worth sticking around.

“I’m so proud to tell my friends that the church that did this cool thing is the church I grew up in” isn’t the same as, “How do I sign up to get back into church?” For any number of really important reasons, though, it’s a step in the right direction.

Friday, December 23, 2011

American Hate Groups Export Homophobia

Venango County-based Hate Group, American Family Association of Pennsylvania, is just one of the many organizations misusing religion to promote bigotry, discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Africa and around the world. SHAMEFUL!

Gay and Vilified in Uganda

By Frank Mugisha for The New York Times:

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced this month that the United States would use diplomacy to encourage respect for gay rights around the world, my heart leapt. I knew her words — “gay people are born into, and belong to, every society in the world”— to be true, but in my country they are too often ignored.

The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across Africa, the “gay rights” we are fighting for are more stark — the right to life itself. Here, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people suffer brutal attacks, yet cannot report them to the police for fear of additional violence, humiliation, rape or imprisonment at the hands of the authorities. We are expelled from school and denied health care because of our perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. If your boss finds out (or suspects) you are gay, you can be fired immediately.

People are outed in the media — or if they have gay friends, they are assumed to be “gay by association.” More benignly, if people are still single by the time they reach their early 20s, what Ugandans call a “marriage age,” others will begin to suspect that they are gay.

Traditional culture silences open discussion of sexuality. I am 29. I grew up in a very observant Catholic family in the suburbs of Kampala. From the time I was old enough to have romantic feelings, I knew I was gay, but we weren’t supposed to speak of such things.

When I was 14, I came out to my brother. Later, when others close to me asked if I was gay, I didn’t deny it. Though some relatives accepted me, I came out to the rest of my family slowly. Some simply chose to ignore the fact that I was gay, or begged me not to tell anyone, fearing I’d shame our family name. Others stopped speaking to me altogether.

Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us.

The way I see it, homophobia — not homosexuality — is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth — debunked long ago by scientists — that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. For years, the Christian right in America has exported its doctrine to Africa, and, along with it, homophobia. In Uganda, American evangelical Christians even held workshops and met with key officials to preach their message of hate shortly before a bill to impose the death penalty for homosexual conduct was introduced in Uganda’s Parliament in 2009. Two years later, despite my denunciation of all forms of child exploitation, David Bahati, the legislator who introduced the bill, as well as Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem and other top government officials, still don’t seem to grasp that being gay doesn’t equate to being a pedophile.

In May, following criticism from the West and President Yoweri Museveni, the bill was shelved. But the current parliament has revived it and could send it to the floor for a vote at any time. Meanwhile, the bill’s influence has been felt in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, all of which have recently stepped up enforcement of anti-gay laws or moved to pass new legislation that would criminalize love between people of the same sex.

Not all Ugandans are homophobic. Some say there are more pressing issues to worry about than gay people and believe we should have the same rights as anyone else. But they are not in power and cannot control the majority who want to hurt us.

A veil of silence enforced by thuggish street violence and official criminalization is falling over much of Africa. Being a gay activist is a sacrifice. You have to carefully choose which neighborhood to live in. You cannot go shopping on your own, let alone go clubbing or to parties. With each public appearance you risk being attacked, beaten or arrested by the police.

I remember the moment when my friend David Kato, Uganda’s best-known gay activist, sat with me in the small unmarked office of our organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda. “One of us will probably die because of this work,” he said. We agreed that the other would then have to continue. In January, because of this work, David was bludgeoned to death at his home, with a hammer. Many people urged me to seek asylum, but I have chosen to remain and fulfill my promise to David — and to myself. My life is in danger, but the lives of those whose names are not known in international circles are even more vulnerable.

Still, I continue to hope. There are encouraging times when my fellow activists and I meet people face to face and they realize we aren’t the child-molesting monsters depicted in the media. They realize we are human, we are Ugandan, just like them.

Standing on David’s shoulders, we are no longer alone. Political leaders like Mrs. Clinton and religious leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are willing to publicly state that being gay is just one of many expressions of what it means to be human. I call on other leaders — particularly my African-American brothers and sisters in politics, entertainment and religious communities — to come to Uganda, to stand with me and my fellow advocates, to help dispel harmful myths perpetuated by ignorance and hate. The lives of many are on the line.

Frank Mugisha, the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gays Apologize To Adulterous, Anti-Gay Lawmaker for Ruining Her Traditional Marriage

from Truth Wins Out:

OH, funny! Amy Koch is the erstwhile Senate Majority leader in Minnesota who resigned after admitting an “inappropriate relationship” with a staffer, all while being traditionally married. She is also an anti-gay politician, having been a leader of the effort to write marriage discrimination into Minnesota’s constitution. Realizing that gay and lesbians, and our marriages, are the cause of most traditional marriage problems, some of the gays in Minnesota have decided to apologize to Koch for ruining her marriage. Here is their letter:

An Open Apology to Amy Koch
on Behalf of All Gay and Lesbian Minnesotans

Dear Ms. Koch,

On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community’s successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an “illicit affair” with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.

We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.

It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of “adultery.”

Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that “gay marriage” is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.

And finally, shame on us for thinking that marriage is a private affair, and that our marriage would have little impact on anyone’s family. We now see that marriage is more than that. It is an agreement with society. We should listen to the Minnesota Family Council when it tells us that marriage is about being public, which explains why marriages are public ceremonies. Never did we realize that it is exactly because of this societal agreement that the entire world is looking at you in shame and disappointment instead of minding its own business.

From the bottom of our hearts, we ask that you please accept our apology.

Thank you.
John Medeiros
Minneapolis MN

We at Truth Wins Out are also super sorry.

Home Depot Tells Anti-Gay Hate Group AFA What They Can Do With Their Petition

from LGBTQ Nation:

Executives at The Home Depot gave a cool reception to representatives of the anti-gay hate group American Family Association at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Atlanta this week.

The AFA recently called for a nationwide boycott against The Home Depot because it says the home improvement retailer continues to “promote the homosexual agenda.”

AFA Executive Vice-President Buddy Smith, and Director of Special Projects Randy Sharp, said they were rebuffed by Home Depot Chairman Frank Blake and other company executives for challenging their “corporate endorsement” of marriage equality and LGBT rights.

“We presented to the shareholders and to the chairman and the board of directors over 470,000 signature petitions asking them to remain neutral in the culture war, specifically when it addresses gay marriage and homosexual activist groups,” Sharp tells OneNewsNow.

The reception was cool, adds the AFA spokesman. Blake thanked AFA for the petitions but again, as in the past, reiterated the company’s support for “diversity,” which includes same-gender “marriage.”

Atlanta-based Home Depot promotes diversity-oriented organizations, including “Out and Equal Workplace Advocates,” an LGBT advocacy group that supports workplace diversity, marriage equality, and activities such as Transgender Remembrance Day. The Home Depot is also a supporter of the Human Rights Campaign.

“For several years, The Home Depot has given its financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism on main streets in America’s towns,” said the AFA, in a statement. “The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals. Most grievous is The Home Depot’s deliberately exposing small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers, which are a common occurrence at these events.”

The AFA has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Most recently, Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s director of analysis for government and policy, has referred to gays as Nazi’s, and also called gays the “#1 perpetrators of hate crimes in America.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family Values? - "Families Often Reject Gay Children"

Those who preach "family values," such as the Venango County-based Hate Group, the ironically-named American Family Association of Pennsylvania, sadly don't really know much about family or values.

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Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Kids Struggle on the Streets

From ABC News:

Tiffany "LIFE" Cocco has been homeless for seven years, living on park benches, stoops and New York City's A train.

Her parents died of AIDS in the 1980s and so Cocco was raised by an aunt and uncle who disapproved of how she dressed and led her life -- as a lesbian.

"I was kicked out of the house at 15," said Cocco, a poet whose chosen middle name means "literary, intelligent, forward, engaged."

She dropped out of high school after being bullied, rebelled and was forced to keep her sexuality a secret. Cocco slipped into a depression so deep she nearly killed herself on an overdose of pain killers, NyQuil and Tylenol PM.

"I didn't trust anyone at all," said Cocco, who is now 24. "I tried to tell myself I was strong, but deep down inside I was falling apart."

A report released this week by the National Center on Family Homelessness, "America's Youngest Outcasts," finds one in 45 American children 18 and under -- 1.6 million -- live on the street, in homeless shelters, motels or with other families last year.

That number is up 33 percent from 2007. The numbers come from the Department of Education and do not include unaccompanied youth.

"But those youth are a very important issue," said John Kellogg, vice president of the national center.

About 20 to 40 percent of youth who leave home like Cocco to live on the streets identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), according to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In one study, 26 percent of teens who came out to their parents were told they must leave home. Others said they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused. The task force added that LGBT youth also reported that they are threatened, belittled and abused at shelters, not only by other residents, but by staff, as well.

Resources for homeless LGBT youth are scarce and shelters are at capacity, especially in New York City where the Ali Forney Center (AFC), estimates 3,800 youth are homeless, about 1,600 of them LGBT.

But they have only 250 beds for youth like Cocco, and state and city funding has been drying up.

This month, AFC launched a Web series, "Homeless for the Holidays," that makes an appeal those who struggle on the street as winter approaches. Cocco is one of the featured youths.

"My lowest point of trying to make it on the streets was three weeks ago," she says in her story. "My girlfriend and I had to sleep on the roof of a building in the Bronx. It was raining cats and dogs. I let her sleep, and stayed awake to make sure we were safe."

But today, Cocco is on a new path because of the support she got from AFC and another smaller shelter, Green Chimneys.

With a permanent roof over her head and a place to shower and keep her belongings, she has been able to earn her GED and now works at a vegetarian store with her domestic partner.

Cocco also wants to go to college to study writing or media communications . "While we are in the shelters, my wife and I are saving up our money to get our own place," she said. "We want to do it on our own. No Section 8 and no welfare."

AFC is the largest serving LGBT youth in the nation. Only two other major shelters, one in Los Angeles and the The Ruth Ellis Center in Michigan serve this population.

"LGBT kids are eight times more like than straight youth to be homeless," said founder Carl Siciliano.

The most common cause of homelessness is family rejection.

"We just live in a very divided society," said Siciliano. "In New York State, 54 percent are willing to support marriage equality, but that still means 46 percent don't."

"Even in a progressive state there is an incredible unwillingness to accept gay people as members of society," he said. "And if politicians and religious leaders go around saying it's unacceptable, and people give credence to that, how do they accept their gay kids?"

The center, founded in 2002, was named for Ali Forney, a gay 22-year-old who was murdered by a shot in the head on Dec. 2, 1997. He had been homeless since the age of 13, thrown out by his mother, and beaten up in foster care and group homes for his feminine behavior.

"Back then, there were no shelters and kids were stranded on the streets," said Siciliano. "They survived on prostitution and were addicted to drugs and infected with HIV. But most disturbingly, every few months kids were murdered on the streets."

Cocco has had close calls with assaults. One night riding the subway, her backpack was grabbed with such force that she was thrown from her seat.

"New York City is the birthplace of the gay rights movement and has a powerful gay community here," said Siciliano. "It's just so wrong that these kids are suffering."

The center runs two drop-in centers and a mental health clinic that also provides free medical treatment, as well as two housing programs, one for emergencies and another transitional facility.

They rely federal, state and some city funding, which has been substantially cut back during the down economy, and on private donations.

One gift -- $100,000 from gay activists Frank Selvaggi and Bill Shea -- arrived on the 14th anniversary of Ali Forney's death. They hope to raise even more funds for more shelter beds.

The couple saw a recent news special on homeless youth.

"It was completely devastating to see how these bright young kids had to fend for themselves," said Selvaggi, 52.

After meeting Siciliano, they made their decision to divert donations from Selvaggi's high school and to donate to AFC in 15 minutes.

"There's an urgent need for these kids, especially in New York City, where they are sleeping in the subways, rooftops and selling themselves for sex," said Selvaggi, a CPA. 'It's heartbreaking."

"We didn't know the facts and horror stories," said Shea, 52. "It blew our minds and we've got to wake up the community."

The couple, who were married seven years ago, said they found it hard to comprehend the cruelty of parents who reject their children.

"Frank and I were very lucky in our lives when we came out," said Shea, who the director of creative services for Autism Speaks. "Our parents were great. I am part of his family and he mine."

Cocco said that with a more stable life, she has now reconnected with her own family. And being part of the "Homeless at the Holidays" project has given her new hope.

"All these interviews [with homeless youth] inspired me to make a difference," she said, "to let people know that the kid sitting next to you on the train is probably homeless. Don't be fooled just because they don't smell like pee and wear nice clothes."

The House of (Hateful) Cards is Falling

As usual, the brilliant minds at the Venango County-based Hate Group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, are way behind the curve.

The High Cost of Political Gay-Bashing

by Michelangelo Signorile for the Huffington Post:

I'm not exactly ready to say we've reached the end of the line for political gay-bashing in presidential election campaigns. But Rick Perry's widely-ridiculed "Strong" ad, in which he attacks the idea of gays serving openly in the military, surely shows we're getting there.

The ad has over 650,000 "dislikes" on YouTube as opposed to just under 21,000 "likes" and has been parodied mercilessly - and often hilariously. George Takei pointed to Perry's wearing the same jacket as Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," and the Harvard Political Review notes the music was inspired by or lifted from gay composer Aaron Copland. The ad only seems to show how much gays are woven into the fabric of American culture even as Perry laughably seeks to marginalize them. It's a "fail" on all counts.

Whatever uptick Perry may get in the polls among the evangelical base, the question is: Was it worth the high cost of political gay-bashing in 2011? The answer is clearly no. Rifts erupted in his campaign over the ad - with Perry's own top pollster calling the ad "nuts" - causing a distraction in the media. Perry got heckled by activists at an event in Iowa and there's likely to be more. The usually highly accommodating gay Republican group, GOProud, whirled itself into a tornado of rage, demanding that Perry's top pollster, Tony Fabrizio - the one who called the ad "nuts" - step down, claiming he's a gay sell out. This was somewhat ludicrous coming from a group that only a few weeks ago said it would support Michele Bachmann if she won the nomination. But that only underscored the anger that the ad inspired.

When conservative activist Andrew Breitbart quit the GOProud board in response to the supposed outing (yes, more irony, watching Breitbart expressing concern about revelations that might harm political figures' careers), it only brought more attention to the issue: Even named Fabrizio.

It might now dawn on some evangelical voters to ask: If Rick Perry truly believes open gays shouldn't serve in the military why does he appear to believe they can serve so close to him in his own campaign? And it's not like he's the only choice for the hard-core antigay crowd, as true believers Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are vying for their votes as well. It's true that evangelicals have been stereotyped as being driven by one issue, and, like everyone else, the economy appears to be a driving factor in their election decisions too. No candidate is going to get by on "family values" alone.

But it's also true that the gay issue is no longer as potent for GOP politicians because more and more GOP moderates and independents aren't willing to go along with the antigay line. A few years ago the same kind of political gay-bashing Perry has engaged in worked like a charm for the GOP. When George W. Bush, ramping up for the 2004 election, pushed a federal marriage amendment - claiming we needed to "protect" marriage - it brought in the religious right crowd while obviously not disgusting moderates in the party enough to scare them off.

But now, Ken Mehlman, the man who orchestrated that strategy as both chair of the Republican National Committee and head of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, is out of the closet and working in the party to gain support for marriage equality.

The majority of Americans opposed marriage equality in 2004 and even in 2008, unlike today when in most polls a slim majority favors it. And on "don't ask, don't' tell," - one of the issues that Perry decided to stake his campaign on - almost 80% favored repeal last year when Congress voted on it.

Back in October, weeks before the "Strong" ad, I wrote an essay for The Advocate in which I noted how the decades-long antigay strategy in the GOP could finally come back to haunt the party this year. In 2011 all the candidates in fact steered clear of LGBT issues until they were either called on it (Santorum was actually questioned by Chris Mathews on "Hardball" earlier in the summer about why he wasn't bringing up gay marriage) or got desperate, as in the case of Bachmann and now Perry.

Once they see that whatever help it gets them in the polls isn't worth the high cost of gay-bashing today, GOP politicians and their strategists may drop this ugly strategy once and for all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Big Business of Bigotry & Hate

The anti-gay industrial complex, including Venango County-based Hate Group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, is a big, multi-million dollar, business.

This article about one of the nefarious organizations that operates in this shadowy world that uses religion as its cover ought to spur a close examination of who supports and who benefits from such efforts in Venango County.

National Organization for Marriage
Financial Records Raise Questions

from The Washington Independent:

In 2010, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a tax-exempt nonprofit trying to thwart the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the U.S., reported the highest individual donations it has received since its inception in 2007, according to NOM’s most recent income disclosures to the Internal Revenue Service, recently obtained by The American Independent. Per NOM’s numbers, just two individuals contributed more than $6 million to the organization’s political arm – accounting for about two-thirds of NOM’s 2010 revenue, while single donations below $5,000 covered only 8 percent of reported revenue.

This revelation is not extraordinary for NOM, whose existence from the very beginning has been dependent upon large contributions from a small pool of big-money, mostly anonymous donors. But what’s different about this past funding cycle is how much narrower the margin is between $100 contributions and $1 million contributions. And based on NOM’s annual financial reporting to the IRS over the past four years, it appears as though that gap has narrowed over time.

In fiscal year 2009, NOM’s contributions above $5,000 made up about 78 percent of all the contributions received, according to its 2009 Form 990 (PDF). One year later, contributions above $5,000 made up roughly 92 percent of NOM’s contributions, which in turn represented the majority of NOM’s total revenue for that year. The very nature of NOM’s funding structure has made critics chide its self-description as a “grassroots organization.”

Since the very beginning, NOM has fought tooth and nail to avoid disclosing the names of donors specifically and its financial records generally. The group is embroiled in various legal battles in different states (recently in Minnesota) to avoid disclosure of its political campaign records.

A closer look into the organization’s federally mandated financial disclosures (embedded below) reveal other discrepancies. TAI contacted NOM for comments and clarifications – as we have on many occasions in the past – but the organization declined to respond.

Vague reporting

On July 22, former NOM board chair Maggie Gallagher sent TAI an email in response to a question for a story about NOM’s fundraising. “Nom raised and spent $13 million last year,” Gallagher wrote, referring to 2010. She also told TAI that NOM’s projected revenues for 2011 is close to $20 million. “Our fundraising target evolve [sic] as our needs evolve, which is partly a result of our goals, and partly what we need to respond to pro-SSM [same-sex marriage] goals.”

But according to what NOM reported to the IRS for 2010, the organization claims it raised about $9.6 million and spent about $10.7 million.

TAI questioned Gallagher, via email, about the discrepancy between her quote and what is listed in NOM’s 990, but Gallagher declined to respond.

NOM reported spending large chunks of its budget on advertising and promotion ($3 million); employees’ wages, benefits, and taxes ($1.2 million); and on grants and assistance to other organizations ($600,000).

But the largest portion – $4 million, or 38 percent of NOM’s expenditures in fiscal year 2010 – was classified on its federal tax form as “other.”

NOM’s treasurer, Neil Corkery, described its general expenses on the form this way: “The Organization developed and distributed via radio, television, mail, email, telephone, and the world-wide web, a series of advertising and outreach promoting traditional marriage.”

What NOM reported spending on “legal” ($313,746) and “political expenditures” ($206,509) are surprisingly small, given that in 2010 the organization participated in several lawsuits and state-based political campaigns. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) shows that in 2010, NOM was involved in at least six different federal lawsuits. NOM has also set up political action committees in various states throughout the country. Last month TAI reported that NOM was one of the top political spenders in Iowa’s 2010 election cycle, making more than $721,000 in independent expenditures.

What NOM did report was contributing to the political campaigns of D.C. Council candidates Delano Hunter ($450) and Anthony Motley ($950); D.C. mayoral candidate Leo Alexander ($1,950); New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate John Stephen ($1,000); and a political action committee for Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli ($2,179). (Only Cuccinelli was successful.) Additionally, the organization reported spending the majority of its political expenditures — $200,000 — on its California-based political action committee.

NOM reported giving grants – ranging from $10,000 to $200,000 – to 11 organizations dedicated to preventing the legalization for same-sex marriage. Two of the donations were for organizations affiliated with NOM: Stand for Marriage DC, a PAC that shares NOM’s mailing address and was created to reverse the legalization of gay marriage in the nation’s capital, and a $200,000 grant to its California PAC (so either NOM gave two separate $200,000 payments to the PAC, or it recorded it twice).

Other grant beneficiaries: American Principles Project, Proposition 8 Legal Defense, Family Research Council Action, Stand for Marriage Maine, Education for All, Catholic Vote Action, Family Policy West Virginia, Indiana Family Action, and Minnesota Family Action.

About 96 percent of NOM’s total revenue came from donations. Of the remaining $368,513, $139 reportedly came from investment income; the rest was attributed to “other revenue.”

In 2010 the organization had a 17-member staff and no volunteers, and yet only four are listed as being paid: president Brian Brown ($212,500), then-board chair Gallagher ($152,500), treasurer Corkery ($25,000), and Jennifer Morse ($116,667). Morse is listed on the form as simply “employee,” but she is actually the founder and president of the Ruth Institute, which is a project of NOM’s 501(c)3, the NOM Education Fund – though Morse’s name does not appear on the Form 990 for this fund. Additionally, the Ruth Institute is a separate entity with its own 501(c)3 status. In the Ruth Institute’s 2009 Form 990, Morse was listed as nonsalaried, but TAI has not seen Ruth’s disclosures for 2010.

Who funds NOM and its activities?

Under IRS rules regarding nonprofit entities with 501(c)3 and (c)4 status, all donations above $5,000 must be disclosed. Of the 22 contributions NOM’s (c)4 was obligated to list, all but five were greater than $5,000.

The top five contributions to the National Organization for Marriage, Inc.:


NOM regularly sends out fundraising emails and mailers – usually addressed “Dear Marriage Supporter” – asking for donations of $5, $10, $100, maybe $1,000. Occasionally, NOM will offer to match donations, thanks to a generous million-dollar donor. The Donate! page on NOM’s website includes the following disclaimer:

Contributions or gifts to the National Organization for Marriage, a 501(c)(4) organization with QNC status [this is a typo for CNC status – “currently not collective"], are not tax-deductible. The National Organization for Marriage does not accept contributions from business corporations, labor unions, foreign nationals, or federal contractors; however, it may accept contributions from federally registered political action committees. Donations may be used for political purposes such as supporting or opposing candidates. No funds will be earmarked or reserved for any political purpose.

Back in July, Gallagher told TAI that NOM has 50,000 donors. But many of NOM’s critics believe the organization is funded by a few wealthy donors.

“The National Organization for Marriage is primarily a shell group that exists to funnel funding from secret anti-gay donors,” said Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a national campaign started in 2003 whose mission is to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples nationwide. “[NOM] undermines and tries to overturn campaign finance and disclosure laws in states all over the country. They have proven themselves to be untrustworthy.”

In September 2010, The Washington Independent, TAI’s predecessor, reported that Catholic charity group the Knights of Columbus donated $1.4 million to NOM in 2009, an amount that did not appear of NOM’s Form 990.

Concerns about NOM’s secretive nature led to the launch of Nom Exposed, a project developed by the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign and the California-based progressive alliance called the Courage Campaign.

Courage Campaign founder and President Rick Jacobs told TAI that the Courage Campaign and HRC trailed NOM on its summer 2010 “One Man, One Woman” bus tour across the eastern United States to protest same-sex marriage, and he said that many times the counter-protesters outnumbered NOM’s protesters.

“Most of the time they actually just had one man and one woman show up,” Jacobs said.

Perhaps the man who trusts NOM the least is Fred Karger – least known for his long-shot GOP presidential campaign as the first openly gay candidate, but best known for exposing the Mormon Church’s extensive financial involvement in California’s Proposition 8 campaign that overturned the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2008.

After obtaining classified Mormon documents from an anonymous source, Karger has maintained his belief that the National Organization for Marriage was set up by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) as a front group to funnel money for political campaigns against the legalization of same-sex marriage. Ever since, Karger has been tailing NOM’s every move – ready to file a complaint each time it funds a political campaign and fails to register or disclose its donors.

This year Karger started hounding NOM for its 990s a month before they were due. He told TAI that in late October he sent one of his campaign staffers to NOM’s D.C. headquarters on K Street, who came back empty-handed. He then mailed an accusatory letter to recently named NOM chairman John Eastman, which soured the staffer’s ability to collect the forms on a subsequent visit to NOM’s office on Nov. 16.

(TAI first visited NOM’s D.C. office looking for its 2010 990s in early November and was told by executive assistant Paul Bothwell that the forms were due to the IRS on Nov. 15 and would be published on NOM’s website. On Dec. 2, TAI returned to NOM’s office, and Bothwell promptly printed out the records. The forms indicate that NOM will not be making the records available online.)

Karger, who launched an ethics investigation against NOM in California and in Maine and closely tracks the group’s legal cases, told TAI that based on NOM’s legal activities alone, he suspects the organization’s budget is higher than what they are reporting.

Though Karger still believes that the Mormon Church is in league with NOM, Jacobs said he thinks it’s unlikely, due to all the attention and scrutiny the Mormon church faced after Proposition 8.

“I would be very surprised if the Mormon Church gives anymore,” Jacobs told TAI. “I think they’re done.”

(Earlier this year TAI was told by a documentary filmmaker covering Maine’s gay-marriage battle in 2009 – which NOM was involved in – that Mormon money had been promised but not delivered to the campaign trying to ban same-sex marriage.)

Wolfson said he believes the “Roman Catholic hierarchy” is NOM’s primary funding source.

TAI contacted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the LDS church – neither organization responded to requests for comment.

Over the years, NOM has received extensive funding from evangelical Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, and NOM Exposed has linked NOM to the anti-gay-marriage grant-making groups the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Arlington Group.

NOM’s charitable arm

In 2010, the NOM Education Fund reported raising about $1.3 million and spending $1.4 million. Eight anonymous contributions were reported – ranging from $30,000 to $500,000 – for a total of about $971,000 – 75 percent of the NOM Education Fund’s total reported contributions that year.

The group reported spending its money primarily on grants to anti-same-sex-marriage organizations ($345,733), including Stand for Marriage DC, the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund, and the Iowa Family Policy Center; fundraising ($153,693); and “other expenses” ($994,793).

Groups with 501(c)3 status are, under IRS rules, prohibited from explicitly endorsing candidates for public office. Last year, The Washington Independent reported that the Ruth Institute’s President Jennifer Morse was publicly endorsing unsuccessful California Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, in potential violation of IRS rules.

No specific mention is made of the Ruth Institute in the NOM Education Fund’s disclosure to the IRS; though, as TAI noted above, NOM’s 501 (c) 4 reported Morse’s salary as an organizational expense.

The future of NOM

Earlier this year, in supporter emails, on its blog, and in advertisements, NOM appeared to be energized by a last-minute derailment of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. However, the passage of marriage equality in New York, the overturning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, NOM President Brian Brown being laughed at for his arguments against gay marriage on a Fox show, and the revelation that NOM doctored and misrepresented images to inflate opposition to same-sex marriage in New Hampshire have resulted in more urgent messages from the NOM camp.

A fundraising email from Brown from early November begins:

Dear Marriage Supporter, I’m beginning to worry.

We have won victory after victory for marriage. California. Maine. Maryland. Rhode Island. Gay marriage is inevitable? Apparently, voters across America missed that memo. But NOM is fighting on so many fronts right now our resources are being spread thin. [Emphasis NOM's.]

Then Brown accuses the “same-sex marriage lobbyists” of being supported by “massive contributions from the usual Hollywood celebrities, huge foundations and wealthy billionaires. What do we have? Millions of Americans just like you, friend.” [Emphasis NOM's.]

It’s essentially the same argument that the “same-sex marriage lobbyists” use against NOM. HRC, the country’s largest LGBT-rights lobby group, in fiscal year 2009 (PDF) reported $21.4 million in contributions and grants to its political arm. The organization reported 256 contributions above $5,000 – most of them below $20,000.

“There certainly are people opposed to the freedom to marry [for gay and lesbian couples], but they are not the people that support NOM.” Wolfson said. “NOM is supported by a small group of secret donors; we’ve seen no evidence o the contrary. And they are a threat. Not so much NOM, but the anti-gay founders behind NOM. Money still is power.”

Karger told TAI he wants the federal government to investigate NOM’s finances and political activities. Though the political activist himself could be subject to scrutiny, depending on who occupies the White House in 2012. This summer, GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum signed NOM’s “Marriage Pledge,” which calls for the creation of a presidential commission to “investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters.”

“I’ve called for an investigation of NOM from day one,” Karger said. “And I’ll continue – until I’m gone – to call for an investigation. We need the federal government to look into their activities.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Out In The Silence Youth Activism Award Winners

Highlighting and honoring courageous young people who are speaking out to end anti-LGBT bullying, bigotry and discrimination in their schools and communities, the winners of the First Annual Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism for 2011 are:

Grand Prize ($1,500): Farrington High School Gay-Straight Alliance, Honolulu
Impact Award ($750): Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance, statewide
New Group Award ($500): Equality Club-Arapahoe Community College, Littleton, Co

by Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer, Out In The Silence Campaign

Two years ago, as stories about the alarming rates of anti-gay bullying and youth suicide were beginning to receive national attention, we started traveling to small towns and rural communities across the country with Out In The Silence, our PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen and his family's courageous call for accountability in Venango County, to raise awareness about the problems and help people develop solutions.

While the campaign revealed that tremendous challenges remain for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in cities small and large, it also introduced us to the vibrant new, youth-led equality movement that was emerging - with little or no recognition or support from established advocacy groups - to push for change at the community level in powerful and exciting new ways.

Inspired by these bold efforts, we launched a new national Award for Youth Activism to encourage, highlight and honor creative and courageous young people and their work to call attention to bullying and harassment and promote safe schools and communities for all.

The award competition was announced this past June in partnership with GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. In no time, more than 100 student, youth and ally groups, coast-to-coast and beyond, registered to participate by committing to hold free public events throughout the month of October, which marks LGBT History Month, Ally Week and National Coming Out Day. The events included a wide range of activities - from film screenings, town hall forums and information fairs to art exhibitions, spoken word and original musical performances.

The program exceeded all expectations, and today, International Human Rights Day 2011, we're excited and honored to announce the winners of the first annual:

The $1,500 GRAND PRIZE AWARD goes to the Farrington High School Gay-Straight Alliance of Honolulu, HI for "Going Loud," an October 21st student-led program, attended by more than 200 people, that included a day-long art showcase, live music, spoken word performances, ethnic food fair, film screening and discussion, launch of a "Safe Space Program" outreach campaign, and featured presentations by Farrington High School students and Principal Al Carganilla, Hawai'i Supreme Court Justice Sabrina McKenna, Family Court Judge Paul Murakami, and popular Hawaiian comedian Augie T.

Not only did "Going Loud" organizers manage to bring together an incredible array of community sponsors and supporters to help amplify the event's message during two months of online and community outreach, promotion, and education, they re-invigorated a dormant peer-to-peer support group at the high school and succeeded in involving local middle school students, the Boys and Girls Club of Hawai'i, and members of a large conservative Evangelical church. Perhaps most importantly, they used the film, and their extraordinary voices and creativity, to demonstrate that homophobic and transphobic bullying, harassment and discrimination are experienced by, and must be addressed across, all ethnic, racial, class, gender, geographic, and religious groups. Youth in the Rainbow Nation are on the move!

The $750 Impact Award goes to the Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance, which coordinated film screening, discussion and speak-out events throughout October on campuses all across the state - including Southern Oregon University Ashland (pictured), University of Oregon Eugene, Eastern Oregon University La Grande, Lane Community College Eugene, Western Oregon University Monmouth, and Portland State University - "to call attention to the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ students, educate the public about issues faced by LGBTQ youth, and call people to take action on campus and in communities for inclusion, equality, and access to higher education for LGBTQ students in Oregon."

The events reached hundreds of college and high school students, community and campus leaders, and administrators, parents, and allies. And the best part is, these events were just the beginning. OSERA is committed to using momentum generated by the events to continue promoting justice for the LGBTQ community, changing diversity and tolerance trainings to help prevent gender discrimination, and strengthening state anti-bullying legislation.

The $500 New Group Award goes to the Equality Club at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, CO, for a National Coming Out Day event that brought more than 250 people together to see and hear, like never before on this conservative small town campus, the faces, voices and concerns of LGBT students and their allies. Spearheaded by a young military veteran and his organizing team, the events included film screenings and powerful coming out stories and discussions, a panel about discrimination and its effects by former armed services members, the formation of a new campus "Safe Zone" program, and a celebratory public balloon release to help people let go of their fears and announce a new era of visibility and equality for all in the region.

To these three extraordinary groups,
CONGRATULATIONS and THANK YOU for your hopeful activism!

In addition to the award winners, several other groups that participated in the program and did amazing work on their campuses and in their communities deserve an Honorable Mention:

Naugatuck Valley Community College Gay-Straight Alliance - Waterbury, CT
Queer Action at Virginia Commonwealth University - Richmond, VA
Hammond High School Gay Straight Alliance - Columbia, MD
Community College of Baltimore County Rainbow Club & Honors Program - Essex, MD
Ringling College of Art & Design Gay Straight Alliance - Sarasota, FL
West Chester University's LGBTQA Services - West Chester, PA
St. Xavier University Alliance - Chicago, IL
Broward College Gay Straight Alliance - Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Aragon High School Gay Straight Alliance - San Mateo, CA
Blackburn College Common Ground - Carlinville, IL

Thank you all and stay tuned for announcements about how to support and participate in the 2012 Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The New Evangelicals

Here's to the day that the "new evangelicalism" begins to emerge in Venango County, home base for the viciously anti-gay hate group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania.

by Marcia Pally for the New York Times:

Though public support for both major political parties is very low, one group of voters is usually exempted from this malaise: evangelicals. It’s assumed that at least these “values voters” are getting what they want. But we should look more carefully.

A sizable portion of evangelicals have left the right, so to speak, in what the theologian Scot McKnight called “the biggest change in the evangelical movement,” nothing less than the emergence of “a new kind of Christian social conscience.” These new evangelicals focus on economic justice, environmental protection and immigration reform — not exactly Republican strong points. The religious right remains a potent political force, but where once there was the appearance of an evangelical movement that sang out in one voice, there is now a robust polyphony.

In numbers, that means Christians who don’t think of themselves as part of the religious right come to roughly 24 percent of the population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Subtract the Catholic left and you’ve got some 19 percent of the population distributed among the ‘60s evangelical left; younger, emergent progressive churches; and red-letter Christians, who focus on Jesus’ words in scripture (printed in red) and who lean towards progressive activism. Others have quietly broadened the activism associated with the religious right.

These “new evangelicals” are quick to say (correctly) that all this is not new but consistent with tradition. Evangelical emphasis on individual moral responsibility made them, from the colonial era to World War I, politically anti-authoritarian and economically populist — anti-banker and anti-landlord. Before the Civil War, they created many of the associations that helped build the country and, in the North, were crucially important to the abolitionist movement. After the war, they fought for labor against robber-baron capitalism and supported William Jennings Bryan three times for president on a pro-worker, pro-farmer platform. Even the Fundamentals pamphlets, circulated between 1910 and 1915 as a conservative call to evangelicals, included a section on the benefits of socialism.

In the 20th century, evangelicals became associated with the right, especially after World War II. So why another shift in the 21st? One reason is generational, with idealistic youth rejecting the politics of their parents. Another is that views about sex, the environment and global connectedness have shifted nationwide, including among evangelicals. In their self-critique, “Unchristian,” evangelicals David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons title their chapters: Hypocritical, Sheltered, Too Political, Judgmental and Antihomosexual. Ouch.

In a group that takes ethics seriously, still another reason for the change is new thinking about what matters most. The cavalier militarism and the justification of torture during the Bush years, along with the strident in-group-ism of the last four decades, prodded many evangelicals to re-examine themselves and their actions. George W. Bush may have fractured the Christian coalition that elected him.

Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, describes the movement as a “slow earthquake.” A developing grassroots movement won’t have one overarching policy position, but the new evangelical concerns collect in a few areas. One is an embrace of church-state separation. “Let it be known unequivocally,” declared the 2008 Evangelical Manifesto, signed by over 70 evangelical leaders, “we are firmly opposed to the imposition of theocracy on our pluralistic society.”

Another is participation in civil society through public education, lobbying and coalition-building. New evangelicals have been working through their churches on substance abuse, care for the homeless and the elderly, prison ministries, and affordable housing, and they have been developing projects overseas on environmental protection, disease reduction and education.

These programs, which have some overlap with those run by the religious right, are staffed largely by volunteers, who raise much of the money to fund them as well. But forget bake sales. These are sophisticated operations, expertly run NGOs really, based on nuanced policies and listening to others. The point here is not only alms-giving but the restructuring of opportunity through education, health care and job training.

A third concern is critique of government. Since all governments are human and therefore corruptible, new evangelicals understand the vigilance needed to keep politics honest. This is the church’s “prophetic role” — not to become the government but to “speak truth to power.” Recently, the National Association of Evangelicals called on its members — over 40,000 churches — to protest Republican cuts in programs for the needy. “Approximately one percent of the federal budget is devoted to helping the poorest people around the world,” one call for advocacy in the organization’s legislative action center began.

“In 2011, our international assistance budget was cut by 11 percent. For 2012, the House of Representatives has recommended a further 30 percent reduction. While saving money and reducing the federal deficit is very important, this is the wrong place to cut. We did not get into the fiscal mess we are in by spending too much on the world’s poor.”

Evangelical concern about Republican policies has been evident for some time. In 2006, over a quarter of white evangelicals (27 percent) voted Democratic in the midterm elections — and nearly 40 percent of evangelicals who attend church less than once a week. In 2008, there were evangelical PACs working for Obama, and once again over a quarter of white evangelicals voted Democratic (34 percent of less frequent church-attenders). Obama earned nearly a third of the votes of white evangelicals under 30 years old, regardless of church attendance.

This growing political independence poses a conundrum. On the one hand, opposition to abortion along with their traditional preference for self-reliance has made evangelicals a Republican bloc. But if the new evangelicals are less suspicious of Mormonism, they might be less put off than the religious right if Romney heads the Republican ticket. At the same time, their support for economic justice and environmental protection strains their allegiance to the Republican party.

When Rudolph Giuliani was still a contender for the Republican nomination in 2008, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, pointed out that if abortion were taken “off the table, other issues would get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer.”

In the meanwhile, our 19 percent — that’s a lot of votes — don’t have a candidate they love: someone who will help the poor, protect the planet, and dramatically reduce the need for abortion, someone who will help both secular and faith-based organizations to do this work. That’s a political void, and those are votes that are up for grabs.

The impact of new evangelicals, however, goes beyond voting. The real work of politics happens not during elections but between them when policies are developed and when groups lobby their representatives and run their own programs that change the way we live. Even if most new evangelicals remain Republican, were they to move the party toward economic justice, immigration reform and environmental protection, that would be a very large achievement.

Marcia Pally’s most recent book is “The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”

Gays, Guns & God

Unbeknownst to the Venango County-based Hate Group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, "conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays."

by Timothy Egan for the Opinionator:

How do you praise the sanctity of traditional heterosexual marriage when the best-known nuptials of the year, between a Kardashian and a basketball player, lasted all of 72 days? Or, for that matter, when a possible Republican nominee for president, Newt Gingrich, cares so much about marriage that he’s tried it three times?

You don’t. The above mockeries of marriage are just the latest reasons one of the most potent wedge issues of American politics — the banner of gays, guns and God — will have little impact next year.

This trio is usually trotted out in big swaths of the West, in rural or swing districts and in Southern states at the cusp of the Bible Belt. The proverbial three G’s was the explanation in Thomas Frank’s entertaining book “What’s the Matter With Kansas” for why poor, powerless whites would vote for a party that promises nothing but tax cuts for the rich.

It’s misleading to think people will vote against their economic interests simply because a candidate doesn’t mouth the same pieties as they do. But the cultural cudgel works to a point. I’ve certainly seen the three G’s launched late in a campaign, to great effect. Jim Inhofe won a Senate seat in Oklahoma in 1994 using the three G’s as an overt slogan.

At the same time, I’ve watched smart politicians, like Montana’s two-term Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, blunt the attack by showing off their guns and waving away the God and gay questions as none-of-your-business intrusions.

But this year I think we’ve reached a tipping point on these heartless perennials. When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, political sophisticates were stunned by a national exit poll in which 22 percent of voters picked “moral issues” from a list of things that mattered most — more than any other concern. This was heralded as the high-water triumph for evangelicals.

Later analysis showed that the phrase “moral issues” was being used rather broadly by voters, from concern about character to worry over poverty. It was a catch-all. Still, the ranking of moral issues as the top reason to pick a president came as a surprise.

Now look at this week’s New York Times/CBS News Poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, about as conservative a cohort of voters as anywhere in the country. Iowa, for Republicans, is where gays, guns and God will grow in political fields long after corn is no longer planted for ethanol subsidies.

Topping the list of voter concerns was the economy and jobs — picked by 40 percent of respondents, followed by the budget deficit at 23 percent. Social issues came in a distant third, with 9 percent. And the candidate who polled highest as the one who “most represents the values you try to live by,” Michele Bachmann, has nothing to show for that rating in the overall race, where she is in fifth place.

But the decline of the three G’s hasn’t stopped a few of the dead-enders in the Republican field from raising the flag. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, last seen trying to find a verb to follow “oops,” is out this week with a very specific culture-war ad in Iowa, vowing to end “Obama’s war on religion,” whatever that is.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” says Perry, in a folksy drawl. “But you don’t need to be in a pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” The surprise here is that he actually completed several sentences, though it may have required a number of takes.

Perry and Rick Santorum, another badly wounded culture warrior, blasted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week for saying that the United States would assist human rights groups fighting for tolerance in countries where people have been imprisoned, and even killed, for their sexual orientation.

“This administration’s war on traditional values must stop,” said Perry, siding, apparently, with mullahs living in caves.

This is Perry’s last gasp; in desperation, he shows how this particular balloon has run out of hot air. Poll after poll has found that Americans now overwhelmingly favor letting gays serve openly in the military — a sentiment backed even by a sizable majority of Republicans.

The gay marriage issue is moving in the same direction. Earlier this year, Gallup reported that, for the first time in its tracking of the issue, a majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. In 1996, only 27 percent felt that way.

Which brings us to guns. President Obama has done nothing to curb gun use. If anything, he’s expanded gun rights. There are probably a dozen Democrats in Congress from the West who know more about guns than Mitt Romney or Professor Newt Gingrich. That dog, as they say, will not hunt — not this year.

The irony is that two of the G’s could actually hurt Republicans in 2012. Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney’s Mormonism, and Gingrich’s switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich’s case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives.

Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it’s by accident?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Teen Bullied To Death; Another Reason for a New Christianity

By John Shore in Christian Issues:

Another kid has been bullied into killing himself. His name is Jacob Rogers. He went to Cheatham County Central High School, in Ashland City, TN. Apparently he’d been being pretty severely bullied for four years. It got so bad that around Thanksgiving he quit going to school.

A friend of Jacob’s told reporters, “He started coming home his senior year, saying ‘I don’t want to go back. Everyone is so mean. They call me a faggot, they call me gay, a queer.’”

Yesterday Jacob took his own life.

You can read more via MSNBC. (An important detail not mentioned in that MSNBC story comes from from “Dr. Tim Webb, Director of Cheatham County Schools [said] that his almost all-new staff at the high school only knew of one incident of bullying and confronted the accused over the bullying. However, Dr. Webb also noted that because staff were new to the school, they were perhaps not aware of the extent of bullying that Jacob had endured in years past.”)

I’ve done a fair amount of writing on these sorts of tragedies (see this past Saturday’s Tell Me, Christian, That You Hear this Boy, Christians and the Blood of Jamey Rodemeyer, and My Gay Christian Cousin Committed Suicide, to name just three). And so I have no doubt that some will claim that the primary reason Jacob killed himself is not because he was bullied. They’ll say that we don’t know the whole story. They’ll point to the fact that Jacob lived with his grandmother, that his family is poor (not, God knows, that poverty is any sin)—that it’s safe to assume this kid had problems beyond being bullied.

And I will respond with what I always say: that certainly there are always myriad causes behind the suicide of any person. But that that does not alter the fact that the root cause of tragedies like the Jacob Rogers story is that strain of Christianity which continues to insist that homosexuality is an evil affront to God.

If Christians would actually read the Bible, instead of daring to insist that three or four isolated phrases within it justifies a theology that has no more to do with Christ than Fred Phelps has to do with Welcome Wagon, we would arrive at a popular Christianity that is not, as so much of our Christianity is today, a pure affront to anyone with half a conscience.

And that Christianity would dissipate the motivation of those kids who bully in the name and spirit of condemning homosexuality. Quickly and inevitably, that particularly noxious train would come to a halt. Because there wouldn’t be left any enduring reason for anyone to ever condemn gay people at all.

Then gay people would just be … people. You know: that thing God made in his own image.

Homophobic? Re-Read Your Bible

An Op-Ed Classic by Peter J. Gomes, an American Baptist minister and professor of Christian morals at Harvard who passed away in March 2011. The article was published in the New York Times on August 17, 1992.

Homophobic? Re-Read Your Bible

Opposition to gays' civil rights has become one of the most visible symbols of American civic conflict this year, and religion has become the weapon of choice. The army of the discontented, eager for clear villains and simple solutions and ready for a crusade in which political self-interest and social anxiety can be cloaked in morality, has found hatred of homosexuality to be the last respectable prejudice of the century.

Ballot initiatives in Oregon and Maine would deny homosexuals the protection of civil rights laws. The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to allow gays into the armed forces. Vice President Dan Quayle is crusading for "traditional family values." And Pat Buchanan, who is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention this evening, regards homosexuality as a litmus test of moral purity.

Nothing has illuminated this crusade more effectively than a work of fiction, "The Drowning of Stephan Jones," by Bette Greene. Preparing for her novel, Ms. Greene interviewed more than 400 young men incarcerated for gay-bashing, and scrutinized their case studies. In an interview published in The Boston Globe this spring, she said she found that the gay-bashers generally saw nothing wrong in what they did, and, more often than not, said their religious leaders and traditions sanctioned their behavior. One convicted teen-age gay-basher told her that the pastor of his church had said, "Homosexuals represent the devil, Satan," and that the Rev. Jerry Falwell had echoed that charge.

Christians opposed to political and social equality for homosexuals nearly always appeal to the moral injunctions of the Bible, claiming that Scripture is very clear on the matter and citing verses that support their opinion. They accuse others of perverting and distorting texts contrary to their "clear" meaning. They do not, however, necessarily see quite as clear a meaning in biblical passages on economic conduct, the burdens of wealth and the sin of greed.

Nine biblical citations are customarily invoked as relating to homosexuality. Four (Deuteronomy 23:17, I Kings 14:24, I Kings 22:46 and II Kings 23:7) simply forbid prostitution, by men and women.

Two others (Leviticus 18:19-23 and Leviticus 20:10-16) are part of what biblical scholars call the Holiness Code. The code explicitly bans homosexual acts. But it also prohibits eating raw meat, planting two different kinds of seed in the same field and wearing garments with two different kinds of yarn. Tattoos, adultery and sexual intercourse during a woman's menstrual period are similarly outlawed.

There is no mention of homosexuality in the four Gospels of the New Testament. The moral teachings of Jesus are not concerned with the subject.

Three references from St. Paul are frequently cited (Romans 1:26-2:1, I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I Timothy 1:10). But St. Paul was concerned with homosexuality only because in Greco-Roman culture it represented a secular sensuality that was contrary to his Jewish-Christian spiritual idealism. He was against lust and sensuality in anyone, including heterosexuals. To say that homosexuality is bad because homosexuals are tempted to do morally doubtful things is to say that heterosexuality is bad because heterosexuals are likewise tempted. For St. Paul, anyone who puts his or her interest ahead of God's is condemned, a verdict that falls equally upon everyone.

And lest we forget Sodom and Gomorrah, recall that the story is not about sexual perversion and homosexual practice. It is about inhospitality, according to Luke 10:10-13, and failure to care for the poor, according to Ezekiel 16:49-50: "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy." To suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexual sex is an analysis of about as much worth as suggesting that the story of Jonah and the whale is a treatise on fishing.

Part of the problem is a question of interpretation. Fundamentalists and literalists, the storm troopers of the religious right, are terrified that Scripture, "wrongly interpreted," may separate them from their values. That fear stems from their own recognition that their "values" are not derived from Scripture, as they publicly claim.

Indeed, it is through the lens of their own prejudices and personal values that they "read" Scripture and cloak their own views in its authority. We all interpret Scripture: Make no mistake. And no one truly is a literalist, despite the pious temptation. The questions are, By what principle of interpretation do we proceed, and by what means do we reconcile "what it meant then" to "what it means now?"

These matters are far too important to be left to scholars and seminarians alone. Our ability to judge ourselves and others rests on our ability to interpret Scripture intelligently. The right use of the Bible, an exercise as old as the church itself, means that we confront our prejudices rather than merely confirm them.

For Christians, the principle by which Scripture is read is nothing less than an appreciation of the work and will of God as revealed in that of Jesus. To recover a liberating and inclusive Christ is to be freed from the semantic bondage that makes us curators of a dead culture rather than creatures of a new creation.

Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant. Such intolerance, in the name of virtue, is ruthless and uses political power to destroy what it cannot convert.

It is dangerous, especially in America, because it is anti-democratic and is suspicious of "the other," in whatever form that "other" might appear. To maintain itself, fundamentalism must always define "the other" as deviant.

But the chief reason that fundamentalism is dangerous is that, at the hands of the Rev. Pat Robertson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and hundreds of lesser-known but equally worrisome clerics, preachers and pundits, it uses Scripture and the Christian practice to encourage ordinarily good people to act upon their fears rather than their virtues.

Fortunately, those who speak for the religious right do not speak for all American Christians, and the Bible is not theirs alone to interpret. The same Bible that the advocates of slavery used to protect their wicked self-interests is the Bible that inspired slaves to revolt and their liberators to action.

The same Bible that the predecessors of Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson used to keep white churches white is the source of the inspiration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the social reformation of the 1960's.

The same Bible that anti-feminists use to keep women silent in the churches is the Bible that preaches liberation to captives and says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free.

And the same Bible that on the basis of an archaic social code of ancient Israel and a tortured reading of Paul is used to condemn all homosexuals and homosexual behavior includes metaphors of redemption, renewal, inclusion and love -- principles that invite homosexuals to accept their freedom and responsibility in Christ and demands that their fellow Christians accept them as well.

The political piety of the fundamentalist religious right must not be exercised at the expense of our precious freedoms. And in this summer of our discontent, one of the most precious freedoms for which we must all fight is freedom from this last prejudice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gay Rights Are Human Rights Are Gay Rights

This is a speech that should be delivered by a leader, any true leader, in Venango County, home of the Pennsylvania state affiliate of the American Family Association, a viciously anti-gay hate group that spreads homophobia and transphobia around the country and around the globe.

Secretary Clinton's Landmark LGBT Speech
Shows Importance of Electing Pro-Equality Candidates

by John Becker for The Huffington Post:

Today is truly a momentous day in human rights history. This morning President Barack Obama issued the first-ever executive memorandum dealing with the subject of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights worldwide and directing federal agencies working overseas to "promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." Later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a landmark address on LGBT rights in recognition of International Human Rights Day at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Watch below.)

After acknowledging that America's own record on human rights for LGBT people is "far from perfect," Clinton told those gathered, "Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." The Secretary went on to condemn laws, violence, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, calling them violations of human rights. She specifically rebuked the false notion, popular in many religiously conservative nations, that homosexuality is some kind of Western phenomenon. Clinton condemned religion-based anti-LGBT bigotry, saying that "while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all." And she announced the creation by the United States government of a $3-million Global Equality Fund that will support the work of organizations working on LGBT rights issues worldwide.

Many LGBT activists, including me, write and speak constantly about the importance of electing LGBT people and allies to political office, and today's historic speech should put an end to any skepticism about that point. After all, Secretary Clinton is articulating the official policy of the United States of America under a pro-equality administration. There's absolutely no way she would have delivered a groundbreaking address to the United Nations, exclusively devoted to LGBT rights worldwide, had she not been specifically authorized to do so at the highest level of the executive branch.

Today's speech should also serve to both galvanize the American LGBT community and throttle us out of any apathy we might feel about throwing our enthusiastic support, checkbooks, blood, sweat, and tears into electing pro-equality candidates.

Members of our nation's LGBT community should make no mistake: apathy at the ballot box, or anything less than a full commitment to providing the maximum amount of support possible -- of all kinds, on all fronts, and at all levels -- to political leaders who explicitly support LGBT rights inadvertently helps to hand the country over to people who have specifically and repeatedly promised to do everything in their power to make sure advances like this are stopped for as long as possible, by any means possible, regardless of the consequences to millions of LGBT people around the world.

Secretary of State Delivers Historic LGBT Speech in Geneva