Saturday, August 25, 2012

Of Bible-Believing Christians, Baseball Bats, and Transgender People -- Never Forget -- August 25, 2010

Dispatch from Coudersport:

Originally posted by Joe Wilson, August, 31, 2010:

Diane Gramley sat peacefully behind Robert Wagner in the Coudersport Public Library as the retired physician shared his views on transgender individuals with the assembled audience. “I'm gonna put a ball bat in my car,” he said, “and if I ever see a guy [Wagner refuses to use proper pronouns] coming out of a bathroom that my granddaughter's in, I'm gonna use the ball bat on him.” Moments later he added: “In the good old days, before 'she-males' existed, they just called such people perverts.”

Gramley is no stranger to such ideas. As President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Family Association, a 'traditional family values' organization based in Mississippi, she spends much of her time planting similar seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” her disparaging term for transgender females. She also crusades relentlessly against what she and the AFA call the “homosexual agenda” and the type of legal protections that her and Dr. Wagner's threatening rhetoric suggests are needed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Gramley was in Coudersport, a small town of 2,600 residents in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state known as the Pennsylvania Wilds, as a special guest of Dr. Wagner for what he titled “A Bible Believing Christian's Response to OUT IN THE SILENCE,” my documentary film about the quest for inclusion, fairness and equality for LGBT people in the small town where I was born and raised, Oil City, PA, just a two-hour drive from Coudersport.

Gramley, who also happens to call the Oil City area home, plays a central role in OUT IN THE SILENCE as a result of the firestorm of controversy she helped to ignite in opposition to the publication of my same-sex marriage announcement in the local paper. It was that controversy that compelled my partner, Dean Hamer, and I to go back to my hometown with our cameras to document what life is like there for LGBT people, and to show hopeful and inspiring stories about the growing movement for equality.

The film was produced in partnership with Penn State Public Broadcasting, received support from the Sundance Institute, premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, screened in Tribeca Cinemas Doc Series, and has been broadcast on PBS stations around the country. We're now using it as an educational tool in a grassroots campaign to help raise LGBT visibility and to bring people together in small towns like Oil City and Coudersport to begin building bridges across the gaps that have divided families, friends, and entire communities on these issues for far too long.

As part of this campaign, OUT IN THE SILENCE had screened just a month earlier for a standing-room-only crowd in the Coudersport Public Library despite vehement opposition from Dr. Wagner and the efforts of the local Tea Party and a small group of fundamentalist preachers to shut the event down and have the library 'de-funded' for making its space available for such a program.

Wagner's “Bible Believing Response,” he told the crowd of approximately 60 local church people, “was intended to expose the filmmakers’ real agenda and to question the directors’ assertion that the community should tolerate alternative lifestyles.”

During the two hour program, Wagner asked special guest Gramley a few questions about her experiences as a minor subject of the film, but he used her more as a prop, seated silently behind him, providing an odd sort of legitimacy as he put forth offensive theories and mischaracterizations about LGBT people, including that “AIDS is the gay plague” and “gays can't have families.”

Dean and I were in the library for the presentation. We made the six-hour drive to Coudersport from our home in Washington, DC because I wanted to bear witness to this event, to experience for myself, if only for a few hours, what it feels like to be so close to such willful ignorance and brazen cruelty.

As I sat there, listening to 'amens,' snickering laughter, and even a roar of approval from the people around me when asked if they agree with the AFA assertions that there “should be legal sanctions against homosexual behavior” and “homosexuals should be disqualified from public office,” I felt a sadness unlike any I have known before. A sadness for those who fall prey to such bigoted and hostile bombast, who carry the feelings these things stir into their homes and family relationships, and for the communities that suffer the sometimes-violent consequences of such mean-spirited divisiveness.

But as I looked at Gramley, unmoved next to Wagner, condoning the ugliness without a word of protest, I thought of all the courageous people who have attended OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign events over the past many months in far flung places, including there in Coudersport, who refuse to be silent anymore, who are working for change in their communities against great odds, and I was inspired all over again.

It is in their spirit that we will continue our campaign to speak out in the silence and to help build the movement for fairness and equality in small towns and rural communities across America.

I hope you'll join us! Learn more at

After Gay Son’s Suicide, Mother Finds Blame in Herself and in Her Church

from The New York Times (8/25/12):

Ridgewood, NJ -- When Tyler Clementi told his parents he was gay, two days before he left for Rutgers University in the fall of 2010, he said he had known since middle school.

“So he did have a side that he didn’t open up to us, obviously,” his mother, Jane Clementi, said, sitting in her kitchen here nearly two years later. “That was one of the things that hurt me the most, that he was hiding something so much. Because I thought we had a pretty open relationship.”

In her surprise, she had peppered him with questions: “How do you know? Who are you going to talk to? Who are you going to tell?” Tyler told a friend that the conversation had not gone well. His father had been “very accepting,” he wrote in a text message. “Mom has basically completely rejected me.”

Three weeks later, he jumped off the George Washington Bridge after discovering that his roommate had used a webcam to spy on him having sex and that he had sent out Twitter messages encouraging others to watch.

An international spotlight turned the episode into a cautionary coming-out story, of a young man struggling with his sexuality and the damage inflicted by bullying. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, was tried and convicted of intimidation and invasion of privacy; he served a short jail sentence. But the trial never directly addressed the question at the heart of the story — what prompted a promising college freshman to kill himself?

It is that question that lingers over the household here on a tidy street in this prosperous suburb.

The Clementis continue to blame the bad luck of a roommate lottery and the cowardice of students who failed to step up and say that the spying was wrong.

But their son’s suicide has also forced changes, and new honesty, upon them. They have left the church that made Ms. Clementi so resistant to her son’s declaration. Their middle son, James, acknowledged what the family had long suspected and said that he, too, was gay. The family is devoting itself to a foundation promoting acceptance with the hope of preventing the suicides of gay teenagers.

Most of all, Ms. Clementi has had to grapple with her own role in Tyler’s death.

“People talk about coming out of the closet — it’s parents coming out of the closet, too,” she said. “I wasn’t really ready for that.”

At the time Tyler sat down to tell his parents he was gay, she believed that homosexuality was a sin, as her evangelical church taught. She said she was not ready to tell friends, protecting her son — and herself — from what would surely be the harsh judgments of others.

“It did not change the fact that I loved my son,” she said. “I did need to think about how that would fit into my thoughts on homosexuality.”

Yet it did not occur to her that Tyler would think she did not accept him. She had long talked with him about how his brother James was gay — though at the time James had not said he was. “Tyler knew we weren’t going to reject him or stop paying for college for him or not let him come home, because James had done all those things and we had a good relationship,” she said.

Tyler’s father, Joe Clementi, characterized the last month in his son’s life as a “rough spot.” But Ms. Clementi said she believed he was “confident, comfortable” in his decision. He left for Rutgers telling his parents about plans to attend events for gay students. He reported having gone to New York with new friends to see plays; his parents took this to mean he was adjusting well.

During a phone call one afternoon he sounded different. “A little sad,” Ms. Clementi said. “I thought maybe it was adjusting to being away. I told him how much I missed him, he got a little teary and told me he’d missed me, too. I thought he’d been away too much.”

That evening, Joe Clementi was awakened by a call from the Port Authority police, saying they had Tyler’s wallet and phone, that he’d been seen — then not seen — on the bridge.

In the months after Tyler’s death, some of Ms. Clementi’s friends confided that they, too, had gay children. She blames religion for the shame surrounding it — in the conversation about coming out, Tyler told his mother he did not think he could be Christian and gay.

“I think some people think that sexual orientation can be changed or prayed over,” she said now, in her kitchen. “But I know sexual orientation is not up for negotiation. I don’t think my children need to be changed. I think that what needed changing is attitudes, or myself, or maybe some other people I know.”

She decided she could no longer attend her church, because doing so would suggest she supported its teachings against homosexuality. And she took strength from reading the Bible as she reconsidered her views.

“At this point I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love,” she said. “He spoke more about divorce than homosexuality, but you can be divorced and join a church more than you can be gay and join churches.”

What has troubled her most is the thought that Tyler believed she had rejected him.

Joe Clementi argues that his son was speaking with classic teenage exaggeration to a friend, that the remark was taken out of context by people who did not know the family, or the facts. “Just to be clear: Tyler had two parents, and I didn’t have any problem with it,” he said. “He had support.”

But Ms. Clementi can’t dismiss it that easily. “Obviously he felt that way, he needed to tell his friend that.”

Sitting in the courtroom every day during Mr. Ravi’s trial this winter, the Clementis often looked brittle, and rarely spoke. But here in their home, next to the elementary school that all three of their boys attended, they spoke openly. They have also been speaking to school and corporate groups about their experience. And though she supports the prosecution’s appeal of the 30-day sentence Mr. Ravi received on the ground that that it was too short, Ms. Clementi said, “It won’t change my life one way or another.”

It is a relief to have come out of the closet, she said. “It is not something I would have done on my own.”

She thinks often about her last phone call with Tyler, hours before he went to the bridge.

“I was sitting right over there,” she said, pointing to a corner of the kitchen. They had what seemed like an innocuous discussion about whether his parents should take Tyler’s bike to Rutgers for him. It was expensive and beloved, and he had not wanted it stolen.

“He got very teary and wistful — ‘Oh, my bike, I forgot about my bike,’ ” she recalled. “After the fact I think about it in different terms, but at the time, I didn’t. He said, ‘No, keep it at home.’ ”

She cannot recall how they said goodbye.

“It was probably the way we said goodbye all the time,” she said. “ ‘Goodbye, I love you,’ ‘I love you more.’ That was the way we usually ended it. I’m sure that’s how we ended it that time, too.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bible-Believing Christians, Baseball Bats, and Transgender People: A Date with Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania

"Christian Patriot Arrested for Obscenity & Public Lewdness" -- Is It Just A Matter of Time Till We See Such A Headline About Diane Gramley And/Or Other Venango County Hate Group Hypocrites?

Rev. Grant Storms, Critic of Southern Decadence, 
Convicted of Obscenity for Public Masturbation

from The Times-Picayune (8/22/12):

The Rev. Grant Storms, the former "Christian patriot" pastor whose marches against homosexuality at New Orleans' Southern Decadence festival briefly put him in the national spotlight, was convicted of obscenity Wednesday, for exposing himself while masturbating at Lafreniere Park last year. In his confession, he described public masturbation as "a thrill," but authorities debunked suspicions that he was a pedophile.

Storms, 55, who lives in Metairie, declined to comment after the conviction. Judge Ross LaDart of the 24th Judicial District Court, who presided over the daylong trial because Storms waived a jury, did not even break to deliberate. He promptly found Storms guilty of the single count of obscenity. He sentenced Storms to three years of probation, citing no evidence of a criminal history.

LaDart also ordered Storms to be evaluated, apparently psychologically. The judge noted that in Storms' confession, he admitted that Feb. 25, 2011, the day he was arrested, was the third time that week that he masturbated in Lafreniere Park.
"Lafreniere Park is a public place," LaDart said in announcing the verdict. "Lafreniere Park is a place that was chosen by this defendant to engage in a history of masturbation."

Storms declined to testify. His attorneys, Brett Emmanuel and Donald Cashio, did not overtly deny their client masturbated in the park but argued he never exposed his penis. The exposure was a necessary element of the obscenity charge.

In his confession, Storms told Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Sgt. Kevin Balser he had taken a break from his grass cutting business to sip a beer in the park, where he said he became "horny." He said he put his hands into his underwear, but he never exposed himself.

"Why do you go to the park and do this, as far as masturbating?" Balser asked Storms hours after the arrest.

"I don't know," Storms responded. "I guess a thrill."

"So it's a thrill-slash-fantasy for you?" Balser asked.

"Yes," Storms said.

The incident immediately raised speculation that Storms was a pedophile, because he masturbated with children nearby. Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute shot those allegations down outright Wednesday, saying in opening statements that detectives found no evidence of child pornography on his computer or cell phone, and there was "never a shred of evidence (showing) that Mr. Storms was masturbating to children."
Apparently attempting to explain to police why he exposed himself, Storms confessed that as a grass cutter, he carried a "pee bottle" with him, and on the day of his arrest, he sipped a beer in his van and then had to urinate. He did it in the bottle, instead of walking to a park restroom. However, Detective Donald Zanotelli testified he searched Storms' van and found no bottles with urine in them.

Following his arrest, Storms provided an impromptu press conference for local television reporters, accusing the Sheriff's Office of suggesting he was a pedophile and calling detectives "maniacal" and "coercive." But he admitted to have watched pornography that day and to putting his hands in his pants. "I apologize deeply for my inappropriate, sinful actions," he said tearfully, describing himself as "disoriented and confused."

The press conference came back to haunt Storms, as Shute used a recording of it as evidence Wednesday. "It begs the question: What is he apologizing for?" Shute said.
The exposure appeared to be incidental. Shute's key witness was Maria Soto, an Hispanic nanny who at times needed help from an interpreter to testify. She said she was taking three children to Lafreniere for a picnic when she parked in a shady spot next to Storms' minivan. She got out of her car and happened to see him doing the deed as he reclined in the driver's seat, wearing a hat that partially covered his face.

She said he saw her and immediately covered his penis with his other hand. Emmanuel, Storms' attorney, challenged her claim of seeing the penis, asking her at one point if she had ever seen a man masturbate. She became angry. "That's embarrassing for you to ask me that," Soto told him.

Storms received national media attention in 2003, for his leading his small congregation through the French Quarter during the annual gay festival, Southern Decadence, admonishing homosexuals and calling the city of New Orleans a "prostitute" for allowing the event that generates tourism dollars. A Bourbon Street merchants association at one point went to court to get a restraining order barring Storms and his followers from using bullhorns. National news media converged on New Orleans in 2003 to cover his protests.


Below left, Diane Gramley, President of the Venango County-based hate group known as the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, holding a "Stop Public Nudity & Street Orgies" sign on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall in Sept. 2008.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The True Values of the American Family Association: "Lie and Demean Women"

Bryan Fischer: Akin Is Right — ‘Genuine’ Rape Makes It ‘Impossible’ To Conceive

by David Badash for The New Civil Rights Movement:

American Family Association today came out in support of comments Congressman Todd Akin made over the weekend, that the bodies of women victims of “legitimate rape” — as he called it Sunday — can automagically prevent getting pregnant all by themselves. Fischer, the public face of the certified anti-gay hate group, American Family Association, said:

“When you have a real, genuine rape, a case of forcible rape, a case of assault rape, where a woman has been violated against her will, through the use of physical force,” Fischer describes, adding “there’s a very delicate and complex mix of hormones that take place that are released in a woman’s body and if that gets interfered with it may make it impossible for her or difficult in that particular circumstance to conceive a child.”

Of course, the chances of what Fischer is stating are dramatically low. Just ask the 32,000 women who get pregnant each year through rape.

Fischer is defending a lie. It’s an old one, one meant to demean women, one meant to protect men and one meant to make women out to be “responsible” for being raped (the old, “she wanted it.”)

And it’s disgusting.

Is there any wonder why the American Family Association is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups? It’s not the hate, it’s the lies.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

True, All American-Style, Family Values: U.S. Army Welcomes First Openly Gay, Married, General

This story represents a kind of family values that the Venango County-based hate group, American Family Association of Pennsylvania, could never comprehend.

from the Los Angeles Times:

During a promotion ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, a proud wife placed a star insignia on her spouse's uniformed shoulder — the official mark of an Army brigadier general.

With that simple gesture, Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith became the country's first openly gay general.

The promotion of Smith, the highest-ranking gay or lesbian to acknowledge his or her sexual orientation while serving, comes less than a year after the repeal of “don't ask, don't tell,” the policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Since the reversal last September, the relationship between the government and the armed forces has shifted to include more outreach to LGBT service members.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta posted a YouTube video thanking gay service members and praising the ban’s repeal. In June, the Pentagon hosted a Gay Pride Month event. And in July, members of the military wore their uniforms during a San Diego gay pride parade, the first time the Defense Department had allowed such a practice.

On Friday, more than 70 people clustered inside an auditorium at Arlington's Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

Smith, then a colonel, strode in with her commanding officer at the stroke of 4 p.m. The audience sang the national anthem and a young boy led the Pledge of Allegiance.

The announcer presented Smith’s father. Then came an introduction: “Col. Smith's partner, Miss Tracey Hepner.”

The audience burst into applause.

“This part is a little fuzzy for me, because I have to confess, I got choked up,” said Sue Fulton, an Army veteran and friend of the couple who attended the event. “People have been working toward this moment for decades.”

Hepner and Smith got married last year in Washington, D.C. They dated for nine before that. Before don’t ask, don’t tell was repealed, they could not present themselves as a couple at military functions.

Smith is not active in gay and lesbian rights, but her wife is, Fulton said. As the Pentagon conducted a review of the policy, officials couldn’t speak to gay service members about their experiences without outing them. So they asked their partners and spouses instead. Hepner was one.

The ceremony was like any other for an officer achieving a new rank, Fulton told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. Supervisors focused on Smith's 26-year career, which has included assignments in Afghanistan and Costa Rica. Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stulz echoed that, describing Smith as a “quiet professional” who could handle tough jobs competently and quickly.

Hepner and Smith could not be reached for comment. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Smith said she understood the social significance of her promotion, even though she viewed that as secondary.

“All of those facts are irrelevant,” Smith was quoted as saying. “I don’t think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries.”

During promotion ceremonies, or pinnings, the honoree chooses who will attach new insignias to the Army uniform’s epaulets.

Smith's father pinned one shoulder. Hepner pinned the other.

Then, her father and Hepner unfurled Smith's new general flag — red with one white star — that will fly wherever she is working.

In a speech after the pinning, Smith spoke of “standing on the shoulders of giants” during her life, including her parents and her high school mentors.

She didn’t have to mention her wife. The audience knew they were there together.

Values, Traditional Family-Style: "Commander Ousted in Air Force Sex Scandal"

from the Los Angeles Times:

HOUSTON -- A sex scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas has led to the dismissal of the top commander overseeing basic training for every new American airman, officials said Friday.

Col. Glenn Palmer was commander of basic training for the 737th Training Group at the base near San Antonio, where more than a dozen military instructors in the last year have been charged with or investigated on suspicion of sexually assaulting recruits.

On Friday, officials confirmed reports by the Associated Press that Palmer had been relieved of duty by Col. Eric Axelbank, commander of the 37th training wing at Lackland.

“Col. Palmer was relieved because Col. Eric Axelbank lost confidence in his ability to maintain a safe and secure training environment for our newest airmen,” Collen McGee, spokeswoman for the 37th Training Wing, told the Los Angeles Times. Axelbank decided that, for the 737th group, “a new leader is required to meet the current needs,” she said.

But, McGee added, “Col. Palmer did not create the environment that resulted in the misconduct.”

No replacement had been announced, she said.

Palmer isn’t the first Lackland commander removed since the scandal erupted last year.

In June, Axelbank relieved Col. Mike Paquette, commander of the 331st Training Squadron, for what a military attorney described as a loss of confidence in his leadership.

Axelbank is also expected to change command next month, a move Air Force officials said predated the sex scandal, according to the AP.

Lackland has about 475 military training instructors, the Air Force equivalent of drill sergeants. So far, six instructors have been charged with offenses ranging from rape to adultery, and investigators believe that more than three dozen female trainees have been victimized.

Last month, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, the first Lackland instructor investigated last year in connection with the scandal, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of raping a female recruit and sexually assaulting several others.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hater, Heal Thyself

An apt message for the Venango County-based hate group known as the American Family Association of Pennsylvania ...

At Some Point, That Fault You Find In Others Is Your Own

from Will O'Bryan at Metro Weekly:

Bryon Widner is the subject of a recent documentary, Erasing Hate. Widner, once a racist skinhead, tattooed himself to make his disposition clear. The documentary follows his hours of painful procedures to remove that ink, reflecting his transition away from all that anger. Painful for Widner, but a feel-good story, nonetheless.

Of course, he's gotten death threats from white supremacists still trapped in their own cages that hate built.

Symon Hill was also in need of redemption. He found it by walking 160 miles from Brighton, England, to London last year. He calls that trip ''a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobic attitudes and behavior.'' Another feel-good story, right?

Not for some, probably. At least one person is too angry to forgive Hill his trespasses. On the site, a post about Hill was answered with, ''This guy should fucking crawl the distance for his forgiveness. I forgive him nothing.''

In some people there is this expression. Maybe it's hate. Maybe it's anger. Maybe jealousy or fear or arrogance. While it's evidenced in some, we are certainly all capable of embodying this negative pain. That's what I thought of as I watched the lines of people – people who no doubt believe they were doing the right thing, making a righteous stand – line-up to support Chick-fil-A.

Whatever they may have thought, they weren't standing up for freedom of speech. They were standing up to oppress gays and lesbians. They were standing up to support donations being made, as tracked by Equality Matters, to the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. They might have thought otherwise, but just what did they think had everybody so upset? If you're going to take an action against a community – even if you'd prefer to believe it's in support of free speech and in opposition to no one – you know what you're doing. And I forgive you.

I really wish, however, you could forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for whatever shortcoming, whatever sin that has made you so strident. If you're anti-gay because your kid is gay and you blame yourself, stop; you had nothing to do with your kid's sexual orientation. If you simply think two dudes getting it on is gross, forgive yourself. That's okay. We don't take it any more personally than you do when your kids get grossed out by seeing you kiss your spouse. If you think you're not being dogmatic enough in your religious beliefs, that God will smite you for loosening your grip, just please stop. Forgive yourself. If most people's gods are famous for anything, it's forgiveness. At least, as an observer, it seems to me I've heard plenty more about love and forgiveness than about righteous damnation.

There's no need to give up your beliefs to give up some of that anger. If you think God frowns on romantic love between people of the same sex, that's between you and God. If, however, you think marriage equality is the harbinger of societal downfall, lighten up. Consider that you're the Jewish parent of a straight girl engaged to a nice Mormon fellah, and she's going to convert. It may distress you, but it's not the end of the world. Let it go. To the guy demanding the former homophobe ''fucking crawl,'' take a breath. Mr. Hill didn't put a bomb in a gay bar. Just count to 10 and give him a small salute for trying to make things right.

Our lives are short. As everything moves forward, your hate will do little but hold you back. I'm not hoping you'll leave it behind for my sake. I'll be fine, either way. But I am hoping you'll do it for yourself.

David Barton's Crusade: Faith & Values Based On Lies

The Most Influential Evangelist You've Never Heard Of

Listen to the story on National Public Radio:

David Barton, friend & ally of the Venango County-based hate group the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, says Americans have been misled about their history. And he aims to change that.

"It's what I would call historical reclamation," Barton explains, in his soft but rapid-fire voice. "We're just trying to get history back to where it's accurate. If you're going to use history, get it right."

Barton has collected 100,000 documents from before 1812 — original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas — something you never learn in school.

For example, you've been taught the Constitution is a secular document. Not so, says Barton: The Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.

"You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause," he told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network. "Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible's all over it! Now we as Christians don't tend to recognize that. We think it's a secular document; we've bought into their lies. It's not."

We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out. Moreover, the Constitution as written in 1787 has no mention of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. The First Amendment does address religion.

What about the idea that the founders did not want government entangled in religion? Wrong again, says Barton. On his tours of the U.S. Capitol, for example, he claims that Congress not only published the first American Bible in 1782, but it also intended the Bible to be used in public schools.

"And we're going to be told they don't want any kind of religion in education, they don't want voluntary prayer?" Barton asks his audience rhetorically? "No, it doesn't make sense."

But historians say Barton is flat-out wrong in his facts and conclusion. Congress never published or paid a dime for the 1782 Bible. It was printed and paid for by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken. At Aitken's request, Congress agreed to have its chaplains check the Bible for accuracy. It was not, historians say, a government promotion of religion.

Vision For A Religion-Infused America

David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor's degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University and runs a company called WallBuilders in Aledo, Texas. But his vision of a religion-infused America is wildly popular with churches, schools and the GOP, and that makes him a power. He was named one of Time magazine's most influential evangelicals. He was a long-time vice chairman for the Texas Republican Party. He says that he consults for the federal government and state school boards, that he testifies in court as an expert witness, that he gives a breathtaking 400 speeches a year.

Seeking his endorsement are politicians including Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who's mentioned as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich is a fan. So is Mike Huckabee.

"I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast," Huckabee said at a conference last year, "and all Americans will be forced, forced — at gunpoint, no less — to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it."

John Fea, chairman of the history department at evangelical Messiah College, doubts that. He says that Barton is peddling a distorted history that appeals to conservative believers.

"David Barton is offering an alternative vision of American history which places God, the providence of God, Christianity, at the center," he says.

Barton On Thomas Jefferson 'Lies'

Most recently, Barton has focused on Thomas Jefferson. His new book, The Jefferson Lies, made The New York Times best-seller list. Barton's aim is to bust the "myths" about Jefferson. One of them, he told Huckabee on Fox News, is that Jefferson was a religious skeptic. Barton argues that for the first 70 or so years of his life, Jefferson was a "conventional Christian," although he did express doubts in his final 15 years. As evidence of the third president's religiosity, Barton showed Huckabee an original document signed by Jefferson.

"Jefferson, unlike the other presidents, closes his documents: 'In the year of our Lord Christ,' " Barton said, not mentioning that this was a pre-printed form that was required by law.

"But we're always told he was such a secularist and didn't believe in religion," Huckabee protested.

"Exactly," Barton said. He goes on to say that Jefferson started church services at the Capitol, that he ordered the Marine Corps band to play at the services and that he funded a treaty to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians — three claims that experts say are demonstrably false.

"That's why I say he's the least religious founder," Barton concluded, "but he's way out there further than most religious right today would be."

"Mr. Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern-day evangelicals could love and identify with," says Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the evangelical Grove City College. "The problem with that is, it's not a whole Jefferson; it's not getting him right."

Throckmorton co-authored Getting Jefferson Right, a book detailing what he says are Barton's distortions. As to Jefferson's faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians: Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity.

"He didn't see Jesus as God," Throckmorton says. He didn't believe that Jesus performed miracles, he dismissed the Trinity. Throckmorton notes that when Jefferson decided to write his own version of the Gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, "he said he was taking 'diamonds as if from a dunghill.' So he picked out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule — those were the 'diamonds.' But the 'dunghill' was the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission."

There's another "lie" about Jefferson that Barton sets out to debunk. He says Jefferson — who owned nearly 200 slaves — was a civil rights visionary.

"Had his plans been followed, Virginia would've ended slavery really early on," Barton says. "They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense."

Barton quotes Virginia law that he says prohibited Jefferson from freeing his slaves during his lifetime — but Barton omits the section of the law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton says that Jefferson could not afford to free his slaves.

Yearning For The Past?

The idea that Jefferson was a civil rights visionary appalls the Rev. Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati.

"Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans," McMillian says. "He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body."

McMillian is president of Cincinnati Area Pastors, which is boycotting the publisher of Barton's book, Thomas Nelson Publishers. He says by "whitewashing" Jefferson — and all the other slaveholding founders, for that matter — Barton is rewriting history to make it palatable for Christians today.

"All in their hearts they're saying, 'If we could just go back there, America would be right,' " McMillian says. "Right for who?"

Not for blacks, not for women, not for Native Americans, he says — only for white men.

Besides, historians say, this golden age never existed.

"None of the founders were necessarily interested in promoting a specifically Christian nation," says Fea at Messiah College. "Many of the founders believed in something akin to separating church and state even though they didn't use those terms. And in fact, most of the people in America were not regular churchgoers. So what is that great culture that we're returning to?"

"I'm not trying to throw the nation back 200 years," Barton responds. "I don't want the technology to go backward, I love the health [care] stuff we got now. What I try to use is principles that are timeless." And surprisingly relevant. On The Daily Show last year, Barton told Jon Stewart that he's amazed that the founders' insights apply to today's problems.

"I got a call from three congressmen off the floor and they said, 'Hey! Anything in history about bailout and stimulus plans in Congress?'" Barton recalled. "It turns out in 1792 there was a big debate in Congress about bailout and stimulus plans."

Barton says the founders didn't like them. He says they had insights on other modern issues as well. They would oppose abortion because the first inalienable right is the right to life. They even opposed the theory of evolution.

"You go back to the Founding Fathers, as far as they're concerned, they already had the entire debate on creation-evolution," he said on Daystar Television Network. "And you get Thomas Paine, who's the least religious Founding Father saying, 'You've GOT to teach creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that.'"

Of course, that was years before Charles Darwin was born.

'A Corrective To Historians'

Still, Barton has many supporters, though few of them are historians. One is Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University's Law School.

"I think he's a corrective to historians," Staver says. "In fact, I would put him against any historian and would have no question who would win in a debate."

Barton says he has a policy of not debating anyone. He adds that he doesn't care if historians disagree with him: He believes his trove of documents proves his points — although historians have seen the same documents and draw different conclusions. Barton also believes his critics might be envious, since his books — and world view — sell so well.

"I don't know if it's jealousy or liberalism," he says. "I certainly know the guys who come after me have made it very clear usually in the introductions of their stuff that they disagree with me, and my religious faith, and my view on America."

Fea, who is an evangelical himself, says he believes Barton is a danger because he's using a skewed version of the past to shape the future.

"He's in this for activism," he says. "He's in this for policy. He's in this to make changes to our culture."

Rewriting Texas Textbooks

Nowhere is that more visible than in the Texas textbook controversy. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to rewrite the history textbooks to make them more conservative and Christian-friendly. One of the advisers was David Barton.

Barton later said on the cable talk show Chapter and Verse that it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids go through the entire curriculum, "then another 10 years after that before those kids get elected to office and start doing things. So we're talking 30 years from now. But, it's in the pipe coming down."

Asked about this 30-year plan, Barton says of course he wants to shape future leaders, any educator does. But he says he doesn't see himself as a particularly influential person.

"I'm going to be an active citizen and be involved and do everything I can to help move these principles forward," he says.

Barton's next stop: the Republican National Convention, where as a Texas representative to the GOP Platform Committee, he will lay out his vision of America.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Family Values" Behind Father's Hateful Letter to Son

Father’s Hateful Letter To Gay Son After Coming Out Goes Viral

from The New Civil Rights Movement (8/7/12):

After coming out and being disowned by his father, a gay man published his father’s short, handwritten letter (image, above), which has now gone viral. The son, who goes by the name “RegBarc” on the Internet social sharing site Reddit, blames “zealotry from Bryan Fisher (national spokesperson for the Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania), Maggie Gallagher (National Organization for Marriage), Dan Cathy (Chik-fil-A), etc.” for his father’s response.

The father’s letter reads:

“James: This is a difficult but necessary letter to write. I hope your telephone call was not to receive my blessing for the degrading of your lifestyle. I have fond memories of our times together, but that is all in the past. Don’t expect any further conversations With me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house. You’ve made your choice though Wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle. If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand. Have a good birthday and good life. No present exchanges will be accepted. Goodbye, Dad.”

The son’s thoughts, via Reddit:

“It’s important to know just what this zealotry from Bryan Fisher, Maggie Gallagher, Dan Cathy, et al., does to everyday people. I’ve never done drugs, was an excellent student, an obedient child (far less trouble than many of my classmates), didn’t drink until I was 22 because it terrified me, and have had just 1 speeding ticket in my life. Yet I am still seemingly deserving of this terrible act of hate and cowardice that one person can place on another. 5 years on and I am still doing fine, though this letter saunters into my mind every once in a while. When it does, I say without hesitation: F**k you, Dad.”

Andy Towle at Towleroad, who first published the letter via Reddit, writes:

It’s an all too familiar situation for many LGBT kids out there.

He’s right. The Dan Cathys of the world are giving tacit permission to parents to act this way. Shame on them.

On Reddit, the post has over 4000 comments and 2270 “up votes.”

“Pretty nasty stuff” is what John Aravosis at AmericaBlog calls it, noting:

This is how the religious right, and the Republican party that enables them, quite literally kill people.

John M. Becker at Truth Wins Out shares a personal story, and adds:

The shockingly cruel letter below, from a father to his newly-out gay son, has been spreading like wildfire through social media. When I first saw it posted on the Facebook profile of Hudson Taylor, an all-star wrestler and outspoken gay rights supporter, I knew I had to share it with you because it serves as a stark reminder of why the fight for LGBT equality and against religious extremism is so critical.