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First Things has become Relevant to Only One Region of the Country: the South
11/2/2015 7:28:19 PM
In a recent fund-raising email, the editor of First Things, a conservative Catholic magazine about public affairs, R.R. Reno, said that the magazine was so very important because it was seriously addressing the two issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. For Reno, these are the two sexual issues that do and should define the public identity of the Roman Catholic Church these days.
It is, of course, true that these two issues have been central to the public posture of the Roman church for some time now. Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of the magazine, believed that abortion was a wonderful political issue to organize people around just as it has been used by Republican politicians to win elections for several decades now. This has had the effect of terribly skewing the political process in this country as lower income and working people have voted for Republicans on the basis of abortion even though those Republicans supported positions directly opposed to the economic and social interests of those folks. Life has been getting worse and worse for regular people since Republicans have been in charge and they have not been able to change abortion policies very much.
But Mr. Reno thinks abortion is very important. Sex is all what the church is about, he seems to believe. He hates the fact that Pope Francis is trying to broaden the public message of the church. Francis has not changed his ideas about abortion and same-sex marriage but he has wanted to reduce the importance of these two issues in how the church approaches the public world in general. Reno wants to keep screaming hysterically over these matters.
That's maybe because he makes his money doing that, just like the Republican politicians. That's what he puts in his fund-raising letters. When the people who otherwise talk about high-minded moral issues make their money through hate and hostility it is easy to understand why so many people today are rejecting the church.
The fact is that Reno and his magazine are becoming relevant to only one section of the country, the South. It is there where the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage are most opposed by white evangelical religion that got its start politically by opposing integrated schools. Neuhaus wanted to establish a connection between Southern evangelicals and Roman Catholicism. Well, Reno's magazine pretty much has now adopted the narrow agenda of the white South.
This became stark for me when I saw a map of uninsured Americans for healthcare at the New York Times. It is the Republicans and conservatives who have been attacking Obama's health care law and working to make sure it fails. Well, they have been successful in one part of the country, the South. The poor and minorities in the South are uninsured in the highest rates in the nation. That is because, of course, Southern states historically have not supported social welfare or public education for fear that such programs might help black people.
First Things and R.R. Reno are expressing attitudes and proposing policies like those of white people in the South. Good people in that part of the country as well as those of us in the rest of the nation should reject that whole approach. So I recommend no one send any money at all to First Things.
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Historic Day: Gay Marriage Affirmed by Supreme Court in All 50 States
6/26/2015 3:11:02 PM
Friday morning, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court announces its long awaited decision on same-sex marriage by a five to four vote. You can read the decision here. Now in all fifty states same-sex partners will be able to legally marry, no more civil unions or other second class arrangements.
Its a big victory for equality and freedom in a country that has been so influenced by the Protestant spirit to affirm the freedom of human beings over domination by law or power of government, special private interests, or the establishment of official religion. Despite that so-called evangelical Christians oppose this decision due to their wrong reading of the bible and that Catholic bishops oppose this decision due to a too narrow interpretation of natural law, the actual stronger historic Protestant tradition coming out of the Reformation affirms the gospel of freedom from the manipulating authority of hierarchical religion based on law. This deeper and more important tradition can be understood to have been affirmed in this Supreme Court decision, despite the nearly totally false rhetoric used by conservative politicians and religious leaders these days.
One email I received announcing the decision was from The New Republic, a magazine I have read on and off for many years now. I thought the titles of the headlines was interesting:
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Corporate Provided Health Care Has To Go
6/30/2014 5:30:18 PM
During World War II the government established and enforced wage and price controls. Unions got around this by getting companies to increase worker benefits such as health care insurance. So the United States is the only advanced industrial nation to have a health care system most provided through places where people work. It doesn't make sense in many ways, including that it adds to business costs which makes a difference in a global economy.
But another reason is provided by the Supreme Court decision yesterday on contraception coverage. It said the "religious beliefs" of some comapanies make a difference whether they should have to provide such coverage. So, now companies can have religious beliefs requiring protection but women need not be protected from companies which may deny them needed services? The twisted logic of this decision is simply amazing and terribly regretful. The moral logic required because of false religious zeal over abortion has created an extremely confusing public ethos concerning sexual ethics.
And when I heard about this decision I immediately thought that here is another reason to separate health care from its provision through corporations and business. We must move in that direction. I noticed this statement by Paul Waldman in the Washington Post:
Today, the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that if a “closely held” corporation (a private one with a small number of owners) doesn’t want to abide by the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that all insurance plans offer preventive care including contraception at no cost, then it doesn’t have to. There are many ways to look at this decision and many implications, but for the moment, I want to focus on just one: This is yet more evidence that our system of employer-based health insurance has got to go.Waldman talks about the contradictions involved in corporate -provided health care. And the worst result for people is that for many folks it locks them into a job or place they wish they could leave but can't because they don't want to lose their health insurance. Corporate health insurance means less freedom for Americans.
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Mothers and Grandmothers on Abortion
11/5/2013 6:24:05 PM
In the early 1990s I conducted in my congregation three adult forum sessions on the ethics of abortion. At the first introductory session I took an entirely neutral position on the issue, trying to provide just the facts. But this was not enough for some of the people attending the session.
During the second session one of the older women in the group raised her hand to make a comment. She said the women's group of the congregation had met that week and discussed the abortion issue. She said that they were concerned that I as the pastor of their church was not taking a firm enough position in favor of legalized abortion. They wanted to encourage me to do so because they remembered the days before abortion was legal and what that meant for women. Back alley abortions, failed procedures, infections and even death.
These were the mothers and grandmothers of my congregation. Often people think that older folks adhere to traditional morality as defined by fundamentalist Christians, but it would be wise to check with women who actually remember what it was like in the not-so-good-old-days.
The Republican Party is now nearly entirely controlled by politicians absolutely opposed to reproductive justice for women. They have not been able to outlaw abortion at the federal level, so they have systematically been working at the state level to block access to abortion at community clinics. Even when a majority of citizens and women are opposed to such efforts, the Republicans are demanding their views on abortion should prevail, and often through stealth methods to minimize public outrage.
I think the general public is finally catching on to this, however. The extremes to which these politicians are going is going to be checked at the polls over the coming years. Today the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, a staunch opponent of abortion, is behind by a large margin. In Texas the anti-abortion actions of the legislature have generated a strong reaction from women across the state, as described in the video below.
I wrote a quite long article about the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a Lutheran physician, in 2009, called How Could an Abortion Doctor be Lutheran?. It deals much more fully with theological and ethical questions about abortion.
The Alliance for Justice along with many women's advocacy groups have sponsored the video below. It's about fifteen minutes.
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Marriage Equality Goes Mainstream
3/21/2013 6:07:35 PM
Despite the fact that the religious right and the Republican Party have for decades now been fighting fiercely against the rights of gay and lesbian people, the American public has been changing its views substantially in favor of the idea that gay and lesbian persons should be allowed to marry one another. This is a remarkable change in public attitudes in a relatively short time. See the summaries of polling results in the graphic below put together by the Center for American Progress.
Note that eighty-one percent of the 18-34 age group support marriage equality.
I think the most important factor in this change has been the fact that more and more gay and lesbian persons have "come out" to their families, neighbors, and friends, have acknowledged their sexual orientation. And guess what? They are not the monsters the religious right preachers make them out to be. They are regular folks who want to be able to enjoy the benefits of marriage as others do.
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Women have Spoken: The End of Rush Limbaugh
3/9/2012 2:24:53 PM
The power of social media, and more specifically the power of women using social media, has now been demonstrated a couple times in the last couple weeks. First was the Kommen controversy. The Kommen Foundation which sponsors breast cancer events had to reverse its decision to defund Planned Parenthood due to the outcry on Facebook and Twitter.
And now a much bigger political event has occurred. It looks like the voice of Rush Limbaugh will have to go off the air for lack of sponsors, over 50 of them have now pulled their advertising dollars from his radio program. Yesterday he had only three paid ads on his three hour program. This cannot go on for long.
Women did this, and men who support the rights of women. They flooded the advertisers with their demands. What Limbaugh did was to visciously attack a single woman, Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown University, who had prepared testimony for a House hearing on birth control coverage in health insurance plans. Darrell Issa the committee chairperson refused to allow her testimony claiming the topic was religious freedom not birth control; Democrats held their own session where Fluke did present her testimony about a fellow student denied contraception medicine for a condition unrelated to sexual activity.
Here was a juicy topic for Limbaugh and he went after Ms. Fluke for three days, three hours a day. Here is a video of Limbaugh calling her a slut and prostitute. But these particular words are less signficant than the framework of his attack.
Notice here that Limbaugh is focused on the sexual activity of Ms. Fluke herself. He thinks he has found the correct way to talk about this issue. Birth control coverage in the Obama health plan means that taxpayers are being asked to pay for the sex of single women. This is the sort of thing that is central for Limbaugh; he lambasts government programs for people who don't deserve them; this is the absolute central message of his whole program and the Fluke case was too good to be true for him. That's why he spent so much time on it. That's why he says over and over that Ms. Fluke wants "so much sex" all the time that she can't afford contraception and wants the government to pay for it. She is undeserving of such help, just as all those receiving government help of any kind are undeserving. Limbaugh's whole career is based on attacking the most unfortunate and those "liberals" who have empathy for those who find themselves in situations needing assistance. Blame the victim, that's Limbaugh's whole approach, blame the little people, blame those who victims of an unjust economic system. And that's why the folks with the money love Limbaugh, he gets his listeners to believe things that don't blame them for inequality in society.
But now he went too far. Women would not tolerate seeing Sandra Fluke blamed for wanting what has become a standard medical practice for women's health care, a key factor in preventive health care for women, birth control. The development of "the pill" and other medical procedures have been a major reason why women have had many more choices in their life styles and personal vocations. It truly has been a major way that liberation of women has been made possible.
By mandating contraception in health care plans the Obama adminstration is encouraging the continuation of this liberation for women. It is not a matter of the government forcing religious institutions to do something against their beliefs; Catholic hospitals are funded with federal money, they like all employers must provide that which makes women free. That's what real freedom means, freedom for women, not freedom of Catholic bishops to force all women to abide by their narrow doctrines opposed to contraception.
Rush Limbaugh did a real service to the entire political community by going after Sandy Fluke. He exposed the ridiculous argments about the claim of religious freedom and demonstrated that the issue is really freedom for women to make their own appropriate choices about their own sexual activity. And in the process he has removed himself from serious influence in the public discourse which, in a democratic society, must be based to some degree on more rational understandings of the role of government in society and economy.
Thanks to all those women who took those actions through the social media to express themselves. That's what democracy looks like.
Update on 3/12/12: ThinkProgress has obtained a memo from the radio distributor of Limbaugh's program indicating that a total of 140 advertisers have asked to not have their ads on his program. Furthermore, these advertisers have removed themselves three other talk show hosts deemed to be offensive, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. This is very significant.
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Naming the Enemy: Biological Fundamentalism
2/17/2012 3:23:53 PM
I once had a conversation with a father whose young adult son had decided to wear a ring in his ear. The father was getting ready to disown his son, to kick him out of the house, to reject him totally. I tried to help him put the issue in perspective, this is his own son whom he has raised over long years and with whom he can have a continuing relationship for the rest of his life. To disown his son means to create a fundamental conflict with his wife who was not so concerned about the ring in the ear. Maybe the ring is not as important as the father thinks. His anger is out of proportion to all the goodness represented by the life of his son.
What I am trying to get at here is the notion of proportionality in how we think about things. Making a relatively little thing into a great big crisis is generally not a very good way to live one's life. But that's what the Catholic Bishops and religious right leaders are doing right now concerning the debate over contraception in health insurance plans. And that's what they have been doing now for many years concerning abortion. For what's at issue in the contraception debate is also abortion and the claim that "life begins with conception." Any drugs which interfere with this process are deemed to be like abortion, a "killing" of a "human life."
I have a name for this, "biologial fundamentalism." It is the claim that there is an absolute point when life begins in the entire biological process by which a human being develops. And that point, which is only known because of modern biological science, is then defined as an act of God, as if God can be known in specificity through the discipline of biological science. And those who make a decision that this is an act of God are then willing to visciously attack and castigate anyone who may not be willing to do so. They claim they know how God acts and their knowledge is absolute, beyond dispute, and that gives them the right to claim moral superiority over all others.
This is what the Catholic Bishops and religious right leaders are now doing, and doing in a highly public way. They are willing to attack all other people of faith who may not subscribe to this way of thinking about God and where and how God acts. They are willing to align themselves with a particular political party and against the president of the United States to try to get their views accepted and adopted by the American people as if Christian faith was up to a majority vote.
And now these Catholic bishops have engaged in a very cynical political calculation, they have decided to argue their case on what they know to be one of the most important beliefs among Americans, religious freedom. They are willing not only to stake the full meaning of Christian faith on their narrow view of abortion, but they are trying to use one of the most important traditions of the nation to justify that narrow view. The proportionality of all this is off kilter.
Abortion is not so important as to stake the future of faith on it. It is false to raise this issue to such a high status that it trumps all other political or religious concerns. It is false to claim that they, religious believers, are engaged in a mighty battle against secularism and relativism, as is claimed in an article at First Things magazine by the group Evangelicals and Catholics together. I am a Lutheran pastor and I do not believe that God acts in rape. To make biology so significant that one thinks God is acting in acts of rape and incest is to my mind simply ridiculous, an act of idolatry in fact, raising a biological process to the level of divine action in a totally inappropriate way, and in a way which has never ever been the case in the history of Christian theology. Christians have always placed ultimate significance on the creation of life, but to then tie that to a specific point now known by science is not a valid way to think about this matter. The Pope is wrong, the bishops are wrong, the religious right leaders are wrong in thinking this way.
The Christian faith is much bigger than abortion. Biological fundamentalists are making a very big theological mistake now dangerous to the church, the nation, and to the health of women.
I am happy to report that the father in the story above decided to accept the ring in the ear of his son, it was not such a big thing after all. Abortion in all cases is not so bad either, in fact, in many cases it is a positive good for women faced with very difficult choices. It is a serious betrayal of God's love and forgiveness to believe otherwise.
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Gay Marriage to Become Law of the Land
6/21/2010 12:49:07 PM
On June 16, 2010, closing arguments were made in the landmark court case in San Francisco concerning gay marriage. Voters in California in Proposition 8 had overturned the California Supreme Court's decision to allow for gay marriage. This case, to be called the "Perry case" after the lead plantiff, seeks to nullify the results of the proposition. The text of the closing arguments have been made available at the website of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Reading over this transcript it becomes clear that the arguments in favor of gay marriage are so overwhelming, and the arguments of those opposed are so irrational, that eventually as a result of this trial and Supreme Court reviews gay marriage will become the law of the land. The closing argument of Ted B. Olson, a conservative attorney who argued the case for the election of George W. Bush, argues on the basis of rulings and principles already established by the Supreme Court.
It is interesting that there turns out to be a difference in the arguments used by opponents of gay marriage between what they said in their political campaign for Proposition 8 and in the legal arguments before the court. In court they argued that gay marriage threatens the "deinstitutionalization" of marriage, that it undermines the institution of marriage, that hetereosexuals will no longer seek to get married and procreation will no longer be the reason for marriage. Olson says:
It is revealing, it seems to me, that the deinstitutional message is quite different from the thrust of the proponents' Yes on 8 election campaign. That, in the words they put into the hands of all California voters, focused heavily on: Protect our children from somehow learning that gay marriage is okay. Protect our children from learning that gay marriage is okay.Olson emphasized that the political message was based on the idea that gays and their relationships are not okay, are not normal like other people. But when they come into court these opponents of gay marriage know that that argument cannot work. Olson says, "For obvious reasons, the 'gays are not okay' message was largely abandoned during the trial in favor of the prcreation and deinstitutionalization themes." But when the judge, Vaughn R. Walker, asked for proof of the deinstitutionalization thesis they responded that they actually did not know, they did not know what the result of gay marriage would be.
In other words, generalized rhetoric against gays works in politics, but not in the courts which require rational arguments. Very interesting.
Read the whole transcript to see how strong the argument for gay marriage is and why gay and lesbian persons should not be deprived of this most significant social institution.
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Major Media Unfairly Presents Anti-Abortion Rhetoric
6/3/2009 4:31:26 PM
Watching news reports it strikes me that the media must rethink how it reports the abortion debate. Reporters too often simply repeat the anti-abortion frame in how they talk and write. On the PBS News Hour a young reporter speaks with no expression on his face, appearing to be entirely neutral and objective, but refers to an "abortion doctor" being shot, not even mentioning the name of the person, Dr. George Tiller, and then says he is one of three doctors willing to perform late term abortions with no reference to who the women are who are coming for such abortions and the conditions of the fetus. The listener is left with "abortion doctor" engaged in what must be questionable procedures since so few do them. I have seen this over and over as I have watched the debate and read other articles over many years now.
Although majorities in polls oppose making all abortions illegal, anti-abortion advocates claim recent polls are going their way. Why would that be? Well, one reason is that media reporters repeat the rhetoric of the anti-abortionists. The mainstream media is not fair in how it reports, it tries to "present both sides" but does not really do so, it presents the side of the anti-abortionists. One reason this happens is that the "liberal" reporter (reporters are mostly liberal) wants to make sure he or she is being "fair" to the other side. So the other side gets its message out, but the reporter's own views are not allowed. This tilts the whole context toward the side of the anti-abortion crowd.
So I have a word for the major media: please think seriously about this. The way you report abortion has now helped create the context leading again to the murder of a compassionate physician trying to do what he believes was moral and ethical work. It is possible that Dr. George Tiller was a courageous, compassionate physician dedicated to helping women in desperate circumstances. But when in any of the major media has such a view been presented, or even to suggest that there may be some people (including myself) who strongly believe that is true? I haven't seen it. To present him as an "abortion doctor" represents very sloppy and very unfair reporting.
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You Can Get Killed in a Public Church
6/2/2009 4:13:44 PM
My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, likes to speak of itself these days as a "public church". But that can be a dangerous place to be. One man went to his public church, Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, this past Pentecost Sunday and got shot and killed. He was a Christian, a man of faith, one who was carrying out his vocation in the world, a compassionate man, one who would even do an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy for a woman who knew that her baby had no brain in its head, who would do that abortion even though he knew that he would be vilified and mercilessly attacked for his use of his knowledge and skill on behalf of such a woman.
It's dangerous going out in public when there are people who don't care about facts and circumstances, people like Bill O'Reilly of Fox News who named Dr. George Tiller again and again as a baby killer, using hostile and outrageous language to create an audience so he can make millions of dollars as a media figure. People like O'Reilly don't care that a woman might be carrying a baby without a brain, don't care that without an abortion that woman may never again be able to birth another child.
It's dangerous out in that public world when even religious leaders talk in the same ways as Bill O'Reilly, even bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, spewing venom about anyone who doesn't accept their false view of science. I have come to strongly resent the fact that as a person of faith myself I believe life is a sacred gift of God, but these bishops have the nerve and disrespect to say that if I don't agree with their notion of when life begins I have no respect for life. That is really outrageous.
I personally call upon all such bishops and priests to apologize for the damage they have done and are doing to the moral climate of the nation. It is one thing to disagree, it is another to encourage the calling of names, the demonizing of other people of faith, the attacks on women in the agonizing position of facing an unwanted pregnancy. There is no faith and compassion in such rhetoric, there is only the worst form of self-righteous smugness that is a terrible witness for a church otherwise called to speak of a loving and merciful God.
Dr. George Tiller got killed for his compassion, for doing his job, a Lutheran man. Someone whose mind was filled with hatred walked into a public church and shot him. No matter what the particular motives of he who did this killing, it is those who have been preaching hate and hostility over these many past years who created the moral context for this act to take place in public. It is time those others of us in the church to tell them to stop it. Stop it now in the name of God.
(I have sent this item to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.)
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Sex in God's Family
3/8/2009 7:45:40 PM
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was a clergyman in Victorian England at the center of the many discussions occurring at the time about sex. Michel Foucault talked about this time in his book History of Sexuality which rejects the still-popular repression hypothesis of Freud. Foucault says the Catholic confessional taught people how to talk about sex. That is, since sin was related to sex in Christian doctrine since Augustine, to confess sins was to be required to put inner thoughts and fantasies about sex into words said to the priest. After centuries of doing this Europeans became pretty good at talking about sex, including in England.
Then Freud comes along later, puts people on the couch and asks them to tell him their deepest thoughts, and the Europeans tell him what the church has taught the culture to talk about in such situations, sex. So then Freud writes his "scientific" account of what lies at the center of the human personality and what is it, sex, of course. This comes into the modern world as the truth, so to really be a human being what is a modern person to do, what is the very nature of human liberation from the repression and suppression of the church, well, it is doing sex, of course. Here is the reason Hollywood has for a long time and still displays sexual release as ultimate fulfillment and sends people off with wildly unrealistic promises of what the physical act can actually deliver.
Halvor Moxnes in an article on Victorian sex doesn't go into the Hollywood stuff, but he does think that Foucault didn't spell out very clearly how this process of talking about sex worked. So he reads up on one of the Victorian clergyman who did a lot of writing about sex, and who engaged in a lot of sex with his wife Fanny, Charles Kingsley. It turns out that the Moxness article on this reveals a lot about where the contemporary fixation on sex and masculinity of the present religious right comes from, as so much of the religious heritage of this country. It comes from old debates about these matters in England.
Kingsley's writings were an effort to justify, it seems, his rather active sex life not for procreation only but also for the pleasure of sex itself which he places within the "love-match" of a married man and woman. This aspect of Kingsley's writings have been affirmed by liberal Christianity in this country which accepts the idea of the goodness of sex for pleasure. But the Catholic Church and religious right in this country have rejected this part of Kingley's thinking, prefering to teach that sex is good only when done for procreation.
What is particularly interesting in the Moxnes article is that Kingsley felt it necessary to atribute sexuality to relations with God, with a focus on the sexual meaning of God as Father and Christ as Husband of the church. And here he focuses on the manliness of the divine figures and their power, which associates power over others with the sexual experience, including also a kind of worldly power. This becomes a kind of political philosophy. The manly God relates to the manly English man who is superior to all others, providing a theological-sexual rationale for the dominance of the English empire over others. It is this sort of thinking that certainly can be associated with the kind of religious right talk we hear today from the television evangelists, who are almost exclusively from the South, an area influenced by religion with an English history.
Moxnes goes into much more about this which can be read in his article. The sexual nature of relations within the family of God has a long history, of course. I have never seen it discussed with such clear implications with current conservative religion.
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