Certainly Effervescent

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Posts Tagged ‘justice

Ugandan Pastor Preaching Lies, American Church: Where Are You?

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So, Rick Warren’s wing-man in Uganda, Martin Ssempa, thinks he’s found photographic evidence that’s the debate winner in the Kill The Gays argument in his country. Small problem, though: he’s found photos of poop fetishism, which for those of you who don’t know, is not the same as homosexuality. Ssempa:

“I want to show you from their website. I’ve taken the time to research what homosexuals do in the privacy of their bedroom. It is inhuman, it is animalistic, and it cannot be right. I want to show you these pictures.

I want to say homosexuals eat each other’s poop. Homosexuals stick their hands into their rectum. Homosexuals stick all sorts of deviant sexual things into their rectum. I want to show you this is from their website. So the first picture that I want to show you, you can see this man has just eaten the other person’s poo poo and is rubbing it on his mouth, and I’m going to ask that we print for each of you a photocopy of this story so you get it fully.

Then, of course, they are grabbing each other’s gentials (sic), that is level number one, touching each other, grabbing each other. Then number three, now they are licking each other’s anus and are licking poop. And they call poo poo, chocolate. You see it is a change of words. I want you to see, Sheikh please forgive me but I want these people to see, they say a picture is worth one thousand words. This is a man eating the other person’s poo poo, can you see that one? Please from BBC, I want you to tell them, we know what they do.”

(H/T: Towleroad)

First of all, rarely have I read comments that so clearly demonstrate a man’s ignorance and the power of myth. That Ssempa is treated with respect, that his opinions are given any creedence, is a testament to the ignorance of many Ugandan people (please note that I’m not blaming them for their ignorance, just stating that they are ignorant of the true nature of homosexuality). He went to “their website”?! Maybe he can tell me their email address so I can know how to get in touch with the gays. And he then sees some evil plot in calling “poo poo” “chocolate”? My head is spinning.

But it is all too true that there are millions of people around the world who believe these kinds of kind of stories. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ssempa actually believed that all gay people like to eat solid waste. And the fact that this preposterous myth is used as motivation for violence and discrimination is deeply, deeply, saddening.

What is inexcusable, however, is when people who know better (coughcough Rick Warren cough) are reluctant to rebuke or correct these myths. It is, in fact, deeply patronizing of Western Christian intellectuals to allow this kind of crap to flourish in 3rd world churches. If an American made these comments, he or she would (rightfully) get the Fred Phelps treatment of Robust Condemnation. But if it happens to be said by A Bedraggled Dark Person Who Lives In A Land Without Clean Water, silence reigns.

For the second time today, and in the interest of me doing my small part to help destroy some myths, allow me to quote a Barna Group study. And, may I be clear: this isn’t just for Ugandan Christians. Americans, you too need to pay attention.

After researching and polling the opinions of both homosexual and heterosexual Christians, The Barna Group found that:

“Out of the 20 faith-oriented attributes examined in the Barna study, there were just a few in which there were no significant differences between the heterosexual and homosexual populations. The areas of similarity included the facts that a small minority of people in both groups believe that Satan is real; equivalent percentages of these groups feel they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others who believe differently; similar numbers of people from each group contend that good people can earn their way into Heaven through their goodness; and rates of participation in house churches is about the same for both groups.

People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

“It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles – but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles. Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”

(added emphasis)

I know it’s tempting to continue to choose narrative over facts, and I know it’s difficult to change your worldview when presented with new facts, but when people’s rights and lives are on the line, I hope you have the courage to do what’s right: admit your wrong and start educating the people around you.

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Written by C.S. Stieber

January 27, 2010 at 12:30 am

Why Evangelicals Aren’t Talking About The Three Dead At Gitmo

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Apologies all around for the silence. The past two days have been full of near-manic writing frenzies. My resolution for this year was to write 5 spec scripts for various sitcoms and send them to various agencies, and yesterday was pretty fruitful. Suffice it to say, it’s taken about 5 hours for me to quit thinking like Don Glover’s Troy from Community.

And now I’d like to try and overthink on some more serious stuff as a way to detox the brain.

I read this piece by Dahlia Lithwick about Scott Horton’s report on the possible cover up of murders at Gitmo and it struck a chord in me in relation to the Religious Right and their positions being so dissonant with their stated beliefs.

First, let me state: it’s possible that these deaths at Guantanamo weren’t murder. It’s possible that these men weren’t tortured. Read the pieces and come to your own conclusions. For myself, suffice it to say that the only conspiracies I could actually seeing attempted is the kind where government bureaucrats, whether wearing fatigues or suits, attempt to cover-up past mistakes. Of course, since government is woefully incompetent, they fail at these cover-ups and we learn of the error. I don’t even have to go back 24 hours to find an example: a significant chunk of last night’s Daily Show was about John Edwards confessing that he was the father of Rielle Hunter’s child. So if someone tells me that D.C. has been hustling to hide the death of three men they accidentally tortured to death, I won’t discard it like I will the Birthers or Truthers.

Lithwick, in her must-read piece (along with Horton’s must-read report), wrote:

The fact that three Guantanamo prisoners—none of whom had any links to terrorism and two of whom had already been cleared for release—may have been killed there and the deaths covered up, should be front-page news. That brand-new evidence of this possible atrocity from military guards was given only the most cursory investigation by the Obama administration should warrant some kind of blowback. But changing what we allow ourselves to believe about torture would change the way we have reconciled ourselves to torture. Nobody in this country is prepared to do that. So we have opted to ignore it. [emphasis added]

This is unnecessarily broad, but if we can hone the focus, I think this critique is devastating. The fact is that there are plenty of Americans who are aware that we tortured people at Guantanamo. Go to Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Madison, or Boulder and you’ll find plenty of people protesting what President Bush did in the name of The War on Terror. We also know, however, that this group is significantly out-numbered in this country. The people who Lithwick is referring to is not “we” as in all Americans, although it is noble of her to try to not castigate a specific group. I have no such qualms: the people who choose to ignore the reality of our GWoT behavior are the very people who support it- conservatives, and, as is the wont for this blog to point out- evangelicals.

I mean, let’s call things what they are. The Pew Forum did the groundwork, and here’s their findings on the relationship between evangelicalism and support for torture:

So 79% of white evangelicals support torture in some circumstance. I recently wrote that I’m amazed by the evangelical tendency to tolerate behavior that, if it took place in a Third World nation, would be a cause célèbre, but this is utterly astounding, even for me.

In any case, Lithwick’s pointed critique lands home, but let’s be clear where it should land: in the heart of a city like Colorado Springs, my hometown. And I can tell you how this piece will be treated in that town: either (1) they’ll castigate the messenger (“It’s in Harper’s magazine. Harper’s. They’re just a bunch of liberals trying to blame America first.”), (2) They’ll toss in the “ticking bomb” scenario, or, most likely (3) refuse to read the piece for the reason Lithwick states: to reconcile a religious position based on mercy and forgiveness with the hideous deaths of innocent men is an ugly, and, in my opinion, impossible task. Much better to deny that such a task exists, right?

It’s a remarkable situation, but when one realizes that, for most American evangelicals, their faith is as much an act of nostalgia and cultural identity as a salvific act, the dissonance becomes more understandable. While the reality is that the Bible says little in the way of specific policies and socio-economic positions, many American evangelicals have chosen to create their own hybrid of Cross-and-Flag religion, one where America’s Divine Exceptionalism (At Least When GOP Policies Are In Place) is axiomatic. So to them, threats to the US’s safety are not just threats to their political self, but even to their theological self. Now I will be the first to admit that many believers don’t consciously think about it this way, but I would argue that that’s more damning: if you have a religion that is practically a sociological class identifier rather than a path to salvation from eternal damnation, what good’s that “faith”?

Over the past century, the term “existential threat” has gone in-and-out of vogue with the American Right. At various times Hitler, the Soviet Union, illegal drugs, pornography, homosexuality, and Islamic terrorists have all represented deep-seated dangers to the very soul of the nation. Existential threats are powerful motivators: when faced with the choice of existence or non-existence, it often feels that few courses of actions are “too extreme”. So if someone thinks that al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are forces that threaten everything about his or her life, the idea of torture becomes more palatable. The Diminishing Effect Of Impending Doom is why we can watch Jack Bauer do unthinkable things: if a nuke is going to destroy Los Angeles, cutting off someone’s hand with an axe is pretty kosher.

But here’s the rub: Christians shouldn’t have existential threats. As a Christian, your identity is only in Christ. Read the book of Acts, read Paul’s writing about secular leaders. Do you see any legislative activity? Any think tanks? Any policy prescriptions? I didn’t think so. Christians are to be concerned with eternity, and according to their theology, if someone entrusts his salvation to the sacrifice of Christ the earthly body is only a temporary concern. If one is in Christ, there is no earthly threat great enough to destroy you. At least, that’s how the Scriptures, traditions, and worship music have posited it for thousands of years. James Dobson & Co. would beg to differ.

Earlier today, Joe Carter of First Things responded to some of the concern expressed by Andrew Sullivan, among others. To Sullivan’s comment that Carter, as a prominent Christian seems curiously unwilling to contemplate the possibility of the US government torturing a man unto death, Carter responds:

Sullivan also claims to be a Christian. It seems to me that a Christian would want to avoid slandering the good names of many men and women by accusing them of the cover-up of a three murders.

Allow me to list a few of the problems I have with Carter’s post that I am going to set aside at the moment: a presumption of governmental competency that belies his conservative credentials, a reliance on labeling the article as akin to a “conspiracy theory” to provide the majority of his rhetorical push, and a backhanded cheap shot, àpropos of nothing, at the soldier who is the primary source for Horton’s article.

I’ll stick to the fact that we have a vocal member of the evangelical community saying that Christians should be concerned with slander when considering criticizing their government. Newsflash: if someone is making a good-faith comment about a possible wrongdoing by a governmental actor, there ain’t a court in the land that would convict him of slander. Furthermore, what loyalty or debt is owed by a Christian to the United States government? As an American, a man should be thankful and loyal to the state. But Christians? Anything? Any Bible reference used so suggest that Christian men and women need to be sure they do not speak calumny of their government will have to be twisted, mangled, and, well, tortured to prove the speaker’s point.

Carter’s also saying, apparently: “no, the 3 innocent men at Guantanamo weren’t murdered, they committed suicide” and has done little to show that he’s concerned by this. I would love for him to disprove me on this: Carter would be quite effective if he came out and said “even if these men weren’t murdered, it is disturbing to this Christian that my government runs prisons that house men, who, while found guilty of no crimes and after months of hunger strikes, find death as the only escape from their confines.” I’m loathe to present current events in black-white terms since it’s rarely so clear, but I think I’m right here:

Christians need to publicly and privately denounce torture in all its forms. Any other position is one based in something other than the saving nature of Christ’s action on the cross.

The fact that I had to write that, the sheer absurdity of it, is part of the reason why I no longer consider myself conservative or evangelical.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Jokes and Complicity In Prison Rape: A Confession

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As I start seeing my hyper-evangelicalism moving further and further away in the rear view mirror, I see more and more mistakes. Many of them are my own, some are on other people. A specific one that I want to talk about is how I, in a small way, am complicit in prison rape.

Because I was so certain of the safety of the world for me, a white Christian Republican, I would not only turn away when I heard prison rape stories, telling myself “Well I’d never end up there”, I would even make jokes about it. The “don’t pick up the soap” joke is old, but I made many, many more than that.

It’s not a comfort, but I will say that I was hardly alone. You could make prison rape jokes in front of your friends’ parents. Some parents would join in. Looking back, it’s astounding how differently the conservative Christian class would treat the same act in two different circumstances: if a Christian man is raped by some pillaging non-Christian army- make a movie, slap a phrase on t-shirts and wristbands, and let’s all have a good cry in the auditorium at weekly chapel or youth group. American man raped in prison-make a joke!

So when I read this:

THE recent report on rape in juvenile facilities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics makes for horrific reading: 12% of juvenile prisoners report being sexually abused, more than 10% of them by staff (the surprising nugget within this subgroup is that 95%—95%!—of that 10% report having been victimised by female staff). Non-heterosexual inmates report a higher rate of abuse by another youth (12.5%) than their heterosexual counterparts (1.3%). Abuse is also not distributed evenly among facilities: at three of them—one each in Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—at least 33% of inmates report being abused, while 18% of facilities surveyed had no reported incidents of sexual abuse.

I become infuriated, but I feel more guilt and shame than anger. If more of us were to refuse to accept rape in prison as inevitable, perhaps something would change. I don’t really know, but I do know that making jokes about it is only encouraging these sick prison staff members to continually abuse children.

If you want to try to fix your past sins (like I do), take a look at prison reform groups. Just Detention International and Amnesty International come to mind.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

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