Saturday, April 30, 2005

She's Rev. Stroud again!

Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, who lost her clergy credentials in the United Methodist Church last December for being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," has been reinstated. It was because of a couple of legal technicalities that are a little too obscure to comprehend, but the end result brings me hope. The Southeast Jurisdiction and the outsiders from the Institute of Religion and Democracy will not have the final say in lording it over the whole denomination forever. The battle for equality and the rights of individual pastors and congregants to turn to their own relationships with God for guidance rather than the Pharisee-like legalistic opinions of others will continue.

"It is the judgment of the committee that Judicial Council Decision No. 702, which binds this committee, makes it legal error to try, convict and deprive a member in full connection of her right to an appointment pursuant to Paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1(b) of the Book of Discipline, when, as in this case, neither the General Conference nor the pertinent annual conference has defined the words, ‘practicing homosexual’ and ‘status.’"

The General Conference is the church’s top legislative assembly.

Second, the committee wrote that "legal error was committed by trying and convicting (Stroud) on the basis of Paragraph 304.3 because that provision constitutes a ‘new standard or rule of doctrine’ which has not been declared by the General Conference to be ‘not contrary’ to the present standards, in violation of the First Restrictive Rule and paragraph 102 of the Discipline."

The First Restrictive Rule, found in the church’s constitution, states that the General Conference shall not establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to the church’s existing standards of doctrine.

I'm a little shaky on what this means, but I do know that some pretty underhanded tactics have been used at the last two General Conferences to try to make social principles, which are not binding, into church law, which is. It's a little making picking your nose an actionable offense. And I forget, who was it again who denounced legalism over mercy? Oh yeah, that Jesus guy. Remember him?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Don't Ask, Don't Look

As the merits (or lack thereof) of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military is being debated in Congress, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Michigan, offers her opinion as to why gays should be excluded from military service.

The law recognizes that living conditions are often “spartan, primitive and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.” It also respects the normal human desire for sexual modesty. Servicemen and women should not have to expose themselves to persons who might be sexually attracted to them. It would be unfair to force the homosexual agenda on young people whose lives are difficult enough.

I think this viewpoint rests on the tired stereotype that gays and lesbians are hyper-sexed, always out to hit on everyone of their gender. There is no reason that one can't expect "sexual modesty" from gays and lesbians the same as they expect it from straight people. It's called common courtesy. We really need to get over ourselves if we're afraid to undress in front of people of the same gender because they may or may not like what they see.

Rules about who should and shouldn't serve should be based on behavior, not identity. Lewd behavior, gay or straight, should be disciplined. It shouldn't be assumed of an entire group of people before the fact. The word for that is "prejudice."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

Ratzinger? They chose Ratzinger? As a Protestant, I suppose I shouldn't care, but I'm gravely disappointed. To quote every major Star Wars character: "I have a bad feeling about this."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Neener neener, you got Left Behind!

I have raved before about Slacktivist's Left Behind critiques, but to be honest, that was only after reading several of the more recent ones. I finally was able to read through the whole archive and am more impressed than ever. Both the theological and literary criticisms are excellent, but it's the theological ones that are really important to me.

I want to point out two of them because they touch on the thing that most disturbed me about the first Left Behind book. (Unlike Slacktivist, I could only slog through one reading of the first book and won't even look at the cover art of the rest of them, let alone crack the cover or actually read them.) The thing that really disturbed me about that book was its portrayal of Salvation is ugly with a sort of "neener neener I'm saved and you're not!" attitude that I found creepy. In his most recent post, he explores this.

LB, in the chapters ahead, has a great deal to say about saving faith. LaHaye and Jenkins are clear that such faith only counts if it includes a very particular content, a very specific formula. For them, to be saved through Christ means to be saved by one's acknowledgment of certain facts about Christ. At times, they seem to say that salvation is possible because of God's mercy. At other times, salvation seems to be something we can compel the genie God to grant us by incanting the "sinner's prayer." There's a magical, gnostic element lurking here we'll get into a bit more down the line.

YES! That is exactly what I felt like reading that book. The heroes all "got saved" in exactly the same way by reciting exactly the same prayer. My worst moment reading that book was near the end (and Slacktivist is still only on page 80!) One of the heroes, Buck Williams, "The Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time" as Slactivist sarcastically calls him, is invited to an exclusive meeting with the Anti-Christ. Before this meeting, Buck finally has his conversion! (And there was much rejoicing!) He goes into the bathroom, prays "The Prayer," and gets his butt saved! Yay! Then he goes to the meeting, wherein the Anti-Christ shoots someone in the head. The kicker is, everyone else to a person remembers it as the victim killing himself. Everyone, except of course, Buck. Why? Because Buck said "The Prayer" and now is under God's protection! Yay! Had he not done that, had he still been wrestling with doubt, actively seeking to understand but still not there yet, too bad so sad. He'd have been on the outside and therefore not subject to God's grace. Neener neener! So that's their version of grace. Say the magic word and you're In.

An earlier post talks about the separation of works from faith. Slactivist notes how many "nice" characters are "left behind," an indication that salvation isn't about being good, but believing. Faith, not works. Good point, but very incomplete, forgetting that faith without works is empty and meaningless.

Fear of a doctrine of "works righteousness" -- salvation through good works -- has led to a fear of good works themselves. This is not unique to [authors Tim Lehay and Jerry B. Jenkins, aka] L&J, although they do exhibit a particularly virulent strain of the disease. They believe the road to Hell is paved not with good intentions, but with good works.

Although this Protestant phobia of "works" derives from Calvin, the reformer himself wouldn't have recognized it. His doctrine that "salvation is grace; ethics is gratitude" has been Americanized into "It's not what you do; it's who you know."

As we will see in the chapters ahead -- with their pornographic depictions of religious conversion -- L&J's soteriology is even further removed from that of the Reformation. Ultimately for L&J, salvation is not a matter of who you know, but of what you know. Left Behind isn't Calvinist. It's gnostic.

That was another thing I noticed about Left Behind. Not only were those Raptured true believers, they were Right Believers. They were absolutely Right about Everything. So right that one pastor left a videotaped message about the Rapture for those poor folks left behind to use as guidance. God's grace, apparently, can only be extended to those who don't have a single incorrect assumption about him. Neener neener!

Hmmm. Seems to me that would be an awfully small Rapture. Actually, I think that Rapture already happened. It was called The Ascension and happened some 2000 years ago to a crowd of one.

Friday, April 15, 2005

GOP Minnesota state senator comes out

A lot of politicians are coming out. First the mayor of a town in Kansas comes out, and now a state senator in Minnesota has joined the club. The part that makes thing dicey for the latter is that he's a Republican.

Brian Lehman of Nisswa, the Crow Wing County Republican chairman, said Wednesday that he doubted [Minnesota State Senator Paul] Koering could win the Republican endorsement, run against an endorsed Republican in a primary and win nomination, or win re-election if he switched parties.

"He's pretty much committed political suicide, because this area is pretty conservative," Lehman said.

Lehman said Republican activists in Koering's district have been demanding the party find an opponent for Koering, or volunteering to run against him, since Koering voted with the Senate Democrats a week ago.

Explain to me the logic here. He's the same conservative he was a week ago, but today he's not good enough for the Republican Party because he's gay? Is he suddenly going to turn into a liberal because he's openly declared his sexual orientation? How does that have anything to do with his qualifications to be a senator? It makes him more liberal on this one issue, and if his vote on that issue is enough to change your mind about his qualifications to serve, then fine, but make it about how he votes, not to whom he's attracted.

The Right doesn't have a monopoly on obnoxious reactions to gay politicians, however. Another article on the situation reports how Senator Koering was badgered by GLBT activists over his sexual orientation.

At about the time of the vote [on a bill to ban gay marriage], gay and lesbian activists were e-mailing reporters and legislators pictures of Koering allegedly taken at a gay bar in Minneapolis. He doesn't seem pleased with efforts to "out" him against his will. He says of pressure from the activists: "They can do, and I'm sure they will continue to do, whatever they want, which I think is a sad state of affairs. ... But they did NOT precipitate my decision."

I remember this happening before U.S. Congressman Jim Kolbe came out. Now I think it's in everyone's best interest if gays and lesbians, both famous and not-so-famous, are open about their sexuality because it's a lot harder to support discrimination against people you know. That said, no one has a right to make that decision for anyone else, and it's especially ugly when used as a form of blackmail, political or otherwise.

Mostly I am really sick of both sides deciding that one's sexual orientation necessarily leads to one's political views. Gay people can be conservative. That doesn't make them bad conservatives, nor does it make them traitors to the GLBT community. Deciding that all gays must be liberal is like saying all gay men must like show tunes or speak with a high voice and all lesbians must wear short-cropped hair and play softball. These are stereotypes that may be true for some, but not all, and it does everyone a disservice when we try to force people into stereotyped roles.

More on extremism

Read this excellent post from the Unintentional Blogger about some of the scary extreme Christian groups out there.

Rational Christians, conservative and progressive alike, need to be vocal about this kind of stuff because this is the way our God and our Savior is being presented to the public. God as the ATM in the Sky or Jesus as political revolutionary. It's bad theology and it's bad policy. Speak loudly and often against these kinds of distortions of Christ.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

"Christian Fundamentalizing" America

Rolling Stone has a pretty scary article about a group called the Dominionists.

It's February, and 900 of America's staunchest Christian fundamentalists have gathered in Fort Lauderdale to look back on what they accomplished in last year's election -- and to plan what's next. As they assemble in the vast sanctuary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, with all fifty state flags dangling from the rafters, three stadium-size video screens flash the name of the conference: RECLAIMING AMERICA FOR CHRIST.

Reclaiming America for Christ? I don't get that concept at all. The Jesus I worship reclaims hearts, not nations. In fact, he specifically shunned the role of political revolutionary that the zealots of his own time tried to put upon him.

Of course, I don't think Rolling Stone is altogether unbiased, so I googled "Dominionist" and while I couldn't find a website for a group of that name, I found this post about the concept. I have to say, I think it scares me even more than the Rolling Stone article.

Why is it that concerned Christians are afraid to unite, and "PUBLICLY" speak out against the liberal's moral and ethical degradation of America?? Why is it that concerned Christians are afraid to "PUBLICLY" inform the liberal educated elite, that we intend to Christian Fundamentalize the public school systems, by restoring school prayer, the Bible in each classroom, and promoting strict disciplne, and respect for God, country, authority, parents and the elderly?? Why is it that concerned Christians are afraid to "PUBLICLY" advocate support for the criminalization of the homosexual lifestyle, abortions on demand, the distribution of ponography, and other such liberal lifestyle choices?? Why is it that concerned Christians are afraid to "PUBLICLY" make clear that the A.C.L.U., the Hollywood elite, and the majority of the main stream entretainment and news media, is dominated by Jews, elite Atheists, and other non Christians, who are determined to make Christianity a lost memory in America?? Why is it that concerned Christians are afraid to "PUBLICLY" demand that those trouble makers who speak out against America, those who degrade our American flag, and those who stir up and promote inner city violence and unrest, be arrested for treason and sedition anainst America??

Uh, where do I begin? They want to "Christian fundamentalize the public school system"? Okay, scary beliefs aside, I don't want anyone with this poor a command of the English language to get anywhere near the education of my children.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Gays in the military

It was very nice to open my newspaper this morning and see that my congressman, Rep. Jim Kolbe, is one of 72 co-sponsors, including only two other Republicans, of legislation to repeal the ban on openly gay soldiers in the military. Shouldn't be surprising since Kolbe is himself gay, but I've never known him to vote based on his own sexual orientation. As a moderate Republican, he has in the past both angered and pleased GLBT activists with his positions on various issues.

Motivating Kolbe, according to spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer, is his opposition to "discrimination of any sort."

I've never understood the ban on gays in the military and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, while a tiny step forward from the outright ban that preceded it, never made any sense. Not that anyone, gay or straight, should be giving lurid details of their sex life in the workplace, even if the workplace is the military, but having to keep important parts of your life a secret, like who your spouse and family are, is just ludicrous. And exactly what harm do they think gay soldiers will cause? Morale? Well, they said that about black soldiers serving with whites, too, but we got over that. Worry about getting unwelcome advances? Welcome to the world of women in the military. They don't kick all straight men out assuming they're going to hit on women; they address the ones (though not as well as we should, frankly) that actually cause problems. The same standard should be applied to gays and lesbians. If other military personnel are uncomfortable because they might be the recipient of unwelcome advances, they need to get over themselves.

As a culture, we need to get over our obsession with sex and with the idea that just because I'm standing next to someone who happens to be attracted to people of my gender doesn't mean they're going to hit on me. There should be an expectation that everyone will behave appropriately in the workplace and consequences for anyone who doesn't.

Besides, the military can ill afford to kick out people who not only want to serve but are doing a good job at it. Since "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was enacted, a staggering 10,000 men and women have been discharged because of their sexual orientation. We're at war, recruitment is down and the military is having to keep people past their original commitment, sometimes against their wishes. Can we really afford to lose 10,000 personnel over prejudice and fear?

Here's hoping this long overdue bill becomes law.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Left Behind Fridays!

Slacktivist has resumed his critique of the Left Behind series and has promised to update every Friday. And there was much rejoicing!

Last week's entry focuses on the incredibly bad writing and unbelievable dialogue between reporter Buck Williams and an airline counter person the day of the Rapture.

I only read the first book and it was pretty much the Worst. Book. I. Ever. Read. The writing is atrocious, but I'm actually someone who can get past bad writing if I like the characters, so it wasn't the bad writing that killed this book for me. What really made my skin crawl (and not in a good way) was the theology. It is so bad, so dangerous, so wrong in every way imaginable that I cringe whenever I see the displays in a store. This is how we're marketing Christianity? I'd rather be an atheist than believe in the god represented in this series.

Even more disturbing is the kids' series. They're using fiction, bad fiction with worse theology, to convert kids and marketing it as The Truth. Really, really scary.

Anyway, I highly recommend Slacktivist's commentary about this series. Normally I don't like nitpicky critics, but if ever a nit deserved to be picked, Left Behind is it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"Special" Rights

One of the arguments I keep hearing against GLBT rights is that they're looking for "special" rights. This has always confused me. Exactly what "special" rights are they looking for? To be allowed to work without fear of being fired over their personal relationships? To be allowed to make health care decisions for their loved ones? To get health benefits for whole families so one partner can stay home and raise children while the other provides for the family? In my several years of working in one venue or another on GLBT rights issues, these are the kinds of things that I keep hearing about. I have yet to hear anyone ask for something above and beyond the rights their heterosexual counterparts have.

I get that some people view marriage as uniquely between one man and one woman. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. What I don't understand is how that should then extend to denying couples who aren't married heterosexuals the basic rights and responsibilities that go along with family. Don't call it marriage, fine, but who are we to define who "family" is to anyone else and to make it difficult or impossible for those families to stay together?

Because I've always found this puzzling, this article about a gay marriage amendment in Michigan (my former home state) caught my eye.

Proponents of the amendments contend that they are simply trying to make clear and cement into state constitutions that a majority of Americans are opposed to defining a gay relationship as a marriage.

Okay, if that's all they're "simply" trying to do, then why cut people's rights? This quote is a little more straightforward:

"Our belief is that it's only appropriate that marriage between one man and one woman be given special recognition, special incentives and special protection under the law," said Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, a spearhead of the amendment's passage.

Ah, there's that word "special" again. Remind me, who is it that is asking for "special" rights?

Pope John Paul II

I'm not Catholic, obviously, but the death of such a prominent Christian leader is worthy of mention even by Protestants.

My mother was a Catholic. She was excommunicated in 1964 for the grievous sin of marrying a Protestant in a Protestant church. I believe this was before the 2nd Vatican and wouldn't happen today, but the pettiness of denominational divisions continues to bother me. (To be fair, the Baptists forced her to do an immersion baptism because her Catholic infant baptism wasn't good enough and despite the fact that she is deathly afraid of water, so the Catholics weren't the only ones who were being pretty unreasonable.) When I think of the story of my parents difficulties with "religious differences," I always think of the Cheers episode where newlyweds Kelly and Woody discover they are -- GASP! -- two different kinds of Lutheran! Kelly asserts that while they will both go to heaven, they will be separated by barbed wire and barking dogs. The other thing I think of is the old joke about the nun teaching first grade in Catholic school and when she asks the children what they want to be, a little girl says "I want to be a prostitute!" The nun gasps in horror and asks the girl to repeat herself. She does, and then nun sighs in relief. "Oh, I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant!"

So what does this random musing have to do with the death of the pope? While I recognize the great accomplishments of a devout man, I also am very leery of the direction he has taken the Catholic Church. I fear a return to the pre-2nd Vatican days. I suppose it isn't my place to worry about these things; there's enough to worry about in my own denomination and the direction our leaders are taking us. But we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and so I worry about the Christian Church in general.

Nevertheless, he was not my pope, so I will close with the words of a friend of mine who is Catholic:

Now we enter a new era, and his successor has big shoes to fill. But before we move on to the uncertainty - and the politics - of the election of a new pontiff, Catholics will take time to thank God for the gift of the man who shepherded the Church for so many years.

Rest in Peace, John Paul.