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Religion Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Religion and child abuse, fundamentalism and politics, Justice Sunday III and Pastor Latham
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 17, 2006, 00:41

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Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and an internationally renowned biologist. His recent BBC series -- "The God Delusion," "The Root of All Evil," "The Virus of Faith" -- made the point about organized religion and child abuse.

Dr. Dawkins has repeatedly warned that U.S. evangelicals represent "Christian fascism" and "an American Taliban" that seeks to emulate and enforce "The God of the Old Testament [who] has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist." Fear of this curmudgeonly "God" is embedded into children's psyche: beware the bogeyman who watches everything you do and just looks for ways to punish you in the most horrific ways.

In the New Testament, Dawkins accurately noted that "St Paul's nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin" is, essentially, psychological and emotional child abuse: "Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods. . . . It's time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation." Fear is again instilled into children. Many also pay a physical price as the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong noted in relation to circumcision:

Mutilating the baby instead of teaching each child the arts of good hygiene is bad practice, bad ethics, bad theology and a bad idea. I do not understand how any religious system could ever endorse that. Female circumcision -- I prefer to call it "female genital mutilation" -- is still practiced in parts of Christian Africa. It too is said to have health benefits. I think not. Both of these practices represent control tactics and guilt laden castration rites born out of the superstition and ignorance of the past. I regard circumcision in both sexes as a barbaric act with no redeeming features. I find it almost laughable that the same religious voices that oppose the use of condoms would now support circumcision as a health practice.

Circumcision. A necessary ritual ordained by the Old Testament "God"? A modern day health practice? Neither. The dogma, rites and rituals of organized religion have but one goal: social control and political power. In their book Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America, Michael Nava and Robert Dawidoff exposed the warped "thinking" and politically motivated strategies of America's evangelical Christian Right:

Why, one must ask, if heterosexuality is "natural," is all this effort being expended to promote it? Is it because what is being promoted is not natural sexuality but a form of social organization that excludes those to whom its promotions are not addressed?

The anti-gay right, oddly enough, understands this as most of the heterosexual world does not. The theory of "homosexual recruitment" advanced by them to oppose gay and lesbian rights rests on the premise that sexual desire is amorphous and can be channeled into homosexuality as easily as into heterosexuality. Thus, because anti-gay rightists believe that "the homosexual lifestyle is based on the recruitment and exploitation of vulnerable young men," homosexuality must be suppressed to save all those sad young men.

In fact, however, heterosexuals are not recruited by homosexuals; rather, homosexuals are recruited by heterosexuals almost from the moment they are born. The homosexual recruitment fantasy is simply one more instance of how heterosexuals project their own behavior onto the victims of that behavior as a justification for persisting in it.

As Austin Cline astutely noted in commenting on the Nava and Dawidoff study, "the only 'recruitment' going on is being done by the Christian Right. These Christians see the traditional structures of power, authority, and privilege being worn away by the winds of modern culture and this disturbs them greatly. There was a time when white Protestant Christians were at the top of the social ladder and defined the common culture which all Americans partook of."

Social control, political power and personal gain can easily account for why the deceitful leaders of the evangelical Christian Right hawk their pathological dogma and propaganda. The real question is why so many Americans who claim to believe in equality, liberty and justice for all listen to and follow them.

Part of the answers may be the fear resulting from the 9/11 attacks (which Jerry Falwell blamed on gays and those who didn't believe as he told them to), America's schizophrenic attitude toward sex, and the country's historical fear of enfranchising formerly disenfranchised groups.

September 11, 2001: when religious fundamentalism married to an extremist political agenda redefined "fanaticism." America responded to the attacks of September 11 with endless choruses of "God Bless America" and a tsunami of patriotism amid a sea of flags. America had been attacked by political-religious fanatics who believed they were on a mission from "God." The evangelical Christian Right has always believed it was on such a divinely-ordained political mission, but this time they had in place a president who -- according to his own words in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack -- also believed he was on a messianic mission from "God." Maureen Dowd noted in an October 21, 2004, New York Times column that "evangelicals call the president a messenger of God."

The histories of the three Western religions, all of which transmogrified spirituality and the concept of divinity into a Being, are saturated with the blood from wars and murders to prove whose God is really God. As Lt. Gen. William Boykin put it during a fight against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

Urging to bigotry, violence, murder, and genocide can easily be found in the Bible and the Koran. St. Augustine, one of the most influential Church fathers, was the first evangelical Christian to advocate forced conversions and whatever violence -- ad majorem gloriam Dei -- was necessary to accomplish that holy task.

The lesson of September 11 should have been "Keep God Out of Politics": the same message that's been reverberating in Middle East conflagrations for millennia. But the fear and hate that resulted from September 11 consummated the marriage of evangelical Christian fundamentalism and American politics. In December 2002, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reported that then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- now disgraced and indicted -- had openly admitted he was "on a mission from God to promote a 'biblical worldview' in American politics." The terrorists of September 11 also believed they were on a "mission from God" to do everything possible to enforce their "biblical worldview." The darkness of religious wars had been reignited. Fear and hate reigned supreme.

When Pope John Paul II met with visiting U.S. bishops and President George W. Bush -- who had often consulted with John Paul on various matters and who, before meeting with the pope, had sought guidance from Focus on the Family's James Dobson -- the pontiff told both bishops and president "You must do everything possible to encourage the laity in their special responsibility for evangelizing culture and promoting Christian values in society and public life."

No holds barred, "do everything possible." Any means would justify the ends. The evangelical Christian Right did just that and launched a fear-based, hate-filled "holy war" against gay and lesbian Americans. It didn't matter to them that the collateral damage included the ultimate blessing of "God," a little thing called "love."

When it comes to gays and lesbians, "love" in the Christian Right's lexicon means only "sex" because they can use that and America's schizophrenic love-hate attitude toward sexuality to encourage fear, hate and disgust and thereby enhance their own malignant, Machiavellian political influence and power.

One of the basic fears and hate-based lies the Christian Right propagates in relation to gay and lesbian Americans is that all homosexual relationships are only about sex? Would it be accurate to say all heterosexual relationships are only about sex? No, it wouldn't. And neither is it true about same-sex relationships. In both cases, there are myriad other factors, not least of which are emotional, psychological and spiritual connections and commitments, and a "love" that transcends carnality.

When truthfully applied, those factors sound nothing like the antigay propaganda coming from the leaders of the evangelical Christian Right, as one true Christian recently noted:

Jesus said that the greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love your neighbor as yourself. As a person who has had the opportunity and privilege of marrying the person I love, the best way I can love my gay and lesbian neighbors is to desire for them the opportunity and privilege of marrying the person they love. To be an advocate for sexual minorities, to promote gay marriage, is, for me, a way to live the gospel that Jesus taught.

Not surprisingly, there are unnerving similarities between other hate groups and today's fundamentalists and Christian Right, all of whom wrap themselves in their own perverted version of religion and the American flag.

In the 1920s, the Klu Klux Klan was a powerful mainstream Protestant organization with strong ties to the Republican Party, especially in Indiana in 1923-24. They co-opted more than a few "religious leaders" who used their pulpits to preach fear and hate, and promote messages of exclusion rather than inclusion. The Klan called the "patriotic American" political candidates they backed "Klandates." Similarly, the Christian Right call the "patriotic American" political candidates they back "pro-family," even though they and their Republican sycophants do everything in their power to disenfranchise, demean, denigrate and hurt gays and lesbians, their children and their families.

Like their predecessors, the leaders of the evangelical Christian Right profess disdain for non-Christians and homosexuals. And like their predecessors, they recruit new members using a perverted form of Christianity and a badly distorted version of "American family values." Those same "values" once excluded African-Americans from the "American family."

Some African-American clergy and political leaders see the historical pattern and fight against it. One of, if not the major reason the southern Baptists split from northern Baptists in May 1845 was because southern Baptists used the Bible and their dogma as justifications for keeping slaves as property, not unlike today's evangelical Christian Right uses the Bible and their dogma to try to keep gay and lesbian Americans second-class citizens.

Sadly, some clergy fail to recognize the historical pattern and fall victim to it. As African-American Baptist minister Gregory Daniels said in a March 2004 New York Times article, "If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them." [link added]

The Christian Right's September 8, 2005, "Justice Sunday III" (JS III) was hosted by the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, which is listed on the official Southern Baptist Convention website.

As expected, Justice Sunday III was more of the same: rants about "judicial activism," a flood of theocratic rhetoric not even Noah could survive, "hired" bloggers to sing the event's praises, and claims that Democrats are the devil incarnate. One JS III blogger's website featured an ad that asked, "Will Jimmy Carter Lead You To Hell?" The former president's face alternated with an ad for "MuscleHead Revolution." The "answer" to the Carter question was on the MuscleHead website: "I break down the lunacy in my [Kevin McCullough] brand new -- quite controversial column in WorldNetDaily, 'Jimmy Carter's GOOFY Gospel!'"

The pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church where JS III was held, Herbert Lusk, has garnered over a million dollars in federal government grants under Bush's "faith-based initiative" programs, which another of JS III's most infamous antigay, pro-theocracy speakers fully supports. Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, notorious for his raunchy, vile antigay statements that have earned him a 100 percent approval rating from the Christian Right, had this to say at JS III: "The Supreme Court has become the supreme branch of our government, imposing its unrestrained will on all the people. . . . The only way to restore this republic our founders envisioned is to elevate honorable jurists like Samuel Alito." Faced with an extremely difficult reelection campaign, ridiculous Rick will say just about anything, witness his flip-flop on "intelligent design."

Long-winded James Dobson was also on hand and, in cheerleader fashion, spewed his usual theofascist and antigay rhetoric:

I think that this effort to help get judge Samuel Alito confirmed may be one of the most important issues that has occurred, one of the most important efforts that has occurred in recent history because of the issue of judicial tyranny. . . . They have been forced on the American people and it's time to put it to an end! . . .

 . . . the matter of marriage, 19 states have now considered what the definition of marriage should be and put it in their constitution. 19 states! All 19 of them have said between one man and one woman.

Yet according to justice Kennedy in Lawrence versus Texas, he made it pretty clear that the American people are not going to get a chance to make that decision, that the court is going to make it for us. And I say no!

Historically, it was rich, white, politically powerful Protestants who screamed the loudest when the Supreme Court "forced" equality on all Americans in its Brown v. Board of Education decision. Dobson's "us vs. them" rhetoric was reminiscent of that which came from those who opposed integration and civil equality based on their so-called "religious" beliefs: "We all have to stand together against the secular supremists. Either they win or we win."

Jesus' personal spokesman, Rev. Jerry Falwell, was also on hand to argue that God wanted Alito on the Supreme Court because he's in the "mold" -- a fungus that causes organic matter to decay -- of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That figures. Scalia and Thomas have both opposed civil and equal rights, and Scalia warms the hearts of the Christian Right with his vitriolic antigay stance:

Most Americans do not want persons who are openly engaged in homosexual conduct as partners in their businesses, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. --US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in dissent of the Lawrence v. Texas decision, June 2003

Perhaps the message and point of Justice Sunday III was best summarized by Kim Glovas reporting for Philadelphia's all news radio station, KYW-1060: "Falwell says the president wants to confirm Alito because he believes in faith and family foremost." In Jerry's own words: "to put on the court men like Scalia and Thomas, who will stand for a strict constructionist application of the constitution and stand for faith and family."

Funny. I always thought Supreme Court justices were supposed to put the Constitution and its guarantees of equality, liberty and justice for all Americans, freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion "foremost." And unless I missed it, the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about "families" or who can get married to create them.

Religious fundamentalism married to extreme ultra-conservative political ideology is indeed a wellspring of injustice, abuse, civil wars, lies and deceptions as was so well illustrated by Injustice Sunday III, even before the event began at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church.

A few days before JS III, the news contained other "Baptist" items.

Pastor Lonnie Latham, a member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, has repeatedly spoken out vehemently against same-sex marriage and urged gays to reject their "sinful, destructive lifestyle."

On January 3, 2005, Pastor Latham was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail after being arrested for soliciting an undercover male police officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. On January 5, 2005, the Southern Baptist Convention announced it did not plan to remove Pastor Latham from the convention's executive committee. Brings to mind the old expression "actions speak louder than words," doesn't it? Latham's actions and the SBC's decision also bring to mind another, similar case.

According to a September 12, 2004 LA Times story, Paul Crouch, the president of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) -- a proud sponsor of Justice Sunday III -- paid Enoch Lonnie Ford $425,000 in 1998 in exchange for his silence about an alleged homosexual affair they had had in 1996 at a TBN-owned cabin near Lake Arrowhead, California. Trinity Broadcasting Network claims to be the world's largest Christian media empire with 24-hour programming via 47 satellites and 12,500 affiliates reaching a total of 92,540,954 US households. In a statement released on September 22, 2004, TBN denied Crouch had had a homosexual affair, but confirmed the hush money paid to Ford.

The duplicity of the SBC and TBN is typical of those interested only in social and political control, by whatever means necessary.

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