The Raleigh Rant

Religious Liberty Task Force

In many aspects the double speak of George Orwell’s 1984 book has arrived, but none is more flagrant than the actions of the U.S Department of Justice. Our founding fathers wanted to preserve our nation from the religious wars that dominated Europe for centuries and so proclaimed “freedom of religion” in the U.S. Bill of Rights. In reality, they proclaimed a “freedom from religion,” i.e. a state-imposed religion that required everyone to not only accept that religion but also to pay taxes to support it. That is still the case in some European nations.

The intent was to allow citizens to practice their individual beliefs and to organize different churches, or denominations, to express those beliefs. There was no one state religion in the United States. In fact, that is what we are reverting to with the recent actions of the Office of the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice via various memoranda, legal opinions, and public statements. In a continuing effort to weaken the non-discrimination clauses of both legislation and case law, they have established a precedent of stating that any person is exempt solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. That would not stand up in court if a person refused services or public accommodations to a person because of their race or national origin, but they claim it does apply if the issue regards sexual orientation. They claim we are not a “protected class,” in legal terms. Thus, they are promoting a special exemption just for this one category solely to mollify the religious fundamentalists who form the base of the Republican Party. It is an exemption based on partisan politics rather than religious freedom.

Using an obscure 1993 Law, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administration has targeted the LGBT community and claimed that we alone can face discrimination because some people hate us because of those people’s personal religious beliefs. First, the DOJ issued a series of memoranda, and this week the U.S. Attorney General stepped up the pressure by appointing a task force (made up of himself and three others in the DOJ) to enforce these memoranda on the various departments and agencies of the DOJ. Waving the banner of “religious liberty,” they are in fact granting the privilege to discriminate by using religion as a weapon. The DOJ is establishing the religious practices of one minority group as official government policy. That is, in effect, state religion.

A lengthy op-ed in The Daily Beast, a Capitol Hill newspaper, blasts Jeff Sessions for his blatant cynicism and double speak of what constitutes religious liberty. When words are so twisted and mis-used, they lose their meaning and sometimes assume the opposite of the original meaning or intent. This is what we are dealing with regards the Trump Administration’s practice of propaganda (look it up!), lies, and misinformation.

Discrimination Knows No Boundaries

Detention Center

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the Trump Administration's ban on travel from certain Muslim countries on the basis of a narrow definition of national security expands the policy of discrimination against immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. The Dept. of Justice, which should protect our civil rights and liberties, has chosen for political reasons to establish a series of policies that discriminate against all of these categories.

Public demonstrations about police brutality against people of color and transgender folks, draconian measures against immigrants crossing the Mexican border, and reversal of a policy protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community have had limited impact in changing these policies. The clear intent is to spread fear and division in the country as a calculated appeal to the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. The blatant callousness is so appalling that most people don't know how to respond it. Public expressions of anger and frustration have limited effect on the autocratic form of government that now rules the nation.

Our Constitution established a balance of power among the three branches of government that has apparently been breached by the complete deference to the Executive Branch. Our founding fathers were particularly concerned about the potential of a dictatorial President who might assume unlimited power and rule as a King. We are facing that possibility now as our President has publicly expressed that would be his preference.

The euphoria about of ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the prior criminal laws against homosexual sex and the recognition of same-sex marriage may have lulled the LGBT community into thinking that we had won our search for civil rights. Yes, we have made significant progress in recent years through court cases, but we've had little success in passing legislation. We had a sympathetic administration for eight years, but that attitude has been completely reversed into total hostility. We're lumped into the category of "the others," i.e. the people that the WASP power structure that has dominated political and economic power for generations has chosen to attack.

And so Pride Month this year seems not so much as celebration as time to renew our vigilance to protect our civil rights. We still have a lot of economic power, and we can choose to assert it. The repressive legislation of the North Carolina General Assembly has threatened economic development as well as the civil rights of minorities, and that has had an impact. They reversed one of the most egregious sections of one law, but it only papered over its intent.

Clearly the only logical response to dealing with all of these issues is to get out and vote this fall and to change the political landscape at all levels of government.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Hymn to the Fallen

On the afternoon of Memorial Day, I was listening on WCPE to John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen from the score of the film Saving Private Ryanwhen I was moved to tears by the music. The haunting music struck a chord of memories of violence in this country. The media headlines today are focused on gun violence that has killed more people than all the wars since WWII. We see reports of shootings in the schools and of shootings in the streets. We are learning day by day of the intransigence of the National Rifle Associations that dwarfs that of the tobacco companies in their fight against regulation. Violence is all around us every day so that we become so numb to it that it doesn't even register anymore.

Over that weekend I read a book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre that told the stories of Britain's Secret Special Forces units that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war. Their tactics were adopted by the U.S. Delta Force and the U.S. Navy Seals in later years. Although their stories recalled a lot of derring-do bravado and the glory of war, they also revealed a surprising lot of personal stories of the individuals as human beings and how they accommodated to the nature of war. In our minds, murder is justified in pursuit of a "just" war. Of course, much of the past three decades has been enveloped in controversies of how "just" the wars have been in which the United States was the leader. But that's another story.

I wore my Navy hat to the Memorial Day luncheon of SAGE at the LGBT Center to demonstrate that I was a veteran and proud of it. Of course, I didn't have the time to tell everyone my story of how an intelligence spy was sent onboard my ship to have sex with the sailors and then report on them so they would receive a dishonorable discharge. At that time the Navy was extremely homophobic and regularly engaged in illegal entrapments to justify their actions about maintaining the purity of discipline and order. Those guys weren't physically attacked or murdered, but they were rendered virtually unemployable.

Of course, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks now can serve openly in the military and even get married at West Point. (By the way, the couple were later attacked after they left.) That doesn't mean that hostility or bias have gone away; it is openly practiced in the highest level of the U.S. Department of Justice. Apparently most of the abuse in the military now is applied primarily against women.

On Memorial Day again I was drawn back to the recollection of the cost not only in our wars of the past 100 years, but also to the wounded who continue to bear the scars of war not only on their bodies but also on their minds. We have a lasting legacy of wounds from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan that our veterans have borne selflessly and with honor. Unfortunately, we have not chosen to honor them by providing the services they need.

At the same time, I was struck by the hate crimes of racism and homophobia that are being promoted by our President, who is supposed to serve as Commander in Chief. Prior to writing this, I read several reports on the statistics on hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs data reveal that a substantial proportion of hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, are never reported to law enforcement authorities and thus are not reflected in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. This violence includes not only homicide, but also rape, and physical assault on persons. Some data also include attacks on property. If you burn someone's home, is that less serious than assaulting them?

If we are truly to honor the veterans of foreign wars, then we must do more than just salute the flag. We must honor them by coming to terms with the plain facts that we are a nation of internal violence fanned by division and hatred that only seem to be growing. We can become reconciled with each other, or we can let this nation come apart at the seams by our indifference.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender do not have a lifestyle, a choice, nor are guilty of an unforgivable sin. People who judge us solely on the basis of our identity use a false premise as the basis of their arguments. They interpret a few verses of scripture and social traditions to cast us out and insult us as being "the other."

I was accosted by a sincere young man at OutRaleigh who was convinced that it was his mission in life to save me from my sin. He did not invade my personal space at first or make broad condemnations. His manipulative plan was to engage me in conservation and slowly wind towards his statement of judgment. Unfortunately, my years of discrimination triggered a hostile reaction when he brought up the fallacy of "love the sinner but hate the sin" and got in my face. He claimed to love me but used his interpretation of the Bible to slander me with hateful statements of condemnation.

I can understand his belief. That was the way I was raised. It took years of Bible study, prayer, and life experience for me to accept myself for who I am. I also have come to realize that the great divide we have in this country today along the lines of sexuality, politics, religion, nationality, and race cause us to split into a mindset of "us" versus "them." Rather than unite as Americans to try to solve the real problems we face of drugs, inequality of opportunity, greed and immorality, we debate our differences. Our differences are what made us a great nation, the melting pot of the world.

The LGBT community is as diverse as the heterosexual community, and we do not seek special privileges or rights. We simply want to live as who we are without discrimination, hate, and violence imposed upon us by those who fear us. Yes, we're different than the majority in this country, but the majority of the people in this world are not white. If they were to impose their majority privilege upon those of us who are white, where would we be?

The United States was created out of division among the states and formed on the basis of democratic compromise. Our founders found a way to learn how to live together without killing each other about differences in religion that plagued Europe for centuries. Unfortunately, they did not address the issue of race, and we fought a great war over that issue, It was the only war within our borders even though we've fought many wars across the world.

When are we going to learn how to live together?

#Come Sunday

Come Sunday movie poster

One reviewer summarized this movie that recently appeared on Netflix: “The preacher preaches that he no longer believes in hell, and he loses his church.” That covers the facts, but it misses a lot of complexities of the story:

  • His ego was so strong that he was convinced the congregation would follow him no matter what he said or did.
  • He challenged one of the fundamental beliefs of the evangelical church.
  • He left no options open other than to follow down the new direction he had chosen or to recant.
  • He made no effort to be diplomatic or transition this change; he simply said, “I have had a message from God,” i.e. he claims a higher power.
  • If there is no hell, then there is no heaven - the basic promise of salvation.

In the movie he dramatically makes this statement from the pulpit without warning his staff or giving any indication that he had been considering this drastic change. In reality, it probably happened over a period of time even though he made not have been conscious of his doubts. He is portrayed as a hero for standing up for his new beliefs, but he may have just been stubborn in asserting that he was right and no one else was wrong. You can’t challenge people’s fundamental beliefs and not expect a blow-back. It was as if Billy Graham said you no longer need to be saved.

He starts out as the pastor of a bi-racial megachurch in which his associate is white. This is hard to accept given the chasm in the cultural experiences of the races. He was a protege of Oral Roberts, and this public split makes Roberts look bad. The movie plays up the idea that Roberts had a gay son. The preacher ends up as a part-time pastor in a gay church. This implies that he also has come to accept homosexuality, which is another hot button issue in the evangelical church. The two issues in theology do not necessarily coincide. One is left wondering how much of the story is biographical and how much is fiction. If you claim that homosexuality is not a sin, that does not also claim there is no heaven or hell or that you do not need the salvation of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some theologians debate what salvation really means. Is it more than just a one-time public declaration of faith? The teachings of Jesus are simple but not direct; they have been open to interpretation throughout the centuries. He lived in another world with a very different culture and tradition. In fact, he was a Jew.

The basic premise of the movie is not theological but demonstrates the fact that so many of these mega churches become cult followings of a personality who is only human. The church is “his” church and not the creation of the congregation or a part of the Christian tradition. When some expectations are not met, the magic disappears. The services are more entertainment than worship so when the theme is changed, the “experience” is lost. Some focus on a gospel of prosperity, and others on a gospel of a wrathful God. Are they really churches or just a TV show?