Friday, February 9, 2018

Is there a religious exemption for discrimination? Not what you'd think

That's the question, isn't it?  We all know the cake-baking story by now--there's a case before the Supreme Court in which a baker claims that he shouldn't have to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple, even though he happily makes wedding cakes for all  manner of other couples.

 Yet, in another case recently decided in a lower court in CA, the judge found that making a custom cake is an act of free speech.  It's the custom nature of the design that he protects.

Of course, we've seen across the Bible belt attempts to legislate and protect anti-gay discrimination, not just in bakeries but in other services--one of the more egregious was attempted under VP Mike Pence's tenure as Governor of Indiana.  LGBT people are routinely abused and denied services even in the absence of such legislation.

But here's a different example, that has nothing to do with Teh Gayz, from a resort town in Michigan.
In Bay View, only practicing Christians are allowed to buy houses, or even inherit them. 
Prospective homeowners, according to a bylaw introduced in 1947 and strengthened in 1986, are required to produce evidence of their faith by providing among other things a letter from a Christian minister testifying to their active participation in a church.

Last summer, a dozen current and former resident members filed a federal lawsuit against the town, its ruling Bay View Association and a real estate company, claiming the Christian litmus test was illegal and unconstitutional.
The real-world consequences of this seem clearly unjust.
Sheaffer, who defines himself as culturally Christian, is married to a Jewish woman who cannot inherit his home because of her religion. Under the existing rules, their two children, aged 11 and 14, themselves sixth-generation Bay Viewers, would also be barred from inheriting their father’s property because of their mixed religious makeup.
 Is it a church property?  Not really:
While the governing Bay View association enjoys 501(C)(3), or charity, status through an affiliation with the Methodist church, the homes on its land are sold at a profit by individuals on the marketplace. Four percent of all Bay View home sales are directed to association coffers, and current properties are listed between $120,000 and $1m.
I would think the Methodists would be a little concerned about being linked with this intolerance.  Heck, it would seem to be a no-brainer, right?  But it isn't.
Dick Crossland, a retired consultant who has been a leading voice for the preservation of membership rules, says he is saddened by the way in which the opposing group has portrayed the association and its board as bigoted. 
“We accept anyone that wants to join the same way that Christ accepts anyone as Christian. We don’t discriminate against anything that you can’t change,” he says. 
The debate has been hurting the community, says Crossland, who added he would have been willing to work on a “legacy solution” for Sheaffer’s family’s case – but not for the broader public.
Because once you let THOSE PEOPLE in, who knows what will happen?  It won't surprise you that this convenant was originally also linked to racial exclusion.  And, once that became illegal, Christianity could be a proxy.
much of the mid-century history of Bay View matches national trends, with racial segregation ending and white people doubling down on religious restrictions and creating private organizations in which they could control membership intake.
And of course, on the QT, these "good Christians" admit that most of them are not practicing the faith.

SO,  what do you think ?  Should Bay View HOA be able to impose a religious litmus test on home ownership?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Civility in the church, in the culture

Following up on my previous post regarding the attacks on Fr James Martin, SJ, I think we can view these as a microcosm of the ugly social media driven fracturing of our civil polis.  And it's not just in the US.

Writing in La Croix, an international Catholic daily, Massimo Faggioli comments
The cancellation does not only concern Fr Martin and the Church’s LGBT community. Actually, it should worry all Catholics. That is not only because this was the third time that the Jesuit was disinvited from giving a previously arranged lecture. More seriously, it was linked to a campaign of hatred and personal attacks against the priest. 
This sort of vitriol is profoundly changing the communion of the Catholic Church. And not just in its ethos, but also in the way it functions. It signals a new kind of censorship that uses verbal violence to intimidate individual Catholics, as well as institutions within the Church – institutions that exist (also) to protect the rights of Catholics.
...
These cyber militants are not alone. Rather, they are part of the “age of anger” from which the Catholic Church is not immune. 
I don't know if you venture into Twitter very often, but it's a hells cape of over reaction, lies, and on line attacks.  The recent "Memo" nothing-burger was driven by social media, and now those reacting are doxing the FISA judge (doxing means to post personal information of a target such as their address, as an attempt to threaten them).  The Catholic "cyber militants" at least don't seem to be driven by Russian bots.  It's perhaps more concerning that they are real people.





Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Most Dangerous Catholic Priest

I don't know if you follow Roman Catholic news much these days, but it is fascinating to see the same kinds of cultural divisions and battles occur in the American RC church as in our culture at large, particularly the vehemence of the hard right.  They are united in loathing the more merciful style of Pope Francis, after the hard culture warrior years of JPII and Benedict.

But their current bugbear is a thoughtful Jesuit named Fr James Martin.

And every time he is invited to speak somewhere, the hard right Catholics roll out the hate calls and hate mail, to try to silence him. Sadly it works, more often than not.  (Interesting irony that these people are probably the same ones complaining that conservatives are silenced on college campuses.)

Frank Bruni tells us more:
What’s Father Martin’s unconscionable sin? In his most recent book, “Building a Bridge,” which was published in June, he calls on Catholics to show L.G.B.T. people more respect and compassion than many of them have demonstrated in the past. 
That’s all. That’s it. He doesn’t say that the church should bless gay marriage or gay adoption. He doesn’t explicitly reject church teaching, which prescribes chastity for gay men and lesbians, though he questions the language — “intrinsically disordered” — with which it describes homosexuality.

Think about it. Simply asking people to be kinder is enough for this guy to be attacked and accused.

San Diego's RC Bishop Robert McElroy isn't having it.  Writing in  America, he says
[A]longside .... legitimate and substantive criticism of Father Martin’s book, there has arisen both in Catholic journals and on social media a campaign to vilify Father Martin, to distort his work, to label him heterodox, to assassinate his personal character and to annihilate both the ideas and the dialogue that he has initiated.

This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is—not primarily for Father Martin’s sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church....The coordinated attack on Building a Bridge must be a wake-up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the L.G.B.T. community. If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and L.G.B.T. men and women and their families. Even more important, we will build an increasing gulf between the church and our God.
McElroy, like Cardinal Cupich in Chicago, is decidedly a "Francis Bishop": open to voices and relationship.  Since being appointed, he has made a point of reaching out to many communities, which is wonderfully ironic, given that the evils of proposition 8 (the anti-marriage equality campaign in California in 2008) was largely driven by a previous San Diego Bishop, now Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone.  I suspect Abp Cordileone won't be getting a red cardinal's hat from Pope Francis.  Wouldn't it be delicious if McElroy did?

But the sad fact is that the hard right Catholics, like their Evangelical brethren, think that any kindness to LGBT people is evil.  They truly hate us.


Friday, February 2, 2018

The end of our democracy: the triumph of racism

There's an important new article from Ezra Klein over at VOX, where he reviews a new book called "How Democracies Die".  And it makes clear that race (and its proxy, evangelical Christianity) remains the fracture of this country.
Our democracy was built atop racism and has been repeatedly shaken in eras of racial progress. The founding compromises that birthed the country included entrenching slavery and counting African Americans as three-fifths of a person. ...Then in the the Civil War’s aftermath, the pursuit of equality fell before the pursuit of stability — in Reconstruction and continuing up through the mid-20th century, the Democratic and Republican parties permitted the South to construct an apartheid state atop a foundation of legal discrimination and racial terrorism, and it was in this environment that American politics saw its so-called golden era, in which the two parties worked together smoothly and routinely..... 
The racial progress of the civil rights era led to a series of political assassinations and, shortly thereafter, to the election of Richard Nixon — who quickly caused a democratic and constitutional crisis of his own. In the aftermath of that period, little was done — and much was undone — on civil rights, and American democracy stabilized. 
That is, it stabilized until the election of President Barack Obama, which led to a hard turn toward confrontation in the Republican Party, and — perhaps predictably, given this history — to the election of Donald Trump, who pairs racial resentment with a deep skepticism of both democratic process and the legitimacy of his opponents.
So Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided by race and religion, to the extent where toleration and compromise aren't possible.
....to survive, political systems need parties who place fundamental values above immediate political or policy gain. America’s democracy is currently operating without that protection. History shows that leaves us vulnerable....Democracies fend off challenges when participants value the preservation of the system — its norms and ideals and values — over short-term political gain....
Quoting from the book,
If the definition of “real Americans” is restricted to those who are native-born, English-speaking, white, and Christian, then it is easy to see how “real Americans” may view themselves as declining. As Ann Coulter chillingly put it, “The American electorate isn’t moving to the left — it’s shrinking.” The perception among many Tea Party Republicans that their America is disappearing helps us understand the appeal of such slogans as “Take Our Country Back” or “Make America Great Again.” The danger of such appeals is that casting Democrats as not real Americans is a frontal assault on mutual toleration.

This is not a new observation. Former Republican (and now Political Orphan) Chris Ladd has made the point before:
We are discovering that no one ever really cared much about abortion. No one cared about fiscal restraint, or tax cuts or nationalized health care. The Republican base we painstakingly assembled across fifty years is only really interested in one thing – preserving the dominant position of their white culture against a rising tide of pluralism. Other issues only mattered to the extent that they helped reinforce and preserve white supremacy.
In an interview, Ladd expands,
I grew up white trash in one of those forgotten hellholes in Trumplandia. Most of these places were hellholes decades ago in their imaginary prime. They were hellholes 80 years ago when writers like James Agee came to ogle their inhabitants and muse on their simple virtues. Now they many of them remain hellholes with fewer people and less going on. 
Nothing about these places has changed apart from the fact that the rest of the world got better, a lot better. And most importantly, the world has gotten better for people like African-Americans, Hispanics, and women; people whose suffering and enforced weakness used to give Trump voters some relative comfort. 
....Mealy sympathy-pieces about backwater towns in thrall to Trump offer a certain comfort to everyone else. We would all be relieved to discover that this national nightmare was just a big misunderstanding, another example of “elites” failing to listen to the common people. We could just hug it out. 
Sorry. I’ve been listening to these people my whole life. We are not facing some new problem born of globalization or capitalism or trade. We are facing America’s oldest problem.

When white people feel their hold on power slipping, they freak out. And it always starts with the folks lower down the economic ladder, because they have the highest relative investment in what it means to be white in this country. There’s not a damned thing we can do about it other than out-vote them and, over time, out-evolve them until this crippling and occasionally lethal national glitch is slowly worked out of our bloodstream. 

Klein concludes his review with a quote from the book:
The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved.
It is not clear that we will change that.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The shift in religious identity

Hard as it is to endure right now, the power of the white evangelicals is surely fading.  Data show that younger white people are leaving organized Christianity (including mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic) in huge numbers.  NOw, if the young would only vote....

From FiveThirtyEight: 
For many young people, white evangelical Protestants in the 21st century appear to be advocating a mid-20th century approach to sex, relationships and marriage, even as American society resembles life during this period less and less.

This may help explain why the religious profile of young adults today differs so dramatically from older Americans. Only 8 percent of young people identify as white evangelical Protestant, while 26 percent of senior citizens do....  
Samuel D. James, writing in the journal First Things, argued, “You cannot boil down Christianity to the parts that you are unashamed to speak about in the presence of your intelligent gay neighbor or your prayerful lesbian church member.” James’s instinct to hold the line against prevailing winds may resonate with many, but if white evangelical Protestants want to continue to be a home for younger Americans, they may have to reconsider what parts of Christianity are non-negotiable.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Values, Accountability, and women

The world is all topsy-turvy, with serial sexual harassers who assault young girls elected to high office, while gropers grimly hang on. Politics is a mess and there are no values left in its practitioners. At least the media has been cleaning house, with the latest being NBC news host Matt Lauer.

I do not watch television, so I am only dimly aware of who he is. Apparently, he liked to sleep with women not his wife, and exposed himself to his staff, gave them inappropriate gifts, and tried to have sex with them. And like Charlie Rose before him, he had power and authority and he got away with it. (What is it with talk show hosts and sex?)

But one thing that struck me was that the guy earns $25 MILLION for a combination of fluff interviews and reading the news. One twitter account I saw suggested that $25m is enough to put 5 reporters in each of our statehouses and pay them and give them benefits. I am a fairly well paid professional and there's no way in an entire lifetime of work that I would come anywhere near $25M.

And what does it say about our culture that we pay a sex-mad newsreader $25M while people who do the actual job of journalism, or cancer research, or teaching, struggle to stay in the middle class. (And they won't, if the GOP tax plan passes).

Meanwhile, today there was an article published in the Federalist arguing that it doesn't matter what Moore did, because ABORTION.

Really, it all cycles back to abortion, which is an outcome of female sexuality and that is why it must be controlled.  Because women should be shamed if they are pregnant out of wedlock, because women's bodies must be policed.  Because men feel they have the right to power over women.  Because a woman's job is babies. It's not surprising that ThinkProgress found evidence that Roy Moore co-authored a law course that included arguments against women holding elected office.

 From Salon, a few weeks ago:
And make no mistake: It's patriarchy, not morality, that is the animating force behind the Christian right that has elevated Moore. Evangelicals may talk a big game about chastity, but their overwhelming support for Donald Trump is a reminder that "chastity" is just the cover story for the true agenda, which is bringing women firmly under the control of men. Men's unchaste behavior isn't really considered a problem, even when it's criminal. It's female bodies and female sexuality the Christian right is interested in controlling — and dating young girls in no way conflicts with that goal. If anything, as the above examples show, locking them down young is considered a handy way to achieve these patriarchal objectives.
I salute the women who have come forward against these powerful men, but nothing's going to change.  The Democrats lost a moment when Franken and Conyers refused to resign (Franken's seat in MN would remain safely D), so the GOP can point at them and say "everyone does it".  Alabama evangelicals are even more likely to vote for Moore after these allegations.  The President remains in office, and get prepared to say hello to Senator Moore.  The darkness is upon us.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.



The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats.

Monday, November 13, 2017

An Evangelical Culture of abuse?

The US is currently being rent with claims of sexual harassment and assault.  The powerful #metoo meme has gone around social media, and men as well as women have been brave enough to come out as survivors of abuse.  The fall of media mogul Harvey Weinstein led to widespread denunciation, and return of his donations from politicians and universities.  Academe is jolted by revelations and is grappling with how to deal with claims old and new.

Spectacularly at odds with this, in the state of Alabama, archconservative Christian judge Roy Moore (who was removed from office twice for contempt of court) has been accused of inappropriate activity with teenage girls years ago, including sexually fondling a 14 year old.  In a relentlessly sourced report, the Washington Post has found evidence for his predilection for girls in their early teens, and this has been confirmed by the Wall Street Journal.  A former colleague remembers him hanging out with teens at malls, when he was in his 30s.

Astonishingly, the right wing has circled the wagons, and a number of evangelicals say they are MORE likely to vote for Moore given these accusations (that sound is my mind, boggling).

What's going on here?

In an op-ed in the LA Times, Kathryn Brightbill (a survivor of hard-core home school Evangelicalism) reports on a culture that blames the girls for the fall of men.
WWe need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.
I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms.
She goes on,
As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work. 
In retrospect, I understand what the speaker was really describing: Adult men selecting and grooming girls who were too young to have life experience. Another word for that is “predation.”
David Atkins explains,
In their world, young women are a burden to their families, a constant temptation to sin, their bodies a Devil’s playground. For them, the goal of an upstanding parent is to raise sons who will defend their honor and their heritage by any means necessary, and to raise daughters who will keep their own honor pure via chastity until they can be transferred to the “care” of an approved man in an arrangement sanctioned by both sides and by their God. From this perspective, age of consent laws are an inconvenience merely allowing more time for young women to develop rebellious habits and engage in unbecoming conduct.
The man is not at fault here, because she wickedly tempted him.  Nancy LeTourneau:

What actually shocks me is that many of Roy Moore’s defenders aren’t even bothering to defend him by denying the charges that he preyed on a 14 year-old girl. Instead, they’re saying that “there’s nothing illegal or immoral here,” or that somehow it was consensual. Just to be clear, there is no such thing as “consensual” when it comes to a sexual encounter between a 32-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.
And this is the take-home:
Has the tribalism of our politics gone so far that people are now willing to excuse the behavior of sexual predators because they’re on “our team?” Or is there more to it than that? Frankly, this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve heard people dismiss the sexual assault of a teenager because they are old enough to consent. This story is a reminder that there is still a lot of denial in this country about what it means to be a sexual predator.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

You're not from around here, are you?

Do you live near your hometown?  I grew up in California's greater Bay Area, which is now a tech mecca but in those days wasn't yet.   I left for grad school Back East, and then lived for a while in the UK.  I was lucky that I eventually got a position the same time zone as my parents.  But I live hundreds of miles away from the town I grew up in, in another major metro center full of people like me, who are mostly white and Asian professionals from somewhere else.

I'm not unusual;  Americans are very mobile, particularly those in technical fields.  And this feeds in to our current political state.  Vox reports that this has an effect that is magnified in smaller, less metro communities.
Those who stayed in their hometown tend to be less educated, less wealthy, and less hopeful. 
They tend to be less open to other cultures and less open to immigrants. 
Ultimately, they tend to be more likely to support Donald Trump.
The article drills down into the data, and finds that stayers were typically those who had fewer opportunities.  The high flying, academically inclined kid was encouraged to leave.  The football player who was tracked into trades, not so much.
In a very literal sense, this is a split between people who have seen the broad and eclectic world with their own two eyes and taken advantage of diverse geographies — and those who have not. These experiences, or lack thereof, shape our outlooks, outcomes, and attitudes. 
For some, that's a choice. For others, it's the product of the way we sort people in this country.
Chris Ladd runs with these data to identify another outcome of transience.
Winning in this economy means shedding attachment to place, community, and older notions of rootedness and becoming instead a global consumer. Citizenship is expensive, time-consuming, and frankly boring. People with any prospect of success in this economy can seldom afford to waste time and energy on local politics or local institutions. ...
He warns,
Democracy in the American model cannot survive this kind of transient, consumer-driven engagement. An electorate that knows every move of presidential politics while unable to identify a single city councilman is living in the upside down. A citizenry disengaged from and disinterested in local politics cannot possibly create competent political outcomes at the most distant level.
What are the alternatives?  The pseudo democracies of Singapore and China, ruled by technocrats and corporations, where votes are largely symbolic, but the institutions run the trains on time.

He concludes,
No practical remedy is apparent. You cannot merely goad people into caring about things that lack any relevance to their lives. A transient population cannot be inspired to care about the boring minutia of local government. If people don’t feel a stake, they aren’t going to be competent decision-makers. But, what if your ability to vote in a presidential election was conditional on showing that you voted in the last city or county election?

Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Meanwhile, Down Under

Australia is one of the last of the major Western nations to grapple with marriage equality. After endless to-ing and fro-ing, they settled on have a non-binding postal referendum, asking the people yes or no. Only then will Parliament bring marriage equality up for discussion.

As you might imagine, there has been a lot of the usual stuff, with conservative religious figures barking for a "No" vote and a diverse and apparent majority going for "Yes". This isn't going to be as tear-jerking as the Irish referendum, but the pundits are predicting "Yes" will win.

But as with Prop 8 here in California, there has been a substantial amount of abuse from those of faith, including a A$1 million donation from the conservative Anglican Diocese of Sydney.  More on the fight  detailed here:
Sin and damnation have figured little in the arguments of the last months. The deliberate strategy of the no campaigners has been to muffle their profound hostility to the LGBTQI whose lives are in question here.

It’s only a gambit. Nothing has changed. In the eyes of these warriors, my lot are still bound for hell. They just don’t want to say so right now.
Fortunately, they don't seem to be winning.
The polls in Australia are unequivocal: Christians strongly support equal marriage.

But in August, Shelton brought a dozen faiths and factions of faiths together in the Coalition for Marriage to fight reform. They were an odd bunch from very different traditions with not much in common but this: a deep commitment to the old hatred of homosexuality.

It’s always been a great ecumenical cause.
The real question is, of course, what role to these rump Christian conservatives see for faithful LGBT people?  Considering the Anglicans, the author submits
Forget marriage. Sydney Anglicans are talking no sex for life. “For many, this is a struggle and a frustration. It is one of the many painful consequences of living in a broken and fallen world … ”

Is that bigotry, hatred or simply cruel?

It’s certainly the most fundamental argument of the clerical opponents of equal marriage. All of them come to the same point: no sex ever for gays and lesbians. In a truthful contest that demand should have been a prime focus of debate.
As for the Roman Catholics, the author ponders,
Catholics are directed to accept homosexuals “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” 
So what just discrimination does the church wants to exercise? We asked the archbishop for a brief list. Again we were disappointed. No reply. Surely they have a list somewhere? It seems Australians will be told what freedoms the rest of us are expected to give up for the church only when the votes have been counted.
The referendum concludes on Nov 7. Let us hope for a resounding "YES!"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

What would Mother say?

The news is depressing, the country spiraling towards disaster.  I find it difficult to focus on work, obsessively reading the news.  Each day brings a new insult.  A disturbed man kills in the name of ISIS, and in a day there are calls to suspend the rule of law, and one Senator cites a religious war.  A disturbed man kills five times as many, but we are told not to "politicize" his crime.  What's different?

But as we watch the Mueller investigation lurch forward, nd we hear of money laundering and greed, and while the Press Secretary spins and spins, and the lies accumulate even more.

 I don't know about you, but I am a late-boomer generationally, and my parents  believed that everyone should have a fair chance, and that we all were in this together.  They identified as Republicans in those days, because Dad was a small businessman and that's what the GOP was.  They weren't anti-government social conservatives. And their dinner parties featured people from across the political spectrum, even if they were largely socially the same (educated, white, professional class). Dad would give up part of his salary to be sure that the business stayed afloat.  Most significantly, they  raised me to tell the truth, to consider others, to behave with decency, not to take more than my share.

It's this last bit I don't understand.  The demonization of others, the lies, the snark, and the greed, the driving, vile greed.....none of this was in how I was raised.  Were Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mike Pence, Lindsay Graham, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Paul Manafort raised so differently?  Because they lie with abandon, and their driving force appears to be greed seasoned with white supremacy.

And this is not how I grew up.

John Pavlovitz writes:
My kids are scared right now. They’re not sure the world makes any sense. They’re wondering why it seems as though the bullies and the bad people have the run of the house. They’re feeling like honest, compassionate, loving people are now an endangered species. 
I don’t lie to them. I tell then I see it all and that it frightens me too—but I let them know that I do still believe the story we’ve told them. I still believe that goodness is the best path, regardless of how many take the path or the hazards we face along the way. I still believe that the treasure of the bully and the braggart is a fool’s gold that will not endure and will eventually prove worthless.... 
Most of all I remind them of the undeniable, indescribable goodness I see in them, and let them know that as long as I have breath I’ll walk with them, and that together we’ll keep writing the best story we can and trust that is enough.

May you who wonder if goodness matters—be greatly encouraged that it does.