Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Have No Other Gods Before Me: The Rise And Fall Of Evangelical "Rambo Jesus", Misogynist Bully Mark Driscoll

I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ 
because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up."

The Cult of 'Rambo Jesus" Just Took A Hit

In the latest transformation of theology and within Right Wing Christian circles, the cult of "Rambo Jesus" has emerged as the theology du jour: Fmr. Gen. Jerry Boykin recently characterized the Second Coming as Jesus carrying an AR-15.

Blasphemous to many, the cult has nonetheless become a small epidemic, a virus spread by "emerging church" ministers who want to take on an aggressive, take-no-prisoners stance against progressive Christians, atheists and other religions. It has a "become Christian or suffer the consequences" strategy that relies on strict obedience.

Master of Misogyny

Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church (Seattle) came on the scene in 1996. At first the start of "church planting" endeavor, it seemed to grow exponentially, from 11 churches in 1998 to 410 by 2011. Along with Acts 29 (the church planting network) and it's growth, however, other things began to grow: organization, workload ... and Driscoll's ego. Driscoll divested himself of some responsibility, but not the attendant fame and notoriety. He became known as the "cussing pastor", the "Holy Hipster" and the "Rush Limbaugh of Evangelism" as well as an ardent proponent of "Rambo Jesus":

The problem with our churches today is that the lead pastor is some sissy boy who wears cardigan sweaters, has The Carpenters dialed in on his iPod, gets his hair cut at a salon instead of a barber shop, hasn’t been to an Ultimate Fighting match, works out on an elliptical machine instead of going to isolated regions of Russia like in Rocky IV in order to harvest lumber with his teeth, and generally swishes around like Jack from Three’s Company whenever Mr. Roper was around.”

He also became known for out-and-out misogyny: when Driscoll and his wife, Grace, published a book entitled Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together, it raised eyebrows not only because it described sex in graphic terms (and OK'd formerly taboo subjects like anal sex), but because:
"Grace [Driscoll] is often cast as the damaged and sinful wife who withholds sex from her deserving husband, Mark the hero who is justified in leaving his wife but instead comes along to rescue her." (Rachel Held Evans)

Jezebel ("Worst Guy Ever")

Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture.
They're quarrelsome. They're a nag. And some women — you're a nag. You're disrespectful. You're quarrelsome. Being married to you is like a life sentence, and the guy's just scratching on his wall every day.
First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he's watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.
Driscoll's blog also had a turn at Ted Haggard's predicament:

"A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him, either,"

Father, Son and Spirit. But some chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists and minors in 'women's studies' are not happy because two persons of the trinity have a dude-ish ring."
In early January of this year, it was easy for this writer to give Mark Driscoll the Righteous Arrogance Award simply because of this tweet:

Of course, along with the misogyny, the homophobia naturally follows: Driscoll's touting of MMA (mixed martial arts fighting) for "real" men got people to thinking about Driscoll's own sexuality*:
Religion Dispatches (Elizabeth Drescher)

So it is, of course, ironic that the churches and pastors who are touting MMA are doing so in order to inject some masculinity into American Christianity. What they seem to be missing—or maybe just what they refuse to admit—is that they’ve chosen the one sport on the American scene that is highly sexually charged. And the sexuality in MMA is not hetero.
Anatomy Of A Fall

Driscoll's fall from grace could be traced in these steps:

A Long, Long Hiatus

Last Sunday, Driscoll stepped down from his role in Mars Hill for "six weeks" while a range of charges are being "investigated." He has also insinuated that, at the request of Acts 29 and others, he is "seeking help". Earlier this year, he stated:
In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.

The range and intensity of the allegations, however, belie the possibility of a mere six-week hiatus: Driscoll's anger-management issues alone will take months (if not years) to resolve. He may have to cut back on his core belief in "Rambo Jesus," the theology that made him famous in the first place. In terms of therapy, Driscoll has a long, long way to go.

And his forgiveness may be a long time in coming.

Hollis Phelps, Religion Dispatches
All of which is to say, any criticism of Driscoll should also be directed at the system that allowed him to emerge in the first place. Driscoll may certainly be an extreme case among evangelical leaders and evangelical culture more generally, but we should not understand him as an exception.

The "system" Phelps refers to is one in which obedience and control are keys to a theology that strives to gain a foothold among an already strident American Fundamentalism.

an pobvious fail

*My husband, btw, who is a master at judging male anatomy proportions (even fully clothed) has opined that Mark Driscoll is definitely compensating for something. That may sound like a cheap shot, but given Driscoll's cheap shots at women and gays, it might be fitting.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When "Slipping Through The Cracks" Is No Excuse: The Negligence Of Some Child Welfare Workers

'It was just like every inch of this child had been abused,'
"Before 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was allegedly beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend, they doused him with pepper spray, forced him to eat his own vomit and locked him in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams, according to court records made public Monday."
But that was not the entire extent of his abuse. You may not want to read the entire L.A. Times article if you are sensitive to the issue because it contains some graphic descriptions of unbelievable abuse, but know that the case has sparked an outcry for reform of a child welfare system that was clearly inept.
When paramedics arrived, they found Gabriel naked in a bedroom, not breathing, with a cracked skull, three broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. He died two days later.
"It was just like every inch of this child had been abused," testified James Cermak, a Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic.
Gabriel's mother, Pearl, said that Gabriel had hit his head on a dresser. 

Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, are in jail awaiting trial for capital murder and special circumstances of torture. 

The torture consisted of heinous acts, the least of which was making Gabriel wear humiliating girl's dresses to school because he liked playing with dolls. His murder has gone viral, because, like another publicized abuse/death - the case of Zachary Dutro Boggess - one of the "reasons" for his abuse was that he acted too "gay". Another reason: a system where "slipping through the cracks" means death. Months before his death, Gabriel wrote a suicide note, but it was dismissed as nothing consequential by child welfare workers (it contained no mode of suicide - kids have to be more specific than that!).  Reports of abuse from teachers were poorly followed up. "Huge caseloads" and "inexperience" were cited. 

"Inexperience". How experienced do you have to be to read a suicide note of any sort and not take action? How inexperienced do you have to be to visit a house more than several times, see bruises and not put the dots together? How inexperienced do you have to be to take the initial testimony of siblings as the truth - kids who are obviously scared the same thing will happen to them? 

The Good, The Bad And The Totally Inept

To be fair, some social workers can only be as effective as the law allows: Child Protective Services vary from region to region according to what authority they actually have. Some parents are very crafty and intimidating (e.g. Fred Phelps - the "Man Addicted To Hate" - repeatedly fended off CPS in Topeka, KS despite warnings from teachers and neighbors). Some truly are over-burdened with caseloads and become duly depressed about their work.  

The workers in Gabriel's and Zachary's cases, however, were absolutely negligent:

Four county Department of Child and Family Services employees will be fired over their involvement in the case of Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old Palmdale boy who died in May, after allegedly being tortured by his mother's live-in boyfriend.

According to a statement from County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the four include two social workers and two supervisors. Three others involved in evaluating multiple reports of abuse of Fernandez were issued warning or reprimand letters.
DCFS records showed that there had been five previous reports of abuse of the little boy, but that social workers had deemed them "unfounded." A sixth case was being investigated at the time of his death.
Five reports. FIVE. Five reports and a suicide note. 

Zachary Dutro-Brugess was murdered in, of all places, a homeless shelter. His abuse was reported by his older sister who had been abused as well, but not by the shelter.

While [Jack] Schwab [Director of the Good Neighbor Shelter in Tigard, Oregon] says that the staff never saw anything that could be reported, it's hard to believe that such abuse could have gone on without the staff having even an inkling. And even those inklings can be reported.
Negligent Abuse

What happened to both children might have been prevented, had people paid attention. Unfortunately, we can't make lack of attention a crime, nor can we make negligence or ineptitude a felony. To some, the firing of two social workers and two supervisors was enough in Gabriel's case. To some, the consciences of the Good Neighbor Shelter will deliver justice. 

To Gabriel and Zachary, however, justice may not have been served.

Just a thought.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Last Week in Bigotry: From Cursing Gays With Ebola To Righteously Phoning In Pain To A Grieving Mother

Note: Some parts of this article are NSFW

The conflagration in Ferguson, Missouri (perhaps rightfully) overshadowed other incidents of racism and bigotry in the country last week. Michael Brown's death and the subsequent reactions by Ferguson and law enforcement have been news fodder for every media:  everyone seems to taking a polarizing stance, with very few pundits in the media taking a moderate tone. For example, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson* of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny called Brown a "thug" just like Trayvon Martin.

Rev. Peterson is African-American.

Right Wing Watch
"I've said from day one that Michael Brown is a thug," Peterson declared, using as evidence "the fact that he was running from the cops, period, because good folks do not run from police officers, they follow their instructions."
Rev. Peterson has obviously never lived in an inner city.

Of course, we all know that Michael Brown was really a "menacing" giant hopped up on marijuana because Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association says so. But there were moments when Christian pastors (not Christian enough for Fischer) who participated in protests risked arrest and one Christian minister was shot with a rubber bullet trying to mediate.
The Callousness Of It All

But there were other incidents of racism and bigotry, maybe not as notorious as Ferguson, but just as damning ... and callous.

Yes, Pastor James David Manning is still with us in Harlem, spewing hatred via the Word of God (in itself, blasphemous, but Manning certainly doesn't see it that way). He added Ebola for good measure later on in one of his broadcasts.

Not to be outdone in the realm of the callous, Rev. T.W. Jenkins told the mother of a young man that his church would not bury her son because he was gay - over the phone while she was next to her son's casket at the wake the night before.

Huffington Post:
Kendall Capers found no hope at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church after the death of his husband, Julion Evans, who died at age 42 from amyloidosis. Evans' family are members of the New Hope congregation in Tampa, Florida, and Capers arranged to have the service there.

However, the funeral was abruptly canceled the night before it was scheduled to happen. The family was informed with a phone call from New Hope that said that it would be "blasphemous" to hold the service at the church, reported KCCI.

The cancellation came after members of New Hope noticed Evans' obituary, which named Capers as the "surviving husband," according to WFLA.
Bill to stone gays to death introduced in Kenya

Yes, it's actually on the docket. Kenya has yet to learn from its African neighbor, Uganda, what the consequences are for showing such medieval inhumanity. The idea, of course, was imported from the U.S., but Rev. Scott Lively disavows any involvement.

Anti-abortion Bigotry Tunes In On Robin Williams' Death

From RH Reality Check:
"Kevin Burke [contributor, Pro-Life News]drew the card this week with a repugnant attempt to blame the suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams Monday on, you guessed it, abortion. ...In the article, Burke focuses on the fact that Williams had a girlfriend in the 1970s that had an abortion, which Williams brought up in a Playboy interview in 1992. From this information, Burke wildly speculates that pretty much every sad or bad thing that happened to Williams was because of this abortion....The fact that Williams was unabashedly pro-choice is also rationalized away in a nasty manner..."
Oh, the lengths to which people will go ...

Bigotry Gone Viral

The following video is certainly NSFW and probably the most virulent anti-Muslim rant to go viral. It spawned a plethora of shocking comments, but it may have spawned a social media star: her name, Debra Wilkerson has become synonymous with hatred and so has given birth to some supportive video responses. The one below may be a parody, of course, but there are still people out there who actually believe that the victim of Debra's hate could have been a terrorist because he was Muslim. (This did, of course, happen in the state of Alaska where one former governor espoused waterboarding as baptism). 

Since the video has gone viral in only the last 48 hours (1.2 million views), there is no word from Debra as to how she is dealing with the notoriety. While some say she was under the influence of something other than pure hate, any explanation for this kind of behavior would be considered lame. "The crazy racist lady" may be in hiding for some time. 

Hatred No Longer In Hiding

Thanks to technology and the openness of social media, hatred has been hard to hide: responses to bigotry like the Ferguson situation are vivid and immediate. Cover-ups are more difficult. Tempers are shown as raw and unrelenting. Even politicians have to be very, very careful of what they do and say: the ones that don't care (like Sarah Palin), pay the price in scorn and humiliation while trying for their "niche". 

The only thing we have to fear today is becoming numb to the bombardment of hatred that still fills the country. 

From Wikipedia:

On September 21, 2005, Peterson penned a column for WorldNetDaily, in which he suggested the majority of the African-American people stranded in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were "welfare-pampered", "lazy" and "immoral". ... Peterson has also thanked "God and white people" for slavery—adding that if it weren't for the slave trade, blacks might have never made it to the United States—and described traveling on slave ships as akin to "being on a crowded airplane".[8]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gay Adoption: The New Demon Of The Christian Right's Lawmakers

WASHINGTON — Two Republican lawmakers have introduced new legislation aimed at allowing adoption and foster-care agencies to deny services based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions, but critics charge the bill would simply enable agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
With same-sex marriage bans dropping like flies in front of the Christian Right, the next strategy has taken its cue from their erstwhile victory with Hobby Lobby: "the right to discriminate is still OURS!"
“The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014″ would “ensure that organizations with religious or moral convictions are allowed to continue to provide services for children” by prohibiting state and federal governments from terminating funding or contracts with local agencies over anti-discrimination laws."
To so many, the "Inclusion Act" is a downright act of exclusion, but the bill's sponsors, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, (R-Wyo.), and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), don't see it that way.

From Enzi's website:

“This bill is about fairness and inclusion. It is about ensuring that everyone who wants to help provide foster or adoptive care to children is able to have a seat at the table,” said Kelly. “Faith-based organizations have historically played a downright heroic role in caring for our nation’s most vulnerable and needy kids. In so many ways their work is unparalleled. There is no good reason why any of these care providers should be disqualified from working with their government to serve America’s families simply because of their deeply-rooted religious beliefs.”
But "everyone" surely doesn't include same-sex couples, does it? To give gays a "seat at the table" would definitely be against someone's "deeply-rooted religious beliefs."

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops endorses the Act, perhaps because several Catholic agencies have had their funds curtailed in the states of Massachusetts, California and Illinois, states where same-sex marriage is legal. A chief endorsement came from San Francisco's own Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, an architect of Prop 8 (surprise!).

Old Demon - New Strategy

Bryan Fischer, the Christian Right's chief demonizer, stated back in 2012:

“There is a myth that homosexual couples can be just a good of parents to children as heterosexual couples, as married moms and dads,” Fischer insisted. “Absolutely, flatly, totally, completely not true. Same sex parenting is bad for kids period.”

“The bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, to put kids into this environment, it’s a form of sexual abuse all its own. To adopt kids into a same sex environment is a form of child abuse.”
Recent studies, however, are not a "myth": they show that gay parents are no more harmful to a child's upbringing than heterosexual parents. And the American Psychological Association has determined that "parenting effectiveness is not related to parental sexual orientation."

Gays as unfit parents has been the demonizing point of the Christian Right for years, but with the loss of the marriage debate in so many states, the strategy had to change: it is a defensive strategy, to be sure, but one based on the "freedom of religion" meme that worked in the Hobby Lobby case.

Where Are The Children?

The proposed "Inclusion Act" protects faith-based adoption agencies, but what about those "vulnerable and needy kids"? Does "every child deserves a mother and a father" trump loving adoptive parents? The bill would also allow agencies to discriminate against single parents and unwed mothers. People like Bryan Fischer would certainly not allow children to be adopted by women who "rut like rabbits." The Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown attitude still exists among the Christian Right. The single-parent dilemma, in fact, is the focus of the season finale of the hit comedy "Two and a Half Men" (with a nod to gay marriage).

So, in a sense, morality trumps child welfare. That a child might fare well in a same-sex or a single-parent household does not matter. Lawmakers may say they have the welfare of children at heart, those poor "vulnerable kids," but when it comes to pressure from the Christian Right, those same children might just be pawns in the culture war game.

Of course, for centuries, children have been pawns in politico-religious games. 

Maybe it's time to stop.

Forget EBOLA: The Greatest Threat To Africa's Medical Missionaries Is Ann Coulter!

“If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia,” Coulter wrote in a column.

It's easy to take cheap shots at Ann Coulter these days: Ann Coulter is without a soul. Ann Coulter is heartless. Ann Coulter is evil. Ann Coulter is ... Ann Coulter. "Coultergeist." "Skeletor." OK, this writer has done it because, well, it's easy. Yes, making fun of Ann Coulter is the liberal's easy way of pointing the finger at the Right's misuse of tragedy or disaster. She's the b*tch counterpart to God's Ambulance Chasers. Of course, she doesn't heap Bibles on disaster victims, just disdain on them for being victims in the first place and anyone helping them - causing "dependency." If she is a compassionate mood at all, she might give a victim a used copy of one of her books (it having been paid for, thus no good for more royalties).

That Ann Coulter is one hell of a publicity hound there is no doubt: if you see her on any program outside of FOX News (she lives, apparently, under Sean Hannity's desk) you know that she has a new book to sell. Her outrageous comments are only fueled by the amount of publicity they get, from 9/11 widows who have "so much fun being victims" to tweets about having a "Fathers disowning their Son's Day" (after National Coming Out Day), to mocking Michele Obama's plea for the safe return of the Nigerian girls ("We want our country back."). So it's easy to look at Coulter's latest mockery in disgust as just another publicity grab.

Missionary Position

The grab, however, may have been a bit overreaching this time because her mockery was aimed at the heart of her own self-professed religion: Christianity. And not just any Christianity, but Evangelical Christianity and its missionaries: Dr. Kent Brantly was part of Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse. If Coulter had mocked Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, she could not have picked a more overtly Christian missionary team to add to her list of enemies. She also compounded her anti-Semitism by insinuating that Hollywood was controlled by Jews who needed to be saved (or rather, "perfected").

Missionaries have always been prey for satirists, depicted as extremely upright and holier-than-thou. The position of Missionaries during times of stress, however stodgy, has always been looked upon as noble and human in the face of adversity (think Katherine Hepburn's Rose Sayer in African Queen). Attacking medical missionaries in any way, is particularly galling, since saving lives (as well as souls) and alleviating suffering was what Jesus Christ did.

Ann Coulter's own missionary position, however, is that opposition to missionaries means publicity. She considers herself, after all, a provocateur. But now even Evangelicals consider calling her something else. Her manner of converting or "perfecting" people seems to involve looking at a loaded revolver rather than hearing the Word of God. No one has told her that forced conversions went out with Queen Isabella and her minion, Torquemada.

But perhaps to Ann Coulter, Publicity is the real God, with book sales being the reward of Publicity's Prosperity Gospel. Poor Ann. Poor greedy, deluded Ann.

Is Ann Coulter Worth The Effort?

Writing about the latest Coulter outrage may seem to be futile since even her supporters know the obvious: Coulter is for Coulter is for Coulter is for Coulter. But oddly enough, she does have followers/readers who live vicariously through her outrage and mockery: most of them do not dare to enact her opinions for fear of seeming too un-Christian or inhuman. Still others, like Pastor James Manning, take comfort that her grabs at publicity overshadow his, or make him sound like more of a cartoon than a Conservative provocateur:

Manning goes on to call on God to give ebola to all homosexuals and their supporters. "All the world needs to know that sodomy and homosexuality is more deadly than the ebola virus that is spreading all over the world. Everybody who stands up and embraces sodomy, BE THOU CURSED WITH EBOLA! Cursed be ye for embracing this!"

Yes, the furthest of the religious "wingnuts" are in fact overshadowed by Coulter (who, by the way, never derides them): sheltered by her outrageous comments in the form of immediate dismissal by the mainstream media.

Yes, a "provocateur" is always worth the effort to focus upon when one knows the people she is provoking.