Tuesday, November 29, 2005
by Wayne Besen
A new Vatican document on homosexuality says the Church can admit those who have clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years. It also stated practicing homosexuals with "deep-seated" gay tendencies and those who support a gay culture should be barred. In essence, the Vatican has adopted an "ex-gay" viewpoint, stealing a page from evangelical Christianity.
The Vatican's campaign to "purify" the church is completely out of touch with reality. There is no such thing as "overcoming homosexual tendencies." However, people can hide in the closet, which is exactly what the Vatican is ordering priests to do.
All sexuality - homo or hetero - is "deep-seated", so the Vatican's document is essentially meaningless. It is, in essence, a "gag order" meant to crush dissent within the church. What the church unrealistically seeks is one official, ironclad position that buries disagreement under the carpet, while making its sexual abuse scandals vanish. But molestation is clearly not a gay issue. It is, however, a problem that has cost the Roman Catholic Church nearly $1 billion for settlements and jury verdicts.
The sad thing is, the Vatican's hard-line stance will only increase sexual abuse. The more stringent the regulations, the more it will attract the deeply disturbed and disturbingly repressed who want to use the priesthood as an uber-12-Step program for salvation. The Vatican's backwards policies have made it a magnet for closeted homosexuals and sick pedophiles who use positions of authority to abuse and manipulate vulnerable people under intimate pastoral care.
If the Vatican wants its hideous sex abuse scandals to end, it will put policies in place that will attract healthy people. This means allowing openly gay priests, women and married men into the priesthood. Officially limiting the priesthood to the straight and celibate is a farce that invites future disaster and disgrace.
"At a time when the Church should be taking responsibility for the harm created by a devastating sex abuse scandal, they are instead using gay people as scapegoats," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "This decree is a diversion that neither keeps children safe nor holds criminals responsible."
I feel truly sorry for the dedicated gay priests who have given their lives to help people, only to be insulted and humiliated by the new Pope, who has always had a queer obsession with homosexuality. However, my deep reservoir of sympathy is about to run out. From 1965 to 2000, the number of priests in the U.S. dropped 30 percent, the number of nuns, 54 percent. If a critical mass of gay priests came out of the closet and left the priesthood, the Vatican would collapse within weeks.
The Vatican sees homosexuality as "objectively disordered". So, to remain in the Catholic Church as a gay priest is to be the abused wife that runs back to her husband. If a gay priest sees the church as merely a jobs program, than I can understand staying. But, priests with a conscience who care about God, the church, the gay community and the truth, will realize that it is time to leave this increasingly intolerant institution in protest.
To stay is to perpetuate the problem and be a willing actor in active persecution. It is a betrayal of self and pastoral values. The writing in this document is also the writing on the wall for gay Catholics. The Church has left you. Isn't it time to leave the Church?
Sadly, the Catholic Church's mimicry of evangelical radicalism extends beyond gay issues. During the 2004 elections, some Catholic bishops threatened to not give communion to pro-choice politicians, including presidential candidate John Kerry. Never mind that these righteous priests made no such demands of politicians who broke with the church by supporting the war in Iraq.
On Sunday, Missouri Roman Catholics who attended Mass heard sermons against embryonic stem cell research and a statewide petition drive that would allow Missourians to vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the research.
In a recent column, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke referred to the study of embryonic stem cells as "intrinsic evil" and said that signing the petition "is to promote the culture of death."
Once again, the Catholic Church is standing in the way of science and social progress. I'm sure these moralizing hypocrites will be the first ones in line to take advantage of any medical breakthroughs that come as a result of stem cell research.
A new non-profit organization needs to be formed where disgruntled Catholics (as well as people of other religions) can redirect their donations and tithes to more enlightened charities. Each time this new charity would receive a gift it would send a letter to the jilted religion letting it know it had lost money because of its backward social policies.
As religions veer sharply to the right, it is simply wrong to continue supporting and underwriting their destructive campaigns against a free, fair and just society.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
by Wayne Besen
For the most part, I have little faith in the majority organized religion. It tends to have undesirable side effects such as crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings and the election of George W. Bush. To me, the idea of blind faith is baffling. It seems like some people are compelled to create an imaginary, invisible friend to help them cope with pain and tragedy.
With such strong, secular views on religion, you might be surprised to know that I believe the gay and lesbian community desperately needs to find God. Unless we win the battle of heaven, the right wing will continue to make our lives hell. To win the hearts and minds of most Americans, powerful alliances with religious organizations must be forged and GLBT people of faith must be respected.
Fortunately, I am not alone in this assessment. In Matt Foreman's keynote address at this month's Creating Change conference in Oakland, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's executive director wisely underscored the need to welcome religious viewpoints.
"The secular part of the movement has distanced itself from people of faith, and that's got to end," Foreman emphatically stated. The annual conference also featured a seminar by the Empire State Pride Agenda called "Pride In The Pulpit."
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest GLBT organization, has also jumped on the faith bandwagon. In June, they hired respected gay advocate Harry Knox, a 1989 graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary, to run their newly created religious and faith program.
"We must bring faith discussions back to their roots of seeking understanding," said Knox. "A vocal minority is falsely promoting the notion that religious people stand in opposition to equal rights. Our job is to promote the truth that a majority of people of faith believes strongly in fairness and justice."
Knox may be a bit optimistic, but he is correct to suggest that the religious right is not God's mouthpiece. Unfortunately, the media has all-too-often presented religion as monolithic and uniformly opposed to gay rights.
Bloated and bloviating buffoons, such as Rev. Jerry Falwell, are chosen to represent the "religious viewpoint" while mainstream religious leaders are frozen out of the debate.
This creates a huge problem because the public has been conditioned to watching cable television shouting matches dangerously billed as Gays vs. God. For even the most talented and trenchant debaters, defeating God is a tall order.
Changing this dynamic will be difficult because news directors love conflict, and who better to churn the waters - and turn up the ratings - than fire and brimstone preachers? Let's face it, people love (or love to hate) Rev. Pat Robertson's messianic meteorology routine. The more he behaves like an airhead, the more airtime the networks give him.
One of the major challenges is finding dynamic, TV-friendly religious leaders who will openly champion gay rights. One such leader is Rev. Al Sharpton, who endorsed the freedom to marry during his presidential campaign and who continues to be a strong advocate. His voice is key, especially in African American churches, where a lot of work needs to be done to break through a wall of entrenched homophobia.
Another strong voice is that of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing about 900 synagogues in North America. In a memorable speech last week in Houston, the Associated Press reported that he blasted the religious right and offered his support for gay rights.
"Religious right," leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person," Rabbi Yoffie thundered. "What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God? We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hell fires of anti-gay bigotry."
It is imperative that spiritual leaders, such as Sharpton and Yoffie, take-on the right wing because it gives cover to people of faith who believe in gay rights, but need to be able to theologically justify their support.
Look, religion will always be with us, whether we like it or not, because it fulfills a deep need and spiritual longing in millions of people. I will personally never understand why man thinks he can truly know, explain or comprehend the enigma of what we call God.
But, maybe I don't have to, anymore than people of faith have to fathom why I feel no need to pray. What matters is that there is mutual respect and a strong desire live in a free society where the government does not mandate a particular religion or discriminate.
If a person with my secular beliefs can enthusiastically embrace our religious friends and allies, I think anybody can. Having visited dozens of churches in the past couple of years, there is a lot of good happening that must be acknowledged. If the GLBT movement has a prayer at winning full acceptance, it better find religion fast.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
by Wayne Besen
American democracy has become professional wrestling.
Both are fake, belligerent sideshows with vicious combat, verbal sparring and sycophantic cheerleaders. And like pro wrestling, democracy goes through the motions of being a true competitive sport, while in reality the winner is all too often a foregone conclusion.
On Sunday, an op-ed by Robin Toner in The New York Times discussed how Congressional redistricting has turned modern politics into a predictable cakewalk. According to the article, in the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent reelection rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent. In 1992, 103 Congressional districts voted for one party's candidate for president and another party's candidate for the House. In 2004, there were only 59 such districts.
President George W. Bush is in Asia this week lecturing on the virtues of democracy. More than 2,000 Americans have lost their lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi's have perished in the name of establishing free elections in the Middle East.
Yet, right here at home, politicians have rigged the system to discourage real competition in electoral politics. Even in years of great political upheaval, such as 1982 or 1994, only about ten percent of incumbents are defeated.
The reason for this, of course, is that the party in power at the state level gets to redraw district lines creating "safe seats". Using sophisticated computer models, nearly impregnable districts are designed making entire regions the fiefdom of one party or another.
This is really no more than the tribalization of democracy, with each side avariciously grabbing power at the expense of the American political system. This is devastating to America and producing a politics of polarization where mainstream voters are squeezed out of the system.
What, after all, is the incentive to seek compromise if you are a member of Congress in a district that tilts dramatically to the left or right? The current system undermines true democracy in several ways:Voter Turnout:
If a television network broadcast a football game, but everyone knew the final score beforehand, the ratings would plummet. The same goes for politics, in that there is little reason to vote in a district that has been set up where one party always gets trounced. If we want to increase voter turnout, people must believe their vote counts.Corruption:
Gerrymandering creates a situation where politicians can run amok with few consequences. In Texas, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay has been indicted. Still, he is expected to win reelection because his district tilts heavily Republican. If districts were instead created with competition as the main objective, politicians would have to be more accountable for their actions. Feast or Famine: The tribalization of districts has created feast or famine politics. If your tribe wins, you reap the spoils. However, if your tribe loses, you have a congressman in office with little incentive to listen to anyone outside his tribe. This creates a scenario where millions of Americans are frozen out of the process and feel disenfranchised.System Failure:
Districts are now set up to give special interest groups undo power. The result is disincentives to compromise, find common ground or discover real solutions to America's problems. This produces gridlock and turns people off from greater involvement in civic life. Gay Rights:
One can see the harmful affects of feast or famine tribalism by looking at the Human Right's Campaign's Congressional scorecard. Most of the politicians have either stratospherically high ratings or abysmal ones. However, politicians with 100% ratings or zero percent do not reflect where most Americans stand on gay rights, which I would guess hovers around an HRC score of 65-80 percent.
The implications of this are huge. It means that when conservative Republicans control Congress, anti-gay legislation opposed by most Americans has a good chance of passing. If Congressional districts reflected mainstream American values, the United States would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation more than a decade ago.
The way out of this quagmire is for both parties to agree that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. The same advanced computer systems that gerrymandered districts to create partisan "safe seats" can be commandeered to create "competitive seats".
Imagine an America where the vast majority of races were highly competitive and the winner wasn't actually known until Election night. Visualize a nation where margins of victory were so close, that politicians had to pander to mainstream voters rather than fringe groups. Picture a political system where politicians were rewarded for fixing problems, rather than obstructing solutions.
This vision can become a reality as soon as we stop treating redistricting like a jobs program for the party in power - whether Democrat or Republican. It is time we wrestle control away from those who would undermine democracy and once again turn politics into a competitive sport.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Remember the good old days when liberals were the victims? Today, one has to wear a raincoat not to get splashed by the cascade of crocodile tears cried by whiney conservatives plaintively screaming how they have been wronged. Has there ever been a wimpier group in the history of politics?
This week, a dozen AIDS activists reportedly wearing body condoms were arrested after storming the Family Research Council's Washington headquarters to protest
the group's deadly anti-condom policies
. The small group of rabble-rousers chained themselves to furniture in the lobby.
Understandably, FRC staffers were upset
, but the hysterical response by Tony Perkins, the group's president, was over the top.
"Hateful! Ignorant! That's how these radicals characterized my statements [about condoms]," Perkins carped. "This is not debate. This is not democracy. What we see is the attempt by a radical few to intimidate, to shout down, to forcibly prevent the expression of any ideas they disagree with."
Waaa. Waaa. Waaa. Would someone get Perkins his little pink blanket?
A few activists engaged in non-violent protest and Perkins acts like it's the end of democracy. I checked Google and FRC has nearly a million hits. His group is on speed dial to the White House. Perkins doesn't seem to be having any difficulty expressing himself or getting his, yes, hateful and ignorant message out.
This summer, I was keynote speaker at South Carolina Pride. As I rode atop a float, I was forced to listen to fundamentalists hurling insults and Bible verses at me. These demonstrators were every bit as intrusive and obnoxious as the protesters that confronted Perkins.
But, of course, I didn't send out a sniveling press release griping about the end of democracy and radicals subverting my message. I simply waved to the yahoos and thanked them for coming to Pride. But then again, I'm not a whiney conservative.
The new conservative wimp factor extends to congressional leaders. Earlier this month, Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into a closed session to force the GOP to stop stonewalling on a key intelligence report. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., broke a nail and moaned that he had never before been "slapped in the face with such an affront."
Waaa. Waaa. Waaa. Would someone get Frist his pacifier?
Sen. Trent Lott, also had an axe to grind and a cross to burn, uh, I mean bear. The former Ole Miss cheerleader's melodramatic response nearly topped Frist's hissy-fit histrionics.
"I'm astounded by this," sniffed Lott. "I don't really know what the tenor of this is, or what is the justification for it, and why this extreme, you know, approach was used."
At least Lott isn't the only conservative getting bitch slapped. Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork described President George W. Bush's selection of Harriet Miers for the high court as a "kind of a slap in the face to the conservatives." We used to be able to tell who the conservatives were by the bad suits. Now, we can identify them because they have red welts on their faces.
After the right wing forced Bush to dump Harriet Miers because she hadn't bombed an abortion clinic or protested a gay man's funeral, (or whatever it was they wanted her to do to prove she was a true conservative) they threatened to pick up their marbles and skip home if Bush didn't choose a nominee who passed their litmus test.
"If we don't get a good nominee - if it's somebody else who is a stealth candidate, and we don't know what their judicial philosophy is - well then that will be the end of the Bush coalition," hissed the Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich."
Waaa. Waaa. Waaa. If Bush had picked a moderate would Weyrich have threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue?
The wimp factor is not just in word, but also in the dirty deeds of Republicans. The whole nation suspects that Scooter Libby is taking the fall for Dick Cheney. The VP was likely behind the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, but would rather see his deputy in the hoosegow than come clean. That's the definition of a girlie-man.
In the Plame affair, conservative columnist Robert Novak wasn't exactly macho when he was the first to rat on his source, selling out a fellow Republican faster than special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could say San Quentin. He still won't discuss his role in the affair or his perfidious snitching.
The transformation of the right wing from Tarzan to timid is the fault of Bush and his namby pamby "compassionate conservatism." This creed allowed conservatives to show their feelings, and once the floodgates opened, the river of tears never stopped flowing.
I make a simple plea to conservatives: Please leave the bleeding heart routine to us liberals. We are not only better at it, but we are actually compassionate. Stealing our act is nothing short of a slap in the face.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
by Wayne Besen
By nominating a man known as "Scalia-lite"for the Supreme Court, President George W. Bush may have picked a fight he is going to lose, unless the Democrats prove to be losers. The choice of Samuel A. Alito, a right wing stalwart, to replace the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor is at once, audaciously brazen, spit-in-the eye insulting, nakedly partisan and just plain dumb.
Bad News Bush has watched his poll numbers sink faster than New Orleans. Yet, he makes a choice of swagger, even as he staggers. With his legacy on the rocks, he chooses a right wing rock star that is going to exacerbate his problems and derail his agenda. One look at the political landscape, and it is fair to ask, what is Bush thinking?
Lewis Libby was indicted. Karl Rove is under investigation. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's R-Tenn. stock has fallen after and unseemly stock trade. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was fingerprinted.
Meanwhile, Iraq is a bloody quagmire. Middle East peace is unraveling into an endless cycle of violence, with a series of Palestinian terrorist bombings, followed by Israeli retaliation. Iran's citizens are burning American flags and their new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map," at the very same time he is actively pursing nuclear weapons.
If that isn't enough, the artic is melting, which may be a good thing, I guess, because America's heating bills are expected to be unaffordable, leaving may working class Americans in the cold this winter. Fortunately, the homes we will be heating are smaller because housing in most major cities in unaffordable. It is no longer enough to win the lottery to buy a family home in New York, DC, Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego -- you now have to win the power ball.
This avalanche of bad news is the backdrop for Alito's confirmation battle. What is going to happen, I believe, is that the Democrats will be in a strong position to filibuster the nomination. The right will pressure a weakened Bill Frist to "go nuclear" with the GOP taking away the Democrats right to filibuster judicial nominees.
If the GOP goes down this nihilistic road, it will threaten their majority in the 2006 elections. They will, of course, try to portray the Democrats as obstructionist. But how can they make a credible case after the Democrats supported the Supreme Court nomination of conservative John Roberts, and a right wing cabal killed the nomination of Harriet Miers? The Democrats have the high ground in this fight, and if they lose the battle of public opinion, the party is in deep trouble.
The Democrats, especially Howard Dean and now Sen. Harry Reid, have done a good job of making the case that the Republicans are taking America in the wrong direction. It is now crucial that they show why they are the party to lead us in the right direction.
There is the temptation to wait until we are closer to the 2006 midterm Elections before introducing a powerful, coherent strategy, but that would be a huge mistake. The time to do this is now, while the GOP is treading water. There is a leadership vacuum in America. Will the Democrats fill it?
Creating a popular agenda for the Democrats is never easy and has inherent challenges. The GOP can always throw their right wing followers red meat. If the Democrats try to throw red meat to the base, about a quarter will claim to be vegetarians. It really is herding cats.
Democratic leaders, on the eve of a potentially monumental war over the Supreme Court, should lock themselves in a room and emerge only when they have created a positive, easily understood message. They should steal a page from New Gingrich's "Contract With America", and call their document, a "Partnership with America." It should avoid divisive social issues, focus on ending GOP corruption, real homeland security and sensible solutions for middle class families.Partnership with America
** Real Homeland Security: All ports, chemical plants and other key targets will be protected
** Restore fiscal sanity to the budget
** Energy independence within 10 years: The goal is to lower gas prices and get us out of the Middle East.
** Competence Over Cronyism for Appointments
** Sunshine over Secrecy in decision making
** Halliburton Rule: Bidding on all government contracts
** Real Healthcare Reform
** Repeal tax cuts for the wealthy to strengthen Social Security
** Raise the minimum wage
**Terri Schiavo Rule: Less intrusive government
Bush and the GOP are in the middle of a perfect storm. It is up to the Democrats to show that beyond the dark clouds, there is a party of light that will lead this nation.