Tuesday, November 25, 2008
by Wayne Besen
On Sunday, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof discussed religious and cultural extremism in Pakistan, where a new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zardari, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women wanted to protect them.) The Times had another article on Monday about an all-girl rock band in Saudi Arabia that is forbidden from playing live concerts because of their gender.
At home, former Arkansas governor and pastor, Mike Huckabee
, appeared on ABC's "The View" and said that gay and lesbian equality was not the same as civil rights because homosexuals have not had their skulls cracked and were not hosed down by police. Apparently, he is unaware of the latest FBI hate crime statistics that show bias attacks based on sexual orientation making up 15.5 percent of all reported hate crimes.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is being criticized this week for questioning the usefulness of Interfaith dialogue in a letter he wrote to Italian politician Marcello Pera. What the Pope fails to point out is that thanks to intransigent absolutists, like the pontiff, finding common ground is nearly impossible.
How can we expect interfaith dialogue when we can't even have Interstate dialogue between two Mormon universities 45 miles apart because they have literally turned religion into a political football? When the secular University of Utah played its religious school rival, Brigham Young University (BYU), last weekend, the teams treated the End Zone as if it were the Promised Land.
"It's like a lot of other rivalries, except for those at the extremes," Michael Anastasi, managing editor of the Salt Lake Tribune told the New York Times
."For them, it's not only that your school is weak, you're going to Hell too."
Two years ago, the rivalry was further soured after BYU quarterback John Beck threw a touchdown pass to receiver Jonny Harline, who sank to his knees -- as if in prayer -- to make the winning catch. Describing the "miraculous" play, another B.Y.U. receiver, Austin Collie, concluded it occurred because students at the religious school lived cleaner lives.
"Obviously, if you do what's right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it," said Collie. (For the record, the holier-than-thou BYU was crushed 48-24 in this weekend's game. I'm guessing the Lord was upset at Mormon involvement in California's Prop. 8 banning same-sex marriages)
If religious groups become fratricidal based on football allegiance, it seems there is little hope for genuine reconciliation with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We must still work to enlighten the flock where we can, but fundamentalist leaders will only transform their anti-gay views when popular opinion decidedly turns against them -- as it did with race relations in the 1960's and 1970's.
The strategy for the GLBT movement has been to circumvent the ideologues and create change within mainline denominations. I wholeheartedly support such efforts and have contributed to them. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence to suggest that these religious institutions will thrive and form a substantial bulwark against fundamentalism.
In "America Theocracy," author Kevin Phillips documents the steep decline of reasonable religion in favor of the rabble-rousing variety.
"Between 1940 and 1985 mainline Protestantism's share of all U.S. religious adherents was steadily plummeting...Between 1960 and 1997 -- the Presbyterian Church, The Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ and the Methodists lost between 500,000 and 2 million members each. In the meantime, the Southern Baptist Convention added 6 million, the Mormons 3.3 million, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God 2 million and the Church of God (Tennessee) some 600,000."
The implications are that the GLBT movement may be placing its eggs in a basket that is rapidly fraying. It seems that people are either gravitating towards religious extremism or secular humanism, with little appetite for mainline faith. The Internet also offers easy access to eclectic spiritual beliefs that one can follow without organized religion. So, the hope that mainstream religion, as we know it, will supplant anti-gay denominations seems far-fetched.
The trends of urbanization and the discrediting of corporate Republican-style religion will lead, in my view, to more people losing their faith. However, fundamentalist sects will continue to consolidate market share for those who feel estranged or displaced by modernity. In other words, America will look much like Europe in the coming decades -- with a secular majority and a small, but still vocal, fundamentalist minority. (Mostly Islamic in Europe)
I can hear objections from those who rightfully point out that America is more religious than Europe. But, Kevin Phillips reminds us that Europe was once was hyper-religious too -- but circumstances change over time.
"As the 21st Century began," writes Phillips. "None of the western countries in which Reformation Protestantism bred its radical or anarchic sects nearly five hundred years earlier -- England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands -- still had congregations of any great magnitude adhering to that theology."
Monday, November 17, 2008
by Wayne Besen
Few people at the three Proposition 8 protest rallies I attended -- two in New York and one in Chicago
-- were familiar. The ones I recognized were the hardcore advocates and tireless workhorses who have long carried the GLBT movement. However, these semi-spontaneous rallies had a different flavor. There was an injection of raw energy and an infusion of new inspiration that has eluded our movement for more than a decade. I peered into the great expanse and saw a wide-eyed sea of fresh new faces -- neophytes who needed help to complete the old chant, Hey, hey, Ho Ho...(Homophobia's got to go).
There has been a paradigm shift in the movement following marriage defeats in California, Florida and Arizona -- as well as an anti-gay adoption measure passing in Arkansas. From seemingly out of nowhere, people who have sat on the sidelines are now making headlines at rallies across America.
The leaders of what is being billed as Stonewall 2.0 are not coming from large, established organizations, but Internet savvy activists who can use a mouse to mobilize the masses. While Internet activism is nothing new, the fact that this huge outpouring of organic outrage is not being channeled through official organizational channels has enormous implications.
Up until two weeks ago, major GLBT groups instructed people to write a check and then essentially instructed donors to check their activism at the door. Sometimes, one was asked to take their commitment a step further by sending e-mail or attending a dinner. I think this week's protests mark the end of the Passive Era of gay politics. A sign at protests, "No More Mr. Nice Gay", highlighted this monumental change.
Now, don't get me wrong, the Passive Era served its purpose. By the mid 1990's exhaustion had beset the movement. Many leading activists had either died from AIDS or were worn out from fighting the culture wars. People felt deflated by the early Clinton years and dispirited after Newt Gingrich wrested control of Congress. Most of the tangible results during this period occurred in the courts, which produced historic victories, but relegated most GLBT people to cheering bystanders.
At this moment of malaise, technology afforded people the ability to engage in activism without leaving the house. While these notable advances have greatly aided the GLBT movement, they also allowed many people to be anesthetized by the Internet. It soon became a movement of elite movers and shakers, with little room for direct action.
The upside to the Passive Era was that aspiring gay insiders actually did sometimes get inside the halls of power and have a voice in the political process. Our organizations became more professional, better organized and institutionalized, which meant that they were not always on the brink of bankruptcy and had the ability to plan for the future.
But, make no mistake - we are not the same movement we were prior to Nov. 4. Having our marriage rights stripped away by a slim majority in California was a transformational experience for many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. I have lost count of those who have approached me to say that they never thought they were the political type -- until now. These people will bring new ideas, untapped energy and significantly strengthen our work.
It is still unclear how this influx of fiery emotion will specifically change the movement. But, I will make the bold prediction that those organizations that do not adjust to this new reality will wither and die. Newer, sleeker models will replace those that remain stodgy and continue to fight by fax, without incorporating the heat on the street. The new activism is a hybrid of direct action and digital activism. It is evolving, mutating and morphing by the day. And, whichever groups figure out how to be a conduit for this anger -- and effectively turn it into a force -- will lead the movement in the coming years.
This is a rare moment where the pain of Proposition 8 meets the possibility represented by Barack Obama. A great many people can now see that passion can lead to real progress -- and they demand a role in creating change.
Lastly, the rules of the Mormon, Catholic and Evangelical churches are now enshrined into civil law. We are all unofficial members of these religious institutions and captive to their narrow, sectarian rules. They have effectively hijacked the state and now govern our personal relationships and private lives -- whether we like it or not. I think people are finally awakened to this existential threat and willing to fight back.
On Nov. 8, I stood in freezing weather with hundreds of Chicagoans. Last week in Washington, 900 protesters braved a tornado watch to rally in front of the Capitol. Far from a victory, anti-gay forces unleashed a ferocious storm with powerful winds of change that will only end with the sound of wedding bells.