(Weekly Column) -- Throngs of Fundamentalists approach Pride in Charlotte -- (Top) -- God Sign (photo: Tidmus)
On Sunday, The New York Times featured a chilling article on how fundamentalist Christians stalked, harassed and ultimately murdered Wichita abortion provider George Tiller, who they taunted with the nickname, "Tiller the Baby Killer."
A lone gunman, who used the e-mail name "ServantofMessiah", shot Tiller while he ushered at Reformation Lutheran Church, where he and his wife were active members. Prior to Tiller's assassination, the "loving" faithful had put bullets in his arms and bombed his clinic.
Unfortunately, with Tiller's controversial clinic finally out of business, the lesson for the loony may be that lethal force is more effective than lobbying. In the Times article, Mark Geitzen, chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life, expressed this sentiment when he said during a phone conversation, "God has has is own way...but you can't say our prayers weren't answered."
Tiller's death vividly illustrates the danger posed by the violent language and imagery used by fanatics, who believe they are personally entrusted to enforce God's will. What concerns me is that the aggressive tactics used against abortion providers are slowly seeping into the anti-gay movement.
As the wider culture becomes more accepting, homophobes are growing increasingly frustrated, which has led to bolder and more confrontational actions. Are anti-gay leaders egging on unstable followers to attack gay people or provoking gays to defend themselves so they can manufacture martyrdom and justify retaliation?
At the Dore Alley Fair in San Francisco last weekend, a number of muscular Christians wearing Jesus shirts reportedly tried to march through the event thumping Bibles and waving signs.
In Charlotte, Dr. Michael Brown, (left) the founder of the Coalition of Conscience, organized several hundred followers in red shirts to descend like uninvited locusts on Charlotte Pride last week under the banner, "God Has a Better Way."
Aside from the pompous name of their demonstration, the protesters confronted gay people and browbeat them with cherry picked Bible verses. Brown's ostensible reason for marshaling the troops was to introduce Pride attendees to his angry version of God.
But, of course, the notion that gay people in conservative North Carolina needed Brown to educate them about religious fundamentalism was farcical. Indeed, many of the people at Pride had only found personal acceptance after long journeys to reconcile their spirituality and sexuality.
No, Brown was really there to besiege Charlotte's gay residents with his hostile hordes. His group's in-your-face presence was designed to disrupt peaceful assembly and make Pride attendees feel guilty and uncomfortable so that they might skip future gay events.
Fortunately, the pious proselytizers were on their best behavior after the militant writings and actions of Brown came under intense scrutiny by local Q-Notes editor Matt Comer. In his research, Comer found that Brown started his FIRE School of Ministry to "raise up a holy army of uncompromising spirit-filled radicals who will shake an entire generation with the gospel of Jesus by life or death."
In a vacuum, such religious language may be viewed as a relatively benign rhetorical flourish. However, when followers are portrayed as holy warriors in a life and death struggle against a minority group that is falsely accused of working to undermine freedom of religion, the seeds of potential disaster are intentionally being sown.
In advertising his rally, Brown proclaimed that the "hour is urgent" and that Christians must "turn back the tide of homosexual activism." In a written statement following his intolerance invasion of Pride, Brown wrote, "Enough is enough to the destructive goals of gay activism...we say it stops in Charlotte."
Most alarming are these charlatans' deliberate perpetuation of paranoia by trumpeting alleged religious persecution that exists only in their warped minds. For example, in his statement Brown accused gay people of "trying to put Christians in the closet." And, he capped it off by saying that gay people are "tampering with the foundations of human society."
Brown tries to cover his tracks by sprinkling his apocalyptic rhetoric with calls for non-violence. Good orators, however, understand the principle of "layering" messages. If in one sentence you speak of violence and in the next of non-violence, the listener will almost always embrace the words that support his or her belief system.
Dr. Brown isn't naive and surely understands that the GLBT masses will not retreat into the closet unless events conspire to make coming out a blood sport. Short of extreme bullying and brutality he'll never accomplish his lost cause of "stopping" progress on gay rights in Charlotte.
Brown, of course, doesn't actually have to make an overt pitch for mayhem. Simply by inciting his flock he is setting the stage for future tragedy. It is time for Brown and his comrades to abort their increasingly hostile and combative tactics before it leads to more wanton death in the name of abundant life.
Southern California already had its hands full with an invasion of giant squid when another squishy invertebrate washed ashore. At the Episcopal Church's conference in Anaheim, California, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrapped his amoral tentacles around a proposal to allow more gay bishops.
Williams (pictured) kicked off the convention with a deplorable speech urging the American church to, once again, abandon their gay friends and family members. His sole mission was to hold together the worldwide Anglican Communion and appease conservatives, even at the expense of the denomination's decency and dignity.
"I hope and pray there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart," sniveled the feckless Williams.
Williams should understand that a church that uses bigotry as the glue that binds is not worth saving. Furthermore, his obsession with church growth has led to the embrace of sordid tyrants like Nigerian Archbishop, Peter J. Akinola, who is associated with shady activities, if not outright atrocities in Africa.
Fortunately, the American bishops made history and voted 104-30, with 2 abstentions, in favor of the pro-gay measure. The homophobes, of course, offered a heaping helping of hysterics and histrionics. It seems they just can't find spiritual fulfillment without stepping on the dreams and aspirations of other people.
"It is breaking my heart to see the church destroy itself," whined Bishop William Love of Albany, clearly betraying his family name.
Don't you just adore how these divisive souls carelessly wield the wrecking ball yet always accuse other people of division and destruction? Without gay people to kick around, these troglodytes might have nothing better to do than focus on God. What fun would that be?
Now that the Episcopal Church has made a bold decision, one wonders if it can survive. The denomination of two million members decreased six percent between 2003-2007 and the recession has affected its finances.
It seems they are banking on the radical idea that a church can expand by promoting "inclusivity." I hope that they are proven correct, but I have my doubts. It is no secret that the fastest growing churches have branded themselves as bastions of intellectual stagnation and social intolerance. The slogan for such places might read: "America may have changed, but you don't have to."
This version of Christianity thrives because fearful people want security and justice in an insecure and unjust world. Many of these believers view God as an angry vigilante who smites people they personally detest. On good days, the deity is a rabbit's foot who doles out luck and small miracles, such as sunny weather at the beach or a raise at work.
Central to this belief system are velvet rope values, where one's superiority complex is vindicated by an exclusive church membership or inclusion in the Rapture. In this religious scheme, Jesus is the hero who forgives one for holding such mean-spirited and self-centered beliefs.
This cosmic avenger/lucky charm model of Christianity has been wildly successful in creating marketable mega-churches. Yet, it has been even more accomplished in driving people away in droves from all religion, because they view it as intolerant and retrograde.
The Episcopal Church and other progressive denominations have to answer a serious question: Is there a significant market for an enlightened, modern Christianity that focuses on loving, rather than loathing one's neighbors?
Put another way, will the masses still find religion necessary once religion is decoupled from being exclusionary? I think that Europe, once the heartland of Christianity, proves that America may not forever remain a nation of the faithful.
The burden on progressive churches is not to prove that there are millions of Christians who are tolerant and merciful. We already know this to be true. What they must show is that the "inclusiveness" brand can attract a significant number of new followers and transform the entire religion.
The battle in the Episcopal Church is largely over, with moral evolution triumphing over mindless evil. With this newfound clarity, the Episcopal Church has an opportunity to fundamentally shift America away from dreary fundamentalism. It can cast aside the tyrannical and puritanical by offering a new Christianity for the 21st Century.
My advice to the Episcopal Church is to move forward with confidence and the evangelical fervor to match that of its conservative counterparts. If the progressive wing backs off and gets squishy, like Rowan Williams, it is sure to get squished. The future of religion in America now rests in their hands. Let's pray they are up to the challenge.
I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to the phrase "Family Values." It was the early 1990’s and I was driving in my car. I looked out of the window and saw the strange verbiage promoting a new subdivision on a towering billboard above the highway.
The sign didn't perturb me, but I was puzzled by the slogan. Having grown up in a series of subdivisions, it went without saying that the existing cul-de-sacs were always brimming with families.
So, what made this development so different? Did they forbid singles from living behind the gates? What if a divorce occurred, did the broken family have to move? Did offspring have to eventually leave if they had not married by a certain age? Were gay people forbidden from living there?
What I found most bewildering was the idea of promoting family, as if it were a prefab product that could be marketed, packaged and came with 2 ½ bathrooms. That seemed as forced and unnatural as the wax fruit placed on the coffee tables of model homes in such developments.
At that time, my parents had been together for more than 20 years (They celebrate their 40 year anniversary in August). Their lifetime together was just an organic experience that didn't need to be trumpeted. They never had to say, "look at us, aren't we just the healthiest, happiest family you've ever seen? Check out our wonderful morals and values. Aren't we special? And, by the way, vote for a specific political party to keep us together."
Aside from politicians kissing babies and posing with their brood, I always imagined the value of family to be a private affair. It was an intimate bond between two people and their children. The ostentatious commercial worship of this unit seemed jarring and exploitative. Indeed, it seemed anathema to actual healthy families. If one's family were so wonderful, after all, why would it need a special subdivision?
Shortly after I saw this billboard, President George Bush and his vacuous Vice President, Dan Quayle, brought the "family values" mantra into the political arena. Religious scolds, who worked to transform marriage from a private institution to a very public one, championed this moral marketing campaign. The GOP soon recast itself as the great defender of family and assiduously catered to this crowd, who eventually took over the party.
In reality, of course, strong families don't need to be defended. If a husband and wife are busy cuddling, they don't need candidate crusaders. If parents are taking their children to soccer practice, they don't need James Dobson socking imagined enemies.
Come to think of it, the perceived family foes were always of straw. The main villains were dreaded liberals -- such as my parents and the Obamas. You know, the ones who actually kept their families together without a media campaign promoting their virtues. Even the Clintons, the bane of the right, have managed to keep their family together.
Twenty years later, the inconvenience of life has run the family values fraud off the rails. This racket is now the realm of fakes and flakes, phonies and freaks. The Republican Party is now dominated by news of preachy pols and their sordid affairs, with soap opera lives of tabloid fare. (Like a line-up of bad reality TV, we've got Sarah and Sanford and Ensign and Rush -- and let's not forget Vitter and Newt.)
At this point, the astonishment has worn off. Let's just be honest and admit that the modern GOP is a pathological party of head cases and closet cases.
The bombastic base consists of many people who lack self-control. They can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar, so they work the political system to ban the container, so no one can enjoy a treat. What must eat these hypocrites alive is the fact that many "immoral liberals" are actually more likely to take one cookie and walk away from sweet temptation.
In retrospect, Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings oddly cast the president in the role of Jesus Christ. He was pilloried by the self-righteous and they thirsted for his blood to atone for their own seismic sins. It is no coincidence that those who most stridently nailed Clinton, were the most likely to be nailing someone who wasn't his or her spouse. (Who can forget Sen. Larry Craig calling Clinton a "bad naughty" boy)
The family values ad I saw in my youth makes no more sense today than it did two decades ago. Perhaps, families never belonged on billboards to be politicized and commercialized in the first place. Seriously, if you need a congressman to save your family, maybe your marriage isn't worth saving.