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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Homophobic Censorship

This story appeared in the Loudoun County (which shares a border with the home of yours truly) regional newspaper this week:

An award-winning children’s book was recently removed from general circulation at Loudoun County public elementary school libraries.And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is based on the true story of two male penguins who took turns sitting on an orphaned egg at the Central Park Zoo. In the story, the penguins, Roy and Silo, start their family when the chick, Tango, is hatched.

A parent at Sugarland Elementary in Sterling filed a request with the school principal that the book be reviewed. The principal and several staff members deemed the book appropriate for general circulation.

The parent appealed the school’s decision with the Loudoun County Public Schools administration. According to David Jones, the LCPS library media supervisor, a district-level committee was formed with teacher, parent, school librarian and administrative representatives who reviewed the book and offered a recommendation to Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III, who ultimately decided on the book’s status.

Dr. Hatrick determined that And Tango Makes Three should be taken out of general circulation at the elementary level and placed in each school’s professional library. Teachers may reference and share the book with students at their own discretion. Children and parents may not check the book out of the library.

The American Library Association cites And Tango Makes Three as one of 2006’s most challenged books.

David Weintraub, president of Equality Loudoun, a gay advocacy group, said that the rights of the parent who challenged this book trumped the rights of parents who may support it. “Loudoun County Public Schools serve children from all kinds of families, including families with two moms or two dads. The administration and school board need to remember that when confronted with this sort of book challenge.”

I’m just guessing here, but I’m pretty sure that this children’s book does not discuss the ins and outs of homosexual lovemaking techniques. Moreover, while it probably is illustrated, I doubt that the pictures are pornographic. And I know it’s not even about humans, homosexual or otherwise! It simply depicts a penguin family that has two dads instead of a mom and a dad. This subject matter is unsuitable for children because…?

What is the matter with the right-wing, family values crowd? Would it have been better for the males to have left the egg unattended so that the baby inside would never have hatched? If so, then maybe right-to-lifers can tell me some more about the sanctity of life before birth (or hatching)! Good Grief! The USA has innocent people wasting their lives on death row, has wrongfully executed dozens of others only to exclaim later, “Oops, wrong guy – sorry about that,” has tortured prisoners with skin colors and accents that their captors don’t like, is illegally occupying a country and making threatening noises at that country’s neighbors – and people are concerned about a book that they presume is about gay penguins! It seems to me that the USA has far more substantive moral issues to deal with than gay guys, gay gals, gay guinea pigs, gay goats, gay geese or gay penguins.

I’d be doubled over in laughter if the situation weren’t so contemptible. Instead, I think I’m going to be ill. Excuse me.

— the chaplain

P.S. Visit Phillychief’s blog for his unique perspective on this story.

 
25 Comments

Posted by on February 15, 2008 in censorship, politics, prejudice, sex

 

The Ogre in America’s Living Room

A Christian high school in Kansas refused to allow a woman to officiate at a basketball game earlier this month. The reason for this action was that it went against the schools’ beliefs to allow a woman to hold any position of authority over boys. I assume this means that all members of the school’s faculty are male. I haven’t ascertained that because the school’s web site does not provide any information about its faculty and administration.

It’s no surprise that some very conservative Christians (as well as Muslims) continue to believe that women are divinely ordained to assume inferior positions to men. The problem we, the chaplain and the deacon, have is that, when we observe the American political landscape, it appears to us that sexism is more widespread than most Americans want to acknowledge. We have reason to believe that media questions regarding whether the Democratic presidential nominee will be decided by either super delegates or a brokered convention are the wrong questions to ask. The chaplain, in her more cynical moments, goes further and wonders whether the questions are red herrings designed to divert attention away from the fact that sexism seems to be playing a large role in this year’s Democratic primaries and caucuses. Both of us anticipate that Barack Obama will be the nominee, due in no small part to the following factors:

The Mantle. Since the conclusion of the Iowa caucuses, Obama has positioned himself as a modern JFK. He began by echoing MLK’s “I have a dream” language and phraseology. After the South Carolina primaries, he broadened his language to take on JFK’s “new generation” idiom. The language took hold and the powerful romantic aura of Camelot is taking hold with the public. The promise to satisfy unfulfilled hopes is always a potent motivator that draws adoring fans and adherents to one’s cause.

The Money. When a race is close at the halfway point, the candidate with the money to outspend the closest competitor has a decisive advantage. Though they are costly to run, television ads are the most effective messaging avenue for swaying the masses, particularly those who do not delve deeply into the issues. Obama clearly has deeper pockets than Clinton and can easily afford to run glitzy television ads that reinforce his JFK aura.

The Media. CNN has given markedly greater attention to Obama, and has consistently spoken about him in warmer terms, than Clinton. In the half hour before last month’s State of the Union address, CNN ran an extensive interview with Obama. At the conclusion of the interview, pundits rehashed and analyzed what he he said. After the address, CNN interviewed Obama at length regarding his reaction to the speech. CNN neither interviewed nor highlighted Clinton at all that evening. The spotlighting that Obama received before and after this address, which many politically involved citizens certainly would have been watching, was worth weeks of television ads.

More recently, as the early results of the Louisiana primaries trickled in, there was a difference of just over two hundred votes between McCain and Huckabee. Wolf Blitzer announced that the Republican race was close. No notation was made as to whom was leading; it was just a close race. Moments later, with twelve votes separating Clinton and Obama, Blitzer announced that Obama held the lead. Was this a subconscious indication of his preference or that of his network? As an isolated incident, it may not have meant anything. In light of other statements and spotlighting that have occurred over the past several weeks, we have to wonder: are we are observing random coincidences or a pattern of misogyny?

Also, consider the way Clinton’s demeanor is typically described by newscasters and political commentators. If she raises her voice, speaks as loudly as a man, or is animated during her presentation, then the pundits, the majority of them male, describe her as shrill. If she speaks softly or shows any range of emotion, these same pundits question whether she has sufficient fortitude to be President. Has the media ever paid this much attention to a male candidate’s voice?

The Mindset. The authors understand why the African-American community gives heavy support to Obama, and we understand why many females are voting for Clinton. But the fact that white men are leaning much more heavily toward Obama than Clinton may indicate that many of them are not ready to be led by a female president. Given a choice between a male leader or a female leader, both of whom are more or less equally qualified (or not) for the position they seek, male voters appear to be much more comfortable with the male than with the female.

The confluence of all of these circumstances causes us to wonder if sexism is the ogre that nestles, unnamed, in America’s living room.

– the chaplain & the deacon

 
25 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2008 in politics, prejudice

 

Christian Fundamentalists Selectively Support Free Speech

I will preface this post from the deacon with a brief introductory remark. We are mildly embarrassed to admit that the headquarters of In God We Trust USA is located less than five miles from our home. I might as well clear the table right now and admit that NRA headquarters is less than five miles away in the opposite direction. If we believed in the power of prayer, we’d possibly be inclined to solicit several of them! Alas, as prayer isn’t good for anything other than catharsis, I now segue to the deacon’s post.

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The following is taken from In God We Trust USA:

In God We Trust hereby bestows “The Cup of Wrath” on Boulder High School Principal Bud Jenkins … for not only sanctioning but applauding the September 27, 2007 school walkout by members of the Boulder High School “Student Workers Club.” This motley crew of teenagers wanted to protest merely having to listen to the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by their classmates.

Principal Jenkins stood by as a minimum of a dozen of his students deliberately disrupted class, marched outside and held a press conference to protest the Pledge of Allegiance and the words “under God”. Student Emma Martens declared, “We didn’t think it was fair for the whole school to have to listen to (the pledge). It’s almost religious oppression.”

With no regard for his duty to keep order at his school or to defend the Constitutionally-protected religious freedom of Boulder High’s faculty or students, Principal Jenkins then proceeded to praise the protesters for disrupting the school day and insulting their colleagues. He declared to the media that he was proud of them for “standing up for their beliefs” and that he would not seek disciplinary action against them. “Good for the kids. I’m proud that they follow the democratic process of telling the community about ideas they disagree with,” Jenkins declared, with complete disregard for the religious tradition that undergirds our country’s democratic process.

Principal Jenkins’ complete abrogation of his responsibilities as an educator, his callous disregard for our nation’s religious heritage and his zealous defense of anti-religious bigotry reflect terribly on himself, his school, his town and his profession.

For not acknowledging that he and his students are “Under God” whether they like it or not, Principal Bud Jenkins has earned himself a full draught from the Cup of Wrath.

Bud Jenkins is proud of his students for exercising free speech in a responsible manner. These students thought through the logistics and invited the press to their one-day event. Their walking out of class caught the attention of their peers and teachers. They made their point and returned to class. Having made their point, they did not repeat the activity on subsequent days. Protests typically disrupt routine activities for a short period of time. Such momentary disruptions and inconveniences are a small price to pay to allow others to exercise their free speech.

These protesters behaved in a thoughtful manner. That Bud Jenkins should be proud that these students showed such balance and maturity. Yet what do we see from the right wing religionists? Not just condemnation, but a criticism that is among the strongest a Christian can issue: calling down a cupful of God’s wrath upon the individual.

According to those at In God We Trust, free speech has limits. Free speech does not protect those who wish to protest against the inclusion of “in God we trust” in the pledge. Does this organization not realize that free speech is the very right that protects the rights of all believers to gather in their places of worship, and to do so without fear of attack?

Interestingly, their web site also features this item:

Erica Corder is suing the Lewis Palmer School District for forcing her to apologize to her fellow students for talking about her faith in her thirty-second valedictory address. The school threatened to withhold Erica’s diploma if she didn’t apologize for exercising her first amendment rights.

Apparently, In God We Trust and its supporters hold that freedom of speech applies only  to Christians.

– the deacon

 
22 Comments

Posted by on February 13, 2008 in censorship, religion

 

Sunday Funnies #4: Billboard Battles!

One of the most visually displeasing features of the American landscape is the billboard: a huge, usually ugly, sign posted along a highway that advertises a good or service that is available to travelers. Since Christians have never encountered a communications medium they couldn’t exploit, it is not surprising that their billboards have lined American highways for decades. In the past few months, some atheist organizations launched billboard campaigns to counter the Christian messages.

I really like the feelings of unlimited freedom and optimism that permeate this one:

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These are interesting for their appropriation of the stained glass that is commonly associated with Christian edifices:

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Some Christians haven’t taken kindly to atheist billboards. Some of them even believe that it is impossible to love America without loving God. A group of them replaced one of the billboards shown above with this nasty response:

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Christians have been at this billboard thing for a long time. This one, posted recently by a church in Florida, created some controversy for its blatant appeal to sex to attract people to its services:

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The rest of the boards posted here are sponsored by Godspeaks.org. The boards from their new campaign provide their web site’s URL. We begin with some humorous messages:

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Even though Christians have been doing the billboard thing for a long time, it seems that they quickly run short on humor. When that happens, they sometimes resort to snark:

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As we know, faith in God is about much more than fun and games. Christianity is about the serious business of maintaining a loving relationship between humankind and its creator:

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A quirky aspect of God’s character is that, even though he loves us immensely, he doesn’t take rejection well at all. If people choose not to establish or maintain relationships with him, he gets into quite a snit:

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Ah, yes. When God can’t woo people into His Kingdom, he coerces them by scaring the hell out of them!

Sounds like an awesome, loving god to me. Are you saved yet?

– the chaplain

 
42 Comments

Posted by on February 10, 2008 in atheism, humanism, humor, rationalism, religion

 

The Dobson Anti-McCain Campaign, part 2

The screen shots and quotes that follow, which were taken from Focus on the Family Action’s Citizenlink.com web pages, tell an interesting story. We begin with the headline that heralded Dr. Dobson’s declaration that he cannot and will not vote for John McCain.

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The statement that follows elucidates Dr. Dobson’s “personal opinion” of the pending presidential election. It is not an official position of Focus on the Family Action.

“I am deeply disappointed the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee who did not support a Constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, voted for embryonic stem-cell research to kill nascent human beings, opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, has little regard for freedom of speech, organized the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings, and has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.

“I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are.

Dr. Dobson’s statement is followed by this:

“Dr. Dobson’s statement speaks for itself,” said Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media relations for Focus on the Family Action. “He made it as a private citizen, and it reflects his personal opinion of Sen. McCain’s candidacy and record. People can read into it what they like; all I see is his own personal ‘straight talk’ regarding why he can’t vote for one candidate.”

Since these are merely Private Citizen Dobson’s personal views, I admire FOTFA for graciously providing him with a platform for airing them.

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Well, looky here! Later that day, Private Citizen Dobson called for 1,000,000 “values voters” to join him in opposing the candidacy of John McCain:

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The following pledge is the means by which 1,000,000 other private citizens may join Private Citizen Dobson in his opposition to Senator McCain’s candidacy:

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According to the pledge, signatories authorize Focus on the Family Action to publicize their support of Dr. Dobson’s privately held whilst openly broadcasted position. Well, gee whiz! It looks like this has snowballed – miraculously, I’m sure – from one private citizen’s statement to a concerted political action coordinated by Focus on the Family Action. I’ll bet Citizen Dobson never imagined that would happen!

In the meantime, since Private Citizen Dr. Dobson can’t stand any of the potential major party candidates that seem likely to be on the November ballot, he probably “will sit this one out” and not vote in the election at all.

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If Dobson doesn’t intend to vote, why should anyone, especially a candidate, give a damn what he thinks? Furthermore, is he implying that the one million values voters who sign his pledge should also consider sitting this one out? That strikes me as rather unpatriotic, if not downright subversive. If he doesn’t like the candidates listed on the ballot, he has another option: write in the name of someone he supports. Registering a protest vote is better than not voting at all. Given that Dr. Dobson wants a significant number of Americans to join him and publicly declare their agreement with his “private views,” I cannot interpret these statements and pledges as anything other than strong-arm tactics designed to draw Republicans away from McCain toward a candidate that Shepherd Dobson and his flock will support. Welcome to the world of Focus on the Family Action, not so affectionately known as Dobson’s Mafia for Jesus!

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UPDATE: Now that Mitt Romney has suspended his campaign, does Dobson’s non-endorsement of McCain = an endorsement of Huckabee?

– the chaplain

 
39 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2008 in politics, religion

 

Jesus Loves Sleazy Politics

Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, made the following announcement today: I cannot, and will not, vote for McCain. This announcement is not particularly surprising or newsworthy in its own right. It was interesting to me because it drew my attention to some intriguing facts about Dr. Dobson’s activities.

As you are aware, the ministerial arm of Focus on the Family is a charitable organization that must adhere to strict legal regulations to retain its privileged tax-exempt status. Are you also aware that Focus on the Family has formed a political arm, a legally separate entity dedicated to political activism, which shares the famous name of the ministry?

A quick look at Focus on the Family Action‘s About Us page reveals the following interesting tidbits.

The first question is, “What is Focus on the Family Action?”

The answer: “…a new cultural action organization that is completely separate from Focus on the Family, legally. It has been created by separating out of Focus on the Family those activities which constitute lobbying under the IRS code so that they can be expanded in scope…. Focus on the Family Action will give me and my team much greater freedom to take our views to the public square.”

The second question is, “Why a Separate Organization?”

The answer: “Because gifts to Focus on the Family are tax deductible, the Internal Revenue Service severely limits its involvement in such issues. Speaking for Focus on the Family, I can only take stands on ballot measures and lobby legislative bodies to a very limited extent. But Focus on the Family Action is formed under IRS section 501(c)(4). It will be free of any such restrictions and allow me to speak out freely on the range of issues that affect the family.”

The third question is this: “Are you leaving Focus on the Family?”

The answer: “Certainly not! I will remain deeply involved in Focus on the Family — as its chairman, host of its daily radio program and as “chief ministry architect.”

The thing I find interesting is that, while Dobson has taken great care to meet his legal obligations to keep the entities distinct, he has been less careful about enabling his disciples to distinguish between the two groups. By carrying the familiar name over to the new organization, he has deliberately muddied the waters to such a degree that devotees of his ministry will be unlikely to distinguish his pastoral statements from his political pronouncements. Moreover, his continued involvement in both the ministry and the political group makes it clear that he wants to be identified with both. I can only conclude that his political group is merely a very thinly veiled mouthpiece for his ministry.

Dr. Dobson did not issue his political statement in a press release distributed to multiple media outlets. Instead, Dr. Dobson, leader of both Focus on the Family (a tax exempt charitable group) and Focus on the Family Action (an openly political entity), elected to use media outlets to which he has, to say the least, unique access. His full statement is conveniently published on a Focus on the Family Action web page (clumsily labeled Focus on the Family Action Citizenlink.com) and on the web page of Laura Ingraham, a fellow conservative.

The Citizenlink.com announcement includes this perfunctory (and thoroughly dishonest) disclaimer: NOTE: Dr. Dobson made these statements as a private citizen. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as a reflection of the opinions of Focus on the Family or Focus on the Family Action.

The Laura Ingraham post, which does not require such a disclaimer, introduces the statement with these words: STATEMENT FROM DR. JAMES DOBSON of FOCUS ON THE FAMILY.

Hmmm. If I had to guess, I’d say that Ms. Ingraham thinks Dr. Dobson’s professional affiliation is significant. Dr. Dobson, private citizen, indeed.

One final tidbit that I find interesting is that the home page of the ministry’s web site includes a link to the political announcement. That’s okay, though, because these are two distinct organizations with two distinct purposes. They are two distinct organizations that – almost by happenstance, really – share a leader, a name and reciprocal web links. I’m absolutely certain that there is nothing inappropriate about these entanglements coincidences.

Are Dr. Dobson’s activities in these matters legal? I’m sure they are. Are Dr. Dobson’s activities in these matters ethical? I’m sure they are not. But that’s okay, because Jesus loves good, old-fashioned, sleazy politics.

– the chaplain

 
20 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2008 in politics, religion

 

Happy Groundhog Day!

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Bad news, gang! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning. That means we can look forward to another six weeks of winter. There may be some hope, though. General Beauregard, down in Georgia, did not see his shadow. This raises some questions regarding the reliability of these obviously well-fed, furry prognosticators.

Which one of them should we believe? Why did they derive two different answers to the same question? Were the testing conditions identical in both cases? Has one been more reliable than the other in past trials? We really need the answers to these and many other questions before we can make plans for the remainder of the winter.

(Notice the built-in assumption in that last statement: I’m assuming that there will be more winter for us. I’ve known Phil all of my life, whereas I never heard of Beau before today. Past history counts for a lot in an important matter like this. (Don’t even think about feeding me the line that, since each prediction is an independent event, the accuracy of past predictions has no bearing on the accuracy of future predictions. You know as well as I do that Groundhog Day is the one exception to that otherwise very sensible rule.) Therefore, I’m going with Phil’s answer. Sorry, Beau. Keep in touch in case I change my mind next year. You know where to find me.)

This is a significant dilemma. If Beau is right, then it’s already too late to plan a winter vacation. If you haven’t taken one yet, you’ve missed your chance. On the other hand, if Phil is right, you’ve still got time to book a flight to someplace sunny and warm. I suggest that you diligently ponder these prophecies with due seriousness and adapt your behavior accordingly. Let me just say that, if I were you, I wouldn’t put away that snow shovel yet.

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–the chaplain

 
21 Comments

Posted by on February 2, 2008 in humor

 
 
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