Sunday roundup

Day 6 of NaBloPoMo: Bringing the Sunday news roundup back! I haven’t done one of these in a long time, but I’m hoping to get back into the habit.

Here’s some of the interesting reading I’ve come across this week:

the righter you get it: Great post that addresses, among other things, the push to get things perfectly right in fundamentalist Christianity and the damage it does even after people have left fundamentalism. I also really identify with her frustration with other Christians who minimize the negative experiences of ex-fundamentalists by saying that we just weren’t taught the right kind of Christianity.

My then-husband had studied to be a minister so our home was bulging with Bible translations, commentaries, books on theology, and hermeneutic helps. My children remember me studying the Bible surrounded by more than a dozen open volumes. They also recall that I always first submitted my understanding to God in prayer. I genuinely wanted to know what God thought on any matter. If you could show me that God desired me to do, think or act a certain way I’d have crawled over broken glass to do it. On the other hand, if I couldn’t see a thing in Scripture, I wasn’t one to rush off following what Christian leaders or friends were doing even if they could make a strong case for it. When my best friend and her family became Amish and she and her girls all started wearing cape dresses and head coverings, I agonised over the Bible to see if I could agree with their new practice. I ended by saying that it would break my heart that my worship might not be pleasing to Christ because I was inappropriately attired, but that I just couldn’t see either uniformity of dress or the necessity of head coverings for contemporary women in Scripture. Had I been able to, I’d have frocked up in a flash.

Female boxers may be required to wear skirts (via Gender-Focus): A truly ridiculous illustration of the artificiality and resilience of gender norms.

A coach of the Poland team said: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.” This might be an example of officials assuming that (1) men are the main audience for boxing and that (2) men will watch women’s boxing more if they differentiate/sexualize women.

It might also, however, be an example of an attempt to retrench difference between men and women exactly when those differences start to dissolve.  Discomfort with the lack of actual differences between men and women sometimes leads individuals to encourage or enforce artificial ones.  I would say that this is one of the main functions of clothes today. Yeah, I said it. I think exaggerating what are actually rather weak and strongly overlapping differences between men and women is one of the primary functions of clothes.

Fathers, Sons, and Guns: A really interesting interview of Michael Messner, a sociologist who has studied and written extensively about masculinity, on the relationship between masculinity and guns.

[The interviewer, Jackson Katz]: There is very little thoughtful discussion of one crucial aspect of the role that guns play in our lives: the relationship between guns and manhood. It’s a stunning omission when you consider that men own the vast majority of guns, comprise the vast majority of hunters, and commit the overwhelming majority of gun violence….Alas, many people assume “gender” means women. The subject of women and guns does merit further inquiry and discussion. But men are every bit as gendered as women. It is long past time that the gun debate was infused with a sophisticated understanding of how gun use and abuse – from hunting to homicide – is tied inextricably to cultural constructs of masculinity across a range of class, racial and ethnic categories. Part of this understanding has to do with the emotional connection so many men feel to guns – and to the men they bond with around them….

Messner: It is fascinating to me how, in this day and age, national politicians still apparently have to establish their affinity with hunting. Obviously, this is motivated in part by a desire not to alienate a huge lobby and voting bloc–the NRA. But it’s also connected to a very American ideal of frontier masculinity, as though every national politician has to prove some affinity with the image of Teddy Roosevelt as frontiersman and big-game hunter. The male politician who fails to establish this image risks being seen as weak and feminized. What you don’t see as much these days is politicians posing with animals they have killed (well, maybe Sarah Palin does so, but conservative women politicians–think Margaret Thatcher’s muscular militarism–risk not being taken seriously unless they wield an even thicker stick of masculinity).

Getting some nuance up in your reproductive rights: This is a few months old, but it’s a great post on why reproductive rights are not just about abortion, and how they also matter to people who are not women. Truly comprehensive reproductive rights movements have to address the various ways in which reproductive rights are undermined.

Reproductive rights has tremendous intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. These are not ‘side issues’ that people should pay lip service to when they have a chance, or address at some point. They are key, critical issues that must be addressed in any and all discussions about reproductive rights. Whether or not you are allowed to have children can be determined by race, class, sexuality, and disability status. Minority communities have a fundamentally different relationship with the reproductive rights movement than the majority community. Our relationships include not just the fight for bodily autonomy in an oppressive world, but the fight for basic humanity within social justice movements, the need to constantly assert our own personhood in a movement that often rejects us or silences us….

Among many others, Cara Kulwicki has covered, extensively, the use of sterilisation to control poor communities, which often have considerable overlap with people of colour, nonwhite people, and people with disabilities. Drug addicts and alcoholics, many of whom are poor, are paid to be sterilised in the United States. In Chile, HIV-positive women were sterilised without consent. Many reproductive health access programs in the United States aimed at poor people contain incentives for sterilisation, and stop providing coverage like pap smears after participants are sterilised. Poverty very much determines access to reproductive health services, and the level of care received.

Aleksa Lundberg, Transgender Actress, Mourns Forced Sterilization (some problematic reporting, trigger warning): A concrete and heartbreaking example of how reproductive rights are more than just abortion rights. In Sweden and many other countries, trans people are required to be sterilized, with no allowance for them to freeze sperm or eggs, before they are permitted to legal transition to their actual gender. This forces trans people to choose between having children or being fully recognized as their actual gender.

“Compulsory sterilization” has been quietly practiced for decades in countries typically cast as progressive on LGBT rights: France, the Netherlands, Australia, and a number of U.S. states still require it. Italy and Germany have just recently overturned similar legislation.

Although Swedish leaders have been talking for months about repealing the sterilization law that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called a “dark chapter in Swedish history,” it remains on the books. The conservative Christian Democrats have doggedly opposed the repeal, arguing that sex reassignment surgery is a threat to traditional social roles. Transgender advocates like Lundburg say they are fed up with being the last of the LGBTs to win their rights….

The infertility requirement has meant that some patients chose to wait to have corrective surgery so they can have a family. “I know at least one man in Sweden who lives fully as a man but has kept his womb because he wanted children and it’s very problematic for him to still legally be defined as a woman,” says Ulrika Westerlund, president of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL).

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Jay Bakker: Finding Jesus, in Drag

I read a wonderful post this week by Jay Bakker – the son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner – on how going to a drag show helped him recognize you can find faith anywhere, and that there are no boundaries on grace or on God’s love. Some excerpts:

During a trip to California a few years back, my then-wife Amanda and I were invited out to a drag show by RuPaul, the famous drag queen (recording artist, supermodel, VH1 talk-show host, etc.) who did the voice-over for the 2000 documentary about my mom, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

…Frankly, I was really nervous about how the Christian magazines and festival organizers and even some of my Christian friends would react if they knew I’d been to a drag show…In the end, I decided to overcome my fears and go. (When the queen of drag queens invites you to a drag show, you really don’t have a choice.) Thank God I did….

During intermission, I stepped outside to have a cigarette. While I was standing there, one of the drag queens — a seven-foot tall black man in heels who was wearing a massive replica of the Eiffel Tower on his head — approached to say that he was a preacher’s kid too and that he had grown up in the church. He went on to explain how much he loved my mom and how worried he was about her cancer.

“Please tell your mom that I’m praying for her and that I love her,” he said, Eiffel Tower bobbing as he spoke….

Near the end of the show, a drag queen got up onstage and began spotlighting the famous people in the crowd: “Dita Von Teese is here!” (cheers). “And RuPaul is here!” (cheers). And all of a sudden he said, “Did anyone here ever watch the Praise the Lord ministry?”…And suddenly, this huge spotlight hit me.

As I blinked into the blinding light, the emcee asked teasingly, “Are you straight?”

“Yeah,” I said, blushing and pointing a thumb at my wife, Amanda.

“Lucky girl,” the emcee said.

And then the emcee got real serious. Standing there in high heels and a sparkly dress, he said: “You know, this is where Jesus would be if He were alive today. Jesus hung out with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners … ” He then launched into a three-minute speech about how Jesus loved everybody without judgment.

Then he looked back up at me and asked, “Jay, are you still doing your church?”

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Oh, that’s so wonderful. Best of luck to you on that.” And everybody clapped.

So there I was, stunned, not knowing what to make of this. One minute a drag queen was making cracks about whether I’m gay, and the next minute he was saying these really amazing things about Jesus and grace.

(via Jay Bakker: Finding Jesus, in Drag.)

More after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »


Good people do terrible things (further thoughts re: Fred Phelps)

As I was writing the previous post, I kept wondering if I was being overly harsh in comparing mainstream conservative Christians to Fred Phelps – who is, after all, universally disliked, unbelievably odious, and, in my opinion, downright evil.  The man is by all accounts a controlling, angry, and extremely abusive husband and father, who has brainwashed his family into thinking he is practically God, and who believes some very strange and dangerous things (the documentary Fall From Grace gives a pretty chilling picture of Phelps and the WBC – also on Netflix streaming.  If you’re beginning to think that everything I watch is on Netflix instant watch, you’re not too far off).

Obviously not all conservative Christians are like Phelps in these respects – and I’d venture to say most are not.  Most have good intentions – like most people in general.  Many conservative Christians I know are loving parents and spouses, good neighbors, great friends.  So I’ve been pondering whether the comparison was hyperbolic, or unkind, and pondering how it would come across to the people in my life – friends, family, all of whom I love, many of whom are lovely people whom I trust and respect – who are conservative Christians.

When I criticize conservative Christians and their beliefs, I’m not claiming that they are all or mostly evil people, nor do I believe that.  That goes for any major demographic, really.  But I hesitated to add a bunch of disclaimers about how Christians can be nice people to my previous post, because I didn’t want to water down the power of my point.

On further thought, I think this is actually quite an important point to address.  In way it’s the central point: good people can, despite good intentions and sincere beliefs, despite doing much good in most other aspects of their lives, believe and say things that have horrible, awful implications.  They can do terrible things that have devastating effects on others without intending to.  Hardly anyone is mostly or all bad, much less consciously or deliberately evil; most people, I believe, are just trying to do their best to live decent lives.  Most people don’t set out to do evil.  Yet hardly any of us manages to avoid doing or enabling evil in one way or another.

Fred Phelps hates gay people.  He makes no secret of that. While there are mainstream conservative Christians in this country who share his overt, conscious hatred of gay people, not all do.  Probably most don’t.  Many truly believe they are being loving by telling LGB people their orientations or lifestyles are wrong, by opposing marriage equality, etc..  But people don’t have to be conscious of hatred (or fear, contempt, self-loathing, and any number of other emotions that can fuel homophobia) for their beliefs about and actions towards LGB people to be hateful.

When I say conservative Christian beliefs on homosexuality are no different from Fred Phelps’, I’m not talking about the conscious intention behind those teachings.  I’m talking about their implications.  Their practical, real-world effects.

This is how oppression works.  Systemic oppression cannot be sustained without the complicity of otherwise good people – through beliefs, actions, and inaction.  And it cannot be sustained without the myths about human nature and behavior we buy into as a culture.  We pretend that only bad people do evil things, and that it’s really easy to spot such people – as if there were some obvious marker distinguishing evil people from good.  We desperately want to believe these things, because the reality that we’re all capable of doing and enabling evil is frightening, and requires that we scrutinize ourselves more closely than we’d like.

We all want to believe we’re good people who do good things, myself included; that’s understandable.  But the idea that “those people” over there are the real bad people, and we’re all good, is an incredibly dangerous one.  It’s what allows systemic injustice and inequity to survive and flourish.

This is what Christians who are puzzled and offended by accusations of homophobia and comparisons to people like Fred Phelps need to understand.  Sure, it’s a good thing that you don’t picket funerals or scream at people about how they’ll suffer an eternity of torment in hell.  But in the grand scheme of things, your beliefs about LGB people aren’t made any less harmful or hateful by the fact that they don’t act on them the way Westboro Baptist does.  Your beliefs still fuel homophobic speech and behavior, and enable and support wide-scale denial of rights to LGB people.  This is why claims that you “love the sinner and hate the sin” ring hollow.  The implications and effects of your beliefs are not loving.

And really, this is what anyone called out for enabling oppression of any kind needs to understand.  Being called out is not a comment on who you are.  It’s not a comment on your intentions.  It’s a comment on what you said, and what you did.  We’re all capable of doing and saying things that support and even promote oppression without intending to do so, and without being evil.  It’s unjust and enabling of oppression to demand that people evaluate us based on what we intend and not on the actual, tangible effects of what we do.


If Fundamentalists really believed the Bible . . .

I loved this cartoon from Russell’s Teapot (ht The Redheaded Skeptic, click for a bigger version).

I’ve often thought that if literalist Christians in this country really, truly believed that the Bible is completely divinely inspired, inerrant, and literally true, most of them would be living completely different lives.  After all, Jesus had quite a bit to say about people who go through the forms of religion but don’t actually live up to the standards of holiness required to make it into heaven.  And he explicitly includes caring and providing for those in need as one of those standards:

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25)

Can you imagine how different the world would be if so called biblical literalists actually took Jesus’ words in this passage seriously?  If they actually believed not caring for the vulnerable, poor, sick, hungry, and incarcerated would mean eternal damnation?