Two weeks ago, Jerry Pittman Jr. and his boyfriend Dustin Lee tried to attend services at Grace Fellowship Church in their town of Fruitland, Tennessee. They didn’t make it through the front door.
On instructions from the church pastor–Jerry’s father–church deacons attacked Jerry and Dustin in the parking lot while shouting homophobic slurs to prevent them from entering.
This kind of hate and violence has no place in our society, particularly in our churches. Not only does this assault directly harm Jerry and Dustin, it reinforces the lie that all religion is hostile to LGBT people.
Faithful America is fighting that myth by standing up for Jerry and Dustin and demanding an apology. Thousands of people are adding their names to a simple petition to church leadership:
To the leadership of Grace Fellowship Church,
Your actions against Jerry and Dustin are appalling and in no way faithful to the Christian Gospel. Such hate and violence are never acceptable.
As people of faith, we call on you to apologize immediately.
Join them by signing your name to the petition here.
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Repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which Congress passed and President Obama signed in December, was officially implemented yesterday. Gay and lesbian veterans and military personnel, along with allies who fought to end discrimination against them, rejoiced. Among the most moving reactions was a gay service member coming out to his father and posting the video:
On the other hand, those who fought tooth and nail to preserve the military’s policy of discrimination against LGBT people marked the occasion by doubling down on the misinformation they used to oppose repeal during the Congressional debate last year. The Family Research Council responded with a litany of incendiary charges (and nary a link or footnote to back them up):
Expect to see celebrations from homosexual groups and fawning stories in the media about how “the sky has not fallen.” That’s only because there will be no press releases from the new victims of sexual harassment or assault, the soldiers exposed to HIV-tainted blood, the thousands of servicemembers who choose not to reenlist rather than forfeit their freedom of speech and religion, and the untold number of citizens who choose never to join the military. It’s clear this President is more interested in appeasing sexual revolutionaries than in fighting America’s enemies.
And the Religious Right doesn’t have public opinion on their side — people of faith overwhelmingly supported ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
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The muslimahMERICAN blog featured a guest post from Chris Stedman earlier this week that’s a great example of the principles we highlighted earlier — personal stories are one of the most effective ways to fight stereotypes.
Chris’s story highlights how he discovered that his identity as a queer atheist actually gave him some insight and opportunity to connect with and learn from the Muslim-Americans he worked with. An excerpt:
Working with the Muslim community in Chicago, I realized how problematic my “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to working with the Muslim community in Minneapolis had been; how my refusal to engage the religious identities of those I worked with at [a local community center] closed me off from countless opportunities to build bridges of understanding and respect with a community I honestly knew very little about, aside from my academic study of Islam. And how, by refusing to open up to them about my own beliefs and experiences, I denied them the opportunity to learn about me–to really know me and understand the challenges that I faced.
Religious and LGBTQ identities are important, and when we try to tuck them away in some dark and dusty corner we lose something integral. When open discussion about essential aspects of our identity becomes taboo–when we are forced to silence the stories of who we are and what matters to us–intolerance goes unchallenged and we are its accomplices, complicit in allowing others to be cast aside. When we see the other as so different that we think we can find no common ground, we allow others to see them as not-quite-human, too.
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The National Catholic Reporter has two commentaries up online that offer thoughtful challenges to Catholic bishops engaged in high-profile fights against gay marriage. Nicholas Cafardi, a former member of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth and a former general counsel for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, makes a strong case for why Church leaders should cool down fevered public denunciations on this issue and acknowledge the substantial difference between civil and religious marriages.
We need to give it up. This is not defeatism. This is simply following Jesus in the Gospels, who besides telling us not to act on our fears, also told us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Civil marriage is Caesar’s. If Caesar wants to say that you can only get married on Tuesdays, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, that is Caesar’s call. The sacrament of matrimony is God’s. It is valid only when invoked between a baptized man and a baptized woman, in the presence of two witnesses and the spouses’ proper ordinary or pastor or his delegate. Caesar has no say in this.
The measured tone of Cafardi, a moderate Catholic with a distinguished record of serving his Church, contrasts with the more hyperbolic reactions from a few Catholic bishops that we’ve already noted here. A separate NCR editorial also raises some frank but important points for a hierarchy at risk of losing the ability to effectively engage the culture on key moral and political issues.
If the bishops actually want laws to reflect Catholic values, they need a new, more sophisticated and potent model of legislative engagement. Second, even if the bishops had a persuasive case to make and the legislative tools at their disposal, their public conduct in recent years — wholesale excommunications, railing at politicians, denial of honorary degrees and speaking platforms at Catholic institutions, using the Eucharist as a political bludgeon, refusing to entertain any questions or dissenting opinions, and engaging in open warfare with the community’s thinkers as well as those, especially women, who have loyally served the church — has resulted in a kind of episcopal caricature, the common scolds of the religion world, the caustic party of “no.”
There is great risk for bishops in overreaching on gay marriage and alienating even faithful Catholics who disagree with the hierarchy on this issue but are proud that the Church is a shining beacon for human dignity and peace around the world. Bishops will argue that their positions don’t shift in the wind with the latest opinion poll and view a prophetic, countercultural posture as essential in an age where a “dictatorship of relativism” (Pope Benedict XVI’s phrase) has eroded timeless truths. Countercultural values have their place to be sure, but an embattled posture can also ossify organisms (church, political or civic) that need to live, breath and exist in a world where some societal norms do and should change.
What has often separated Catholicism from more reactionary strains of Christian fundamentalism is an intuitive grasp of how to engage with the culture rather than hurl jeremiads from the bunker. A Catholic priest who holds a position of national leadership in the Church recently told me that when bishops alienate lay Catholics with a cultural warrior tone on issues like gay marriage it’s parish priests who end up working to keep people in the pews. Perhaps it’s time for the Catholic Church to find a “third way” on gay marriage as Nicholas Cafardi and others have suggested.
Photo credit Jo Christian Oterhals / Flickr
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Daniel Tutt has a useful piece in Huffington Post exploring the neuroscience behind stereotypes:
What we know about stereotyping has evolved considerably over the last 25 years in the wake of the “affective turn” and the use of noninvasive fMRI scans. The affective turn refers to the realization that human behavior is dictated by emotion over and above reason. Neuroscientists can now paint a clear picture of what happens in the brain when someone deploys a stereotype. The vast majority of the time, stereotyping occurs automatically without conscious reflection. It calms the fears and anxieties built up about an “out-group”…
Essentially, stereotypes function as something of an emotional shortcut we use to navigate a world full of anxiety and potential threats. But while making snap judgments about people may have helped avoid danger in our prehistoric past, it clearly presents real obstacles today. The good news is that the same research shows these things can change:
Importantly, neuroscientists have found that the introduction of positive images of “out-groups” does indeed lower levels of fear of the other, and it reforms the hardwired automatic processes.
Tutt uses this point to encourage the Muslim-American community in combating Islamophobia, but it’s applicable to many groups facing barriers to full acceptance. Indeed, real world examples of this tactic have been responsible for some significant political successes (and have been something of a theme on this blog).
As Alyssa Rosenberg has noted, the prevalence of gay characters on television has played an important role in humanizing LGBT Americans. And the growing number of people coming out to their friends and family over the last few decades has demonstrably swung opinions as well.
Similarly, the most inspiring political activism around immigration reform has come from the DREAMers — undocumented high-school students often facing deportation despite personal stories that stand in stark contrast to the negative stereotypes about immigrants. While a GOP filibuster stopped the DREAM Act in December, the students have continued their activism and are changing hearts and minds.
This process of expanding the definition of ‘American’ and incorporating various minority and out-groups into the fabric of our society is essentially the history of America. While it may have taken generations to make initial progress, changing population demographics and the rapid ascent of mass media and information sharing have quickly brought more groups into the mainstream.
Congressional legislation and policy changes are essential, but they must be led and strengthened by this kind of broader cultural movement. The faith community is a natural place for some of this work to happen. Located in every neighborhood, places of worship attract people every week expecting to wrestle with big ideas and tough issues. And the bonds they form with each other serve as crucial supports as they do. As trusted figureheads, faith leaders in particular can serve as highly effective persuaders. Advocating for just immigration reform is one thing, but seeing your own pastor stand publicly behind the immigrant families in your Church is a much more powerful message.
Photo: DREAM Act students stage a sit-in at John McCain’s office.
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