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December 5, 2004 - Tolerance is for sissies...

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Remember the 2000 Lasse Hallström film Chocolat – with Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina?  Summary –


… 1960, small town France. Vianne Rocher and her pre-teen daughter move into town and open a chocolate shop just as lent is beginning. The town's small-minded mayor can't accept this and does his best to shut her down, but her warm personality and incredible chocolates manage to win over many townsfolk. Things get shaken up even more when a group of river drifters, led by Roux, stop into town (to the even greater distress of the mayor) and Vianne takes up with him. Meanwhile, she's been helping Josephine out of her abusive marriage and her equally freethinking landlord, Amande Voisin, get together with her grandson, Luc, whose mother doesn't approve of Amande's ways.


Remember how the Christian right hated the film?  Independent Baptist Review for example gave us this -


Chocolat is an anti-Christian film has been nominated for an Oscar. … The film is a story of a pagan moving with her daughter into a self-righteous Catholic community.  Guess who is the culprit?  Christianity!  And paganism is the victim.  Hollywood's aim is anti-God, anti-Christianity, anti-so-called right-wing.


Yeah, I suppose so.  Like it matters?


But four years later we get this - for the season of Advent, the United Church of Christ had planned a nationwide television ad campaign extending an open welcome to all people, especially gays and lesbians. The message was simple: "Jesus didn't turn people away; neither do we, the United Church of Christ."  The visuals dramatized people, including two men holding hands, being turned away by bouncers at the door of a church.

This week the major networks announced that they would not air this spot.  ABC never airs religious ads.  Fine.  But NBC and CBS said they wouldn’t because the thing was "too controversial" or was "advocacy."


Say what?


Madison Shockley is the minister of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California – just down the coast - and he doesn’t understand.  He commented in the Los Angeles Times last week -  


CBS stated that its policy prohibited advocacy ads on any questions of public debate — in this case, gay marriage. But the ad neither says nor implies anything about gay marriage, only that "no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome." It cannot be that gay people attending church is a question of debate.

If advocacy is truly the objection, then ads from the armed services should also be banned because recruitment of soldiers is clearly advocacy for war.

NBC, for its part, simply stated that the ad was too controversial. If so, then the news department should cover the story. We have been welcoming and ordaining gays and lesbians for decades, yet when we request coverage, the networks skip it because it's not news. So, either let us buy the time to welcome people who feel excluded from some Christian churches or send news crews to our 6,000 churches. To neither cover us as news nor allow us to buy time because we're too controversial is to deny us our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion.


One sees the logic.  The United Church of Christ cannot get their message out – and the upshot, he claims, is that right wing, fundamentalist Christianity has so dominated the media that many Americans don't even believe there is such a thing as “liberal, progressive” Christianity  - that is just doesn’t exist.  The idea is that the fundamentalist message has become the de facto Christian message  - as they have the money to by airtime and all that.  And he also points out that every time Jerry Falwell blames gays or feminists for society's ills, he shows up on the news.


So get some money?  It’s a thought.  But it seems you cannot spend it.


Other issues?


Some have suggested that the ad was inappropriate because it proselytizes. But we liberals don't do evangelism. I like to call it "invitationalism." It is simply our way of saying who we are and extending an invitation to anyone who has felt unwelcome in the Christian community.

Some TV network executives have alluded to the notion that the ad implies that other churches exclude some people. That is simply the plain history of Christian churches in our country. The commercial does not name names. But I will. Jimmy Carter resigned from his Southern Baptist church in 1976 because its constitution prohibited membership to blacks. It is a fact that gays have experienced rejection, exclusion and condemnation in a broad variety of "Christian" congregations. And Thursday, the Methodists "convicted" the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud of being a lesbian; she faces defrocking.

This ad is our small effort to deliver a message of "extravagant welcome" to all people.


Yeah, well, good luck.  It seems Jesus tells you who to hate and who to exclude.  What would Jesus do?  Go back and read all those passages in the New Testament where he cuts the throats of those who oppose him, laughing in joy and righteousness as they bled to death, while mocking the poor and unlucky as losers and fools.  I don’t remember those passages but they must be there.


The United Methodists?  They got one woman but good last week.  Served her right.


Church Defrocks Minister Who Is Openly Lesbian

United Methodist jury rules the woman violated its law on homosexuality.

Associated Press, December 3, 2004


The United Methodist Church defrocked a lesbian minister Thursday for violating the denomination's ban on actively gay clergy.

A 13-member jury made up of Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud on the second day of her church trial. Methodist law bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from ministry.

Nine votes were necessary for a conviction and the jury voted 12-1 to find Stroud guilty.

… Last March, a Methodist court in Washington State acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, who also lives with a same-sex partner, citing an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist supreme court has since eliminated.

At her trial, Stroud's defense was dealt a blow when presiding judge Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, D.C., excluded expert testimony from six defense witnesses who believe the church's ban on gay clergy members violates its own legal principles.

The senior pastor of Stroud's church, the Rev. Alfred Day III, attempted to raise a similar issue when he took the stand, saying "I believe that even the testimony of Scripture is far from clear on this subject."

"We have more muddle than clarity," he said. But the Rev. Thomas Hall of Exton, Pa., the prosecutor, asked Yeakel to strike Day's statement and the judge instructed the jury that "constitutional issues are not before this court."


I like the part about excluding witnesses and stopping discussion.  That’s what Jesus would do?  I guess.


Charles Pierce has a comment on all this -


The flap over the United Church of Christ's TV ad reminded me that, just as the rightists used religion to radicalize politics, they more quietly have used political wedges in an attempt to radicalize mainstream religion.  Remember, there was a uniquely well-organized resistance to Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire, and there is similar infighting now among the Methodists over lesbian ministers.  Among my fellow Papists, there's the First Things crew, which often mistakes Robert Bork for Thomas Aquinas.  And the unforgivably chickens**t way CBS bailed on the UCC commercials leads me to believe that there's probably some stirring among the Congregationalists, too.


This is about creating a seamless cloak in which radical rightist religion and radical rightist politics are indistinguishable from each other.  So far, we've concentrated only on the most obvious parts of it.  Progressives should sharpen up because, if their allies in the mainstream churches get beaten into the margins the way progressive politicians have, the list of allies grows very, very thin.


Well, get with the program, Chuck!  Those mainstream religions are now fringe.


Markos Moulitsas Zúniga says this – CBS is afraid of the Christian White House - 


Now, I want to point out something obvious here.  Nowhere in the ad does it say thing one about gay marriage.  Nothing.  It just implies that if you are gay, or black, or Asian, or (possibly worst of all) elderly, you'll be welcome at this particular church, even if you haven't been at others.  Still, even that's enough for CBS to read-between-the-lines and consider it contrary to the aims of the White House - and that, in turn, is enough for CBS to refuse to air the material at all.


Where the hell are we, these days, when we don't run ads on television because they might possibly conflict with the President's religious notions?  This isn't about gay marriage, or constitutional amendments. This is about a Church that welcomes all comers.  That's it.  That's the "controversial" part of the ad.  And apparently, CBS thinks that merely not being bigoted is enough to be "controversial" given the current climate at the White House.


The saddest part is, they're probably right.


CBS has lots of problems – and it doesn’t need the Friends of Bush on its case right now for airing an ad that says its okay to be nice to faggots and queers.  Who need such trouble?  Yes, not being bigoted can get you labeled as on of those who hates America.


But this is interesting - Daniel Radosh points out there is no point in arguing about all this -


… there actually IS something different about religious opinions than others: they're statements of emotion rather than of rationality.  Most people's beliefs about God, not to mention the more nebulous religious sentiments that people hold, are not the kind of opinion with which you can argue just as you would argue about whether to raise or lower taxes.  While I'm willing (though hardly eager at this stage my life) to engage in rational discussions about the existence of God (I'm taking the con position, fyi), I think most statements of faith are, as I said, akin to emotion, and debating them is churlish at best.


If someone says, God created everything and I can prove it, that's one thing.  But if someone says God is the wellspring of life and my source of strength, there's no more reason (or way) to dispute that than there would be to argue with my assertion (per the great secular theologian Carl Sagan) that my wife and children love me.  It's the difference between the irrational and the non-rational.


Yep.  There is no lever to move anything here.


Ezra Klein points out that those who use the Bible as a literal guide for everything, and they control the country, and argues that arguing itself is futile…


… unfortunately, if they say God created this book and its authority supersedes terrestrial considerations, appeals to minority protection and laissez-faire morality won't do the job.  So long as the Christian Right is going to remain an electoral force, we're going to have to create an appeal that plays by their rules.  We can't argue with them, can't deny them, can't invoke the Federalist Papers.  We may be right, but it's an unfortunate truth of Democracy that it's not being right that makes you powerful, it's being many.  We, unfortunately, need to be more.


Ah well…  The country is in no mood for tolerance these days.  Ezra is outnumbered.


But you can trust the righteous avenging Christians.  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says so.  The Associated Press so reports – and Scalia said last Monday that a religion-neutral government does not fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military.


Here’s an analysis…


Scalia To Synagogue - Jews Are Safer With Christians In Charge

Published on Thursday, December 2, 2004 by CommonDreams.org

Thom Hartmann


Antonin Scalia, the man most likely to be our next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, turned history on its head recently when he attended an Orthodox synagogue in New York and claimed that the Founders intended for their Christianity to play a part in government. Scalia then went so far as to suggest that the reason Hitler was able to initiate the Holocaust was because of German separation of church and state.


The Associated Press reported on November 23, 2004, "In the synagogue that is home to America's oldest Jewish congregation, he [Scalia] noted that in Europe, religion-neutral leaders almost never publicly use the word 'God.'"


"Did it turn out that," Scalia asked rhetorically, "by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America?" He then answered himself, saying, "I don't think so."


Hartmann suggests Scalia is forgetting a few things – photos of Catholic Bishops giving the collective Nazi salute. The annual April 20th celebration, declared by Pope Pius XII, of Hitler's birthday. The belt buckles of the German army, which declared "Gott Mit Uns" ("God is with us").  The pictures of the 1933 investiture of Bishop Ludwig Müller, the official Bishop of the 1000-Years-Of-Peace Nazi Reich.  


And this –


Article 1 of the Decree concerning the Constitution of the German Protestant Church, of 14 July 1933," signed by Adolf Hitler himself, merged the German Protestant Church into the Reich, and gave the Reich the legal authority to ordain priests.


Article Three provides absolute assurance to the new state church that the Reich will fund it, even if that requires going to Hitler's cabinet. It opens: "Should the competent agencies of a State Church refuse to include assessments of the German Protestant Church in their budget, the appropriate State Government will cause the expenditures to be included in the budget upon request of the Reich Cabinet."


That new state-sponsored German church's constitution opens: "At a time in which our German people are experiencing a great historical new era through the grace of God," the new German state church "federates into a solemn league all denominations that stem from the Reformation and stand equally legitimately side by side, and thereby bears witness to: 'One Body and One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of All of Us, who is Above All, and Through All, and In All.'"


Section Four, Article Five of he new constitution further established a head for the new German state-church with the title of Reich Bishop. Hitler quickly filled the job with a Lutheran pastor, Ludwig Müller, who held the position until he committed suicide at the end of the war.


Yeah, well, fact and history are a bother.  But Hartman also suggests here that the founders and framers of this country were so careful to separate church and state because they didn't want religion to be corrupted by government.


There’s a difference?  Some of us still think so.


Hartmann argues the founders wanted to protect government from being hijacked by the religious, but several of them were even more concerned that the churches themselves would be corrupted by the lure of government's easy access to money and power.


And after a long discussion of Madison and Jefferson he point out this –


… as Reverend Moon has moved more and more into the political realm - from funding activities of both George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, to funding the money-losing but politically activist Washington Times newspaper, to financially bailing out Jerry Falwell, to setting up numerous charities that now ask for federal funding - we see an increasing and ominous participation of legislators and Moonies. Moon, for example, was crowned by several members of Congress in the Senate Dirksen Office building on March 23, 2004. As the Washington Post noted in a July 21 story by Charles Babington, Moon himself proclaimed to our elected representatives attending the ceremony, "Emperors, kings and presidents . . . have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."


Others, like Falwell and Robertson, who want to use the money and power of government to promote their religious agendas, are making rapid inroads with George W. Bush's so-called "faith-based initiatives," which shift money from government programs for the poor and needy to churches and religious groups.


All of this - the merging of church and state - is now being aggressively promoted by no less than Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, in no less shocking a venue than the nation's oldest Orthodox synagogue.


Welcome to the theocracy, Tom.




Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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