Sunday, February 27, 2011

The inevitablity of 'gay marriage'

I have always believed that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. I also believe that two people of the same gender being "married," from a purely secular sociological view, is an oxymoron.

That said, in light of U.S. attorney general Eric Holder's recently-expressed interest in overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, I'm forced to concede that same-gender matrimony will likely soon become legal in this country (though I won't put a timetable on it). And there's nothing we'll be able to do about it.

However, I don't believe that you can simply blame that just on society's general "moral breakdown," liberal, activist judges or gay advocacy groups. Rather, I suggest that our Western romance-based marriage culture is the primary culprit, because often we base our choices for a partner largely on physical attraction, often (at least from a "Christian" viewpoint) devolving into "spiritualized lust." What if you're truly attracted to someone of the same gender, a topic which actually isn't addressed in Scripture? Remember that marriages in that day and culture were arranged.

Those who say that the Scripture prohibits homosexual conduct may get the response that opposing "gay marriage" on that basis is "outdated." And they have a fair point.

The immediate context of such is that it's part of the "world system" -- something that God's people were to avoid because of its prevalence in surrounding cultures. I would say that He wrote it into Leviticus to distinguish ancient Israel from neighboring nations who, although the text doesn't say this, were probably engaged in that as well as other detestable practices. As far as the New Testament, the former singles pastor of my church has suggested that about 70 percent of ancient Rome, probably due to the accepted practice of infanticide of female babies, was homosexual, which is why the Apostle Paul had to address it. (Jesus never did because ancient Israel, generally His audience, wasn't involved.)

Basically, that means that, when it came to fighting "gay rights," we went beyond Scriptural mandates, focusing upon their particular evil and in the process misusing God's Word -- and, not coincidentally, since Anita Bryant's 1977 crusade in Miami, using gays as political piƱatas to raise money and outrage. We accused them of preying on children when 90 percent of acts of child sexual abuse are committed by heterosexuals. We accused them of "recruiting" (i.e. placing literature in racks on college campuses to publicize their activities, like anyone else). We accused them of trying to gain undefined "special rights."

As a result, and also because people began to develop sympathy for beleaguered gays, we began to lose that public relations battle. According to former right-wing journalist David Brock, who himself is gay, the gay-rights movement actually got a boost from the Republican Party's national convention in 1992, with white-hot speeches about a "culture war" turning off so much of the electorate that even many Republicans voted for Bill Clinton for president.

Many of us say, and I used to believe, that gays actually chose their orientation, but after reading a chapter in Philip Yancey's "What's So Amazing About Grace" about writer Mel White, a personal friend who had worked for and with such luminaries as Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and the late Francis Schaeffer, I now question that. Yancey mentioned that, before he "came out," White had actually undergone such things as shock therapy, aversion therapy and even exorcisms to kill his attraction to other men. Eventually he gave up.

The last stand turned out the be the legalization of same-gender matrimony -- I don't care to use the term "gay marriage" because it gives the mistaken impression that marriage is all about sex -- by a Massachusetts judge in 2004, which spooked a number of folks into voting for George W. Bush for reelection that year. However, with the war in Iraq dragging on, the economy failing and incidents of corruption by a number of Republican politicians being exposed, "moral issues" were placed on the back burner and what we know as the religious right, which had always led the charge, became increasingly irrelevant.

We also recently realized, or should have, that many, if not most, secular conservatives had no interest in fighting such things as gay rights and abortion, which led to a number of "culture warriors" skipping the recent Conservative Political Action Conference because of the presence of at least one prominent gay Republican group. (As though there's no such thing as gay conservatives -- be real.)

Anyway, because it's becoming more accepted and will likely achieve legal sanction, let's consider some of the implications down the road for those Christians opposed to "gay marriage": Are we willing to become social pariahs for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Are we willing to sacrifice social, let alone financial, support for various ministries that we operate publicly? (This should put the lie to the idea that the church of Jesus Christ is primarily, or even secondarily, a social-service agency.)

I don't see the Catholic or Mormon churches, both of which maintain a similar stance, as being similarly affected socially because they don't have the same kind of cultural position we evangelicals had or sought. Much of the African-American church, which also understands being marginalized, will also "keep on keeping on" -- polls have indicated that black Christians, the vast majority of which voted for President Obama in 2008, also were major supporters of Proposition 8, the successful ballot measure in California banning same-gender matrimony now under attack.

Bottom line, it might be time for a slice of humble pie because the tide has been turning for a while. And, strangely enough, in losing this part of the "culture war" we may actually gain down the road by focusing on God and His Kingdom and not changing the outside world so that we can live in it and avoid true spiritual warfare.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The art of politics vs. the tea-party movement

Much of the electorate complains about political candidates who seemingly won't take a stand, telling people what they think they want to hear and talking about of both sides of their mouth.

The recent shenanigans by Republican politicians, most recently and notably Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, should provide a clue as to why that's the case.

You may recall that he singlehandedly caused a crisis in that state by trying to push a bill that, in essence, would render public-sector unions toothless by allowing them collective bargaining only on economic issues. Democratic members of the state's Senate left the state to avoid a vote (which they knew they'd lose). Walker has demanded that the eloping senators return; they said they would do so when, and only when, he was prepared to negotiate.

That's the key word here -- "negotiate."

What Walker and his supporters don't seem to realize is that politics, at least in a republican democracy such as ours, is the "art of the possible," the willingness to make deals -- to give a little here and take a little there -- to get things done. The conservative movement in general and the "tea-party" movement, of which Walker is a supporter, in particular by contrast brook no dissent and always attempt to dictate the outcome.

It may be learning now that, when you take a strong, uncompromising stand, you give people incentive to vote against you. Already there's talk about recalling numerous Republican state senators in Wisconsin as a result of this fiasco, and polls have shown that the majority of voters now oppose Walker's bill.

Let me give two examples from the fairly recent past. Back in 1995 President Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich did battle over the Federal budget; the trouble was that the new Gingrich Congress -- including 75 freshman Republicans elected on the Contract with America -- was in no mood to negotiate. Recognizing this, Clinton allowed the government to shut down twice and the public blamed Gingrich, who in the end nevertheless got what he wanted. Clinton, of course, waltzed to a second term.

Remember that President Obama signed that health-care insurance bill into law about a year ago. Thing is, the opponents, out of spite rather than negotiating in good faith, kept trying to throw up roadblocks to and later complained that he actually made some deals to get the bill passed. Well, duh -- that's how the game works. And now they have the audacity to think that they can get it repealed (despite figures that say that it would cost the country down the road).

The modern conservative movement, which in a 2009 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Neal Gabler, who is writing a biography of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, referred to as "religion," has to understand that not only do a lot of people not agree with it but that it is now giving active opposition. The trouble is that, as a purist ideology, conservatism looks down upon anything that doesn't follow its tenets to the letter.

Right now, with huge, daily demonstrations in Madison, conservatives in private have likely referred to the protesters as "barbarians storming the gates." They need to understand that the progressives who have decided to fight back aren't going away and they should talk and listen to them if they want to stay in office.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The approaching storm

I'm recently recalling the curse "May you live in interesting times"; I think we're all being "cursed" right now, because to call these times "interesting" is somewhat of an understatement. What with the pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, the demonstrations in Madison, Wis. and now with a possible Federal government shutdown thanks to an upcoming impasse over the budget, we've to a lot to look forward to.

What I think we're seeing is a repudiation of class politics -- and let's call it by its name -- by groups that simply will not be mollified by the tactics of the past, and the "conservatives" in each of these situations are running scared. And should be because they realized that their ambition -- to stay in power by any means necessary -- is being threatened like never before. The old ways of "divide-and-conquer" have been exposed as fraudulent.

Right now the two Arab hotspots are Algeria and Libya, the former of which I understand has cut off the Internet to keep the flow of information from reaching the masses, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has used the military to try to quell that uprising. Somehow, I don't think these will work; keep in mind that a majority of the population in much of the Arab world is under 30 and thus has the passion and the will to outlast any efforts to co-opt it and the change it wants.

And don't think that theses "domestic disturbances" are truly about money, as you may have been told. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker of course submitted a bill that, in essence, strips collective bargaining from public-sector unions, leaving them practically toothless; in response, 14 members of the state Senate beat it out of town to keep the bill from being voted on. It turns out that Walker received money from the Koch PAC, which was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers that represent the financial backbone of the misnamed "tea-party" movement, so the idea that "finances" are to blame comes across as so much hooey. In the case of the Federal budget, GOP congresspeople have proposed cuts in social services but an $8 billion increase in defense spending. You do the math.

Although it's admittedly somewhat reactionary, all this might mean that progressivism may be making a comeback and there's nothing that the rich right, Fox News, talk-radio and media "ministries" can do about the genie that's been let out of the bottle.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mayhem in Mad City

We probably should have seen this coming.

You are probably aware of the mass demonstrations taking place in Madison, Wis. in protest of a bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker which protesters say would cripple public-sector labor unions. Democratic legislators who opposed the bill fled the capital, reportedly for Illinois, denying a quorum because they knew they didn't have the votes to defeat it outright.

Now, Wisconsin has a long history of progressive politics, so such action in that state may not surprise. I would suggest, however, that if this action is successful you'll see more of it around the country.

I say that because of the strong showing by Joe Sestak against eventual winner Pat Toomey in the race for U.S. Senate last year here in Pennsylvania, strong considering that at one point Sestak, as progressive a political candidate as there was here, was nearly 20 points behind in polls before his campaign began focusing on right-wing financial shenanigans. And as bad as the economy is and was for most folks, the idea that a privileged few were making out like bandits just didn't go over well, especially in a state with a strong tradition of organized labor -- which the political right, and thus the Republican Party that it all but owns, has overtly tried to destroy for the last 30 years.

Anyway, Wisconsin has provisions to recall legislators, and I understand that eight Republican members are eligible immediately for recall. If just three are taken down the legislature will become majority Democratic, enough to put the kibosh on that bill and any other legislation considered "anti-worker."

I don't yet know enough about either the specifics of Walker's bill to make a judgment on that or the issues that prompted the protest. I will say this, however: The days of the political right trying to roll over its opponents for political and financial gain may very well be coming to an end. If these demonstrations spark more protests around the country, a strong possibility given what's happening in the Middle East because of improved communication, we may -- may -- see a new chapter in the history of the union movement.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gays, the conservative movement and the Republican Party

Last week, right-wing African-American columnist Star Parker mentioned that she didn't attend the recent Conservative Political Action Conference because of the presence of a number of gay and pro-gay groups, specifically GOProud. "I learned conservatism in church," she said, and for that reason she felt that they didn't belong at the conference, let alone in the movement.

My response: Where has she been? The truth is that gays have been part of the conservative movement -- or, at the very least, have supported "conservative" principles -- as long as it has existed. And she probably even attends church with a few of them, though "in the closet."

In the mid-1990s then right-wing journalist David Brock, who wrote several stories bashing Bill Clinton in such publications as the American Spectator and the Washington Times, "came out" a few years before being kicked out of the movement but not really because he was gay. Later on, I think in 2002, conservative columnist James Pinkerton, writing in Newsday, wrote glowingly about the "Republican Unity Coalition," a conservative gay/straight alliance and the founder of which, Charles Francis, was friendly with George W. Bush and was the former lover of Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of Flight 93 -- and also a staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan. (The group is now inactive.)

The reality is that many, many people that happen to be gay actually, in their hearts, support the conservative agenda of "lower taxes, strong defense and less government," their sexual orientation the only deviation. Sorry, Ms. Parker, but that doesn't make them "liberal," as you allege.

And herein lies the problem with trying to bring the "culture war" to electoral partisan politics. I mentioned earlier that Ms. Parker said that she learned conservatism in church; trouble is, however, that conservatism is an ideology independent of religious faith. That means in practice that it had to have been introduced into the church (which it was, in the late 1970s) for political purposes, which has had the result of diluting the strong message of the gospel because it ended up not calling everyone to account for sin.

And this is what it's led to. Ms. Parker and other religious persons and organizations may be offended by the presence of gays at secular conservative gatherings; however, those fighting the "homosexual agenda" have to understand that, because even secular conservative groups belong to the "world system," the GOP simply can't win elections by declaring homosexual conduct morally wrong or, depending on your perspective, "bashing gays." According to Brock's 2002 book "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," many gay Republicans voted for Bill Clinton 10 years earlier because the culture warriors, most notably Pat Buchanan, took over the Republican National Convention.

It's becoming clear at least to me that the anti-gay forces in the conservative movement, let alone the Republican Party, are very much a minority. They thus have two choices: Shut up or leave -- because the gays just aren't going away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slick Rick the aristocrat

I don't know about you, but for me it's a weird feeling seeing Rick Santorum, the former suburban Pittsburgh congressman and Pennsylvania senator, as one of the folks interested in running for the Republican nomination for president next year. I understand that the Fox News Channel's "political analyst" is focusing on so-called social issues, specifically abortion and "Islamofascism."

Well, he certainly has the right to do so if he wants -- this is a free country, after all -- but considering his checkered political history I wonder why anyone would vote for him. Having seen his style up-close and based on his record, I'd say that he would be more a liability than asset for the GOP, which doesn't realize that yet, so desperate it is to anoint the next Ronald Reagan.

The reality is that, in his 16 years as a legislator, Santorum showed himself to be graceless, hypocritical -- and "entitled." It's the reason he's no longer in the Senate.

When he first ran for Congress, taking on a popular Democratic incumbent named Doug Walgren, in 1990 Santorum hammered home the point that Walgren actually lived in a Virginia suburb of D.C., and he rode that horse to victory. Four years later he won the Senate seat over Harris Wofford, appointed by then-Gov. Bob Casey Sr., best known as a staunch abortion opponent, after the death of H. John Heinz -- but in large part because Casey refused to endorse Wofford due to his wobbling on the abortion issue. His re-election in 2000 over former KDKA-TV newscaster Ron Klink, also anti-abortion, turned out to be quite close, I think 52-48.

During his second term Santorum, who by that time had risen to the No. 3 leadership position among Senate Republicans, began displaying all the trappings of a Washington "insider," leading to his downfall. In 2005 he billed the Penn Hills School District for cyber-schooling expenses; thing is, by this time he had moved his family of eight to Leesburg, Va. The district found out that he owned a vacant two-bedroom house in that Pittsburgh suburb that he used as an "official residence" but never spent any time there.

Recognizing Santorum's weakness, also in part due to his support of the war in Iraq and connections to the Jack Abramoff-fueled K Street lobbying scandal, the Washington Post reported that Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Committee, asked then-Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell who might be able to beat Santorum. He replied, "Bob Casey Jr.," then the state's auditor general.

"Get him," Schumer responded.

"But he's pro-life," Rendell protested.

"I don't care -- get him."

So the younger Casey became the Democratic nominee in 2006, and Santorum's response during that campaign was nothing short of hysterical, insulting Casey every chance he got -- I saw the faxes the Santorum campaign sent out, derisively calling him "Bobby" -- and trying to dominate every debate they had. However, polls indicated that Casey never had less than a nine-point lead, and he ended up winning by 18.

That's right -- 18. My sister-in-law, who lives in Penn Hills, told me whenever she went to vote that participation was very heavy, so disgusted with Santorum that a majority of other residents went to vote against him.

With that kind of history, I think folks need to rethink whether Santorum really is the best person for the job. I would want as president the person best able to run the country regardless of party or ideology -- but I don't think Santorum would be he or she.