It’s not the gauntlet so much as how you throw it

Father Krysztof Charamsa caused quite a stir when he announced he was gay on the eve of the Synod of Bishops, which was scheduled to address Catholic family issues. His announcement came at the tail end of a whirlwind of bad publicity unleashed across the world after American Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò hijacked a papal reception, claiming Pope Francis met personally to support same sex marriage opponent Kim Davis.

If anyone expected Charamsa to survive his announcement unscathed, least of all Charamsa, they doubtless broke into the Vatican wine cellar and polished off most of the reserves.

I’m not saying Charamsa should never have come out, but I do question his timing, and I question the theater behind his announcement. Pope Francis was still recovering from an embarrassing broadside by the right wing of his administration. He didn’t need a bigger broadside from the left. Nor do I think Charamsa really considered the fallout from his announcement.

Charamsa announced three things to the world:

  1. He announced he is gay. This alone would be enough to bring the conference under the same sex radar just after the Pope’s visit to America did the same. Same sex advocates scored a moral victory when Davis and Viganò’s backhanded scheme blew up in their faces. My personal opinion is that waiting a few months to come out might have shown more grace and brought more momentum to the movement, but I certainly think I would have stopped with the outing. For Charamsa that wasn’t enough.
  2. He announced that he was sexually active with one of his parishioners while practicing his priesthood. This admission took the affair (pun intended) to a new dimension. Charamsa’s declaration abandoned any question of identity. Few church scholars would deny it bordered on impropriety if not outright immorality. Not for the sexual activity, but because a priest should not exercise such influence over a parishioner. Even worse, Charamsa shows no signs of penitence. Instead,
  3. He intends to surrender his vows and take up residence with his lover. No doubt, intending to migrate to America and marry (although this is unspoken). If that doesn’t provide the conservative wing of the Pope’s administration with the ammunition they need to dismantle any momentum same-sex advocates might have gained, I can’t imagine what would.

As an American, I welcome them to our country. I wish them all the happiness in the world. But as a Christian I feel that Charamsa crossed several moral boundaries his lack of remorse renders him unsuitable for the priesthood.

American Christians recognize this moral crossroad every day. As citizens we have liberties we don’t enjoy as Christians. The Christian Right believes our repsonsibility is to deny every American the right to make those choices. But that is the opposite of the exercise of faith. Our responsibility is to make choices that we allow others to make differently. In fact, we should rejoice that others can make different choices that we do.

As to the belief that God is against same sex marriage, well God changes is mind all the time. Read your Bibles. How many times does it say in the Bible that God repented of his decisions? You don’t know? Look it up.

It’s easy to say that God stopped writing the Bible so he obvioulsy has nothing new to say, but I find that answer facetious. I think the Bible stopped being written because we stopped listening.

I think Charamsa stopped listening too. I think he listened too much to his heart and too little to God. Not about being Gay. Not about loving this man he loves. But about choosing to orchestrate this particular moment to come into the light in so dramatic a way when God could have been better served in penitence and good faith.

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If it’s textbook, it must be wrong

It used to be that people respected textbooks. We referred to “textbook examples” as the ones that were the most reliable. If someone was skeptical of something we said, we could tell them to look it up in the textbook.

But not in Texas. In Texas, the Textbook must be wrong, and we can thank Jesus for that. Or at least Texas Jesus.

Texas Jesus is a different breed of Jesus than the Jesus I read about in my Bible. Texas Jesus believes that if people don't do what you want, bully them into submission. Rick Perry preaches his message when he turned away federal health care dollars and vetoed an equal pay bill. The Texas Board of Education preaches this message when they use their purchasing clout to dictate science.

It's a familiar story, but in this round of textbook adoptions the Texas Board of Education assigned creationists to the textbook review process. If the books don't score high enough, schools don't adopt them in Texas. If they don't adopt them in Texas, they don't get adopted. So publishers are forced to concede to some dubious content changes, including:

  • No transitional fossils have ever been discovered (sure, we would always like more, but none?)
  • No evidence that the fossil record implies evolution occurred.
  • No evidence that climate change has affected the environment.

True Texas science (courtesy of allposters.com)

For all of their complaints about being abused and maligned, the religious right, especially those in my home state, are an especially arrogant lot. They suffer under the delusion that society must cater to them and they should dictate what others are taught to believe.

The Christian Right constantly whines that it isn't the government's responsibility to feed the poor, or regulate health care, but they seem to believe it's the government's responsibility to make sure children are taught the world according to Jesus. That is the world according to Texas Jesus.

There is an essential arrogance in the Christian Right that was lacking in the real Jesus or the original Christians. It never occurred to Christians that the government would be responsible for teaching the faith to their children. That was their responsibility. The government was the enemy and the world was hostile to them. It was only when they seized control of empire that their attitudes changed.

In Texas Christians control the empire, hence our lack of humility. But to lose our humility is to lose an essential element of our Christianity. The government isn't responsible for teaching our children or making our textbooks Jesus friendly. The Bible says God appoints government for the care of everyone. That includes those who don't believe. So get over it, and teach your kids the right way yourself.

 

Put your Deity where your mouth is

In a bizarre twist of political opportunism, both the Republican Party and Obama joined forces recently to file briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the city of Greece, New York in their Supreme Court appeal over a federal ruling that their council meeting prayers endorsed the Cristian religion. Both feel the lower court overstepped its bounds and that Christian prayer hardly constitutes an endorsement.

Essentially, according to Obama's Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli, having Christian prayers isn't an endorsement simply because most of the speakers are Christian and the prayers are sectarians. Otherwise, he argues, the government would have to police all prayers. But, even to my Christian ears, the arguments seem lame. More than lame. They sound like something dumped into a final essay by a college kid pre-occupied with other matters and, forced to take the final or finding his funding cut off, knew he had to write something.

Nor does the Greece council's argument that they occasionally invite a speaker from another denomination hold water. Throwing a scrap to the other dog doesn't mean you don't favor yours.

Think of it like this. In a movie, when you see the hero drinking Coke all the time, or finding the bad guy using a Mac Book Pro, this is considered a product endorsement. It doesn't matter if one of the extras can be seen with a Pepsi and a Dell in the back of the food court during the chase scene. Comedian Mike Meyers made this point very clear in his Wayne's World movies.

In the same way, a news organization's endorsement goes to the candidate blessed with the most positive coverage. In fact, Republicans harp on this constantly when they claim the media, which covers them constantly, has a liberal bias. It doesn't matter if Ron Paul gets a story here or there. When Mitt Romney is featured front and center in the news, he has the media's endorsement as the favorite to win, if not necessarily as the best choice.

So why does it matter who opens prayer? Because, like it or not, opening prayer is a compulsory exercise. People in attendance don't get to opt out. The people who schedule prayer can deny it all they want, but they deceive only themselves.

One person praying in public is not compulsory. It would not be compulsory for someone to approach the podium and say to an audience, “Would you give us a moment of silence?” But to say, “Please take a moment while we pray,” forces everyone to join in the exercise. And Jesus never made anyone do anything. Jesus was about free will.

To compel people to pray, and then set the agenda by endorsing one faith, albeit a broad faith like Christianity, violates the establishment clause of the Constitution and it violates the spirit of Christianity which leaves each of us free to follow Jesus or choose a different path.

So if Greece, or any city council, insists on prayer, how can they avoid endorsement without Verilli's government police at their shoulder? Open their prayers to all. Every week invite someone from a different faith entirely. This week invite a Rabbi, next week an Imam. Don't forget a Shaman, and your Universalist/Unitarian. I'm sure there are some Pagans out there glad to lead solstice prayers. And I know a few atheists who would lead prayers on principle. Once every six weeks, just have every one in the audience throw their name in a hat and draw. Have an entire meeting of open mike prayers once every six months.

You can even follow the example from the Friends. Sit in silence for a minute. Or conduct the entire meeting in silence. You might even get something useful done.

 

Yes, Virginia, there is an adoption clause

Or, there could be if Senator Lucio has his way.

During a recent special session in our Sovereign State of Texas, which those of us down here know if the rest of you don't determines God's will for the world, one of our Democratic Senators upped the ante in Jesus' campaign to save the unborn by proposing a bill to require adoption training before granting abortions.

For pro-choice advocates, Lucio's new requirements would make getting an abortion even more cumbersome than that last sentence. The proposal is even more alarming having come from a Democrat, the only Democrat who voted for the onerous Republican plan that was railroaded through the legislature after two special sessions. The good news is, it has no chance of being passed.

I don't think it's all that bad an idea, however. It just needs some tweaking. Some Jesus tweaking. You see the Lucio's idea is still about forcing women to do things whether they want to or not, and forcing people was never Jesus' way, something pro-lifers never seem to get.

In my version of Lucio's bill, instead of forcing women who want an abortion to take an adoption seminar, I say we force legislators who force women to give birth to find adopters for those babies. And that means they have to sit through training on how to find suitable parents, how to train those parents to be responsible financially and how to plan for their adopted children's education, how to monitor those families unobtrusively to make sure the children are being cared for and loved.

This law will have to include an amendment that mandates Episcopalians can be loving Christian families too and that Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist mothers can have their children placed in homes of their faiths. Yes, I am a Christian, but Jesus would have been deeply offended had his disciples forced their children or spouses to follow him.

Of course, we don't want to raise taxes, so the law would have to mandate that legislators who stop women from having abortions pay for this out of their own pockets. But, hey, if it's important enough, you can make room for it in your budget.

So hats off to you, Senator Lucio. Jesus salutes you and I salute you. You had the right idea, you just needed to refine it a little. Remember who needs the real education. And while you're at it, you might be thinking about how to find adopters for those little babies yourself since you helped cut back access to care.

And help find more doctors for women and their children as well since their becoming fewer and further between in Texas. Unless you plan to pay for their health care out of your own pocket.

Or you plan to heal them all with your prayers.

God hates sex

This week the University of Saint Mary on the Lake concluded its annual Courage Conference. The conference is a gathering of the saints to discuss the foremost topic facing Christians: sex.

In and of itself, a conference about Christian sexuality is hardly something to criticize, much less subject to my usual level of mockery. But the conference opens itself up to parody, if not outright satire, with its opening prayer which is posted above the fold on its web site. The prayer opens innocently: “Lord Jesus, I consecrate my sexuality to you.”

How can any sincere Christian argue with that? Any reading of scripture indicates that Christians want to bring all of our desires into subjugation to God, our appetites, our health, our quest for knowledge, our ambition, our pursuit of fortune for the benefit of our families. But the next lines are nothing less than a punchline: “cleanse my mind, my memory, my imagination and my dreams of all erotic content.”

Clear my mind of all erotic content? Wow, that's pretty harsh. So if Carol bends over I'm supposed to ask Jesus to keep me from getting a little bit aroused? That kind of kills the point of marriage, doesn't it? Why bother to be fruitful and multiply? It's kind of hard to multiply if you've purged your mind of the erotic thoughts that make multiplication possible.

That would kill dating too, wouldn't it? Isn't that why kids date? Because they see other kids and they get those urges? Why get married if you've put all erotic thought out of your head? You could just be friends. Of course, that would kill Christian Mingle, not to mention all those weddings which are a major source of income for churches and companies tied to churches.

I read through the panel presentations and a couple caught my eye. My favorite was “Interior Purity: Tricky Temptation and Jumbo Chastity.” I got the “tricky temptation” metaphor, but what is “jumbo chastity?” I'm trying to picture the seminar and the speaker trying to stretch that metaphor to fit, kind of like a jumbo gum ball or jumbo condom.

The other one involved sacred imagery in art. Why would a program on sacred imagery be included in a sexuality conference? Oh wait, are they trying to hide a discussion on erotic imagery in art? Is it really a panel on replacing naked babes in painting with the Virgin mother? I wouldn't be surprised. Once Christians get an itch in their pants, they're likely to do anything.

Song of Songs: Sacred art or Erotica? This is the sacred Disney version (religion.lilithezine.com)

The conference will launch with training seminars for clergy and mental health care providers on how to pray the gay away by National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) therapists. It doesn’t matter that their methods have been discredited by just about every legitimate therapist and medical organization (including Christian groups), if it's anti-Gay it's the Courage way.

The sessions are only the lead up to the opening mass conducted by Chicago's Archbishop Cardinal Francis George. His scheduled appearance only fueled the fires of dissent with protesting groups, even though the church consistently swore it didn't constitute an official endorsement. Unfortunately, when one of the key figures in the church presides, an endorsement inevitably follows.

Nor can we ignore the fact that the church's ardent anti-abortion stance, at least in part, stems from the belief that women should not be allowed to have sex and get off scott free. Yes, every life is sacred, but if women engage in promiscuous sex they should at least be saddled with a child to remind them of their transgressions.

Somehow during the process by which the church managed to build an institutional structure, sex got a bad rap. A very bad rap. I read the Bible and I’m not sure that was ever supposed to happen, but happen it did, and it’s one of the indications of how our drive to institutionalize absolute ways of thinking took us on a detour with the real scripture in the rearview window.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I was told from the beginning that sex would warp my mind and my relationships with women. Masturbation was the sin of Onan, and fornication, or sex out of marriage, was equated with homosexuality among the worst sins in Paul's accounting of sins in Romans. The only problem was, the more I read my own Bible the more I had doubts.

Onan didn't masturbate. He refused to father kids in his brother's place. There is no reference to masturbation in the Bible (or abortion for that matter). The early Old Testament saints were having sex out of wedlock all the time. They would even meet women on the road and sleep with them. And it wasn't that big a deal. And once I read the book of Romans I realized that as far as Paul was concerned, homosexuality and fornication were held to be as evil in God's eyes as gossip and jealousy. In short, all sin is pretty much the same.

So the prayer for the Courage Conference perhaps should read, “cleanse my mind, my memory, my imagination and my dreams of all erotic, malicious, jealous, spiteful, gossipy and even narcissistic content.”

As for fornication, or sex out of wedlock? After hearing a sermon on how words from the New Testament such as “baptism” were frequently mistranslated, I decided to look fornication up. It turns out no concordance I referenced would really tackle the word's etymology. It really seems to be a transliteration rather than a real translation. The real word is “pornea.” As best I could tell from reading, the early Christians were very concerned about a practice involving temple prostitutes.

It seems pilgrims visited temple prostitutes as part of pagan worship (and no doubt to enrich the temples, not to mention keep up membership). Now I ask you, which practice do you think would upset practicing Jews and early Christians more, sex out of wedlock or sex with foreign gods and goddesses? I've got to think fornication more likely referred to temple prostitution than kids fumbling around in the courtyard when their parents weren't looking. Especially since those two rascals would probably end up married in a month or two anyway.

Yes, the Bible acknowledges that we can be driven by lustful thoughts and impulses. But we can also be driven by greed, pride and hatred. Nor am I suggesting that Christians seek out meaningless sexual encounters with multiple partners, or drop into bed just because the body moves them. The question is whether or not the enjoyment of sex, or even eroticism itself bad.

Any good BPK knows where I'm going with this. The great white elephant of the Bible. The Song of Solomon. That poem puts DH Lawrence to shame and yet it has been twisted and lied about and interpreted in every possible way to brainwash us into thinking it's not about sex.

It's about sex. It relishes sex. It is the most erotic poem in the history of Western Civilization.

I know, I know. As a BPK I was told it's an allegory, it's symbolic of our love for Christ written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, it's about anything but sex. Unfortunately, we're Baptists. Every word of the Bible is literal. And that means it's good to think about breasts and kissing and exploring what's between a woman's legs and her exploring what's between mine. Literally.

Which brings us back to the Courage prayer: “cleanse my mind, my memory, my imagination and my dreams of all erotic content, and please take the Song of Songs out of the Bible because if I stumble across it in my daily devotions, I have to clean my mind all over again.”

 

Don’t turn this cheek, Maddy

The boys might get the wrong idea

Seriously, Maddy Blythe, an outstanding middle school defensive tackle can't play for Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, Georgia this year because the school's CEO is afraid the boys will have lustful thoughts about her.

I don't know which is more disturbing, the fact that a school principal calls himself a CEO or that he's worried that the boys in the middle of a pile up with twenty one other boys and one girl, all in full field gear, will have lustful thoughts. Have they trained their young Christian men that poorly that the pre-game prayer and fist-pumping, chest-pounding, head bashing violence will suddenly be undone by their penises?

If that's the case, don't blame the girl.

It's not as though they're throwing Maddy naked into the showers with the boys. She has her own dressing room. And she's not exactly lining up in Fredrick's of Hollywood's latest ensembles. She's dressed just like the boys, in full football regalia, which is to say about as sexy as watching Robert Downey Jr. dress like Iron Man.

Beware Christians, this girl could seduce your son.

I've seen Maddy interview on television with some of the boys from her team. They say they feel about her as though she's their sister. Why doubt them. Especially when they have cheerleaders running up and down the field kicking their legs high up in the air to lust after? I went to middle school and high school. Those little girls throw themselves at football players like locusts after honey. Who needs a defensive tackle dressed in shoulder, hip and knee pads to stir their lust?

If the Strong Rock Christian CEO is so worried about young girls stirring lust in his young Christian ball players, why not get rid of the cheerleading squad?

Come to think of it, doesn't it strike you as strangely Freudian that a Christian school would even allow their young boys to be ball players? And while we're on Freud and transference, why is the CEO so obsessed with young boys obsessing over girl ball players, when no one else seems to see a problem?

See here's the thing about suppressed sexuality in young Christian men: In the Bible Belt, supervisors and CEOs turn a blind eye to covert sexual aggression all the time. Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I was rather naive sexually. My parents suggested to me every day in every way that any sexual overtures toward women, even holding hands, would make them hate me forever. It took me years of missed opportunities to discover that was the worst kind of Christian nonsense.

But as I did begin to date and become more comfortable with women, my girlfriends told me the many tricks Baptist boys used in church camp and Sunday School to cop a feel for Christ. I won't detail them here, but I was amazed to hear how many of the boys my parents pointed to as the example I should follow (especially when I disappointed them) had managed to squeeze a breast for Jesus and come off appearing perfectly holy in the process. The girls knew, of course, but they also knew it was pointless to say anything because no one would believe them.

So, Maddy, trust me. The footballers don't need you on the field to fuel their desires. Someone (I won't say who) is simply using you as the excuse to cover up desires they wish to hide from the world.

Those of you who wish to support Maddy can like her facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LetHerPlay?ref=ts&fref=ts

 

Feturbation and the pro-life movement

I know a good many pro-life advocates and evangelicals are celebrating this week. It seems they have definive proof that fetuses are living conscious beings. According to recent in-womb videos fetuses masturbate bringing smiles to their little faces.

The phenomenon has even given rise to a new term, feturbartion. Okay, I made that up, although I wouldn’t be surprised if other enterprising writers haven't coined the term by now. I’m just too lazy to search the web.

The point is, Republican lawmakers claim fetuses can not only feel pain and pleasure, they can bring pleasure upon themselves. Ipso facto, it’s time to give it up, liberals and pro-choice secular humanist Christians. Stop killing babies in the womb.

Unfortunately, being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) I've got bad news for the pro-life movement. Now that we know about feturbation, it seems that the pro-life movement has just earned an official frowny face from the most high.

You see, we learned all about the sin of masturbation from Genesis 38:8-10. Masturbation is the sin of Onanism, or having sex without intending to reproduce. We heard sermon after sermon on Onan and lesson after lesson in church camp and Sunday school (always in segregated classes with boys and girls only, of course). And what did God do to that masturbating sinner Onan? He slew him dead.

The lesson of the Old Testament doesn't get much clearer than that. God wants us to kill masturbators.

So contrary to being a pro-life lesson, the new information is just the opposite. Now that we know those little fetuses are committing the sin of Onanism in the womb, then their mothers are doing God's will when they check in to those clinics.

So go home, protestors. Tea Party Republicans, leave NOW out of the debate. Christians, it's okay to vote Republican but abortion is off the table. Those unborn babies are committing the most mortal of sins and if you interfere with their mothers' life decisions, you're interfering with God's judgment.