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Posts for November, 2015

The Mormon apostasies

Timothy Kincaid

November 6th, 2015

mormon templeApostasy is the act of rejecting one’s (former) religious beliefs and denying the teaching of one’s church. It’s not simply a matter of disagreement on issues, doubt about doctrine, or failing to apply specific teachings to one’s life.

A Catholic family can quietly go about utilizing contraception without being apostate. They can march in protest when their local Catholic School fires a gay teacher. They can question whether restriction on priests’ gender is based more in misogyny than in revelation. But if they reject the doctrine that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ provides redemption for sin, then they are denying the central tenet of the Catholic faith and are in apostasy.

Religions and denominations respond to apostasy with a wide array of reaction. Protestant Christians will probably do little more repeatedly tell you that they are praying that you get right with God. In some Muslim sects, they will stone you to death.

Mormons, whose communities are largely built on interconnecting family ties, may find that rejecting their faith comes with a high cost. Being viewed as apostate can leave one with little social or family network to rely on as exclusion from the daily activities of one’s religion is often the same as exclusion from one’s social and family circle.

For many denominations, apostasy is ill defined. Just how far one can go without becoming apostate is a bit nebulous across the vast diversity in religious belief.

But the Mormons make it very simple. And in their latest revision, they list the five things that one can do which are apostasy.

1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.

Okay, that seems pretty standard.

2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.

Again, that makes sense.

3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.

Yeah, I suppose following apostate teachings makes you apostate.

We’ll skip #4 for a moment.

5. Formally join another Church and advocate its teachings.

Well now this is getting downright boring.

Back to

4. Are in a same-gender marriage.

Wait. What?

Of all the possible things that one could do as a Mormon that flies in the face of church teaching, only one is so grievous as to be specifically and exclusively declared apostasy? And that one thing is gay marriage?

Oh silly Mormons. And you wonder why it is that the world around you thinks that you are a bunch of raging homophobes.

My quest for PrEP

Timothy Kincaid

November 5th, 2015

truvadaToday Larry Kramer, the grandfather of ACT-UP, released a scathing indictment of the current status of AIDS research. And though he was in parts incoherent (gonorrhea statistics don’t speak to AIDS research funding), his frustration has merit. Bureaucratic structures don’t lend themselves well to efficiency and as decades slip by with the oft-promised cure remaining just out of sight, it becomes easy to agree that the National Institutes of Health are “more interested in Alzheimer’s than AIDS and Congress is not interested in AIDS at all”.

Kramer is the king of rage. His anger has propelled a life-long fight against institutional power, even as Kramer has gained access to levels that most of us could never achieve. And though many of his demands over the years have been met, his bleak view has never been at loss for a target of his fury.

But, frankly, a life lived in outrage is exhausting. And my temperament doesn’t allow me to see the world through the prism of loss and lack.

Like Kramer, I lived through the years of fear and frustration in the 80’s and 90’s and have lost friends to AIDS, though likely not on the same scale. And I too have seen Very Exciting Breakthroughs For A Cure that turned out to be anomalies and overblown wishes. I now approach each new cure-around-the-corner claim with the skepticism of the man who discovers that he did not, after all, buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

But I have experienced the arc of the epidemic. I recall when nothing was known about Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (as it was first called) and then when the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was identified. I know the growing panic during the two-week response period. I remember the breakthrough of the mid-90’s when the “drug cocktail” of antiretroviral treatment caused the death rate to plummet. And since then I’ve watched a plodding but steady progression towards management and sustainability and prevention.

There has been amazing progress.

Yes, HIV continues to impede the full potential of lives. Even in the best of cases, it brings a tedious drug regimen, social stigma, and the fear of unknown possible side effects.

But unlike Kramer, I just can’t see the glass as half full and draining rapidly. Irrespective of whether the NIH appoints a new head of the Office of AIDS Research in a timely manner, I still see the glass as three quarters full with a steady drip increasing the level.

And one of the more recent developments that has given me hope that the viral endemic can finally be beaten has been the two pronged approach of undetectability and insusceptibility.

For most (but not all) HIV infected persons, current drug treatments reduce the level of virus in the body to such a point that it cannot be detected. And the practical reality is (though officials are hesitant to stake this claim) those with undetectable levels of HIV are not transmitting the virus to others.

And more recently, within the past couple of years, it has become evident that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the form of a daily dose of Truvada can cause an HIV negative person to be virtually immune from contracting the virus. By virtually immune, I mean percentages in the high 90’s, a better success rate than condoms. Though anecdotes do not speak definitively, at this point the collective street-knowledge of PrEP is nothing short of astonishing. As a small example, an acquaintance of mine who is seriously dedicated to condomless receptive anal sex and who was one of the early participants in PrEP tested negative again yesterday after a couple years of regular “unsafe” sexual practice.

In combination, these two therapies may not be the cure that Larry Kramer and the rest of us hope for, but if correctly targeted and implemented, we could see HIV in America go the way of tuberculosis in a generation.

Of course, that requires thoughtful and committed leadership. And I do have skepticism about the commitment of government to properly design or implement such a plan.

I suppose it’s possible that a driven and charismatic leader will be appointed to the Office of AIDS Research who will throw political expediency out the window and press towards targeting the communities that most need regular and thorough testing and who is willing to buck powerful elements of the AIDS industry who have a vested interest in opposing PrEP. I suppose someone could don a cape and come to our rescue.

But the history of the AID epidemic suggests otherwise. For the most part, power and government have impeded rather than advanced response. It has been mostly gay men, and their allies (let’s never forget how lesbians stepped up to a crisis to which they are least directly threatened) who have been on the forefront of knowledge and power, who played personal guinea pig, who recrafted the social acceptability of practices within their own community, and who fought in the streets for the right to take drugs that would save their lives.

So I suspect it will be up to the gay community to create a culture in which all of those who HIV positive are tested and place on appropriate medication (and fight for the funding to make this a reality) and all those who are sexually active outside of a monogamous relationship and who are negative go on PrEP (a likely tougher funding fight). We will have to be the ones who make “Truvada whore” a badge of responsibility and sexual freedom.

Yes, we will need to be conscious of possible side-effects and aware that all drugs impact different bodies differently. But – at least so far – it appears that until a cure for AIDS is discovered, PrEP is a promising approach to personal protection and community health.

So it’s time to do my part. It’s time for me to join the Truvada whores, time to take PrEP.

Over the past months, several of my friends have gone to their doctors and signed up. They are all happy with this choice and found it to be a painless process. I’m not so lucky.

My employer provides me with health insurance through Blue Shield of California (for which I am appreciative). My plan is an HMO and though that is more limiting than a PPO, it hasn’t really impacted me much. Until now, I have no complaints. Or, not many.

When the plan was implemented, Blue Shield assigned me to a primary care physician based on location. And as I live near Koreatown, my doctor operates out of an office which caters primarily to older Koreans.

I’m not Korean, but the diplomas were from reputable schools and as my medical history is not complex, I figured that any doctor can provide basic care and I had no reason to change. And, frankly, it felt a bit prejudiced to discount a doctor’s ability to treat me simply because I’m not in his target demographic.

And for the most part, all has been fine.

Yes, there was the time he pressured me to become vegetarian (ummmm, no!). And, as I discovered in the waiting room, I’m not a big fan of Korean soap operas. But he was attentive and personable and I just don’t see a doctor that much.

On my last visit, I told my doctor that I was interested in PrEP. He had no idea what I was talking about so I asked him to look into the subject so that we could pursue that direction. He said nothing.

Finally, having waited for months without a response, I called my doctor’s office and explained to the receptionist that I’d like to see the doctor and would like to discuss PrEP with him and could he please be ready for this. She said she’d ask the doctor.

The receptionist called me back. And said I should find another doctor. One that deals with HIV. Because my primary care physician wouldn’t want to give inadequate care.

It’s probably only my imagination that heard “go away, go away, don’t touch me”.

But fair enough. I’m certain that his knowledge of his community allows him to be aware of cultural particularities which give him greater insight into the care of his specific demographic. And I probably would be better served by finding a doctor who is familiar with the trends in the lives of gay men and specific medical issues of which to be aware.

Besides, I live in Los Angeles. There are more than 25,000 doctors in this county. How hard can it be to find one that specializes in gay health (or “men’s health” as it is sometime euphemistically called)?

As it turns out, it’s not so easy.

My insurer’s website easily allows you to search for another primary care physician. You can search by gender, language spoken, medical specialty, or name. You can even put in other search terms. But gay and LGBT had zero results.

So I turned to Yelp. Here, results were more promising. Several reviews discussed whether the doctors were welcoming of gay men and women. Some even discussed PrEP. Best of all, Yelp’s ad generator gave me the names of medical groups who specialize not just on gay men but on getting them onto PrEP. Yay!

Back to the website I went. The most prominent men’s health group didn’t show up. But fine, another did. So I submitted my change request and waited.

Nothing.

So back to the website I went and sure enough, my primary health group is still the Korean group.

This time I didn’t rely on the doctor’s name showing up in the grid to mean that I could select that doctor. I called or emailed the doctors instead. And it turns out that none of them accept Blue Shield HMO. Zero success.

Back to online searching. Viola, there are handy guides to tell one just who does administer PrEP in LA County. But sadly, they seem to either be upscale and take PPO or other high end insurance plans or else they cater to those less fortunate and take Medicare. For someone who has (what I’ve assumed to be) a perfectly fine but no frills plan, there seems to be nothing.

In desperation, last night I called Blue Shield. And the lovely young women who handled my call agreed to search their database for doctors in LA who take my insurance plan and who specialize in PrEP (who knew it had to be a specialty?). After 20 minutes holding, she came back to tell me that she had no success. But she promised to keep trying and to call doctors until she found me one.

However, I’m not over-confident of hearing back. Because when I suggested that she broaden her search to include gay health or men’s health she became flustered and confused. I’m guessing that in whatever culture she live, one doesn’t say the words “I’m a gay man” out loud.

But I’m not giving up. I do have some leads.

One of the doctor’s offices – one that doesn’t take my plan – generously came up with some names of others who might be able to direct me. And the local LBGT center is a resource that I can approach. Word is that they’ve opened a new outreach office in West Hollywood whose sole purpose is to get gay men on PrEP and I’m hopeful that they might be able to help.

I am confident that eventually I’ll find a doctor that takes my insurance plan who is willing to provide this regimen. I live in a city that is, for the most part, inclusive and welcoming of gay people. I have many many options and opportunities.

But I cannot imagine trying to go through this process in a red state. Or in rural California. Or in a city without an established gay community.

So maybe Larry Kramer has a point. PrEP should be available to every gay man – or every other person in a high risk demographic – through every doctor in the country, not just the handful who “specialize” in gay health. We would not find it acceptable if this level of difficulty were faced by those who sought preventative measures for anything else? Why is it acceptable that doctors can turn away patients simply because they “don’t deal with HIV issues”?

Maybe Kramer’s right. Maybe it is time for a little rage.

The last we hear about Andrew Shirvell (I hope)

Timothy Kincaid

November 2nd, 2015

It’s been more than five years now since Andrew Shirvell began to entertain us. Combining prissy manners with rants about “radical homosexual agendas” and a personal obsession with University of Michigan Student Body President Chris Armstrong, Shirvell seemed more like a character from Saturday Night Live than an assistant attorney general.

We watched as his boss, Attorney General Mike Cox, first defended him and then gave him leave before booting his butt out the door.

And then there was the lawsuit in which Armstrong accused Shirvell of defamation. In a glorious moment of legal comedy, Shirvell served as his own attorney, questioning himself and giving himself answers under oath, before admitting that he hadn’t bothered any other gay activists or school administrators and had, instead, obsessed on Armstrong.

We watched his sad attempts at countersuing Armstrong and Armstrong’s lawyer. Both were tossed.

He had a moment of happiness when a court ruled that he was entitled to unemployment payments. But then an appeals court decided that being batpoop crazy and cyberstalking citizens from government computers was a legitimate cause for being fired.

Then the jury awarded Armstrong 4.5 million dollars, which a generous appeals court cut down to 3.5 million.

And now comes, I believe, the final chapter of Andrew Shirvell’s public life. (Detroit Free Press)

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a former lawyer for the state of Michigan who lost a defamation lawsuit filed by a gay student at the University of Michigan.

The justices on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that upheld a $3.5 million jury award to Chris Armstrong, a former student government president.

I don’t know what Shirvell is doing these days. I doubt that it’s practicing law, as he has shown a remarkable inability to understand either its application or administration. But who knows.

All I hope for him is that he resolves whatever it is that compelled him to lurk outside Armstrong’s home, read his Facebook posts, and follow him around. And I hope that this closes the final chapter in Andrew Shirvell’s public humiliation.

Church of Norway bishops unanimously support same-sex marriage

Timothy Kincaid

November 2nd, 2015

Norwegian churchThe Norwegians don’t much attend church services. Estimates vary, but it’s generally agreed that less than 10% of the citizens of Norway attend church at least once a month.

Nevertheless, baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial in Norway all have strong religious associations. And for that there is the Church of Norway, an Evangelical Lutheran body that was, until 2012, the state church.

About three quarters of Norway’s population is on the Church of Norway’s roster, mostly due to automatic enrollment of any child who has a parent in the church. And roughly two-thirds of infants in Norway are confirmed in the church. So this body may not be particularly representative of the people, but it is relevant to them.

In 2014, the church’s synod rejected a liturgy for same-sex marriage. This was not received well by the Norwegian people, the vast majority of which support gay marriage.

At that time, the bishops were split, with some opposing the practice. Now they have unified in policy if not in theology. (yahoo)

Church of Norway bishops said Friday that they were unanimously in favour of allowing gay couples to marry in religious ceremonies, a hot-button issue to be decided on next year.

After a meeting lasting several days, the 12 bishops called for the synod — the church’s governing body — to adopt new rules allowing the same rights to apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples when it comes to marriage in the church.

The new policy would allow individual pastors to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. The synod vote will be in April 2016.

Paul Ryan elected speaker

Timothy Kincaid

October 29th, 2015

As expected, the representative from Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, Paul Ryan, has been elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. But although most of the Republican Party rallied around Ryan, some holdouts from the tea party fringe withheld their support. (USA Today)

He received 236 of the 432 votes cast. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., received 184. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., got 9 votes. A handful of other people got a total of three votes.

I think that perhaps the factious nature of Webster and the other tea party extremists may result in Ryan feeling that he owes less loyalty to their agenda. And that is a good thing for our community and the nation.

Paul Ryan likely next Speaker

Timothy Kincaid

October 22nd, 2015

Paul RyanPaul Ryan has said that he will take up the job of Speaker of the House and is expected to win handily in next week’s vote. So yay! Because Paul Ryan is “the homosexual lobby’s trojan horse”. Just ask Eugene Delgaudio.

Well, no, he isn’t of course. Paul Ryan is not an ally of our community and has a string of anti-gay votes to prove it.

But Ryan also has shown support on a few specific issues. For example, he voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007 and in 2013 indicated his tentative support. While he might or might not favor a specific bill as drafted, he has said that “someone should not be fired because of their sexual orientation”.

This is important as we go into debates over religious rights. Some on the right see “religious rights” as a vehicle by which to codify discrimination against gay people. And it seems unlikely that Ryan will champion legislation that targets gay people for denial of basic rights.

Additionally, Ryan has changed on issues relating to gay couples. In 1999, as a new Congressman, Ryan voted to ban adoption by gay couples in Washington DC. However, in 2013 he told a group of constituents that he has long since changed his mind and now believes that gay people can provide children with a loving home.

This does not suggest that Ryan will be championing our rights or fighting for our causes. But it does suggest that he does not hold significant animus towards gay individuals, sees gay people as a part of the Nation’s fabric, and recognizes that gay relationships have value. I don’t anticipate that Ryan will be significantly different from John Boehner on gay issues.

So I’m a bit relieved that the choice now clearly seems to be Paul Ryan. We certainly could have worse.

Italy edges towards equality

Timothy Kincaid

October 21st, 2015

Italy is the only nation in Western Europe that does not offer some form of recognition for same-sex couples. However, that appears to be about to change. (thelocal.it)

Italy’s parliament began debating a civil union bill for gay couples on Wednesday, kicking off a hotly-awaited rights battle championed by Premier Matteo Renzi but expected to drag on for months.

While attempts by previous administrations to change the law have been thwarted by parties with deep ties to the powerful Catholic Church, this time the majority of opposition parties have said they support the bill.

The bill has significant popular support and changes in the tone of language from the Holy See suggest that opposition from the Church and her faithful will be less vehement than in the past.

NJ Archbishop denies communion to large majority of Catholics

Timothy Kincaid

October 13th, 2015

myersDespite a poorly conceived meet-up with Kim Davis, Pope Francis has tried to repackage the Catholic Church as welcoming to gays and others who have felt excluded and rejected by the Church. He has endeavored to walk the organization back from the image of arrogance and intolerance that it held under Pope Benedict the Malevolent.

But while the Holy Father is the head and spiritual leader of the Church, he is not dictator. He does not have limitless power to purge voices of dissent and there is substantial infrastructure which has not accepted and does not support a more inclusive or gentler Church. They believe that the Church is God’s sledgehammer to be wielded against political, civic, or religious institutions which reject the teaching of the church.

One such advocate for moral absolutism and conformity is Newark Archbishop John Myers who seeks to limit fellowship in the faith to those who adhere to confirm the teachings of the church. (WaPo)

Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.

In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.

He says Catholics, “especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.”

I will say this for Myers, he isn’t simply going with the winds of change in public opinion. In fact, it would be difficult to come up with a less popular position.

First, this doubles down on about one quarter of Catholics who have been divorced and the nine percent who remarried. While the church’s teaching has always been a bit touchy in this area, there has been a growing desire withing the Church to emphasize pastoral care over dogma and finding that balance is a large part of the current synod.

Standing in the door of the church with a list of the disallowed – even while the Pope is seeking greater inclusion – not only undermines the efforts of Francis, but serves to disillusion those who have divorced, along with their friends and family.

But more significant than the quarter of Catholics who have divorced and remarried is the denial of communion to Catholics who support gay marriage. In February 2012, prior to New Jersey achieving marriage equality, 52% of Catholics indicated support for same-sex marriage. By June 2013 57% indicated that they would vote for same-sex marriage if it were on the ballot.

In a September national poll of Catholics, 46% said that not only should same sex marriage be legal, it should be recognized by the Catholic Church. It is fair to assume that the numbers in socially liberal New Jersey are at least that large.

And finally, there are those who “reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law” on birth control. The poll found that 76% of Catholics believe the church should allow birth control.

Between those three issues alone, even assuming large overlap, any strict enforcement would drive away the vast majority of Americans who identify as Catholic. Add in those who have lived with a partner outside marriage (44%) and you can really cut down on the cost of communion wafers.

This is stupid. Truly stupid. And it’s unlikely to hold much sway.

Myers is set to offer his retirement when he turns 75 next July and the Pope isn’t going to beg him to stay on. Archbishop Bernard Hebda has already been appointed as his replacement and Hebda has a reputation for listening.

But in the meantime, please know that if you are a New Jersey Catholic and you read at BTB, you are almost certainly unwelcome to the Lord’s Table.

American hero stabbed outside gay bar

Timothy Kincaid

October 8th, 2015

spencer stoneFirst-class airman Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and student Anthony Sadler were vacationing together in Europe and on August 21st they boarded the Amsterdam to Paris train. Just past Brussels, Ayoub El-Khazzani stepped out of the bathroom with an AK-47 in what is believed to be a terrorist attack.

Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler rushed the gunman and successfully disarmed him. They then tended to one passenger who had been shot.

The trio were awarded the French Legion d’Honneur medal for their service and received by President Obama at the White House.

Now the Sacramento Bee is reporting that Stone was stabbed last night after leaving a gay bar in the Lavender Heights district.

Officers were called at 12:46 a.m. Thursday to the 2100 block of K Street where they found Stone with multiple stab wounds in his torso. Blood still marked the sidewalk Thursday morning near a bank parking lot and a bar.

One source with knowledge of the investigation said Stone was with two men and three women at Badlands Dance Club at 20th and K streets, then left and walked one block east, where the altercation began and Stone was stabbed. Police do not believe the attack was a hate crime.

They also think it had nothing to do with Stone’s heroism but is the result of a random alcohol fueled altercation.

Skarlatos is currently competing on Dancing with the Stars

McCarthy drops out of Speaker race

Timothy Kincaid

October 8th, 2015

NBC is reporting a rather surprising turn of events in the race to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has abruptly pulled out of the race for Speaker of the House on the same day that he was widely expected to be nominated for the position.

The nominating contest in the GOP conference set for Thursday afternoon in the House has been postponed.

This is very not good for our community.

McCarthy is a conservative Republican and not an advocate for our equality. However, through his tenure as Majority Leader he has purposefully avoided social issues. His votes were against us, but he did not raise issues or go out of his way to support the more extreme measures of the far right.

The remaining candidate, on the other hand, is a nightmare.

Until today, the tea partiers had two candidates. The first, Jason Chaffetz should be well known to BTB readers. A California Jewish Democrat turned Utah Mormon Republican, Chaffetz has often led quixotic charges against the gay community. He was the frontman on the attack on marriage equality in Washington DC, seeking to impose a Federal override of the locally elected representatives. He wasn’t very successful.

He also isn’t very smart.

He is, however, dedicated to far right ideology and not afraid to let a little thing like constitutionality or the continuing functionality of government to stand in his way. As Speaker, Chaffetz would lead standoffs with the other branches of government, demand shutdowns, and advance bills that are consistent with his social agenda irrespective of whether they have support.

He would not just be bad for our community, he’d be bad for the country. And the Freedom Caucus (as the tea partiers have renamed themselves) apparently saw that and chose to have Daniel Webster, a rep from Florida, as their candidate.

I know less about Daniel Webster. He is, however, a far right conservative with strong religious ties to the more extreme end of evangelical Christianity. He is a fierce foe of equality and a supporter of a constitutional amendment to remove the rights of gay citizens.

Also, simply that he has been selected as the choice of those who see government as a means to put their theological doctrines into civil law should be enough to let us know that he’s not someone we want as Speaker of the House.

Webster is unlikely to be the first choice of establishment Republicans. He’s just too far out there.

So it’s difficult to predict what McCarthy’s move will mean.

It is possible that McCarthy is trying to shake up the party a bit and show them the possibility of one of the crazies being in charge so as to have them consolidate in support. Or he may be stepping aside to allow another establishment rep to come forward.

But if he’s clearing the road for Webster, it’s going to be an interesting, frustrating, and crazy year before the voters rush to the polls to remove the Republican majority next November.

Albert Mohler disavows secular reorientation therapy – and what that means

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2015

MohlerDr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a fierce opponent of marriage equality or other social acceptance of gay people into civil life on an equal standing. But he is also a thoughtful opponent and has, over the years that we have been watching him, made concessions that some of his fellows were less willing to make.

As early as 2007, Mohler was able to reflect that there may be some biological basis for sexual orientation. In any case, he recognized that sexuality was not merely a behavior nor a chosen attribute which could be rejected.

In response, Mohler happily pondered a future with biological manipulation so as to “avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin”. He did not explain what other sinful temptations should be biologically avoided or whether this conflicts with free will theology.

While recognizing that orientation was, in fact, a real matter, Mohler has never been one to believe that one should live a life consistent with the way that God made you. Rather, he believed that whatever mediatory step could ‘cure’ the homosexual should be sought.

But times have changed. And, as is the case with many churches today, the Southern Baptists are shifting from railing against The Godless Homosexuals and instead trying to find ways to include them in the flock. In fact, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is hosting a conference titled Homosexuality: Compassion, Care and Counsel for Struggling People.

Part of Mohler’s shift involves recognizing some realities. (AP)

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said so-called conversion or reparative therapy doesn’t carry the redemptive power of prayer.

“In the case of many people struggling with this particular sin, we do not believe that some kind of superficial answer whereby they can turn a switch from being attracted to persons of the same sex to being attracted to persons of the opposite sex,” Mohler told reporters at the start of a three-day conference on homosexuality and how to offer pastoral care to gays, hosted by the Louisville seminary.

“By God’s grace, that might happen over time as a sign of God’s work within the life of that individual. But … for many, many people struggling with these patterns of sin, it will be a lifelong battle,” Mohler said.

This is a rather important statement.

First, this is a recognition of the world around him. Mohler is now accepting that sexual orientation is, for nearly everyone, a fixed attribute.

Of course there is the God-talk. Through God all things are possible. If we have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. God can divinely change one’s orientation just as easily as He can change their skin color, their sex, or their height.

But He just doesn’t seem to have any inclination towards doing so. And the recognition of this fact is of extreme importance to youth growing up in conservative Christian culture.

While being told that you will likely always “struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions” and should pray for strength to resist them is hardly the ideal emotional place for a young boy or girl, it is far preferable to being told that there’s something wrong with you and you need to go to the doctor. Or that you are willfully rejecting God and choosing sin. Or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

But this welcome shift makes the theology of Mohler’s position much more complicated.

When the Southern Baptists were preaching against The Homosexuals who were out there living a homosexual lifestyle, it was pretty easy. Just repent of those sins, change your ways, marry a nice young Christian woman and live as God wants you to live. And the fact that no one was doing this was not a threat to doctrine so much as a confirmation of just how hedonistic and debased The Homosexuals were.

But now that Mohler accepts orientation as a descriptive of one’s innate attractions, and now that the church wants to reach out to homosexual people (and recognizing that they are likely to stay same-sex attracted even if they are in the church) what do you do with sin? In fact, how do you define sin?

Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, said the conference, expected to draw about 2,000 people, would showcase how “uniquely biblical” counseling can lead to repentance. He said the organization opposes reparative therapy.

“We believe that repentant faith is the means of change,” Lambert said.

The conference’s goal, he said, is to give counselors “a growing love and care for people who struggle with sexual sin, homosexual sin. We want people to have a growing wisdom about how to come alongside them and walk with them through a process of care.”

I suspect that Lambert and Mohler think that they know what they mean. They are going to invite in The Homosexuals and show them love and prayer and work with them until the homosexuals just realize how pathetic and sinful they are. Just have repentant faith about homosexual sin and they’ll offer care.

That’s not going to happen. It just isn’t. To the extent that gay people want to join a church, there is a loud chorus of those who will not only allow you in the door but will march for your civil rights and celebrate your marriage. The Southern Baptist Church is not going to hit the top ten list for gay converts.

But while The Homosexuals are not going to trot down to the Southern Baptist church to be saved, this change in outlook will have a tremendous impact on youth growing up in the church. And on the church itself.

Because while this conference celebrates repentant faith, it doesn’t answer the key question: What the hell is homosexual sin?

That used to be easy. It was the Homosexual Lifestyle (which never needed definition). You’re gay and that is sinning. But if we are to welcome gays into the church and if we recognize that it’s a “lifelong struggle”, then being gay can’t stay a sin.

So what is this homosexual sin, exactly?

From a church perspective, we can define sexual sin – or at least for heterosexuals. Lusting privately, acting on that lust through porn or even engaging in fornication or adultery. And while everything on that list is officially off limits, it’s really only fornication, adultery, or a disruptive addiction to porn that ever rises to the level of getting attention.

Fourteen year old Johnnie masturbating to online porn is sin. But, well, let’s be real. Every fourteen year old Johnnie in the church is masturbating and everyone knows it. It’s certainly not something that is going to start a culture war or receive special attention from the pulpit.

But what if Johnnie is masturbating to gay porn. Is that different?

Theologically, that’s a toughie. Yes, all sin is the same in God’s eyes, but not all sin is the same in the eyes of the church. And if you’re Albert Mohler’s age and have spent decades fighting the homosexual agenda, you aren’t likely to see the two as the same. If Johnnie isn’t struggling against these horrible temptations and completely miserable, he’s sinning. And masturbating only encourages more of this temptation. To SIN!!!

But Johnnie, and his friends, are not likely to see his sin any different from a straight boy’s sin. If masterbating is wrong for one, why is it extra-wrong for the other? After all, you said orientation isn’t chosen. So why is one worse than the other?

And what’s more, the younger generation of Baptists are likely to call out their elders on the disparity. Without the presumption that gay people are inherently bad, it’s hard to make much of a case.

And if attractions are biologically based – ie. how God made you – then attractions in their own right cannot be sin. If being attracted to the Disney starlet and putting her poster on your wall is acceptable to Baptist parents, how can they find it wrong when it’s the latest boy band? Can little Susie find Nick Jonas cute, but not little Johnnie?

And is dating sin? Good Christian dating with no kissing, much less anything approaching second base?

Once The Homosexual is no longer the sinner out there but welcome in the church, pat answers can’t go unchallenged. And presumptions seem less convincing when you’re no longer in an echo chamber. If the Big Sex Sin is sex outside marriage for straight kids, then why have special rules on gay kids? That’s not welcoming. That’s not pastoral care.

For a while the Baptists will declare homosexual temptations lead to sin and should be avoided. And that heterosexual dating is in line with God’s plan but that gay dating leads to sin and is itself sinful. But how can one repent for being tempted – that isn’t Christian doctrine? And “dating” is hard to define in the mind of teenagers.

Mohler and the Baptists are going to find it increasingly difficult to draw a line with any consistency. Once you love people and let them in the door, all your inconsistencies tend to be glaring.

I suspect it will eventually come down to, “Just like we tell the straight kids, you can’t have sex before marriage. Ever. Period. Except you can never get married.”

And that’s when it will all fall apart. Because that logic is so arbitrary and cruel that it cannot withstand the inspection of Christian compassion. Once you accept someone’s humanity, once they are no longer the hedonist living some lifestyle, then they become real. And that is when the Baptists will find that the teachings of the Presbyterians and the Methodists down the street have some merit and will decide that same-sex marriage can reflect God. It will be some time, but this is the eventual conclusion.

Now, I’m happy that the Southern Baptists are moving towards more inclusion. But I think it will mean something very different from what they are expecting. And it will be amusing to watch.

Kim and Francis

Timothy Kincaid

October 2nd, 2015

Kim Davis

Kim Davis and her attorneys have been making quite a big deal about her meeting Pope Francis. (Washington Times)

“I was humbled to meet Pope Francis. Of all people, why me?” Mrs. Davis said in the written statement. “I never thought I would meet the Pope. Who am I to have this rare opportunity? I am just a County Clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.”

She continued: “Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring, and very personable. He even asked me to pray for him. Pope Francis thanked me for my courage and told me to ‘stay strong.’ “

From the descriptions given by Davis and Mat Staver, her counsel, you’d think this was an intimate and meaningful meeting in which the two shared their souls and pledged to fight together for their cause. Clearly the pontiff endorses Davis and her actions and encouraged her to fight on.

But knowing Staver’s history of less-than-factual statements and Davis’ gift for histrionics, something felt a bit contrived about their reporting.

We’ve all been in a receiving line of some sort or gone to a book signing or met for a moment with our Congressman. And while in the thrall of the experience we may think, ‘ohmigod, Taylor Swift was so nice to me’, by the time we got home we realized that she has no clue who we are, doesn’t recall the 10 seconds she gave, and has no opinion about us at all.

This felt like that. I certainly didn’t think it was some special audience with the Pope or any endorsement of Davis and her recalcitrance. That didn’t seem realistic.

Charles Pierce, writing in Esquire, looked further and speculated that the meeting was a set up contrived by Staver and Archbishop Carlo Vigano to play up Davis’ drama and tarnish Francis’ image, a position which was echoed by sources close to the Vatican.

In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage.

Whether or not Pierce’s speculation has any merit, the result was embarrassment for the Pope and disappointment for Catholics who had hoped that Francis’ visit would usher in a less politically antagonistic relationship between the Church and the LGBT community. Taken together with a vague answer to questions about matters of conscience, it appeared that the Pope was endorsing Davis’ behavior.

Fut finally the Vatican has released a statement responding to the Davis’ self-aggrandizement and the answer is, more or less, “Kim who?”.

The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:

Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

So there it is. Davis was part of a receiving line and got a rosary and a few moments of Pope Francis’ time. She, and her legal team, decided to spin that meeting into something that it was not.

As for the Pope’s only official audience? At present, it appears that it was with someone who does not share Davis’ position at all. (CNN)

Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

UPDATE

Liberty Counsel is now claiming that the Vatican is lying

Despite a statement this morning by a Vatican official, the Pope’s own words about conscientious objection being a human right and his private meeting with Kim Davis indicate support for the universal right of conscientious objection, even for government officials. The meeting with Kim Davis was initiated by the Vatican, and the private meeting occurred at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, September 24. This meeting was a private meeting without any other members of the public present.

In short, Staver and Davis are asking you not to take the Vatican’s word for what the Pope supports but to take the word of two Protestants who have a history of stretching the story. I’ll let you decide who to believe.

Alan Chambers supports same-sex marriage

Timothy Kincaid

September 29th, 2015

Over the past few years, Alan Chambers, the former head of ex-gay umbrella group Exodus International, has made significant changes in the way in which he sees the world and his own spirituality. In his new book My Exodus: From Fear to Grace, he discusses how letting go of fear-based theology allowed him to see the image of God in places he once was afraid to see and in his book he encourages other Christians to do the same.

Although they are but a part of Alan’s transformation, the change in his views about sexuality are the most notable due to his past. Alan has not rejected his faith and it remains the center of his focus. But he has definitely changed the way in which he sees God and what is holy.

From Eliel Cruz’ interview with Alan in Religious News Service:

Where do you stand on same-sex relationships? Are you affirming of them?

I do believe that same-sex relationship can be holy. As a Christian, I think marriage is best. That is why I’m supportive of the Supreme Court decision for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I think same-sex marriages can reflect, and often do, God’s image. Many people in the church either do not know of Christ-centered same-sex relationships or refuse to see them. Leslie and I have met so many individuals who have awesome stories and are doing amazing work. Their marriages absolutely reflect the image of God.

Catholic student sent home after following rules

Timothy Kincaid

September 28th, 2015

CBHSIt can’t be easy being a Catholic school administrator, especially when it comes to gay issues.

On the one hand, most Catholics are supportive of gay people and wish for inclusion and respect. And this Pope, those opposing legal equality, speaks the language of compassion and conciliation.

On the other hand the American Bishops are, by and large, pedophile-defending, gay hating, sanctimonious royalty with less compassion than the 17th Century French royalty. And within every parish there are self-righteous zealots standing at the ready to raise a hue and stink if a school tries to find some approach other than sin, Sin, SIN AND ABOMINATION!!!

But though it must be tough, sometimes they just make it a lot harder on themselves than they have to. Sometimes they are their own worst enemy.

Take, for example, the story of Lance Sanderson.

Lance attends Christian Brothers High School, an all-boys Catholic High School in Memphis Tennessee with an emphasis on human dignity and a commitment to social justice. And when he told an administrator last year that he wanted to bring a male date to the Homecoming Dance, he was told that the school didn’t discriminate and suggested that it would be allowed.

But that administrator left over the summer and now the school is taking a less favorable view. (Memphis Flyer)

“I was sitting down talking to one of the current administrators over the summer, and at the end of our conversation, I mentioned it, expecting him to say the same thing. And he had a very different response,” Sanderson said. “He mentioned a [gay] couple in Texas and said I was a lot like this one person and said that the guy’s boyfriend murdered him. It was a little rough.”

I suppose that it goes without saying that “you shouldn’t date because of this one drunken fight in Texas” is phenominally bad advice, however well intended. Surely by 2015 we don’t have to rely on wild anecdotal evidence to know “what gay people are like”.

But considering that he is being taught to stand for social justice, no one should be surprised that Lance decided not to just accept that administrator’s response. He started a change.org petition requesting the school to change it’s mind, and received support from about 24,000 signatories. And a couple dozen alumni marched with him at pride.

The school did not back down. Which is their right. But the way they went about is just plain stupid.

The school could have issued a statement along the lines of “We support Lance and respect diversity, but we are a Catholic School and same-sex dating is contrary to Catholic teaching, so we cannot allow that at official school functions.” Not a great outcome, but not likely to cause many waves.

Instead, the school compiled a committee that came up with a policy:

CBHS students may attend the dance by themselves, with other CBHS students, or with a girl from another school. For logistical reasons, boys from other schools may not attend.

Logistical Reasons. Because, you know, boys get into interschool rivalries and cause fights, especially those gay boys who are going to murder you later. And we just don’t have the logistics to deal with that.

Then they announced that the Homecoming Dance is no longer a date dance.

No, no, there won’t be anyone at the Homecoming Dance on a date. It will just be the students hanging out with their buddies (but not buddies from other schools) and with some random girls who somehow wandered there for no apparent reason but which are definitely not on dates. So, you see, we aren’t discriminating against gay students who want to bring a date, because no one is on a date. At the Homecoming Dance.

Just a note of advice to Catholic school administrators: If you’re going to say something stupid, even colossally stupid, try to come up with something that at least has some semblance of believability.

So Lance didn’t go to his Senior Year Non-Date Homecoming Dance on Saturday. Because while other students were there with their not-dates, Lance wasn’t allowed to bring a not-date, so as to avoid fights over interschool rivalries and later being murdered.

And the story should have ended there on that note of silliness.

But Christian Brothers’ administration wasn’t quite through with truly stupid blunders. Today they pulled Lance out of school and told him to stay home for the week. Even though he didn’t bring a date to the Non-Date Homecoming Dance. (Logo)

Today I arrived at school around 6:30am. I sat down to complete my assignments for the classes I planned on attending today. At 7:30am, I was speaking to a teacher when an administrator walked into the room and told me to gather my books and come to the office.

When I arrived at the office I was told that the administration “had 890 other students to worry about” and could not deal with me. I was told to go home for the week. I said goodbye to a few teachers and students, then drove home.

And so now this matter of committee policy is now a story for the mainstream media. Congratulations Christian Brothers, you make the Three Stooges look like policy wonks.

Though the school is not telling anyone why they sent Lance home, in their letter the CBHS Community, they suggest that Lance was wrong to use social media to stand up for himself. They are embarrassed and have yet to realize that their embarrassment has everything to do with themselves and nothing to do with Lance. So Lance must be punished.

I guess at Christian Brothers in Memphis, social justice means standing up for inclusion and speaking truth to power… except when you are the power.

Clearly, this is not going to end well for the administration at Christian Brothers High School.

Boehner resigns

Timothy Kincaid

September 25th, 2015

john boehner

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has announced his resignation. (Tribune)

With Congress in turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly informed fellow Republicans on Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October, stepping aside in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatens an institutional crisis.

Boehner has faced increasing criticism from the more conservative elements within the Republican Party caused by his reluctance to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. Boehner is seen as the quintessential establishment Republican by the Tea Party elements and an impediment to their wild west style of politics.

A constant focus of conservatives’ complaints, Boehner was facing the threat of a floor vote on whether he could stay on as speaker, a formal challenge that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. That was being pushed by tea partyers convinced Boehner wasn’t fighting hard enough to strip Planned Parenthood of government funds, even though doing so risked a government shutdown next week.

“It’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” Boehner told a news conference several hours after making the announcement to his rank and file. “There was never any doubt I could survive the vote, but I didn’t want my members to go through this, I didn’t want this institution to go through this.”

In all likelihood, Boehner could withstand a floor vote. But I suspect that to do so he would require not only the support of less extreme Republicans, but that of Democrats who have nothing to gain from Boehner’s replacement.

This resignation is not good news for our community. While the Speaker has been portrayed as The Enemy by many gay writers, in reality his language and tone have been civil and respectful and have signalled that one can be opposed to our objectives without engaging in hateful diatribe or invective.

Probably Boehner’s most notorious behavior was hiring and funding counsel to bolster the Defense of Marriage Act. But, as I said at the time, defense of a law by Congress is not an unreasonable action, irrespective of what one believes about that law.

And it should be noted that during the defense of DOMA, Boehner did not attack gay couples or wail about the sanctity of the time honored definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, choosing instead to say that “The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts.”

Interestingly, in the middle of the battle, federal bankruptcy judges in the Central District of California declared DOMA to be a violation of the US Constitution. Boehner decided not to appeal the decision as it was unlikely to be a vehicle through which the Supreme Court could rule on DOMA’s constitutionality in a broad sense.

Upon the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor that DOMA was a violation of the US Constitution, Boehner announced his disappointment but immediately ceased defense of any federal laws or measures that discriminated against same-sex couples. Nor did he or the House involve themselves in the Obergefell or other state marriage cases.

This is not to say that Boehner was an ally to the community nor that as Speaker he advanced our goals. That is not the case. Boehner supported DADT and continues to express his beliefs that marriage should be limited to heterosexuals.

But he has also not been a derisive opponent. And while he did not encourage the GOP to adopt equality, he expressed that the party should be inclusive of gay people and in the last election cycle he traveled to support gay Republican candidates – even though they disagreed with him about marriage and other issues.

It will be interesting to see who will replace the Speaker. Though it is possible that maverik moderates may refuse to vote for an extremist, it is more likely that the next Speaker of the House will be a Tea Party activist. And should that be the case, we may be subjected to a season in which the House of Representatives debates – or perhaps even supports – efforts to change the Constitution to institute bigotry. Almost certainly religious preference laws will be proposed so as to encourage and protect discrimination.

It’s likely to get nasty.

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