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Posts for July, 2010

Embarrassing images from NOM’s Providence Rally

Timothy Kincaid

July 19th, 2010

When NOM’s Big Bus of Animus pulled into Providence, Rhode Island, things veered from the usual. Previously, counter-protests had been non-confrontational: Augusta’s was off-site, Manchester’s stayed a distance, and Albany’s surrounded NOMmers but did not disrupt the speakers.

Not so in Providence.

There the counter-protesters at first stood outside the anti-marriage rally and chanted, hoping to distract and annoy the speakers. And, as the equality supporters – by all accounts other than Brian Brown – outnumbered the anti-gay rallyers, this did serve to agitate them.

And some of them began to pray… more on that later.

But then the counter-protesters failed to stay united. Some went behind the speakers and began chanting and a few went up and began screaming in the face of NOM President, Brian Brown.

Not smart.

While I’m sure the young people in the picture certainly felt at the time like They Told Him!!, all that really happened is that they allowed the National Organization for Marriage to have an opportunity to capture an image that they could sell as The Militant Homosexual Activists!!being disruptive. A version of this picture – not including NOM’s “security” guys standing there unconcerned – has been making the rounds of anti-gay sites.

And this confrontation did something even worse than creating an embarrassing image, it made NOM’s Summer for Marriage Tour interesting.

Consider for a moment: you’re a nice young Catholic lady who is trying to decide what to do for the afternoon and you’ve come up with three options: finally write to Great Aunt Melba to thank her for her lovely Christmas fruitcake, pull weeds in the petunia bed, or go stand for an hour in the sun and listen to Jennifer Roback Morse and Brian Brown lecture you about marriage. Weeds seem pretty exciting by comparison.

And NOM’s circus hasn’t had much draw so far. No celebrities or prominent politicians; even Rhode Island’s anti-gay governor Don Carcieri didn’t make an appearance. It’s just mostly senior citizens and uber-religious folk and, heaven forbid, you might run into Aunt Melba.

But now suppose that there’s a possibility that you might get to confront Militant Homosexual Activists. Well, that might be interesting. Good for a story next Thanksgiving when you’re stuck sitting next to Aunt Melba, at least.

So confronting Brown was an ill-advised choice. It took an extremely boring situation and gave the press a reason to cover it and anti-gay activists a reason to bother.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t understand the emotion which led the kids to go confront Brown. Rhode Island is expected to be the next Marriage battle ground and, depending on November’s election, may have a legislative vote in 2011. I would be emotional as well.

And equality supporters were not the only ones who let their emotions cloud their wisdom. So did Pastor Jay Stirnemann of the Christ Temple United Pentecostal Church in Tiverton:

YouTube Preview Image

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, Stirnemann is “speaking in tongues,” also called Glossolalia, a religious practice is predominantly engaged in by Pentecostals and other Charismatic Christians. There are a variety of hypotheses about speaking in tongues, but most include a high level of emotionality and lower level of logic or direct communication.

Those who speak in tongues experience it as letting go of themselves and letting the Holy Spirit speak through them. Some think Glossolalia is God’s spirit within them communicating in a celestial tongue, some as a way to praise without distraction of thought or of Satanic influences (Satan being unable to understand the language), but all agree that this is a very holy experience. And they agree that speaking in tongues is an evidence that God has granted them with specific spiritual powers.

In this case, Stirnemann clearly believes that he is engaging in spiritual warfare, that his praying in tongues enables angelic forces for good to invisibly battle demonic forces for evil. His prayer is one of authority and power and he is “binding spirits of darkness.” He genuinely believes that the chanting gay people are attacking him spiritually and that his prayer is effective in defeating such attacks.

But it doesn’t matter so much exactly what it is that Pastor Jay believes, what matters is what he is doing and how it will be perceived. And NOM can’t be too happy about the latter.

The National Organization for Marriage is in many ways a Catholic lay organization. And it is rather unlikely that Brian Brown or Maggie Gallagher are comfortable in the presence of those who are praying in tongues. Nor are legislators, voters, or contributors to their cause.

Remember our young Catholic lady above. She would rather spend a whole day visiting with Aunt Melba discussing her bursitis than spend any time with “crazy people babbling nonsense.”

So in Providence, I’d have to say that both sides suffered from image issues. And remember, this whole campaign – along with the counter campaign – is crafted solely for media and public image consumption.

Going forward, the winners in the battle over image and perception will be determined by which can avoid appearing to be raging lunatics or babbling nutjobs.