Religious Dialogue Needed During Political Bombast, International Bloodshed

This weekend the world’s major faiths observed sacred and meaningful holidays. Passover, Easter, and Ramadan are all underway and there are many faithful people worldwide who undertake certain rites and services to meet their spiritual needs. That is all to be much applauded.

At the same time as the world seemingly slows a bit and many people are more contemplative and inner-seeking the chaos and carnage continues, either in violent outbursts or verbal bombast.

Israeli forces carried out a widespread campaign of raids into towns and cities across the West Bank, in a response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. The Israeli authorities then also imposed temporary economic sanctions.

A mass shooting Saturday at a busy shopping mall in South Carolina’s capital on Saturday left 14 people injured. The mall was filled with kids and others on this holiday weekend.

In Ukraine, bombs fell, families continue to flee, and bodies are buried wherever the ground space can be found nearby to lower a loved one down into the earth.

In Ohio, Republican senate candidate Josh Mandel continued his primary campaign with an agenda of division against those who aren’t white, patriarchal, and Christian.

I bring this all to the fore as it is Easter Sunday in our home, a day of hope. For many years Sunday was also the day when Tim Russert would hold forth on Meet The Press. Many an Easter weekend I recall Russert having a special look at faith in the nation and how it intersected with all the headlines of the day.

I looked up one of those transcripts online and wish to take you back to Sunday, March 27, 2005.

(Videotape, January 20, 1961, inaugural address):

PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY:  Let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own,” Father. That’s politics and religion together in a very clearly stated way.

REV. DRINAN:  And I think that it–we all agree with that.  The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs.  Certain fundamentalists think that gays should be discriminated against, and that’s not in the common tradition.  There’s a common core of moral and religious beliefs, and frankly, we are in total violation of that. We are supposed to be good to the poor; we have more poor children in America than in any other industrialized nation.  We’re supposed to love prisoners and help them; we have 2.1 million people in prison, the largest of any country of the Earth.  We also allow eleven children to be killed by guns every day.  All of the religions are opposed to that.  That’s violence.  Why don’t we organize on that?

MR. RUSSERT:  What’s the answer?

REV. DRINAN:  The answer is that there is a core, as President Kennedy said, and that we had that core when we finally abolished abolition and segregation. We had that core when finally we entered the war in Vietnam.  We had that core when we passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, the best law for the disabled in the whole world.  That core is there, and you have to look back and say that President Roosevelt orchestrated it and LBJ was fantastic getting through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  That’s the type of religious unity that exists if we can pull it together.

Many people will observe the surface traditions and customs around the world for the holidays of which they are a part, but the larger conversations, of the type Russert engaged in and we need to hear, are far less a part of our dialogue. That lack of connection around the world between what we profess to be, and what we do, or what governments do in our name, remains a great gulf.

And so it goes.

WisPolitics, Cap Times Links My Article About Religious Control Over Sex

I am very pleased with this link today by WisPolitics, That site frequently links my articles, but today I am especially pleased as the topic is one I have been most concerned about for decades. In equal measure I am pleased that the Cap Times in Madison also linked to my article.

The column about how religious control over sex leads to problems was written last Friday. For decades I have faulted fundamentalist religions–wherever they may be preaching to the faithful–that failing to address humanity in realistic terms is a profound mistake.

Evangelical Churches: “Teaches Women To Hate Their Bodies”, “Men Their Minds”

Friday I wrote a blog post that has remained the one most read all weekend. (Thank you) The gist of the post can be summed up in this one sentence. For decades I have faulted fundamentalist religions–wherever they may be preaching to the faithful–that failing to address humanity in realistic terms is a profound mistake.

Today The New York Times has a page one, above-the-fold must-read news article on the negative impact evangelical religion plays on men and women when it comes to sexuality. I argued this past week that Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old hate-filled killer in and near Atlanta is the latest example of what happens when sexuality is used as a tool by religion so to meet an organization’s own desired ends. 

The newspaper article underscores what many are talking about as of late given the news from Atlanta.

Dr. Onishi, who grew up in a strict evangelical community in Southern California that emphasized sexual purity led him to this conclusion. He said it “teaches women to hate their bodies, as the source of temptation, and it teaches men to hate their minds, which lead them into lust and sexual immorality.”

I had written about the way women are portrayed in fundamentalist houses of worship.

Let us not forget how these evangelical and pentecostal churches often use their attacks on the likes of the Delilahs, Jezebels, and other “temptresses” in the Bible to underscore how a “good man” can go bad.

The new story weighed into this topic, too.

“It presents a very demeaning view of manhood,” said Rachael Denhollander, an evangelical advocate for sexual abuse victims. “Every time you teach a woman in the presence of a young man that it’s her responsibility to keep a man from lusting and that she has the power to keep him from sexual perversion by what she wears and what she does, what he hears is that it’s her fault.”

Jeff Chu, a writer in Michigan, attended an evangelical junior high and high school that, like many similar schools, enforced strict rules for the lengths of girls’ skirts with the goal of encouraging modesty. “It was so rarely about the men controlling their own desires, and so often about women not being temptresses,” Mr. Chu recalled. 

“Purity culture teaches young men to view young women who do not try to maintain modesty as sinister forces,” Dr. Onishi said. “It’s hard not to think about the fact that Asian women have been sexualized and set up to be viewed through the lens of an exotic other who is sexually desirable.”

I wrote about the burdens placed on the people in the pews of these churches.

It should concern everyone to know that there are churches pumping the idea that it is a serious sin even to think about sex. Teenagers, especially, are being placed in a most troubling place about how not to think about sex. Add in the failure to do so means being captured by Satan.

The article begins with a young person from a strict evangelical community, that emphasized sexual purity, who had spent his teenage years tearing out any advertisements in surfing magazines that featured women in bikinis. So not to be pulled into the church’s definition of “sexual addiction” young people go to what most of us would consider extreme behavior.

Dr. Perry described a phenomenon in some parts of evangelical culture that he called “sexual exceptionalism,” in which sexual sins are implied to be more serious than other categories.

As I noted last week at the start of my post there is one reason for this power play by churches about sexuality.

If a religious organization can get a person to abide by a set of prescribed standards of behavior concerning the most personal aspect of life everything else can be easily attained.

And so it goes.

Religious Control Over Sex Leads To Problems

One thing is clear be it the supposed celibacy in the Catholic Church, the draconian restrictions placed on Islamic women, or the harsh conservatism among evangelicals. Religion sure does love to control the sexual behavior of its followers. It makes sense, in one respect. If a religious organization can get a person to abide by a set of prescribed standards of behavior concerning the most personal aspect of life everything else can be easily attained.

Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old hate-filled killer in and near Atlanta this week, is the latest example of what happens when sexuality is used as a tool by religion so to meet an organization’s own desired ends. One of the deadly results of such attitudes being pressed upon congregants is the self-loathing man we are reading more about as reporters gain access to fresh information.

While his parents pressed their version of faith Robert was taking a dangerous dual path of sexual loathing alongside what is being termed “religious mania”. His church strictly prohibited sex outside of marriage, and as a young man, he was distraught by his failed attempts to curb his sexual urges.

The guy was probably normal and natural for his thoughts and urges. It was the constrictive social influence of that church and the impossibility to live up to its standards that are an issue worthy of examination. Now, do not in any way construe that to mean I let this man off the hook, by any degree. The monstrous, racist, and hate-filled crimes he committed can not in any way be minimized. I am merely stating that it is most probable one of the routes that led to his criminal behavior started with the crazy nature of his family’s religion.

The fanaticism of his parent’s church is as much a problem in this case as the lax gun laws that allowed a clearly troubled person to obtain a weapon. Let us not forget how these evangelical and pentecostal churches often use their attacks on the likes of the Delilahs, Jezebels, and other “temptresses” in the Bible to underscore how a “good man” can go bad.

We know the Bible is not the only religious text to make such charges, or Christians the only ones to level such an absurd argument.

As the news was starting to come over the wires about the shooting sprees in Georgia I was reading a book by Karen Elliot House. Her account of decades of reporting and background in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia gives further insight into a nation strictly controlled by Wahhabism. That is, simply put, a most austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran. (What can go wrong with a literal interpretation of any religious text?) In Saudi Arabia, it creates awful outcomes from decreasing interpersonal relationships, lack of economic output, and of course sexual tensions and many damaged people as a result.

The former publisher of The Wall Street Journal writes in On Saudi Arabia about a man, who many years younger as a teenager, masturbated during Ramadan and has felt guilty as a result. Yes, if you can control a person’s sexuality you can control a person.

For decades I have faulted fundamentalist religions–wherever they may be preaching to the faithful–that failing to address humanity in realistic terms is a profound mistake. It should concern everyone to know that there are churches pumping the idea that it is a serious sin even to think about sex. Teenagers, especially, are being placed in a most troubling place about how not to think about sex. Add in the failure to do so means being captured by Satan.

The horror in Atlanta has opened discussion deeper into racism against Asians, and how words used by national leaders have deadly consequences. But it also opens a door on how very conservative churches are using extreme views on sex to damage some of their followers.

Pope Francis Takes Step With Gay Rights, Akin To Bill Clinton

It is clearly a sign of either how much weighty news or bombastic rhetoric is created each day when the words of Pope Francis expressing support for same-sex civil unions is not the event that would create continuing top-of-the-fold conversations. While following the news of a pope creating a major and truly significant break from his predecessors regarding gay people, a correct position for religion, and all of society, I was aware of just how hard it is to steer headlines away from the chaos of this year. That, in and of itself, is a story we need to ponder.

But the words from Francis are powerful and very important. He made a public statement that the world-wide church needed to hear. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Francis said in the documentary, “Francesco”.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

As a gay man, but not a Catholic, I have a range of feelings about the pope’s words. While many in the world have moved far beyond civil unions for gay people to the socially responsible and correct legal construction of gay marriage there is still much work to be done for allowing freedoms with sexual identity. In regions of the world where bigotry still has a grip and the Catholic hierarchy is less tolerant of homosexuality, this message was most important to be planted by a pope.

Words matter, as I often note on this blog when talking about leadership. I have long approved of the tone and focus of Francis, knowing the Vatican requires more light and less dogma. But it also needs to be stated that until church doctrine is changed the words of a pope will not alter the harm that is done to gay members of that faith.

Traditional Catholics are wedded to the idea a smaller church that holds to never-changing doctrine is better than a larger church that wishes to adapt to a modern world. As a person of faith, I can grasp the over-arching argument traditionalists hold, but know the best path taken comes down to applying Jesus’ teachings in our lives.

I view the opposition to bigotry as more powerful and uplifting than the harsh restraints and words of damnation. I am inspired by those in religious callings who speak about income disparity, racism, or poverty, as this pope has done continuously. The old and worn-out tropes about contraceptives, abortion (and gasp!) homosexuality are not connecting to younger people who do not live in the cloistered world–and have no desire to do so.

I thought of President Bill Clinton this week when this news of Pope Francis was reported. In the 1992 presidential campaign, he spoke about the need to not dismiss or undermine gay people in our military. From his promise the Clinton administration moved to enact ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. It was not a President Truman type moment regarding the military, but it was a start. From there larger steps were taken as the years progressed. That is how governments and large institutional changes begin and evolve.

With a first step.

When tolerance is too often threatened and marginalized in the world there is really only one way to greet the words of Pope Francis. With a smile and two-thumbs up.

Now step two……

Infection And Idiocy Long Aligned


I was troubled by yet another frivolous lawsuit that is making news in Wisconsin. A coalition of Catholic schools, parents, and wealthy benefactors plan to hire a law firm to challenge an order issued late Friday to close all schools in Dane County to in-person instruction for students in grades 3-12.  The reason for such an action by the county to stem the pandemic and further infections meets the demands of science and data.  The move towards a lawsuit is yet one more example of how far removed some are from not only science but also history.

The combination of infections and idiocy go hand-in-hand over the far reaches of recorded history.  This weekend I was reading about the bubonic plague which struck Moscow in 1770.  The death toll reached as high as 800 cases per day in the city, and yet the inability of people to adhere to what was then known about the plague is not so hard to believe, given what we witness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The imposition of medical precautions was then scorned, and many even thought physicians and medicines had brought forth the plague.  Conspiracy theories are nothing new.

The city residents refused to obey orders forbidding them to gather in market places and churches and to stop kissing supposedly miraculous icons.  People would gather to kiss and slobber over an icon of Mary.  Crowds swarmed around her feet and history proves this became the deadliest center of the contagion in the city.

Today we know how to stem infections and the spread of a virus that has, of this posting, killed over 175,000 Americans.  Our nation has 4% of the population and 25% of the cases.  But last night I read some of the comments on twitter regarding the state health department’s releases of Saturday case numbers of COVID and was reminded once again how citizens can be so removed from facts, data, and science.  It was as if they sat down at the computer and tried to spin a narrative that all was fine if only those pesky leaders in the state would stop talking about a pandemic. If we do not talk about it all goes away!

The residents of Moscow in 1770 can be forgiven, up to a point, for behaving in ways that are illogical and run counter to medical facts. Today we know rats and fleas led to the ways people were the first infected.  But in 2020 with our wealth of knowledge and insight, there is no way to rationalize the willful disregard for science and data with COVID-19.

How Do Religious Conservatives Square It With God When A Praying Man Is Maligned?

At the end of the day, there is only one question to ask after Fox News is turned off, Rush Limbaugh is silenced, and the calm of night falls over the homes of American Christians who support Donald Trump.  Just how do they square their day with God?

I ask the question not in a snarky way, or one that is aimed for raw-meat politics.  I am most sincere in my desire to understand the ability of people who compartmentalize their support of Trump, a person sitting in the Oval Office who continuously demonstrates his disdain for the lessons of the Bible.  Those Trump supporters then tout themselves as Christians.

While we all fall short of the ideals–that being the human condition–there is an enormous chasm between the lies, boastful nature, meanness, and divisiveness that Trump contains as a man and then the call of faith which encourages us to model our lives on loftier sights.

This week comes another glaring example of what I am talking about with Trump, and there is no doubt a great many Christians will just grin, nod, and agree with the one they have sided with.

A new Trump campaign ad released on Wednesday contains a number of altered or edited images of former vice president Joe Biden.  News reporters from The Washington Post, CNN, and other news outlets have called out the distortions and lies.  I would hope some of the Christian base would do the same.

The most despicable part of the ad is an altered image of Biden praying at church.  The aim of the photo was to make him appear as old and defeated when in reality it is Biden praying on June 1st at the Bethel AME church.  The photo was taken by an AP photographer.


Trump’s ad is an affront to religious people and I find it personally offensive.  I could venture here into how its use underscores the desperation of his campaign. But the point of this post is not to take that path.  I am just taken aback how anyone who claims life of faith can sit still and accept what Trump is doing for the single selfish purpose of his re-election.

In the opening pages of my book, Walking Up The Ramp I wrote the following.  I would hope and trust that at least some Trump supporters might ponder the words and reflect on what they are doing in being silent as Trump undermines even the personal space of a praying man.

Out on our lawn, sitting in one of those three New England-blue Adirondack chairs, I often repeat to myself a silent prayer, the same prayer with which upon waking I start out each day:

Dear God, thank you for this day.
Thank you for my life;
Thank you for letting me be alive;
Thank you for letting me live life.
Walk with me today and plant my feet
In the path you would have me take.
Let me be a light for others.

I often write of the new basements we hit as a nation on the slippery slope our society too often embraces.  But this one is all the more troubling as the ones who sit in the pews and make the most of their religion are the ones who will stay silent when a praying man is used in such a disgusting partisan manner.

And so it goes.

Donald Trump’s Negative Impact On ‘The Ole Country Church’

One of the must-reads in the Sunday newspapers.  (Only a portion from a longer story is posted below.)


It is troubling for conscientious and logical thinkers to ponder the mindset of those who term themselves Christian and yet actually live their lives, as the parishioners in this news story demonstrate, so far from the teachings in the Bible.   It is also telling how far conservatives have drifted to meet a political label as opposed to the calling of their faith.  This sums up what Donald Trump has done to ‘the ole country church’ in America.

In early 2017, a pastor in the Alabama countryside named Chris Thomas prepared to give his Sunday sermon. President Trump had been inaugurated the week before, and the new administration was already making headlines with a travel ban that included refugees from Syria.

Mr. Thomas knew of no one in his congregation who had ever met a Syrian refugee. Still, the ban deeply bothered him. So did the prospect of speaking against it from the pulpit, which he preferred to keep clean of politics.

And so that morning at First Baptist Church of Williams, a relatively liberal church with a mostly white congregation, he carried with him a sermon on the Beatitudes, eight blessings for the needy Jesus is said to have given to his followers on a hillside in Galilee.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” went one.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” went another.

To these, the pastor added a verse of his own: “Blessed are those who seek refuge and have the door shut on their face.”

What Mr. Thomas, a 35-year-old preacher with cropped sandy hair and a trimmed beard, didn’t know was the degree to which Mr. Trump’s election had already polarized his small church. Nor did he know how the Trump presidency would continue to fracture the congregation for the next three years — a rift that would widen and threaten his own stewardship of Williams Church as the culture wars spilled into its pews in ways he could not control.

A few days after the sermon on the Beatitudes, a group of congregants wanted to talk.

“They more-or-less said, ‘Those are nice, but we don’t have to live by them,’” Mr. Thomas recalls church members saying about the verses, a cornerstone of Christian scripture. “It was like: ‘You’re criticizing our president. You’re clearly doing this.’ From thereon, my words were being measured.”

Mr. Trump rose to power with a boost from evangelical Christians, and their role in his re-election bid has not been lost on the president this year. As governors restricted public gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Trump declared churches “essential” and threatened to override officials who prevented them from opening their doors.

He had protesters forcefully removed for a photo op with a Bible in front of a church amid demonstrations against police brutality. And this past week he attacked the Supreme Court after a ruling on protections for gay and transgender workers that was unpopular among some evangelical leaders.

The doors of Williams Church in Alabama are about 700 miles from Washington. But a conflict born of the Trump Era smoldered there for years.

After the sermon on the refugees, churchgoers began to monitor Mr. Thomas’s posts on Facebook, reporting back to each other when something the pastor “liked” was seen by them as too liberal. When a group of church missionaries returned from a humanitarian trip to the Mexican border, they got a cold welcome from those who said they supported Mr. Trump’s border wall plans. One family proposed a “watchdog” group to ensure new members weren’t gay.

Then in 2018, a small group of churchgoers led a secret attempt to oust Mr. Thomas to clear the way for a more conservative preacher.

“There’s no doubt the country is more polarized, and the church started to reflect it,” said Bobby Burns, a former member of the church’s finance committee. “The walls of this church just weren’t thick enough to protect us from the world.”

As America prepares for another presidential election, this time under extraordinary circumstances, the country church is taking stock of the toll the last few years have wrought: At least 40 congregants, a third of the congregation, have left Williams Church, many to pray at a rival church down the street that is more conservative. And this month Mr. Thomas announced he, too, would depart the church, leaving Williams now without a pastor.