religious diversity

Matt Barber's BarbWire: Gays, Unitarians, and Satan, Oh My!

BarbWire, the website created by anti-gay activist Matt Barber, has become home to some of the most out-there right-wing anti-gay punditry imaginable. But the site is not resting on its laurels. The latest installment comes from Linda Wall, who calls herself a “former lesbian” and founder and CEO of Virginia Mass Resistance.

Wall is a friend of Lisa Miller, another “former lesbian” who fled the country illegally rather than comply with courts’ custody rulings regarding the daughter she had with her former partner. In 2012, Wall argued that Hurricane Sandy was part of God’s vengeance against America for Lisa Miller’s plight.

In her latest post, Wall gets right to the point. Who is behind the LGBT movement? “It is none other than Satan himself.” It’s hard to do justice to Wall’s description of the “world of darkness” she experienced when working for an art gallery owner and managing his rental properties, so we’ll let her words speak for themselves, though they sound more like an overwrought movie treatment than an op-ed column. Wall describes a vision she had the night before she was scheduled to clean out the basement of her boss's house to get rid of a "homeless squatter's belongings."

The night before I was due to accomplish this dreaded assignment, I did something I had not done in fifteen years or more; I got on my knees to pray. Somehow I knew I was about to face the rulers of the darkness of this world.

After asking God to be with me and protect me, I jumped into bed. What happened next must have been a vision because not enough time had passed for me to be asleep and dreaming. I saw the pile of junk I was to remove from the basement and watched a snake crawl out from beneath it. In my ignorance of the dark side of the supernatural I thought God was telling me to watch out for the snake, but He was warning me about a much bigger serpent!

The next day I gathered some 50 gallon trash bags, a spotlight and an iron pipe and headed into the cellar. Entry to the earthen floor basement was an exterior entrance much like a tornado shelter. As I swung the heavy wooden cellar doors open my heart raced with fear. While I climbed down the steps I began banging the pipe on anything that would make a noise in hopes of scaring off any snake. Once my feet were on the ground I began shining the spotlight all around.

I felt like I had stepped into a live horror story. Enormous spider webs were hanging everywhere. The place was damp and cold. What was this place of darkness I had entered? All through the basement were wooden stalls with doors that one might keep animals behind. My imagination went wild as I could only imagine what was going to take place in this basement behind these “cages.”

Humanly, I was alone in the basement, but I could sense there were many eyes watching me. I began to sing hymns I use to sing as a kid in church. I couldn’t remember all of the words, but what came to mind I sang out loudly. I knew my only line of defense was God’s Word from those “old –timey” hymns.

As in fast forwarding a movie, I began to stuff the unwanted items into the plastic bags and in a flash the task was completed. What a relief when I exited the cellar and slammed the door. I had been expecting to be captured and locked up any moment the entire time I was down there.

I caught my breath and immediately entered the house to retrieve my car keys and sunglasses. Before leaving, I noticed all of the eyes in the pictures glaring at me. Often I had studied the art work, but for the first time I understood what they all had in common. It was the eyes. It was Satan himself glaring at me.

All of a sudden my brain put little incidences together to paint a bigger picture. Many times I had been invited to attend the “calling of the dead” that occurred weekly in the room of this house where the windows were painted black. It seemed that every time I turned around my employer was trying to get me to drink something or eat something that was described as “good for you.” There had also been an ongoing campaign at the gay bar I frequented to convince me to be hypnotized. I had a feeling I had truly encountered the occult.

On Sunday, I visited the Unitarian church where my employer was also a preacher. He had supposedly been away all week at a seminar for pastors to be alone with God. Even though the dots were connecting to indicate satanic activity, I was still curious enough to attend the service. It ended up being my last.

When he began to preach he went into a “trance” speaking with a different accent and under the name of St. Benedict. As I watched this unexplainable happening, I saw the devil’s head on his body and knew God Almighty was intervening and saying, “get out!”

Stay tuned for Wall’s “Satan and the GLBT Demons – Part 2.”

 

The Perils of Religious Politicking

Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a centrist Democrat facing a tough re-election campaign, launched a new political ad this month, and both the ad and the responses to it have highlighted the challenges of mixing religion and politics in ways that respect religious freedom, pluralism, and the spirit of the Constitution.

In Pryor’s new ad, he doesn’t talk about political issues or his opponent; he just talks about the Bible.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in His word. The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right. This is my compass, my north star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what's best for Arkansas. I’m Mark Pryor, and I approve this message because this is who I am and what I believe.”

The centrality of faith in Pryor’s life is well-known. But the ad was slammed by Brad Dayspring at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who mockingly suggested the ad contradicted comments Pryor had made last year: “The Bible is really not a rule book for political issues. Everybody can see it differently.”  But I don’t see the contradiction. In both, Pryor seems to be acknowledging that even people who look to the Bible for guidance can disagree on particular policy positions. Dayspring’s attack drew a surprising rebuke from Pryor’s Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, who called the NRSC response “bizarre and offensive.”

The ad has drawn a mixed response from progressive commentators. Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly praises Pryor for “basically saying the Bible teaches some humility and reserves wisdom and final judgment to Gold Almighty, not to his self-appointed representatives on earth.” But Paul Waldman at the American Prospect takes issue with Pryor’s “I’m not ashamed” line, suggesting it is a dog-whistle for those who believe the Religious Right’s charge that Christianity is under attack in America.

Waldman notes, however, that the ad could have been a lot worse, reminding us of this notorious Rick Perry ad from 2012 which starts with very similar “I’m not ashamed” language but then gets “much more vulgar.”

A more recent example of the “a lot worse” school of religion and politics came from Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, who is currently running for the Senate. In a six-minute speech from the floor of the House of Representatives in September, he mixed personal religious testimony with Christian-nation claims that the government should be run according to his interpretation of the Bible.

Broun’s remarks start with a core Christian Reconstructionist principle: that God ordained family, church and government and gave each a specific area of authority. But, he says, because of “this mistaken idea that we’re supposed to have a separation of church and state, the family and the church have abdicated a lot of its duties over to government.” (Reconstructionists believe that God did not authorize government to be involved, for example, in education or the reduction of poverty; that role is meant for family and church.)

Broun calls the Bible “the basis of our nation,” and says the fact that we aren’t running society accordingly will mean the death of our Republic.  The founding fathers, he says, were “Bible-believing Christians” who believed that “every aspect of life should follow the dictates of God’s inerrant word. That’s what I believe in. That’s what we should all believe in.”

This message is not new for Broun. Last year Kilgore wrote about a Broun speech in which he said that evolutionary science is “from the pit of hell” and that the Bible is a “manufacturer’s handbook” that “teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society,” as well as our lives as individuals. “That’s the reason as your Congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C.”

There are important distinctions between Pryor’s ad and Broun’s speeches.  It is helpful to look at them through the prism of People For the American Way Foundation’s 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics. These “rules of the road” are meant to generate a broader conversation about how we can create and sustain a civic space that reflects the principles of the Constitution and the values of respectful civic discourse, one that welcomes the participation of people of all faiths and people of none. Consider this passage from the 12 Rules:

Public officials are free to talk about their faith, the role it plays in their lives, and how it influences their approach to issues, but must not use the power of their office to proselytize or impose particular religious beliefs or practices on others.

Pryor’s ad seems to be intended to keep to the appropriate side of this rule, where Broun clearly violates the rule by proselytizing from the floor of the House.

In addition, Broun, like David Barton and other Religious Right leaders, claims that the right-wing position on every political issue finds some grounding or justification in the Bible, which should be the final word on every policy matter.  Broun’s insistence that every aspect of law and society should fit his interpretation of the Bible also violates another rule, “It is appropriate to discuss the moral and religious dimensions of policy issues, but religious doctrine alone is not an acceptable basis for public policy.” In contrast, Pryor’s ad explicitly says that he doesn’t claim to have all the answers, even though he uses the Bible as his moral compass.

A Religious Right critic of Pryor’s ad broke another of PFAW Foundation’s rules: “Religion should not be used as a political club.” As blogger Jeremy Hooper noted, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition was “outraged” by Pryor’s ad. She said his claim to be guided by the Bible “the furthest thing from the truth” because he had voted for the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which protects people from being discriminated at work based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Lafferty is of course free to believe that fairness is not a biblical value; but she shouldn’t denigrate the sincerity of Pryor’s faith because he disagrees.

Still, Pryor’s ad is a cautionary tale about the fact that, as he himself has said, the intersection of faith and politics can be difficult to navigate.  It can come across as saying, “vote for me because I’m a Christian,” a message that fails to respect America’s constitutional ideals and growing religious pluralism. And it could be seen as uncomfortably close to the message of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 primary campaign against Mitt Romney in Iowa, which essentially boiled down to, “vote for me because I’m the right kind of Christian.” Candidates or campaigns that suggest only Christians, or certain kinds of Christians, are worthy of public office violate the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution’s prohibition on a religious test for public office. 

With Christian-nation advocates like David Lane organizing all over the country for the 2014 and 2016 elections, there’s little doubt that the months ahead will bring some downright toxic mixing of religion and politics.

PFAW

Statement on Shooting at Fort Hood

Yesterday, 13 people were killed in a mass shooting at Fort Hood Army Post in Killeen, Texas. People For the American Way Foundation president Michael B. Keegan said, "Our thoughts and sympathies are with the victims of this horrific incident, their families and the entire Fort Hood community. Members of our armed forces already sacrifice so much to protect us, and it's doubly tragic for this kind of violence to arise in what should be a safe place.
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