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A recent article from MSNBC centered around the question of whether so-called “liberal Christianity” is signing its own death warrant by, among other things, being more tolerant and accepting of such groups as LGBT people.  While the article raises some interesting questions, it also runs perilously close to drawing some unfounded connections between the process of liberalization (what does that really mean anyway?) and a dwindling of church attendance among such mainline Protestant denominations as the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the United Churches of Christ.  Rather than merely putting the blame on the process of liberalization, I have proposed below some alternate (and, I think, equally plausible explanations as for why church attendance may be dwindling):

1.)  Increased skepticism.  Certainly one possible explanation is an increased skepticism, what I like to call “The Da Vinci Code Effect.”  What I mean by this is that popular texts like TdVC, whatever their factual problems, have nevertheless exposed some of the problematic aspects of the history of Christianity that managed to fly under the radar in prior periods.  It seems to me that there is an increased cultural awareness of the very speckled history of various Christian denominations.  As a result, many see the Church not as a source of salvation and guidance, but as a source of potential danger and the inheritor of an unfortunate and tragic history of oppression and tyranny.

2.)  Anxiety over religious zealotry.  In the wake of 9/11, there can be no doubt that there is in the American consciousness a renewed awareness of the dangers of religious zealousness (I am not necessarily arguing that all of those who are “terrorists” are automatically zealots, I am merely pointing out what I think is a common perception among the American public).  Now, of course, no one really associates religious zealousness with mainline Protestant denominations like the Episcopalians, but it does seem to me that there is an increased anxiety, among both liberals and some conservatives, about the potential dangers that accompany religious faith of the extreme variety.

3.)  More Viable Alternatives.  Let’s face it, Christianity doesn’t quite the stranglehold on the American public that it once did.  There are loads of alternatives out there, some of which exist outside the bounds and strictures of an official denomination, and it could very well be that many of those who might, in a past era, have come to one of the mainline Protestant churches, have decided to go to one of these other venues, which might offer them more of the spiritual guidance that they desire than traditional Christianity.

So, it seems like it might be a bit premature to start ringing the death knell of liberal Christianity.  Does a reduction in attendance numbers really signify as much as this article seems to suggest?  Is it possible, perhaps, that a smaller, more unified, more tolerant Church (whatever its denomination) might be preferable to a big-tent Church that ultimately ends up excluding those who might need its light and guidance more than anyone else?


When I was a member of the Young Democrats at Marshall University, I remember attending a function at which some of the more prominent members of the state party were present.  I remember quite clearly a man saying that, all else being equal, what could cost us the election were three simple things, “Gods, Guns, and Gays.”  Aside from being horrendously offensive and irritating, his comments were part of a wider conversation going on at the time, both among my fellow Young Democrats and among the party as a whole.   Well, it was more of a one-sided conversation, and it went something like this:

Party Leaders:  Now, you gay people and women, we know that you have legitimate problems and issues, but we need you to clam up on those during the election so that (insert applicable name here) can be elected.  Once they are, then you can bring your grievances out (though not too loud), and we’ll see what we can do about them, at least until next election season.

Said Groups:  Okay.

Well, I’m sick and tired of that shit.  Even now, after we have one of the most progressive Presidents EVER in office, we still face the same kinds of problems.  Sure, Obama has been helpful about getting DADT repealed, but I think it also helpful to point out that it was the Log Cabin Republicans who actually brought the issue to the courts.  Not to mention the fact that simply repealing DADT doesn’t help the members who have already been discharged (there’s a great HuffPo article on that, by the way).

What really pisses me off, however, is the fact that in many other ways he continues to be lukewarm about other issues of importance to LGBT people, such as gay marriage.  In fact,  upon hearing that New York had legalized same sex marriage, he said that was supposed to be how it was done, at the state level.  Umm…since when have civil liberties been a state issue?  Since when do states have the right to decide which of their citizens they are going to treat as second class?

All of this just goes to show that we are still stuck with a President who refuses to take a firm stand in support of the very GLBT people who helped get him elected, in the hope that his administration would help to usher in and celebrate a new age of equality.  Instead, we still have to struggle for every inch of political ground, often times without the explicit support of the Democratic President that we helped to get elected.  But hey, isn’t that better than having the Republicans in charge, when we know that most of them are so viruently anti-gay as to be dangerous?  Perhaps so, but that’s precisely my point.  I’m sick and tired of having to settle for a President and a party that remain so wishy-washy about the rights of GLBT people, even when we do a lot of the grunt work to help get them elected.  In my humble opinion (which I am not shy about sharing), we should become more vocal and demand that the people who represent us take a firmer stand on our rights.  Otherwise, they need to get voted out.

Otherwise, we’ll just have to live with our status as second class citizens and I, for one, am not going to do that.

This is a subject that has been of interest to me for some time, and I’ve finally decided to offer some preliminary thoughts on it.  For those of you who don’t know, there is an entire sub-genre of gay porn devoted to the notion of straight men having sex with other men for money.  Now, this seems to raise some very puzzling questions, foremost among them:  are these men really straight or not?  How can you claim to be straight when you have sex with men for money?

As it turns out, a number of these men do claim to be straight, and they cling to that identify quite tenaciously.  For example, Kurt Wild, one of the most prolific amateur porn stars, even has a wife and several children.  Now, of course, there will be those that say that the whole debate can be cleared up by simply saying that these men are clearly bisexual, regardless of whether or not they identify as such.  After all, isn’t that the very definition of someone who has sex with both men and women?  Why is this such an issue in the first place?

Simply put, the reason this is an issue is, in my view, due to the fact that the old tripartite scheme of sexuality (gay, straight, and bisexual), simply does not work in the current sexual culture we inhabit (and perhaps they never really did).  In a world where experimentation and commodification go hand in hand, people just don’t always feel comfortable squeezing themselves into restrictive labels any more.  Now, of course these supposedly straight men do continue to cling to them, but I would argue that they do so precisely because they don’t feel comfortable donning the label “gay” and all of that baggage that comes with it.  Bisexuality has its own set of baggage, mostly consisting of snide remarks such as:  “People aren’t bisexual.  They’re just greedy.”

So, what I’m basically getting at is that the world we live in leaves a lot of room for different kinds of sexualities to flourish.  Now, we can debate the pros and cons of this particular cultural landscape for hours on end (and I’m sure that I’ll get to the eventually).  Whether or not we agree with this fact, however, it is a fact nevertheless.  While there are still plenty of people out there who identify themselves according to the tripartite scheme (such as myself), there are many more that do not, that feel that there are other labels that define them.  Still others feel that no label could adequately confine them nor define who they are sexually.

In the end, it seems that pornography, and the cultural tides that wash over us everyday, are gradually changing the way we think about sexual relations between human beings.  It’s too soon to say what the consequences will be in this new cultural landscape, but one can hope that soon people (read:  religious zealots and their slaves in the government), will pay more attention to important things (like raising the debt ceiling) than about what goes in people’s bedrooms.

We can but hope.

In honour of the fact that so many wonderful LGBT people have been getting married in New York the past couple of days, I’d thought I’d post a few supposed “facts” or beliefs about gay people that I think are just plain stupid.  They’re not listed in any particular order, but they all piss me off in one way or another.

1.  I’m not gay, and I don’t have a problem with gay people, unless they hit on me.  Then I’d probably have to hit them or something.   Where to start with this one.  Although some gay men do get a thrill out of hitting on straight guys (and the same goes for lesbians and straight women), it’s not as if we all set out to seduce straight men (although many websites claim to do just that).  While there is always discomfort with unwanted sexual advances, I hardly think it requires violence.  And, of course, I’m sure those same straight men would have little or no problem making those same unwanted advances on women without seeing anything wrong with that.  Let’s just learn to respect each other’s space and let it go at that.

2.  Love the sinner but hate the sin.  I’m not sure what makes me the angriest about this particular myth, whether it’s the self-righteousness of it or the fact that it makes an assumption about human sexual behaviour that I’m not sure is true.  Basically, this delightful little truism allows Christians the opportunity to pass judgment, without ever pausing to take stock of their own biases, prejudices, and sinful behaviour.  They get to take the moral high-road, while condemning everyone else.  Rather sad, really, but all too common nonetheless.

3.  Disagreeing with gay people has now become against the law, and that goes against my rights.  I’ve already talked about this one before, but I feel it bears repeating.  Just because you have a bigoted belief doesn’t give you the right to enforce that belief on others.  If you want to bash gay people, then do it in the privacy of your own home our Church, rather than out in the open where we have to listen to your misguided and unfortunate ideas.  When your hatred begins to spill out into the public space, then you have to be prepared to face the consequences that your hatred necessarily brings about.

And finally…

4.  Gay marriage should be left up to the states to decide.  The people have a right to decide whether to allow gay marriage to happen.  No, actually, they don’t.  The U.S. Constitution, for better or worse, is the framework of our government and it specifically guarantees equal protection under the law.  Perhaps the “Founding Fathers” would not have liked to see it used to promote gay marriage, but some of them also wouldn’t have liked to see it ban slavery either, yet it most definitely does.  Civil rights are not a states’ rights issue, regardless of whether those rights are for women, people of colour, or members of the LGBT community.  Those basic rights are not a pile of treasure that can be pieced out to the deserving, they are for everyone.

So, there you have it.  Some gay myths and beliefs that are absolute nonsense.  Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, they’ll be buried in the past where they belong.

The recent demise of Borders has started me thinking about the future of print media.  Is it possible that in another 15 years we may not be reading print books any longer, reliant instead upon e-book readers like the Kindle, Nook, and other similar devices?  While these ways of reading might be fine for some I, for one, still prefer the old tried-and-true method of reading, with a print book in hand.  So, I thought I would list a few of the reasons that I prefer reading a paper and glue book over a digital one.

Tactility-I know this may sound a little silly, but I just like the feel of a book in my hands.  There’s just something about the feel of the book as it rests against my hand, about the act of turning a page (especially the rough-cut pages that you see on many new hardcovers), that I just don’t get when I read a digital book (and I’ve read a few).  Although iBooks comes close to replicating the experience of reading a printed book, it is still, at the end of the day, just a screen.

Sight-I like looking at books.  There, I said it.  When I walk into my library (or a public library, for that matter) and see the rows of books, it gives me a good feeling.  Sometimes I’ll just walk into my library for no other reason than to just take in the sight of the books I’ve collected over the years (divided into categories, of course).  I often walk into bookstores (those few that remain, anyway), for the same reason.

Smell-I know this one might sound a little weird, but I like the smell of books.  Whether it’s the faintly musty smell of old books that have been stored away or the thicker smell that comes from glossy pages (like many books published by Routledge), or the inky smell of new paperbacks, I love them all.  Until they come out with a computer that generate that kind of smell, I’ll never like digital books as much.

Durability-Last but not least, there’s the durability factor.  Sure, electronics are pretty sturdy these days, but what happens if, Heaven forbid, there’s a malfunction in your software that deletes all of your books?  What happens if the Amazon (or Apple, or whatever) software deletes your Library (improbable, I know, but still a possibility).  Well, then, you’re SOL.  However, if you have a regular book, you can easily replace it if, for example, you should drop it in water or engage in some other mishap.  Of course, you could always say that water-crinkled pages are a mark of character, and not even have to replace it at all.

So, there you have it, a little love letter to printed books.  No matter how much my friends and colleagues might say they love their e-reader, I just can’t make myself stop loving regular, plain-old printed books more.  Let’s just hope that that they stick around a while longer.  I really don’t want to have to go completely to digital.

Well, it’s certainly a good time for gay rights activists (of which I am one). In addition to the passage of the bill permitting same-sex marriage in New York, there is now a bill making its way through the United States Congress that will pave the way for both the repeal of DOMA and for the granting of numerous rights to same-sex couples at the federal level. Both of these, in addition to the recent polls suggesting a majority of Americans support various rights for GLBT citizens, gives us a lot of reasons to celebrate.

However, the battle is far from over.

In states all over the Union there are constitutional amendments and laws that bar same-sex couples from enjoying the same rights (and responsibilities, I might add) of straight couples. There are still a lot of people out there, including some very prominent politicians (*cough*Michelle Bachman*cough cough*) who remain wed to the idea of defending “traditional marriage,” whatever that means. If the defeat in California showed us anything, it is that we do not have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the our victories. We have to keep taking the battle forward, making sure that we are granted the same rights as everyone else.

And one of the fiercest battles we will fight will be against conservatives, who say that they are being persecuted for their beliefs when they say they want to defend marriage. It is a travesty when the democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion are used in the support of beliefs that run counter to those very principles. I am not suggesting that we should take any sort of action to curtail the freedom of religious expression, but there does come a point where that crosses into hate speech, and that cannot be tolerated. Your right to practice your religion (no matter how bigoted or oppressive that religion may be) ends where it interferes with my rights to be with the person I love and want to build my life with. If you don’t want your church to grant same-sex marriages that’s fine, no one is going to force you, but don’t try to stop those churches that do, and most definitely don’t think that you will be able to stem the tide.

The gay rights wave is coming in, and there’s nothing going to stop it.

The recent case that resulted in the overturn (however temporary that might prove to be,) of Proposition 8 has raised some important questions for me regarding what kind of allegiance the GLBT community should have toward either the Democratic or Republican Party. (Full disclosure: I am an avid and adamant supporter of the Democratic Party.) A blogger at the Huffington Post (see the original post at made some interesting points about the fact that the Democrats have been notoriously reluctant about overtly supporting gay rights, so I thought I would take a look at the situation and offer my thoughts about it.

There are a couple of core issues we need to consider when it comes to gay allegiance. First of all, as the HuffPo points out, why should the GLBT community support a party that has been so lukewarm in its support of those causes? Well, the reasoning typically goes, because they’re not Republicans, who have taken anti-gay sentiment and made it a core part of their platform. However, this may eventually change, as younger members of the Republican Party are much more supportive (as a rule,) than their elder counterparts, and if the GOP as a whole comes around, this could cause some soul-searching questions for those GLBT voters for whom the supposed Democratic support of gay rights trumps anything else.

Which brings me to the other important issue here. Just how prominent should their rights be in the minds of GLBT voters? Most, I think, would say that their fundamental rights trump everything else, which is why they (and other minorities,) tend to throw their support behind the Democratic Party, which has, in theory at least, been the more supportive one. For others, however, their views of economic and foreign policy are deemed more important, and so a substantial number of voters throw their support behind the GOP, even if that means sacrificing their civil rights in the process.

My own personal opinion is that GLBT voters need to protect their rights, even if that means making some concessions when it comes to foreign/economic policy. Unlike the Republican Party, which has as part of its platform the explicit denial of the rights of gay Americans, the Democrat Party has an open-door policy and has, on the whole, been more supportive. The likelihood of the Republican Party swinging in favor of GLBT rights is, in my view, a far off possibility (and, if you ask me, almost an impossibility.) Their 2008 Party Platform specifically says that they are in support of “traditional marriage,” whereas the Democratic National Committee states that it will do everything it can to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. Face it, being GLBT is an essential part of who we are, and that is worth protecting. If we let Republicans take away our rights now, the end result can only be persecution.

That’s why, in my opinion, we who are GLBT must continue to support the Democratic Party. That being said, I do not think that we should just write them a blank check and assume that they are going to help us. We need to pressure them to stand up for the rights that are guaranteed us by the Constitution. All too often, “moderate” Democrats use their moderate nature as an excuse to let social and civil rights issues slide. It’s high time that we who are members of the GLBT community tell our party that we’ve had enough, and that we’re going to demand that they live up to their promises. Otherwise, why should we supper them?

It was a great and historic day in California today, as the pernicious and oppressive Proposition 8 was overturned by the ruling of a federal judge. This is, in my opinion, the first step on a journey that will, hopefully, result in the full inclusion of gay men and women in the fabric of American life, including and especially the right to celebrate and share our lives with those we love, with the approval and rights that heterosexual couples currently enjoy. The judge has shown that, when it comes to a democracy, the opinion of the “many” (even if that term is defined by a narrow majority of approximately 52%,) should not be allowed to oppress the lives of a few.

However, although this ruling is indeed a cause for celebration among those of us in the GLBT community, we should also be cautious in our optimism. Those who are in favor of a gay marriage ban have already stated that they are going to pursue an appeal, and it will most likely be several years before the case goes before the Supreme Court, and even then there’s no guarantee that we are going to get the ruling that we might desire (although there has been some speculation, including a recent piece in the “Huffington Post, that Justice Kennedy might come down on our side, assuming the rest of the court is split into its usual liberals and conservatives.) So yes, we should celebrate this day as another step forward in the fight for gay rights, we must also be certain to be cautious. The fight is far from over.

We should also remember that, just because the court has found in our favor, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still lots of people out there dead-set against the idea of gay men and women sharing their lives together in marriage (or any other sort of legal recognition, for that matter.) Yes, we most definitely should take this issue to the highest court in the land. After all, it is only there that we can hope to get a fair and balanced ruling, one based (ostensibly, at least,) on the rules set down by the Constitution rather than on the religious zealousness of bigoted fundamentalists. However, we also have to remember that there are many people who will do whatever they can to deny those in the GLBT community their equal rights, so we must always be vigilant.

So, what can we do in light of these developments? We can bask in the euphoria for a few days, but then the work must resume. We must ensure that we apply as much pressure to as many political points as possible. The wind is blowing in our direction, so we need to make sure that we take advantage of that fact and move ahead with our movement to gain equality. We can’t let this victory slide or fade away from public consciousness. We need to keep up the momentum, and never stop fighting until this issue goes straight to the Supreme Court. And, even if they rule in their favor, we must be always vigilant to ensure that those rights are guaranteed and protected in every way. Then, and only then, can we breathe easy.

I know I spoke at length about the Cordoba House (the mosque/community center being constructed near Ground Zero,) the other day, but recently both Slate and Salon ran interesting articles on it, so I thought I’d revisit the topic again, though my focus this time will be a little different. One of the posters on the Slate article stated that anyone saying that Islam is a religion of peace is totally misunderstanding its purpose, that it is, at its heart a violent religion intended to bring people under the umbrella of its faith by the sword. I’d like to take a moment and unpack this post, to see what kinds of issues it raises.

First of all, I find it incredibly irritating when people, especially laypersons, take it upon themselves to make grave and potent pronouncements about the nature of a given religion. They often make sweeping statements that are, ostensibly, meant to clear the waters and make it absolutely clear what a particular religion stands for. My question is, who gives them this authority? I’m not saying that clerical folk should have more authority on religious matters than others, but I do think that they often have the sort of training that allows them to wrestle with these questions in a way that most laypeople cannot or do not (hence their positions as laypeople.) Even more importantly, making broad statements about any religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or what have you, is folly, as they are almost all constituted by many different denominations and branches that inter pet things incredibly differently, thus making any generalization an out-right falsehood, and a dangerous one at that.

Second of all, I would like to just point out the foolishness of putting Islam into a contradictory position with Christianity. Yes, that faith has some bloodspots on its rap sheet, but so does Christianity. The Crusades, the Reformation (and the Counter-Reformation,) to say nothing of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere between Christians. How many thousands, nay millions, of Christians have been cruelly and brutally murdered by other Christians? One need look no further than the Bible to see examples of violence. Although Christ once said turn the other cheek, he also said that he brought not peace but a sword. Which one are we to believe? Is Christianity a religion of peace or one of war? Should Christians go to war to ensure that everyone falls under their faith? Obviously those in the past have thought so (and not the not-so distant past, either,) and there are still some who do so today. Clearly, Islam is not the only religion whose foundations were splashed with the blood of “innocents.”

My point is, basically, that saying that Islam is a religion based on violence is yet another gross over-statement, designed to make everyone believe that Islam is somehow antithetical to American civilization and culture, which is supposedly so evolved and enlightened. Tell that to the Tea Partiers and the religions fanatics on the Right, who constantly advocate for the oppression of those who don’t fit into their notion of “values” or “holiness.” I’ll close with a brief paraphrase of one of Jesus’ most famous sayings: “Before you remove the splinter from your brother’s eye, remove the log from your own.” Those on the Right would do well to consider that.

The recent cover of “Time” magazine, which shows a young Afgahni woman who was brutally punished by her husband and his family, has ignited a firestorm as various commentators argue about what purpose the magazine cover serves (whether as exploitation or awareness-raising,) and about the role of the United States in the ongoing fight for the rights of women in Afghanistan. As always, I am here to provide my take on the situation, such as it is.

Although I would argue that the magazine’s cover was intended to raise awareness of the plight of women in Afghanistan, and about what might happen to them should the Taliban be allowed to return to power (or at the very least be allowed to re-enter mainstream Afghan society,) I would also say that their choice of title obscures this in favor of, basically, justifying the war in Afghanistan and making it appear that we went there in order to liberate Afghani women. As we all know, this is most certainly not the case. We went there to topple a government that was hiding a terrorist group that perpetrated a horrendous act of terrorism. The plight of the women was, as always, secondary, and was only brought up later as a means of justifying our presence there and of ensuring that we stay there. The women are victims, the belief goes, and we should stay there in order to help them.

This cover also obscures the fact that this attack happened, not when there were no American soldiers in Afghanistan, but when there thousands of soldiers on the ground. This, to me, says that the military solution is clearly not working, or at least not in terms of human rights abuses. Although some military presence will no doubt be necessary, I firmly believe that they should be in charge of the UN, and that they should be used in conjunction with NGOs, who are often much more able to help with social issues than the military, who are generally there with the purpose of quelling armed resistance. The United Nations should most definitely take a stronger hand in the policing of countries regarding human rights abuses, and this would ensure that we are not the only country bearing the economic burden of supporting this seemingly interminable war in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most importantly, this magazine cover makes it sound as if only the United States Army stands between Afghan women and a precipice leading down into oppression, mutilation, and death. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but merely having a military presence in the country is not going to change this system of beliefs. If we truly want to prevent these sorts of abuses from happening to women, we would have to stay there for an enormous amount of time, basically reshaping Afghanistan in America’s image. Of course, there are those who would say that this is a good idea, but it’s dangerous in the extreme, a modern-day version of colonialism (which is far from dead, in any case.) However, not all is lost. We can, and we must, help to fund NGOs and other organizations that will be able to educate the citizens of Afghanistan–not just the tribal leaders, but families of every stripe–about the perils of oppressing women and the terrible toll this takes on individuals and on the society as a whole. As always, education is the key to change and improvement for the future.

Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is enormously complicated and, as with all such complicated stations, there is no easy solution. That fact, however, should not discourage us from trying to improve the world and, if possible, ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world for everyone. This will not be easy, and it will no doubt take several more years of investment in order to come to fruition. There is no question or problem, no matter how complicated, that does not have an answer or a solution. We just have to be willing to look past the obvious.