Friday, November 30, 2012

"Somebody Has to Do the Thinking for Women": Susan Rice and White Male Privilege

by Rashad Grove
R3 blogger

“Somebody has to do the thinking for women.” These were the words that fell from the lips of Joe, the husband of Janie, as written in the classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.  This characterization is the fundamental premise to the male privilege ideological framework. Whether explicit or implicit, this is the seedbed of thought formation that is the fertile ground from whence the patriarchal imagination emerges.  It is the divine design of God that women must be spoken for and even thought for. From this matrix of maleness, women must have a biological or a gendered inability to do it for themselves. Women who attempt to draw upon the own agency will always lack validity unless men out of their own privileged volition decide to endorse them. This is the promise of patriarchy. In the last few weeks it has been unfolding in the political landscape and the theological terrain with haunting dexterity.

The interrogation of U.N Ambassador Susan Rice that was spearheaded by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham around the attacks on the U.S. Embassy at Benghazi speaks to this reality. While there may be a plethora of reasons to question than handling of the toxic situation and the unclassified intelligence that was given to Rice that she disseminated  to various media outlets as a spokesperson for the White House, it is how the person of Susan Rice was critiqued and challenged that sparked the most controversy.  With rhetorical venom John McCain commented that Susan Rice was, “incompetent” and “not very bright.” 

This rhetoric plays directly into the dual narrative of racism and sexism that is intertwined into the fabric of these “yet to be” United States of America. Susan Rice may be a lot of things but “incompetent and “not being bright” are the farthest from the truth. Susan Rice was valedictorian at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., a private girls' day school. She attended Stanford University, where she received a Truman Scholarship, and graduated with a B.A. in history in 1986. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. 

Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, Rice attended New College, Oxford, where she earned a M.Phil. in 1988 and D.Phil. in 1990. The Chatham House-British International Studies Association honored her dissertation entitled, "Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping" as the UK's most distinguished in international relations. John McCain’s judgment upon the intelligence of Dr. Rice could not possibly come from her credentials but must have come from another place. The symbiotic reality of her gender and color make her inherently deficient in this realm according to the doctrine of white male privilege that is espoused by McCain. The words of Janie’s husband Joe comes to mind that, “Somebody has to do the thinking for women.”

With all of the “legitimate rape” and “pregnancy from rape is something that God intended” discourse and the archaic positions on gender equality that emanated from the Grand Old Party, one would deem it to be politically expedient to display an attempt of gender diversity within the leadership of the House of Representatives.  But this is not the case.  All of the GOP’s committee chairs will led by white men. Not even a white woman was selected. If the Republican Party is serous in trying to appeal to women, this new 113th Congress has relegated the women in their caucus to a state of invisibility when it comes to leadership.  Providing analysis on the GOP with accurate insight it was journalist Toure’ who tweeted “The Republican Party is promoting a Mad Men vision for a Modern Family country.”  An opportunity was genuinely missed to broaden the political and leadership aesthetics of the GOP but instead they preferred to sanction the status quo. With concise clarity, the GOP is communicating to us all the mantra of Joe that “Somebody has to do the thinking for women.”

Bell Hooks once wrote, “Sexism  has always been a political stance mediating racial domination, enabling white men and black men to share a common sensibility about the sex roles and the importance of male domination. “ I would also note that this reigns true in the ecclesiastical realm as well. Black men and white men have in the past and continually share in a patriarchal partnership that perpetually excludes women. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “When the Church of England scuttled plans to allow women bishops Nov. 20th; incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called it "a very grim day for women and their supporters." The historical and theological glass ceiling for women in ministry is alive and well. This decision unveils the nucleus of patriarchal power and privilege from a theological rubric that God can only speak to and through men. When you can construct a God who solely discloses His existence to men and will only allow men to theologize about Him, it creates a hierarchical dichotomy where the subjection of women is God ordained and entirely justifiable. It seems like I can hear Joe saying, “Somebody has to do the thinking for women.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mormonism: A Scrutinized, Yet Evolving Faith

Mitt Romney refused to mix religion with politics in this year's presidential campaign, but that didn't repress people's curiosity about Mormonism. His candidacy brought the homegrown faith into the spotlight.
Patrick Mason, a professor and chairman of the Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University, says attention paid to his faith has been twofold. On one hand, it's been good for attracting new converts. On the other hand, it's turned Mormonism into something of a cultural punch line.
"South Park is a great example of this, The Book of Mormon musical is a great example of this, where people say, well, with increased attention comes increased scrutiny," he says. "And there are parts of our past that people just won't understand."
Mason says many people are skeptical of the church's origins, which involve the story of an angel directing Joseph Smith to golden plates and revealing a new Gospel. Many people are also dubious about claims that God lives on a planet named Kolob, or that people can become like God.
And yet, he says, many Americans don't think twice about Jesus walking on water or God sending Jews manna from heaven, because those age-old stories have become part of the culture.
"So the story of Jesus' resurrection is now accepted by the vast majority of Americans, but the story of Joseph Smith digging up gold plates or seeing angels is subject to scrutiny," Mason says.
Read the rest here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dr. Frank Thomas Joins Center for Pastoral Excellence at CTS

One of America’s most renowned pastors, scholars and thought leaders on preaching and worship has been appointed to the CTS faculty and will lead a new institute at CTS. Dr. Frank A. Thomas will lead the institute, itself part of the seminary’s new Center for Pastoral Excellence. He will also become the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics.

Dr. Thomas joins Christian Theological Seminary from Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Memphis, Tenn. where he served as senior pastor for more than a decade. After 31 years of preaching, Dr. Thomas said he now feels called to help prepare the next generation of preachers and leaders.  “At the heart of Christian preaching and worship is the rhetorical work of helping to bring the Gospel alive,” he said.  “Christian communities that thrive into the future will do so, in part, because they are blessed with excellent, well-trained preachers.  I am delighted to join CTS in this important work.”

According to Christian Theological Seminary President Dr. Matthew Myer Boulton, the institute will focus on preaching, worship, and sacred rhetoric.  “Preaching and worship are the events through which most Christians experience and explore their faith,” Boulton said.  “And in particular, African American traditions of Christian preaching and worship have made extraordinary, iconic contributions to American life.  Dr. Thomas’ background and expertise will help root the institute’s work in that vibrant legacy, even as he helps us reach out to a wide range of other cultural traditions and constituencies.”
Read the rest here

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Grace and the Mess: Religion, Feminism, and Reproductive Justice

This interview is part of a series profiling leaders of the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute, a project of CAP’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. The Institute provides faith-based leaders working on reproductive justice with training and resources in order to strengthen and raise the visibility of their work. You can learn more about this project here.

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is associate professor of religion and chair of gender and women’s studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She’s a blogger at Patheos where she looks at religion, politics, social justice, and pop culture. Caryn earned her doctorate degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sally Steenland: I want to ask about a post you wrote two days after the election. You called it “Now what?” What did you mean by the question? And how did you answer it?

Caryn Riswold: I wrote the post primarily because I think that especially when we are happy about an election result, as I was, we have to be reminded that there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s easy to get caught up in the celebrations—and I think there is a lot for us to celebrate in this election—but there’s also a lot of work to be done.

What I did was highlight two responses I thought were helpful and represented different perspectives. The first came from Kim Moore, a public health activist who I had the privilege to meet through the Center for American Progress. She talks about how change is an ongoing process that requires action from the collective. I like the way she said that because we still have women who need health care, veterans who need jobs. Voting is only the beginning.

The other response was from Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Very different perspective, very different work. But one of the things he says that I think is important is that we have to keep talking to each other. Whether or not we are happy with the election, or how our candidates or issues came out, we need a willingness to listen to each other and even to imagine a different way to live and work together in the world.

These are two very different people doing different work, but they’re both reminding us we have work to do and that is my fundamental answer to the question, “Now what?”
Read the rest here

Wrestling with God and Depression

On November 18, 2012, Dr. Monica A. Coleman spoke at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA in the Rector’s Forum on “Wrestling with God and Depression.” She referenced the story in the gospel of Mark where Jesus meets the man named Legion and casts out the and casts demons out of him. She talked about what she thought that had to do with depression, mental health and living whole lives.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Leaving Jesus: Women of Color Beyond Faith

The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus.  They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing.  My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band.  She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school.  Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe only a small minority go on to four year colleges and universities.

Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual abuse scandals.  The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). Italics added.”[i]
Read the rest here

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Evangelicals and the Politics of Jesus – The Moral Minority and Conservatism

When I tell people about my recently released book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, I sometimes get a snort in response: “The evangelical left? All three of them!?” This quip has some basis in reality. Polls from the election show that over 70% of evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney. The politics of Jesus appears to be thoroughly Republican.
But things are not entirely as they seem. That impressively high number counts only white evangelicals. Black evangelicals vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Latino evangelicals are about evenly split. And evangelical immigrants from around the world combine conservative theological and moral stances with progressive economic and foreign policy views in ways that defy the Western imagination. Limiting evangelical politics to the category of “white evangelicals” is rather misleading for a missionary-minded group that sees itself as part of a multiethnic, global communion.
Even reducing evangelical politics to the categories of Republican and Democrat is overly narrow. The evangelical left can’t be reduced to the Democratic Party, just as white evangelicalism can’t be reduced to the Republican Party. There are millions of evangelicals who vote for pro-life Republicans despite holding more progressive positions on poverty, capital punishment, and the environment. And there are many evangelicals who vote Democratic despite profound disagreement with the party’s pro-choice orthodoxy. The historical and global portrait of evangelicalism is of a group more politically creative than the electoral structures that try to contain them.
Read the rest here

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” 

Sadly, this isn’t Scripture you hear many evangelicals quoting when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Jesus uttered the words in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of making peace, American evangelicals have mostly picked sides and offered unquestioning, blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.

“Declaring that evangelical Christians are ‘on the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America,’ the Rev. John Hagee brought delegates to the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit 2012 to their feet with loud cheering and even the sounds of shofars being blown,” The Times of Israelreported in April 2012.
That same month, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told NBC News of evangelical support of Israel, “American evangelicals have it in their DNA: God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses whoever curses the Jews.”
During the GOP primary, many evangelicals expressed support for Newt Gingrich, who called Palestinians “invented people.” Someone from a country that is a few hundred years old complaining about “invented” national identities would be comical if the crux of his message weren’t so offensive. Such despicable nonsense is spouted for one reason: to dehumanize Palestinians. After all, if they are just invented, pretend people, then who cares what happens to them?
Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?
Read the rest here

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Biblical Foundation for Interreligious Engagement

Evangelicals are a "people of the Book," and any approach to how we live our religion among those of other religious traditions must take this into account. But is it possible that our biblical foundation for interreligious engagement is off kilter? I suggest that it is, and as an alternative I present a more appropriate biblical foundation for interreligious encounters.
Years ago I was on staff with a major apologetics ministry that provided seminars for churches on various "cult" groups. They used an approach to Scripture that is commonly found among Evangelicals as they encounter both "cult" groups (or new religious movements) like Mormonism, as well as world religions such as Islam. This involves a confrontational method of citing various biblical passages on important Evangelical doctrines in contrast with the teachings of a competing religious group. There are a select number of Bible verses that are appealed to as a foundation for this approach, and these include Jesus and his stern rebuke of Jewish leaders, New Testament texts warning about false teaching in the church, as well as Old Testament passages warning about false prophets, and the example of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal.
As I studied these passages and considered the broader framework of biblical teaching, I came to the conclusion that this understanding was flawed. Later, as part of the 2004 Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization's issue group that explored Evangelical responses to "cults," I became part of an international group of missions practitioners and scholars who had come to the same conclusions as I. It resulted in one of the more significant papers to come out of that Lausanne gathering.
My fellow Lausanne group members acknowledged that there is an important concern in the Bible for doctrine, sound teaching, and the need for discernment within the church. That must be acknowledged. However, we also recognized that, among other things, the commonly accepted biblical basis for interacting with other religions is inappropriate. It is based on the wrong texts and contexts, and it need not be primarily confrontational.
Read the rest here

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How US churches exploit tax exemption to promote faith-based politics

This fall, millions of people learned in church that they could go to hell if they didn't vote for a certain presidential candidate or party platform. Millions more took in media advertisements sponsored by religious groups that made the same point.
Let us set aside the question about whether God takes sides in American elections. The more pressing fact about this kind of religious-political advertising is that you, dear taxpayer, are footing part of the bill.
According to a recent Pew survey, about 13% of regular churchgoers reported receiving "political information" at church services, and about half of those said they were urged to support a specific candidate or party. So, to use the language of marketing, church-based advertising reached somewhere between 8 and 16 million "eyeballs".
If candidates had to buy this kind of advertising – and they surely would if they could – it would cost them tens, or perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars over the course of a campaign. And, of course, the money they raised and spent would all be subject to tax.
Religious organizations, on the other hand, are largely exempt from taxes.
Now, tax exemptions are really just another name for a public subsidy. If I don't pay my share of public expenditure on roads, law enforcement, defense and so on, the difference has to come from you. And it is for precisely this reason that the law forbids religious organizations, like all similar tax-exempt groups, from direct involvement in electioneering.
So, how do so many churches get away with breaking the law?
Read the rest here

Is the Mormon Moment Over?

No sooner had Mitt Romney lost the presidential election than various pundits and journalists began to declare that the "Mormon moment" was over. Certainly, Romney's candidacies in 2008 and 2012 brought about increased visibility and often scrutiny for Mormonism. Since its founding less than two hundred years ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been often ridiculed, attacked and misunderstood by a skeptical and American public. But as Americans learned more about Romney through the campaigns, many wanted to better understand his faith and what impact it might have on his presidency. Owing to that interest, the American media landscape cultivated a robust and largely informative conversation about all things Mormon, including its baptismal practices, the church's missionary efforts, the status of Mormon women and African-Americans, and the faith's history regarding polygamy. "What Do Mormons Believe?" has read the headline of numerous articles of late.
But while Romney's presidential ambitions no doubt magnified popular interest in Mormonism, observers are wrong to declare the "Mormon moment" over now that Romney has been denied the White House. This heightened interested in Mormonism preceded Romney's bid for the highest office, and the cultural, political and religious significance that modern Mormonism has achieved in the last decade guarantees that this Mormon moment will long outlast the temporary prominence Romney enjoyed.
Some commenters have quibbled with the notion that this Mormon moment has been a unique phenomenon or even a solely American story. Joanna Brooks, author of the recent memoir "Book of Mormon Girl," observed that "there have been many Mormon moments, and many more to come." Brooks also noted to me that whatever public visibility the LDS Church has enjoyed in the U.S. of late needs to be considered within the faith's "new global reach" that is spreading Mormonism through countries around the world. Indeed, to think of an American "Mormon moment" is to lose sight of the much more significant international developments the LDS Church is carrying out through its proselytizing efforts and its institutional expansion.
Read the rest here

Political Religion Mangles Politics and Religion

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for harmony and understanding -- and I hope dreams of genuine good-faith dialogues are fulfilled. Maybe humbled Republicans and gracious Democrats will embrace; maybe they'll hear the call to "get things done" and steer us from fiscal and environmental cliffs; maybe they'll even walk hand-in-hand through meadows, whispering sweet nothings about how our revered founders abhorred political parties. But I wouldn't bet on it. Charles Krauthammer is already speculating on new conspiracies and Senator Lindsey Graham has been downright churlish -- and then there's Franklin Graham. Let's all make sure we sling some mud before Turkey Day.
There is a failure here, and it is not just to communicate. Our breakdown runs even deeper than this year's campaign oratory, which evoked memories of Herbert Hoover's 1936 Republican Convention speech. The former president drilled the New Deal with the subtlety of a spinal tap: "The march of Socialist or Fascist dictatorships and their destruction of liberty did not set out with guns and armies. Dictators (in Central Europe) began their ascent to the seats of power through the elections provided by liberal institutions. They flung the poison of class hatred."
Hokay, Mr. I'm-not-resentful-because-FDR-drubbed-me-four-years-ago...
We're beyond the mere need for civil discourse. Our minds are askew. We actually believe our own rhetoric as an article of faith. We no longer know how to talk because we no longer know how to think. We're thrusting religious categories onto politics, and that's true of both pious and secular fundamentalists. Classical politicians are pragmatists in their heart of hearts. They've wended their way through local and state governments, where the grand debates center around zoning regulations, potholes, sewer lines, schools and budgets. Old school city pols made sure Mrs. O'Leary got her groceries and medicine. It was practical vs. impractical and useful vs. unworkable, all under the umbrella of the law and agreed-upon values. We'll compromise with our opposing "friends" because the people elected them as well. Sure we have ideals, and we'll salute Old Glory with relish, but that's because Old Glory symbolizes our practical approach. Political ideals serve people, not vice versa.
Read the rest here

Equal time with Al Mohler

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was quoted widely concerning the re-election of President Barack Obama. If afforded equal time, here’s how I would respond to comments attributed to him Nov. 8 on NPR, the New York Times on Nov. 9 and his blog on Nov. 7.
Mohler: “Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in. I think this was an evangelical disaster” (New York Times).
De La Torre: Brother Al, you confuse evangelicalism with white, male America. Continuing to fuse white/right political leaning with the message of Christ does a disservice to the gospel.
A majority of Christ-believing Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, women and the young -- a good number who are evangelicals -- saw this election as a blessing from God. Most of us feared Romney, because he was very open about his allegiance to the Golden Calf of Wall Street and capital. We were shocked by your support for those who follow such false gods.
Mohler: “It’s not that our message -- we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong -- didn’t get out. It did get out” (New York Times). “Our message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview” (NPR).
De La Torre: Amen! White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate -- 3 percent more than in 2004. But what you and Gov. Romney failed to realize is that the evangelical share of the population is both declining and graying. The message of Christ was not rejected, just your interpretation of the message of Christ -- a subjective interpretation based more on your social location than what the gospel calls for.
If you think abortion is wrong, then don’t get one. If you are against same-sex marriage, then don’t marry a man. If you are against contraception, then have more than two children. These are your rights as a U.S. citizen, but what you do not have a right to do is impose your interpretation upon others. In a pluralistic democratic society, no religious leader or group -- no matter how much truth they claim to hold -- can impose their interpretation of faith upon others who disagree.
Read the rest here

'Color Of Christ': A Story Of Race And Religion In America

NPR recently interviewed R3 contributor/blogger Edward J. Blum to discuss his (and Paul Harvey's)  latest book, The Color of Christ. See below
What did Jesus look like? The many different depictions of Christ tell a story about race and religion in America. Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey explore that history in their new book,The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. The book traces how different races and ethnic groups claimed Christ as their own — and how depictions of Jesus have both inspired civil rights crusades, and been used to justify the violence of white supremacists.
The Ku Klux Klan could not rely on Christian doctrine to justify their persecution and violence, so they had to turn to religious icons. "The belief, the value, that Jesus is white provides them an image in place of text," Blum tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It gets them away from actually having to quote chapter and verse, which they can't really do to present their cause."
If Blum had to paint a realistic portrait of Jesus, he says he wouldn't be white: "I would probably paint him darkly complected, not pure black, more in a kind of light brownish [color]."
Up until the late 1800s, Blum says Americans were comfortable with Jesus' Semitic roots and depicted him with brown eyes. But as waves of Catholic and Jewish immigrants came to the United States, some Americans "became concerned that it was changing the face of America too much, changing it racially, changing it religiously." In the early 20th century, there was an attempt to distinguish Jesus from his Semitic background. Religious writers and artists who were advocating for immigration restrictions began to depict Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes.
Read the rest here

Tongues Untied: Black, Gay and Sanctified?

Darnell: I think that it is fair to say that you and I are what some might call "church boys." I know that some Christian folks tend to place "God" and "gay" in the same sentence when they are referencing "sin" and "hell," but faith and spirituality are important to a lot of LGBTQ folks. The fact that the two of us are connected to faith traditions shouldn't be a surprise, then. I thought about this while we were preparing for the Mississippi LGBTQI2-S 2012 INFusion Conference a few weeks ago. We both had our perceptions of how conference attendees -- folks who live within the Bible Belt -- would respond to conversations on LGBTQ issues. I thought that it would be a challenge, and they proved me wrong. Interestingly, before we left our hotel room, we were listening to gospel music, and I was struck by the fact that we non-church-going, "progressive," gay black men, who have often critiqued Christians who espouse violent theologies, were still moved by gospel music and the communal worship that we experienced in churches. That fact alone tells me that people of faith don't all think and behave the same. Do you agree? Where are you now in terms of your own faith journey?
Wade: Yes, being in Mississippi made me realize how much I missed the church, especially given that I'm such a fan of the Mississippi Mass Choir. And though I do not participate in organized religion, my relationship with God is personal. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that fact, but it is where I am in my journey right now. Religion, or the church, was something that was a huge part of my adolescent experience. Part of me believes I "did my time." I went to church three to five times per week until I left for college, yet I felt as if I'd be judged for living in my truth by people who really hadn't or wouldn't take the time to get to know all of me. So I decided to stop attending. I wanted to protect my family from having to answer questions about my sexuality behind my back, and I didn't feel that my sexual orientation was anyone's business, to be frank. I wanted to go to church to enjoy and enhance my relationship with God and not think about whether anyone was whispering about the "gay ex-football player." Thankfully, I've gotten to a place where I understand that my relationship with God is just that: my relationship. How has your relationship with God and religion changed over time?
Read the rest here

African Americans and Therapy

Over 10 years ago, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology with an interest in developing expertise in providing therapy to underserved populations such as African Americans. This desire was sparked as an undergraduate psychology student when I noticed that often times African American are reluctant to seek treatment due to stigma and negative views towards psychological services. There is a plethora of literature on race/ethnicity and mental health services use. Overall, studies consistently report that African Americans have a higher unmet need than Whites with regards to seeking treatment for mental health issues (e.g., depression or life stress) for themselves or their children. As someone who grew up in the church and now works as a clinical psychologist, I see the value in both spirituality and psychotherapy.

African American families have a long standing history of preferring to use the bible and religion as a method of coping with life troubles and stress. Studies have found that African Americans report higher levels of religious and church involvement than the general population (Boyd-Franklin, 2003). As a result of this preference, many African Americans view seeking treatment for mental health problems as less desirable or less culturally acceptable. Some researchers have stated that African Americans may believe that if they see a therapist they may be seen as spiritually weak by people close to them (Mishra and colleagues, 2009).

It has been noted that in African American families prayer is often used to cope with physical health (e.g., pain or cancer) and mental distress (e.g., acting out behaviors, depression, or grief). Dr. Boyd-Franklin emphasizes in her book how many “African Americans have a strong core of spiritual beliefs that empower them and give them strength to cope with stress.” For example, when confronted with a stressful situation an African American may say “God will give me the strength to overcome all obstacles.” Given African American families often frame issues in religious terms, it is important for therapist to not dismiss these religious beliefs as it may result in treatment dropout or poor compliance with recommendations. Ethically, psychologist are bound to the Ethics Code(Principle E: Respect for People's Rights and Dignity) which notes that psychologistare aware of and respect (their clients) cultural and/or religious beliefs. Therefore, it is important that all professionals explore this issue with their clients.
Read the rest here

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wal-Mart Faces a New Round of Historic Strikes... But Why Now?

Last month, when strikers from Southern California arrived in Bentonville, Arkansas to protest Wal-Mart’s labor practices with reggae beats, pots and pans, and a Latin American-inflected protest culture, it became clear to onlookers that America’s superstore was no longer the small family business that Sam Walton had founded and grown in the cradle of the anti-labor culture of Southern evangelicaldom. But it’s also become clear that Wal-Mart’s own ambitions to become a global empire—expanding beyond southern suburbs to new regions, and continuing to erode protections for its workers—have brought the “family values” behemoth into confrontation with another kind of religious and labor rights tradition.
Wal-Mart has long been the Holy Grail for labor organizers. The nation’s largest retailer, it is notorious for its low wages, lack of benefits, abusive labor practices, and for leaving its workers dependent on public assistance while making the Walton family rich beyond imagination. And it has been nearly impossible to organize.
Until now.
Today, again, Wal-Mart workers are on the picket lines outside warehouses in Mira Loma, California, and more actions are expected elsewhere as the workers build their campaign. In October, 28 Wal-Marts saw retail workers walk off the job in protest, in stores from California to Maryland, Texas to Washington. Warehouse workers at Wal-Mart distribution centers outside Chicago and in Los Angeles have also gone out on strike—and won. The full reinstatement and back pay granted to the workers (averaging $900 for each) was unprecedented, leading one of the strikers to comment, “I think there’s been a hit in Wal-Mart’s armor.” 
Read the rest here

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between

As you may have noticed, a flurry of articles and blog posts have materialized in the wake of the Episcopal Church USA General Convention, many asserting that the Episcopal Church’s declining numbers, and those of other Mainline Protestant churches, are direct result of their progressive policies. The most notable of these responses came from Ross Douthat of the New York Times who asked, “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?
“Instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes,” Douthat wrote, “the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace... Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves."
Diana Butler Bass responded with an article entitled “Can Christianity be Saved?”  in which she reminds Douthat that conservative churches are also in decline. “In the last decade,” she writes, “as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic "blips," waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture. Membership decline has no inherent theological meaning for either liberals or conservatives. Decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion.  The real question is not 'Can liberal Christianity be saved?' The real question is:'Can Christianity be saved?' 
Both were thoughtful, relatively charitable articles, but I was disheartened to see my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with gleeful jeers from conservative evangelicals essentially saying,“let the liberals die!” followed by defensive responses from more progressive Mainliners reminding them, “we may be dying but we’re taking you with us!
 Missing from the whole dialog was any sense that we’re in this together, that, as followers of Jesus, we may need to put our heads together to re-imagine what it means to be the Church in a postmodern, American culture where confidence in organized religion is at an all-time low.
Meanwhile, I feel totally caught in between. 
Read the rest here

The New Evangelical Agenda

The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, "I think this was an evangelical disaster."
Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party -- which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right's leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term "evangelical."
During this election, much of the media continued to use the word as a political term -- as a key constituency of the Republican conservative base. But what the media really means when they use term "evangelical" is "conservative white evangelical." All other kinds of evangelicals are just never counted.
Just as the 2012 electoral results finally revealed the demographic transformation of America -- which has been occurring for quite some time -- it also dramatically demonstrated how the meaning of the word "evangelical" is being transformed.
Evangelical can no longer be accurately used to mean "white evangelical."
Of the 71 percent (PewCNN) of America's Hispanics who voted for President Barack Obama, the vast majority are either Catholic or Evangelical/Pentecostal. Obama lost the white Catholic vote, but he won "the Catholic vote" because of Hispanic Catholics. Similarly, Obama lost the white evangelical vote, but he won the majority of Hispanics who call themselves evangelical or pentecostal. Likewise, Obama won 93 percent of the African American vote, the majority of whom are members of black churches whose theology is quite evangelical. And 73 percent of the Asian American vote went for Obama, whose churchgoing members are also mostly evangelical.
Mitt Romney got about the same percentage of white voters that George Herbert Walker did (about59 percent v. 60 percent for Bush), which resulted in 426 electoral votes for Bush, but only 206 for Romney.
So what does all that tell us? Very simply, the majority of the white evangelicals went for Gov. Mitt Romney, and the majority of the non-white evangelicals voted for President Barack Obama. Obamaalso won 60 percent of younger voters (ages 18-29) and that likely means younger white evangelicals voted for the president at a higher rate than their parents.

Read the rest here

Progressive Christians Enter the Age of Relevancy

It's been a sobering few decades for Christians who work alongside the poor, claim their feminism, respect scientific discovery, care for the earth, and yearn for marriage equality. We felt like the voice of Christianity had been captured by some strange ventriloquist, and it was proclaiming things that often contradicted our faith. We became frustrated with our own irrelevance, as our speech in the public square seemed to be on permanent mute.
And yet, we worked alongside the poor, remembering Mary, the mother of Jesus, a single woman expecting a child. Mary magnificently proclaimed that God had exalted the humble, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away.
But in the midst of this exaltation, we heard another voice. It was the Heritage Foundation telling us that marriage was the best antidote to child poverty.
It made many Christian stomachs turn as we interpreted the news, "You're poor? Your children are going hungry? Then find a husband, and everything will be just fine. You don't need to fight for nutritious lunches, after-school care and medical insurance, you just need a man."
We claimed our feminism, as we studied, heeding the voices of women in our pulpits. Clergy found great hope in academic theology, which uplifts the liberating notion that "in Jesus Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free." We have drawn comfort in the fact thatJesus did not scorn the woman with the issue blood, but healed her. We realize that our faith calls us to care about women's health and beckons us to demand an end to violence against women.
We shudder as we hear leaders of the Religious Right talk about "legitimate rape" and fight against birth control being a part of a health planReligious Right leaders maligned Sandra Fluke who pleaded on behalf of those who needed birth control pills for medical reasons.