Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: The Rest of the Story About the Birth of Jesus by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrman

In my graduate course last week, we analyzed the Proto-Gospel of James (which scholars call the Protevangelium Jacobi — a Latin phrase that means “Proto-Gospel of James,” but sounds much cooler….). It is called the “proto” Gospel because it records events that (allegedly) took place before the accounts of the NT Gospels. Its overarching focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus; it is interested in explaining who she was. Why was *she* the one who was chosen to bear the Son of God? What made her so special? How did she come into the world? What made her more holy than any other woman? Etc. These questions drive the narrative, and make it our earliest surviving instance of the adoration of Mary. On the legends found here was built an entire superstructure of Marian tradition. Most of the book deals with the question of how Mary was conceived (miraculously, but not virginally), what her early years were like (highly sanctified; her youth up to twelve (lived in the temple, fed every day by an angel), her betrothal to Joseph, an elderly widower with sons from a previous marriage, the discovery of her pregnancy and the “proof” that she (and Joseph) were both pure from any “sin” (such as, well, sex).

The book was originally composed in the second Christian century. There are a number of intriguing passages, none of which is more famous than the one I translate here (the original language is Greek). In this striking narrative, when Mary is about ready to give birth in a cave just outside of Bethlehem, Joseph runs off to find a midwife who can help. They arrive too late. The child appears without any human help or intervention (is the child really a newborn? Jesus appears to walk over to his mother to take her breast; and he performs a healing miracle!).

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It’s an amazing passage, that everyone should know about.  (The first bit is given in the first-person, with Joseph himself talking).  Here it is:

(1) I saw a woman coming down from the hill country, and she said to me, “O man, where are you going?”  I replied, “I am looking for a Hebrew midwife.”  She asked me, “Are you from Israel?”  I said to her, “Yes.”  She asked, “Who is the one who has given birth in the cave?”  I replied, “My betrothed.”  She said to me, “Is she not your wife?”  I said to her, “She is Mary, the one who was brought up in the Lord’s Temple, and I received the lot to take her as my wife.  She is not, however, my wife, but she has conceived her child by the Holy Spirit.”  The midwife said to him, “Can this be true?”  Joseph replied to her, “Come and see.”  And the midwife went with him.

(2) They stood at the entrance of the cave, and a bright cloud overshadowed it.  The midwife said, “My soul has been magnified today, for my eyes have seen a miraculous sign: salvation has been born to Israel.”  Right away the cloud began to depart from the cave, and a great light appeared within, so that their eyes could not bear it.  Soon that light began to depart, until an infant could be seen.  It came and took hold of the breast of Mary, its mother.  The midwife cried out, “Today is a great day for me, for I have seen this new wonder.”

(3) The midwife went out of the cave and Salome met her.  And she said to her, “Salome, Salome, I can describe a new wonder to you.  A virgin has given birth, contrary to her natural condition.”  Salome replied, “As the Lord my God lives, if I do not insert my finger and examine her condition, I will not believe that the virgin has given birth.”

(1) The midwife went in and said to Mary, “Brace yourself.  For there is no small controversy concerning you.”  Then Salome inserted her finger in order to examine her condition, and she cried out, “Woe to me for my sin and faithlessness.  For I have put the living God to the test, and see, my hand is burning, falling away from me.”    (2)  She kneeled before the Master and said, “O God of my fathers, remember that I am a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Do not make me an example to the sons of Israel, but deliver me over to the poor.  For you know, O Master, that I have performed my services in your name and have received my wages from you.”

(3) And behold, an angel of the Lord appeared and said to her, “Salome, Salome, the Master of all has heard your prayer.  Bring your hand to the child and lift him up; and you will find salvation and joy.” (4) Salome joyfully came and lifted the child, saying, “I will worship him, for he has been born as a great king to Israel.”  Salome was immediately cured, and she went out of the cave justified.  And behold a voice came saying, “Salome, Salome, do not report all the miraculous deeds you have seen until the child enters Jerusalem.”

— Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, How was Jesus *Really* Born?

Bart Ehrman’s latest book, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, is now available.

Quote of the Day: The Bible Has Caused So Much Damage, Says Former Pastor Rob Bell

rob bell

The Bible has caused so much damage. In many ways, it’s often been an agent of dragging everything backwards.

—  Rob Bell, former Evangelical pastor

Please take time to watch the following three minute video.

Video Link

Quote of the Day: IFB Pastor Steven Anderson’s Hungarian Connection

steven anderson

I was quite surprised to see the following article in my Google Alerts. Being of Hungarian descent myself, I was intrigued by the author’s perspective on Steven Anderson and his wife Zsuzsanna. If you are not familiar with Steven Anderson, please read, Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona.

Pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona’s Faithful Word Baptist Church often claims to have a monopoly on “true,” undiluted “Bible-believing” Christianity. In his mind, Christ’s message is not of redemption and forgiveness, but of visceral rage and damnation for a wide range of people on his hate list.

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In Mr. Anderson’s mind, homosexuality and pedophilia are inextricably linked. In his skewed private interpretation of Scripture, he also fails to consider that Leviticus does not refer to committed, monogamous same sex relationships (this concept is not present in Scripture), but rather to sexual encounters associated with idolatry. (For a detailed discussion of this from a progressive Catholic perspective, see the piece in the Liberal Catholic Digest.) While his worst vitriol is reserved for homosexuals, Mr. Anderson publishes anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic material as well, and his view of women (they are to eschew college and remain in the house) also raises eyebrows. In 2016, during a sermon, Mr. Anderson did an impression of the deceased Mother Teresa lying as a corpse in a casket, after which he started shrieking and flailing his arms, explaining to his congregation that “she’s burning in hell right now.”

Mr. Anderson is also a Holocaust denier. “I don’t believe that the official version of the Holocaust is true whatsoever,” he said in a video ominously entitled The Holocaust Exposed. He uses debunked writings of Holocaust deniers in his videos to argue that while some Jews, along with many other people, may have died in World War II, there was no Holocaust, no Final Solution and no concerted effort to annihilate Jews as such. He has also gone on to declare that Jews are the most “wicked” people in the world, holding them responsible for the spread of pornography.

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The 36 year old Steven Anderson’s wife, Zsuzsanna Tóth, is Hungarian and the two met in 1999, in Munich, Germany. Zsuzsa had lived in both Germany and Britain and the young Steven seemed to be mesmerized by her “British” English. (She did not have much of a Hungarian or German accent, apparently.) The young Mr. Anderson was handing out Christian tracts in a public square and this is where the two first met. When Mr. Anderson returned to the U.S., the two remained in touch through email, regular letters and built a friendship. Yet Mr. Anderson believed he could never fall in love with her for a one very important reason. Mr. Anderson writes:

“She was still not saved, and I had absolutely no intention of ever falling in love with, dating, or marrying an unsaved girl, no matter how much I liked her…Every girl I ever dated was saved, and my first step was always to bring them to my church to see if they enjoyed the hard, biblical preaching.”

That very American and individualist understanding of Christian salvation as being a personal, one-time act of “accepting Christ into your heart” and the notion of “hard, biblical preaching,” was foreign to Christian culture in Hungary, be it Catholic or Protestant. Born-again Christianity was brought to the country, and to other parts of Eastern Europe, by American Evangelical and Baptist missionaries. Full disclosure: I am familiar with this first-hand. When I was living in Budapest with my parents in the nineties, they enrolled me in the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB), located in the southwest Buda town of Diósd. The school was established by American born-again missionary groups, such as the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Campus Crusade for Christ and a handful of others. The concept of being a “born-again Christian” was as foreign to me, growing up in a Catholic family, as it was to nearly every other student of Hungarian origins. The notion that somehow I, my family and Hungarian society writ large–built on the narrative of St. Stephen’s Christian state and historic Hungary as being a bulwark of western Christianity in the East–were not Christian, was incomprehensible.

To be sure, my time at ICSB was not characterized by the type of vitriol that forms the basis of Mr. Anderson’s preaching, even if there seemed to be a broad consensus that Catholics were not saved and anti-Catholicism most certainly existed in some circles. The American missionaries on the outskirts of Budapest worked hard to raise enough money in their churches back home to allow them to live quite modestly in Hungary. They often learned Hungarian, tried to integrate into Hungarian society and were clearly driven by a deeply held belief that they could bring eternal life in Christ for the people of this post-communist society by convincing them to perform a simple, personal gesture of faith.

When Zsuzsa visited the Steven and his parents in Roseville, California, “saving” this young Hungarian woman was clearly a consideration. The same day her plane landed, she was introduced to a most extensive collection of Bibles. Mr. Anderson explains:

“I showed her the big bookshelf in my room that I was pretty proud of which had 3 long shelves (I have always love books and done a lot of reading). The top shelf contained about 40 different King James Bibles…She thought having forty-some Bibles was a little bit excessive. I told her that at least if I were ever burned at the stake, there would be plenty of fuel, and that didn’t seem to make her feel any better about it…”

Mr. Anderson continues with his first impression of this young European:

“Being an unsaved girl from Europe, she had been brainwashed into believing a lot of left-wing ideology such as socialism, feminism, humanism, gay rights, etc., and she was definitely against spanking… I remember explaining to her why there was no way that evolution could actually be true. She had never in her life even heard of anyone questioning it.”

Indeed, even conservative Hungarian Catholics and Protestants would not generally question evolution–it was simply not a topic of debate in Hungarian society in the nineties…nor elsewhere in the region. But Zsuzsa was softening, as she was introduced to the Anderson family’s faith life. “On Sunday morning, we went to Regency Baptist Church with the whole family. This was her very first time in a Baptist church. She still wasn’t a believer, but she really enjoyed the service and said that she liked it a lot better than Catholic church,” recalls Mr. Anderson.

The young man had clearly developed feelings for Zsuzsa Tóth, but was troubled by the fact that she was not “saved.”

“I went to my room with a heavy heart. I had really become fond of Zsuzsa, and I was sad that she still wasn’t saved. I got on my knees and wept, praying to God that she would get saved. Little did I know that at the exact moment my tears were flowing as I prayed for her, she was upstairs in her room, asking Jesus Christ to save her.”

And there it is: Zsuzsa Tóth become a Christian. In Roman Catholicism, salvation is a life-long process and one’s relationship with the divine and indeed the mystery of the incarnation is more layered, multifaceted and much more communal in nature than to fit neatly into a one-time formula, invoked in private.

Despite her conversion, Zsuzsa, coming from a European background, was horrified by the death penalty in the U.S. and about Steven’s visceral hatred towards homosexuals. Mr. Anderson recounts:

“I told her that I believed that our government should give homos the death penalty. This made her very upset and became our first fight. It was not that she had a particular soft spot for homos, it was just that she had always been taught that the death penalty was wrong in general, and especially for something other than murder! Basically, she was just emotional because she considered me to be a nice guy and could not believe that I would condone of such a “violent” measure. It seemed like a contradiction to her at the time. Keep in mind that she had just gotten saved only 6 days before…”

The two spoke a fair bit about marriage as they got to know each other better. Somewhat oddly for a born-again Christian so serious about his faith, they tried to get married in 2000 at what they believed was a 24/7 wedding chapel in Reno, Nevada, which turned out to be closed by the time they got there. In the end, they had a 2-minute wedding ceremony at a place called the Chapel of the Bells, without even Steven’s parents present or knowing about it, upon which they “headed back to Roseville to consummate the marriage.”

Zsuzsa returned briefly to Germany, so the young couple were in a long-distance marriage for the next three weeks, until her return to the U.S. Zsuzsa was then baptized at Regency Baptist Church, one month after being “saved.” Mr. Anderson initially worked for a residential alarm company, installing home alarm systems. Zsuzsa gave birth to nine children and Steven established his church, Faithful Word Baptist Church, in 2005. He emphasizes that he never completed college or university, but is disciplined about memorizing large parts of the Bible–and has memorized nearly half the New Testament.

— Christopher Adam, Hungarian Free Press, Pastor Steven Anderson — A Vitriolic American Baptist and His Hungarian Connection, January 23, 2018

 

Quote of the Day: The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John by Bart Ehrman

birth of christ

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century.

Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it.

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Many people will respond (some of you are responding right now, in your heads!) by saying that if Christ was the Word of God [John 1] who became a human, his mother must have been a virgin.  Right?   Well, no, I’d say, not right.  The idea that the incarnation implies a virgin birth makes sense only if you already think that Jesus’ mother was a virgin.  If you don’t know about a virgin birth, there would be absolutely no reason to think that an incarnation requires a virgin birth.

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Scholars have often thought that there is an indication in John’s Gospel that there were questions floating around about Jesus’ “unusual” birth.   In the controversy that Jesus has with his Jewish opponents in John 8, they make a comment that is often taken to be directed to Jesus paternal lineage, when they say “WE (emphasize the “we” here) were not born from an act of fornication” (8:41).   Is this a suggestion that Jesus was known to have been born out of wedlock?

If so, is it possible that the virgin birth stories that appear in other traditions (Matthew and Luke) was a response to this charge against Jesus?   “You nonbelievers say he was born out of fornication.  It’s true that his mother was not married when she conceived, but that’s because it was God who made her pregnant.”   It is interesting that in pagan circles we have stories of women who were charged with extra-marital sex, leading to pregnancy, who claimed that in fact a God had made them pregnant.  This is precisely what legend says about the mother of Romulus, the founder of Rome.

My point:  John’s Gospel does not mention a virgin birth.   And it does not presuppose a virgin birth.   It indicates that Jesus was the incarnation of the Word of God.   The only way to get a virgin birth into the Gospel of John is to read it into the Gospel of John.  Because it’s not there.

And this now is the yet bigger point.   Matthew and Luke do not say a THING about Jesus being the incarnation of the pre-existent Son of God.  In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is not a pre-existent being.  He comes into existence when he is conceived of a virgin.  John’s Gospel is just the opposite: it does not have a virginal conception of Jesus.  It has Jesus as a pre-existent divine being who becomes incarnate.

The traditional Christian doctrine takes the view of Matthew and Luke, and smashes it together with the view of John, and creates a view found in NONE of the Gospels, namely, that Jesus Christ was a pre-existent human being “who became incarnate through the Virgin Mary” (as the Nicene Creed states).

That is often how Christian doctrines are created out of the Bible, by combining disparate views of different authors and through that combination creating something that precisely none of them subscribed to.   I’m not saying these doctrines are wrong.  I’m simply saying that they are not the doctrines held by the authors whose writings are used to create them.

— Bart Ehrman, The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John: A Blast from the Past, December 28, 1997

You must be a member of Bart Ehrman’s forum to access the complete text of this post. At $24.95 a year, it is a worthwhile investment, especially if you are interested in better understanding the nature and history of the Biblical text. All proceeds go to charity.

Quote of the Day: A Strange God by Mark Twain

mark twain

Strange…a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied seventy times seven and invented Hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!

— Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

Quote of the Day: Why Are Women Rarely Accused of Sexual Harassment? by Maria Puente

In the fire-hose torrent of sexual harassment scandals we are staggering under these days, one thing stands out as a common factor in all the cases: The accused are men.

“One of the reasons it is men who harass women, and sometimes other men, is that this is about power and overwhelmingly (workplace) upper management is male, so the positions of power are disproportionately occupied by men and the bottom is disproportionately occupied by women,” says Abigail Saguy, professor of sociology and gender studies at UCLA and author of the 2003 book, What is Sexual Harassment?

You may be thinking at this point… well, duh, this is something we all know instinctively. Women don’t do this kind of thing — grope, talk dirty, assault, sexually coerce, even rape their work colleagues. It’s a Y chromosome kind of thing, right?

But not so fast. Franklin Raddish, a South Carolina Baptist pastor with a nationwide following, last month declared, as a means of supporting Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (who lost Tuesday), that accusations of sexual harassment against men in politics and Hollywood amounted to a “war on men.”

“More women are sexual predators than men,” opined Raddish. “Women are chasing young boys up and down the road, but we don’t hear about that because it’s not PC.”

He provided no evidence of this because, well, there isn’t any.

Still, there are exceptions that prove the rule: On Friday, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Kansas dropped out of her race after The Kansas City Star found out she had been accused in a 2005 lawsuit of sexually harassing and retaliating against a male subordinate who rejected her advances when she was a corporate executive.

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Which leads to the question: What are the numbers on women accused of sexual harassment? Has anyone conducted scientific surveys and found some? What’s the reason why it appears the vast majority of people accused of workplace sexual harassment are men?

And what’s the reason few men ever file formal complaints?

“Pride gets in the way,” says Todd Harrison, a partner in a California firm that handles thousands of employment-law cases per year. “Most good plaintiffs attorneys who handle discrimination and harassment claims take on female-to-male harassment and the same (laws) apply. It’s just a matter of whether the men who are victims want to come forward.”

There are few numbers available about women sexual harassers, and some of the numbers available are more than a decade old.

“It is extremely rare — it does happen but it is extremely rare,” says Genie Harrison, a Los Angeles-based attorney who specializes in workplace sexual-harassment cases. “Men can be victims and women can be abusers, and I’ve represented victims where a woman was the harasser, but I would say it’s at best a 99.9%-to-.01% ratio.”

Various government agencies, such as the military, the federal employee system or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, keep track of complaints of workplace sexual harassment but they generally focus on the accusers, not the accused.

— In the most recent data available from the EEOC, there were 6,758 complaints of sexual harassment allegations received by the commission in 2016, and a little more than 16% were filed by men. But the data don’t say who did the harassing — a woman or another man.

Moreover, EEOC data do not provide a comprehensive picture of the entire country. Plus, the agency estimates that most people, male or female, who have experienced harassment (more than 80%) never file a formal complaint about it.

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Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, who handles workplace sexual harassment issues, agrees that women harassers are a “minority of cases” because women are less likely to exercise power over men at work.

“I’ve never worked with a client where a woman was the harasser; we’re a women’s-rights organization so the individuals who tend to reach out to us are women,” Martin says. “And women who target other women (for harassment) is an unusual fact pattern.”

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says harassment is also about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says.

Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme,” Berdahl says. “It’s possible there’s a rare woman who might get off on dominating a person like that but men are socialized from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being ‘a real man,’ defined as dominating women.”

In her research, she says, she’s found that the most common way a woman would harass a man is to question his manhood. For many men, she says, being scorned as “feminine” or “weak” is too humiliating to report.

Another source of limited data on women harassers: Law firms that specialize in employment law and sexual harassment cases, such as Perona, Langer, Beck, Serbin, Mendoza & Harrison in Long Beach, Calif.

Todd Harrison, a partner in the firm, estimates he handles about 150 cases of employment law a year, and about 65% of them are sex harassment cases. Of those, 10% — or less than 10 cases per year — involve women as the accused harassers, he said.

“Sexual harassment is not just about sexual innuendo or jokes or pats on the butt, it’s about power and intimidation, so the cases I’ve handled (involving women harassers), it’s normally a woman in a control position and using that power to intimidate men,” Harrison says.

“Sometimes there are sexual overtures, inappropriate touching without consent, offers for quid pro quo or sex for promotion,” he added. “A lot of times it’s a powerful woman in an organization who will talk down or treat a man different from his female counterparts.”

But men can be reluctant to  come forward to complain due to fear of mockery, he says. Men may also buy into the notion that female-on-male harassment isn’t even possible.

“Embarrassment is always an issue,” Harrison says. “Societal norms say men are supposed to be able to handle this. But we have men (clients) who say, ‘It’s just not fair. We’re always accused of it, here’s a situation where we’ve been victimized by a person in authority.’ ”

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— Maria Puente, USA Today, Women are Rarely Accused of Sexual Harassment, and There’s a Reason Why, December 18, 2017

Quote of the Day: The True Meaning of Christmas by John Hardin

santa claus drownsMy partner, Amy Gustin, had a great idea the other day. This is not at all unusual for her. A lot of my columns begin with one of her great ideas, and this is one of them. The other day, Amy was perusing some books about the cave paintings at Lascaux and Chauvet while contemplating the flora and fauna of Ice Age Europe, and speculating about the Paleolithic origins of certain pagan European Christmas symbols, when she said this: “Environmentalists should take over Christmas.”

“What?” I replied. She explained that a lot of European pagan Christmas symbols celebrate the Boreal Forest and an arctic climate. We have Christmas trees. Christmas is the only time of year when snow is popular, and Santa lives at the North Pole and gets around on a sled pulled by caribou. All of these things remind us of the arctic, and they should remind us that the arctic is undergoing dramatic changes due to global climate change.

Can you think of a better symbol for global climate change than Santa Claus? First, he drives a zero-emission, carbon-neutral vehicle, and he’s been doing it for centuries. Second, everything Santa owns faces imminent destruction, unless we can stop the sea ice from shrinking. Santa, Mrs. Claus, all of the elves and the whole toy factory are headed straight for a watery grave at the bottom of the ocean unless we stop global warming now.

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Coca-Cola has done a great job of making the polar bear into a symbol of Christmas, and we should adopt that symbol wholeheartedly. Instead of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, put a mother polar bear and her two cubs in your nativity scene. I’m all for wise men, if you can find any, but how wise can your men be if they’re standing next to a hungry polar bear?

The global climate crisis effects everyone, and it’s time to make Christmas into a holiday for everyone. From now on, Christmas is about the North Pole and the gift of a stable climate. Being born doesn’t get you a holiday, in my book. Jesus has a holiday — it’s the one he lived and died for, and Christians should go ahead and do Easter big. But Christmas is too important to let Christians hog it to themselves. Besides, Christmas is better without Jesus.

We’ve still got Santa Claus, but now Christmas is about saving Santa. We’ve got reindeer and sleigh bells, snow and Christmas trees and we’ve got all of the animals coming together to help their friend the polar bear. We’ve got the Nutcracker to help us crack the nut of global climate change, and we can re-edit the Charlie Brown Christmas Special so that Linus’ big speech reflects the holiday’s bold new direction. Everything you love about Christmas will still be there for you, but now Christmas has a mission.

— John Hardin, Like You’ve Got Something Better To Do, The True Meaning of Christmas, December 18, 2017

Quote of the Day: Roy Moore Spokesman Ted Crockett Says the Bible Trumps U.S. Constitution

roy moore

Witness the interview between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Moore spokesman Ted Crockett on Tuesday afternoon. Crockett responded “probably” when Tapper pressed him on whether Moore believed homosexuality should be illegal. Then came this exchange between Tapper and Crockett over Muslims serving in Congress. I’m excerpting a big chunk of it because, well, you’ll see.

TAPPER: Judge Moore has also said that he doesn’t think a Muslim member of Congress should be allowed to be in Congress. Why? Under what provision of the Constitution?

CROCKETT: Because you have to swear on the Bible — when you are before — I had to do it. I’m an elected official, three terms, I had to swear on a Bible. You have to swear on a Bible to be an elected official in the United States of America. He alleges that a Muslim cannot do that, ethically, swearing on the Bible.

TAPPER: You don’t actually have to swear on a Christian bible, you can swear on anything, really. I don’t know if you knew that. You can swear on a Jewish Bible.

CROCKETT: Oh no. I swore on the Bible. I’ve done it three times.

TAPPER: I’m sure you have, I’m sure you’ve picked a Bible but the law is not that you have to swear on a Christian Bible. That is not the law. You don’t know that? All right. Ted Crockett with the Moore —

CROCKETT: I don’t know. I know that Donald Trump did it when he — when we made him President.

TAPPER: Because he’s Christian and he picked it. That’s what he wanted to swear in on. Ted Crockett with the Moore campaign. Good luck tonight. Thank you so much for being here. My panel will react when we get back

CROCKETT: Merry Christmas, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.

— Chris Cillizza, Jake Tapper Interview of Roy Moore Spokesman Ted Crockett, December 12, 2017

Quote of the Day: VICE Feature Story Investigates Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Group Homes

lester roloff

Lester Roloff, the man responsible for countless pain, suffering, heartache, and abuse

Kimi Cook was 15 years old when she arrived at Lester Roloff’s Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas. Eager to end the teenager’s relationship with an older boyfriend, her parents pitched the place as an accelerated boarding school. Cook—who had previously done well on tests despite cutting classes at her San Antonio public school—eventually agreed to a month-long trial period.

Within hours of arriving, Cook learned she was no longer allowed to wear jeans, listen to rock music, or use tampons. She would also be required to attend church daily, memorize and chant from the Bible, and scrub her room early each morning. Disobedience was met with strict punishment ranging from revoked snack privileges to receiving “licks” with a wooden paddle, being put in an isolated closet, or being forced to kneel on linoleum for hours on end.

When she was allowed phone calls, Cook pleaded with her family to save her from what she remembered describing as a “jail” and “prison camp.” But three months in, she learned that no help was coming. As Cook recalled, a relative “explained to me that by signing the admittance paper, I had signed myself over into the care of the Roloff homes.”

By the time Cook started there, in 1983, the Southern Baptist Rebekah Home for Girls had already been the subject of state investigations spanning the previous decade, instigated in part by parents who witnessed a girl being whipped at the facility. In fact, Roloff had already temporarily closed the school—and the other homes he operated in Texas—after being prosecuted by the state on behalf of 16 former Rebekah Home for Girls residents. (Roloff grew even more notorious for exclaiming in court, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.”)

After losing his last Supreme Court appeal in 1978, the Rebekah Home for Girls became the site of the “Christian Alamo,” where religious leaders formed a human chain around the place to defend against attempts to remove girls from Roloff’s care. The issue was eventually “resolved” by Governor Bill Clements, who Roloff himself had campaigned for. With an ally in office—Clements once said the closures amounted to “nitpicking” by his predecessor—Roloff transferred ownership of the homes from Roloff Enterprises to Roloff’s People’s Baptist Church; under this religious auspice, a state court ruled Roloff’s homes could operate without a license.

Roloff himself died in 1982, but by then he had established a strong tradition of exploiting the religious freedom loophole to shield suspect youth residential facilities from outside scrutiny. Somehow, that same loophole still exists across much of America today.

Cook escaped the school she hated when her older brother was killed in a car accident 11 months into her stay. The home was closed again in 1985 following pressure from the state, but reopened yet again in 1999, after Governor George W. Bush introduced religious exemptions for youth residential home regulations. The school operated until 2001, when a supervisor at Rebekah was convicted of unlawful restraint; finally, Texas laws were changed to require licensure for all youth homes—including religious ones.

Rebekah closed permanently in 2001, but at least some of its ex-employees helped found the New Beginnings Girls Academy in Missouri. This residence remains in operation despite state investigations into allegations of abuse. (VICE was unable to reach New Beginnings officials in connection with this story.)

Though Texas laws were changed amid the Roloff saga, many other state governments around the country lack the legal power to oversee religiously affiliated residential schools. Unlike personal religious exemptions, where an individual might argue that a law requiring, say, medical intervention, vaccination, or anti-discrimination violates his or her religious freedom, these facilities don’t need to apply for special treatment. In many states, such exemptions are written directly into the laws meant to regulate residential youth facilities—that is, religious schools are never subject to the rules in the first place.

….

In 2010, Clayton “Buddy” Maynard’s Heritage Boys Academy in Panama City, Florida, closed following allegations of racial discrimination and severe corporal punishment. When the prosecution lost witnesses in 2011, a criminal case against Maynard was dropped; in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Maynard was once again housing children at Truth Baptist Church in Panama City. This past May, a GoFoundMe page raised $500 in support of Maynard and the “Maynard Family Children’s Home.” Currently, he appears to operate the Truth Baptist Church in Panama City and, according to his Facebook profile, a “Truth for Troubled Youth Ministries.” (VICE was unable to reach Maynard for comment for this story.)

The same whack-a-mole pattern of scattershot oversight can be found across much of the country. Bobby Wills’s Bethesda Home for Girls in Mississippi closed in the 1980s following allegations of beatings with wooden boards, with operators moving on to the now closed Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Missouri. Alabama’s Reclamation Ranch was raided a decade ago following allegations of torture, yet founder Jack Patterson—who, according to his Facebook page, is a proud disciple of Roloff—continues to run an addiction-focused rehabilitation facility under the same name, now associated with Lighthouse Baptist Church. (Patterson has denied allegations of abuse at his facilities.) Yet another Baptist pastor, Michael Palmer, battled legal oversight over multiple decades and across multiple state and country-wide jurisdictions: In 1991, Palmer closed Victory Christian Academy after the state of California pushed for licensure.

One former student who attended Victory Christian described extended abuse at the school, including something called the “Get Right Room,” a small space where girls were punished with a version of solitary confinement. “You were brain-washed into thinking the abuse was good because the staff and the Lord loved your soul,” recalled Cherie Rife, now a holistic health practitioner in Irvine, California. Alleging that she was singled out for being a lesbian, Rife pointed to the religious justification that loomed above it all: “[Their] Baptist interpretation was used for fear and control and shaming.”

Palmer later helped found Genesis by the Sea, a facility located in Baja California that was closed in 2004 by the Mexican government; though the ensuing investigation asserted that claims of abuse were unsubstantiated, the school never reopened. Instead, Palmer redirected his attention to the Florida Panhandle and yet another residential reform home for girls: Lighthouse of Northwest Florida, which he closed in 2013 following an investigation into allegations of rape at the facility.

As Newsweek reported, Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard, Alabama, was yet another home operating under a modern incarnation of the Lester Roloff approach until 2012. The facility remained free from oversight until Charles Kennedy, the now retired captain of the Prichard Police Department, received a phone call from the mother of a boy who said he’d been abused at the facility. When I spoke with Kennedy, he recalled what he found at the home: a naked boy locked in a closet, widespread allegations of physical abuse, severe exercise, and sadistic mind games. Staff had even encouraged a suicidal student to shoot himself with a gun he didn’t know wasn’t loaded, Kennedy said.

…..

— Nile Cappello, VICE, How Christian Reform Schools Get Away with Brutal Child Abuse, December 6, 2017

I hope you take the time to read all of Cappello’s story. As sickening as the story is, other Baptist group homes escaped Cappello’s investigatory eyes. These homes continue to this day to psychologically and physically harm vulnerable IFB teenagers. I have written several posts on these homes:

Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin

How Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches Deal with Unwed Mothers

Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls

The Dogma that Followed Me Home by Cat Givens

Quote of the Day: How Evangelicals Justify Past Sexual Sin — Jesus Forgives, So Should We

josh duggar

Often this narrative [sin and redemption] is particularly prevalent among evangelicals who have been accused of sexual misconduct. After evangelical television personality Josh Duggar confessed to molesting his sisters as a teenage boy, he and his family used the salvation playbook. Michael Seewald, whose son is married to one of Duggar’s sisters, spoke out against the media condemnation of Duggar, who was never charged with a crime: “The ultimate answer … is what Josh found and millions like him. He found forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus Christ. There are many of you that are reading these words right now having had thoughts and deeds no better than what Josh had and did.”

Disgraced megachurch founder Ted Haggard resigned his post in 2006, after admitting to drug abuse and a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He returned to public church life with similar rhetoric: “I am a sinner and [my wife] is a saint. … I feel we have moved past the scandal. We have forgiveness. It is a second chance.”

In other words, there’s a tendency among evangelicals to see sexual (or other) sins that have happened long ago (or even not that long ago), either prior to conversion itself or prior to a “re-conversion” or renewal of faith, as, well, natural. Of course people commit sinful acts, because sin is part of the human condition, and of course people are victims of sin without God’s grace to help free them of it.

There are a few problems with how this manifests in practice. It can absolve “saved” individuals of too much responsibility for past misdeeds, since they’re considered the deeds of a past, different self. It encourages a culture of silence among evangelicals about their struggles, since salvation is “supposed” to mean that temptation goes away, and any “backsliding” is the result of insufficient faith. Finally, this theological approach also means that “sins” tend to be conflated, especially sexual sins: consensual premarital sex and sexual abuse are often seen on the same spectrum, both the result of a temptation too great to bear.

Without God, the implication goes, people have almost no agency. In Moore’s case, the fact that his alleged sins happened so long ago — and that the intervening years have seen him become more and more committed to the idea of a theocratic Christian state— only intensify some evangelicals’ sense that Moore’s actions then (even if true) don’t necessarily have a bearing on who he is now. It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign, evangelicals have done an extraordinary about-face when it comes to their view on the importance of politicians’ personal morality.

Many, many Christian scholars and thinkers have been intensely critical of this “get out of jail free” approach to sin and grace, as I noted earlier this month. Among the most prominent in the past century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in a concentration camp for his activism. Bonhoeffer distinguished between “cheap grace” — easy forgiveness that allowed individual perpetrators and oppressive societies to get away, unchallenged, with their actions — and “costly grace,” or forgiveness that also asks hard questions, and demands social change.

It’s worth noting, however, that several prominent evangelicals — including the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, Russell Moore (no relation) — have spoken out criticizing Moore’s evangelical supporters. “Christians, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” Russell Moore tweeted.

Despite this, “cheap grace” has become seemingly common in some evangelical communities, especially when there are practical political or pragmatic reasons (i.e., a Republican in power) to overlook a sin and preserve the social status quo.

— Tara Isabella Burton, VOX, For Evangelicals, Sin is Redeemable — But can That Allow Sex offenders to Dodge their Actions? November 29, 2017

Quote of the Day: Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together for the Common Good by Sarahbeth Caplin

work togetherLately, it’s occurred to me that progressive-leaning Christians like myself have more in common with atheists right now than with white evangelicals, the ones who, overwhelmingly, will stop at nothing to see the United States turn into a theocracy, using Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale as a handbook rather than as a cautionary tale.

Religious beliefs aside, atheists and progressive Christians need each other during these uncertain times. Our politics, if nothing else, are more alike than they are different. You don’t need to share spirituality to understand the consequences of enforcing so-called “bathroom safety” laws that target transgender people, rejecting climate change, allowing businesses to deny women’s health care, or allowing Creationism to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. As citizens, we all have common adversaries, among them faith-based ignorance and bigotry. As human beings, we also have common causes worth uniting for: freedom and education.

— Sarahbeth Caplin, The Friendly Atheist, Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together to Fight Evangelicals, November 26, 2017

Quote of the Day: The American Declaration of Independence Dethrones God by Robert Ingersoll

robert ingersoll

The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of slavery — through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone God.

— Robert Ingersoll, Individuality, 1873