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2011
 

Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

What Would Successful Dating Be?


Have you noticed that as we get older, time seems to pass so much quicker than when we were school kids sitting out our summer vacations while telling our parents we were bored? The sense that time is passing us by can overwhelm our thoughts and feelings.

This fear that we’re running out of time enters our dating life when we become obsessed with the need to be in a hurry to find someone before it’s “too late.” I’ve even heard a twenty-nine year-old express his fear that if he didn’t find a mate before he’s thirty, it’s all over.

But, as the old adage goes: “Life is what happens while you’re waiting for something to happen.” So, if we’re going to enjoy dating at all, we’ve got to pay attention to, and cherish, the life that is happening while we are doing so.

So, first, let’s face the facts. Unless we have no standards at all, dating will introduce us to quite a few people with whom we wouldn’t want to spend the rest of a life. That’s (and here’s another fact) likely to be the majority of the people we meet.

It’s not that they aren’t nice, fine people. They might even make the best of friends.

It’s just that for one reason or another they won’t work as life partners unless we overlook a lot just to succeed at that supposed ultimate goal of dating: having someone, and even settling for anyone.

If we think of dating as just something we have to do to get a particular result -- maybe a soul mate who will become the man or woman of our life -- we’re likely to experience dating as an almost unbearable activity. And if we’ve been out of the dating scene and just returned, the gamesmanship could drive us batty.

To use consumer terms, we’ll experience dating in terms of the products it produces. And some of those will be lemons.

We’re usually taught by our culture and its approved dating experts to think of dating in terms of THE GOAL. That’s, after all, a major definition of any success in our culture.

You know – set your goals, work toward THEM, keep THEM in mind at all times, measure your achievements by how you have attained THEM. And then measure your own worth by whether you produced, or bought, the product that’s the best value.

Applied to dating, this approach means success is dating that produces the result. And since most of the activities involved in dating don’t do that, frustration, self-judgment, and disappointment are more likely.

Our culture likes this product-oriented approach because its answer to these inevitable negative feelings is to purchase something it’s got to sell us. How about a gym membership, anti-depressants, expensive face creams, and a new wardrobe?

But, there’s another, less-consumer-oriented definition of success that sounds more like the kind we hear in recommendations such as: “Live in the present” or “Be here now.” It’s that success is found in THE PROCESS of dating, not some product of it.

Living in the process is difficult because it’s counter-cultural. People who practice it even risk being called crazy, out of touch, losers, or worse.

This alternative way of seeing dating isn’t going to fit with any corporate challenge. It means taking our eyes off of any goal and focusing them on ourselves and the very living process that makes our life.

It means facing our fears of not knowing how things will turn out. It’s like taking one day at a time, one date at a time, one chance at a time.

It means not needing to have the answers about the future of every date. And it even means being happy without the answers.

Seeing dating as a process and, therefore, living in every moment of the dating as if each moment we are in while we are in it is the most important thing there is, is difficult. It takes discipline, practice, and reminding oneself to recommit again and again to doing so.

It takes being in a community, or creating friends, that love what we’re doing and trust and affirm our own judgments about it.

It’s also life-changing. It’s actually what some Buddhists call mindfulness – being conscious about the value of each event as it happens, grounded in this minute without one foot in the past and another in the future.

It means not thinking, “I wonder what the future is with this person” while missing what is happening in the present. It means not moving into some fantasy about what this date could turn out to be, but getting lost in the interactions, sensations, and voices of what is to be relished now.

It means giving up our addiction to fantasy all together. And that means rejecting most of what the media of romance feeds us.

It means actually paying attention to the people we meet and date to understand who they are, and not what they could be for us. It means sharing ourselves and paying attention to their reactions.

It means building new friendships, acquaintances, and connections, and finding them meaningful. It means walking away from those that aren’t, without guilt and shame.

It means learning more about ourselves in the interactions we have with all different kinds of people we meet in the process. And that means finding out who we are, how we react, and what we really want.

It means living every event of our lives as the great adventure life can be, as a journey, not a planned tour, where around any corner could be a surprise.

It means never having to worry about whether or where that adventure will end or about what its goal, should be.

And when we live in the process of dating, no longer for some end, we’ll be able to experience it as a successful, worthwhile journey. Should more come out of it, that will just be another happy surprise.

"Yes 'We' Can"


November's election results renewed hope in progressives that their work still pays off at the polls. What was important was that this was the result of the strength and unity of working people without much support from the corporate-funded Democratic leadership in Washington.

Those fighting the good fight without help from the talk-of-change crowd in D.C. deserve full credit, and they deserve to find hope in what happened on November eighth against powerful, moneyed interests.

How many were surprised at how Mississippi rejected by more than 55% the right-wing's model personhood amendment? Supporters were poised to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by provoking a lawsuit that would end up in what they believe to be a US Supreme Court on their side. But the amendment failed in what a 2011 Gallop poll ranked as the most conservative state in the union.

The same night, voters in Ohio defeated Issue 2 by 63%. Working people humbled Koch brothers' buddy, Governor Kasich (who became a Republican poster boy for conservative overreach) by rejecting Senate Bill 5, his new collective bargaining law that would prevent public sector strikes, limit bargaining rights for 360,000 public employees, and scrap binding arbitration of management-labor disputes.

By 60% Maine voters turned back another textbook right-wing, Koch-brothers-funded tactic: in the name of unproven voter fraud, limiting access of historically Democratic voters to the polls. Maine voted to repeal a new law requiring residents to enroll at least two days before an election, restoring a four-decade policy of allowing registrations as late as Election Day.

In North Carolina voters repudiated the Tea Party agenda backed by the state's notorious political boss, Art Pope, a billionaire and staunch ally of the Kochs. Voters in Raleigh dealt Boss Pope, a major embarrassment in his hometown. In the run-off for the controlling seat on the Wake County School Board, progressive Democrat Kevin Hill defeated Pope's Tea Party Republican candidate, Heather Losurdo. Hill stalwartly opposed the Pope-orchestrated re-segregation of Wake County Schools, while Losurdo supported the return to "neighborhood schools," code for the end of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity.

In Greensboro, voters ousted the hand-picked, Pope-funded ticket of "fiscal conservatives." And the popular Democratic mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx, easily won re-election with a smashing two-to-one victory. Democrats, in fact, swept all eight contested seats for Charlotte City Council as well as in other local elections in the state's largest county, Mecklenburg. One of the winners in Charlotte was its first openly gay candidate, LaWana Mayfield, while openly gay Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt won his reelection bid with 78% of the vote.

To name just a few others, openly gay, 22-year-old Alex Morse beat 67-year-old incumbent Mary Pluta in Holyoke, Massachusetts to become the nation's youngest mayor. Chris Seelbach became the first openly gay city council member elected in Cincinnati while Zach Adamson became the first openly gay City Council member in Indianapolis, Caitlin Copple the first openly gay council member in Missoula, Montana, and Adam Ebbin the first openly gay state senator elected to Virginia's state senate.

Voters ousted some Republican poster boys around the country. In Arizona, voters recalled Republican legislator Russell Pearce, author of Arizona's tough anti-immigration law, which was seen as a model for other states, while, by the way, they seated Democratic mayors in Phoenix and Tucson.

In Michigan they recalled Republican state Rep. Paul Scott of Grand Blanc, southeast of Flint, the first state lawmaker recalled in that state since 1983. Scott chaired the House Education Committee and took anti-union, anti-teacher stands typical of right-wing extremist legislators, destroying tenure and slashing school budgets while supporting further tax breaks for already profitable corporations.

Up in Traverse City, voters supported by a nearly two-to-one margin an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. A loud group of right-wing opponents had collected signatures to force the referendum, arguing that it singles out one group for "special treatment."

In Iowa, Democrats maintained their advantage in the State Senate by 26-24, which meant that marriage equality remains safe from legislation. In conservative Kentucky, the popular Democratic governor, Steven Beshear, cruised into a second term.

In the meantime, the Occupy movement around the country is forcing a change in national priorities. Demeaned, if not ignored, by mainstream media, beaten and bullied by police doing the bidding of corporate America, scaring politicians, and minimalized by many even in the Democratic Party, the movement for the 99% against those who've bought Congress, the White House, and the Courts, keeps bringing democracy back into political expectations.

All of this reminds us of the "We" in the "yes we can." We've learned after the last twelve years that we are all we can count on, no matter which least bad presidential candidate we must vote for.

Both political parties have plenty of excuses for not challenging the status quo. But "we" know that their funders are whispering in their ears. They'll allow for tinkering, but no return to the successes of the New Deal.

While the President has shifted into a campaign mode, sounding again as if he intends to make a populist difference, will we remember how he lined his appointments with business leaders from the top 1% when it came to governing and, no matter what else he claimed he wanted to do, ensured the protection of the rich, the warriors, and his corporate funders? Sorry, he's not the "we."

Then we watch Republicans scramble to find a candidate that can pull their fractured party together - someone, anyone, who can gain the support of the moneyed Republican corporate machine while energizing their evangelical and Tea Party ground troops with promises they can't keep. The parade of candidates in endless debates and meaningless polls promote international embarrassment. But none of them will be the "we" either, no matter how duped the non-rich tea partiers are.

We now understand, I hope, that we are the "we." "We" did it on November 8, and "we" can do it again, and again, and again.

And We Keep Expecting Them to Be Rational….


It’s an important point that right-wing propagandists get, but again and again I hear so many of us miss. As a result, our words and actions often fall ineffectively on deaf ears and closed minds.

We keep trying to understand how those opposed to human rights, and other progressive positions can logically think, talk, and respond the way they do. And the answer is, it’s not rational.

A logical argument is a beautiful thing to observe, but it’s not what wins the day when dealing with obstructionists who prefer that the US return to a pre-New Deal era. And the expectation that logic will convince them, coupled with constantly acting surprised that “they’re not thinking rationally,” misunderstands how the dominant voices in our society control things.

We could have the smartest President that ever lived on the planet. We could rehearse ad-nauseum and as clearly as possible the facts, the data, the studies, and the logic of it all. We could wish, hope, and believe that people were different.

But again and again we will run up against the reality that the responses of the powers and believers in the religious, political, military and economic right-wing are neither moved by rationality nor “the facts.” The question for those who expect otherwise is how long will it be before they get this point and act accordingly.

There are a number of reasons for this. The first is the political one that seems to confound the Democratic Party and its leaders.

Yet it’s a calculated tactic by Republican consultants. And their leaders -- from Congress to FOX -- practice it well.

When the President essentially gives the political right-wing what it wants while getting in return a few things it doesn’t really care about, the response is not an appreciative “thank you.” It’s a response that looks toward the next battle to get even more.

In the 2010 Democratic lame duck Congress, the economic and political right-wing couldn’t care less about LGBT issues except their ability to inspire the religious right-wing. They knew how to play the game.

Giving up “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was easy for them as long as they could keep the Bush tax cuts, lower the estate tax, and attack programs such as Social Security. These would solidify their long-term economic goals.

They were delighted to have that payroll tax cut, since that would deprive income from the Social Security Trust fund. In the long run, they’ll use that to enforce their fear-inducing claim that Social Security is in trouble.

The Democrats obliged them. Now we can predict that attempts to return the payroll tax to what it was, will be portrayed by right-wingers as a tax increase on working people.

While many on the left ask, “How can they be this way? Don’t they see they’ve got what they want?” the right-wing goes on strategically doing three things, none related to the logic of the situation:

First, keep its believers scared and riled up. No matter what the reality, it will accuse “liberals” of getting everything they want because the fear of a “liberal” take-over is one of their successful boogey men.

Second, keep control of the framing of the public and media debate by firing the next shot first in their economic class war before anyone else frames the next move. Don’t let a “liberal” way of putting things affect the framing. Always sound like outsiders to big, bad government.

Third, leave the other side in the dust trying to figure out the logic of what you are saying, and looking for further arguments about facts and logic that Democrats think work no matter how they’ve failed in the past.

For the religious right-wing, the facts don’t matter either. What matters is their identification with the beliefs of the speaker.

It’s also fear driven, but in this case it’s the fear that someone will threaten what has become their cozy ideology.

The ability to dismiss an argument because the person who gives it is not a “Christian” (as they understand it), protects them from doubt. To have a list of key doctrines is security.

Thus, they must know where someone stands on women’s choice regarding abortion, the rights of LGBT people, gun control, the Bible, or prayer in the public schools. Their position on any one of these isn’t based in logic or facts, and having these hot button issues provides them with a quick, simplistic litmus test.

Knowing where someone stands on one or more of these concerns provides relief from the threat and effort of further thought. It replaces the need for any struggle to sort through all the nuances that could otherwise threaten their dogma.

And all this fits with the current anti-intellectualism in the right-wing debate. Professors, scientists, and other thinkers are vilified because they’re not right-wing partisan enough. Their facts appear, well, liberal.

Does this mean we should give up logical argument and sighting of the facts? Of course not. Those will both move those people who still listen to such things.

But it means that while we use them, we cannot rely on them alone. We must appeal to basic values that define a more liberal agenda because values appeal to the emotions that are often the censors of logic.

President Obama is at his best when he speaks out of his values. But, the proof that these really are someone’s values is in the follow-up.

Do we believe them enough to stand up for them? Do we lead so that they are obviously ours? Do we propose to do what we do out of these values?

Do we give them a good run for their money? Or do we compromise them before a good fight for personal or political gain if we feel we might lose?

Do we show that we really embody them by standing up for them even at our own expense? Are we willing even to lose temporarily because they are that important?

More Believers Are Saying “It Ain’t Necessarily So”


The Millennial generation better hurry up and take over. Someone, please convince them that they need to do so soon for their own good as well as the good of the rest of us.

Members of older generations have worked hard against seemingly overwhelming odds to end the bigotry that has long gripped this nation. They have brought us to this place.

But the older generations clinging to positions of power are still the ones holding back change. It’s still true that babyboomers and their elders control the political and religious institutions that dominate American culture.

Yet, no matter how we slice the data, the younger the respondent to polls, the less likely they are to oppose issues such as marriage equality. While 26% of those 65 and over and 32% of those 50-64 favor marriage equality, 57% aged 18-29 do, according to a May 2011 survey of - of all people - church-goers by the Public Religion Research Institute.

This new study is revealing. Among church-goers, 69% of those 65 and over respond that sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong, while only 41% of millennials do.

In addition the study tells us, when it comes to millennial as well as 30-64 year old church-goers, there is no significant difference on their views of abortion from the general public – around 60% agree it should be legal in all or most cases. However, for those 65 and over, only 43% respond positively to the same question.

In fact, the majorities of all but one major group agree that at least some health care professionals in their own community should provide legal abortions. The lone exception is among white evangelical Protestants.

Again, when it comes to teaching comprehensive sex education in the public schools, Americans are in disagreement with their more conservative religious leaders. Nearly eight in ten favor it including among millennials: 62% of white evangelicals, 74% of black Protestants, 78% of Catholics, and 85% of white mainline Protestants.

Even those 65 and older support comprehensive sex education in public schools by a solid 62%. And over eight in ten Americans also favor expanding birth control for women who can’t afford it, with strong support across all political and religious demographics.

There is little question that the number one answer usually given when asked what is holding us back on these social issues is religion. That’s why the news here is especially encouraging.

There is a refreshing and important independence growing in the ranks of believers. The fact that they are people who identify with a religious institution and yet believe they can disagree with their leaders indicates that their views on marriage equality and abortion cannot be taken for granted because of their religious identity.

And even the standard labels used in the political/religious debate are inadequate for those surveyed. Seven out of ten Americans say the term “pro-choice” describes them somewhat or very well while nearly two-thirds simultaneously say they could also identify with the term “pro-life” and not see these as contradictory.

72% report that it is possible to disagree with their religion on abortion and 63% on homosexuality while considering themselves in good standing in their faith. And about six out of ten Catholics and almost half of white evangelical Protestants say it’s wrong for religious leaders to publicly pressure politicians on abortion.

Interestingly, more than two-thirds of white evangelicals believe it’s possible to disagree with their religion’s teachings on abortion and still be a good Christian, but they are the only group in which less than a majority (47%) says they can disagree faithfully with their religion’s teachings on homosexuality.

Also surprising is that Catholics are just as likely as any religious group (68%) to respond that being a good Catholic does not require you to agree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, and a larger number (74%) say the same about not needing to agree with the Church on homosexuality.

Little has changed in terms of American’s views on abortion with 57% saying it should be legal in all or most cases in 1999 and 56% today. Yet the percentage of Americans supporting marriage equality has jumped 18 points in that same period to 53%.

All of this reinforces the tactics we have been using for the last half-century when working with religious people, except that it indicates that the work that has been done has moved some in that moveable middle even though their religious leaders and institutions hate that whole idea. The millennial generation’s difference from older folks is a tribute to the persistent work of activists of all ages.

It continues to remind us that there is a moveable middle even in those religious institutions that refuse to budge in their official pronouncements. And conversations with those believers who are open to facts and personal stories must continue to be the focus of our energies.

We cannot judge the possible outcome of our work by church membership. Many right-wing religious leaders push on while their congregations are changing, as the poll tells us.

Among Americans who attend church at least twice a month, majorities still report hearing their clergy talk about abortion and homosexuality in church.

There are still those believers who are stuck. They’re just unable to face a change in thought or to stand up and admit that their religious leaders could ever be wrong.

It’s not surprising that this last group would be larger in older generations not just because of the broader education of the young. Those who’ve been members the longest are the ones who feel they have the most to lose.

They have relied on their religious institutions for security for more years. They may have become religiously-addicted.

And there will be a percentage in every generation that uses religion as an addiction as long as addictions are needed to cope with our society. They will be hard nuts to crack.

Fighting with those immovable ones though will sap the energy for changing the majority and prevent us from appreciating the progress that is taking place.

When the Right-Wing Claims Their Words Don’t Matter


When gay-bashers around the country torture, torment, and kill lesbians, gay men, transgender people, and those perceived to be, they often are repeating words spoken from pulpits.

While sitting on a panel of religious types, that was the response I gave when asked if I blamed anti-LGBT ministers for persecutions and deaths that take place around the country – after I said: “Yes, I do.”

I added: “If you want to prove otherwise, tell me how often you’ve joined a march or rally, or spoken from the pulpit telling people it’s a sin to treat LGBT as less than human.”

The response: silence, and acting as if they were the victims of my words.

Anyone who’s studied these things knows that words matter. The right-wing talkers, including FOX News and Republican Party operatives like Frank Luntz, know they do because they craft their talking-points to move people to action, to make their words matter.

Religious leaders know that, too. Otherwise why even give a sermon, spend hours crafting it, or even sanctify the words by claiming the Holy Spirit is behind them and their impact?

We’re a culture historically replete with violent words. The recent political shootings in Tucson momentarily raised the level of the discussion of the mainstreaming of rhetoric of guns, killing, targeting, and “Second Amendment solutions” by the political right-wing against anyone who doesn’t toe their line.

The response from the culprits was the usual -- using strategies that have worked well to stifle critique and move an issue to a back burner where it goes cold. They knew mainstream media would move on quickly, so they had merely to play a loud defense until other issues distracted the so-called “journalists” in our midst.

You know the drill. Even as someone on the left, I could effectively use it.

First, act outraged that anyone would draw the conclusion that their words had any relationship to the Tucson massacre. Even in the light of gun-sites on a map indicating the exact victim, much less the violent words, act as if you’re the ones being victimized -- and by “the radical left” again.

It always works. Liberal guilt will cause them to retreat, apologize, turn on any liberal who promotes the connection, and fight among themselves, thereby confirming to on-lookers that right-wingers are the true victims of all this.

Second, get liberals to join the talk that this is not a right-wing problem but that there’s actually a right/left equality in all this violent rhetoric. Act as if this is a fair reading of the facts even when the evidence is against you.

Talk as if liberals are openly carrying guns to rallies too, liberal media is calling for the deaths of conservative politicians, and Democratic leaders are calling people to “reload” and blast away at their opponents. Don’t worry; liberals will even do your research in this matter to resurrect examples where this could be true.

Don’t let evidence to the contrary interfere. Remember, if you repeat your position often enough, it will be treated as an equal opinion with those that are actually supported by facts.

You don’t need facts to attain status in our media market. And facts alone don’t move as many people anyway; being on top of framing an issue does.

Third, make sure every right-winger is on the same talking points, and continue to repeat them. Don’t worry; liberals won’t do that because they’ll be caught up in discussion and debate.

They’ll try to be nice. Liberal guilt won’t let them speak ill of anyone, even those who do them ill.

Fourth, paint the shooter as a liberal -- even if we isn’t -- before anyone else portrays him otherwise. Liberals will be reluctant to commit to saying that he was an anti-government convert more in line with the teaparty folks even if he is.

Make liberals respond to your story, all the time remembering that just saying he is a liberal will ingrain that idea into popular understanding. Liberals will be caught up in the actual nuances of mental illness and instability. Cable and network news will act otherwise, but they really have no patience for subtlety.

Fifth, take advantage of the moral principles of liberals. Know that they will decry we/them politics, playing on emotions as opposed to intellect, the volume of an argument, stereotyping of others, the use of their power (They think power corrupts.), the using of people to achieve your ends, and the fact that your claims do not fit with the teachings of religious leaders you claim to follow such as Jesus of Nazareth.

Their principles might be true, but your goal is to win and protect political and economic power. Your goal is to be the arbitrator of a morality that arises out of and confirms consumerism.

Sixth, don’t reach out to liberals in any way that acts that what they say is worthwhile. Talk bipartisanship and fairness but let them be the ones who compromise their ideas to move closer to you.

Don’t worry; they’ll do it. One result will be that those looking on will believe you were right all along because liberals are willing to move in your direction.

Seventh, when caught in a lie, never apologize. Just ignore the accusation and repeat the lie.

Let liberals do all the apologizing. People will remember their apology and for what it apologizes more than they will remember that it was a lie or mistake you are repeating.

This is standard operating procedure. If we were awake, we saw it play out again this past month.

We cannot overlook it nor act as if this isn’t going on. Over and over again we must point it out, practice intervention when it comes to this pattern.

We must firmly, kindly, and persistently be willing, however, to be the alternative voice in these matters that speaks clearly and truthfully. Most importantly, speak of how we personally see things as if we believe it – assuming we really do.

When It Comes to Religion, Let’s Keep One Resolution


This year, let’s keep one resolution – when we talk about religious people, let’s never again refer to them as literalists. That’s because they aren’t, and no one is.

No one takes all their scriptures, tradition, or even their natural laws literally. They all pick and choose from the variety of material available to them, taking some of it literally and some not.

To continue to label them literalists is not only inaccurate, it gives them the edge in any argument. Even though everyone -- that’s everyone -- interprets and picks and chooses from the material available to them and decides what to take literally and what not to take literally, when we refer to right-wingers as literalists, we have conceded that we are interpreters but they the ones who understand it

This doesn’t mean that historians can’t determine what an old text meant to its authors in its ancient historical context with some academic probability. It means that past writings, activities, doctrines, and institutional pronouncements are interpreted by those who believe they must at be true at all costs, through the believing interpreters’ modern lenses.

Who today takes literally the writings of the Bible that say: “God makes the clouds his chariot” or “”let the hills sing out for joy” or “let the floods clap their hands?” When the author of the New Testament letter to Timothy tells him to “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss,” there are few who claim to take the five passages in the Bible that call for such a greeting literally and therefore meet people at their church door with lips puckered.

They’ll argue that to understand their intent, one must see these verses in their historical context, and that today’s context causes one not to literally go around practicing, especially, same-sex kissing. So, Ah Ha! They’ve admitted that contemporary societal norms trump a “literal” Biblical c

The question becomes: okay, when don’t they? But when you ask that, be prepared to stand back and watch intellectual gymnastics explain how they’re the ones who really know what verses are eternal truths and which ones aren’t meant literally.

That’s what interpretation does.

It’s no wonder that there are some passages in the Bible that aren’t taken literally in the U.S. It’s just not a pro-Capitalist book. Those passages would condemn our entire economic system to hell.

In the older testament the Hebrew prophets regularly rail against loaning money with any expectation of interest in return, but when have you heard an American minister preach that usury meant more than 0% interest and that a society that allows usury is anti-God? If those verses ever come up, stand back again for mental gyrations that defend why they don’t apply in American Capitalism.

When Jesus of the Gospels says it’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven, watch the knee-jerk attempts to say he didn’t mean that literally for Americans. When he tells the rich young ruler to give all he has to the poor to follow him, don’t hold your breath waiting to have that literally take place among our richest church capitalists.

It should have been no surprise, then, when last month Tony Perkins, president of the rabid right-wing, so-called Family Research Council - whom some might call a Biblical literalist -asserted on CNN’s “Belief Blog” that Jesus was a free market capitalist who would condemn the Occupy movement.

For Jesus, he said, “there are winners and yes, losers.” “Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality… that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance.”

To prove that this wasn’t just a claim that affirmed his prejudices and current net worth, Perkins cited a New Testament parable generally known as the Parable of the Talents:

An abusive and crooked nobleman hated by the common people leaves town and entrusts some of his wealth to three of his underlings. In the text itself the nobleman describes himself as “a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.”

Upon return, he rewards the two who made him more money with the funds entrusted to them (probably from extorting the people who owed their master money) and threatens the one who merely held the funds and returned them.

Thus, Perkins says, the evil nobleman (whom he takes to stand for God?) rewards investment-banker-type initiative and punishes the one who refuses to take money to make money. See, capitalism is holy.

Other interpreters understand the third underling as a hero who practiced a non-violent resistance by refusing to further exploit the poor debtors to the evil nobleman. In the immediate literary context they see this as a parable of what is to happen to Jesus, who in the very next chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is arrested and crucified.

Perkins is no literalist here. He’s a capitalist. Since he believes the Bible is true as well as the economic system that brought him his prosperity, he must interpret the Bible to agree no matter how hard it is to find American capitalism there.

And Jesus dieing with no huge following or large annual budget? That’s not a very good ending to the story.

It’s certainly not contemporary American. Where’s the building of a mega church?

And Jesus only leaving a few very poor disciples to occupy Roman society? And they began their new little community in Jerusalem by holding, the book of Acts says, “everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need….No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had.”

Then when a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira broke this communal commitment - didn’t share what they had earned from selling a piece of their own property, but kept it for themselves - God struck them dead on the spot?

Oh no! Quick! Interpret me out of that story.

© 2011 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org

 



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