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.

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No Surprise at All: It’s Religious People Fearing They’re Losing Power They’ve Savored

We’re seeing symptoms of the fears among leaders of the Christian right-wing and their followers as they sense that they’re losing the power they’ve craved since the beginnings of the Christian Coalition in the 1960s and have placed their faith in for generations. Their reactions are neither surprising nor unprecedented.

Down through history, religious organizations worldwide have thrived through the patronage of kings, caesars, rajas, emperors, and regimes that have helped members of versions of religions to feel that their relationship to political power proved that their beliefs were true. Governments officially confirmed and even helped define the orthodoxy of these faiths, patronized their religious institutions, and thereby enforced their will on everyone they could, faithful or not.

Any threats to these relationships were met with often destructive and deadly responses. It was important to thoroughly squelch anyone and anything that they felt were a challenge to this relationship of the religious to power, and to make them examples of what would happen to political/religious dissidents.

The rise of the Christian right-wing’s political aspirations since the sixties has been no different. A series of U.S. presidents played to the religious right-wing’s favorite causes to gain their support, and vowed to enforce these causes on the rest of the country.

No matter how much these leaders furthered the Christian right-wing’s power, there still remained a nervous disappointment that presidents like Ronald Reagan or both of the Bushes didn’t go far enough, didn’t fully confirm the truth of what these believers clung to by fulfilling their full agenda. For these insecure believers, it would never be far enough.

The personalities were never questioned even if these presidents talked the talk of “family values” without walking the fundamentalist-professed moral walk in their personal lives. It was about the power these religious felt that they had by being inside the government no matter how immoral and hypocritical the president or congressional members were personally.

The Christian right-wing had felt for generations, beginning with F.D.R., that they were not only being pushed aside by a liberal social gospel but being labelled backward hicks by a culture and media that were leaving them behind. Thus, it felt so good to get attention from a national political party even if that party were just using them.

Republicans knew how to play to the core values that motivated so many of these religious folks whom many didn’t respect at all. And being political provided a new level to the high of righteousness needed by the religiously addicted.

But no one ever made them feel as powerful and righteously justified as Donald Trump. With his executive orders, judicial appointments, and pandering, the Christian right-wing felt vindicated and was thrilled by feeling that they were beginning to win the “culture wars” while “owning the libs.”

More was at stake, then, than all the political/religious victories in themselves. It was the truth of their positions and the recognition of the value of their very beings.

They needed government to confirm that they weren’t losers, deceived, gullible, and ignorable holdovers from a past that science and culture was leaving behind. They were happy to join Republican repudiations of experts (“liberal professors,” “liberal elites”) and of “science” (also “liberal” with its evolutionary theories and findings about the universe, the nature of life, and climate change). Science and education, which always threatened them and were their targets, were now questioned by a whole political party!

They easily became addicted to the power that they had, so that living without that power would feel unbearable. To have it threatened would be crushing to the very thing upon which their religion had become dependent.

They embraced America’s National Rifle Association’s gun culture. Like rats afraid that they’d be trapped in a corner, they saw themselves again as victims who needed sufficient weaponry for protection. They more than ever embraced a vengeful Christ out of the enigmatic New Testament book of Revelation.

In many ways for them, their god was too small; incapable of saving them without government help. The end times had not come to save them, so they saw themselves as saved only by their experience of power – Jesus for now, you see, was reduced only to ensuring personal salvations.

But as American historian Howard Zinn reminded us: “Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous are those who hold it.).” [You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 1991]

Enter the 2020 presidential election and its threat to right-wing Christian power and security. Joe Biden just couldn’t win, he just couldn’t, because it would sever their connection to power.

He couldn’t win because their god didn’t want it. He couldn’t win because it would raise all the fears of no longer being affirmed and protected by being powerful.

Every phase of the news of the election results, then, would be denied as they relied on an egomaniac who would challenge each phase. But still they increasingly felt trapped in that no-escape corner.

Like the early stages of grief, denial and anger dominated their response. Their fears moved them back into a victim role similar to the stance of the president they had counted upon and into victim interpretations of events.

They clung to everything and everyone who supported their victim role. And there were enough media and politicians to do that – politicians who were trying to figure out how to make this work purely for their own careers and pocketbooks.

So, unsurprisingly we are seeing what happens when they’ve been addicted to power and are losing it. Withdrawal from addictions is difficult, painful, and hard for well-meaning outsiders to watch.

But this is even more. This is not only a deranged president and his party fearing the consequences, but a religion itself faced with the loss of its power.

What in the past has produced heresy trials, burnings at the stake, all manner of torture, and other penalties for those who threatened the security of the relationship of religion to the state, in 2020 in the U.S.A. is showing itself as how in a democratic society it produces great strain on many democratic institutions.

Power might not always corrupt, no matter what the oft-repeated saying says. It depends upon the values of those with that power.

But when religion gains political power, stitches itself into the warp and woof of that power, it becomes too easy for it to betray its own values. And giving up power feels to those who relied upon it like death.

Whatever Happened to “Hate Is Not a Family Value”?

It’s been energizing to see the many yard signs that broadcast the clear, concise affirmation: “Hate Has No Home Here” in a diversity of languages. Others include a list of what that means to those who proudly display these signs in their front yards, a list that includes “Black Lives Matter,” “Love Is Love,” and “Science is Real.”

The movement for equality needs a bumper-sticker size slogan that it can stick with to keep, reenforce, and permanently install its message in the minds of people. And it needs one like this that forces those who disagree with it (or its parts) to get labelled with an attribute as stark and clear as “hate.”

The pithy slogan needs to be one that will be repeated over and over again so that the media can’t ignore it but will eventually come to recite it even with “some people claim.” It needs to be one that puts those who disagree on the defensive.

And we need to recognize that when people object to the use of the slogan, the very activity of them dong so reenforces the value of the slogan in everyone’s mind. It’s the old basic principle that linguist George Lakoff emphasizes again and again:

“The key lesson: when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame. When President Richard Nixon addressed the country during Watergate and used the phrase ‘I am not a crook,’ he coupled his image with that of a crook. He established what he was denying by repeating his opponents’ message.”

We want people to be offended by it and to respond using its language. That’s how cognitive change works.

There’s a danger that liberal people often embody that works against the effectiveness of this. We feel that every question and every objection deserves an educational answer that includes all the nuances.

We’d like to believe that what enforces a frame of reference in the mind of people is long, drawn-out essays with nuances, and that explaining them makes people get it.

That’s a nice, civilized idea in a defined educational setting, but not in politics today, and not when the issue really is power, the power to promote or prevent change. The power of the word isn’t any longer connected to the length of it but to the immediate impact of it.

The right-wing knows that and has used that knowledge to get its way for a generation now, while more progressive people have lost audiences and arguments that they ought to have won if facts and detailed discussions matter. The persistence of a loud but smaller right-wing is due to this very tactic.

Those detailed discussions have to be left for those who really want to go beyond the soundbites. It’s still the soundbites that stick in human minds and evoke and appeal to the frames people internalize. It’s the bumper-sticker slogans that trigger remembrance of the information we want people to have within.

Back when the radical Christian right-wing came up with the brilliant phrase “family values,” they knew they were hitting a nerve, evoking a mental frame that would appeal to a broad audience even if that audience didn’t agree with them. All they had to do was make sure that that phrase was attached to their ideas of a patriarchal, white, family and claim that it was nostalgically traditional.

Because the point in doing this was to reject anything that challenged their ideological power, their usage meant that LGBTQ equality, women’s equality, and even racial equality were not “family values.” They were able to evoke a picture in most people by using the phrase of a white, suburban, “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Leave It to Beaver,” husband and wife household almost unconsciously.

Soon the progressive response was brilliant. In so many other cases, progressives had no memorable hook to evoke their definition of real equality.

Who doesn’t remember “It’s Adam and Eve; Not Adam and Steve” even if they don’t agree with it? Yet, what’s the equivalent in those who disagreed? Can you think of one as quickly as you think of the Adam and Eve trope?

Often the response was a long educational discussion of “Well there’s this, and then there’s that, and then there’s the other….” Often it meant that we felt that repeating the same phrase was intellectually naughty.

Instead of seeing, as the right-wing did, that the issue was power, not niceties that deserved nuanced explanations, we looked, frankly, insincere and boring. My biggest complaint with Democratic strategies on the national scene is that they still don’t get this, but think that every question from the media deserves an explanatory lecture.

That’s why back then the wide use of the simple “Hate Is Not a Family Value” all over was brilliant. It captured the sentiment, labelled the cause, and evoked equality as a basic value. It reminded people again and again what the arguments were behind the slogan.

But what happened to that? Well, the right-wing adroitly claimed to be offended and liberal guilt kicked in to squelch its use.

“You’re not calling us haters, are you?” the faux outrage responded.

And instead of responding with “If the shoe fits,” pro-equality people scurried around to protect the feelings of the haters. Bumper stickers were scraped off and signs were put away.

Thereby the anti-equality forces, even though probably a minority in the country, gained that power they wanted.

So now, until equality is assured, let’s go with “Hate Has No Home Here,” beyond the 2020 election. Let’s agree that we really, really believe that, and that it’s worth repeating like a mantra.

Let’s reject any guilt we might have for repeating ourselves with the assurance that our goal is to make equality not just a nice ideal but a powerful basis for politics, commerce, and all that make up our society.

And let’s reject any bullying that’s meant to get us off that simple slogan or the original one and thereby evoke regressive values instead.

Why? Not only because such pithy slogans work, but because we believe enough in equality to find it non-negotiable.

Because we believe both that “Hate Is Not a Family Value” and that “Hate Has No Home” where we live.

The Comfort of Fundamentalisms

There’s a real comfort in being fundamentalist. And disturbing that comfort invokes a protective response that tells us that the depth of the appeal of whatever fundamentalism is involved serves a purpose that has little to do with the kind of doctrines to which a fundamentalist subscribes.

Anyone can exhibit the qualities of fundamentalists: whether it’s about the acceptance of a certain political candidate, commitment to New Age, atheist or any thinking, allegiance to an institution, devotion to a cultish (often called “charismatic”) leader, swearing by a certain product or procedure, touting a process, diet, or cure they believe works for them – anything. The content of the fundamentalism is open, but the responses to those who question whatever one is fundamentalist about become pretty similar.

All one needs to do to see a fundamentalism in action is to exist on social media and watch while people judge, label, condemn, and obsess over those who disagree with them. One post can produce a long string of defensive obsession, usually by the same people, with increasingly judgmental and angry responses to anyone who questions their certainty.

Fundamentalism, technically began at the turn of the 20th Century as a reactive response to some Christian leaders applying the day’s scientific analysis to theology, the Bible, and Christian doctrines. It was a thoroughly defensive action that claimed it was protecting the “fundamentals of the faith” against what would be labeled “modernist,” “liberal,” “unbelieving” and even “heretical” claims made about what Christians could instead affirm.

It began as a defensive posture against cultural forces. And as those cultural forces gained ground and resulting theologies such as 19th Century Liberalism and the Social Gospel crept even into government programs such as the New Deal, that defensiveness took the form of more condemning, absolutist criticisms of those who were now the “enemies” of “true, Bible-believing saints.”

Even “Evangelicals” began to fight among themselves over variations of conservative viewpoints - as they still do today. They labelled each other “Conservative Evangelicals,” Neo-Evangelicals,” Liberal Evangelicals,” “Syncretists,” and even “Defectors.”

A major part of the appeal of fundamentalist theology was its ability to explain everything within a closed circuit of its over-worked doctrines. When a person jumped in (took that personal “leap of faith,”), the thought-circuit and its teachers captured them in a worldview that fit together and thereby provided relief and comfort from the many conflicting (and multi-cultural) opinions of “the world” festering around it.

Comfort in knowing is a way to protect oneself from what one doesn’t know. Admitting that there is so much we just don’t know and living in ambiguity is a difficult prospect that can be fearful.

We’ve just got to have answers, and right ones at that. So a nice, coherent, undisturbed thinking system provides the mental and emotional rest we don’t want threatened with questioning or the idea that there are other options.

The fear of uncertainty is easily traced to human life experiences. What we didn’t know could hurt us, we learned early.

We could be mocked for our ignorance in peer groups, schools, or homes, and we could literally get hurt. There are even culturally approved, televised competitions to show who really knows the most.

Our freedom to say “I don’t know” was removed by a fear that without perfection we might be looked down upon or even rejected. Hanging on to some system that seemed to be certain alleviates such fears.

Notably, one of the marks of gendered masculine roles is that real men are supposed to know – confusion isn’t an option for manly leadership. It’s no surprise, then, that the history of the Fundamentalist movement’s thinking is male-dominated and tied to schemes of male authority over women.

Sadly, this comfort in a system of knowing that also assures us that even if we don’t have the answer, some smart inside authority we count on will protect us with solutions, stifles the change that must be embraced for progress in the area of human rights.

This use of religion that seeks to keep us from any emotional upheaval brought on by being forced to change ideas and, therefore, raising doubt about the whole comfortable system that has protected us in the coziness of certainty, is traumatic.

Imagine the scary consequences of asking:

“If I’ve been wrong about my understanding of the Bible’s rejection of LGBTQ people, about what else in the Bible have I been wrong? Maybe everything?

“If the religious institution I’ve bet my soul on with people who provide community could have been wrong about its teaching regarding same-sex love, what kind of inside track to the Divine does it actually have? Maybe one no better than my own.”

Anyone of us can become fundamentalistic if we can’t live in ambiguity and need to take comfort in the certainty of knowing.

And when we spot that happening in ourselves, it’s time to ask ourselves some questions like these - the kind that asking them consciously is more important than perfect answers.

Why do I react the way I do when someone provides an alternative option?

This is not to say that I must be wishy-washy about what I believe or that I shouldn’t have some core uncompromisable beliefs such as: people should not be discriminated against for their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, class, differing abilities, etc.

It’s to ask: why do I respond the way I do especially when the person might have the same goal as mine?

Do they have to agree with 100% of my system now?

Did I move beyond discussion and let things go to name-calling? How will that righteous-feeling shaming win anyone over?

Why can’t I admit that we disagree and move on?

What has been triggered in me that I need to do more than explain how, and that, I disagree? Why do I stay in this discussion as it gets more heated? Am I protecting myself from questioning what I said? Do I need to win to prove I’m right and okay?

Could I freely admit that I was wrong?

What would I have to feel if I had to admit that I’d changed my mind? If we’ve been growing, we can look back and see that we have changed over the years.

Why do I need to know the answer to everything?

Can’t I live in ambiguity about some ideas even with keeping my core of beliefs? Can’t I live with some questions unanswered and still be committed to those core beliefs?

Why do I need to be perfect?

Because I don’t.

Instead I can embrace any personal discomfort I have for being humanly “imperfect,” measured, by the way, by whatever unhelpful standard of “perfection” I freely get to choose to apply to myself.

I don’t actually need the comfort of a fundamentalist attitude at all.

If Just This One Idea About Manhood is Changing, There’s Hope….

It was a competitive nine-year-olds’ baseball game. Grandson’s team was in the process of experiencing their first loss of what was so far an eight-game season.

Watching a grandson thrive as a truly self-motivated, avid – and grampa would add gifted - baseball player who is supported without pressure by parents continued, even on that day, not only to be thrilling entertainment. It felt as if it were a gifted connection with a fast-growing boy I had spent cherished time with from day one.

His own joy in the game, often seen in his smiles while pitching and fielding, also brought back forgotten memories of good times with my own dad when he took me to the old Milwaukee Braves’ games at County Stadium back when bleacher seats were $5.

That evening’s game began with a bad night for the Coyote’s starting pitcher. He walked ten batters so that the top of the first inning ended at the league’s seven-run per inning limit. His second inning was hardly better.

His team has some surprisingly good nine-year-old pitchers whose pitches are quite fast and accurate. So, you could see that this young guy felt as if he had let all his teammates down (much less disappointed the team’s loyal fans) when he was relieved by a friend who was, instead, in his rhythm that night.

But “the damage,” as the sportscasters’ say, “had been done.” And when he retreated to the dugout, even as fans applauded his effort, this nine-year-old young man was crying.

There’s an old, popular, and I consider unhealthy, saying that’s repeated by those stuck promoting destructive, toxic, and shaming masculinity in sports: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

But no one, not one coach, and not one fan I could hear fell back on that. We all felt his disappointment along with him, but no one added to that disappointment by shaming him for those tears.

Grandson and his teammates have been fortunate since they began playing in kindergarten. They have experienced, so far, positive coaching that has made them better without masculine shaming.

No coach or parent in my presence has ever said to these boys that it’s wrong to cry. In fact, when one of them in first grade was injured and was carried off the field crying, one coach comforted him with: “I’d have cried even harder.”

So when I see his coaches walking to their cars with their fourth-grader sons while holding hands, I regain a hope for future generations that some of us are over the “big boys don’t cry” mentality.

For generations, male gender role conditioning has included the ridicule and humiliation of boys for their tears. It’s taught them thereby to ignore their natural feelings of hurt, fear, and confusion.

It’s taught them that anger is the male thing to feel instead. And no male has yet to be told that anger and violence are unmanly – but they sure have been told they’re somehow unmanly if they express those natural human emotions that are buried under that anger.

And where homophobia and heterosexism have diminished, at least in public discourse, we hear less and less of the gay slurs applied to men who openly express these basic emotions that are covered over with secondary ones permitted for manhood: anger and sexual arousal. Sadly often, though, such worn-out slurs are still voiced.

Putting boys out of touch with their feelings has been a useful tool of conditioning for societies for generations. It’s harder to go to war against another man or fight competitively to make another man lose, to beat up another man or to destroy them with ruthless business practices, to step over male bodies on the way to what will be declared a victory or convince oneself that the others deserve their unfortunate circumstances, if you know and do embrace the idea that you and these other men actually and legitimately feel hurt, fear, and confusion.

So, the more a man has been put out of touch with these feelings, the more he’s become convinced that feeling them is contrary to the rule that “big boys don’t cry,” the more he’s lost touch with his emotional connections to his fellow men, the easier it is to deny that any human damage is done to others and that he might have contributed to it.

I’m afraid that should grandson continue on what he’d like to be his career path, he’ll run into others who are still sold on the old feelingless manhood (except, of course, again, expressing all these emotions through anger and sexual desire). It’s still so much a built-in part of our cultural norms.

The extent that someone buys into all this is enforced by both men and women who do buy it. Few men want to be deemed “unmanly” by the standards of the men around them.

Fear that other men judge them as less than manly and even in subtle or not so subtle ways will punish them if they don’t come across as manly enough by the old definitions is one way it’s all kept in place. Gay men know this fear and are more overtly punished for breaking that man code, but all men know what it means to be scared straight no matter what their sexual orientation.

Parents enforce the man code because they fear what can happen to their boys if they don’t live up to its standards. They’ve seen what has happened to anyone not manly enough in the past.

And women have been conditioned to somehow “need” a “real man.” Are they prepared for and secure with his tears, vulnerability, and a full set of human qualities and emotions when they’ve been told they need him to love and protect them and prove to them in the end that they’re lovable?

I want to believe there have been some changes in all of this, though my book Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to be Human continues to explain so much of this for its readers even today.

I know that as long as for many it’s somehow less than manly to be gay, or less than feminine to be a lesbian, this prejudice will continue to be used to enforce the idea that men shouldn’t show feelings through tears. I know that as long as transgender people are humiliated and ridiculed because they defy the gender boxes that deny some of the human qualities to anyone based upon binary gender norms, there’ll be further pressure for everyone to monitor one’s feelings.

But I still hope that there will come a day when all emotions matter to anyone regardless of gender definition and that even in baseball there can be crying without shame.

Stop Making the Bible Be an Excuse for LGBTQ Discrimination

The Bible is just an old, old book sitting on a bookshelf. Well, really, it’s a collection of old books from different times and places that’s more an anthology of writings originally written in different languages.

Sometimes people do read it, but most often they don’t look at more than snippets. They just repeat what someone else they consider an authority swears that it teaches.

Because it’s been considered a “sacred” book by some down through history, they’ve used what they want in it to justify their beliefs, aspirations, and bigotry. But that can be done with any book that someone classifies as more authoritative than other everyday writings.

If the Bible didn’t exist, bigotry wouldn’t notice. People who now use it to excuse their prejudices would find something else to blame, such as tradition, authoritative leaders, and respected institutions. You can hear them saying “it’s traditional,” or such and such a big shot says, or “the Church” teaches.

Those hurt by people using the Bible to justify the persecution of others and who haven’t fully healed from those hurts so that they’re still triggered by references to the book, might also regularly blame the Bible. But, like blaming religion itself, doing so, in fact, actually furthers the cause of those who use it to promote bigotry and who prefer using it over examining the prejudices they read into it.

“The Bible,” in fact, doesn’t teach anything. So, when someone says “the Bible says,” they’re just showing their unexamined (intentionally or not) ahistorical assumptions and even ignorance – while often what they follow that phrase with will show their prejudices. The reality is that different books in it, and even different passages, say different things.

It takes a lot of work using one of many competing interpretive methods to try to get this collection to agree on most anything. No one takes all its verses literally and everyone, everyone, everyone, interprets it and has one scheme or another to rescue any passages that don’t agree with them to sound as if they really, really, really do agree.

There are others who also believe that they “follow the Word” and find the Bible to be a collection that inspires only when a verse speaks to the reader – it then, they might say “becomes the Word to them” - and are also able to let other passages go. They see the collection as human attempts to understand some Divine calling, attempts that can at times rise to inspirational heights.

The key here is the fact that people use the Bible. And people, not some book, must be held responsible for how they use it.

Instead of focusing on the Bible, we must focus on why they use it the way they do if we want to change hearts and minds. We need to discover what it is in their lives that causes them to bring the interpretation they do to the text.

The Bible historically has been used by both progressives and regressives. Martin Luther King, Jr. looked at it and saw something very different in its meaning than those who understood it to promote racism. Numerous scholars over the last half-century have disagreed with Pat Robertson’s, Jerry Falwell’s, and Franklin Graham’s overall proclamations about what it teaches about LGBTQ people.

The Bible has been used to promote charity and to whip up persecution, to speak of equality and to justify slavery, to preach apartheids and to fight apartheids, to comfort persecuted people and to fire up the persecutors, to promote death and to value life, to envision an international outlook and to stir up nationalisms. The different uses are not due to the appearance of new translations or different versions but the varying economic, sociological, institutional and psychological contexts surrounding the Bible as it’s come down through history.

This is not, then, an argument defending “the Bible.” There are ideas in it that are defensible and others that are abhorrent.

One need only look at the famous story of Noah and his ark that’s often turned into a playful zoological tale for children. Some have focused on the fact that there the God of Israel graciously saved a family from destruction. But others have focused on the fact that the story says that that same divinity murdered more human beings than any tyrant by drowning all the other men, women, children, and fetuses on the earth at that time.

LGBTQ people are used to hearing of those well-worn passages that have been used against them even though Biblical scholars for generations have argued otherwise. There’s still no better summary of scholarship than the slim little volume by Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality from 2000. And there have been no new arguments since.

But will prejudiced people even read of such an option if they’re afraid it will challenge their comfortable positions and the “authorities” who’ve told them what the Bible says? And if they admit that they’ve been wrong about this, will they be afraid that they might have been wrong about so much else they’ve heard about what’s in the Bible?

Then there are so many other less-cited passages in the biblical collection that need to be reread historically without the dominant current cultural prejudices to see that not everything there must be interpreted as anti-LGBTQ in the manner of those prejudices. Fortunately, for decades scholars have:

· "When Homophobia Is the Prejudice Through Which You Interpret the Bible"

· "Maybe Jesus Actually Did Say Something About Homosexuality After All"

· "Who Are Those 'Eunuchs Who Have Been So from Birth' in the Gospel of Matthew?"

· "What Does the Biblical Legend of Jonathan and David's Same-Sex Relationship Say About Homophobia?"

· "What Would a Same-Sex Relationship Between Two Women Look Like in the Bible?"

· "The Christmas Story Is About Who's In and Who's Out"

It’s way past time to quit letting people use the Bible to promote their prejudices. It’s also way past time to let them hide behind the Bible to protect themselves from admitting that they’re just bigoted.

If they’re actually a part of a moveable middle, they’ll listen to alternative positions, they’ll be willing to read and learn. But if they’re stuck, if religion functions for them the way addictions do, then all we can do is make sure that we’re not stuck – that we see that everyone interprets, and that we don’t have knee-jerk reactions when someone confronts us with the Bible whether we want the old book on our side or not. Calmly we can tell them we disagree with their interpretation and more on.

The Most Important Thing the Bible and the Constitution Have in Common Is Their Usefulness

One document is over 2,000 years old and the other over 200. That means it’s even more difficult for historians to determine the original intent of Biblical authors than it is for that of the writers of the newer US Constitution.

One was compiled over thousands of years in various cultures while the other was written by a much smaller group of men over less than a year. So though there were disagreements among the Constitution’s authors, unlike the Biblical authors there were opportunities in the Constitutional convention to sit down together and work out compromises for their differing positions.

One is full of references to a god among gods, while the other has none at all - and merely two references to “religion” (counting the first amendment to it). That means they have differing intentions.

One’s authority is claimed and enforced by religious institutions and their hoary traditions while the other is enforced by legal and political ones. Any idealistic sense of authority the two have is due to the power of the institutions that revere, interpret, pass on, and enforce them.

But what they do have in common results from the fact that there are people who treat them as “sacred” (highly valued and set apart). They’re both usually treated differently in nature than the many other human compositions that might be considered interesting, thoughtful, and insightful but not special enough to somehow be normative.

They’re both even at times considered somehow inerrant. For the Bible that might be because some believe their god was in some way its author, and for the Constitution that might be because followers credit the founders with some almost super-human wisdom.

It’s not that there’s anything historians can identify as inherently “sacred” in these works themselves. There are other books in other religions and nations that are considered “sacred” by people who ignore the Bible or the U.S. Constitution.

To more objective historians, all these writings were written by human beings who were pretty much like the rest of us. To claim otherwise is to go beyond the evidence in and around those texts no matter how inspiring any work might be.

It’s the way people treat the Bible and US Constitution, then, that sets them apart from the majority of writings that are considered “profane” in contrast - profane in the sense of the non-special, the ordinary, the mere human attempts at the expression and suggestion of ideas for possible consideration. That treatment of them as sacred consists in how they get used to give authority to peoples’ beliefs, prejudices, and opinions.

Without being able to claim that one’s ideas are those of some greater (“sacred”) authority, personal ideas are merely some among the numerous possible human choices. They have little significance when compared with any other views.

Generally, personal ideas could only be bolstered using reason and evidence for support. But the arguments citing either document as if “sacred” aren’t about what evidence supports them at all. They are arguments asserting moral opinions, claims not just about what is or has been but about how things should be.

Moral claims are debatable and debated. To agree with another’s morality, one must agree on the validity of the source of the claim that makes it more than just one person’s opinion. And thinkers East and West for millennia have been trying to win agreement on some basis for what that source should be.

Those who reject any of the world’s scriptures find no basis for ethics in those scriptures. People of different nations might find US constitutional concepts historically interesting but not necessarily any paradigm for their own ideas of legality and government.

Because they’re considered “sacred,” these texts get picked over, studied, and interpreted by those who elevate them above normal books in order to support the claims, beliefs, ideas, and prejudices those who do this hold, usually ideas they bring to the texts from the surrounding culture.

People pick and choose from these works as if these writings are smorgasbords. They ignore some parts and emphasize others, interpret them through their pre-conceived ideas of what is true and right, and hide behind and blame them so as to take the burden of blame for personal opinions off themselves.

Then they hope to use the “support” they find in them to enforce their beliefs on others. Attempts to enforce some sectarian “Biblical” morality have even infiltrated Supreme Court arguments about what is constitutional.

But when someone says that the Bible is against something like same-sex marriage (or you name it) or that the Constitution is, they’re using either or both texts to say:

“I wouldn’t be against it, but this sacred document is. So, I’ve got to be against it since I’m on the side of the sacred and those who disagree with me aren’t. It’s not my fault. It’s not just my whim or prejudice here. Don’t blame me. I’m a nice guy. I’m just the messenger. You have a problem with that sacred book.”

Both “sacred” writings, then, are useful for placing the blame elsewhere. And, to the extent that the claimant actually believes what they’re saying, they’re useful for saving the claimant from examining their own issues and prejudices. It’s very much like the claim of irresponsibility when the offensive drunk says: “The alcohol made me do it.”

Those who use the Bible this way often respond to disagreements from others by saying that they are not interpreting the text in terms of their circumstances. They claim to be taking the text literally – a clearly false claim since no one does; and any such claim should not remain unquestioned.

They might really believe that they are literalists when confronted by people who say they understand the Bible differently. These people do not want to admit that they are also interpreting a text.

Likewise, people who use the Constitution this way often respond to disagreements by calling themselves “originalists.” This too is a dubious claim as Supreme Court scholar and legal realist Eric Segal has argued for almost two decades.

“Originalism” portrays itself as a sophisticated philosophy to act as if whatever those Supreme Court justices want to decide is based on something larger than themselves – some “original” meaning of those super-wise founding fathers that should have more authority than the claimants’ opinions would alone if they admitted that they were just making answers up to support their politics and egos.

In the same way as people approach the Bible, people use the Constitution. They talk about “originalism” but are unlikely to practice it. Segal argues in a recent book, then, that we should actually understand Originalism as Faith.

So, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. A document that someone treats as “sacred” is a very useful document and, frankly, seldom the actual source of the moral admonitions its user claims should be imposed on the rest of us.

It’s more an excuse to promote someone’s views than a reason for them.

We Might Not Like It, But What If There Are People We Can’t Reach?

It’s hard for someone who considers themselves liberal and even believes that people are born good, to admit that there are some people who are so far gone that they’re unreachable. We might have even wondered for a long time how any country could have so many who idolized an Adolf Hitler enough to elect him for a second term as Chancellor.

Today, as we look at the current President of the United States and the seemingly blind adoration he receives from his followers, we’re forced into a more existential understanding of what we would call the immovable right-wing on the extreme of a spectrum of human beings. Yet, it’s still difficult to face any other human being and decide that the best strategy for our own and our country’s well-being is to give up trying to change them.

Are we willing to say that our current state of psychological and psychiatric science has not yet found the tools to help people who’ve been so traumatically damaged through their life experiences so that there’s no known cure? And what if, instead of turning for help, these damaged people have taken to using leadership, followership, or their powerful position as a means not to heal personally but to act out their hurts on others in a way that destroys so many around them?

The idea of giving up on any human being, especially one who is family or a friend is sure to trigger all our own abandonment issues, liberal guilt, and fears that others might give up on us. There’s little rational about our responses to that thought and much that keeps us trapped into trying to change the lost while we function for them instead as their enablers.

The immovable have always been there. Scholars have labelled them authoritative personalities or ones who are like users for whom their addiction is to a charismatic leader or even a form of religion. And the expert on authoritative personalities, Robert Altemeyer who’s studied them since the rise of Hitler in Germany has estimated that maybe 30% of Americans fall into this category.

If these people have not been able to rise to leadership, they’re prone to become caught up in personality cults and to subject themselves to a leader such as the right president or the right religious personality. Nothing that the object of such a cult does or says, even to the point of jeopardizing their own lives (Jonestown is a popular example) will cause these people to doubt the one for whom they’ve given up their ethical thinking and on whom they’ve bet their lives.

The authoritative followers’ language becomes rhetoric that rises not out of their own thoughtfulness but repeats what they’ve been told almost word for word. Their slogans are meant to shut down conversation and dialogue and to provoke a response and frustration, or as they say today: “to own the libs.”

There will always be a way for these followers to justify their wayward or hypocritical cultish leader. Denial, ignoring of any facts presented, anger at those who disagree, violence against their defined enemies, and belligerence are so predictable that to be surprised by these responses is a sign of being caught up in one’s own desperate and often baseless hope that things were otherwise.

And for these cultish followers to change as a result of any evidence or persuasion would be for them to admit that they’ve been duped. Each con they’ve fallen for from their idols makes it harder for them to face the fact that they’ve been taken. It’s all deeply emotionally threatening and related to insecure self-concepts.

They will always be able to find groups of the likeminded who will provide the company that reinforces their stuckness. And they will assume that most people who challenge them are the duped.

Recognizing our inherent emotional optimism, then, in spite of the fact that there are people who will not change no matter what we do, what can we do?

1. Whether we like it or not, we’ll have to make imperfect judgments about who these people are. That won’t be easy because we’ll be prone to think otherwise. We’ll have a difficult time not thinking that just a little more dialogue or persuasion might save this person, convert them, or soften them up. It will be hard to apply the 3 “Cs” of AL Anon: “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.”

2. We’ll have to decide whether continuing attempts to change or win this person are good for them. Are our ongoing attempts instead enabling them and hardening their positions by giving them the chance to argue abstractly about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, tradition, the Bible, God, (you name it) instead of forcing them to deal with the personal issues that are covered up by these abstractions they claim are the basis for their ideas and being.

3. We’ll have to decide whether continuing attempts to change this person or win these people are good for us. How much energy does this take away from everything else we have in our lives? Are there other people for whom our efforts are more likely to make a difference and thus involve a better, more effective use of our time and energy – the moveable middle? Is the frustration level that results worth it to me and to those who need my attention?

4. When do I decide that this person or group is so toxic to myself and/or others that my best strategy would be working to protect others from them? How much of their continual hurting of others by their words and actions should be accepted while I spend time working to change them? When should I move to do work to blunt or eliminate their influence?

5. What guilt feelings do I have, if I decide to walk away? How am I blaming myself and my lack of doing enough for their intransigence? Why do I feel that I am the person to fix this other? Why can’t I just show clearly and forcefully that I disagree with them? Why do I think that I haven’t expended enough effort with them yet? Can I still live with myself if I do move on? If not, why not?

To choose to move on from these people doesn’t require anger, ill feelings for, or retaliation against them. It’s also not evidence of same failure on our part.

It means making sure that we are clear to them that we disagree, that they know they are standing in front of some real human being who they offend because they’re hurting others, and that they know that they will not move us from, or make us compromise, our core human values.

It’s like doing an intervention rather than enabling. And then feeling what emotions doing so are triggered in us.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel right. Compassion is not the same as doing things that make us feel that we’re one of the “nice” ones.

Standing up for justice is difficult work and includes the idea that patterns of injustice that have been learned can be unlearned. But it also means we can’t change everyone.

So, is there a point where we should write someone off personally in order to get on with the work of changing the world and its structures in order to stop the human suffering involved without being deflected by trying to get the agreement of those who won’t change?

Pandemics, Social Distancing, and a Hug

For those of us who are old enough and were somewhat “woke” back then, the COVID-19 pandemic invokes hidden emotions that remind one of the painful early years of the AIDS crisis. There are differences, certainly, because this pandemic is directly affecting a broader demographic, but the similarities in the feelings the COVID-19 pandemic revisits are striking and haunting.

In both, American presidents who couldn’t think beyond their own egos reacted with sociopathic indifference to the disease and deaths of real human beings. Ronald Reagan will always be remembered as the president who refused to speak about, much less act to solve, HIV. Today, Donald Trump seems willing to let the rest of us go if he can just keep his approval rating up among his base, his profits flowing in, and the stock market paying its richest investors windfalls.

In both, the leaders placed the blame on someone they wanted us to think of as a dangerous Other to deny the pandemic’s wider existence and, more importantly, their own personal responsibility for failing to act effectively and with a national sense of a community in crisis. Then it was put down as the “Gay Plague” and now it’s the “China Virus.”

In both, leaders who could have thought in terms of how we’re all in this together mouthed the otherwise instructive words: “personal responsibility.” But they were usurping those words as a cliché to provide an excuse for government failure, a reason to do nothing in the belief that the plague would only affect other people and families, to raise guilt and shame in any victims as if to punish them further by doing so, and to downplay the systematic homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, and able-bodiedism that are major factors affecting the most devastated.

Then as now, right-wing religious leaders spoke self-righteously of these pandemics as some Divine punishment upon all those that didn’t tow the sectarian line by which they made a name for themselves and money to live better than those who idolize them. Their hell-fire seemed to always have something to do with their fear of equality for LGBTQ people and their phony self-righteous claim of victimization in culture wars.

In both, the science was way behind, and that was often because other things were more important in the profits-over-people game played by conservative and libertarian-type politicians. They spoke of socialism threatening the nation while predatory capitalism was destroying needed safety nets.

It was Ronald Reagan who changed the rules so that hospitals could be for profit. Preparing for and treating pandemics were considered economic losers.

Then, as today, there was the fear. It was a nagging, aching, dread dwelling always in the back of the mind.

In most early cases, being diagnosed as HIV positive was a death sentence. Big pharma was concerned first about its bottom line and had to be forced to seek remedies - the earliest of which (such as AZT) were just as likely to kill the patients.

When I told a graduate student that I had just learned about the death of a young colleague at another university who’s books already were challenging entrenched religious historian’s biases, that student unhesitatingly expressed the feeling of that day: “Will there be anyone left?”

Today, most who contract COVD-19, we’re told, will be fine in the long run. Yet there are few markers assuring us who won’t be okay, who’ll be left without the help they need because of short supplies, and who, as a result of maintaining a stiff upper lip should have been more cautious. We’re even watching its spread to our healthcare providers.

For quite a while no one was sure what to do to prevent the spread of the virus. Those who tried were still afraid that they hadn’t done enough.

Today that’s: Have I washed my hands enough or the right way? Did I touch my face too much even without being aware? Will the package from the grocery store, the clerk who rung it up, or the stocker who shelved it spread it to me? How certain can I be of the safety of packages delivered to our door? How long is the virus alive on what surfaces?

One result then, as now, was a widespread, lingering situational depression. Few pointed out then that that’s what it was, but it took an emotional toll.

Today, too, most of our nation is experiencing a situational depression. As Yale psychology professor, Jutta Joorman, put it: “It will take some time for us to see the long-term mental health effects of this situation, but it has a lot of the ingredients that can affect people’s mental health negatively in a significant way.”

And then, as now, social distancing was recommended. Back then, when no one first knew whether one’s touch, breath, saliva, sweat, sneeze, or other body fluids could transmit infection, people needed to separate, use all the latex between each other they could, and fear any bodily contact.

Today social distancing includes the end of all bodily contact, even a six-foot distance from others, and staying home for weeks except for running essential errands. When what we need is connection, physical contact, being with others, and sharing face-to-face our fears and depression, this plague too denies us all that.

No wonder there were people who opted for connection, intimacy, and touch then and now by breaking the rules and defying the depression, the odds, and the criticism of those of us who obeyed. It wasn’t safe; it wasn’t helpful, but it was somewhere human.

As I remember those days, my mind returns to the couple dozen or so students who sought me out for some connection when being diagnosed as HIV positive was pretty much a death sentence. Our encounters went something like this as they appeared at my campus office.

“Professor Minor? May I talk with you for a minute?” the student at the open office door would ask, often with a light knock on the door or its frame.

I always kept my door open and my desk facing the door to welcome those who came.

“Yes, come and sit,” I responded as I pointed him to the chair at the side of my desk, not one on other side where my desk provided some official demarcation. Erasing the barrier was important to me.

“I think it’s safe to talk to you,” was the first clue. “You’re the first person I’m telling about this.”

The student was always taking, at least, his second class from me. So, he felt he knew me. I got up myself to provide a bit of privacy by pulling the door to but not closed.

“I just found out that I’m positive,” then revealed the purpose of this visit.

The words, too often familiar, hang even today in my memory.

They would talk about how unfair it seemed. They had thought they were taking enough precautions and had believed that their partner was.

I listened and agreed: “It’s not fair. There’s nothing ‘fair’ about it.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell by roommate (and/or my parents). I’m from a small town. I know this won’t go over well. And I’m scared.”

I listened to everything else they wanted to share while my eyes teared up. I’m surprised I could hold it together.

And then my student felt he needed to go. But before he left my office I said something I had never said to any students except these. I said: “Will you give me a hug?”

Some of those students were well-known student leaders who never shared their secret with others on campus. But many months later it was seldom an exception to learn that “they had quit school and gone home to ‘be with their family.’”

I knew that meant “in their last days.” So that office visit was also their last.

I still believe those hugs were important then just as hugs are now. They were intentional. I didn’t want anyone ever to think that the first person they confided in about their place in the AIDS pandemic felt in any way that they were now too unclean for human touch.

By making this connection to a professor they felt “was safe,” they had actually bestowed on me the honor of being the first person they told. So the very least I could give was the kind of hug, let’s admit, we all really need, but can’t have, today in these weeks and months of this new pandemic.

Are We Ready for Our Next Difficult Conversation?

Our next difficult conversation with someone who might get angry and leave in a huff is on the horizon. Unless our bubble is thicker than likely, we’re going to meet someone outside it, maybe when we least expect it.

Today’s political and social climate makes it more difficult to have civil conversations. Both the example of the current holder of the White House and the fact that Democrats are in the midst of a primary contest that reflects panic, have resulted in the triggering of so many. Disagreements turn unpleasant in the blink of an eye.

Even calls for civility in conversation and politics today sound as if they’re the talk of someone who has the privilege to benefit from living unaffected above the fray while others are hurting because of the current environment. Like walking in a minefield, one can never be certain where one’s step will set off an explosion.

It’s tempting to run from it all, to turn inward and come back out later – if there is a later – leaving to others the activity that makes both progress and regress. Staying out of the community around us by resigning hopelessly, turning inward, crossing our fingers, praying harder, and vowing never to talk to anyone about anything that upsets us with disagreement, however, isn’t a non-action.

It’s taking sides with those who don’t stay out of the conflict and have the most power to change things their way, for better or worse. If elections didn’t matter anymore, the Koch brothers, right-wing PACS, and Republican voter suppression initiatives, wouldn’t be spending billions on them.

Getting us out of their way, discouraging us, and making us think that our conversations, activism, and votes don’t matter is their goal. If they can make us hopeless, they can win everything they want. The goal of negative campaigning is to make voters drop out.

On the other hand, if we are going to participate and engage in conversations with others about more than the weather or the latest binge-watchable TV series, we’re going to have to prepare ourselves for them. And that’s more difficult than just jumping into the conversations themselves because it takes sustained, conscious, often temporarily unpleasant, self-work.

We’re going to have to take time not only for reflection on the conversations we’ve had but to think about and deal with what triggers us when someone disagrees either civilly or not. For if I have stuff with someone else’s stuff, that’s my stuff - and I’ve got to consciously, deliberately raise my awareness of and clean up my stuff.

A conversation where no matter what the other person says or how they say it doesn’t trigger us is rare but possible. It would be one where we can respond calmly but firmly, creatively, even with humor, and with awareness of what we are saying and why.

“A gentleman,” Oliver Herford (America’s version of Oscar Wilde) said, “is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”

Being conscious, aware, centered, mindful, in the moment, present (whatever you want to call it) in the conversation, means examining what changes the conversation in our minds from a learning and sharing experience with another human being who will be triggered by what we say because they’re not examining their past hurts and pain, into a frustrating, discouraging, disheartening, or heated exchange.

We all get caught. You and I are no exceptions no matter how often we’ve thought about this. Going into denial about it might feel as if we’re in a safe place, but it helps no one including us.

So to begin, let’s reflect upon some questions. Since we’re not perfect yet (Right?) and life is supposed to be a “live and learn” deal, we’ll have to reexamine our answers every time we find ourselves triggered.

· What is my goal for being in this conversation here and now? Why am I in it? Why do I stay in it as it becomes more unpleasant? Why don’t I walk away?

· What does this conversation mean to me beyond its immediate moments? Do I feel as if the whole movement I represent will collapse if I don’t succeed here and now? Wouldn’t that fear be too much pressure for any human being to take on and thus muddle my presence in the moment?

· When does the argument over a political idea, a religious belief, a matter of history or other fact feel personal? What brought that on?

· When does this interaction change into an exercise in me winning, bolstering my ego, or needing to get back at someone? Why do I need to have the last word?

· When does it change into proving that I’m smarter or, at least, not stupid to this person? When did I start fearing that I needed to be understood by this person? Why do I care? Why do I interpret this particular interaction as a test of any of that?

· What is triggered in me from past experiences that results in me becoming tense and feeling personally attacked? In religious arguments, because most people have been hurt in the past by religious people and institutions, does my reaction reflect that I really haven’t dealt with my own hurts around religion and grown from awareness of what they are?

· How am I justifying as righteous and just any anger, as the need to tell the truth, the need to be honest, or some other personal need? As a secondary emotion, anger covers up others below it that we don’t want to examine or admit, such as hurt, fear, and confusion. Why not learn by examining the deeper emotion later in an appropriate setting?

Observing where we are in these arguments and setting up support systems, listening partnerships, close friendships, or even therapy sessions, where we can examine our answers outside the conversation itself is a healthy thing to do.

The fact is that facing difficult conversations is, well, difficult. And being frustrated by them is how it goes.

Just being there in them as a real human being who disagrees with someone, is more important that what is said. Like telling one’s own story, it personalizes what might be a generalization about “those people” even when we say nothing more than: “Please understand that you and I disagree.”

So to do this, we must be aware before we strategize about what to say, where we are when we say it. And the more of these difficult conversations we take on, the more we’ll learn about ourselves, our life of growth, and where the dangers still lie, buried in our own minefields.

The Right-Wing’s Continuing Obsession with LGBTQ People, 2020 Version

The right-wing obsession with LGBTQ people continues in 2020. Notice that it’s far from abating and becoming more desperate.

In fact, their present reactions remind one of the movies of the knight slaying the dragon – just when it looked as if the wounded beast was slain, the knight is tempted to turn his back. Then, as a last gasp, the final and most dangerous sweep of the dragon’s tail or bite of its fangs comes at the knight before its death.

For individual right-wingers there still seems to be an obsession with what LGBTQ people do in their bedrooms. It’s both a fascination and a kind of yuck factor – very love/hate – that they believe can only be relieved through a suppression that will lead, as suppression always does, to further obsession.

But on a larger level, the obsession takes the form of not being able to let go of the idea that LGBTQ people are able to live openly happy lives. They were almost okay with the existence of LGBTQ people as long as they were convinced that “those people” were miserable and certainly not “proud.”

But all the progress just rubbed it in and, therefore they’re doing what they can to stop it. The gains threatened them - they seem to be losing the “culture wars” that they emotionally need to win, and they might lose their political clout.

So, their national legal think tanks accelerated their on-going churning out of model legislation particularly to state legislators with the goal of controlling and disenfranchising their perennial political boogeymen.

But the greater goal behind all this is still to remain in power at least long enough to secure the financial advantages of the richest of them in the face of American demographic and cultural value shifts against them.

No one should be surprised with the similarity and ubiquity of ongoing attacks around the country such as those four bills introduced in Florida. Right-wingers found this to be a winning strategy so far that galvanizes and rallies their bases, and they just can’t let go.

Because so many of those everyday supporters who aren’t making a killing off of the economic policies of conservative bosses also identify as extreme right-wing Christians, their politicians know that the churches among their constituents will reinforce their strategy. “God, Guns and Gays” still propels these believers along while they also tout being “anti-abortion” - without any effective strategy to actually end abortions.

They know to continue to call for an end to bans on prayer in the public schools even though the only actual prohibition is on institutionally enforced prayer. Anyone can pray, and as long as there are tests in the public schools, there’ll be prayers.

Likewise, right-wing politicians continue to reinforce traditional gender roles that empower right-wing religion using scare-tactics about transgender people and bathrooms. An American paranoia that demands bathroom policing has been stoked historically to oppose numerous causes such as LGBTQ people serving openly in the military and the Equal Rights Amendment.

It’s true that right-wing churches still are the major grassroots institutions for this reactionary political/religious fanaticism and for guaranteeing that masses of voters will march onward as Christian soldiers to the polls as if to war. Even those politicians who couldn’t care less about actual religious beliefs must therefore appear hyper-religious in order to dupe these believers.

And a long string of Republicans have done just that from Ronald Reagan to John McCain, to even the lewd and lascivious Donald Trump. Just being recognized, and coddled by politicians is enough for those whose actually shaky faith desperately needs help from someone other than their divinity.

It’s, then, no wonder that right-wing politicians continue to push the legalization of churches openly endorsing political candidates. They’ve already scared away the Internal Revenue Service so that it’s unlikely to enforce the current legal ban on such partisan politics. And now they’re hell-bent on making “religious liberty” mean that churches are openly free to be political institutions.

This strategy includes packing the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, with judges and justices who’ll do the rich’s economic bidding and will revive their hopes that the religious positions their right-wing religious followers have based their eternal souls on will no longer be ignored or mocked by the culture around them.

To do this, their legal think tanks worked overtime to come up with that long-term strategy of claiming “religious liberty” as an argument to get the nation to enforce any bigotry and religious sectarianism they want to wield. They needed to find a way to enforce their beliefs that didn’t openly sound as if they were saying that hate is a family value.

All their current and future cases, they expect, will thus wind their way in some form up to the kind of Supreme Court they’ve wanted. And their expectation is that this “religious liberty” argument will win the day whereas other arguments wouldn’t.

None of this should surprise us unless we just haven’t been paying attention. And the right-wing considers the strategy already working.

So we should expect more of the same. We should already have been aware that these are the three strategies that the right-wing has been using now for years:

(1) State government nullification of local protections for LGBTQ people by requiring local jurisdictions to conform to state statutes that lack LGBTQ inclusion in their nondiscrimination protections.

(2) The national push that has been dubbed “bathroom bills.” Transgender people have been chosen as the targets for those uniquely American bathroom fears.

(3) This national right-wing think-tank tactic to claim that their bills are intended to protect “religious liberty.” They’re not thereby openly admitting to targeting a group of people when they are.

These constitute their ongoing game plan. Expect no new arguments against LGBTQ people in the meantime. Science, religion, history, and sociology have heard any arguments you think are new for the last half-century – and answered them for at least that long.

But expect 2020 and years to come to be the time for what the right-wing has put in place to act itself out in this manner as its dragon tail swings away in desperation.

Most Right-Wing Religion Won’t Handle This Political Dilemma Well

When the Conservative Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, founded in 1956 by the late right-wing evangelist Billy Graham called this December for the removal of Donald Trump from office - describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused” - it confirmed that many evangelicals are as others thought they were. Since the magazine is by far not the most widely read by right-wingers – it has always appeared too scholarly for many of them - the opinion raised more hackles than it changed Evangelical opinion.

The magazine historically has affirmed all those early twentieth-century “Fundamentals of the Faith” formulated as a reaction to progressive scholarship, and backed about everything else theologically that Evangelicals stand for and fight over. It stands solidly for the “inerrancy of the scriptures” just like other fundamentalists.

Expecting camaraderie from its like-minded believers, it’s chief executive expressed hope for more than is likely: “I would be pleased if it promotes constructive conversations among evangelicals about how we engage in political life. I’d also be pleased if the conversation led to a more effective witness of the church.”

The editorial’s key concern seems to be Christianity Today’s fear that support for Trump will weaken Evangelical’s ability to effectively peddle their brand of faith. But the problem with their stance is that all such arguments naively assume rationality, an openness to civil discussion, and a willingness to even listen to anyone who begins with a statement such as theirs by Trump’s White Evangelical base.

Trump’s right-wing religious base doesn’t follow him out of their belief in their god at all but out of their unbelief. In fact, they hide behind their religious beliefs the way a drunk blames the liquor for actions that are destructive to all those around them.

It’s important for us to begin by recognizing that when we join them and also blame their religion, we’re buying into their excuse for not dealing with their real issues. We’re enabling them to keep copping out.

The doctrines, practices, and institutions they take comfort in merely reinforce the prejudices, fears, scapegoating, and insecurities within.

There are six real reasons that those Evangelicals who cling to Trumpism so desperately do so. And it’s these issues that must be faced and dealt with clearly.

Getting them to face these issues is performing an intervention for an experienced user who is so accustomed to their drug that they have no problem conning those around them or damaging any who don’t enable their addiction.

And the harsh reality that’s to be faced by those who wish better for them and who’d like to protect their communities from their damage is that enabling doesn’t work. It instead sucks up one’s energy and encourages them.

Arguing religiously is mostly useless because it doesn’t get down to their core beliefs – see that list of six, fear-based beliefs that are deeper than their religious ones. The small slice of Evangelicals who are the audience for Christianity Today is already skeptical of Donald Trump.

And as Collin Hansen, editorial director for the “Gospel Coalition,” a network of evangelical churches points out: “Evangelicals tend to get their political news from Fox News far more than Christianity Today or other Evangelical media.”

It’s a relief to see that there are some more realistic Evangelicals who are worried about their appearance to the world and its effect on recruitment. It’s actually clear that in many areas the Evangelical brand has already been damaged by accepting the political and culturally aligned Republicanism that uses right-wing religionists to maintain economic and political power through touting anti-women’s-choice and anti-LGBTQ policies.

The Pew Research Center reports that the share of U.S. adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants now stands at 16%, down from 19% a decade ago. The largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported a decline in membership that has brought it to its lowest point in over thirty years.

But to be surprised when these anti-Trump Evangelicals merely become outcasts to the broader constituency of Trump’s Evangelical supporters is to misunderstand why they hold on to him and his Party. He represents what they really stand for.

Criticizing others for anything they consider immoral doesn’t mean they do a consistent self-criticism. They can forgive anyone who makes them feel that they have the Truth and hypocrisy is accepted as a normal human frailty, not a criticism.

Those Evangelical leaders who belong to the Republican cabal aren’t sticking with him because of their or his beliefs. There’s probably nothing that could make Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, give up claims that Trump is chosen by his god.

Instead, imagine what these leaders would have to relinquish after their years of claiming Donald Trumps’ presidency is an act of God. When any religious leader claims that they’ve been chosen by their god for whatever they’re doing, whatever church they’re leading, whatever “truth” they’re preaching, to disagree with them is to disagree with the Divine.

Repentance, after all is talked about endlessly, but repenting (“turning around”) is not something these leaders do personally. It would be like those in 12-Step recovery programs working steps 4,5,8,9:

  • Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself
  • Admit to God, to oneself, and to another human being the exact nature of one’s wrongs
  • Make a list of all persons you had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all
  • Make direct amends to such people wherever possible.

But it would also mean giving up what their lives are built upon:

  • having all those followers who look up to them
  • threatening their economic status built by their preaching of bigotry and exclusion
  • appearing never to be flawed leaders who could now be wrong about many other things since they were wrong about all this
  • getting their psychological attention needs met by a means they’ve well perfected.

There’s much preventing these Evangelicals from paying attention to the current American majority who reject so much of what they stand for today.

And even those within the movement, then, will become pariahs to those who need the kind of fix, the high they get from feelings that they’re the righteous who are “persecuted for righteousness sake,” and the leaders who deal that high of righteousness to them.

© 2020 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; 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. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org


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