Here Comes More of the Persecution Complex

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” wrote second century Christian theologian Tertullian. And during his June 30th mass this year, Pope Francis agreed: “The Church grows thanks to the blood of the martyrs. This is the beauty of martyrdom.”

There’s a sense, then, in which Christianities have historically wavered between a persecution complex and the desire to dominate over and control the world’s morality. Christian denominations have had as their goal, after all, the conversion of everyone to their own position as if the old saying is: “The more the truer.”

And they’re not alone. Modern defenders notwithstanding, Buddhist religions have flourished most when they were embraced by governments as have multiple Islams. Confucian ethics became culturally Chinese when the Han dynasty enforced it as a political philosophy, and Shinto has always been tied to the status of the Japanese emperor.

Even Hindu sects became strongest when the kings of India endowed their temples and deities. While in the modern period most traditions have justified nationalisms that combine religious identities and politics.

The sense of being persecuted has been a rallying cry provoking the faithful to protect their brand and even take up arms. Pacifists in these traditions may claim that they have the truer view of each faith, but history shows that often a sense of one’s religion being persecuted has led to violent defensive measures by the fearful.

That defense spawns efforts to get governments on the side of the faith for both self-protection and to enforce a sense that right is confirmed by might. We have certainly seen this in the rise of the Christian right-wing in late twentieth-century US politics.

The need to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation and also to make it so in the last fifty years has been a major thrust of right-wing religion. Yet the ever-increasing evidence that in spite of their financial and emotional investments, culture is moving further and further away from their sectarian vision of a Christian society, especially among younger generations, makes people who say “God is in charge” but down deep fear that’s not true, slide back into that persecution complex.

The pushers/dealers of addictive religion know that the fear of literal or figurative martyrdom can energize their devotees to action. Hence, the message of the day is: “We are the truly persecuted; we must therefore take the position of martyrs and fight our way out.

No more is this true than in the response to the issue of marriage equality. State by state, the barriers to it have fallen and the end of every state bans looks inevitable.

They now accuse both conservative and liberal judges of being activists who are discriminating against the sectarian right-wing. “Activist judges” as a label, after all, refers to those who decide against the right-wing.

Politicians must, therefore, figure out how to play to this right-wing religious base in the midst of the inevitable movement of history. They must show that they are willing to stand by the gate as the liberal hoards burst through to prove to the right-wing that as politicians they are moral, Christian people — though they know that this tactic will only be useful symbolically for a few more election cycles.

The strategy of right-wing tacticians has changed in turn. It’s now to use the courts and state legislatures to defend themselves from w what they call anti-religious discrimination.

We’ve already seen this in state legal attempts to “protect” businesses from having to serve LGBT people based on sectarian religious beliefs. Think of martyr Melissa Klein, the Oregon baker who shut down her bakery rather than serve gay and lesbian couples and incur a fine for discrimination, framing her martyrdom as the government destroying her career and forcing her to close her business because she stood up for her faith.

The famous Hobby Lobby case has set a precedent for more of the same in spite of any Supreme Court attempts to portray it otherwise. State legislatures will be seeking more exemptions to allow some groups, companies, and people with religious objections to refuse benefits or service for gay spouses, hoping to find themselves before judges with ideologies like those behind the Hobby Lobby decision.

The pattern to be followed, Michelangelo Signorile reported from this fall’s Values Voter Summit, will be similar to right-wing attacks on Roe v. Wade. They’ll have to seek “incremental” wins, Frank Schubert, the mastermind behind the Proposition 8 campaign in California and other marriage ban campaigns across the country, told Signorile, just as they’re doing to chip away slowly at abortion rights, which of course has been very successful. They’ll have to the find the gay “version” of “partial birth abortion,” Schubert said.

All of this, then, has the potential of fueling lucrative new fundraising for religious right-wing leaders. No longer will they be able to raise money with the treat of the legality of everyone getting married to whomever they love.

And the avalanche of victories for marriage equality will be proof to those desperate for such religious and political leadership that they are losing in the battle of the last decades to try to take over the nation. The fight will be more desperate, for the message is that the left is coming to take their very souls.

The fight will now continue on this front and will include lies told by the right-wing in the name of righteousness. Expect many fabricated stories of discrimination like those we’ve seen before. Expect those who get needed attention as martyrs to exaggerate, embellish, and create a constant supply of horrors.

This is when we’ll have to be clear about how what they’ll be doing is a re-definition of the separation of church and state, a re-definition of persecution, and a re-definition of freedom. We’ll have to call “sectarian” what they’re doing, not “Christian.” And we’ll have to be prepared in turn for some very nasty attacks in the name of religion.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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

War Is the Force that Gives Masculinity Meaning

In 2002, when Pulitzer Prize winner, Chris Hedges published War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, he wrote in depth about the warrior culture that is the USA. “The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation,” he wrote. “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

In 2014 the American military-industrial-media complex is still salivating for war to further line its pockets. And a president elected to get us out of two wars in which we were mired, displays caution but finds himself pressured on many sides to do something warrior-like.

The drumbeat includes the usual: ramping up of fear against an enemy, claims of a threat to what’s now called the “homeland,” and images of cruelty that invoke the sense that “we can’t let them get away with that, especially when they do it to Americans.” Few are interviewed in mainstream media who argue against the whole mindset.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appeared briefly on “Meet the Press” in September for the first time in his career. But no Chris Hedges or Noam Chomsky is likely to appear as the debate centers on the best tactics of fighting the bad guys rather than how to change US policies that spawn terrorist groups.

In our culture, war is still the manly response; it gives conditioned manhood its meaning. With women in the military and LGBT people tolerated, a warrior reaction to any problem still won’t cause mainstream pundits to question any man’s masculinity, though it might cause them to question a woman’s femininity.

Even though there’s been a history of dissenters – Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, to name two well-known examples – and a long history of anti-war movements, America still falls back on a war model to attack problems from literacy, to AIDS, to poverty, to drugs, to crime. The tools of war get more sophisticated, while we sell them to the world to use, even profiting off of selling them to those who become enemies.

For war to continue to give us such meaning as well as war-industry jobs, we need more than just the selling of each new war through exaggeration, lies, and fears. Those tactics must touch something already within so the public relations of warmongering will resonate inside us.

Mainstream conditioning of our children through our major institutions must still make warriors and warrior-support personnel out of them through molding their minds, if the propaganda of each new war is to be effective. And, sadly, the old gender role conditioning that enables this hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

In fact, the dominant Northern European/American views of gender and its limitations have heavily affected alternatives that would have been found traditionally among Native Americans, Hispanic peoples, Africans, and Asians. Even in a culture where children are being told that they can be anything they want to be, dominant institutions that supposedly provide “role-models” such as the NFL or Congress, have failed to move outside genderized boxes, and, as if it surprises us, failed miserably to challenge the status quo, as we’ve painfully been reminded recently.

It takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little boy who was born with his complete humanity intact, and to convince him that he will be considered an American masculine hero if he is willing someday to go off to another country and kill other men or be killed by them. Notice how the title “hero” is now applied to anyone who does just that.

It also takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little girl who was born with her complete humanity and all its possibilities intact, and convince her that the solution to her fears, second-place status, meaninglessness, and hopelessness is to find fulfillment in supporting one of these male warriors. She might even stay with an abuser if she’s convinced that he is her savior from all that she’s supposedly lacks in life.

But our mainstream culture still does it. It still defines male bonding and teamwork as a group of men getting together to beat, defeat, or kill another group of men. Every male sporting event on television celebrates it with the most popular often the sports that reward men for harder hits or knocking the other unconscious.

Our culture still awards its warriors for killing another man. A man can get a medal for killing another man, but still be killed for loving one.

Much of its religion is still in a fight against the cultural change that threatens to fully accept lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people who challenge gender roles. Mainstream media gives such religion disproportionate attention, enabling them to feel like noble, righteous warriors in the “culture wars.”

And our culture remains stuck in the old gender roles, with otherwise liberal people still talking about their masculine and feminine “sides” as if those categories mean something definite. Or using supposedly positive comments such as: “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” “But you’re too macho to be a gay man.” “She’s trans, but you can’t tell. She’s so pretty.”

Finally, it’s still quite useful to install the fear of getting close ones own gender that’s the heart of homophobia. Without that, it’s much harder for men to make other men their enemies. It’s easier to fear them as threatening competitors.

While walking with my then 2 ½ year old grandson down the street, we passed a gaping open sewer. He grabbed my hand and pulled me away, saying “Grampa, be careful. That’s dangerous.”

To that little boy, holding hands wasn’t something that men don’t do. It was how they protect each other in their common humanity.

But you can’t shoot someone when you’re holding each other’s hand to protect one another. You’re instead more likely to feel the common humanity that would make looking for alternatives to war obvious.

We Still Don’t Know What Causes Heterosexuality

Heterosexuality seems to be a widespread human condition, and yet science hasn’t found its cause. Maybe that’s due to an absence of available funding for the research or just plain lack of interest.

There have been studies to determine the origins of homosexuality, usually in males, but they’ve all been small and, frankly, inconclusive. Nevertheless, we’re still in the dark about why there are people who are attracted romantically and sexually to a different gender than the one with which they identify as if they have problems loving the very gender they themselves embody.

Probably this lack of scientific curiosity has to do with the fact that the majority of people – mostly heterosexuals, but not always – consider unadulterated heterosexuality to be the norm with anything else a deviation. And much medical and psychological science studies abnormalities rather than what’s just assumed.

Consider the host of studies in the last two centuries of others considered deviations from norms – women, African Americans, Jews, left-handed people, etc. Freud, for example, talked about penis envy as if there were some inherent problem in humans born without one, and the measurements of brain sizes were geared to determine something about deviants from an often white and Protestant standard.

So, we’ve been left to social scientific observation, psychological analysis, and anecdotal evidence represented in the inability to answer the question: “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” What seems clear then, and therefore has been embraced for over half-a-century by the mainstream scientific community, is that heterosexuality is not a choice.

It’s apparently something that’s established very early in a human being’s lifecycle. It’s likely that it has to do with physical genetics, bodily chemistry, or prenatal factors.

Now, there still exist those right-wingers, including some deviants from the norms of professional scientific associations, who want to believe that it’s a choice. Or they at least want to blame heterosexuality on how children are parented and use a variety of debunked developmental theories to try to do that.

They like to picture heterosexuality as not just the norm for all human experience, but as actually inherently healthier than any other orientations. To do so, of course, they have to paint heterosexuality in rosier terms than, let’s say, bisexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, or even uncertain-sexuality.

And they do that by targeting whatever the orientation of the non-heterosexuals is for any psychological or social problems some individuals have. If a man molests boys, it’s blamed on homosexuality, but if he molests girls it just can’t, can’t have anything at all to do with sexual orientation.

That type of inconsistency represents heterosexual privilege, though I prefer to call it straight privilege because it has more to do with enforcing the straight role onto people than what one’s sexual orientation really is. And racism, sexism, able-bodiedism, and classism, have followed the same formula – the dominant group is never questioned, nor are dominant group identity or membership blamed.

And believing that heterosexuality is a choice makes security with ones sexual orientation precarious. Instead of settled contentment in being heterosexual, they feel as if they could be talked out of it, or seduced by the glamours of sexualities on the other side of the fence where the grass looks much greener.

That insecurity in someone’s own heterosexuality translates into varieties of psychological projection while they shake in their boots, fearing that something might turn them to non-heterosexuality. They can’t relax as if their own sexual orientation is settled, God-given, or comfortable.

And so they rant about LGBT people, talk about how LGBT people must actively recruit others, fear that LGBT people might come on to them, and hate any attempts to picture LGBT people as healthy, respectable, attractive, and in any way human. They can almost tolerate LGBT people, but don’t want them to show pride, success, committed relationships, or anything enviable in the straight world’s terms.

To argue with them about whether or not sexual orientation is a choice or not only focuses minds on questions that are actually irrelevant when it comes to human rights. That being a person of color isn’t a choice has not ended racism yet.

In the past some people have been won over to equality by the argument that LGBT people can’t help that they deviate from the norm. They’d be straight if they could be, poor things.

Moving beyond such argument to the point that it doesn’t matter whether sexual orientation is a choice or not, ends our own participation in the demeaning of LGBT people. It also questions the idea that being straight has any inherent health or value to it.

It allows lesbians and gay men the freedom to contemplate what is good about being gay. And it allows those who identify as bisexual the freedom to love whom they find companionable and attractive.

We don’t know what the percentage of people who are non-heterosexual are – 10% sounds like the best demographic estimate. But if sexual orientation falls on a bell curve like many human characteristics, that would put most people in an ambiguous middle zone.

The possibility that most fall in that middle might be too much for many to contemplate. It might require a whole redefinition of oneself in the midst of current prejudices and rampant homophobia.

But moving beyond the debate over cause goes further. It questions whether people really would choose to be heterosexual if they actually had a free choice in the matter.

Since they don’t in most cultures, even those where being LGBT is legally accepted, we have no idea what the choice would be if it could be made without any stigma. And that idea in itself is sure to make many uncomfortable.

Heterosexuality is going to have to come out of its closet, then. Right now it’s hidden behind being straight-acting, straight-thinking, straight-feeling, and straight privilege.

But it can’t define itself by what it is not. Being heterosexual is one human option. But being a healthy heterosexual person means living comfortably affirming all human options.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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

America’s Religiosity: A Gut Check of Its Christianities

It’s hardly news anymore that a growing number of Americans are checking the box “none” on surveys of religious belief. According to Pew Research Center polling, one-fifth of the public and a third of those under thirty are unaffiliated with any religious entity.

Among those left who still report being affiliated, the percentage of fundamentalists and other conservatives is increasing. It’s the pie that’s shrinking and leaving the right-wing to have a bigger share.

Relying on figures publicized by denominations is problematic. There are convenient ways for memberships to be counted.

But even the granddaddy of right-wingers, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported this year that it’s losing members and baptizing fewer people. Their response, of course, wasn’t to question their teachings but to assume they needed better marketing.

Those who are religiously addicted never question what they’re teaching. They’re so invested in it that to do so would be a real downer for their high of righteousness.

They always assume that it’s the packaging that needs up-dating. Hence the stagings of hipster churches, or prosperity mega-churches like Joel Osteen’s and Rick Warren’s that refuse not to smile.

These fundamentalist-with-a-positive-attitude approaches have become multi-million dollar empires. Many drawn into them cherish those positive feelings without commitment to their worn out hidden theologies.

They eschew the language and public demeanors of the Fred Phelpses or other regressive clergy who get national media attention for their otherwise insignificant congregations through outrageous anti-gay acts, burning Qurans, or rantings about divine punishment ready to rain down on the country for whatever cultural fears they can stoke in the gullible who feel they’re losing in the victories of American oligarchy.

It’s still this Christian movement that, like the addict in a family, gets most of the attention, steers the agenda, and keeps progressives in a defensive posture. There are a number of reasons for that.

First, and foremost, right-wingers are the religious category with the most money to spend on their causes. How many pastors would take a more progressive stand on numerous issues, believing that it’s what Jesus would do, if they weren’t afraid that key people would leave their churches, particularly the wealthiest givers, who’re usually conservative?

Conservative theology attracts many of the rich because it justifies the accumulation of wealth. It preaches that wealth is as a sign of divine blessing.

Look at the right-wing Green family that owns Hobby Lobby. Their recent Supreme Court victory seemed to have little to do with their faith because they profited from selling what was made in a country that mandated abortion and had previously funded the contraceptives they discovered to be against their beliefs only when a president they wanted to destroy backed them.

The conservatives’ choice of Biblical passages to take literally is never “It’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of god” or “Give all you have to the poor and follow me” or the numerous passages in the Hebrew scriptures about usury that say never loan money and ask for ANY interest. And the dominant religion in any culture is the one that supports the status quo and its powerful.

Second, progressive churches regularly fail at acting progressive. They have progressive theologies, but aren’t sure what to do with them, often out of nervousness about upsetting the very status quo that marginalizes Christian progressives.

This has left challenging regressive Christianities to atheist, agnostic and skeptic organizations along with non-Christian religious movements. The established baptist-inspired Americans for the Separation of Church and State has been joined by more anti-religious groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And to the original American Humanist Association a growing list of others have been added.

Progressive churches have instead taken up charity activities. In the light of strategic conservative attacks on the government safety net, compassion seems to demand it.

But two observations need to be made here. Right-wing defunding of government assistance programs is a deliberate strategy intended to move liberal money away from politics into making up the difference through funding charities. This gives mega-rich corporations and right-wingers even more of an advantage in buying the political arena while progressive funds are diverted into charities.

But conservative churches do charity as well, and with their major goal to convert recipients to their brand of sectarianism. So, doing charity work, as admirable as it is, doesn’t distinguish progressive churches from fundamentalist ones.

In the mind of younger generations from Generation X to the Millennials, then, there is little reason to come back to a progressive church. These generations are looking for actions that speak to a sense of justice, not what goes on Sunday mornings inside some pious-looking building.

For the progressive church to grow, it will have to move beyond charity to taking a public place in the front line of justice work. For the ten years I was president of the board of a campus ecumenical ministry, what attracted students was exactly that.

Only when convinced we practiced justice, did they ask what we believed and how it fit. Did we march to stand for LGBT rights? Did we support the dignity and power of working people? Did we fight for ecological justice and the future of the planet? Did we live as if all oppressions are offensive and intersecting?

So, when the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit to protect it’s first amendment right to perform same-sex marriages in North Carolina, that was a belated example of progressive Christianity standing out from all the regressive sectarianism. Their progressive action even led a Baptist alliance to follow them.

And that contradicts the third reason why the religious addicts have dominated national attention. Progressive Christianity has been defensive, always having to respond to what it isn’t, rather than on the offense.

When any position leads, people take notice. Then they see it as a real option, one that real people really believe, walking their walk not just talking some talk.


Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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

Fantasize with Me: Men Comfortable in Their Skin

This past month an All-American defensive lineman named by the Associated Press as the South East Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year told an interviewer from ESPN that he’s gay. Michael Sam from the University of Missouri announced to the world what teammates and coaches already knew: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”

Media speculation began as to how this would affect his chances in the upcoming National Football League draft. But his University of Missouri coach expressed unambiguous pride.

“We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou,” Gary Pinkel said. “Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other.”

The NFL also released a statement of support:

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

There were critical responses, some laughable if they weren’t coming out of still deeply entrenched homophobia and anti-gay bias. Most repeated was the anonymous comment of an NFL player personnel assistant worried about chemistry: “It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

The majority echoed the positive support of Missouri’s coach. Some went so far as to challenge any of Sam’s critics to see if they’d be willing to denigrate the 6’2″, 260 pound defensive end to his face.

The assumption must be that this big, strong, manly, man’s presence would scare his critics into fear that they’d get their comeuppance in some manly violent sort of way. Don’t mess with a real man.

On the one hand we have another example of someone coming out who “does not fit the stereotypes of gay men.” That’s still a lesson society hasn’t learned — there’s no “the gay lifestyle” any more than there’s the heterosexual lifestyle.

Men who fit our culture’s masculine role can walk past someone, work with them, play along side them, and even be members of their families, without someone assuming they’re gay. “Straight-acting” men and women are less suspicious to most of us.

But though someone like Michael Sam might challenge our gay stereotypes, they do not challenge our straight masculine ones. They do not allow any man to take off his “straight-acting” mask, no matter what his sexual orientation might be without assumptions about his manhood and, therefore still, his queerness.

Even parents who advocate for their gay children can buy into the belief that if a little boy is somehow super-sensitive, creative, nurturing, caring, and gentle, he must be gay. It’s as if we are to write off heterosexuality as somehow hopelessly gendered, and heterosexual men as naturally the opposite sex of the (also stereotypical) feminine one.

Grown heterosexual males know they’re assumed to actually be gay and closeted if they don’t live the manly role because they’re too neat, nice, gentle, kind, and culture-oriented. One would hope that these men have gotten to the place where the assumption that they’re really gay doesn’t matter and won’t force them to “prove” that they’re actually real men.

We already have too many men who in fear of being thought of as gay respond by showing violently or otherwise in their treatment of women and gay men that they’re on the straight team. Insecurity in one’s sexual orientation, but even more so in one’s manhood, breeds hyper-masculinity in its stereotypical forms.

To assume that boys who don’t fit the “boys will be boys” stereotype must be gay is to somehow lose hope in heterosexual men. It’s to stop expecting heterosexual men to also be kind, nurturing, sensitive, and creative. It’s to give up on males.

And the result is the societal encouragement of boys to be, well, boys. It’s then to criticize them later for being out of touch with all that gets labeled their “feminine side” as if these suspect characteristics aren’t masculine.

And the ultimate giving up is to treat the male role as innate. All that’s left to do with men when they act too manly is to send them to anger management, drug them, or throw them in prison.

Football is a dangerous sport neatly fitting male stereotypes. Meanwhile, the news reports that chronic and traumatic brain injuries and resulting mental disease, concussion syndromes, and even suicide are the price paid by athletes so that money can be made and people can enjoy an “All American” sport.

And gay people have as much a right to all of the healthy and sick institutions a society gives to straight people, with all their consequences. That includes football, marriage, and the military.

But somewhere, somehow I’d like to fantasize that maybe even Michael Sam isn’t buying into the stereotype of masculinity that lingers behind so many discussions of his coming out. I’d like to think that unlike many gay men, he’s secure enough to let manhood be even more diverse than sexual orientations. And in an even wilder fantasy, I’d like to believe we’d celebrate masculine diversity without any limits.

I’m hoping that after breaking gay male stereotypes, Michael Sam and his generation can also reject masculine ones. I’m cheering for the day when no one assumes anything about what it is to be a real man, and that men can be comfortable embracing the whole range of human experience, especially the parts they’ve been told aren’t manly.

“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” Michael Sam told ESPN. “I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin.”

Men are supposed to get real, not fantasize. But I’m still envisioning all humans someday soon as comfortable in the skin we’re in.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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.

The Inevitable Will Take More Effort

As of this writing, 17 states have legal marriage equality. Six got there by a court’s decision, eight by legislative action, and three by popular vote.

It’s fun to say “as of this writing” because the political landscape is changing more quickly than most of us who’ve been working for human rights would ever have expected. It’s exciting.

The excitement also includes pleasant surprises along the way. Just this past month a federal judge in Utah, Robert Shelby – a registered Republican endorsed by Utah’s Tea Party Senator, Mike Lee, as an “outstanding judge” – ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

This so shocked a state beholden to one dominant militantly anti-gay religious empire that its acting attorney general was unprepared to request a stay of same-sex marriages — and that judge didn’t order one! Last December Utah’s actual, duly elected Mormon attorney general had resigned over numerous charges of misconduct and unethical behavior.

The Utah panic began. On the one hand, the Utah State Tax Commission decided that married same-sex couples in Utah may file joint state income tax returns — a change from an earlier state position that wouldn’t have allowed them to file as married.

On the other hand, Utah’s acting attorney general began lawyering-up. After a two-week search, he hired three outside counsels who know what they’re doing according to Utah’s local right-wing think tank, the Sutherland Institute, which seems to be calling the shots for Utah’s state government,

Then another surprise on January 14th when another federal judge struck down as unconstitutional Oklahoma’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. US Senior District Judge Terrance Kern, a life-long Oklahoman educated at Oklahoma State and with a former 24-year private practice in Ardmore, described the ban as “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”

“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern’s 68-page decision says. “It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”

Oh, oh. If this can happen among the conservative judges of Utah and Oklahoma, then who’s next? Missouri? Alabama? Texas?

And make no mistake about it — the right-wing is running even more scared that this can happen in their own backyards. It’s ready to play even more serious hardball to keep its cultural relevance apparent and its fund-raising up.

It can’t rely on “Duck Dynasty’s” bigotry alone. That national fad is soon to run its course.

Mat Staver, Dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University Law School and radical right-wing Liberty Counsel, feels this threat along with all the other well-worn threats to his culture war crusades and fundraising that are coming at him. The courts cannot be trusted, he responded.

“They have no right to act as dictators to undermine not only the will of the people but something that is part of our constitutional history and even beyond that, part of our natural created order.” (Unless they agree with Mat.)

That was one of the saner, less panicky, responses. One headline read: “Obama Judge Invents Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage in Utah” You knew the right-wingers had to make this all Obama’s fault too.

All of this fun for progressives doesn’t call for complacency or major celebrations. The very panic all this puts the radical right-wing in means there are battles ahead no matter how inevitable the victory of justice seems.

The radical right-wing expects that the battle is at state and local levels. And as it did before with school boards, low-level judgeships, city councils, and county legislatures, its strategy is to fight under the largely nationally-focused media radar.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter are just as popular with them as they always were. And the Republican Party and many state legislatures and governors remain tightly in the grip of the Christian right-wing.

As C.J Werleman wrote last month: “the Christian Right now holds a majority of seats in more than half of all Republican Party State Committees. Nearly half of the Senate, and half of all congressmen have an 80-100 percent approval rate from the three most influential Christian advocacy groups: the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.”

As if giving up on the Presidency and counting on the redistricted House of Representatives to stifle progress, the Republican strategy is to control state politics with super-majorities. Note what’s happened in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Missouri and elsewhere.

The Christian right remains well-funded. Its media and grassroots organizational structures have gone nowhere, its think-tanks are well established, and it’s still convinced it’s playing a long-term strategy.

All of the recent setbacks we’ve been celebrating have only made its members more fearful and far angrier. They feel as if they are the righteous rats who’ve been cornered. And it’s more likely that because of this, the most vulnerable individuals among us will get mauled by their anger.

Out of our common humanity we must take responsibility for being prepared for all that’s about to come. We can’t let down our guard nor compromise our principles.

We can’t abandon other groups because we’ve already gotten ours. And we can’t start acting as if because something is inevitable, we can opt out of the rest of the process toward it.

There are miles to go before we sleep, and traveling them requires no naiveté now. With eyes wide open, Chris Hedges reminds us: “All ideological, theological and political debates with the radical Christian right are useless. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. Its adherents are using the space within the open society to destroy the open society itself. Our naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have “values,” only strengthen its supposed legitimacy and increase our own weakness.”

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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.

No Matter How Ugly It’s Going to Be, There’s Hope in 2014

The New Year can safely be forecasted to bring more of the same. Actually, it’s likely to be an exaggeration of the political craziness of 2013.

There are those who dream of sanity and bipartisan cooperation. I hope they had the pristine white Christmas they fantasized, too.

2014 actually is an election year, though it seems as if we’re always in one anymore. There are 33 US Senate seats being contested in addition to all 435 House seats. So, the pressure to do whatever it takes to raise money and buy votes is now in full swing.

The media circus will continue to predict whatever about the outcome, finding polls to keep cable channels’ viewers on edge. Political advertising money will flow more freely as corporatists target local and national races.

2013 ended with outsiders loving the schisms among Republicans. “‘Falling in line”‘ was collapsing, but it’s easy to make too much of this as wishful thinking.

Certainly, the ideologues representing remnants of Tea Partyism will continue to stick to their guns. Incumbents’ realistic fears of being primaried by someone to their right, no matter how conservative they vote, will increase the crazy talk.

There’ll be continuing, if slower, progress in the states on marriage equality. The religious right-wing won’t give up waging various fights against LGBT equality while baby boomers set their agendas.

We’ll be lucky if the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act goes anywhere this election year. But Republicans would give the Democrats social issues if it guaranteed that their rich friends get to hoard even more money.

Except for the religious extreme, the Republican Party will continue to prioritize the protection of the upper 1% and the redistribution of wealth upward. That trumps everything.

The Supreme Court will make it easier this year by loosening election laws further except for those that disenfranchise anyone who could threaten corporate rule. Don’t expect much from this corporate court.

Democrats and liberals will continue to be aghast at what FOX News and Republicans say in 2014, as if anything should surprise them. The lies will continue, and even when it’s pointed out that they aren’t true, they’ll be repeated — Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi; Handshake-gate; Socialist infiltration; Kenyan president; Threats to guns.

Democrats and liberal allies, including the President, will allow the Republican right-wing to continue to set the agenda. Democrats will move to the center claiming it’s good for the country, mom, and apple pie, while Republicans stand pat.

The President will give a lot of really good speeches. But he’ll cave to the Republicans while claiming it’s a necessity.

Establishment Democrats, under the guise of bipartisanship or effective governing, or another nice idea, will affirm the right-wing’s values by giving them credence and even joining them in “‘reforming”‘ the big three – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If the Republicans are successful, the Democrats will get away with what Republicans could never accomplish in crippling these programs.

Republican de-funding of social programs will mean more liberal money will move to charities to make up the difference, so that liberal money won’t go toward any political change that threatens business. Meanwhile even more corporate conservative money will flow into politics.

The fight against working people’s rights to bargain collectively will continue. But they’ll have to turn their attention to the organizing of fast-food and other low wage workers who are threatening to change the landscape for every working person.

The people will continue to rise up and support populists like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Bernie Sanders. That will anger the Democratic establishment that will work to marginalize the Democratic populists, while the mainstream media support them with the ever-repeated claim that the people want politicians to move to “‘the center,”‘ as if there is one.

The media will continue to lose credibility as it continues striving to prove to the right-wing that it’s not liberal. People will rely more and more on the little and less-vetted information they get from Tweets and Blogs.

We’ll lament more mass shootings while they’re calls to loosen restrictions on weapons. As a result many innocents won’t be with us at 2014’s end to protect what the lobbying group for weapons manufacturers and distributors claims is a Second Amendment right.

America will continue to rise on the corruption index compared to other countries while it continues to defame European countries that don’t join it in corporatization. And the world will look on wondering what happened to that once-great experiment in democracy.

2014 won’t be a pretty year. But falling into hopelessness, hiding, turning inward, and refusing to fight all of this would be self-destructive, disempowering and a vote for the ugliness.

All over the country in almost every place, there are people who don’t want this, and many who’re doing something about it. Connecting to those who believe you can fight will be the most important choice we make in 2014.

Poet, activist Audre Lord was right when she said: “‘That you can’t change City Hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall.”‘ We don’t have to be optimists when we choose hope.

We can face the ugliness even when we’d prefer that our anthem be Louie Armstrong’s “‘It’s a Wonderful World.”‘ Wherever we are, however we can, we can do what says to the world that we’re not giving in or giving up.

It requires that we be there. And that is what actually does change things. Change is not just silly talk about some crazy dream.

No romantic, American historian Howard Zinn put it this way: “‘History is instructive. And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.”‘

 

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 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.