Why Megan Phelps-Roper left the Westboro Baptist Church

In this TED Talk, Megan Phelps-Roper shares the moving story of how she saw the light via Twitter and left the abusive ways of the Westboro Baptist Church. She concludes with suggestions on how it’s possible to persuade even the most closed off mind.

Her story is one of hope — hope that we can find mutual understanding in an increasingly polarized world. It is something we need today.

See also: This November 2015 feature on Phelps-Roper in The New Yorker.

This story will break your heart

Hailey Branson-Potts has a story at the LATimes that will wreck your soul: a profile of Mohamed Bzeek, a Muslim in LA who takes in foster children with terminal illnesses:

The children were going to die. Mohamed Bzeek knew that. But in his more than two decades as a foster father, he took them in anyway — the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system. He has buried about 10 children. Some died in his arms.

Now, Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. She’s blind and deaf. She has daily seizures. Her arms and legs are paralyzed.

Of the 35,000 children monitored by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, there are about 600 children at any given time who fall under the care of the department’s Medical Case Management Services, which serves those with the most severe medical needs, said Rosella Yousef, an assistant regional administrator for the unit. There is a dire need for foster parents to care for such children.

And there is only one person like Bzeek.

Being a foster parent is something I’ve considered over the years, but it must take a special kind of person to repeatedly be a foster parent for children who are terminally ill. The willingness to endure the psychological toll of caring for these children, and still have the wherewithal to welcome new in new ones, time after time. It is unimaginable.

God bless people like Bzeek.

Over 100 prominent Evangelicals sign ad denouncing Trump’s refugee ban

CNN has the story of evangelical leaders taking a stand against Trump’s refugee ban by taking out a full-page ad in the Washington Post to denounce it. Given the perception of Christians recently, this is a very positive sign.

There are a lot of heavy hitters on this list, including Tim & Kathy Keller, Bruce McDowell, Bill & Lynne Hybels, and Max Lucado. These are people who I grew up reading and whose work shaped who I am today. I’m glad they are making their voices heard.

The full text of the ad follows:

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence,

As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement. Our care for the oppressed and suffering is rooted in the call of Jesus to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that our “neighbor” includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

As leaders, we welcome the concern expressed for religious minorities, including persecuted Christians. Followers of Christ face horrific persecution and even genocide in certain parts of the world. While we are eager to welcome persecuted Christians, we also welcome vulnerable Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith at all. This executive order dramatically reduces the overall number of refugees allowed this year, robbing
families of hope and a future. And it could well cost them their lives.

As Christians, we are committed to praying for our elected officials. Our prayer is that God would grant President Trump and all our leaders divine wisdom as they direct the course of our nation. We also pray for the vulnerable individuals whom their decisions directly impact.

The coming culture war

Over at Autostraddle, Kieryn Darkwater has written about how her ultra-conservative upbringing prepared her to participate in a gradual takeover of the U.S. government:

Generation Joshua started in 2003, primarily catering to children homeschooled by extremely religious rightwing adults. Its purpose was to train us to fight in what the Christofascists have been calling the “Culture Wars.” It’s a loose and ambiguous term that basically means anything or anyone that doesn’t align with this very specific view of Christianity must not be allowed to continue.

How do you do that? Well, you overturn Roe v. Wade, Griswold v. Connecticut, Brown v. Board of Education and Bob Jones v. The United States. Each of these decisions currently protects reproductive rights or non-discrimination based on race. As retribution, you amend the Constitution to discriminate against queers, trans people, women and people of color. Then, you make laws legislating morality. The only way to do this is to infiltrate the government; so Generation Joshua, TeenPact and other organizations exist to indoctrinate and recruit homeschooled youth who have ample free time to participate in politics. The biggest resources for teaching civil discourse are the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and Communicators for Christ (since renamed Institute for Cultural Communicators). Through these programs we learned how to argue effectively. As students, we were taught critical thinking skills but given only a narrow view of what was acceptable to argue for. We were, after all, being trained to take over the country for Christ, literally. We knew how to perform logical gymnastics about abortion, Christianity and any evangelical talking point you could throw at us.

The piece is a chilling and essential read. I was raised in a Christian household but our views were not nearly as hardline, radical, or far-reaching.

This piece illustrates that when it comes to the culture war, Christians (or “Christofascists”, as Darkwater refers to them) aren’t just winning; they are playing an entirely different game that liberals probably don’t even conceive of.

American Christianity has failed at its core mission

I was raised in a conservative Christian church in Massachusetts. The more time I spent in a conventional evangelical environment, the more it seemed to me that the things the church prioritized weren’t very aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

Over at Sojourners, Stephen Mattson agrees. He’s penned a scathing indictment of “American Christianity”:

Because while the gospels instruct followers of Christ to help the poor, oppressed, maligned, mistreated, sick, and those most in need of help, Christians in America have largely supported measures that have rejected refugees, refused aid to immigrants, cut social services to the poor, diminished help for the sick, fueled xenophobia, reinforced misogyny, ignored racism, stoked hatred, reinforced corruption, and largely increased inequality, prejudice, and fear.

I wish Mattson was more clear about his definition of “Christianity” here, but the article otherwise captures exactly how I feel. The fact that the American Right has supported policies and candidates that neglect the most needy in our society has been a heartbreaking development for me.

I hope the message of peace, hope, and love becomes an idea embraced by all political parties, and soon.

The dating crisis in two religions

Jon Birger establishes that it’s religious demographics, not values, that are upending assumptions about marriage:

Multiple studies show that college-educated Americans are increasingly reluctant to marry those lacking a college degree. This bias is having a devastating impact on the dating market for college-educated women. Why? According to 2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million such men. That’s four women for every three men. Among college grads age 30 to 39, there are 7.4 million women versus 6.0 million men—five women for every four men.

Homosexuality and the Bible

No article I’ve read has been able to articulate my views as effectively as Walter Wink’s recent(?) essay on how we should interpret references to homosexuality in the Bible:

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.

Three Stories on Marriage

NPR has produced a lot of coverage about the institution of marriage this month. First up, a broad sociological study on how marriage is becoming obsolete. Among the findings, this shocking statistic:

Half a century ago, nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married. Today, it’s just 20 percent. But the Pew report finds fewer married people across all age groups.

We’ve also learned that unemployment increases the risk of violence and lowers the possibility of divorce:

Simultaneously, a new paper in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy shows that as unemployment rises, the divorce rate goes down: For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the divorce rate goes down by 1 percent.

Weekend Edition elaborates on these findings. One of the interesting and unfortunate implications of this:

[Social scientists] worry that, you know, we have this, now, inequality in marriage. And is that then is going to exacerbate inequality in the next generation? As the next college-educated Americans have children, bring them up in these very, you know, nuclear family homes, their children, studies would suggest, have a greater chance of themselves going on to college and then being high achievers. Whereas children raised in homes where the parents are not married, while there may be many happy such relationships and the children will be just fine, on average, they have much poorer outcomes. They’re less likely to go to college. And so there’s a concern that you’re going to exacerbate this inequality.

It’s fascinating (and maybe a little frightening?) that we’ll soon have a generation for whom marriage is obsolete.

Using God’s Name in Vain

Frederick Clarkson, on the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of politicians invoking God’s name during political races:

While it is hard to top an endorsement from God, what if God has, as seems to be the case this time, several candidates in the same race? Maybe they were mistaken. Or perhaps God was up to something else.

Perhaps God wanted people to see the shameless way that pols invoke his name. Perhaps God wanted treat us to some spectacular displays of political sleazebaggery in the way pols will use and abuse God to achieve vainglorious ends.

Richard Dawkins Destroys Rick Perry (Rhetorically)

Richard Dawkins recently penned a scathing piece for the Washington Post, in which he responded to Rick Perry’s pronouncements that the theory of evolution had “gaps.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a slice:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

The Deterioration of the Institution of Marriage

Sorry the updates have been sparse all week. I’ve spent the past five days at an intense photography seminar with the amazing Jerry Ghionis. I have a TON to say about this that will definitely go into a blog post about the entire experience early next week. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share this interesting opinion piece I came upon by eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren (via Kevin):

[I]nspiring marriages don’t happen by accident. They require highly informed and carefully reasoned choices. Commitment and hard work are factors too. But after decades of working with a few thousand well-intended and hardworking married people, I’ve become convinced that 75 percent of what culminates in a disappointing marriage — or a great marriage — has far less to do with hard work and far more to do with partner selection based on “broad-based compatibility.” It became clear to me that signs which were predictive of the huge differences between eventually disappointing and ultimately great marriages were obvious during the premarital phase of relationships.

Why You Shouldn’t Use The Bible When Arguing About Homosexuality

Reverand Candace Chellew-Hodge’s post, about why we shouldn’t us scripture to argue pro- or anti-gay positions, totally blew my mind:

We don’t take the Bible’s word for it that the earth is flat and women only incubate babies and contribute nothing else to the process. Why on earth would we take it as an authority on sexual orientation? The Bible remains a holy book because it maps humanity’s journey with God, and not the other way around. Because it maps our journey with God, it maps our evolving understanding of how the Holy works in this world. Humanity has moved from seeing God as a harsh judge and lawmaker to a seeing God as full of grace, mercy and love…

The reason gays and lesbians should never argue over scripture is because, not only does scripture not condemn homosexuality, arguing over it produces nothing but strife, division and hatred. Anything that does not promote love is not of God. Instead of arguing, let us love one another, even those with whom we disagree. This is God’s message to us. Nothing else matters.