Suffrage, Civil Rights, and the LGBT Debate

The issue of LGBT rights should be seen in the same light as women’s suffrage and civil rights. We are all God’s children, equal in the sight of God. We should all be equal under the laws of our nation and states, as well. Would anyone advocate taking away a woman’s right to vote? Would anyone advocate going back to Jim Crow laws?

At the heart of the conservative Christians’ argument is something called conscience or values. Well, what’s wrong with you worrying about your conscience, and me worrying about mine, without either of us trampling on the rights of the other.

Throughout history, calls for social change and equality have been nothing more than a group of people asking for fair and equal treatment. White, protestant, heterosexual males take all their rights for granted. Women, minorities, people of other faiths and sexual identities have to claw and fight for equal treatment. Why is that?

Trump’s latest LGBTQ slight

LA Times Opinion – July 28, 2019

President Trump’s outrageous claim Wednesday that transgender service members were a burden on the nation was crude and simplistic, and it seemed to catch the Pentagon by surprise.

By contrast, the friend-of-the-court brief filed by Justice Department lawyers in a gay man’s employment discrimination lawsuit was detailed and dispassionate. Yet it, too, belies Trump’s campaign assurances that he cares about “our LGBTQ citizens.”

The U.S. government isn’t a party to the lawsuit brought by the late Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who said he was fired after he revealed that he was gay. He sued his former employer under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination because of “sex” — which the plaintiff argued covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A district judge and an appeals panel disagreed, and now the case is before the full 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shares Zarda’s view of the law. But the Trump Justice Department took the contrary position in its brief. “Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope,” the brief said, “should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

It’s true that in 1964, few if any members of Congress were thinking about discrimination against gay men and lesbians. It’s also true that until recently, courts did not interpret “sex discrimination” to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

But, as the Supreme Court has recognized, the meaning of sex discrimination can evolve. For example, in 1998 the high court ruled in favor of a male oil-rig worker who alleged that he had been the target of sexually oriented touching and threats from male co-workers — even though the Congress that enacted Title VII wasn’t primarily concerned with “male-on-male sexual harassment.”

Citing that decision (and others), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled earlier this year that discrimination on the basis of “sex” did include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court explained that, over the years, “Title VII has been understood to cover far more than the simple decision of an employer not to hire a woman for Job A, or a man for Job B.” For example, the law has been interpreted to forbid hiring decisions based on gender stereotypes. Extending that principle, the 7th Circuit held that refusing to promote the plaintiff in that case because she was a lesbian was punishing her for the “ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court must decide whether the 7th Circuit’s interpretation is correct; we found it persuasive. But the Trump administration’s rush to insist that the law doesn’t protect gays and lesbians — in a case in which the federal government is not even involved — is deeply disappointing.

equal rights

How the social gospel movement explains the roots of today’s religious left

by Christopher H. Evans, Boston University

Throughout American history, religion has played a significant role in promoting social reform. From the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century to the civil rights movement of the 20th century, religious leaders have championed progressive political causes.

This legacy is evident today in the group called religious progressives, or the religious left.

The social gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as I have explored in my research, has had a particularly significant impact on the development of the religious left.

What is the social gospel movement and why does it matter today?

What was the social gospel?

The social gospel’s origins are often traced to the rise of late 19th-century urban industrialization, immediately following the Civil War. Largely, but not exclusively, rooted in Protestant churches, the social gospel emphasized how Jesus’ ethical teachings could remedy the problems caused by “Gilded Age” capitalism.

Movement leaders took Jesus’ message “love thy neighbor” into pulpits, published books and lectured across the country. Other leaders, mostly women, ran settlement houses designed to alleviate the sufferings of immigrants living in cities like Boston, New York and Chicago. Their mission was to draw attention to the problems of poverty and inequality – especially in America’s growing cities.

Charles Sheldon, a minister in the city of Topeka, Kansas, explained the idea behind the social gospel in his 1897 novel “In His Steps.” To be a Christian, he argued, one needed to walk in Jesus’s footsteps.

The book’s slogan, “What would Jesus do?” became a central theme of the social gospel movement which also became tied to a belief in what Ohio minister Washington Gladden called “social salvation.” This concept emphasized that religion’s fundamental purpose was to create systemic changes in American political structures.

Consequently, social gospel leaders supported legislation for an eight-hour work day, the abolition of child labor and government regulation of business monopolies.

While the social gospel produced many important figures, its most influential leader was a Baptist minister, Walter Rauschenbusch.

The legacy of Walter Rauschenbusch

Rauschenbusch began his career in the 1880s as minister of an immigrant church in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York. His 1907 book, “Christianity and the Social Crisis” asserted that religion’s chief purpose was to create the highest quality of life for all citizens.

Walter Rauschenbusch.

Rauschenbusch linked Christianity to emerging theories of democratic socialism which, he believed, would lead to equality and a just society.

Rauschenbusch’s writings had a major impact on the development of the religious left in the 20th century. After World War I, several religious leaders expanded upon his ideas to address issues of economic justice, racism and militarism.

Among them was A.J. Muste, known as the “American Gandhi,” who helped popularize the tactics of nonviolent direct action. His example inspired many mid-20th century activists, including Martin Luther King Jr.

The intellectual influences on King were extensive. However, it was Rauschenbusch who first made King aware of faith-based activism. As King wrote in 1958,

“It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

Social salvation and the religious left today

King’s statement highlights the importance of the social gospel concept of “social salvation” for today’s religious left.

Although many of its primary leaders come out of liberal Protestant denominations, the religious left is not a monolithic movement. Its leaders include prominent clergy, such as the Lutheran minister Nadia Boltz-Weber as well as academics such as Cornel West. Some of the movement’s major figures, notably Rev. Jim Wallis, are evangelicals who identify with what is often called progressive evangelicalism.

Others come from outside of Christianity. Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of the organization Network of Spiritual Progressives, seeks not only to promote interfaith activism but also to attract persons unaffiliated with any religious institutions.

These leaders often focus on different issues. However, they unite around the social gospel belief that religious faith must be committed to the transformation of social structures.

The Network for Spiritual Progressives’ mission statement, for example, affirms its desire

“To build a social change movement – guided by and infused with spiritual and ethical values – to transform our society to one that prioritizes and promotes the well-being of the people and the planet, as well as love, justice, peace, and compassion over money, power and profit.”

Rev. William Barber.
AP Photo/Jonathan Drew

One of the most important voices of the religious left is North Carolina minister William Barber. Barber’s organization, “Repairers of the Breach,” seeks to train clergy and laity from a variety of faith traditions in grassroots activism. Barber’s hope is that grassroots activists will be committed to social change by “rebuilding, raising up and repairing our moral infrastructure.”

Other organizations associated with the religious left express similar goals. Often embracing democratic socialism, these groups engage issues of racial justice (including support for the Black Lives Matter movement), LGBT equality and the defense of religious minorities.

An attractive option?

Despite the public visibility of activists like Barber, some question whether the religious left can become a potent political force.

Sociologist James Wellman observes that often religious progressives lack the “social infrastructure that creates and sustains a social movement; its leaders are spiritual entrepreneurs rather than institution builders.”

Another challenge is the growing secularization of the political left. Only 30 percent of Americans who identify with the political left view religion as a positive force for social change.

At the same time, the religious left’s progressive agenda – in particular, its focus on serving society’s poor – might be an attractive option for younger Americans who seek alternatives to the perceived dogmatism of the religious right. As an activist connected with Jim Wallis’s “Sojourners” organization noted,

“I think the focus on the person of Jesus is birthing a younger generation…. Their political agenda is shaped by Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, make sure the thirsty have clean water, make sure all have access to healthcare, transform America into a welcoming place for immigrants, fix our inequitable penal system, and end abject poverty abroad and in the forgotten corners of our urban and rural communities.”

This statement not only circles back to Charles Sheldon’s nineteenth century question, “what would Jesus do?” It illustrates, I argue, the continued resiliency of the core social gospel belief in social salvation for a new generation of activists.

The ConversationCan the religious left achieve the public status of the religious right? The theme of “social salvation” that was critical to Walter Rauschenbusch, A.J. Muste and Martin Luther King Jr. might, I believe, very well galvanize the activism of a new generation of religious progressives.

Christopher H. Evans, Professor of the History of Christianity, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

About the header image: A Moral Monday protest led by a preacher, Rev. William Barber.
AP Photo/Martha Waggoner

Trump’s HHS Dept. Ends 81 Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Grants

I have linked a very important article from the LA Times below, that discusses the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services, under the leadership of Trump appointees, has canceled $200 million of annual funding for 81 teen pregnancy prevention programs nationwide.

This is just so incredibly naive. It boggles my mind how any rational person can think like this. I guess the thought process goes something like this:

  1. Teens should not be having sex.
  2. Giving teens condoms encourages sexual behavior.
  3. We will therefor not give kids condoms.

But this ignores one simple and certain fact: The kids are going to have sex anyway. And without sex education and contraceptives, they will spread STD’s and they will make babies. And many of those babies will be aborted.

This is a perfect example of why progressive ideology serves the society so much better. Realistic and thoughtful policy decisions, based on sound science and social study, rather than dogma, help to alleviate problems such as this. Teen pregnancy prevention programs reduce the spread of STD’s, reduce the number of pregnancies, and reduce the number of abortions. How can any rational person see that as a bad thing?

I am a practicing Catholic. There is nothing wrong with my moral compass. But I’m also a realist. And I am also in full support of a complete and total separation of church and state. We don’t have to share the same religion, but we do have to share the same government. And I don’t want your God in charge of my government. Your God’s place is in your home, not my statehouse.

Trump makes good on a threat to kill teen pregnancy prevention programs

by Michael Hiltzik

Experts in teen pregnancy prevention were nervously holding their breaths as the Trump administration stocked key positions at the Department of Health and Human Services with advocates of ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs and opponents of birth control.

Now their fears have proven to be justified. Over the last couple of weeks, 81 teen pregnancy programs around the country have been informed that their grants will end in the next fiscal year, or as of June 30, 2018. At least one program that funded educational outreach by Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, among other institutions, was cut off immediately — just as it was beginning the second year of a five-year plan. In all, more than $200 million in annual funding is being ended, according to an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which made the shutdown public.

Read the full article from the LA Times here.

Jesus the Liberal

In keeping with the theme that Jesus was (and is) a liberal, I offer for your consideration the following article by Michael Shammas, which was published in The Huffington Post.

A long time ago there was a remarkable man, a man who said that might does not make right, that the weak have a strength the strong do not have and that what we call “justice” is often really injustice. He was a man who was condemned by traditional conservative society and who died as a result of lawful application of the death penalty. Who was this man? Jesus of Nazareth.

Although I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I have not been very religious throughout my life. As a result, I had long assumed that the sort of Christianity espoused by the Christian Right — a Christianity that stresses cold justice over mercy and retribution over forgiveness, sometimes seeming more hateful than loving and all the while ignoring the plight of the poor — was true Christianity. Yet recently I opened up the New Testament and re-read the gospels.

Upon finishing, I was pleasantly reminded how different Jesus was from so many of the Christians I know today, including myself. Christianity is not Christ, and no where is this dysfunction between Christianity and Christ so evident as it is in conservative America. For in the Bible Jesus is a revolutionary figure, a rebel who questions conventional morality and societal traditions and who stresses mercy over justice. He could not be more different from conservative Christians like Michele Bachmann who call out for a harsh judicial system and who champion the rich over the poor.

This view is backed up by the text, as examples of Jesus’ remarkable counter-societal morality are plentiful. This is the man who, after coming upon a woman about to be stoned for adultery — a capital offense at the time — saved her by challenging: “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes, here and elsewhere Jesus is implying that “no one [has] the moral authority to condemn a fellow human to death,” for no one is “without sin.” When Jesus — the only person who can rightly judge this woman since he is indeed sinless — confronts the adulteress, he does not punish, scold or reprimand her. No, he ignores the law (which after all is different from morality) and forgives her. “Go,” he says, “and sin no more.” If only society had shown the same singular mercy to Jesus himself before executing him!

It is absolutely remarkable how much the story above contrasts with our own punishment-orientated justice system today — a system that is harshest in the Bible Belt. Humans love to judge one another; we take sick pleasure in pointing out the flaws in others, perhaps because it paints us in a better light. But reading the New Testament reveals that Jesus was rightly wary of human judgment. For this is a judgment that is too often self-righteous and hypocritical, a judgment that ignores one’s own faults to single out the perceived faults of others. (Unfortunately, this type of judgement pervades our justice system).

This assertion is backed up by Jesus’ words in the text: “Judge not lest you be judged.” And, speaking of those who reserve harsh judgment for others: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Now, I understand why many Christians do not exemplify Christ’s teachings: Jesus sets an impossible standard for most humans to follow, including me. We are flawed, vain creatures who are full of bitterness and hatred and pride, who all too often feel a desire for retribution and for harsh judgment. But Jesus’ words could not be clearer: Justice is not enough, and indeed what society calls justice is often in fact injustice. Remember, “justice” is what put Jesus on the Cross. A truly good society cherishes mercy as well as justice.

Consider the Sermon on the Plain from Luke: “Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Set free, and you will be set free.” Surely this is not the Old Testament message of cold justice, of a God who should sometimes be feared, of violence that can be and sometimes is justified. No, this is a liberal message of forgiveness and mercy. This is a message that humans are imperfect, but that this imperfectness is perfectly fine: God loves you anyway. What’s more, because humans are all imperfect, we should not judge one another: Leave that to God. Once humans can accept one another as imperfect, for who they are, without judging one another, love can begin to pervade our lives.

Indeed, contrary to extremist organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church or right-wing Christians like Michele Bachmann, Jesus exhorts us to be absolutely full of love — to love everyone, even those who persecute us, even those who have done no good for us and who can never do any good for us. “Love your enemies, and do good and lend expecting nothing back,” he says. And: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much.”

I am not a theologian, and I know full well that many on the Christian Right might say that I am missing the message, that judgment is in fact important, that human retribution is justified. But casual reader though I may be, I still cannot escape the impression that many Christians are just not listening to the message of the Bible as it was espoused by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Why not? I don’t know. The only explanation I can think of is that they are stressing the Old Testament over the New, even though Jesus himself spoke out against certain practices in the Old Testament.

When our country is attacked, many people (including me) cry out for vengeance. And yet Jesus sets this impossible standard: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.” When someone is robbed, many people (including me) cry out for retribution or prosecution. Yet Jesus says: “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them also.”

Too many Christians, myself among them, are self-righteous. Perhaps some think that because they are Christian, because they are (at least on the outside) moral, surely they are better than those who have stolen, who have polluted themselves with illicit substances, who have committed sexual sins and so on. Yet Jesus says: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I am imperfect. God knows, I have sinned countless times throughout my short life. But the worst in me is not the best in me; I am not defined by my worst actions, and you are not either. None of us are.

Jesus tells us that it is okay to be imperfect — that because we are all imperfect, we should reserve judgment. If I had to sum up Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount in two words, it would be these: Be kind. This is a message that our modern society desperately needs. And importantly, the message is not qualified. Jesus’ words are not “Be kind, except to certain people.” No, his message is simple: Be kind.

This great message — straight from Jesus’ mouth — is one that is not heard often enough in American churches.

Follow Michael Shammas on Twitter:

Stuff That Needs to be Said

I stumbled upon a fascinating blog tonight, after following a link on Facebook. I’d like to introduce you to John Pavlovitz. John writes a blog called, “Stuff That Needs to be Said.” He’s right. This stuff does need to be said. And he says it well.

Here are links to a few of John’s posts:

Yes, I’m a Christian—But I’m Not With Them

The Christians Who Defunded Jesus

The Christians Making Atheists

Christians Need to Stop Saying “The Bible Clearly Says”

No, Christian—People are Not “Struggling With Same-Sex Attraction”

Democrats and Vanilla Centrism


Democrats are doubling down on the same vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump

Last Friday evening, a diverse crowd gathered in an airless Los Angeles church for a Democratic National Committee “Resistance Summer” rally. The plan was simple: to invigorate the base with speeches, then run a phone bank to oppose the Republican healthcare bill.

Instead, Democratic Party officials quickly lost control of the event.

Less than five minutes into DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison’s introductory remarks, a group of people stood up and chanted vehemently, “Single payer now!” They unfurled a banner across an entire pew, and heckled the speakers so freely that an older woman made the sign of the cross, as if warding off their revolutionary spirits, and said, “Shame on you.” Ellison’s remarks about party unification were nearly inaudible because two attendees were standing and screaming at each other. California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman simply stopped speaking. Halfway through the rally, two-dozen single-payer healthcare demonstrators — a fifth of the attendees — walked out, using a bullhorn to stage their own press conference on the sidewalk nearby.

Once again, the Democratic Party found itself unprepared to respond to its vocal left flank. Democratic Party handlers poked the demonstrators and begged them to sit, but the five-member security detail on hand stood at the back of the church, hands clasped. Their decision not to expel or otherwise silence the demonstrators was the right one.

Single-payer demonstrators weren’t the only attendees who hungered for the party to shift to the left. Those who demonstrated represented a variety of movements and political ideologies. One was a registered Democrat with the #RecallRendon movement, which has sought to push California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) out of office since he shelved Senate Bill 562, the state’s single-payer bill, in June. Another was a political independent with Our Revolution, a movement that seeks to continue the goals of Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy. Another was a self-described “revolutionary communist” with And yet these demonstrators, who had organized themselves on Facebook, had a clear, singular message that dominated the event.

The Democratic Party speakers, who rhetorically wandered through a variety of issues, including women’s rights and the 1st Amendment, did not.

Many party speakers noted, in response to the demonstrators, that they’d been vocal supporters of single-payer healthcare, and in some cases had co-sponsored bills to enact it. But they were ad-libbing on the defensive, instead of setting the agenda for their own meeting, or sharing a vision for how to make a unified push for single-payer healthcare. Demonstrators didn’t come to see legislators talk about their collective helplessness — they wanted a plan of action.

The event came on the heels of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s decision to release a series of slogans that sunk like a lead balloon with many in the base. While none were particularly inspired, one rankled the most: “Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?” The slogan made it abundantly clear that, after a bruising loss in November, Democrats wouldn’t be presenting new ideas or deeply examining their policy stances. Instead, they were doubling down on a visionless strategy of vanilla centrism, selling themselves as better than the worst dude.

Single-payer demonstrators weren’t the only attendees who hungered for the party to shift to the left. Polo Morales, a 40-year-old immigration advocate from Whittier, noted that the event platform said nothing about immigration — at a rally in a state with the United States’ largest immigrant population. Morales said that if the Democratic Party tries to swing to the center to win in 2018 without examining the root causes of its previous failures, then it’s going to have a “really difficult time” turning out the vote.

In an interview after the event, Ellison, who has supported single-payer healthcare, noted “social justice is often achieved through disruption. So that’s why I’m not out of joint about how the meeting went.”

Ellison said Democrats don’t need to go to the left, right or center; they need to go down, to the nail shops on the block, the college campuses and the union halls.

But while rhetorically compelling, Ellison’s argument is a straw man. No progressives or leftists I’ve met see their vision as incompatible with grassroots organizing.

Ellison says he’s keen on rebuilding trust between the Democratic Party and those it represents. “Look, how do you build a trust relationship?” Ellison asked. “You listen to me, I listen to you. When you count on me, when you call on me, you can count on me. But what have we had with the Democratic Party? Sometime around election time we call you and ask you to vote for us. Maybe we ask you for money and then you don’t see us again until we need more votes and more money.” One of the goals of the Resistance Summer events is to put the party in contact with the people it represents outside of an election year — a good and necessary idea.

So why wouldn’t Democrats, who could have easily seen these demonstrators were counter-organizing before the event, anticipate the concerns of the room and begin by directly addressing the single-payer advocates? The most radical course of action articulated that evening was to impeach Trump and put Vice President Mike Pence in office, a message that felt terribly lackluster for a crisis moment — that “better than the worst dude” vision again.

Demonstrators, on the other hand, came with a compelling vision — which made the Democratic Party’s pressing need for one all the more obvious.

Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her @velvetmelvis on Twitter.

Copyright (c) 2017 Los Angeles Times

Are you interested in learning more about a growing, grass roots party that includes single payer health care as a central plank in its platform? Check out

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The Cakeshop Case: A New Perspective

What follows is an excerpt of a very well written piece that centers on the Cakeshop case, soon to be decided by the Supreme Court. Here’s a completely different scenario given a class of college students, that takes “gay” out of the equation.

Suppose, I asked the students, an observant Jew has a florist shop. One day, a customer, who is also Jewish, comes to the shop to say she’s getting married and would like the florist to do the wedding. “That’s wonderful,” the florist says. “Where will you get married?” The customer replies that the wedding will be at a local nondenominational church, because her fiancé is Christian, and she, the customer, isn’t very observant. The florist thinks about it and then says, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do your wedding. It’s nothing personal; I’m sure your fiancé is a fine person, as are you. It’s just that as an observant Jew I don’t approve of interfaith weddings. For our community to survive, we must avoid intermarriage and assimilation. Please understand. There are many other florists who can do your wedding. I’ll even suggest some. But I can’t, in good conscience, participate, myself.” What result?

Read the full article by Mark L. Movsesian here. There is a good comment section following the article.