Look, Mommy: Two mommies!

Sophia saw the picture her classmate made, the classmate with two mommies. ‘What is important is that two love each other,’ the teacher (always on the cutting edge of such things) said.

So Sophia’s mom explained how these things work. No one need miss the plane, but they will have to leave the forbidden baggage behind before passing through the screener. Or wait for their own plane. Cart witnessing

The four-year-old who watched that video was impressed. Then he watched another video, of two sisters cart-witnessing. “Look, mommy,” he said, “two mommies.”


Proposition 8, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joel

Is it really so that Mormons brought us Proposition 8, that 2008 California referendum that banned gay marriage, and that Jehovah's Witnesses overturned? Really? Well.....no, it's not really so. But there is something to it.

Mormons didn't originate that campaign to change the state's constitution. A group called Pro Marriage was responsible. Mormons did, however, rally in a big way to ram it through. “We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this."

Just like politicians before election day, or Jehovah's Witnesses....bless their hearts....any old time, Mormons canvassed California to stoke Proposition 8 support and get those recruits to the polls. 80-90% of all Proposition 8 “foot soldiers” were Mormons, says the New York Times. Their efforts succeeded. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state's voters; thus gay marriage was banned in the California.

But on Aug 4th, 2010,  U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, asserting it violated the state's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Jehovah's Witnesses, who within their congregations, also oppose gay relationships, had nothing to do with that, did they? Well, no, they didn't.

But on the other hand, they did. At least a little.

On page 116 of the judge's lengthy judicial opinion is cited West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. That's the 67 year old Supreme Court ruling stating that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever (1940), which stated they could. Didn't I write about those two cases here?

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of  West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, noted that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities." In present day 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant," he wrote.

Now, it was Joel Engardio, director of Knocking, a 2006 PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses, who first noted the JW connection in Proposition 8's demise. This prompted another blogger, who, as may be discerned from his narrative, has little use for Witnesses, to opine:

The reference by Judge Walker to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. “How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?” they will be asking themselves.

To which I replied: “No they will not.”

Well....... “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserts.

“Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

Unlike many groups that stand for something, Jehovah’s Witnesses views on homosexuality, or anything else, are theirs alone. They apply them to themselves. They don’t attempt to force them upon general society...say...by writing those views into law, or even resorting to violence. They are respectful of those holding opposing views. To be sure, JWs don't keep those views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world, many groups feel sanctioned to go well beyond that. Mr. Engardio has stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since, as our aforementioned blogger points out, JW beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation: Mr Engardio is gay. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn't.

Roam online, and you'll find countless gay websites that absolutely loathe JWs. I've never found any that praise them. Jehovah's Witnesses, after all, make no accommodation for gay relationships within their congregations. How can they? They're a Bible organization and they don't assume the authority to change scriptures. I don’t think they harp on it. I even think they’re sympathetic to those claiming a different sexual orientation, but they are bound to represent scripture, or else change their mandate entirely. It does make it challenging for anyone gay within their ranks....no question about it. Don't they have to do what swimmers do caught in a rip tide? You don't swim against it; you can't, in any conceivably short time, will yourself or even pray yourself straight. You don't swim with the tide, buying into prevailing propaganda that holds ones sexuality is irrevocable and ought be a source of pride. You have to swim parallel to the current, maybe for a long long time, maybe for the duration of this system, with faith that the influence of God's spirit and congregation will, over  time, serve to readjust sexuality. No, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? That's why I have the greatest respect for anyone following that course, and none whatsoever for Westboro-church types who rail against homosexuals. They've never fought battles the like of which they would have others fight.

But my mention of Joel Engardio prompted a minor skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my opponent, “he is promoting himself and his film.” Is he?…..well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? God knows it would find a larger audience than one praising them. To which my adversary  (I'm not sure he's really an adversary, for I've stomped around his blog and there's much I like about him....he advocates for the disabled, for instance, so we overlap somewhat. And how can one not like a guy who appreciates Bob Dylan?) acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50+ cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940's and 1950's, but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court, and their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens.  Said U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." (the same can be said in several other countries)

Advocacy groups of all stripes benefit greatly from the groundwork JWs have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, however, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses. Even Rochester's beloved City Magazine piled on, prompting this rebuke from our own Tom Weedsandsheat.

It's a curious fact ...let us acknowledge it...that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah's Witnesses is an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? Regularly, you'll find Joel Engardio's writings in mainstream publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post. In many ways, he explains Jehovah's Witnesses better than the Witnesses do themselves, at least from a certain vantage point and to a certain audience. Here he writes about Proposition 8. Here about Russia's persecution of JWs. Here even on Michael Jackson. Here he explains JWs for Beliefnet.com.   

Not to suggest that everything he writes is about Jehovah's Witnesses. By no means. Check out his own page on the ACLU blog:

Jehovah's Witnesses don't have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren't political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. (see Dan 2:44) How's that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today's elite? Mr. Engardio's one of the few who will speak up for them. He's certainly in a unique position to do it, knowing both worlds well.

Joel Engardio states that he was raised a Witness, but left early on, breaking his mother's heart. He broke it again, he adds, when he later confessed he was gay. But sexuality was not the cause of his departure. Rather, he writes, he didn't want to wait for God to set matters straight. He thought he could set them straight now, as a journalist. He explains it all here. He worked his way through the ranks, and by the time I first heard of Knocking, his name was well-known among NPR newspeople.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we're coming from, so they're quick to buy into stereotypes. Knocking was the first fair shake I've ever seen from the media. It won a few awards. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN: "Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.”

As to Mr. Engardio's motives, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values JW contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his Mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what's true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don't have to know everything. His motives are his. Moreover, the 'fat lady' hasn't sung yet. Maybe he'll be like that guy who hauled Jeremiah out of the muck and so made out just fine when the Babylonians stomped in. (Jer 38:7-13) I haven't a clue. But I'll tell you one thing. He writes about us both accurately and respectfully. I do appreciate that.

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[Edit: Joel himself emailed me shortly after the post appeared, to say "......thanks for writing your blog about Prop 8 and me. It was a good read. I wouldn't call myself an "apologist" for JWs (plenty of doctrines I don't agree with), but I certainly value our Constitutional rights to speak, believe and live as we see fit."

I called him an apologist after seeing him described that way on the web. Plainly he doesn't view himself that way, notwithstanding that he's posted plenty of good material about us.]

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More Supreme Court history here and here.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


 


 


One Fine Day in the Ministry

“Oh, you are NOT going to tell me that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't fundamentalists. Please don't tell me that.” But I did tell him that, right between the eyes. We're not fundamentalists. Alright, so we have some attributes in common with fundamentalists, but we also have attributes in common with the liberal churches, and some with the science rationalist types. We're all over the board and not easy to pigeonhole.
 
My daughter - I was working with her that day, which is a rare occurrence since we attend different congregations - she would have said 'yes,' she told me, she thought we fit the fundamentalist tag. But now I have my hands on the Aug 2010 Awake magazine, just released, and the Awake says no, we don't:
 
Page 5, an FAQ page: “Are Jehovah's Witnesses Protestants, Fundamentalists, or a sect?”
 
“Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics – they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural. For example, the Bible does not teach that God – the very personification of love – tortures people forever in a fiery hell. Nor does it teach that humans have an immortal soul or that Christians should meddle in politics. (Ezek 18:4, John 15:19; 17:14, Romans 6:23).......Some Fundamentalist organizations “have adopted social and political positions based on a literal use of biblical texts. [I swear there are people to whom you'll say “stop beating around the bush” and they'll start looking for the bush.] That definition does not fit Jehovah's Witnesses.”

The chief lesson to be learned here is that Papa's always right. Always. Even if he has to stretch the point nearly to snapping, well...one does whatever it takes. Conversations I've had with Mrs. Sheepandgoats, for instance:
 
“Have I ever let you down?” I ask rhetorically. “Yes!” she answers immediately. (So much for rhetorical questions)
 
“Lately?”
 
'Yes!”
 
“Today?”
 
“No,” she admits. “All right, then!” I crow.
 
Men are an interesting species, don't you know.  Every bit as interesting, in their own way, as women.
 
But we've strayed from our householder - a lapsed Catholic, he told me.  I fear it won't be the last time we stray from him.
 
This fellow lives in a territory I used to work all the time. Southeast Rochester. It's an eclectic area. At one door you find a Buddhist. At the next a nudist. One stately, well-off, single family home - the next house just as stately but carved into four or five apartments. Lots of gays in the neighborhood, too, and you gotta admit, where there are gays there are usually the arts, music, bistros, restored homes, gardens, and so forth. (why is that?) They can be somewhat hostile if you approach them in the wrong way, and almost any way is the wrong way, since they're apt to assume you'll be intolerant, and they like tolerance, but I sometimes can converse with them by telling them about my gay roommate in college. I didn't know he was gay, of course, he hadn't yet 'come out,' but I got along with him well. He was an organ major, as I recall, and he scored some minor film project I made. Now....you know how they say most gays are outwardly just like anyone else and you can never spot them by appearance alone? Well, this fellow you could; he filled every stereotype to a tee, but I just never pay attention to those things (though passing years have made me more observant). Anyhow, after summer recess one year, he says he has some big announcement to make, and we meet at the local snack joint. He's gay, he tells me, he always has been, and now he's come out of the closet, and how does that affect the way I'm going to look at him? Um....well....hmmm....I don't really know why it should make any difference, and so forth....he's still the same person, after all – all this happened long before I became a Witness. But whatever the lukewarm answer I might have given, he was conscious of a new status between us, and gradually withdrew. In time, I didn't see him anymore.
 

But, once again, returning to our householder:
 

He was using a weedwhacker or something in his side yard, whacking weeds. Now, I used to hate when people were whacking weeds or doing anything outdoors, because it was painfully obvious you were interrupting them. Most Witnesses prefer people to be behind their doors where they belong. But over time I began to realize that they're doing things indoors as well, only you don't see it, so you assume they're just sitting on their hands. In fact, they may be doing things more sacred to them than any activity outside, such as watching TV.  So it really doesn't matter to me anymore whether they're inside or out, although, it must be admitted, groups of people outside remain a challenge, and usually the game is lost before you begin. They see you coming afar off, and even if this or that one might be up to conversing one-on-one, fat chance they'll want to do so in front of their peers. Best to say something a little outrageous, like “you look like guys that want to talk about the Bible.“ Sometimes that buys you a little space you can cling to with your fingernails, but even if not, it generally leaves everyone in reasonably good humor.
 
The all-time awkward situation I encountered was when working with Andy Laguna, the Circuit Overseer. We were working a city residential territory and there was a bar on the corner, so he walks right in and starts witnessing to the bartender amidst a few half-tanked patrons. Andy's friendly and persistent, unafraid and non-threatening, and it went well for a time, but eventually conversation veered south – some of the patrons got a little surly (this was many years ago). “I dunno why you're telling this to us! (Andy had been speaking of good government, integrity, honesty, etc, with a view towards 'we need the Kingdom') What you should do is go into city hall and tell all those dirty rotten politicians – yeah, tell them – they're the ones who need to hear it!”  one fellow blurted out, getting worked up. “Oh, we do...we do,” Andy replied placidly. “And you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons!”
 
But back to the lapsed Catholic whacking weeds, as I approached him, hesitatingly, I said: “I wonder if I can get away with interrupting you for a couple minutes.” “Try,” he responded encouragingly, so I did. I was working with that Habakkuk presentation, made appropriate remarks about not staying forever, and so forth. But he brought up a few things - he was an educated man. I liked the fellow. "Well - I said I was just going to stay a couple of minutes, but now you've brought up a whole new topic. If we go there, it's on your dime, not mine" We may have visited twenty minutes or so. It's well to end your remarks with something gracious: "I appreciate your time. We come without appointment; people are doing things. You certainly have no obligation to speak with us, yet you did anyway. Thanks for your time. Take care, now."
 
Oh – and by the way, I think it was from Andy that I learned a not-bad way of handling aggressive evangelicals. It doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while, you'll find one of them eagerly awaiting us, with a stack of anti-JW literature and non-stop rhetoric to match. But it was Andy who said “look, if I came to visit you, it must be because I felt I had something to offer. Now, I might entertain what you want to tell me, but it would have to be at a time when you drop by my place.” “Where do you live...where do you live...where do you live?” the other would rapid-fire reply.  “No, no,” Andy would respond, “you'll just run into me eventually in the course of your normal door to door ministry.”
 
Oh, and back to the lapsed Catholic....um...you know, I kind of forget what else we spoke about. But we had a pleasant conversation, I remember that....it was a fine day in the ministry, low 60's, and the sun was out.

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Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Advise and Consent and Sexual Orientation

Talk about politically incorrect!

Senator Anderson punches his gay ex-lover in the mouth. The poor fellow drops face-down in the gutter. Now...there's a lot of things that can happen to a guy when he's punched, but this guy goes in the gutter! Face down! The unmistakable symbolism: that's where he belongs!!*

That's how Otto Preminger treated homosexuality in his 1962 movie Advise and Consent. A former Academy Award winning director, Preminger took bows for his film. Today, he'd be crucified for it. When the movie was re-done for DVD a few years ago , the homosexual sub-plot was replaced with a Jewish one. (even though the original plot was based upon a true incident.)

 

Times have changed. It's anyone with an unkind word about homosexuality who belongs in the gutter today. The District Overseer can barely believe his own words as he observes: "nowadays, only homosexuals want to get married." Evidence, he maintains, that the world is "upside down."

It sure seems that way from any historical perspective.  In my lifetime, I've seen homosexuality go from reviled fringe to cutting-edge alternative. There once seemed nothing more unlikely than this verse becoming reality:

Therefore God, in keeping with the desires of their hearts, gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them, even those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created, who is blessed forever. Amen. That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.    Rom 1:24-27

It's an unflattering view of homosexuality, but I don't include it for that reason, rather, for it's implication that homosexuality would become commonplace. Nobody of my generation would ever have foreseen it. Seemingly, the going against what is "natural" was enough to rule it out. When you work with plumbing or electricity, you link the male end with the female end. Always. That's the way it's done. Nobody thinks it's cutting edge plumbing to solder two male ends together, or female. It doesn't happen. And it's always been that way with human sexuality. Doubtless, that's how we came to apply those terms to electricity and plumbing.

Preminger's portrayal plays mean-spirited today, yet it was right in sync with popular sentiment of that time - indeed,  of any time. Homosexuality used to be perverted. Now, however, it is edgy, and heterosexuality....well, a little unimaginative, if not downright dull. The very words straight (inflexible, efficient, but monotonous) vs gay (happy, live life to the full!) are rife with the implication. Tabloids breathlessly speculate about this or that star. Are they attracted to .....yawn, how boring....the opposite sex, OR are they enamored with.....cross your fingers, oh please, please, please....the SAME sex! Yes!! That's what I'm talkin about!!!

It's unbelievable!! How can this be the rage? How can it be mainstream? Yes, as a small fringe...that has always been, but how can it seriously rival "natural" sex attraction? Can they all really have been born that way?

Are any of them born that way? Freud used to say that sexuality was determined at a very early age based on interaction of the parents. He's shouted down today on that point, but is there reason to shout him down? Or is his theory, which implies abnormality, just not what people want to hear today?

Or are there yet other factors at work?

Otto Preminger pioneered in introducing taboo subjects to film: homosexuality in Advise and Consent, rape in Anatomy of a Murder, drug addiction in The Man With the Golden Arm. You can count upon films making abundant use of these juicy themes today, but in Preminger's time they were unheard of. Yet, from Advise and Consent (1962) on, every film treatment of homosexuality was more favorable than the one before. Today, there's no film stigma whatsoever about gays, as there was then. Quite the opposite. The gay character is cool, intriguing, hip, contrasting well with other dullards on the show.

I don't pretend to know how to weigh these 3 factors - genetics, Freud, media - or if there are yet other ones. The endorsement of the psychiatric profession, for example. Excess hormones, for another, readily found in modern food and water supplies. Not that this would cause homosexuality, I don't imagine. But it may push sexuality to be much more fluid, more susceptible to other influences. Pure guesswork on my part. I don't really know. But I'll tell you one thing. Never would my generation have anticipated that sexual identity would be so pliable as it has proved to be. That the Bible forecasts this, against all then-common wisdom, is a major point in its favor.

 

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[EDIT    Feb 21, 2010] The newly emerging field of epigenetics also suggests some possibilities.

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Tom Irregardless and Me                 No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash