Monthly Archives: May 2012

Alveda King Breaks Commandment #9

Back when I was still on Tumblr, I wrote an article talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice, who has a history of being very homophobic but seems to be trying to turn over a new leaf so to speak. Now, however, we are experiencing the latest outburst from Bernice King on steroids, a.k.a. MLK’s niece Alveda. Since at least the 1990s, Alveda King has been active against both same sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians. Her arguments seem to rest on the fact that the Bible condemns homosexuality (conveniently ignoring the Old Testament support for slavery) and that the history of anti-black persecution is not identical to the history of anti-gay persecution (slavery and the Holocaust are not identical either, so should they not be compared?) However, Alveda King may have bitten off more than she can chew in a recent article once again blasting gay rights activists. In an attempt to prove MLK would be homophobic if he were alive today, she stated that, Bayard Rustin, one of the top figures in the Civil Rights Movement and an openly gay man, “attempted to convince Uncle M. L. that homosexual rights were equal with civil rights. Uncle M. L. did not agree, and would not attach the homosexual agenda to the 20th century civil rights struggles. So Mr. Rustin resigned.” Now first of all, if this claim were proven to be true, it would not change the fact that Bayard Rustin is a personal hero of mine, nor that I consider him to be perhaps the greatest American of the 20th century. In such a scenario of Bayard Rustin wanting King to endorse gay rights and King wanting to focus exclusively on racial justice, I would say that in a way both men would have been right. Bayard Rustin would have been right in the sense that there were parallels between racism and homophobia and that gays deserved equal rights just as much as blacks. MLK would have been right that African American rights had the momentum at the time and that it was very risky to attach another, highly unpopular cause to an already highly controversial movement. However, every account that I have read of Bayard Rustin’s decision to resign states that he resigned because his homosexuality was considered a liability to the Civil Rights Movement, not, as Alveda King claims, because MLK would not endorse gay rights. Alveda King not only avoids addressing these accounts, but offers no evidence to support her revisionist claim. Thus, until she proves otherwise, I am virtually positive that she simply made it up out of thin air, especially considering the fact that, as referenced above, my research indicates that Rustin was not heavily involved in promoting gay rights until years after MLK’s death. In my attempts to do research on Rustin who, along with Wendell Phillips, is a crucial influence on me and an important figure in my honors thesis project on formulating a strategy for achieving equal rights for gay and lesbians, I have had the honor and pleasure of corresponding with Walter Naegle, the man who was Rustin’s partner for the last ten years of his life. Naegle has apparently gotten wind of Alveda King’s claims about Rustin and had this to say: “Dear Ms. King,

I was Bayard Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life. I have consulted with scholars and historians, as well as friends who worked with Mr. Rustin during the time that he knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. None of them have seen any evidence in their research to support your allegation that Mr. Rustin tried to influence Dr. King on the matter of civil rights for LGBT people. Nor did Mr. Rustin resign from Dr. King’s staff because of Dr. King’s refusal to advocate for gay rights. Mr. Rustin’s resignation from Dr. King’s staff is well documented in the civil rights histories. I suggest that you consult them. If you have evidence to support your claim, please present it. Otherwise, stop making this ridiculous claim. You are entitled to your opinion about homosexuality. However, as Mr. Rustin’s good friend, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, ‘You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.’” It should also be noted that Rustin continued working to fight Jim Crow after his resignation from the SCLC. While he resigned in 1960, he later played a crucial role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. No less a civil rights leader than John Lewis—who, unlike Alveda, was heavily involved in the movement—stated that without Rustin’s help, the march would have been like “a bird without wings.” On a final note, Alveda points to a reply MLK made in the 1950s to a letter from a man who was trying to deal with homosexual feelings. In his reply, MLK encouraged him to seek treatment, which was a homophobic statement, though certainly not unusually homophobic for the era. That, in effect, is what Alveda misses. She apparently believes that because MLK was moderately homophobic in an era when virtually everyone, including many gay people were homophobic, that means that homophobia was inherent in his philosophy. To my mind, it does not follow at all that MLK’s viewpoints would not have changed as time went on, and he was confronted with the Gay Rights Movement. Instead, I believe that if he had lived long enough to see much of the development of the Gay Rights Movement, he would have become a staunch supporter of equal rights, just like Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, and Julian Bond, as well as interracial marriage pioneer, Mildred Loving. And just like Garrisonian abolitionists, whom I believe would also be supportive of gay equality if alive today, MLK’s philosophy was influenced by Christianity, but it tacitly denied Biblical infallibility. After all, if King had believed in the infallibility of the Bible, he would have had to have admitted that the Old Testament, as well as arguably the New Testament writings of Paul, condoned the enslavement of his ancestors. Many of his views, even if civil rights were taken off the table, would be an anathema to Christian conservatives. When asked his view of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban teacher-led prayer in public schools, MLK replied, “I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the Congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.” King was a staunch proponent of birth control and said in a 1966 speech that, “There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.” At any rate, Alveda King is another individual famous mostly for her last name. It would be patronizing to presume to know for sure what her reason is for being so homophobic. However, I think it quite possible that she is determined to retaliate for the bigotry she has encountered by finding someone to put beneath her, specifically, every gay person in America. She has abused her uncle’s legacy, and she will be ranked in history with Strom Thurmond, not MLK.

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Romney’s Jeremiah Wright

Recently, there was talk of a supposed plan by a conservative PAC to launch a series of ads attempting to link President Barack Obama with his former minister, the ever-controversial Jeremiah Wright. After both Romney and President Obama criticized the plan, it was apparently scuttled. Details can be found here: (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/05/17/super-pac-preparing-ads-tying-obama-to-former-pastor-wright/) Personally, I found some of what Jeremiah Wright said in his sermons and in other venues very offensive. I also found some of it accurate. At any rate, President Obama repudiated him several years ago. Despite the repudiation and despite McCain’s decision to avoid making Wright a major campaign issue in 2008, Obama’s longtime attendance at Trinity United Church of Christ was a major talking point for conservative pundits in 2008. Yet for some reason the media, which seems to lean quite a bit to the Left, has made the strange decision to not cover a similar connection of Mitt Romney that has the potential to become the equivalent of the Jeremiah Wright scandal in this election. Romney made the decision last year to form a “Justice Advisory Committee.” One of the members of that committee is Robert Bork. This name is unfamiliar to many people, so some background is in order. Bork is an eighty-five year conservative legal scholar, former U.S. Solicitor General, acting Attorney General, and Appeals Court judge. In 1987, Ronald Reagan nominated him to the United States Supreme Court, but the Senate had the good sense to reject him. So why is Bork such a despicable individual? Well, for one thing, he helped write the original proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same sex marriage in all fifty states. Of course, Bork will get a pass on this from the Right, since gay bashing is routine for conservative Republicans. He will also probably get a pass when it comes to his deplorable view that the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong to strike down the Virginia Military Institute’s ban on female students. (The issue of women in combat is ridiculously easy to solve—just enforce the same standards for women and men, and whichever women pass physical exams will have proved themselves capable of service.) What has the potential to be much more controversial is Bork’s record on race. To understand the significance of Bork’s racist constitutionalism and its significance in American politics, one must first look at the history of the Republican Party. When the Republican Party was founded in 1854, one of its major tenets was opposition to the expansion of slavery in the West. Almost all members were white Northerners, later joined by blacks across the country. During the 1850s, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, virtually all major party politicians who advocated decisive antislavery action at the federal level and more rights for African Americans were Republicans. Virtually all abolitionists in this period either refused to vote in elections, supported the fringe Liberty Party, or voted Republican. From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, the difference became less pronounced, with the Republican commitment to racial justice often faltering and the Democratic Party acquiring some proponents of civil rights like Hubert Humphrey, and Paul Douglas.  Both parties had a great deal of variation and generally displayed a disturbing level of apathy toward the plight of African Americans. However, there is an important observation to be made that is often lost in the shuffle. The Republican Party was split between pro-civil rights liberals like Nelson Rockefeller, generally from the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, and Goldwater conservatives largely from the West, who opposed comprehensive racial reform at least publicly on states’ rights grounds but could often be persuaded to support modest federal civil rights legislation. The Democratic Party was split between Northern progressives and Southerners who made no secret of their support for racial segregation. The presence of strong civil rights supporters in both parties and the confinement of most die hard segregationists to the Democratic column due to the “Solid South” meant that the GOP remained the less racist party, at least when it came to blacks, until the 1960s. The facts that I have stated cannot be denied by any serious historian. What changed all of this? One such factor was the success of Democrats, beginning in the 1930s, in exploiting the Republican Party’s failure to continually make civil rights a top priority, as Republicans felt confident that they were guaranteed to continually get the lion’s share of the black vote due to being less racist than the Democrats. Another, however, was the Southernization of the Republican Party. In the 1950s and 1960s, Arizonan Barry Goldwater was a leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and displayed the same ambiguities on race as many of his fellow conservative Republicans. He favored the modest Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, federal anti-lynching legislation, and integration of the Arizona National Guard. Yet Goldwater also denounced Brown v. Board of Education in his famous book, Conscience of a Conservative and again in a 1959 speech in South Carolina, at the time a Democratic bastion. In 1962, Goldwater told a group of Republicans in Atlanta that, “We’re not going to get the Negro vote as a bloc in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.” In 1964, Goldwater became the Republican nominee, beating out a slew of civil rights supporters, mostly from the Northeast and Great Lakes states. That same year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was voted on by Congress. As always, a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the bill than Democrats. Barry Goldwater, however, was one of just six out of thirty-three Republican Senators who voted against it. And here is where Bork comes in. While the Goldwater of the 1960s was remarkably willing to shred the Constitution and expand federal power when it came to, say, banning pornography, he claimed to be devoted to following the Constitution with regard to voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus, he sought legal advice from Bork, as well as William Rehnquist. Both men told Goldwater to vote against the bill. (Rehnquist, like Bork, was also very homophobic and a favorite of Ronald Reagan, but that is another story for another time.) Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that Bork played a decisive role in making the GOP the more racist of the two parties. One cannot help but think Mitt’s father, George, would be appalled by his son’s decision to cozy up to Bork. The elder Romney was a stalwart supporter of integration, participating in a civil rights march and speaking up for civil rights both in Michigan as governor and across America as a presidential candidate and Republican Party figure. Not surprisingly, Romney refused to endorse Goldwater in his run for president. Furthermore, whatever Bork and his defenders say, his opposition to the private sector provisions of the Civil Rights Act cannot be attributed to libertarianism. After all, he has demonstrated he has no problem with big government when it comes to bullying gay Americans. None of this is to say that Mitt Romney is a racist. After all, I am sure President Obama would agree that one can associate with certain people and agree with them on some issues without sharing their views on everything. Nevertheless, Romney’s association with Bork sends the message that he is apathetic about civil rights for African Americans and is trivializing racial bigotry like Democrats do when they have “Jefferson-Jackson Dinners,” which might as well be called “Dead Slave Master Appreciation Days.” It also sends the message that Romney is apathetic about civil rights for gay people, but then, everyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past five years already knows that. Besides, Wright’s racism, if indeed he is a racist, does not exist in a vacuum. Most black-on-white racism in the United States is a by-product of the mistreatment that African Americans have endured for centuries at the hands of people like Robert Bork. Condemning Wright while making excuses for Bork is attacking a symptom without looking at the cause. Thus, Romney must disassociate himself from Bork the same way that President Obama did with Wright. On a final note, Bork’s life and legacy is as good an argument as any that a rigid adherence to the Constitution can be disastrous. At the risk of harping on the same point I have made in other editorials, Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution stipulated that fugitive slaves had to be returned to their masters. This, if nothing else, ought to show people like Bork that sometimes even a constitution has to be subverted to defend people’s rights.

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How to End Legal Discrimination Once and For All

While North Carolina’s professional gay bashers such as Peter Brunstetter and Franklin Graham think that they have prevented gay marriage from ever being legalized in the Tarheel State, their victory is but a hollow one. As pro-gay marriage North Carolina state Senator Eleanor Kinnaird pointed out last year, the North Carolina Supreme Court will not be legalizing gay marriage anytime soon, especially given that the state repeatedly elected the proudly anti-gay, anti-black Jesse Helms to the U.S. Senate. The truth is that Amendment One must be repealed by federal intervention. On behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson have been attempting to bring a case to the U.S. Supreme Court that will result in same sex marriage. I am a member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage. However, I am not extremely optimistic about the likelihood of the case getting heard any time soon. It is important to note that by the time Brown v. Board of Education was decided, public school segregation was only required in the South. Only a few states in the West had laws specifically permitting it. Virtually every Northern state had either banned it or had not passed a law one way or the other, usually because racist sentiments in the state were not strong enough and the black population not big enough to make it an issue. Looking at the background of Loving v. Virginia shows something similar. While most states had enacted laws against interracial marriage at some point, every state in the Northeast and many states in the Midwest had either legalized it by the end of the 19th century or never had a law against it. After World War II, the Western states, along with the Midwestern states that had not legalized interracial in the 1800s, followed the lead. By 1967, the year that Loving v. Virginia was decided, interracial marriage was legal in thirty-three states. Gay marriage is currently legal in less than ten. Thus, a Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide would arguably be much farther ahead of public opinion than Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia were. The Supreme Court is reluctant to get ahead of public opinion. We don’t like to talk about this, but courts have a harder time than Congress or the president enforcing edicts that the majority in an individual state or the country as a whole do not support. The president and federal government, after all, control the military and federal law enforcement. Don’t get me wrong. Gay rights activists are absolutely right to try to get a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court. However, I do believe that other strategies need to be pursued, not instead of litigation, but in addition to it. In my mind, one of the strategies that needs to be pursued is a twenty-eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment should read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation anywhere in the United States, by the federal, state, or local governments or by any government in U.S. territories or Native American reservations. No government in the United States may restrict marriage for same sex couples. Discrimination in employment or housing based on gender, gender identity, disability, race, religion, color or sexual orientation is forbidden anywhere under U.S. jurisdiction. Jurisdictions failing to adhere to this amendment will be denied any federal funding, and Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation.” This may sound wordy. But a vaguely worded amendment won’t do. Let’s say, for instance, that Congress were to pass an amendment simply stating that gays are entitled to equal protection under the law. That would not solve the problem, because every homophobic state from Idaho to Florida will simply pass a separate but equal civil unions and call it good. They could even try to argue that their current laws do not violate the equal protection clause, because both gays and heterosexuals are required to marry someone of the opposite sex. Silly and obstructionist? Maybe. But after Reconstruction, many states argued that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit segregated schools or bans on interracial marriage, because such laws applied to people of both races. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that, while some proponents of the Fourteenth Amendment, such as Charles Sumner, wanted to completely remold America into a nation of racial equality, others still believed in some form of white supremacy and were not interested in initiating change to the extent that their abolitionist allies desired. Wendell Phillips proposed a text for the Fourteenth Amendment that would have essentially forbidden government from taking race into account, but this wording was rejected, and the result was eighty years or so of Jim Crow. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment only applied to governments, not the private sector, and struck down a civil rights bill that restricted racial discrimination by private business. If there is no clause in the Twenty-Eighth Amendment dealing with private businesses, it could be argued that companies still have the right to discriminate against gay employees. This amendment will be highly difficult to pass, let alone to get three fourths of all states to ratify. But there is no other option. By hook or by crook, gays and lesbians must get equal rights under the law. A constitutional amendment would give these rights a safety that a mere federal civil rights bill will not. 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Well, it really has been an eventful week thus far. In fact, I feel like I may have to break this posts into parts. Let’s start with . . .

The Good: Since before Barack Obama even got the nomination, I have been doggedly criticizing him for not supporting same sex marriage and generally not doing enough to promote gay rights. I have criticized him in discussions with registered Democrats (I’m an independent), in editorials in my high school newspaper (before I went to college) and in posts at my old blog site, Tumblr. I have been so upset by his lukewarm stances on gay rights that I was seriously considering voting third party in 2012. That, however, has changed. Earlier today, President Barack Obama said in an interview, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” We can criticize Obama for waiting so long to say this. However, while this is no excuse, it is important to note that Abraham Lincoln, the president who eventually pushed for a constitutional amendment to end slavery, was first elected to office promising not to interfere with slavery in the South. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was most certainly not the most progressive Democratic contender when it came to civil rights. Hubert Humphrey made the most sense for black Democrats to support as the party nominee. Yet Kennedy eventually pushed for a groundbreaking civil rights bill that was passed after his death and signed by Lyndon Johnson, a former segregationist who, in the midst of favoring civil rights as presidents, used the n word to describe black people. I say all of this to point out that some of the presidents who ended up being pushed to do the most for civil rights did not have phenomenal records on such issues previously. The groundbreaking nature of Obama’s shift cannot be understated. Never before has a sitting U.S. president even come close to publicly favoring same sex marriage. In fact, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush flaunted their opposition to same sex marriage. Some people have, while complaining of Barack Obama, longed for a third term of Bill Clinton, but Obama’s recent statement is more than enough to justify ranking him over Clinton as a president. It is also enough for me to make an important decision. There is no longer any doubt in my mind that I will be voting for Barack Obama this November. It would be insane for me not to vote for the first sitting president to support equal rights for gays and lesbians. I would also urge all gay and lesbian Americans to forgive Obama’s previously tepid support for gay rights and vote for him as well. The choice is between a man who thinks same sex marriage should be legal and a man who thinks it should be constitutionally banned. It seems like a very easy choice.

The Bad: It’s hardly shocking news for a Southern state to do something racist or homophobic. I realize some people think it’s the equivalent of racism to suggest that the South is more anti-black or anti-gay, as a whole, than the North. However, several facts most be noted. First, while slavery did exist in the North, it had all but ended by the time of the Civil War while still thriving in the South. African Americans in the Jim Crow era had far more legal rights in the North than in the South. In fact, by the 1960s, far more Northern states had legalized interracial marriage (or had never had a law against it) than have legalized same sex marriage thus far. Furthermore, not a single state from the Old Confederacy has legalized gay marriage. Compare Maine with North Carolina. Maine voters came very close to approving same sex marriage. North Carolina voters decided 60-40 to approve an added ban on same sex marriage even though it was ALREADY ILLEGAL IN THEIR STATE. Both states are homophobic, but North Carolina is much worse. Interestingly, the state has previously amended its constitution three times with regard to marriage. In the first case, it was to ban interracial marriage. In the second two cases, it was to strengthen the ban already in place. In the interest of full disclosure, I  would like to mention that I am from Atlanta, although my mom is from Maine. The recent disgusting incident in the Tarheel State is just a further demonstration of the fact that people’s rights should not be on the ballot. Do we really think Brown v. Board of Education or Loving v. Virginia would have been approved if they had been put up for a vote in North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, or for that matter, Idaho? I imagine that the late racist, homophobic, Dixiecrat Senator Jesse Helms is laughing in his grave right now as his native state once again earns national attention for bigotry.

The Ugly: When Jesse Lee Peterson ends up in the news, it is almost always for making an offensive comment. Before talking about his latest offensive comment, I would like to cover some previous ones:

“[Martin Luther] King was a man sent by God to do His will and there is no way that you can have that type of relationship with God and accept wrong as right . . .  In the scriptures it says that homosexuality is an abomination against God.” Of course, in the Scriptures, it also says slavery should be permitted. But Peterson might not have a problem with this, since he also said, “I’ve often said that, ‘Thank God for slavery,’ because, you know, had not, then the blacks over here would have been stuck in Africa… Everybody and their Mama are trying to get out of Africa and come to America and so God has a way of looking out for folks and He made it possible by way of slavery to get black folks into this country.” This insane idea that African Americans should be grateful for slavery has come up enough that I feel I need to address it.  First of all, should the grandchildren of German Jewish immigrants be grateful for the Holocaust because it caused them to end up in America? Would anyone take that argument seriously? Another good analogy posed by someone (I’ve forgotten who) is that asking a black person to be grateful for slavery because they have more opportunities in America (more on that momentarily), is equivalent to asking a rape victim to be grateful for being raped because it resulted in a beautiful baby. Let’s imagine we’re in a courtroom, and a rapist says, “Judge, I know what I put that woman through was unpleasant at the time, but before I raped her, she was sad and lonely. Now she has a wonderful baby that will fill her life with joy. Where’s the gratitude?” How well do you think that would go over? All right, given our lax sex offender laws, it might go over pretty well. Still, you get my point. As for the claim that blacks would be worse off in Africa, I want to offer another analogy. Let’s suppose I find a baby on the street. I adopt the baby, then raise it with physical and verbal abuse, coupled with malnourishment. If the child sues me for harming them, I cannot argue that they are better off than they would have been if left alone. When America chose to enslave black people, the nation accepted responsibility for them. That made the question, “Would black people have been better off if brought to America, treated as free people rather than slaves, and given equal rights?” rather than, “Would black people have been worse off in Africa?” Peterson  later seemed to express a desire to bring back slavery, saying, “”One of the things that I would do is take all black people back to the South and put them on the plantation so they would understand the ethic of working,” But most recently, this “Man of God” lamented, “I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote,” Now, all of the statements that Peterson has made have been made by extremist conservatives in fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan. However, Peterson has a degree of mainstream prestige, being a friend of Sean Hannity and a recurring guest on his show. While Hannity has disagreed with Peterson’s statements that 96% of African Americans are racist and that most are “wicked,” I believe that the time has come for him to disassociate himself from Peterson politically. If they want to hang out, eat chili dogs, and watch Red Dawn together, I don’t care, but Hannity needs to stop treating this preacher as though he is a viable political activist.

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Thank You, Dan Savage, Part 2

Agresti then quotes verses making it a crime to kidnap a man and sell him into slavery and mandating that runaway slaves be given sanctuary. These passages may be progressive, but they must be taken alongside “And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant. But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee. And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God. Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bond maids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.” Clearly, while runaways are to be given protection and enslaving free men is prohibited, buying slaves is permissible, so long as they are of a different race. These injunctions may be contradictory, but they cannot be used to argue that the Old Testament is antislavery. Agresti seems to try and explain this away by claiming that the slavery practiced in the Old Testament was really a form of indentured servitude. However, the passage I quoted above demonstrates that the indentured servitude interpretation only applies to Jews. A Jew in ancient Israel could not be enslaved, while a non-Jew obviously could. Finally Agresti tries to rely on the New Testament to contradict the Old. In addition to the fact that arguments that Paul condemned slavery are sketchy at best, the fact remains: if slavery is objectively wrong, how could it have been condoned in the Old Testament? To say that it was right in the Old Testament era but wrong in the New is moral relativism and a slap in the face to slaves who lived before the coming of Jesus. Please note that this is not to deny the existence of a benevolent deity. The cruelty of certain Bible passages reflects poorly on the authors, not God. To claim that the Bible is infallible because God is quoted in the Bible as saying so is a circular argument. I could type, “God said to make Charles King of the World” right now, but that would not mean that God had actually spoken these words. Instead of blaming Savage for speaking the truth, let us repeat what he said again and again: there is nothing unnatural or immoral about homosexuality, and there is everything unnatural and immoral about slavery. If the Bible fails to recognize this, so much the worse for the Bible.

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Thank You, Dan Savage, Part 1

It never ceases to amaze me how many liberals and gays, when confronted with a person who says, “Homosexuality is bad, because the Bible says it!” will stick their heads in the sand. It is as if they would rather lose the debate than dare to criticize the Bible. This cowardice is exemplified by the recent reaction of some gay activists to the comments of Dan Savage. Since Savage seems to be a popular last name among celebrities, I will clarify that Dan Savage is a gay pundit and journalist. He should not be confused with Fred Savage, the kid from The Princess Bride, Ben Savage, Fred’s brother from Boy Meets World, Michael Savage, the anti-gay, anti-black, anti-autistic children talk radio host, or Randy Savage, the dead ‘80s wrestler. Never one to shy away from controversy, Dan Savage recently ignited a firestorm by saying in a speech, “We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people … the same way we learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery,” When a group of Christian students angry but probably unable to offer any constructive arguments in rebuttal, walked out, Savage quipped, “It’s funny, as someone who is the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back,” Now, some gay activists are rushing to repudiate Savage, while conservative Christians whine about how he is supposedly such a big bully. Doubtless, the gay activists repudiating Savage will now reassure people on the fence about gay issues that they can retain their belief in the infallibility of the Bible and still support homosexuality. The argument of what might be dubbed the “rainbow evangelical” camp seems to rest on the assumption that we should disregard what anti-gay passages in the Bible seem to mean and instead search for some hidden meaning that could give credence to the idea that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Hence, rather than pointing out that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah should not be a guide for sexual behavior anyway, considering the fact that the supposedly virtuous Lot offers up his daughters to be gang-raped (check your Bible if you don’t believe me), these theologians try to claim that the city was destroyed for being inhospitable and stingy. The fact of the matter is that there are a multitude of passages dealing with sex. Is it not reasonable to suggest that if the Biblical writers had believed that homosexuality was moral in some circumstances, they would have clarified this point instead of just putting in a number of passages that appear to condemn homosexuality? And do gay rights activists really want to make their entire argument contingent on the Bible? That would mean that their argument would only be as strong as the biblical case for homosexuality, which is quite weak. Furthermore, this dependence on the Bible for justification represents an abdication of human reason. It is the same line of thinking that causes people to believe that “Rush Limbaugh/Michael Moore/the Founding Fathers/the Constitution says it!” is a good argument. Meanwhile, some conservative Christians are performing acts of mental gymnastics in an unsuccessful attempt to refute Dan Savage’s claim that Biblical passages condone slavery. Over at the conservative American Thinker, James D. Agresti quotes Booker T. Washington as saying, “If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of a Christian life, the Christlike work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.” Of course, it is well known by historians that Booker T. Washington was an accommodationist who continually avoided saying things in public that would offend powerful white people. Washington similarly praised Grover Cleveland for his alleged efforts to help blacks, ignoring the fact that Cleveland won the 1892 presidential election partly by labeling the Republican Party as pro-civil rights. Agresti goes on to list a slew of abolitionists who were Christian. These men and women are indeed people that I treasure among my greatest heroes. Yet their actions and sacrifices do not prove that the Bible is antislavery. One could just as easily cite the proslavery Christianity of R.L. Dabney, Alexander Campbell, James Henry Hammond, Howell Cobb, Robert E. Lee, and others. Abolitionist Unitarian clergyman Samuel Joseph May recalled that when William Lloyd Garrison and his followers began calling for an end to slavery, nearly all of the churches denounced them. In fact, in 1830, when William Lloyd Garrison could not even get a church in Boston to loan him a meeting house as a place to make antislavery speeches, it was Abner Kneeland who provided him space. Kneeland was a pantheist and the last man in the United States to be jailed for blasphemy. While many abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and John Brown, at least claimed to be theological traditionalists, other abolitionists, like Samuel Joseph May, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Lydia Maria Child were either Unitarians or “New Agers.” Wendell Phillips, despite being a neo-Puritan, denied the divine authority of the Apostle Paul and argued that slavery was “against the spirit of Christianity” rather than condemned by specific passages. Sojourner Truth denied the existence of Hell. Agresti goes on to use the same argument as Phillips, quoting Biblical injunctions about treating other people kindly. Here, I have no problem with his argument. Of course, it could also be used to support gay rights, since it involves placing the Biblical ideals about kindness above specific unkind passages. I think that this is exactly what Savage was encouraging people to do in the first place.

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