It all started back in 2012: Jerry Falwell Jr & his wife met a young pool boy on vacation. Then they started ‘helping’ him.. The Falwells were staying at a ritzy hotel in Miami, where 21-year-old Giancarlo Granda was working as a pool attendant. The hunky young man started mysteriously spending a lot of time with the middle-aged couple during their stay. And later he started flying with them on their private jet to various places. He was seen hanging out with the couple on many occasions, without any explanation.
Pro-Trump Pastor Jerry Falwell Gave Hot Young Pool Boy $1.8 Million & Flew Him First Class on Personal Vacations While Promoting Anti-Gay “Christian Values” as Liberty University President. Shortly after befriending the pool boy, the Falwells asks some associates to help them find a business they could buy in order to give their new friend “a good income.” They eventually settled on purchasing a “youth hostel” in Miami, providing the $1 million down payment on the mortgage (the property was valued at more than $4 million at the time), plus $800,000 to renovate the place. After the renovations, promotional material for the hostel listed the former pool boy as the owner, though later court papers list the owner as a shell company that is owned by the Falwells, their son, and one other family member.
This youth hostel was actually the first part of this whole sordid affair that came to light in 2017 when a reporter for Politico wrote: My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse and Falwell, Jr. Opened ‘Gay-Friendly’ Youth Hostel With 21-Year-Old Pool Boy . The hostel offers what is described as dorm-like accommodations for $20 a night. There is a bar on the premises, a liquor store next door, and a sign on the front door that lists things not allowed inside, including both politics and religion. It is also described as veery gay friendly, with posters for cabaret shows at local gay clubs on display in the aforementioned bar, for example. In other words, it is a business making money on things that Falwell, his ministry and his university all regularly and vitriolically condemn. But you’ll notice when you read that story that most of the reporter’s concern is about possible tax-evasion that this purchase of a youth hostel may represent.
The story finally started registering when this happened: Jerry Falwell Jr and pool boy sued over business venture. Two Miami businessmen, a father and son with the names Jesus Fernandez Sr, and Jesus Fernandez, Jr. had consulted back in 2012 or 2013 with the former pool boy about possible business ventures that he could enter into with the backing of the Falwells, and they had at least one meeting with both Jerry Falwell Jr. and Granda the pool boy. They allege that they were promised shares in the business and other payments, which have not been forthcoming. It was in depositions for this trail that the amount of money the Falwells had given to the pool boy (that $1.8 million above) was revealed. Falwell claims it was a loan, but has so far not produced any proof that there is a repayment plan or that any money has been coming back to them.
Still, at these point it is all a little odd, and several people were making guesses about the nature of the relationship between the Falwells and the pool boy (I mean, why did they suddenly take an interest in a much younger pool attendant to the point of flying him around in their private jet, putting him up at their home at least once, and handing him nearly two million dollars?). Those of us who were guessing various sexual shenanigans (are the Falwells into something like a hot-wife or cuckold kink? Do they just like threeways?) weren’t being taken seriously.
Until this bombshell: Exclusive: Trump fixer Cohen says he helped Falwell handle racy photos.
So Michael Cohen (currently serving a 3 year federal prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations over his hush payments made to a porn star Donald Trump had an affair with in order to keep the affair secret) was asked by Jerry Falwell Jr to recover some “racy photos, the kind that should remain private between a husband and wife” that someone was trying to blackmail him with. Cohen flew to Miami, and claims that he met with the person, made some kind of offer, and that the person destroyed all of the photos–except one that Cohen himself kept. This happened just a few months before the 2015 Iowa caucuses, and crucially, just before Jerry Falwell, Jr stunned a lot of people by endorsing Donald Trump. An endorsement which, by the way, has been widely reported to have been engineered by Cohen.
Some people will ask why this whole sordid affair is newsworthy. First of all, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a public figure who regularly endorses political candidates and causes, encouraging his large following to vote and donate in these political issues. He does with the aid of several large tax-exempt organizations (some of which are legally forbidden from advocating specific political causes, by the way). There are legitimate questions about just how much of his supposedly private for profit business ventures have been financed with tax exempt donations to the non-profit entities. In which case, these businesses are being financed illegally with taxpayer money. Among the favorite targets of Falwell’s tax-payer subsidized condemnations are the civil rights of gay people, the health and reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of muslims, et cetera and ad nauseam.
On top of all of that, it appears that his endorsement of Trump, which came at a crucial moment just before the Iowa caususes, may have been a repayment to Cohen and Trump for helping to make the sex scandal of the “racy pictures” go away.
Falwell hasn’t just railed against what he calls sexual perversion, he has actively worked to roll back laws protecting everyone’s right to decide their own reproductive health, including trying to legally regulate what consenting adults (straight and queer alike) can do in the privacy of their own relationships. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to such issues for the last several decades that someone who publicly reviles other people for their personal sexual activity has some sexual skeletons in their closet, yet here, once again, that appears to be the case.
Now, we don’t know the exact contents of these racy pictures that Cohen paid someone to destroy. We don’t know for a fact whether the pool boy engaged in some kind of kinky sex with Mr & Mrs Falwell beginning in 2012 and continuing through early 2016 when they were still regularly seen in his company (remember, he was living, attending college, and running that business in Florida, which the Falwells live in Virginia, so all the times they were seen together weren’t merely a matter of happening to bump into a neighbor). We don’t know if that is what so endeared him to them that they shelled out $1.8 million to buy him a sketchy business in 2013. We don’t yet know how much money nor where said money came from that Cohen paid out to someone in Miami in 2015 to make the racy pictures go away. Likewise we don’t yet know who it was that was using those photos.
Now, since one of the times that the pool boy stayed at the Falwells’ mansion in Virginia was after Cohen made the racy photos go away, I think it is very clear that the pool boy wasn’t the person trying to blackmail them. It is very possible that the pool boy is in some of those photos—Cohen described the pictures as “very bad,” so they clearly can’t just be pictures of Falwell and his wife having sex all on their lonesome, as is implied by the phrase “of the sort that should remain private between a husband and wife.”
I have no beef with people living a monogamish relationship. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the right to engage in kinky sex. One of the points I frequently make when talking about the injustice of sodomy laws, restrictions in reproductive rights, and civil rights for queer people is that as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone involved is a consenting adult—what people do to get their rocks off should be their own business, and outside the review of the law.
But I do have a beef with hypocrisy from people who are actively engaged in taking those kinds of rights away from other people. Particularly if they are either making their living from the tax payer (politicians, prosecutors, police, and so on) or making their living from tax exempt activities (which means indirectly funded by tax payers). If it turns out that Falwell’s decision to endorse self-described pussy-grabber Trump in the Republican primaries in part in gratitude for trying to make the scandal of the racy photos go away, well, we enter an entirely different level. Falwell more than meets the legal definition of a public figure, and this affair—whatever the salacious details—involves public money, the outcome of political campaigns, and the subsequent assault on the rights of LGBT people, women, immigrants, people who do not subscribe to Falwell’s brand of evangelical christianism, and others.
Giancarlo Granda, now in his late twenties and attending grad school in Georgetown, has issued a number of terse replies to various reporters over the series of events. When asked whether he knew anything about the photos, his reply was that he wasn’t the person who attempted to blackmail the Falwells. Which wasn’t exactly the question that was asked. He has a few other gripes with the way the story has been reported: Jerry Falwell’s Pool Boy: Stop Calling Me “Pool Boy”. Sorry, Giancarlo, that isn’t likely to happen. You were doing your job in a skimpy swimsuit as a pool attendant at a Miami hotel when the Falwell’s met you and pulled you into their life in whatever capacity. You went on those trips with them on their private, tax-exempt jet. And I don’t know anyone who believes it was because of your business acumen. So I’m not willing to think you’re a completely innocent victim in all of this.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Fernandez’s lawsuit. And if Cohen really did save one of the pictures, well, who knows what will happen, next?
Meanwhile, you might enjoy this video: Rachel Maddow: Michael Cohen Said He Fixed ‘Racy Photo’ Problem For Falwell Jr (Rachel also warns you may feel the need to take a shower after hearing some of the details):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Leader of church that was the result of someone making up their own version of christianity says other people can’t make up their own version of christianity
I’m not going to link to Everett Piper’s full commentary (published in the Washington Times—a small far-right newspaper not to be confused with the prestigious Washington Post), but the article above has a link, and it’s not hard to find. The title of Piper’s commentary is: “Pete Buttigieg doesn’t get to make up his own Christianity.” And that’s just hilarious!
Because Piper is a member of the Weslyan Methodist Church (and is the president of a Weslyan Methodist college), which is a denomination that form in 1843 when it split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church, which officially split from the Church of England in 1784, which was formed in 1534 with King Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church. And each of those splits were over doctrinal differences (yes, there was a specific personal and political aim that Henry was going for, but it was over a doctrinal dispute about what would constitute reasons for annulling a marriage). That means that each of those splits was because someone decided to make up their own version of christianity.
Mayor Pete is a member of the Episcopal Church, an American denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. And the Episcopal Church has been accepting of gay and lesbian members, priests, and bishops for some years now. Mayor Pete wasn’t even one of the movers and shakers in that regard, so you can’t even accuse him of having made that particular doctrinal change.
Piper’s denomination, while being a splinter from a splinter of the Anglican Communion, has far more in common with fundamentalist evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptists, than the Episcopal Church. And many of those fundamentalist evangelical denominations which Piper considers to be practicing his version of christianity are descended from groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church back in the year 1517, after Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (proposals for reforms) to the door of his church.
Each of the thousands of denominations are the result of someone deciding to make up their own version of christianity. If Piper is going to insist that no one has the right to do that, he darn well better resign from his current church and go join the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, if anyone confronted Piper about this, he would quickly deflect, because the real issue is that Piper and his co-religionists don’t think that denominations such as the Episcopalians are “real christians.” But he doesn’t want to admit that. Instead, he tries to cast this as somehow it is Mayor Pete all by himself deciding that queer people can be out and non-celibate and be good christians at the same time.
The fact that christian denominations such as the Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterians, welcome and affirm queer members is something Piper and his ilk want to ignore. Just as they keep pretending that it is only a minority of the U.S. population that favors marriage equality and civil rights protections for queer people.
And what really worries them is the growing support in almost all denominations, especially among younger christians, for full acceptance of and legal equality for gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, et cetera people. Because it’s just another reason why many of those unwelcoming denominations are seeing the membership shrinking. Of course, I’m not the only person to observe this: Why do right wing Christians find Pete Buttigieg so threatening? Here’s the answer — The attacks on the South Bend mayor from severe fundamentalists will surely continue in the months ahead.
I suspect that Mayor Pete won’t actually wind up as the party’s nominee, but I hope he keeps making the haters foam at the mouth! And the more they do, the harder it is for others to ignore the bigotry
If you want to know more about Mayor Pete and his candidacy for president: Who is Pete Buttigieg? Meet the gay millennial mayor surging in the Democratic primary.
And now time for another post where I comment on news that either broke after I created this week’s Friday Five or there has been new developments in a story that I’ve previously written about. So, last week I linked to the story of a guy in a red Make American Great Again hat yelling homophobic slurs are people going into a skating rink in San Francisco who eventually allegedly attacked one of those people with a sword.
There’s been an arrest: Attempted Murder Charge In SF MAGA/Sword Attack. Police found the guy because they had a fingerprint from a beer bottle left at the scene, and someone found a bloody sword wrapped in a shirt which matched the description of the alleged perpetrator’s clothes as described by some of the witnesses. And the sword a fingerprint that matched the print on the bottle.
The stories I’ve read thus far don’t say whether the perpetrator’s fingerprints were already in the system, though The Blaze reports that the alleged perp was arrested for unlawful entry into a vehicle in Multnomah County, Oregon, in October 2012 and during that crime he threatened the owner of the vehicle with a knife. In any case, the guy doesn’t appear to be very bright because he got into an argument with his court-appointed defense attorney during the arraignment. I’ll get to that in a minute.
We now have a lot more information on the crime. Some of the eyewitnesses at the time had mentioned a pirate costume along with the red hat, while others had described a red flannel shirt over otherwise unremarkable clothes. Apparently he was wearing the sword on his back, and some witnesses had seen that and assumed it was a costume piece, and not an actual, you know, sword.
Also, while the victim wasn’t named last week, and was described as being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, the victim’s name has since been released, and the injury is described as “partially severed hand” and “gruesome.” The victim has admitted that he attempted to knock the guy’s hat off his head, and then he thought that the perpetrator knocked his arm away with an umbrella or a nightstick, and didn’t realize what had actually happened right away.
I mentioned that alleged perpetrator got into an argument with his defense attorney during the hearing. The perp is insisting that they have no evidence to tie him to the crime and that he was at home minding his own business at the time. The defense attorney, on the other hand, was trying to argue in court that his client should not be held over for trial, and that the case be diverted to arbitration because the attack with the sword was essentially self-defense after the other guy knocked his hat off. That’s when the perp started yelling at his attorney:
“You just basically implied that I did it,” Bergland said as prosecutors argued for him to be held in jail without bail. “Why are you telling me to be quiet?” Bergland then said to his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Eric Quandt. “I can defend myself.”’
I think the attorney recognizes that his client has all the evidence against him. Multiple eyewitnesses, his fingerprints at the scene and one the weapon used in the assault are just the parts we know about. The stories last week mentioned that the police were in the process of obtaining video footage from neighborhood security cameras, for instance. And I bet that were hair fibers left on the hat, and possibly on the bloody shirt that the sword was wrapped in. We presume that he discarded the shirt with the sword because there was blood on it, but looking at the photos in last week’s story of the huge splash on blood on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t be surprised that some of the other clothes the alleged perpetrator was wearing that night that he didn’t dispose of got a bit of blood on them.
If the evidence against him is even worse than what we know, the defense attorney may be correct that the best defense that is available to his client is to spin for the self-defense angle. His client is being held on $1 million bail, so I don’t think he’s going to avoid a trial without a plea deal.
Let’s go from a hate crime that had lots of witnesses and other evidence, to one lacking all of those things (not to mention credibility): Chicago to Sue Jussie Smollett After Deadline to Pay $130,000 Investigation Reimbursement Passes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, once we knew the details of Smollett’s report of an alleged crime it seemed very fishy. Why would Trump-supporting homophobic racists recognize an out gay actor who plays a supporting character on a prime time soap opera-type show that is all about a family of african-american musicians? They just aren’t in the same demographic as the show’s audience, right?
Smollett has since been given deferred prosecution and let go, and he seems to be really leaning hard into the lie that this exonerates him of all charges that the report was a hoax. And let me be clear: deferred prosecution, particularly when the Deputy District Attorney who did so explicitly said that this doesn’t exonerate him, is neither vindication nor exoneration. I suspect that the District Attorney’s office made this call because pursuing the case wasn’t going to result in significant jail time. I also suspect that the two brothers who say they were hired by Smollett to stage the crime may not come across very good in the witness stand if it came to that.
I also think that good attorneys on Smollett’s side could get a lot of mileage by talking about cases (and there have been some in Chicago) where white people have falsely reported crimes but they were never prosecuted.
Not that I think Smollett should get off scott free, here, but I can see reasons that not pursuing the charges might make sense. As another story noted, during the few weeks between the time that Smollett was charged for filing a false report and the day the charges were dropped, about 2900 other criminal cases where handled by the same prosecutor’s office. The sheer volume of crime cases in the county are often cited as the reason that they have been deferring prosecutions and seeking other kinds of diversion for a lot of non-violent crimes during the last few years. At least the District Attorney’s office is supporting calls for an independent investigation into their handling of the case.
Since it is also alleged that Smollett is behind the threatening letter that was mailed to the TV show before the alleged hoax attack, and since the FBI is looking into that letter, I suspect that Smollett is going to be standing in front of a judge again in the not-so-distant future.
The part that I’m still most angry about is that this case is being used by folks on the right to claim that all hate crime reports are fake. It’s exactly what many, many people were posting as comments on the reports about the sword-attack I mentioned above. Even though there is a lot of evidence that that crime did happen.
There were two stories that I watched unfolding on Twitter. It’s not often that a conversation crosses my social media and then turns up as headlines the next couple of days. I thought about just saving the links for next Friday Five, but as I was reading one of the articles about one story, I realized that the two sets of events illustrate an aspect of bullying and hate that I’ve written about more than a few times. I also decided that I wanted to publish this before April 1st, so no one will think any of this is a joke.
I’m going to start with the most disturbing one: San Francisco Police Search For Sword-Wielding Man in MAGA Hat Who Cut Victim. Now this is a reported hate crime, and mindful that people will try to claim this is fake, I want to point out that there were multiple witnesses to the guy being in the stupid red hat, yelling homophobic slurs at the people going into the roller rink, and at least once he followed a group up to the door while yelling, but stopped without going inside.
One of the first stories posted on a San Francisco news site tried to make the guy who attacked someone with a sword out to be the victim, because at least one witness said that the guy who got stabbed first knocked the red hat off. Other witnesses were unclear as to what how the guy’s hat came off his head. At least one person described what happened before the sword came out as a scuffle. I’m not as familiar with California law as Washington state, so I don’t know if knocking the hat off (if that’s what happened) counts as assault. And if police find the asshole I’m sure he’s going to claim the other guy attacked him first.
But I’m confident the hat wearing guy was an asshole, because of the multiple witnesses to his hanging outside a skating rink that was hosting a gay-friendly event shouting homophobic slurs. And he brought a damn sword with him. That seems pre-meditated. He meant, at the least, to be a threatening presence. I hope they find him and throw the book at him.
The second story is a little different. I think most of the headlines have the story slightly wrong, but let’s start with the ending: Conservative commentator fired for attacking gay journalist online. So Denise McAllister, who has written for The Federalist and the Daily Wire and a few other of the conservative hate sites that pretend to be news has not had a great week. A few days ago she posted a link to an article from “ILoveMyFreedom.Org” that was critical of Meghan McCain (daughter of the late Senator John McCain and current member of the cast of The View). McAllister’s accompanying derogatory comments generated a lot of backlash, but things really took off when McCain replied with the statement, “You were at my wedding, Denise.”
The phrase quickly became a meme, as hundred of people started attaching it to various unrelated pictures. McCain apparently thought that all of these memes were people taking her side, apparently not quite getting the jokes of the meme.
Anyway, on Friday night McAllister overshared on twitter, saying that she had tried to talk to her husband while he was watching a basketball game, and he replied “Woman you know better than this, the game is on” and she agreed that he was right, she was wrong. And then the oversharing part was how at the commercial she brought him a beer to apologize and she described the kiss and, well, the whole thing was very Stepford Wives. And all in a single tweet.
This is, by the way, a good example of why I wish tweets were still only 140, because you wouldn’t quite be able to encapsulate thousands of years of toxic masculinity/misogyny and the willingness of some women to defend their own abuse in a single message.
Anyway, an out gay journalist named Yashar Ali quoted McAllister’s tweet with the comment, “Oh, Denise.” And this sent McAllister into a raging tweetstorm.
Those two words, “Oh, Denise” were, in her opinion, a vicious attack—not just on McAllister, but on masculinity and men’s freedom and I don’t know what all. There was a lot. The tamest comment she made was an assertion that gay men have no right to comment on heterosexual relationships, before she got to the kicker:The only thing that Ali had said after “Oh, Denise” was to observe, “I guess Denise is not happy that I’m worried about how her husband treats her.” Now, I realize that other people were commenting on her first tweet, pointing out that maybe she shouldn’t be so happy about how her husband was treating. But Yashar’s two comments were pretty mild. Once McAllister had gone to both an anal sex and penis reference, a bunch of other people—including other journalists and conservatives—took a screenshot of the two tweets and started contacting the official twitter accounts of the websites/magazines that she listed in her twitter bio as being places where she writes. And yes, two of those sites later issued statements that she no longer works for them, and specifically referenced the homophobic nature of the tweets in the screenshot.
She has deleted most of the rest of her tweetstorm—where she characterized people’s reactions as trying to burn her at the stake, and other crazy things. But by then the damage was done.
There is so much to unpack in all of this. Ali’s initial response was not an attack, it was pity. Pity for a person who is not only perpetuates the disrespect she gets from her husband, but actually rewards it and feels the need to go brag about it to the world. When you broadcast stuff like that, it is perfectly legitimate for other people to comment. The response that a gay man can’t comment on heterosexual relationships is pretty rich, given how many times McAllister has written about homosexual relationships. If a heterosexual homophobe can write homophobic editorials critiquing queer people and how they live their lives, then all us queers can state opinions about things the homophobe brags about in their own relationship.
While we’re on the topic of homophobic editorials: the publications that have fired McAllister have published dozens, nay, hundreds of articles, opinion pieces, and so forth that were just as homophobic as those two tweets that they now claim are unacceptable. If being homophobic and stating so publicly disqualifies someone for working at The Federalist, then they all need to fire each other right now. McAllister’s tweets were slightly (and only slightly) more crudely stated than the usual lying hatred toward gays that The Federalist and The Daily Wire publish all the time. Several other conservative pundits and journalists had weighed in on the sheer disproportionality of McAllister’s response to “Oh, Denise,” but given the sorts of things they have all written about queer people, what they are really upset about his how blunt she was.
I don’t believe that those tweets are the reason she was fired. That fact that Meaghan McCain’s husband is the founder and editor of The Federalist almost certainly has more to do with her firing than a couple of homophobic tweets. The weird dust-up with McCain had almost certainly already put her on the shitlist at several places.
And one is tempted to say, “Oh, Denise” in a rather pitying voice. But she doesn’t deserve our pity any more than the MAGA-hat wearing guy who attacked someone with a sword. Because they are both doing the same thing. You don’t go to a gay-friendly public event, wearing one of those stupid red hats, and yelling slurs at people unless you want attention. You want people to know you hate the gays. Similarly, you don’t post stories about how your husband yelled at you and sent you to fetch him a beer to earn forgiveness for the offense of talking to him while he’s watching a basketball game unless you want people to know that you hate the libtards who expect men to treat women with respect.
And you comment on a gay man’s sex life in crude terms because you want everyone to know that you hate the gays.
But make no mistake, the conservative pundits and sites that publish things about “the militant homosexual agenda,” and defending so-called gay conversion therapy, and insist that equal rights for queer people is an assault on religion, and repeat lies about the health of queer people also hate the gays. They run those headlines because they want everyone to know that they hate the gays. The only difference between them and people like McAllister of the sword-wielding guy is that the misdirect with code words. Instead of coming at us with a sword, they take away our right to healthcare and employment. Instead of blatant references to anal sex, they talk about health. But it’s still attacking us. They just try to hide their rage and hate with polite words and a smirk.
Ali’s final comment was, in stark contrast to McAllister’s raging, both eloquent and refined: “I was bullied for being Iranian as a kid. But I never felt ashamed of my ethnicity. I came out on 8/17/2001 & while it hasn’t always been easy, I have always been proud of who I am. I’m Iranian, gay, and Catholic. Perhaps an odd combo, but I wouldn’t change who I am for the world.”
I keep saving various images to possibly use to illustrate a Friday Five post or a political commentary, then wind up using only a fraction of them. So, here are a few of those memes and graphics you may find amusing, enlightening, or thought-provoking:
Celestial fruits on earthly ground, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at christianist thoughts on ‘chosen people’
First, let’s handle a few caveats: I was raised Southern Baptist in the U.S., so I am most familiar with that particular subset of the larger evangelical/christianist/dominionist community. I have considered myself both an ex-evangelical and ex-Christian for many years—I didn’t leave the church, the church rather violently drove this queer science-loving person out. Finally, I use the word christianist in these essays to refer specifically to people who claim to follow Christ and his teachings, but who actively engage in words and deeds that are contrary to those teachings.
I have several times found myself in discussion with conservative christianists of various stripes on the topic of religious freedom where a person will insist they believe in religious freedom, but then say that being muslim ought to be illegal or something similar. When you try to point out the contradiction, many of them are genuinely confused. If you question them closely enough, you’ll find that many believe the word “religion” only applies to Christianity and Judaism.
One of the most public examples happened a few years ago when a state legislator in the south freaked out when she found out that the school voucher bill she had fought so hard to pass was being using by muslims in her state to divert tax dollars to their religious schools. She was absolutely livid in her first response, even though allowing parents to use tax dollars to send their kids to religious schools was exactly what the bill had been about. Her staffers and fellow Republicans had to explain to her that “religious schools” meant schools sponsored by any religion, not just Christian and Jewish schools.
A friend has told me the story of how back in school she had once signed up for a Comparative Religions class thinking she would finally get to learn what the differences were between Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists, et al—and how only a few minutes into the first class session as the teacher started talking about Buddhists and Muslims and Taoists and so on she started feeling really embarrassed. She hadn’t told anyone that’s what she was expecting, she was merely metaphorically kicking herself because none of the other religions had even occurred to her when she had read the description of the class.
There are the large number of christianists who insist that buddhism isn’t a religion, “It’s a philosophy!” I’ve been told many times that hinduism isn’t a religions—“It’s like greek mythology, no one believes it any more!” Tell that to the millions of people participating in the Ganesh festivals every year! And so on.
Since about 66% of the U.S. population identifies as christian, while people who subscribe to non-christian religions amount to only about 6% of the U.S. population, it isn’t difficult to understand why many americans would be less well informed on the topic of non-christian faiths. It’s easy to shrug this all off as people being clueless about things outside their own experiences, but it has real world consequences. It influences their decisions in the voting booth, and the policies they are willing to support.
To get back to christianist attitudes toward Jewish people, the fact that many of them believe that the word “religion” only applies to a Christians and Jews isn’t a sign of ecumenical thinking. Because most fundamentalist and evangelical christians view Jews as just junior varsity christians. This takes a couple of different forms. Some of them think that Jews are god’s chosen people who just failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but they are still faithful adherents to the oldest of god’s teachings and still worship the one true god—they just aren’t doing it quite right. Others think Jews used to be god’s chosen people, but because they didn’t recognize Jesus, they no longer are chosen, and in fact no longer worship the true god at all.
The latter group is where I believe most of the more aggressively anti-semitic actions and rhetoric originates. Even the ones who aren’t openly anti-semitic, only tolerate the continued existence of Jewish people because they believe there is a special duty to convince Jews to convert to christianity. It’s like they think god will give them a gold star for every Jew they convert.
They also have that attitude toward other non-christians: our worth, to them, is solely as potential converts. And the less likely they think we are to agree to become born-again, the less value they place on our lives. And that also, has real world consequences.
Note: The title of today’s post comes from “We’re Marching to Zion” by Isaac Watts and Robert Lowry, #308 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
Haste to prepare the way, or an ex-evangelical explains christianist attitudes toward Israel and Israelies
I could keep going.
Before I continue, a couple of disclaimers: I have considered myself an ex-Baptist and an ex-Christian for a long time. I have often said I didn’t leave the church, the church drove me (a gay man) away. I was also the kind of nerd who read the Bible, on my own, cover-to-cover more than once (and had rather large swaths of it memorized). My passion for social justice was instilled at early age by some of the teachings of the church and its holy book, even as the contradictions I often observed in the teachings and practices of the church and their selective reading of that text fueled my doubts.
The negative attitude of many christians toward Jewish people has a long history, going back at least to the Third Century. And a lot of the rationalizations make no sense. As a for instance, take the “they reject him and executed him” argument. According to christian teachings, Jesus’ entire purpose for being sent to earth was to be sacrificed as a payment for human sin and make salvation possible. God’s plan required Jesus to be rejected and executed. Never mind that it was technically the Roman governor who ordered the execution, you can’t blame the crowds who supposedly demanded his death because they were just enacting god’s plan, right? Not the devil’s plan, god’s plan!
Similarly, taking various verses in the bible where the name Israel is used to metaphorically refer to all Jewish people collectively, and not a specific legal entity controlling a specific territory on the map to refer to the modern state of Israel is shaky reasoning, at best. And people today trying to claim that anyone who is critical of any specific policies of the current government of Israel is anti-semitic is equally absurd. And it’s pretty rich coming from Republicans, some of whom brought Holocaust deniers to the recent State of the Union Address, for instance.
All those contradictory things about Jewish people that evangelicals believe are baked deeply into the reasoning of the political rightwing in America. And it manifests in interesting ways. For instance, if anyone expresses any sympathy for the Palestinean people, the first thing that any journalist or pundit from Fox News and the like will ask is, “Does Israel have a right to exist?”
And it’s a bullshit question.
During the Obama administration, when Republicans would criticize things the government was doing, none of these talking heads ever asked them, “Does the United States have a right to exist?” When someone criticizes a policy of the government of Germany, or Mexico, or Japan or France, no one asks the person, “Does Germany/Mexico/Japan/France have a right to exist?”
And the truth is, no nation has a right to exist. A nation is a political and economic organization that has asserted control over a particular territory. A nation contains people, but the nation is not, itself, a person. People have a right to exist, but legal fictions that we create, like corporations, governments, social clubs, and so forth don’t.
And if anyone turned that question back on any of those talking heads—if a person who criticized the Israeli government would reply, “You’ve been critical of the U.S. government in the past, do think that the United States has a right to exist?” They would be offended and claim that it’s off-topic or not the same thing at all.
One of the reasons they think the “Does it have a right to exist” is a reasonable question is because they don’t perceive Israel as being just a government and its territory. They perceive it as the mythic entity cherry-picked from the bible. It is the chosen people of god, and it is a thing that must exist in order to bring about the second coming of Jesus. More than that, their reading of scripture demands that this mythic entity be embroiled in conflict, bloodshed, and the occasional war. Because again, the promised second coming and a new kingdom where they walk on streets paved with gold and all that can’t happen without horrible things happening in a place called Israel.
All of the other anti-semitic things they believe—the Jewish people are greedy, that they are untrustworthy, that they work in secret in various evil conspiracies and so forth—some from that betrayal of god thing. Evangelical thinking in particular is very ethno-deterministic. For a long time they opening taught that black people were descendants of either the biblical character of Cain or Noah’s son Ham. In either case, as descendants of those characters who were cursed by god, doctrine held that they were inherently less moral, less intelligent, and so on. Similarly, they believe (even if they are often less open about it these days), that because of the things their ancestors did, that now all of them are inherently aligned with evil.
So they don’t support Israel because they think the Israeli people deserve to be protected or that Israel is a great country. They support Israel because they think doing so will hasten the end of the world and fulfill god’s plan. Jewish people aren’t real people to them—Jewish people are sacrificial lambs whose blood is just one of the many prices they are willing to force other people to pay to get that mansion in heaven they think they’ve been promised.
And that’s how you get the same political party that inspires people to shoot up synagogs, that accuses rich Jewish people of financing every organization they disagree with, that claims that corrupt Jewish people control Hollywood, that refers to both neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers as “very fine people” pretending to be angry because one freshman Congresswoman criticized some specific policies of the Israeli government and claim that she’s anti-semetic.
Edited to Add: I got a comment from someone who seemed to think the intent of this post was to explain every single aspect of the attitudes of all christian sects toward the Jewish people. So let me first point anyone thinking that to the title of the blog post where I used the word “christianist” and not the word christian. What is a christianist, you may ask? A christianist is one who claims to be a follower of Christ and His teachings but who actively engages in acts and deeds that are contrary to Christ’s teachings.
Second, my usual goal is to keep my blog posts to roughly 1000 words (for various reasons). It is not possible to explore every nuance of any question in 1000 words. Some things need to be left as exercises for the reader. Or expanded further in a later post.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “What if it were Today” by Mrs. C.H. Moore, #124 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal
Similarly, when marriage equality began being enacted, the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies found that queer teen suicides and suicide attempts decreased by 14%. Which would confirm that perceptions of societal acceptance his a significant driver of the problem.
This is why I get so angry when politicians, such as our current Vice President, scream bloody murder when anyone criticizes the anti-gay policies and teachings of any of their favorite institutions. Adult religious freedom shouldn’t be an excuse to bully children to death. Period.
The rate at which LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes, bullied, and driven to suicide is exactly why queer adults and our allies get upset when, say, the wife of the Vice President of the United States goes to work at a Christian school which rejects queer students. It isn’t about her religious freedom, it’s about the health and welfare of children. And if you don’t believe me, you can listen to a queer person who attended and that very school:
When we talk about this sort of thing in relation to private schools, a lot of people who think of themselves as open-minded respond by pointing out that attending a private school isn’t mandatory. As if a five-year-old kid is the one deciding which school their parents are going to enroll them into. Part of the problem with these institutions is that they are part of an entire ecosystem—an anti-gay (and usually also anti-science) bubble in which kids are brought up surrounded by misinformation. More than a little bit of that misinformation being quite harmful to one’s health.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The overwhelming scientific and medical consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice, it can’t be changed, and whatever the cause seems to be set sometime before the age of two. It is also the overwhelming scientific and medical consensus that the differences in health outcomes and such that are sometimes cherry-picked from studies to prove that being queer is harmful are actually evidence that anti-gay discrimination is harmful.
Queer kids are born in all types of families. And even when the adults around us don’t notice or suspect us from an early age, we all notice that something is different pretty early. And the older we get in an environment where our feelings and interests don’t match what is expected by the adults around us, the more we try to hide our true selves and contort ourselves into something that will please our elders and peers.
“When you’re young and consistently told that who you are is incorrect and needs to be eradicated, you listen and start to eradicate yourself.”
—Luke Hartman, Immanuel Christian alumnus
As Luke points out, being raised in a church that taught that gays are abominations, and going to a elementary school and then middle school where everyone believed that and the curriculum assumed that non-straight people don’t even exist, stunts a queer kids emotional growth. When none of the role models match their feelings, they just go through motions without many important social developments happening. It was only when he transitioned to a public high school (because the private school didn’t cover the upper grades) that he began to get a hint that people like him even existed.
“I believe the most hurtful messages are the ones that are expressed silently. It was an unspoken truth that being gay, or deviating from a narrow definition of sexual orientation or gender identity, was a no-fly zone.”
They don’t learn how to form healthy romantic relationships in a context that matches their orientation. They also internalize all the absence as much as the outright bigotry. If the only possible acceptable visions of your future are things that you can feel in your bones aren’t who you are, well, that must mean that something is profoundly wrong with you. It’s like one queer author once observed: in myth monsters don’t have reflections and don’t cast shadows. If people like us don’t exist in any books, movies, stories, et cetera that we see growing up—if people like us aren’t reflected in the culture, and if our accomplishments aren’t acknowledged—then the only conclusion is that we are monsters.
That leaves scars and deep trauma—trauma that studies show makes physical changes to the brain just like that seen in war zone survivors!
And that’s why it’s important to call out the people who claim they are just exercising their religious beliefs. They aren’t “merely” doing anything. They are imposing those beliefs on children. And before you let them claim that they have a right to raise their children as they like, let me remind you that children aren’t property. They are a responsibility. We impose severe penalties when parents physically brutalize and even kill their children. We need to realize that abuse and trauma isn’t limited to broken bones, contusions, and concussions.
I had several answers—all of them true:
- It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
- In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
- I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
- One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
- Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?
However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:
“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.
“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.
“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”
And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.
So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”
I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.
Doubling-down isn’t how you make sf/f for everyone… and being southern isn’t a license to condescend
Although I already covered some of this last Thursday (Stop digging, don’t you see how deep you already are?), another incident has come to light that makes it even more clear that there are sadly a lot of people committing one of the most classic blunders—no, not that one about going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line—no, this one is from the Nixon era: it isn’t the crime that brings you down, it’s the cover-up.
I’m speaking metaphorically, though. I am not trying to imply that anyone has committed a crime, nor that they are trying to hide it. In the case of the Silverberg incident, while there was plenty that is of the gatekeeper-y style of racism/sexism (not to mention the bigoted trope of calling any marginalized person who is being anything other than deferential “angry”) in the original offense, the real problem came when he wrote about how he isn’t racist or sexist—using racist and misogynist arguments to do so. So, the original comments could have been apologized for as thoughtless or ill-considered (and hypocritical), the denial just made the unexamined misogyny and racist presumptions undeniable.
Turns out two weekends ago at LosCon Greg Benford got himself in a similar problem. Mike Glyer at File770 has several posts with statements from several people and there’s a lot to unravel, but the upshot was that Benford made a number of dismissive comments about works written by one black woman in particular and younger-than-him women writing sf/f in general during a panel, and then during the question-and-answer portion of the panel a pro sitting in the audience tried to call him on it and there was much yelling and recrimination.
The convention staff’s inconsistent handling of the subsequent complaints from multiple people in the panel are generating a lot of pedantic argument and deflection. I don’t feel like re-litigating that, I want to focus on the dismissive words and the problems there. The topic of the panel was supposed to be to discuss who the future Grandmasters of SF/F might be. One of the statements Benford made as part of a general dismissal of a lot of stuff being written today was, “If you write sf honey, gotta get the science right.”
A lot of people are trying to defend Benford by saying that everyone else is being bigoted against southern people by taking offense. They are making the claim that “honey” is used as a polite term to address a stranger in many social circumstances in the south. And they are right to an extent, however, it is not always polite, nor is it an entirely ungendered term, as Benford’s defenders are trying to claim. Straight men in the south never use “honey” to address another man, it is always gendered. Queer men can use it either way, though straight men are quite likely to take offense if a man refers to them as honey. Women can use the term to people of any gender and often it is considered a polite form of address, but it depends on the context.
An older woman might indeed address a younger person as “honey” if they are either asking them to do something, or suggesting that the way the younger person is behaving might be inappropriate for the situation, and so forth. The younger southern person would not take offense, and neither would anyone listening. Southern culture does have a very strong strain of respecting one’s elders, for one thing; the term “honey” in this case signals a difference in social standing. But if the significantly younger person were to call the older woman “honey” in the answer, she would be affronted, and other people overhearing would all agree that the younger person was being rude. Because this is inverting the social standing: the younger person’s use of the term “honey” in such a case signals that the older person doesn’t deserve the respect ordinarily accorded to elders.
If a man uses the term to address a woman who is not a close family member or intimate partner, it also signals a difference in social standing. But depending on the context, the difference being asserted might be simply that the man believes that all women naturally must defer to him. While it might sound friendly, it’s definitely got a message of “respect your betters (and that would be me)” about it.
As another old white bearded guy from the south, I have also used the term “honey” when addressing someone who wasn’t my husband. And as a queer man, I have used it without regard to gender. But I also have had friends explain to me that it just amps up the condescension when I do that. I didn’t consciously intend it, but once it was pointed out, I realized I have to learn to stop saying it, because they are right. Not just that it sounds condescending (which it does). And also not just that it can hurt someone to be talked down to that way whether I intend it or not (which it does). But also because now I know both of those things.
So, since Benford identifies as straight man originally from the south, we can safely infer that his off-the-cuff remark was aimed solely at women writers, and that it was more of an admonishment than friendly advice. It also is a bit of classic gatekeeper BS that conveniently is never used to disqualify any science fiction written by straight white guys. Something that John Scalzi pointed out in a chuckle-worthy way:
Another of my favorite authors, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, started a thread (which others contributed to) that gives more examples of science fiction written by white guys where the science is very, very wrong, but no one of Benford’s camp would ever say wasn’t sf.
Another Benford comment that was directed at a specific author is even worse: asserting that a trilogy which recently won three Hugos in a row isn’t all that because “psychic powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.” Which is another favorite gatekeeper trick to exclude people. Never mind that every one of Benford’s own books could be boiled down to a single “idea” that someone had written many years before he started being published. But that’s the nature of gatekeeping: rules are stated in a way that sound like an objective criteria, but aren’t applied to works by white straight cisgendered men.
But others have also explained that a bit better. Annalee Flower Horne did a twitter thread explaining how “the notion that ideas and tropes can never be re-used in SF and that anyone trying must be new here would be funny if it weren’t such an insidious tool of exclusion.”
But at this point I’m still just describing Benford’s original offense, and not how he dug himself even deeper into the hole. I’m not going to link to it because it’s hosted on sites that I refuse to give any support of. But his response boiled down to accusing everyone else of being too sensitive and lamenting the so-called victim culture. Ah, yes, that tired old chestnut! Every classic blunder deserves a classic racist/misogynist/homophobic dog whistle, I guess. But just to be clear: if you claim that other people are being too sensitive, all that really means is that you’re offended because you think you should be able to disrespect whoever you want and never face any consequences for it.
I didn’t do as good a job last week about explaining one aspect of why this doubling-down is not just pointless, but also ethically wrong. Fortunately, Brianne Reeves did a much better job:
You are at a playground. A gaggle of four year olds is running about. One of them is not paying attention and accidentally sends another plummeting off the equipment and into the asphalt. Suddenly, there is screaming and crying. Mothers race to the scene.
What do you do next?
You fix the wound as best you can, and the child apologizes. Not necessarily for the shove, but for the inattention. They didn’t *mean* to cause pain, but their lack of awareness meant that another is in pain.”
I mentioned above the time when a friend called me out for using the term “honey” in a condescending way. I wasn’t intending to belittle the person I was talking to, but intention isn’t an exculpatory factor. My friend was hurt by my words, and that is on me. More importantly, once I have had this explained to me, the onus also is upon me to avoid such thoughtless words again. It is tough breaking old habits, I know. I have screwed up since that was pointed out to me, but the answer isn’t to blame my friend for being overly sensitive. The onus is on me to keep trying to do better, and apologize sincerely when I mess up.
It’s also galling when a professional writer, of all people, tries to claim that words don’t matter. They do. We should take pride in taking responsibility for what we say and write.