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Steve King’s Brand of “Freedom” Only for People Like Steve King

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U.S. Representative Steven King from Iowa’s fourth congressional district, on January 24, attempted to play kingmaker by bringing some of the most politically conservative of the Republican Party’s potential 2016 candidates to his so-called “Iowa Freedom Summit” in Des Moines. This event is seen as the kickoff — of a deflated Right’s game ball — to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

I find the title of this gathering very misleading, and actually a form of false advertising. When Steve King talks about “freedom,” just what exactly does he mean? As a former resident living in his congressional district, I never understood his definition of the term.

King certainly has no need of promoting freedom to undocumented residents. Last year, he dismissed the notion that many undocumented immigrants are high-achieving students. He asserted that they should not receive a pathway to citizenship saying that for every valedictorian who is legalized, “there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

And King has no use for the concept of “freedom” for the diversity of cultural traditions in the United States other than his own. He claimed that the promotion of the concept of multiculturalism will ultimately bring about the demise of the country as we know it.

In the course I taught at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa titled “Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society,” I showed students a video of Steve King’s. Speaking to supporters on August 21, 2012 at a Le Mars, Iowa, Town Hall meeting, King conjured up a supposed deep and sinister plot to ensnare young and impressionable first-year college students into campus multicultural groups for the purpose of turning them into victims, which he asserted will convince them to work toward the eventual overthrow of this country’s power structure.

King talked about preparing for a debate some time ago on the Iowa State University campus on the concept of multiculturalism. He talked about checking out the university’s website: “I typed in ‘multicultural,’” he stated on the video, “and it came back to me at the time, 59 different multicultural groups listed to do, to operate on campus at Iowa State….And most of them were victims’ groups, victimology, people who feel sorry for themselves.”

He warned that these groups are “out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group who are feeling sorry for themselves….But just think of 59 card tables set up across the parking lot on the way to the dorm….And the first group says, ‘Well, you’re a victim that fits us. We want to help you. Why don’t you join us?’….And then you’re brought into a group that has a grievance against society rather than understand there’s a tremendous blessing in this society.”

Though King attended Northwest Missouri State University from 1967 to 1970, taking courses toward a career as a wildlife officer, he never completed his degree. His political career officially began when he was elected to the Iowa Senate serving from 1996-2002. While there, he was instrumental in passing the law mandating English as the “official” language of Iowa. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 2002 serving on the Agricultural and Judiciary Committees, Constitution Subcommittee and Immigration (really?) Subcommittee. He also chairs the powerful House of Representatives Conservative Opportunity Society caucus (and how does he define “opportunity”?). While in public office, he has consistently taken stands championed by the political Right opposing affirmative action for women and minoritized people, marriage equality for same-sex couples, abortion, and gun control, among others.

Continuing his conspiratorial theory in Le Mars, King warned of the work and philosophy of Antonio Gramsci, whom he referred to as “the president of the Italian Communist Party from 1919 to 1926…” and “the father of multiculturalism.” According to King, “[Gramsci] made the argument that Karl Marx was right in his broader theory but wrong in the details that the Proletariats (sic) would never rise up against the Bourgeois effectively because they needed the Bourgeois for their jobs….And so, he said they needed to find victims groups and then that way if they could have a common sense of being victimized, they would have a stronger resistance toward the establishment, and then you could bundle up these victims groups and they together could overthrow the establishment….”

Maybe King should have taken my Multicultural Foundations course since it is obvious he has lots to learn on the topic. Yes, Gramsci was a leader in the Italian Communist Party, as well as a political theorist, politician, and linguist whom the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini imprisoned for his outspoken advocacy of human and civil liberties (freedom!). At his trial in 1926, the chief prosecutor argued: “For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning.” While serving his sentence, he wrote more than 30 notebooks between 1927 and 1935 constituting over 3000 pages of history and analysis together known as the Prison Notebooks. In these writings, he stressed the imperative for workers’ education founded upon the strong bedrock of history and understanding of social relations, and on the origins and functions of ideas. Gramsci’s health deteriorated dramatically while incarcerated, and he died in 1937 at the age of 46.

Gramsci wrote about the concept of “cultural hegemony,” which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as “common sense,” as “normal,” and as “universal.” This hegemony maintains and expands the marginality of groups with different or opposing views. Gramsci knew the true definition of “freedom,” and he worked to advance freedom tirelessly throughout his tragically short life.

Steve King is a prominent and outspoken member of the so-called “Birther Movement.” He has consistently tried to define President Barack Obama as “other” by attempting to prevent our President the right of self-definition – an apparent contradiction within a political party that emphasizes rugged individualism, freedom, and liberty over one’s life. In August 2012, King made the absurdist accusation during a tele-town hall meeting that though his staff had found Barack Obama’s birth announcement in two separate Hawaiian newspapers, “That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other explanations on how they might’ve announced that by telegram from Kenya.”

In addition, according to King while Obama was running for the presidential nomination in 2008: “When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States…[w]hat does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”

Rather than resisting the concept of multiculturalism and viewing it as a challenge to our country’s very existence, I advise Mr. King that we need to embrace our rich diversity. According to the National Association for Multicultural Education: “Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare student for their responsibilities in an interdependent world.”

Without a strong emphasis on multiculturalism in our school and larger society, we will continue down the shameful historical path laid by those who have gone before us in the United States, which Joel Spring refer to as “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”

Social theorist Gunnar Myrdal traveled throughout the United States during the late 1940s examining U.S. society following World War II. He discovered a grave contradiction or inconsistency, which he termed “an American dilemma.” He found a country founded on an overriding commitment to democracy, liberty, freedom, human dignity, and egalitarian values, coexisting alongside deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination, privileging white people, while subordinating people of color.

The Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen, in 1915 coined the term “cultural pluralism” to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot”), but rather, one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres.

Today, the United States stands as the most culturally, ethnically, racially, linguistically, and religiously diverse country in the world. This diversity poses great challenges and great opportunities. I would advise Mr. King that the way we meet these challenges will determine whether we remain on the abyss of our history or whether we can truly achieve our promise of becoming a shining beacon to the world.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 25th, 2015 at 11:35 pm

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New Hope Ministries Offers No Hope At All

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I am continually amazed, but no longer surprised, when I witness incidents where individuals and entire denominations justify and perpetuate acts of bigotry and tyranny in the name of God and religion. From scorn, marginalization, forced conversion, and expulsion to kidnapping, rape, enslavement, invasion, and murder, throughout the ages up to our current epoch, people have taken literal and not-so-literal interpretations of their scriptures to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and entire nations targeted by these texts.

The latest incident in this heinous saga comes from the New Hope Ministries in Denver, Colorado when at approximately 15 minutes into conducting a funeral service, Pastor Ray Chavez suddenly stopped and announced that he will not continue. He then ordered that the funeral must be moved since, apparently, he discovered that the deceased was a lesbian.

Vanessa Collier died on December 30, 2014. As a loving memorial to her, Vanessa’s friends produced a moving video tribute showing pictures taken throughout her life, some with Vanessa kissing her wife. Pastor Chavez, viewing the video, cancelled the funeral service, and recommended mourners take the casket, the flowers, and themselves across the street. Chaplain Gary Rolando, a friend of the Collier family, continued the service at the Newcomer Funeral Home.

A few days after laying Vanessa to rest, a group of protesters marched in front of the New Hope Ministries church, holding signs saying, “Dignity in Death Vanessa” and “You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find HYPOCRISY.”

Today we term the ancients’ and indigenous peoples’ forms of religion and spirituality as “mythology” or “superstition.” The reality is that all religious doctrine stems from conjecture, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Burning Bush, to the Covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to Heaven from the rock, to the Mormon Golden Tablets, all beginning with the human invention of God(s).

While attempting to portray themselves as religious denominations that stand for world peace and love, upon scratching not far beneath the paper-thin veneer, we find a wide and deep tradition and current practice of abuse and oppression within some of the more extreme and fanatical conservative denominations.

Religions reflect a human response in our attempt to answer the mysteries of life: How did we get here and what is our purpose within the cosmos? Beginning as a belief in faith and mystery, many religions have developed a conceited sense of certainty that they and only they know “the Truth” with a capital “T.” Though the enforcement tactics differ, this sense of certainty remains virtually the same from extreme fanatical religious-based political groups, to orthodox religious denominations of all kinds.

I find the name of the church, New Hope Ministries, to be a fraudulent misnomer, a deceit in advertising. If Pastor Chavez considers his actions as representing some sort of hope, new or otherwise, I prefer no hope at all.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 24th, 2015 at 12:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Christian “Conversion Therapies” & Catholic “Third Way”: Immaculate Deceptions

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“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was. They’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better.  My death needs to mean something….Fix society. Please.”

Introduction

Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old trans* girl, wrote these tragically poignant words just before stepping in front of a 18-wheel tractor trailer on December 28, 2014 at 2:20 a.m. as she walked along the southbound lanes of I-71 near her home in Kings Mill, Ohio. Also in her suicide note, she outlined her troubled relationship with her conservative Christian parents who would not accept or support her trans* identity claiming their religious beliefs as justification. They sent her to a so-called “Christian therapist” who refused to grant her permission to undergo gender confirmation medical procedures.

By now, we are all aware of the wide-scale sex abuse and attempted cover-up scandal in the Catholic Church over revelations of priestly predatory behaviors perpetrated on young children. In the wake of the tragic suicide death of Leelah Alcorn, we are once again reminded of yet another form of abuse in the wide-ranging dangers and the cruel practices of religiously-based so-called “conversion” schemes.

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feeling for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents’ reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel’s father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to “cure” him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.

His parents sent him to a “religious therapist” who told Samuel that “I want you to know that you’re gay, and all gay people have AIDS,” and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel “came out” to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned. But he turned his life around. Following graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2010, Samuel Brinton was chosen as the top LGBT activist in the U.S. by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept this revelation, Lyn’s mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordon, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called “conversion therapy” to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed “gender identity disorder” and “clinical depression.” Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her “therapy” was highly religious in tone.

This so-called “conversion therapy” amounted to “aversion” techniques including watching women same-sex pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, being subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called “behavior modification” by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and went to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio’s Flashpoints.

These examples remind us of what Gordon Allport wrote in 1954 in his pioneering book, The Nature of Prejudice:

“The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes and unmakes prejudice. While the creeds of the great religions are universalistic, all stressing brotherhood (sic), the practices of these creeds are frequently divisive and brutal” (p. 444).

Many of the more extremist and fanatical Christian Right groups and conservative religious ministries push what they refer to as “Christian therapy” for the purpose of, as they phrase it, removing people from the so-called “homosexual lifestyle.” It is important that parents, social workers, and other mental health professionals know that these so-called “therapies” go by such names as the X-Gay religious ministries, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous (HA: a cynical co-optation of 12-Step program method of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of X-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), and so-called “conversion therapy” (a.k.a. “reparative” and “reorientation” therapy), which promise conversion to heterosexuality if the person has the requisite motivation to change.

These cruel, tyrannical, and counterfeit “therapies” have been harshly condemned by reputable psychiatric organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution, August 14, 1997, which read in part:

“Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for ‘conversion’ treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information…. Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder…. Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.”

In addition, the APA, in 2008, passed a resolution, “Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression Non-Discrimination” opposing “all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies…. Therefore be it further resolved that APA calls upon psychologists in their professional roles to provide appropriate, nondiscriminatory treatment to transgender and gender variant individuals and encourages psychologists to take a leadership role in working against discrimination towards transgender and gender variant individuals…”

California in August 2012 became the first state, followed soon after by New Jersey, to outlaw the practice of “conversion therapies” for people under the age of 18 after reviewing reports of the destructive nature of these alleged therapies. A number of other states are currently considering similar legislation.

While his state was holding hearings on the issue, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013, (quoted in C. Love):

“My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.”

Investigating Christian “Conversion Therapies”

In an attempt to understand the apparent motives and mindsets of some of these “therapists,” I contacted a number of them on their Facebook websites. One in particular, Catholic Therapy.com, agreed to engage in an online chat with me. On the site, it promotes its form of Catholic Therapy as “Sound Psychology, Solid Faith, Real Healing.” So I asked those who staff the site about their procedures on LGBT clients and whether they endorse so-called “conversion” strategies, which attempt to change the person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.

I first inquired whether they adhere to the Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2357 related to same-sex sexuality:

“Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are gravely/intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of love [i.e., children]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

“Natural Law”:

A key factor in the development of orthodox Catholic ethics since the 13th century is the concept of “Natural Law,” which includes a set of standards that the Church has inferred follow an ordering of nature.

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican scholar born in 1225 was an early exponent of “natural law,” which asserts that morality is based on certain constraints of human nature. Aquinas believed that same-sex sexuality (and any sexual act not intended specifically for procreation, including masturbation) are vices against nature, which violate the will of God. Thus, the Church has concluded that the expressions of homosexuality, plus many forms of heterosexual sexual behavior are “gravely and intrinsically immoral” or “gravely and intrinsically disordered” (as clearly stated in the Catholic Catechism).

In addition, Aquinas believed that usury (the lending of money for profit) was unjust and also contrary to natural law, and, therefore, was forbidden to Christians. Hence, a pattern emerged: Jewish people were invited into a region to fill money-lending and tax collecting gaps in the economy. They were ultimately blamed for the problems of the economic systems, and Christians expelled or massacred them. The stereotype of Jews as money-lovers, as cheap, and as miserly was born.

On Slavery:

Taking a brief glance back in time, not so long ago a position similar to that of “natural law” was used by some Christian leaders to preach what they determined was the “naturalness” in the subjugation of black Africans and in the institution of slavery. A direct reflection of this position is evidenced by the names of the ships used to transport slaves across the sea, four of which were the “Jesus,” the “Gift of God,” the “Liberty,” and the “Justice.”

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention. In May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.

Either by divine “inspiration” or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion in the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.

I asked the staff of Catholic Therapy.com that if they took literally the few sentences in the Christian Testaments relating specifically to same-sex sexuality, did they as well take literally the many passages in their Testaments related to the institution of slavery, for example:

Ephesians 6:5-6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

1 Timothy 6:1-2: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.”

Quoting a number of these Biblical passages, Pope Nicholas V, in 1452, for example, composed his Dum Diversas, which granted to the kings of Spain and Portugal the right to reduce any “Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual slavery. Then in 1548, Pope Paul III, reasserted that any free person may buy, sell, and own slaves, and that runaway slaves were to be returned to their owners for punishment. Pope Gregory I in 595 sent a priest to Britain to purchase Pagan boys to work as slaves on church estates. Around the year 600, Pope Gregory I wrote, in Pastoral Rule: “Slaves should be told…not [to] despise their masters and recognize that they are only slaves.” And between 1629-1661, Popes Urban VII, Innocent X, and Alexander VII, purchased Muslim slaves.

Though not addressing my questions regarding Biblical justifications for slavery directly, Catholic Therapy.com staff advised me to read the Catholic Catechism, which I did. I found numerous passages discussing primarily how Jesus freed his believers from the slavery of sin, while another section seems, at least since this paragraph was written during relatively modern times, to reject a literal Biblical textual reading:

2414: “The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason — selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian — lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave ‘no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord’.”

On the Place of Women:

I also asked the staff to reply whether they followed numerous scriptural passages on the place of women in their Church, for example, the following:

1 Timothy 2:9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”

1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 37: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. . . . what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.”

The Catholic Catechism does not significantly contradict these texts, but softens the tone somewhat while reifying the “natural” place of men above women in the hierarchy of the home and of the Church.

On the Jews:

And what about Christian Testament passages related to Jewish people, for example,

1 Thessalonians 2:15-16: “[T]he Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God’s will and enemies of their fellow man….All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken the good of all.”

Matthew 27:24-25: “Pilate could see that nothing was being gained, and a riot was starting [among the Jews]; so he took water and washed his hands in full view of the people saying, “My hands are clean of this man’s blood; see to that yourselves,” and with one voice the people cried, ‘His blood be on us, and on our children’.”

John 8: 44: And Jesus said: “If God were your father, you would love me…[but] your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father’s desires.”

Revelation 2:9: “The Jews…are Satan’s synagogue.”

Revelation 3:9: “I will make those of Satan’s synagogue, who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds, come and fall down at your feet.”

In 1239, using Biblical passages as his rationale, Pope Gregory IX ordered all copies of the Jewish holy book, the Talmud, confiscated, and in 1322, Pope John XXII ordered all copies of the Talmud burned on the eve of the Jewish Passover. Pope Paul IV, in his Papal bull Cum nimis absurdum, segregated Jews within a walled ghetto with locked gates at night to keep them separated from the Christian majority, and to emphasize their inferior legal and social status. Pope Pius IX, in 1858, kidnapped a young boy, Edgardo Mortara, from his Jewish parents in Bologna, Italy, and raised him in Rome as a Catholic against his parents’ wishes on the justification that a Catholic maidservant had secretly baptized the boy earlier when he was gravely ill. Pope Pius IX also referred to the Jews of Rome as “dogs.”

Unfortunately, the staff did not address my questions regarding scriptural passages on the Jews, though the Church at large changed its policies somewhat.

The Church has since admitted regret for many of the actions and words of former Popes. The Rev. Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, was honored by Jewish leaders around the world for his work in saving large numbers of Jews during the German Holocaust. As Pope, he convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which authorized the declaration Nostra Aetate and approved in 1965 under Pope Paul VI. An article in the document, while certainly not going far enough, stated: “True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.” Moreover, the Church “deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source.”

On Homosexuality and Gender Non-Conformity:

I asked the staff of Catholic Therapy.com how they interpret the total of 4 passages in the Christian Testaments related to same-sex sexuality and even less on gender non-conformity:

Romans 1:26: “In consequence, God has given them up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.”

Romans 1:27: “And likewise also the men, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion.”

Timothy 1:10: “For whoremonger, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”

1 Corinthians 6-9: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.”

Giving me the basic variation of the “we hate the sin and love the sinner” rhetoric, the site’s staff asserted that the accusation of “grave depravity” and being “gravely” or “intrinsically disordered” applies only to the behaviors and not to the persons engaging in these behaviors.

For individuals within the Church who cannot or will not change to a heterosexual orientation, they are still welcomed into the Church community by following Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2325:

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

Heterosexual Expression within Marriage for Procreation:

I asked the staff of Catholic Therapy.com whether they advocate celibacy for their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans* clients. They invoked the teachings of a former Pope.

“The ‘Theology of the Body’ is St. John Paul II’s integrated vision of the human person. The human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives.…John Paul II encourages a true reverence for the gift of our sexuality and challenges us to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons. His theology is not only for young adults or married couples, but for all ages and vocations, since it sums up the true meaning of being a person.”

In January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI was much blunter (quoted in Pullella, 2012). He delivered a New Year’s speech to diplomats from approximately 180 countries, declaring that marriage for same-sex couples “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” and in 2008, during Benedict’s end-of-the-year Vatican address (quoted in New York Times, 2008) he asserted that humanity needs to “listen to the language of creation” to realize the intended roles of man and woman. He warned of the “blurring” of the natural distinctions (natural law) between males and females, and called for humanity to protect itself from self-destruction. The Pope compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”

Initially, Pope Francis seemed to express a new tone, if not a new direction, on the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality in the priesthood. The Pope delivered his statement in an impromptu news conference aboard his papal jet on July 29, 2013 while returning to the Vatican from Brazil after completing his first international trip as Pope where he spoke to millions celebrating “World Youth Day” (quoted in Donadio):

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Francis, however, seemed to reverse, or at least, contradict himself 18 months later on January 16, 2015:

The family is threatened, Pope Francis said (quoted in Weston) “by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.” The Pope also vigorously defended Catholic teaching against birth control.

The Christian Therapy.com site’s staff asserted throughout our discussion a “true reverence for the gift of our sexuality,” but they and the Church define sexuality very narrowly: heterosexuality within the confines of monogamous marriage, specifically for the purpose of procreation. In mostly all other ways, people must remain celibate. The staff of the site referenced an article titled “The Myth of the Gay Gene” by Dominican Brother Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco (2003), who elaborates on this theme:

“The Church teaches that as embodied spiritual creatures, human beings were created male and female so that in the complementarity of the sexes, they can reflect the inner unity of the Creator. This was recognized and confirmed by the Lord Jesus who instituted the sacrament of marriage to celebrate the divine plan of the loving and life-giving union of men and women.”

The staff rationalized their “therapeutic” practices of attempting to change or alter their “homosexual” clients’ sexual orientation by reverting to the over-used “nature v. nurture” debate. They again referenced Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco’s article, which attempts to refute scientists, such as John M. Bailey, Richard C. Pillard, Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, and others who found a supposed genetic predisposition toward homosexuality in some people. The article also cites a very few studies showing alleged conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality for participants who were highly motivated to change.

According to the Catholic Therapy.com Facebook site’s staff:

“The huge variety of sexual expressions in different cultures sharing essentially the same genes shows genetic influence is minimal. All ethnic groups share almost all their genes, so we can make two assumptions about any behaviour that is claimed to be genetically produced: It will be very predictable, very specific and similar all over the globe, and, it will be present at roughly the same percentage in all cultures. We also know that many genes, maybe hundreds, are involved in human behaviours, and that behaviours affected by many genes will change very slowly over very many generations. That is, they will be very stable for centuries, with only minimal changes from generation to generation. This is true not only in families, but also in cultures.”

“But if we look at homosexuality,” they continued, “we find none of the characteristics of genetic properties: There is a huge variety of homosexual practices between cultures and even within them. The prevalence of homosexuality has varied considerably in different cultures. In some cultures, it has been unknown; in others, it has been obligatory for all males. There have been, and are, rapid changes in homosexual behaviour, even over a lifetime. Not only that, but entire types of homosexuality have disappeared over the course of just a few centuries. When anthropologists survey the evidence, they are, to a surprising degree, united in the belief that behaviours such as homosexuality and lesbianism are not produced genetically, but by social conditions.”

Fundamentally (pun intended), what the site’s staff and by implication many other “Christian counselors” assert is that homosexuality and gender non-conformity do not derive from any biological or genetic bases, but rather, develop after birth from some sort of social or cultural means or exposure. Therefore, as their theory goes, “therapy” can reverse this socialization by helping the client revert or convert back to the “natural” state of heterosexual and gender-conforming attractions and behaviors. If, however, the client has genuinely attempted to change, but temperamentally cannot do so, the Church offers “The Third Way”: chastity.

“The Third Way” of the Catholic Church:

The staff advised that I watch a film produced by Blackstone Films (2014) for the Catholic Church titled “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.” It supposedly offers an opening for people with same-sex attractions to find a welcoming home in the Church. The film defines “the first way” as the religious hellfire and brimstone condemnations of homosexuality. “The second way” comes from “secular” support for all varieties of sexuality. The Catholic Church, however, rejects the first two “ways” while advocating “the third way” in welcoming chaste homosexuals as full members to the fold. Attempting to separate itself from the extreme fanatical religious bigots (of which they assert they are not a part), the film attempts to portray the Catholic Church as an institution dedicated to “Christian love.”

“The Third Way” profiles a number of “confirmed” homosexuals (joyously seated or standing in a church) who have gone through torment over their trying to reconcile their sexual attractions with their desire to openly practice their Catholic faith. All of the participants came from abusive pasts. One woman claimed she was raised by her emotionally “distant mother” who never wanted her. Another woman said “I hated men. They are vicious brutes who only wanted one thing from you.” A man expressed that he was raised by an alcoholic swearing father, and now he himself is “scared by masculinity.” Another man said “I was effeminate and sent to therapy at age 12.”

Another common these among the participants was that they all tried to live the so-called “gay lifestyle” or function within “the gay scene,” and while exhilarating at first, ultimately it did not work for them. Many of them fell into depression, and they turned to alcohol to ease the pain. Some of them attended “gay” churches, but they remained depressed and lonely. One participant admitted that “we have to say no to a desire that would take me away from true flourishing, so I can say yes to that which leads to authentic flourishing.” For him and others profiled in the film, acting on same-sex desires and achieving authentic flourishing are mutually exclusive.

Catholic theologians in the film described same-sexual desires in pathological terms. One expressed that “desire can’t be fulfilled according to the design of our bodies,” and that same-sex attractions are “disordered.” Therefore his conclusion: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.”

Catholic Catechism 2359: “Chastity is the virtue that orients our sexual desires according to God’s design so we can reach our destiny.”

The film describes chastity as a part of “natural law” by humbly submitting to the design of the Creator. Same-sex relationships, though, can be good (chaste) friendships with lots of intimacy (though the film never explained what his means) without sex.

Catholic Catechism 2358: “[Persons experiencing same-sex attractions] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Participants, however, acknowledge experiencing some discrimination within the Church, according to one “from those who don’t really understand the true teaching of the Church.”

Toward the conclusion of the film, music rising, angelic voices singing, hands lifted on high, legs bending and hands clenching together in prayer, one participant related in joyful tearing: “I used to think I was a gay man. I am NOT gay. I am David, a Catholic man.” Turn up flutes and angelic choir music, and cut to film credits.

Discussion

I find it unfortunate that this Facebook website and its film – a high-cost piece of slick propaganda — plus many of the other Christian so-called “conversion therapy” schemes, ask the wrong questions. Rather than looking into alleged “causes” of homosexuality and gender non-conformity for the purpose of developing and instituting “cures,” as if these were medical or psychiatric disorders, the question must be instead: “What is getting in the way of the person developing a positive sense of self – a positive sense of identity?” The answer to the later question is very complex and relative to the individual involved. However, one of the “causes” of someone internalizing a negative self-concept around their sexuality and/or gender identity and expression falls squarely on the negative representations, myths, stereotypes, and treatments by extreme and fanatical conservative religious denominations toward sexual and gender minorities.

Staff at Catholic Therapy.com asserted that their clients have the “freedom” to decide whether to seek therapy to change their orientation and behaviors. If their clients truly wish to remain within the Church and to engage in the sense of community it offers, I would ask the site’s staff how truly “free” are their clients growing up in a family and larger community that consider their sexuality or gender expression against God’s plan? How truly “free” are they hearing on Sunday mornings in church or Wednesday evenings in their youth groups from their priests how “gravely disordered” are their feelings and behaviors? How “free” are they when others bully them at school for their differences? I would also ask how the Church’s teachings and preachings are killing people’s spirits and literally killing their physical bodies? I would ask how the Church’s teachings and preachings directly influence and condone the school bullying and bashings, and the suicides?

The staff answered these questions by asserting:

“Warren: The Catholic Church’s teaching is that unjust discrimination toward human beings, including those who have deep seated homosexual inclinations, is never acceptable and must be decried wherever it occurs. Every human being should be treated with respect, his dignity honored, and his health and welfare protected and preserved. This is what the Catholic Church teaches to being ‘Christian love’.”

I find that the Catholic Church talks in doublespeak saying “we love you,” “we welcome you,” “we offer you ‘Christian love,’” and “we are here to help you change your unwanted attractions and gender behaviors,” which we, by the way, define as “gravely and intrinsically disordered.” Is this love? Or, rather, does this fall into the scope of cruelty, discrimination, and, yes, sexuality and gender abuse and oppression?

The Catholic Church and other fanatical conservative religious denominations force people to accept the definition of themselves and their identities that the Church dictates. In this way, these religious institutions attempt to deprive the individual a sense of their own subjectivity and agency. These denominations promote the process of heteronormativity, where heterosexual values and ideologies of gender expression and sexuality rigidly remain the norm.

I wrote the Facebook staff that “I have no doubt that within 100 or less years from now, your therapy ON people with same-sex attractions and with people who gender non-conform will be seen in a similar light as the blood-letting techniques of the apothecaries of earlier times.”

The Catholic Church’s “third way” is tantamount to symbolic genital mutilation. With its “third way,” the Church is attempting to have it both ways: continuing to promote its brand of heteronormativity and gendernormativity, while keeping its same-sex-loving and gender transformative members in the fold. Unfortunately for the Church, many of its members are leaving in droves.

But how more spirits and lives will the Church torment and extinguish needlessly in the process?

In a recent survey released by Quinnipiac University on October 4, 2013, 68 percent of adult Catholics polled said they agreed with the pontiff’s recent statements that the Church has focused too much on issues of homosexuality, abortion, and contraception.

In addition, directly following Francis’s installation, a Pew Research (Lipka, 2013) poll found that 76 percent of U.S. Catholics want the Church to sanction birth control, 54 percent support marriage for same-sex couples, 64 percent want priests to be able to marry, and 59 percent would like to see women priests.

I don’t have any illusions that the current Catholic leadership, and even the new pontiff, will either want or be able to fully resurrect itself, and bring the Church into the modern era, though any movement out of the Middle Ages where it remains entrenched is better than nothing.

The staff’s response to my critique:

“Warren: with all due respect, your replies here on our FB and in your article indicate that the Catholic Church is supposed to change official dogmatic teachings of the Church based solely on ‘your’ opinions on what they should be. We are Catholic and to be a true Catholic is to consider ourselves devout and faithful to the Magisterium. You are correct that all Popes are not equal and some have left much to be desired. Like all of us, they are men with human weakness and sin. But, none have ever changed official dogmatic teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals successfully. It has never happened. Jesus had assured us that it won’t ever happen and, we, as devout Catholics believe what He said. The Roman Catholic Church has always taught us that all sexual behavior is reserved for married couples who attempt to produce children. The Catholic Church proclaims the nature of sex is both unitive and procreative; therefore, same-sex behavior is an objectively sinful sexual act that is unfaithful to God’s design. Our call as Christians to love the sinner is every bit as important as the doctrines on which we rest our beliefs. It’s love that welcomes and heals. You (and those of the extreme LGBT lobby) also want to ignore the fact that your personal experiences with Same Sex Attraction is not everyone’s experiences with it. We had provided you 2 films that we encourage you to actually view on the experiences of others who did not find freedom with living the lifestyle of LGBT and who sought help because it did not provide the fulfillment they had hoped for.”

“Opinion”? Well, I hate to bring this up, but all religious doctrine (within Polytheism AND Monotheism) falls in the realm of “opinion.” Religion is a human response in our attempt to answer the mysteries of life: How did we get here and what is our purpose within the cosmos? From belief in faith and mystery, many religions have taken to an arrogant certainty that they and only they have “the Truth” with a capital “T.”

Actually, the Catholic Church has changed some of its “official dogmatic teachings”: it now condemns the institution of slavery, it permits women and girls to actually speak in church (so very progressive!), Jews have been forgiven for killing Jesus (even though it was not the Jews, but rather the Romans who killed Jesus, but let’s not quibble).

Today we term the ancients’ and indigenous peoples’ explanations to the mysteries of life as “mythology” or “superstition.” The reality is that all religious doctrine stems from mythology and conjecture, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the burning bush, to the covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the immaculate conception and resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the rock, to the golden tablets, all beginning with the human invention of God(s).

Many of the more conservative religious denominations demonize free thinkers and critical thinkers because they cannot and will not allow themselves to be herded into pens of social conformity and convention as readily.

Religious denominations, in fact any individual, does not have the right to define us. They do not have the right to make the rules about how we live our lives. They do not have the right to make choices for us.

Rather than accepting “the third way,” I suggest “the forth way”: support and affirm us for who we are, and help us in accepting and loving ourselves for our uniqueness, our talents, and our diversity.

While attempting to portray themselves as religious denominations that stand for world peace and so-called “Christian love,” upon scratching not far beneath the paper-thin façade, we find a rich and deep tradition and current practice of abuse and oppression within some of the more extreme and fanatical conservative denominations. Therefore, I say to these denominations, curb your dog-ma, and keep your Bibles off our bodies.

Though the enforcement tactics differ, this arrogant sense of certainty remains virtually the same from extreme fanatical religious-based political groups, to orthodox religious denominations within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This reminds me of an experience I had following a speaking engagement.

[Not A] Conclusion

I gave a lecture on the topic of homophobia (fear and hatred of LGBT people) at Pace University in New York City approximately six years ago. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently-gendered, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexuality and gender expression is hurt by homophobia and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate this very real and insidious form of oppression.

Following my presentation, two students came up to me — one woman and one man — to continue the discussion. The young woman began by telling me: “I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian.

“I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual person. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

My response: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I have to change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I have to become like you? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not understand how this in itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not understand how this type of statement perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “Truth,” and that if accepted, could grant me salvation and happiness, but if rejected, would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.

We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me. He asked: “Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete or isn’t any good.”

“Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.

“Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”

I said to him, “Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

“Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Jewish Bible — not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures — somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran. The real Truth. The ultimate Truth. The only Truth.”

My response to this young man: “As we speak here, we are standing literally a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious Truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings, or to invade others’ territories. Utterances like yours of people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’

“Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too? And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me or for the Christian woman. How many deaths have to occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”

That was then. Though it transpired a number of years ago, this discussion comes back to my memory giving me an insight I previously had not known: that “Truth” is what the dominant group declares to be THE “Truth.” “Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”? Someone said to me once that throughout the ages, more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point: we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts that can never be proven.

Youth Leading the Way:

Leelah Alcorn, Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing us all that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differ from the majority, but rather, rests within a society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of extreme fanatical conservative religious denominations that adhere to a circumscribed view of human diversity.

Returning to Gordon Allport’s quote referring to the paradoxical role of religion to make and unmask prejudice, likewise, religious texts — between disparate religions and between denominations within the same religion, as well as within a single text — on close examination, are paradoxical and even contradictory. Moreover, individuals and entire denominations often interpret identical scriptural passages very differently, and they also emphasize and adhere to some readings while disregarding and even dismissing others. One particular passage seems to stand out in the Christian Testements when we attempt to answer the question, “Where do we go from here to ensure a just and equitable worldview?” I suggest the following:

James 2: 8-9: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

We MUST make real Leelah Alcorn’s wish to “Fix society. Please.” That “fixing” includes religious denominations as well.

For a comprehensive investigation, see: Conservative Christian Beliefs and Sexual Orientation in Social Work: Privilege, Oppression, and the Pursuit of Human Rights, edited by Adrienne B. Dessel and Rebecca M. Bolen, Council on Social Work Education, 2014.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press). He resides in western Massachusetts.

References

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. New York: Perseus Publishing.

American Psychological Association Council of Representatives (2008). Resolution on Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression Non-Discrimination. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association Council of Representatives. (1997). Resolution on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Austriaco, N. P. G. (2003). The myth of the gay gene. Ignatius Press. (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5798)

Blackstone Films. (2014). “The third way: Homosexuality and the Catholic church.” (http://www.blackstonefilms.org/films.html)

Blumenfeld, W. J. (Ed.) (1992). Homophobia: How we all pay the price. Boston: Beacon Press.

Dessel, A. B. and Bolen, R. M. (Eds.) (2014). Conservative Christian beliefs and sexual orientation in social work: Privilege, oppression, and the pursuit of Human rights. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work, Inc.

Donadio, R. (2013, July 29). On gay priests, Pope Francis asks: “Who am I to judge?” New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/world/europe/pope-francis-gay-priests.html?pagewanted=all)

Lipka, M. (2013, Sept. 19). Majority of U. S. Catholics’ opinions run counter to church on contraception, homosexuality. Pew Research Center (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/19/majority-of-u-s-catholics-opinions-run-counter-to-church-on-contraception-homosexuality/)

Love, C. (2013, March 19). Gay teen to NJ Senate Committee: “I am not broken. I am not confused. I don’t need to be fixed.” Daily Kos (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/03/19/1195393/-Gay-Teen-to-NJ-Senate-Committee-I-am-not-broken-I-am-not-confused-I-don-t-need-to-be-fixed#)

Pullella, P. (2012, Jan. 9). Gay marriage a threat to humanity’s future: Pope. Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/09/us-pope-gay-idUSTRE8081RM20120109)

Quinnipiac University. (2013, Oct. 4). U.S. Catholics back Pope on changing church focus, Quinnipiac University national poll finds; Catholics support gay marriage, women priests 2-1. Quinnipiac University (http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=1961)

New York Times Staff. (2008, Dec. 22). Pope criticizes homosexual behavior. New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/22/world/europe/22iht-23pope.18872459.html?_r=1&

Weston, J-H, (2015, Jan. 16). Pope Francis praises Hunanae Vitae, warns of attacks on family. Lifesite (https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-francis-praises-humanae-vitae-warns-of-attacks-on-family)

 

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 18th, 2015 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Blasting Away Black Faces and Lives

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With the increased visibility of police officers killing unarmed black men and boys surfacing in the media, the wide scale demonstrations of outrage and protest traveling throughout the United States and in countries around the world, and investigations by the Justice Department into allegations of racial bias in policing, one would anticipate that police force officials might begin to assess procedures, at the very least, to give the impression they are willing to correct any appearance of racial profiling of black and brown people. I suppose, however, the Chief of the North Miami Beach Police Department in Florida never got that memo.

What members of the Florida National Guard found when they showed up at a shooting range for their annual weapons qualifying training shocked and angered them. Before they arrived, the North Miami Beach Police Department conducted sniper training at the site using mug shots of African American men for target practice, and for some reason, they failed to removed the pictures. For one of the members of the Guard, Sargent Valerie Deant, this was extremely traumatic. One of the hanging mug shots was of her brother, Woody Deant, with a clear bullet hole in one of his eyes and another in the center of his forehead.

The Police Department took Woody Deant’s mug shot in 2000 after his arrest for drag racing that resulted in the death of two people. He served a 4-year prison sentence, and today he is a respected member of his community as a father, husband, and employee.

North Miami Beach Police Chief, J. Scott Dennis, defended the practice of using actual photographs in target practice because he argued that it is important for facial recognition drills. While in this particular instance, all the faces profiled included African Americans, he asserted that this is not always the case since his department uses faces of all races in its target practice trainings.

A Florida news station, NBC 6, contacted a number of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to determine whether this type of police training is a widespread practice. Every law enforcement agency contacted stated they use only commercially produced targets, and never photographs of human beings for target practice.

What am I missing here? Why does Chief J. Scott Dennis believe it to be good policy and practice to further target (literally and figuratively) people who have paid for their past mistakes? Does he think his policy has no real impact on the loved ones of those whose pictures his officers blast away? Does this not fall under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment”? Does this not, in fact, promote racial profiling? Does this not, in fact, produce further distrust of police departments by the communities they are meant to serve? Does this practice not produce some sort of sadistic thrill on the part of the trainees? And if so, does this thrill not transfer when shootings real people?

Most importantly, how does Chief Dennis’s target exercise impress upon his officers that black lives or that any lives matter? Maybe Chief Dennis needs to rethink his policies, and go back to reading his memos. Our hands are up Mr. Dennis. Don’t shoot!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 17th, 2015 at 10:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Catholic “Therapy,” or Sexuality and Gender Abuse?

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By now, we are all aware of the wide-scale sex abuse and attempted cover-up scandal in the Catholic Church over revelations of priestly predatory behaviors perpetrated on young children. In the wake of the tragic suicide death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a trans* teen raised in a conservative Christian community whose parents sent her to a so-called “Christian therapist,” we are once again reminded of yet another form of abuse in the wide-ranging dangers and the cruel practices of religious-based so-called “conversion” schemes.

Many of the more extreme Christian Right groups and religious ministries push what they refer to as “Christian therapy” for the purpose of, as they phrase it, removing people from the “homosexual lifestyle.” These so-called “therapies” go by such names as the X-Gay religious ministries, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of 12-Step program method of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of X-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), and so-called “conversion therapy” (a.k.a. “reparative” and “reorientation” therapy), which promise conversion to heterosexuality and gender conformity if the person has the requisite motivation to change.

In an attempt to understand the apparent motives and mindsets of some of these “therapists,” I contacted a number of them on their Facebook websites. One in particular, Catholic Therapy.com, agreed to engage in an online chat. On the site, it promotes its form of Catholic Therapy as “Sound Psychology, Solid Faith, Real Healing.” So I asked those who staff the site about their procedures on LGBT clients and whether they endorse so-called “conversion” strategies, which attempt to change the person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.

I inquired whether they adhere to the Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2357 related to same-sex sexuality: “Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are gravely disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of love [i.e., children]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Giving me the basic variation of the “hate the sin and love the sinner” speech, the site’s staff asserted that the accusation of “grave depravity” and being “gravely disordered” applies only to the behaviors and not to the persons engaging in same-sex sexuality.

For individuals within the Church who cannot or will not change to a heterosexual orientation, they are still welcomed into the Church community by following Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2325: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

So I asked whether they advocate celibacy for their gay and lesbian clients. They invoked the teachings of a former Pope. “The ‘Theology of the Body’ is St. John Paul II’s integrated vision of the human person. The human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives.…John Paul II encourages a true reverence for the gift of our sexuality and challenges us to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons. His theology is not only for young adults or married couples, but for all ages and vocations, since it sums up the true meaning of being a person.”

In January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI was much blunter. He delivered a New Year’s speech to diplomats from approximately 180 countries, declaring that marriage for same-sex couples “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” and in 2008, during Benedict’s end-of-the-year Vatican address, he asserted that humanity needs to “listen to the language of creation” to realize the intended roles of man and woman. He warned of the “blurring” of the natural distinctions between males and females, and called for humanity to protect itself from self-destruction. The Pope compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”

While Pope Francis has expressed a somewhat more welcoming tone, we still haven’t seen any real progressive advancements in Church policy or practice.

The Christian Therapy.com site’s staff asserted throughout our discussion a “true reverence for the gift of our sexuality,” but they and the Church define sexuality very narrowly: heterosexuality within the confines of monogamous marriage, specifically for the purpose of procreation. In mostly all other ways, we must remain celibate. The site’s staff referenced an article titled “The Myth of the Gay Gene” by Dominican Brother Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, who elaborates on this theme:

“The Church teaches that as embodied spiritual creatures, human beings were created male and female so that in the complementarity of the sexes, they can reflect the inner unity of the Creator. This was recognized and confirmed by the Lord Jesus who instituted the sacrament of marriage to celebrate the divine plan of the loving and life-giving union of men and women.”

The staff rationalized their “therapeutic” practices of attempting to change or alter their “homosexual” clients’ sexual orientation by reverting to the over-used “nature v. nurture” argument. They again referenced Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco’s article, which attempts to refute scientists, such as John M. Bailey, Richard C. Pillard, Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, and others who found a supposed genetic predisposition toward homosexuality. The article also cites a very few studies showing alleged conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality for participants who were highly motivated to change.

According to the Facebook site’s staff: “The huge variety of sexual expressions in different cultures sharing essentially the same genes shows genetic influence is minimal. All ethnic groups share almost all their genes, so we can make two assumptions about any behaviour that is claimed to be genetically produced: It will be very predictable, very specific and similar all over the globe, and, it will be present at roughly the same percentage in all cultures. We also know that many genes, maybe hundreds, are involved in human behaviours, and that behaviours affected by many genes will change very slowly over very many generations. That is, they will be very stable for centuries, with only minimal changes from generation to generation. This is true not only in families, but also in cultures.”

“But if we look at homosexuality,” they continued, “we find none of the characteristics of genetic properties: There is a huge variety of homosexual practices between cultures and even within them. The prevalence of homosexuality has varied considerably in different cultures. In some cultures, it has been unknown; in others, it has been obligatory for all males. There have been, and are, rapid changes in homosexual behaviour, even over a lifetime. Not only that, but entire types of homosexuality have disappeared over the course of just a few centuries. When anthropologists survey the evidence, they are, to a surprising degree, united in the belief that behaviours such as homosexuality and lesbianism are not produced genetically, but by social conditions.”

Fundamentally (pun intended), what the site’s staff and by implication many other “Christian counselors” assert is that homosexuality and gender non-conformity do not derive from any biological or genetic bases, but rather, develop after birth from some sort of social or cultural means or exposure. Therefore, as the theory goes, “therapy” can reverse this socialization by helping the client revert or convert back to the “natural” state of heterosexual and gender-conforming attractions and behaviors.

They asserted that their clients have the freedom to decide whether to seek therapy to change their orientation and behaviors. If their clients truly wish to remain within the Church and to maintain the sense of community it offers, I would ask the site’s staff how truly “free” are their clients growing up in a family and larger community that consider their sexuality or gender expression again God’s plan? How truly “free” are they hearing on Sunday mornings from their priests how “gravely disordered” are their feelings and behaviors? How “free” are they when others bully them at school for their differences? I would also ask how the Church’s teachings and preachings are killing people’s spirits and literally killing their physical bodies? I would ask how the Church’s teachings and preachings directly influence and condone the school bullying and bashings, and the suicides?

The staff answered by asserting: “Warren: The Catholic Church’s teaching is that unjust discrimination toward human beings, including those who have deep seated homosexual inclinations, is never acceptable and must be decried wherever it occurs. Every human being should be treated with respect, his dignity honored, and his health and welfare protected and preserved. This is what the Catholic Church teaches to being ‘Christian love’.”

I find that the Catholic Church talks in doublespeak saying “we love you,” “we welcome you,” “we offer you ‘Christian love,’” and “we are here to help you change your unwanted attractions and gender behaviors,” which we, by the way, define as “gravely disordered.” Is this love? Or, rather, does this fall into the realm of cruelty, discrimination, and, yes, sexuality and gender abuse?

These manipulative, tyrannical, and bogus “Christian therapies” have been harshly condemned by reputable psychiatric organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution, August 14, 1997, which read in part:

“Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for ‘conversion’ treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information…. Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder…. Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.”

In addition, the APA, in 2008, passed a resolution, “Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression” opposing “all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies.”

California in August 2012 became the first state, followed soon after by New Jersey, to outlaw the practice of “conversion therapies” for people under the age of 18 after reviewing reports of the destructive nature of these alleged therapies. A number of other states are currently considering similar legislation.

While his state was holding hearings on the issue, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013:

My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.

The Catholic Church and other conservative religious denominations force people to accept the definition of themselves and their identities that the Church dictates. In this way, these religious institutions attempt to deprive the individual a sense of their own subjectivity and agency. These denominations promote the process of heteronormativity – where heterosexual values and ideologies of gender expression and sexuality – remain the norm.

I wrote the Facebook staff that “I have no doubt that within 100 or less years from now, your therapy ON people with same-sex attractions [and with people who gender non-conform] will be seen in a similar light as the blood-letting techniques of the apothecaries of earlier times.”

But how more spirits and lives will the Church torment and extinguish needlessly in the meantime?

For a comprehensive investigation, see: Conservative Christian Beliefs and Sexual Orientation in Social Work: Privilege, Oppression, and the Pursuit of Human Rights, edited by Adrienne B. Dessel and Rebecca M. Bolen, Council on Social Work Education, 2014.

For a comprehensive investigation, see: Conservative Christian Beliefs and Sexual Orientation in Social Work: Privilege, Oppression, and the Pursuit of Human Rights, edited by Adrienne B. Dessel and Rebecca M. Bolen, Council on Social Work Education, 2014.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 10th, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cruel & Tyrannical Christian “Conversion Therapies”

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The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was. They’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something….Fix society. Please.”

Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old trans* girl, wrote these tragically poignant words just before stepping in front of a 18-wheel tractor trailer on December 28, 2014 at 2:20 a.m. as she walked along the southbound lanes of I-71 near her home in Kings Mill, Ohio. Also in her suicide note, she outlined her troubled relationship with her conservative Christian parents who would not accept or support her trans* identity claiming their religious beliefs as justification. They sent her to a so-called “Christian therapist” who refused to grant her permission to undergo gender confirmation medical procedures.

This reminds us of what Gordon Allport wrote in 1954 in his pioneering book, The Nature of Prejudice:

“The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes and unmakes prejudice. While the creeds of the great religions are universalistic, all stressing brotherhood (sic), the practices of these creeds are frequently divisive and brutal.”

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feeling for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents’ reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel’s father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to “cure” him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.

His parents sent him to a “religious therapist” who told Samuel that “I want you to know that you’re gay, and all gay people have AIDS,” and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel “came out” to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned. But he turned his life around. Following graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2010, Samuel Brinton was chosen as the top LGBT activist in the U.S. by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept this revelation, Lyn’s mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordon, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called “conversion therapy” to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed “gender identity disorder” and “clinical depression.” Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her “therapy” was highly religious in tone.

This so-called “conversion therapy” amounted to “aversion” techniques including watching women same-sex pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, being subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called “behavior modification” by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and went to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio’s Flashpoints.

Many of the more extreme Christian Right groups and religious ministries push what they refer to as “Christian therapy” for the purpose of, as they phrase it, removing people from the “deviant homosexual lifestyle.” It is important that parents, social workers, and other mental health professionals know that these so-called “therapies” go by such names as the X-Gay religious ministries, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of 12-Step program method of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of X-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), and so-called “conversion therapy” (a.k.a. “reparative” and “reorientation” therapy), which promise conversion to heterosexuality if the person has the requisite motivation to change.

These cruel, tyrannical, and bogus “therapies” have been harshly condemned by reputable psychiatric organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution, August 14, 1997, which read in part:

“Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for ‘conversion’ treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information…. Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder…. Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.”

In addition, the APA, in 2008, passed a resolution, “Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression” opposing “all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies.”

California in August 2012 became the first state, followed soon after by New Jersey, to outlaw the practice of “conversion therapies” for people under the age of 18 after reviewing reports of the destructive nature of these alleged therapies. A number of other states are currently considering similar legislation.

While his state was holding hearings on the issue, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013:

My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.

Leelah Alcorn, Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing us all that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differs from the majority, but rather, rests within a society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of religious denominations that adhere to a circumscribed view of human diversity.

Returning to Gordon Allport’s quote referring to the paradoxical role of religion to make and unmask prejudice, likewise, religious texts — between disparate religions and between denominations of the same religion, as well as within a single text — on close examination, stand paradoxically and even contradictory. Moreover, individuals and entire denominations often interpret identical scriptural passages very differently, and they also emphasize and adhere to some readings while disregarding and even dismissing others. One particular passage seems to stand out in the Christian Bible when we attempt to answer the question, “Where do we go from here to ensure a just and equitable worldview?” I suggest the following:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2: 8-9)

We MUST make real Leelah Alcorn’s wish to “Fix society. Please.”

For a comprehensive investigation, see: Conservative Christian Beliefs and Sexual Orientation in Social Work: Privilege, Oppression, and the Pursuit of Human Rights, edited by Adrienne B. Dessel and Rebecca M. Bolen, Council on Social Work Education, 2014.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 4th, 2015 at 12:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Alexander Białywłos-White: A True Mensch & Tzadik

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“The word mensch in German means ‘a human being.’ In Yiddish, the language of the Jews of Eastern Europe, with German and Slavic roots, the word mensch denotes something a little more. It means ‘a special, ideal human being: a person endowed with the finest attributes by Our Creator, including charity, kindness, tolerance, honesty, and love of mankind.’ It is up to each individual to develop his or her Menschlichkeit to the fullest.”

Dr. Alexander Białywłos-White, Holocaust Memoirs: Be a Mensch. A Father’s Legacy

As I reflect over the past year of my life, two incidents particularly stand out as highpoints: celebrating with close family members my cousin Amit Tishkoff’s Bar Mitzvah atop historic Masada in Israel, the other, meeting one of my heroes: Dr. Alexander Białywłos-White in his native town and my ancestral town of Krosno, Poland.

After 5 years of maintaining a correspondence and talking on the phone, I finally got to meet Alexander, whom I consider one of those rare individuals who exemplifies not only a true survivor, but even more importantly, one who has consistently taken each and every hurdle he has faced in stride leading the way with grace and dignity. Alexander Białywłos-White represents one of those individuals whose indomitable and perennially optimistic spirit and whose warmth and light radiate from his very being illuminating all in his presence.

Alexander Białywłos-White

Alexander Białywłos (“White Hair” in Polish) was born in Krosno, Poland on June 4, 1923. He was a member of a rather large family including his maternal grandparents, Chaim and Mala Platner, many uncles and aunts, cousins, and siblings: sister Mania, and brothers Solomon and Heniek. His parents, Mendel Białywłos and Leah Platner Białywłos owned and operated a glass glazing business out of their store located across the street from their residence.

Alexander had a good and full life for his first 16 years, until that fateful day of September 1, 1939 when Nazi German troops invaded Poland. Since Krosno was located not far from German-controlled Czechoslovakia, and it contained an airbase and rich oil deposits and drilling capacities, Nazi troops bombed and invaded Krosno soon after crossing the Polish border. Like many of the approximately 2700 Jewish residents, his family fled east, but finding no place to hide, many, including his family, returned home.

By 1942, Nazi troops had killed most of the Jews in the area. Near Krosno, Alexander’s mother, Leah, and sister, Mania, were taken and shot to death. His older brother, Solomon, was murdered in the nearby town of Jaslo. His eleven-year-old brother, Heniek, the Nazis transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and gassed. Except for a small number of remaining Jews whom the troops crammed into a small ghetto in Krosno, most others were transferred to Belzec and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration campus where only a very small handful survived.

Having technical and mechanical skills in glass making and repair, Alexander and his father, Mendel, were sent to the nearby airbase where they worked repairing airplanes until December 1943, when the Nazis cleared out the ghettos and sent all remaining Jewish residents to Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp just south of the town. On May 7, 1944, German soldiers forced prisoners into a “Naked Parade” for selection either to be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or for only a few, to be shipped to work details somewhere under Nazi occupation.

Alexander’s father, Mendel, was selected for Auschwitz-Birkenau. In his book, Alexander wrote:

“‘Be a mensch,’ were thelastwords that myfather said to me before he was led to the death trainand disappearedforever.We were standing on the Appelplatzassembly place in the Concentration CampKrakow-Plaszow one early morning in mid-May 1944. Moments later, in complete clarity about his fate, he would be led off to the box cars of the train that was to take him, and others selected by the Nazi doctor, to Auschwitz. There he would be murdered in the gas chambers.

“I tried to give him the only thing I had — a small piece of bread I carried with me — as an expression of hope for his survival, even in Auschwitz. He said, ‘You keep it. I will not need it anymore. I do not care to live. I have lost everything, and if I live another ten years, I will eat another ton of potatoes.’ He pushed the bread back to me. It was the last time I saw him.”

Though he can only speculate how it happened, Alexander somehow turned up as #270 on a list of about 1,100 Jews transported to the factory of Oskar Schindler (what became known as “Schindler’s List”). Beginning in October 1944, Alexander and hundreds of other Jews worked at Schindler’s factory in Bruennlitz, which is today part of the Czech Republic. He often remembers Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s generous and compassionate wife, giving the workers extra food to keep their bodies and their spirits alive.

Rescue came on May 8, 1945 when the Russian army freed him and the others at the factory. Alexander immediately returned to Krosno in order to discover whether any family members had survived, only to find that only he, his Uncle Sam Białywłos, and his cousin Joseph Fruman had lived through the horrors.

Once back in Krosno, Alexander walked to the house owned by his parents where he grew up, but Polish people soon confiscated it after Nazis evicted Alexander and his family. Talking then with the current residents, one angrily quipped to Alexander: “Oh, we thought you would be dead by now and the Nazis had made you into soap.” He knew that Krosno was no longer his home.

He moved to Munich, Germany and lived there between 1945 and 1950 where he completed his high school and medical degrees. On June 8, 1950, he immigrated on the ship General Sturgis to the United States. He completed his medical internship in New York City, and he eventually moved to Chicago to begin his practice. There he met the love of his life, Inez. They married and had three children: Denise (who now lives in the Phoenix, Arizona area), Julie (who now lives in San Francisco), and Les (who remained in Chicago). Alexander and Inez retired to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1998. At age 91, he returned to Krosno with Inez and Les, where we all met.

Our Meeting

I arrived at the Rzeszow, Poland airport on a warm August day. My friend Iza Jedkiniac, an English high school teacher in Krosno, picked me up at the airport, and we spent a nice few hours in Rzeszow enjoying a tasty lunch and lively chat. We then drove to Krosno about 50 miles south. Iza dropped me at my hotel, and she invited me to join her and others later for dinner with Alexander Białywłos-White at a café in Krosno’s central Market Square.

I came to Krosno on Iza’s invitation to present a talk regarding my Krosno relatives and to screen for the residents of the town the film my grandparents, Simon and Eva Mahler, took in the summer of 1932 when they returned to Simon’s birthplace to visit family and friends. This had been the first time Simon had returned home since emigrating from Poland to the United States at the age of 16 in the winter of 1912.

As 10 of us, including teachers, historians, museum curators, and other residents of the town sat at a table overlooking Market Square, with its array of shops and restaurants on the parameters of a vast open pavilion with strolling shoppers and joyous children, Alexander shared with us the pride and the pain of his extraordinary life among the horrors of this very place following that terribly day in September 1939 when Nazi troops invaded and occupied his town.

He told me he remembers my family, the Mahlers, since one of my grandfather Simon’s brother’s was in his school class. Also, he and his family shopped at my Great-Grandfather Wolf Mahler’s butcher shop just a few short blocks from where he lived in the Jewish quarter. He, of course, does not remember my Grandfather Simon since he was born after Simon moved to the U.S.

Reading Alexander’s book on the plane flight coming over to Poland, I had a profound shock and surprise. On page 92 of his book, Holocaust Memoirs: Be a Mensch. A Father’s Legacy, he wrote:

“The story of my own cousin, Malka Fruhman, is perhaps typical of the fearful treachery of those days, when it seemed that qualities like trust ceased to have meaning. A [non-Jewish] friend promised to hide Malka, but this ‘friend’ instead turned Malka over to the Gestapo, who shot her without compunction. Many years later, Malka’s brother told me that Malka’s boyfriend, a man named Trenczer, located the traitorous friend in Krosno after the war, and avenged my cousin’s death.”

As I read these words, chills stung my entire body because I knew that I am most certainly related to this “Trenczer.” My Great-Grandmother’s name was Bascha Trenczer. I informed Alexander about this, and he asked me to tell him what I know about the Trenczer’s of Krosno. He did not realize that Bascher, whom he knew, was a Trenczer.

I asked Alexander to tell me more about this story. Evidently, Malka’s boyfriend, our Trenczer relative, was in the Polish army and fled east following the Nazi invasion. After the war, he investigated Malka’s death, and he found the women who betrayed Malka. He walked up to her and shot a bullet into her head instantly killing her. As someone who opposes the death penalty, I surprised myself when I felt a sense of righteous relief upon hearing how he “avenged [Alexander’s] cousin’s death.”

The next day, after having a 10-hour sleep, I met with my friend Kasia Krepulec-Nowak for lunch. She works at the Subcarpathian Museum here in Krosno. We first met in 2008 when I went to the Museum to donate the film my grandparents, Simon Mahler and Eva Schoenwetter (“Nice Weather” in German) Mahler, made during their visit to Krosno in 1932. Kasia invited me to present the film to Krosno residents at the Museum first in 2011. Though the museum auditorium held only 125 seats, over 600 people showed up. Unfortunately, we had to turn away about 500 people. Since that time, Kasia and I have become good friends, and I spend as much time as I can with her and her wonderful husband Matt and son Antony, who is now six-years-old.

We met with Alexander and a group of Krosno residents for his remembrances tour around the town. He pointed out the buildings and areas where he reminisced about the people and events in his life before and during the War.

He showed us where he and his family and other Jews lived. He pointed out the building where the Blumenfelds lived (yes, in addition to Mahler relatives, I might also have Blumenfeld relatives from Krosno). “The Blumenfelds,” he told me, “were rather odd. The father, when he davened (prayed), he shuckled (rocked back and forth) in a very strange way by twisting his arms and exhibiting a weird expression on his face as if he were distasteful of what G*d was telling him.” The son, who was Alexander’s age, also waved his hands and arms around as if he were pulling a string from the sky. “I never understood what he was doing,” said Alexander.

“I remember your Great-Grandfather Wolf at his butcher shop, and also since we were both some of the last of the Krosno Jews not to be shot in the forest by Nazis or deported right away to the concentration camps,” Alexander told me.

The Nazis placed the remaining Krosno Jews, about 600, in a small ghetto area, where my great-grandfather died. My friend Kasia investigated, and she found the death certificate the Nazis wrote for Wolf where it lists as the cause of death “diabetes,” which I learned is a code word for either “starvation” or a “bullet.”

Since his liberation by the Russians, Alexander has come back to Krosno 3 or 4 times with his wife and son, and they have been welcomed back enthusiastically by Polish residents, with the exception of his return immediately following the Nazi evacuation. In 1980, he also visited Emilie Schlinder for what would be the last time he saw her.

Mensch & Tzadik

Throughout his remarkable life, Alexander has certainly become the true mensch his father had hoped. But Alexander has become something more.

Tzadik in Hebrew means one who follows a path of righteousness, one who practices the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam of transforming, healing, and repairing the world so that it becomes a better, more just, and more perfect place.

Throughout my life, I have known only a few Tzadikkim, Jews and non-Jews alike, individuals who act in the world on a daily basis in ways that uphold the highest ethical standards while refusing to compromise their integrity, their humanity, and their compassion, even when facing difficult, often tragic circumstances. These individuals respond in the world thinking not for the acknowledgment or recognition they may receive, but they respond because it is just.

Alexander has dedicated his life to serving and healing the bodies of his patients, and to healing our world from the horrors of the past. As I stood listening in quite respect to this incredible man, tears welling in my eyes, I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press); co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge); and co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 2nd, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Police and Protesters as Potential Allies

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“The ruling class has…needed people to control those on the bottom. Some of the largest male occupations are police, security guards, prison wardens, immigration officials, deans and administrators, soldiers, members of the National Guard and state militias, and, of course, the father of the family as the disciplinarian.” Paul Kivel, You Call This a Democracy?

The current demonstrators protesting alleged police harassment and unprovoked killings of unarmed black men and boys surfacing throughout U.S. highlights the longstanding and continuous tensions and confrontations between police forces and the communities they are meant to serve. An essential question we must discuss and eventually answer, however, is: “Whose interests do they actually serve?”

Examination reveals that in communities where incidents of police killings occur most frequently, law enforcement officers come primarily from similar socioeconomic classes (middle and working class) – while not necessarily from similar ethnic, cultural, racial, or gender backgrounds – of the people they patrol. What we are witnessing is an intra-class conflict in the service of the wealthy ruling class.

The Myth of Meritocracy

As infants, starting in the family and taken over later by the larger society, we are weaned from our mothers’ breasts or the bottle on the Pablum of meritocracy: the concept that individuals are born onto a relatively level playing field, and that success or failure depends on the individual’s personal merit, motivation, intelligence, ambition, and abilities. To further the point, society holds up people like Horatio Alger, Frederick Douglass, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama as prime examples of success – people who have succeeded by “pulling themselves up by their boot straps,” people who have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of poverty or other adversities as the “self-made” embodiment of the “American dream.”

As we are told, people possess “personal responsibility” for their life’s course. Those who accumulate enormous personal wealth earned it, and they have a right to keep it. If, however, people fail, and if any inequities exist in our society, as the blame-game states, this arises because of the individual’s own personal or cultural weaknesses, deficiencies, or deficits. The so-called “cultural deficit model” in education argues that any underachievement among students of color or working-class students results from characteristics or features imbedded within their cultural and community backgrounds.

In reality, society waves this myth of meritocracy in front of us like the fake rabbit circulating around the track to trick greyhounds into running as fast as they can to win prizes for their trainers and owners. The concept of meritocracy provides justification and cover to the nation in refusing to acknowledge and in denying the actual causes for the tremendous chasms in the wealth distribution and in educational achievement, and for the overall systemic inequities based on social identities.

But how meritocratic is our nation when compensation for corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers’ salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today’s official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00 less accounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968. The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax rate fell by 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 60% of the U.S. population combined. Thus, frustration, resentment, and anger often develop for those of us when the reality crashes with the hype.

Indoctrination & Surveillance

The family, by socializing the young to accept and follow authority and the hierarchal structure within the family unit, prepares the individual’s eventual acceptance of authority within the workplace and within the social order. Hierarchies in terms of wealth, race, culture, ethnicity, gender, and other social identities in the workplace parallel equivalent hierarchies within society at large.

The socialization process within the family (as well as within other social institutions such as schools, religion, the media, and others) transmit, according to Eli Zaretsky, “a ruling class ideology whereby individuals are deceived into accepting the capitalist system and the dominance of the capitalist class more or less without question.”

Friedrich Engels saw how economic developments encouraging the accumulation of private property required the fortification of the monogamous family to guarantee that men’s property would be inherited by their biological heirs. Engels represented one of the first to argue that women’s subordination was not the result of any biological dispositions, but rather, caused by “men’s efforts to achieve their demands for control of women’s labor and sexual faculties [which] have gradually solidified and become institutionalized in the nuclear family.”

Michel Foucault’s concept of “Panopticon” (in Greek mythology, the monster with 100 eyes) helps us to understand the function and effectiveness of regulatory surveillance first initiated through the “parental gaze” and reinforced by official social actors such as police officers. Foucault took the term from the structure of institutional buildings such as prisons first designed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Cells within these prisons radiate from a central watch station permitting a single guard to observe all inmates (though not simultaneously), without these inmates having the ability to see the guard or to know exactly when this observer gazes upon them. This arrangement effectively forces inmates to assume that the watchperson inside the station is constantly watching them. The Panopticon metaphor represents the omnipresent nature of being watched and monitored.

Foucault maintains that all socially-constructed hierarchal systems demand forms of surveillance, whether actual or imaginary, to preserve dominant and subordinate positions according to those upholding authority or power. Surveillance maintains and extends power by exercising subtle, often imperceptible, as well as not-so-subtle signs and warnings that one is being watched. Through Panopticon, people conduct themselves in ways that anticipate negative consequences from those they perceived as having authority over them.

Intra-Class Conflict

While the vast majority of police officers enter law enforcement with completely good intensions to serve and assist the public and to support their own families, as guardians of ruling class interests, officers from the middle and working classes serve, often unconsciously, as enforcers for the ruling class through surveillance and control, and by keeping the potentially unruly hoards at bay.

Ragnar Danneskjöld, author and philosopher Ayn Rand’s mouthpiece for the elite corporate class and symbol for “justice” in her polemical novel Atlas Shrugged, quite tellingly expresses Ayn Rand’s true purpose when she put these words in his mouth: “I’ve chosen a special mission of my own. I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in.”

Hank Rearden, one of Ayn Rand’s “righteous” industrialists asks: “What man.”

Danneskjöld replied: “Robin Hood….He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich – or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”

I ask, then, what role do the guardians of the ruling class play in this scenario? And what if these guardians refused any longer to adhere to this divide and conquer strategy developed by the ruling class, and, instead, joined with their communities to challenge the status quo?

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 26th, 2014 at 9:45 pm

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Racism Reproduced in Social Institutions Like Police Departments

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A 28-year-old man identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley apparently shot two uniformed New York City Police Department officers, Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, execution-style as they sat in their marked patrol car in Brooklyn. Investigators believe the gunman’s motive for the slayings was to avenge the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown – two black men killed by police officers earlier in the year. Police also suspect Brinsley of shooting his ex-girlfriend in the abdomen previously that day at her residence in Baltimore.

According to NYPD Police Commissioner, William Bratton, the gunman shot the officers with “[n]o warning, no provocation — they were quite simply assassinated, targeted for their uniform.”

Only minutes after murdering the officers, Brinsley turned his gun on himself and died on a subway platform as police began surrounding him.

While allegations of racism against individual officers and entire departments have certainly gained traction across the nation with the high-profile killings of black men and boys recently, no one can condone the random murder of police officers as a solution to this long-standing problem.

In fact, speaking for the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton was emphatic in his condemnation of the events in Brooklyn: “I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today. Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases.”

I contend that allegations of racism in the hiring practices, policies, and attitudes in police departments represent in microcosm much larger forces evident in our country. We must not and cannot dismiss police killings of black men and boys as simply the actions of a few individuals or “bad cops,” for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. These officers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigma, and perpetuates violence. These incidents must be seen as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

The concept of “Social Reproduction Theory” asserts that schools and other social institutions reproduce social inequities, especially in terms of socioeconomic class and race, which exist in the larger society. When we challenge racism only within any institution like law enforcement organizations, we are missing the point if we do not address the roots, the origins of racism (and all other forms of oppression).

Researchers Charles and Massey interviewed 3,924 undergraduate students at 28 selective colleges and universities on their perceptions of various racial and ethnic groups – 959 Asian-Americans, 998 whites, 1,051 African-Americans, and 916 Latino/a students. Results indicated that “black people are rated most negatively on traits that are consistent with American racial ideology. White, Latino, and Asian students are all likely to perceive blacks as violence-prone and poor. They also rate black people more negatively than themselves in traits like lazy, unintelligent, and preferring welfare dependence.”

These students represent the very types of people who eventually enter police training academies and take their place patrolling the streets. These are the very types of people who eventually enter the classroom and teach our children. These are the very types of people who eventually enter politics. These are our future and current leaders.

So, where did they (we) learn these attitudes that they (we) are reproducing? They most certainly did not invent or create these negative belief systems. Rather, we all are born into a society that teaches us these biases. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering marginalized groups.

Other researchers, Artiles, Harry, Reschly, and Chinn, contend that “bias is more than the personal decisions and acts of individuals. Rather, bias against minorities should also be thought of in terms of historical residua that are layered in social structures and that may lead to various forms of institutional discrimination.”

By our challenging social institutions, we are taking a necessary step in reducing and one day eliminating cultural bias to ensure that these institutions work for everyone regardless of race and other social identities. But this is surely not enough.

All individual police officers do not necessarily exemplify the problem, though some officers perpetuate the oppression. Law enforcement as an institution does not necessarily represent the problem, though many agencies perpetuate the oppression.

Rather, racism stands as the problem: the systematic and hierarchical ideology of white superiority and white privilege. We must look into the mirror at ourselves as well. Especially for us white people, we must come to consciousness of our social conditioning and the ways we have internalized notions of “race.”

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by racism (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of oppression while working to clean up the racist environment in which we live as well as addressing the racism we have internalized. Once sufficient steps are taken to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 21st, 2014 at 5:44 pm

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Contesting “Political Correctness”

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Nicolle Wallace, a former spokesperson in the George W. Bush administration, heartedly supports the Bush era CIA agency’s “enhanced interrogation” (a.k.a. torture) techniques on suspected Al-Quaeda operatives. Wallace, a frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” defended the policy on the show Tuesday, December 9, 2014 in fiery language.

“The notion that somehow this makes America less great is asinine and dangerous…. But the notion that what we do affects terrorists is a lie. It’s a lie perpetrated by political correctness and liberals, and it’s dangerous.”

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas has organized a movement to call the fall holiday season what he believes it really is, the “Christmas Season,” and he asserts that businesses who display “Happy Holidays” greetings are simply stooping to “political correctness.”

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh argues that “Feminism is one of those issues which has established itself in the political correctness hall of fame. As such, it is not fashionable to take issue with or poke fun at the philosophy, which underlies the movement.” He characterizes women’s rights activists as “feminazis.” In addition, he asserted that “Political Correctness, PC, is literally the law of the land on many campuses.”

The political Right coined the terms “political correctness,” “politically correct,” and “PC” as pejorative rhetorical ploys to intimidate, discredit, and outright dismiss the statements, policies, and actions of the progressive Left generally, and more specifically, to inhibit anyone from thinking critically and challenging societal inequalities. They did this not only to maintain their own privileged status quo, but more importantly, to roll back advancements progressives have made to ensure that our nation actually lives up to its promise and potential of becoming “a more perfect union.”

Conservatives originally deployed the terms in the 1990s as a reactionary backlash to the critical multicultural and social justice educational movements in our schools, and against attempts to promote sensitivity of the numerous cultural traditions that make up the fabric of our nation. These educational movements, with a foundation build on developing and enhancing critical consciousness of self and society, stood and continues to stand as a contradiction to the so-called “neoliberal” era of standardization, corporatization, globalization, privatization, and deregulation of the business, banking, and corporate sectors.

Bostick (quoted in Weinbaum) sums up this reactive stance: “Is anyone else nauseated by the deluge of cultural sensitivity to the exclusion of the majority in the country? The terms ‘multiculturalism,’ [and] ‘diversity’…should be eliminated from our vocabulary.” And Iowa Republican U.S. Representative Steve King refers to “political correctness” as “intellectual fascism.”

Jenkinson investigated instances of censorship and book banning across the U.S., and he found a number of reasons individuals and organizations cited when challenging school- and public library-based books and other curricular materials. Among the most-often used justification included: “Any assignments that encourage or teach critical thinking skills.”

A basic tenet in critical multiculturalism and social justice education is social reconstructionist or transformational education in which the educator’s role is to help prepare future citizens to reconstruct society to better serve the interests of all groups of people, and to transform society toward greater equity for all.

In my teaching, I require students to justify and backup all of their thoughts and “opinions.” Opinions without justification are just that—opinions. Stephen Brookfield discusses three inter-related phases in the process of critical thinking: discovering the assumptions that guide our decisions, actions, and choices (What do I think and why do I think of it the way I do?); checking the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible (Talking with others, taking courses, reading, researching, etc.); and taking informed decisions based on these researched assumptions (Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others, and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).

Those who automatically throw “political correctness” into the debate, however, often do so because they lack the facts, the specificities, or the nuances of any given topic under discussion. I proudly embrace the acronym “PC,” and I hope that I practice the skill of treating all people with Proper Courtesy. Other than that, I realize that when people use the terms “political correctness” or “politically correct” in their arguments, they have lost the debate because they do not have the facts. Therefore, no person can intimidate me when they toss these epithets in my face.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 9th, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized