Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dallas' Attempt at Selective Subjugation


What is porn?

What constitutes smut?

Exactly how do we define those things that subjugate women?

Earlier today, the Dallas City Council voted to prohibit a large porn industry trade show from renting the city-owed convention center.  According to D Magazine, the 8-7 vote came at Mayor Mike Rawlings' request that the council back him up as the city's main "brand manager."  And as a brand, he says Dallas shouldn't be known as a city that endorses the subjugation of women.

To illustrate his point, Rawlings recounted to the council a description of an event scheduled for Exxotica,* an annual convention booked this year for Chicago, Dallas (tentatively), and suburban New York City.

“I read online that there’s a place (in the Exxotica event) called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” he said.  “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”

Now to be sure, in just about any definition of subjugation, whether for men or women, being tied up in a dungeon and being whipped rates as a pretty heinous example.  Except... nobody at Exxotica will be forced to undergo what otherwise would be a human rights atrocity.  In fact, for some people, what would otherwise constitute an egregious breach of civil protocol is titillating.

Not that I'm defending the flaunting of taboos - especially sexual ones.  Yet it's a fact that some people consider things like bondage and pain to be sexually arousing.  I don't excuse that, or endorse it, or even support it.  But if two consenting adults want to do something, where do the legal lines prohibiting them from doing it get drawn?

What's the difference between watching two actors perform something like that on the stage, or the big screen... or at a sex industry convention?

What makes the taboo illegal?

It's kinda the same argument people used to use against homosexuality.  Social conservatives said that since they believed homosexuality to be vile behavior, it should be illegal.  But if the aim is to try and legislate morality, we all know how effective that is.

One council candidate voted to deny Exxotica its convention permit by reasoning that she didn't want "to stay silent and let things happen behind closed doors in the city of Dallas that I don’t approve of.”

What kind of rational statement is that?  I'm sure there are all sorts of things taking place behind closed doors across Dallas of which she and plenty of other people don't approve.  Yet lots of them are legal.  So, when it comes to the ways consenting adults choose to express their sexual desires, within legal parameters, who gets to bend those legal parameters?  Or deny them?

Besides, if we're talking about the subjugation of women, how many times have the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders appeared at the city's convention center?  Shucks, they flaunt on national television some of the same provocative clothing and body gyrations as what's available at Exxotica.  One of Dallas' richest families, the Hunts, members of which came out vehemently opposing Exxotica's presence in Dallas, owns the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL team with a cheerleading squad which wears provocative clothing.  Is it merely because sexy cheerleaders have become mainstream that the way they subjugate women is accepted by acceptable society?

After all, it could be argued that cheerleaders subjugate women by presenting an unrealistic stereotype of femininity that looks a certain way, suggests certain sexual things, enhances certain body parts, and uses all of this sexuality to emotionally support gridiron warriors on the field.  And guess what?  Just because you may not agree with that assessment doesn't mean cheerleaders don't subjugate women.

And just because you may think that certain types of sexual taboos don't subjugate women doesn't mean that they don't.

See what I mean?  Frankly, I agree with the mayor that sexual acts of bondage do actually serve to subjugate the people being held in bondage, and I presume that most of those people are women.  Yet as long as a double-standard exists in which other examples of activities depicting the subjugation of women are allowed to go on unpenalized, then where is the legal ability to use the subjugation of women in a narrow definition of pornography?  And the denial of public space for a legally-operating smut convention?

In my essay yesterday on the topic of Exxotica's presence in Dallas, I intentionally described the annual convention of cosmetics giant Mary Kay.  Now, here's a company that has built a business empire on the idea that women need to doll themselves up artificially in order to be considered attractive.  Yeah, sure, I have a friend who sells Mary Kay, and she keeps telling me that they now have products for men.  But we have no idea what Mary Kay Ash, the company's founder, looked like without all of her company's products lathered on her face.  Why?  Because she believed that the face she presented to the world needed to be artificially enhanced.  And many women believe their face needs to be artificially enhanced to be acceptable in public.

Funny how men don't wear cosmetics.  Well; straight men, anyway.  And why is that?  Because American women apparently feel as though they'll be better accepted by men - and even other women - if they paint and powder their faces to look a certain way.

In more primitive countries, both men and women paint their faces - and their entire bodies - to look more beautiful, or more fierce.  They wear makeup to appease their deities, or indicate a rite of passage.  Indeed, Mary Kay Ash didn't invent the cosmetics industry, and wearing paints and other disguises isn't wrong in and of itself.  But why do American women wear so much of it, especially since we supposedly don't have the primitive mating rituals found in other parts of the world?

Or, maybe our mating rituals are more primitive than we want to admit?

At any rate, even though I don't approve of pornography and its various smutty accouterments, and believe that they serve to denigrate and damage the people who create and consume them - whether they want to believe it does or not - we have a problem here.  Because sexual promiscuity is so widespread and rampant in our culture, when it comes to trying to legally contain it, we invariable run up against free speech questions.  On the one hand, parallels between pornography as a genre and evils like human trafficking and the subjugation of women seem readily apparent.  Yet on the other hand, not everybody in the porn industry participates in human trafficking, nor do they believe that certain taboos, when performed consensually, constitute subjugation.

So how to moralists stand up for what they believe is healthy, when legislating morality can be so tricky?

One conservative councilman who voted in favor of barring Exxotica from using the city's convention center rationalized that "evil triumphs when good men do nothing."  Which brings us back to whether the provocative clothing and gyrations by NFL cheerleaders is an example of evil's triumph or not.  And do "good men" let their women disguise themselves behind layers of makeup in a pursuit of culturally-relative beauty?  Which evil is worse:  letting women play-act at sexual bondage, or spending public dollars on a First Amendment lawsuit the city will almost certainly lose?

If we're going to talk about exploitation here, I think some exploitation of last year's Exxotica that was held in Dallas bears some repeating:  three non-profit organizations that work to transition sex workers and porn addicts out of the industry actually paid for booths within the convention, establishing a sort of beach-head of moral redemption during an event which otherwise celebrated sexual decadence.  At a city-owned facility, such strange bedfellows can be allowed to exist.

Which actually opens up a whole new area of dialog that Dallas, a Bible Belt city awash in churches, should be primed to exploit.

If evil does indeed triumph when good people do nothing, should Dallas' conservatives simply let this thing play itself out in the courts, instead of outside (and inside) the convention center?

And imagine what could happen if all of this self-righteous concern over the subjugation of women could be unleashed against the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and all of the women who believe they need Mary Kay cosmetics to be presentable in public?

After all, if you're not going to play the full "subjugation against women" card, why should you expect Exxotica's fans to take you seriously when it comes to shutting down their convention?
____

* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When a Sex Show Does the Bible Belt


America's largest sex convention is swinging through the Bible Belt.

That's right, folks:  Exxotica* Expo 2015 will be in Dallas this coming August, between stops in Chicago and suburban New York.

Big D has always yearned to play with the big boys, and now, at least when it comes to the taboo, it is.

Even if this isn't exactly what many civic leaders had in mind.

Exxotica's conventions purport to be a one-stop-shop for ideas and equipment to enhance a person's "love" life, but it's hard to hide the reality:  our planet's insatiable porn industry is running the show.  And just to be clear, pornography isn't about love - it's about lust.

Let's face it:  There's little altruism and selfless commitment in porn.  Whatever love might be found in the porn business is the love of self, or the love of money.

Ahh, yes!  The money.  Sponsors of the show estimate it will pump seven to eight million dollars into the local economy, not counting the profits sex-oriented businesses expect to generate thanks to their, um, exposure at the convention.

After all, isn't this what convention centers are for?  Dallas built and maintains its convention center to act as a business generator.  The city even recently commissioned a gaudy new high-rise hotel to service convention visitors attending everything from obscure trade shows to the splashy annual spectacle that is the Mary Kay cosmetics "seminar."

Truth be told, the Mary Kay convention is usually the only convention about which most of us ever hear, and that's because Mary Kay is a home-grown success story.  Plus, it attracts hordes of intricately-groomed attendees from around the world to its elaborate convocations.  It's all pure-D, rhinestone, pink Cadillac, over-the-top Dallas.  Mary Kay's conventions are ready-made for our local television stations, offering the type of glamor that makes newscasts easy on the eyes.

Meanwhile, Exxotica first came through Dallas last summer, much to the consternation of Dallas' buttoned-down mayor, Mike Rawlings.  Aside from some billboards advertising the event, strategically-placed near freeways that often double as parking lots here in Dallas, most of us wouldn't have realized they were in town.  Indeed, Exxotica's presence seemed to catch City Hall off-guard.  A last-minute scramble was launched to revoke Exxotica's permit.

Unfortunately for the City of Dallas, since the convention center hosting Exxotica is a public facility, and the sex group met all of the legal criteria for renting the public facility, the city couldn't have even denied Exxotica's application in the first place.  First Amendment free speech rights, you know.  Even though Rawlings asked the city's lawyers to scour their contract with Exxotica for just one loophole, so he could revoke their permit, the show went on as scheduled.

This year, civic leaders hope things can be different.  Tomorrow, Wednesday, at the mayor's request, the city council is expected to vote on a resolution to prevent Exxotica's return.  Rawlings and other civic leaders opposed to the convention hope they've found the loophole that last year proved elusive.

That loophole involves the definition of a "sexually oriented business," and whether an activity that meets such a classification can be allowed within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, and other family-friendly venues.

Historic Dealey Plaza, the "grassy knoll" where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, is just down the street from Dallas' convention center, and has become an internationally famous tourist spot.  Three popular restaurant districts are within walking distance.  A couple of Pentecostal churches are a block or two away from the convention center.  There hasn't been a sexually oriented business downtown for years, because of the zoning and diversity of property use.

Sounds like classifying Exxotica as a sexually oriented business could keep it away, too.  Right?

Well, that depends on the legal definition of a sexually oriented business.  Traditionally, they've been defined as places where people pay in person for erotic products and services delivered to them on-site.  But a convention - even a convention of erotic products and services - defies that definition legally, because people can't directly pay for erotic products and services and obtain possession of them for their personal use on-site.

At any convention, customers can order the products on display, but not for their immediate, on-site procurement or use.  You can order a helicopter at the helicopter show, but don't expect to fly it home from the convention center's back parking lot.  You can purchase a home at the home builder's show, but you can't back your truck up to the convention center's loading dock and haul your 3-2-2 away.

Exxotica's managers know the law; the people who visit their show cannot purchase lap dances to be performed on-site, for example.  They can't even illegally arrange for a sexual tryst for later in the evening, because the tryst will have to be held off-site, and that would be the crime scene; not the place where it was arranged.  Exxotica knows all this, and they forbid anything illegal from taking place within their venue (although "immoral" is another issue).  Even Dallas' vice squad, which last year was dispatched to monitor Exxotica's event, said it was pretty boring by their standards, with no citations of any kind being written.  It was all business-by-the-book.  Even if a lot of that business was for products and services that are intended to be quite erotic.

Not to be dissuaded, one of the richest businessmen in Dallas went public this weekend with an impassioned defense of Mayor Rawlings' desire to pull the plug on Exxotica.  In what he calls "an open letter to the citizens of Dallas," billionaire oil tycoon Ray Hunt asks his fellow citizens about the type of city they want Dallas to be.  A moral city, unafraid of enforcing its own laws regarding sexually-oriented businesses, or a city without the "courage to do the right thing?"

Hunt might not like the answer his fellow Dallasites seem to be giving him.  D Magazine, a self-styled purveyor of the city's savviest cosmopolitan vibes, has polled its readers online in an unscientific poll, and 66% of respondents (so far, anyway) say that Exxotica should go ahead as planned.  Elsewhere, public feedback has been decidedly in Exxotica's favor, if for no other reason than it being a lot easier to joke about sexual taboos that are eroding by the day, than stand awkwardly on a moral high ground when First Amendment privilege gives Exxotica the legal edge.

Even Hunt, normally a pragmatic capitalist, doesn't deny that Exxotica has the legal right to hold its convention.  He simply doesn't want their convention held at the city-owned convention center, which happens to sit next-door to some property he owns.  Aren't there more sordid, less prominent venues in seedier parts of town for that sort of thing, he muses?

Perhaps it's more embarrassing than morally outrageous to people like Hunt that an expo like Exxotica can afford to rent out a facility the size of a major convention and exhibition space.  What does that say not only about Dallas, but about America in general, especially since Dallas's show is one of three across the country this year?  Has the sex industry really become mainstream?

No, I don't think so.  At least, not yet.  If sexual taboos had gone mainstream, necessitating a series of cross-country conventions to promote itself, wouldn't we already be seeing a lot of their products and services in other, everyday parts of our culture?  

Sure, Americans are more accepting now of things our society used to brand as taboo.  I'm not happy about it; I think many things that used to be considered wrong are still wrong.  But not all things sexual are wrong, are they?  For example, what's wrong with a married couple purchasing sex toys for their pleasure?  What's wrong with kinky underwear between husband and wife?  Besides, depending on your definition of "lewdness", some of this stuff is currently available on a tame scale at Walmart and Target.

But bondage, nipple decals, and other examples of Exxotica's wares are still deployed mostly behind closed doors.  Sure, there is a smutty curiosity that draws many people to a show like Exxotica, but the titillation most people are looking for remains relatively private, albeit a little less taboo than it used to be.

Granted, most of what's being exhibited at Exxotica barely seems sexually healthy for the most uninhibited of married couples, let alone the throngs of dirty old men who I suspect are already online, scoping out the convention's ticket prices.  But might Hunt, Rawlings, and other foes of Exxotica be missing the broader picture?

Since Exxotica will be held at a public event facility, won't there be plenty of space for churches and socially-conservative organizations to put up displays of their own outside of the convention center's buildings?  Free speech works two ways, right?  Several non-profits, such as Restored Hope Ministries, XXXChurch, and Eve’s Angels, paid for exhibitors' booths inside last year's Exxotica, and will probably be back this year.  They are organizations that reach out to people trying to leave the sex industry or give up the habit of pornography.  Where else could such an outreach take place at such a large gathering of smut enthusiasts?

Another of the arguments Hunt, Rawlings, and others have been using against Exxotica involves the scourge of sex trafficking.  And it seems like an easy jump to make, from a convention celebrating sexual inhibition to the sexual subjugation and imprisonment of women and children across the world.  Yet if that jump is so easy to make, why don't we make the same leap between the alcohol industry and drunk driving?  Or the fast-food industry and obesity?  Why don't we recoil in moral outrage over McDonald's like some are doing over Exxotica?

Yes, the tobacco industry was cowed, but not because smoking is bad for our health.  No, big tobacco lost because tobacco companies intentionally lied about how bad for out health it really is.

Semantics, don't you know.

Nobody in charge of Exxotica appears willing to deny that sex trafficking is evil.  And it's hard to believe that Exxotica's leadership, at least, is willing to ignore any links between their event and sex trafficking.

Now, I don't happen to believe that pornography is good for any culture, but are skimpy panties pornographic?  How do skimpy panties translate into sex trafficking?  Do you see how the link between pornography - which I would argue is sinful - is not direct to sex trafficking?  Nevertheless, if we draw misleading correlations, don't we risk denigrating the battle over sex trafficking by unnecessarily conflating it with pornography?

It's the same argument we use to indemnify beer companies from customers who abuse their products.  If a vendor at Exxotica is selling a taboo product while being unable to control how their customer uses it, where's the legal difference between Exxotica's vendor and Budweiser?

At this point, I could go on a rant about how our society has waged such a long battle against virtue that events like Exxotica are the price we pay for our broader culture's lasciviousness.  We tend to not realize how morally-relative our country has become until a debate like this one bumps into our local consciousness.

Speaking of consciousness, however:  If Exxotica's vocal opponents weren't as vocal as they're being, most of us here in North Texas wouldn't know a thing about it.  That itself speaks volumes about how far the sex industry still has to go before it can be considered mainstream.

If that's a silver lining in this cloud, it might be the closest thing to nourishing rain that North Texas usually gets when Exxotica is scheduled to be held - during our unbearably hot August.
_____

* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.
_____

Update 2/10/16:  The Dallas City Council today voted to prohibit Exxotica from using the convention center this year.  A lawsuit is now pending.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Fame Shouldn't Enflame Abedini Strife


Iran recently released Christian pastor Saeed Abedini after jailing him for nearly three years.  During his imprisonment, he became a cause célèbre among evangelicals for daring to minister the Gospel of Christ in such a harshly Islamic country.  His release elicited widespread euphoria among Christians around the world who had been praying for him and his family.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-abedini-idUSKCN0V52C6
Naghmeh Abedini
Saeed is married with two children, and their family home is in Idaho.  His wife, Naghmeh, became a public face for his plight, and the couple became celebrities in America's evangelical firmament for their unabashed faith in the midst of such tense international intrigue.

But all was not well in the Abedini household, either before Saeed's imprisonment, or during it.  Late last year, Naghmeh informed supporters that her marriage to Saeed had begun to encounter deep problems as early as 2004, merely two years after their wedding.  She claimed Saeed abused her physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and that he was addicted to pornography.  Hers was a bombshell of an allegation, and it didn't sit well with many evangelicals.

Why was she coming forward with these things now, while her husband languishes behind bars in a country that sponsors terrorism?  Doesn't working to free her husband trump these other complaints?  Is she trying to divert some of the attention being lavished on her husband to herself?

Then too, many other evangelicals seemed to simply ignore her claims.  They were the product of a frustrated wife, and the inevitable result of years of strain as her brave husband suffered incarceration at the unpredictable whim of brutal Islamists.

When Iran freed Saeed this past January 16, along with three other detainees, it was major news both inside and outside of evangelicalism.  It was presumed that he would return home, whatever strife that may have existed in his relationship with Naghmeh would somehow be patched up, and they'd live happily ever after as symbols of heroic virtue.

Um, not so fast.  This past Tuesday, Naghmeh filed for legal separation.  On Wednesday, she took to Facebook to elaborate on the reasons for her actions:

"I do deeply regret that I hid from the public the abuse that I have lived with for most of our marriage and I ask your forgiveness," Naghmeh posted.  "I sincerely had hoped that this horrible situation Saeed has had to go through would bring about the spiritual change needed in both of us to bring healing to our marriage.  Tragically, the opposite has occurred.  Three months ago Saeed told me things he demanded I must do to promote him in the eyes of the public that I simply could not do any longer.  He threatened that if I did not the results would be the end of our marriage and the resulting pain this would bring to our children."

The reaction across our vast evangelical industrial complex has been swift, and mixed.  Which isn't necessarily a good thing for either of the Abedinis, their family, and our community's overall representation of the Gospel to our watching world.

Some evangelicals want to give Naghmeh the benefit of the doubt.  Others appear unwilling to let their predetermined enthusiasm for Saeed be compromised by messy complications.  Some automatically appear to give Saeed the benefit of the doubt since, after all, he's a pastor, and he's just been horribly imprisoned by evil Muslims.  And then there are others who scornfully turn askance at the saga, writing it off as tawdry exhibitionism by emotionally excitable Persians.

Hey, check out the feedback sections on most any evangelical website to see what self-proclaiming Christ-followers are saying.

In other words, these reactions by us evangelicals tend to mirror what all of us - religious or not - do when we learn of a husband and wife having marital problems.  We tend to take sides without knowing all of the facts.  Some of us impose on the couple's private relationship our personal suppositions of gender roles and how we think women and men should behave.  Many of us rise to protect the most popular, or famous, or celebrated of the two spouses, because after all, we've been lead to believe we know them well, and they aren't that kind of person!

But what do we really know about either Saeed or Naghmeh?  For that matter, what do you really know about that couple in your church or Bible study who are facing a deep crisis in their marriage?

We evangelicals say we believe in the sanctity of marriage, but do we really support the people who make up marriages that aren't picture-perfect behind the scenes?

As for the Abedinis, considering the super-saint-status with which many evangelicals have knighted her husband, the pressure appears to be building against Naghmeh and anybody who detracts from his celebrity status.  But how helpful is that in terms of their family's successful resolution of whatever conflicts exist?

At this point, it's fair to say that we have a "she said - he said" situation, since we haven't gotten to hear Saeed's side of the story (whether we need to hear it or not)*.  Yet all of their notoriety aside, their's is the quagmire that domestic strife presents to the broader Church - whether it's a famous couple or not.  It's particularly unfortunate for them that their celebrity only compounds whatever problems exist.

And as for Naghmeh taking to social media and "airing her dirty laundry in public," which some accuse her of doing, consider this:  She is filing public legal actions in a court of law.  Her husband has become internationally famous, for better or worse, and as a professing Christian, represents a big target for big media.  Whether it was through social media or a conventional press conference, if she didn't take the initiative and own up to these legal actions she's filed, don't you suppose it wouldn't be long before our muckraking press forced her to anyway?

Why begrudge her the opportunity to at least try and spin the story as a plea for prayerful support for herself, her husband, and her family?  After all, none of them asked for this celebrity.  And it's a real stretch to claim that Naghmeh is being an opportunist and bashing her husband for her own selfish reasons:

"I want our reconciliation to be strictly based on God's Word," she told her supporters on Facebook.  "I want us to go through counseling, which must first deal with the abuse. Then we can deal with the changes my husband and I must both make moving forward in the process of healing our marriage.  In very difficult situations sometimes you have to establish boundaries while you work toward healing.  I have taken temporary legal action to make sure our children will stay in Idaho until this situation has been resolved.  I love my husband, but as some might understand, there are times when love must stop enabling something that has become a growing cancer.  We cannot go on the way it has been.  I hope and pray our marriage can be healed.  I believe in a God who freed Saeed from the worst prisons can hear our plea and bring spiritual freedom."

May our merciful Lord grant them healing and peace in their marriage, no matter who or what is at fault.  And may we pray for them both, and give them the space and grace to be a penitent husband and wife before God, instead of celebrities before us.
_____

*Update:  Saeed recently provided an Idaho newspaper his response to his wife's public statements.  We've also recently learned that in 2007, Saeed had plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault and served one year of probation.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Indictments Against Reckless Pro-Lifers


Of all the sins we mortals practice, the one that inevitably riles the most evangelicals is abortion.

Not only is abortion a vile perpetration against victims wholly unable to protect themselves, it almost always involves a sexual sin of some sort; either rape or adultery.  Very few happily-married couples pursue death for a life they have consented to create together.

So we have here an incredibly potent combination of protecting the helpless - which represents an eminently noble goal of Christ-followers - along with righteous indignation over sexual impurity.  We have the sanctity of life mixed with salaciousness of the taboo.

Unfortunately, for many evangelicals, this mix tends to become a bit toxic.  After all, what other sins foment such bitter resolve for its eradication than abortion?  Abortion can drive people who purportedly cherish Biblical morality to keep score on the pro-life front by a different rulebook.  It's as if God's desire for our purity has some sort of disclaimer clause or dispensation when it comes to our opposition of abortion.  Witness the folks who scream ugly threats to women entering abortion clinics.  Witness the vulgar language of picketing pro-lifers, or the glee with which they mock people like Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood.  Witness the radicals who bomb abortion clinics, or commit mass-murder inside of them.

When Jesus Christ references the legal principle of lex talionis about "an eye for an eye" in the New Testament, He's not talking about retribution, or stooping to the same debased level as other sinners, is He?

Then there was the ironic grand jury indictment this week in Houston, Texas, of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, activists with the pro-life advocacy group Center for Medical Progress (CMP).  This group had produced a shocking series of undercover videos purportedly showing representatives of Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of fetal tissue.  It was widely believed across our vast evangelical industrial complex that some sort of action would be taken against a south Texas chapter of Planned Parenthood for their part in such a dastardly enterprise, but to everyone's surprise, the grand jury found otherwise.

CMP's director, Daleiden, was indicted on a second-degree felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, plus a misdemeanor count involving his offer to purchase human organs.  The grand jury indicted Merritt on charges of tampering with a governmental record.  

Planned Parenthood was no-billed.

At first, pro-lifers were incredulous, and then indignant.  How can a grand jury indict the buyer of an illegal product, but not the seller?  What's the harm in falsifying some innocuous government documents like identification cards?  Our system of justice must be completely out of control!

As it turns out, however, our system of justice worked fairly well in this instance.  Once we remove the emotion and rhetoric, it's kinda hard to feel a lot of sympathy for CMP.  You see, we evangelicals usually believe that the ends don't justify the means.  We usually teach that two wrongs don't make a right.  And as the grand jury found, what we believe and teach are still correct.  It's just that the folks at CMP chose to ignore them.

First of all, considering all of the fuss many evangelicals have made about illegal immigrants having government-issued identification cards, isn't it a bit silly for us to now scoff at the importance of such documents?  It's bad for illegals to have falsified ID cards, but not for people working to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Oh, but falsifying documents is a legitimate journalistic practice, we were told.  Um, no it's not.  Not by legitimate journalists, anyway.

Then there's the charge of trying to purchase fetal tissue.  If CMP had a respect for the law, they should have researched Texas law, because they would have learned that in the Lone Star State, it's illegal to even offer to purchase fetal tissue.  There is an exception to the law that allows for normal medical practices at a normal cost to cover expenses.  However, CMP didn't even get that right, because they offered far more money than what the "normal cost" would have been.  Planned Parenthood never accepted the offer, so they committed no crime.

Don't believe me?  I've gotten all of this material from the Gospel Coalition's easy-to-understand explanation of the grand jury's indictment right here.  It's worth the read, and written by a rational evangelical.

Folks, when we see injustice, we cannot let emotion and rhetoric dictate our actions.  The grand jury did not rule on the morality (or immorality) of abortion.  The grand jury did not say that the sale of fetal tissue isn't gross or questionable, even in the most scientific and medical of circumstances.  The grand jury simply looked at the laws on the books, and rendered its decisions accordingly.

If abortion is the great evil most all of us evangelicals believe it to be, don't we need to be that much more prudent in how we fight it?  CMP's efforts in Texas were sloppy at best.  God doesn't forgive us our sins based on our good intentions, does He?  Does God ever give us a pass because our enemy is bigger than our sins?

How can lawlessness and violence represent appropriate methods for dealing with abortion?  How can we expect to change a law by breaking other ones?  What gives us the right to decide which sins are bigger than other ones, and therefore more or less necessary to prohibit (or exercise)?

When we oppose abortion, we evangelicals like to say we're advocating for the sanctity of life.  But how many pro-lifers get as agitated about human suffering on this side of the womb?  About euthanasia?  About patterns of our society's subjugation of women that contribute to sexual sins being perpetrated against them?

Meanwhile, when it comes to whatever legal action follows the indictment of Daleiden and Merritt, all is not lost.  A public trial in a court of law could offer greater opportunities for Planned Parenthood to be methodically and unequivocally exposed for their murderous ways.  It could be its own paradoxical venue of truth-telling that redeems CMP's blundering - on their legal team's terms, since they would be the defendants.

Nevertheless, regardless of whatever sinful scourge we may face, whether it's abortion or something else, we still need to remember that the battle is not ours.  Instead, it belongs to the Lord.  We need to fight with His tools and His rules, because His victory is what we seek, not our own validation or satisfaction.  We need to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.

Many pro-lifers want to justify their impatience with legalized abortion by decrying all of the millions of helpless lives that it has claimed, and continues to claim, even as you read this.  Yet impatience is not a Fruit of the Spirit.  Neither is recklessness.

In terms of God's condemnation, there is no sin any abortionist has committed that is worse than any sin you've committed, unless either of you denies the truth of Christ's deity, which is the only unpardonable sin.  And as long as she's alive, not even Cecile Richards is beyond redemption, as far as any of us knows.

Waging our war against abortion in the light of these sobering facts will produce a God-honoring outcome.  We believe that, right?

Isn't everything else simply works, deeds, and self-righteousness?


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Populist Pulpiteers' Trump Travesty

FYI:  I apparently lost 2 regular readers over this essay.
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Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision...  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.  Psalm 2:1,4,10-12


When do the ends justify the means?

When politics and religion cross, apparently.

Evangelical Christians are throwing caution - and the Gospel of our Savior - to the wind in their fervent devotion to right-wing politics.  They've been fomented into this vigorous fervor by conservative talk radio hosts who earnestly predict the imminent downfall of the United States.

It doesn't help matters that, regardless of political party, America's presidential elections have already devolved into excruciating embarrassments of pugnacious narcissism.  For a country as great as our leaders tell us it is, isn't it ironic that the only people who want to lead it tend to represent the worst aspects of our society?

I'm tired of the politics.  I'm tired of the religious posturing.  Aren't you?  And haven't things gone from the absurd to the farcical when it comes to self-professing evangelicals and their adulation of Donald Trump?

Christianity's charlatans are coming out of the woodwork for New York City's boorish billionaire, and they're making a mockery of prayer, Scripture, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the process.  Trump embodies no virtue that legitimate Christ-followers have historically required of their ideal presidential candidates.  He's contemptuous of God, holy communion, salvation, and sin.  He boasts of his serial adultery, he's publicly admitted to lusting after his own daughter, his business empire is built partly on casino revenue, and he's a flip-flopper on abortion.  He's proudly rude, joyfully racist, profanely conceited, and always scrapping for a brawl.

Is this what America's Founding Fathers envisioned as leadership for a country that "trusts" in God?

Can I get an "Amen!"?

Nevertheless, this past weekend, in Iowa, the controversial senior pastor of Dallas' influential First Baptist Church practically violated his ministry's charitable status by pseudo-endorsing Trump at a Dordt College rally.  Jeffress and a bevy of other bold-name Christian pastors - including Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, and David Jeremiah - had already prostituted their faith on Trump's behalf at an invitation-only forum and prayer meeting last September in New York.

Then Tuesday, the eponymous son of his father's generation of "moral majority" firebrands, Jerry Falwell, endorsed Trump.

Their reason for doing so?  Falwell's son justified his endorsement of Trump by describing him as "a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again."  As if America's greatness is a Biblical excuse for overlooking everything that is blatantly wrong about somebody like Trump - of any political persuasion - in the White House.

Jeffress' excuse was similarly devoid of theological integrity.  Trump "is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly," Jeffress effused, using the conservative fear factor of America's cataclysmic demise as his scapegoat.  So much for mankind looking at outward appearances, while God looks at the heart.  That's in Scripture somewhere, isn't it, pastors Jeffress and Falwell?

According to these Christian leaders, the "end" towards which their means are focused is selecting a president who can save America from itself.  Despite the reality that, after all, every president we've ever elected has been voted into office by a majority of Americans... which means it's not just a president's fault when things go badly for our country.

And these Christian leaders obviously believe that since the "end" for which Trump is suitable represents such an important prize, it's worth running roughshod over the Gospel and the qualities God expects of people in leadership.  The ends justify the means.

Hey, you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.  I guess two wrongs do make a right.  Trump can even propose suspending our freedom of religion, and some of the biggest lights in America's evangelical firmament still view the megalomaniac as our savior.

It's been said that a democratic republic elects the representation it deserves.  Shouldn't that send chills up your spine?

If these Christian pulpiteers fear the imminent demise of America, they've anointed the right candidate to bring that about.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Whitey Oscars Darken Hollywood


Alan Rickman?

Nope.  Never heard of him.

Not until this morning, that is, as some talking heads on the radio were lamenting his death, and recounting what they considered to be his iconic Hollywood roles.

As today has marched on, I've seen tributes and memorials all over the Internet to this fellow.  Who knew he was such an important and admired actor?  Well, just about everybody else on planet Earth but me, apparently.

I've told you before that I rarely go to the movies.  Hollywood doesn't seem to make what I want to see.  I'm not into science-fiction.  I don't want to be frightened when I pay money for "entertainment."  I don't want Hollywood to preach to me - as if their morals are any better than mine.  When I want to be entertained, I simply want to laugh.  Which is why Airplane! (the PG version) remains my favorite movie of all time.  Slapstick?  It's not annoying to me; it's refreshing.

"By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?"
"You can tell me.  I'm a doctor."
"And don't call me 'Shirley.'"
"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

Oh - they get me every time!

Still, I know that most people regularly get their kicks from the movies - all sorts of movies - which is why they know who Alan Rickman is - or, was.

But our society's collective remorse over Rickman's death illustrates more than simply my disconnect with pop culture.  This morning, this year's crop of Oscar nominations was announced, and considerable murmurs have begun to stir across the social media firmament about what a white-out it is.

None of the twenty spots for actor nominees went to anybody other than a white person.  And this is the second year in a row that Hollywood has gone all-white.

Kinda odd for an industry that claims to pride itself on political correctness, don't you think?

Now, on the one hand, perhaps it doesn't mean anything that the Academy thinks this year's industry output doesn't have any stand-out "minority" actors in it.  Of all the art forms, it seems as though high-quality movie acting is one of the most subjective.  Since I haven't been to the movies in years, I'm not sure I'd know what modern Hollywood - and its audience - considers good acting anymore.  But even though I'm not a movie buff, it's hard for me to believe that all the best actors this year were white.  And if that is indeed the case, then Hollywood has a lot of explaining to do, and a lot of apologizing to do.

After all, we've heard about how insular Hollywood can be, even with these popular "indie" projects that are purported to be so avant-garde and non-mainstream.  We've heard about how studios like to go with proven formulas and proven actors, even though the suffocating star system supposedly is history.  We've heard about how hard it is for females and non-whites to make it big behind the screen, as producers and studio executives.

Remember that cringe-worthy video of white actor Matt Damon trying to explain diversity to a black female filmmaker last September?

Even if, in the purest, most objective sense, plenty of Hollywood insiders simply did not detect any nominee-worthy non-white actors for this year's coveted Oscars, and there wasn't a shred of racism at play in their selection of nominees, isn't that alone something worthy of discussion?  Were all of the "good" movies about white people?  Why might that have been?  Or, are we supposed to believe that there were simply no good non-white actors working in all of Hollywood in 2015?

Accusations of racism have dogged the film industry for years, and some insiders shrug their shoulders and blame their audience, saying that filmmakers are only creating a product they know will sell... which means moviegoers mostly want to see white people in their flicks.  But that's a silly claim to make, isn't it?  I'd suspect that moviegoers primarily go to the moves to enjoy a good story, or fast-paced action, or amazing special effects.  How many people pick the movie they want to see based on the skin color of the actors in it?

This is a big deal simply because of how so many people are reacting today to the death of Alan Rickman, a white British guy.  He was not a super-star, or the iconic leading man.  But if you've gone to enough movies over the years, you've been exposed to his body of work.  Which means that you've been exposed to the body of work of many actors.

Duhh, right?  But think about what this means:  For many people, movies exist as a forceful component of their life experience, emotions, memories, and frame of reference.  So the people who act in these movies, in some way, become a part of the lives of people who pay to see them act.

And if most of these actors are of a particular gender or skin color, can you see how, for their audience, the world can get skewed a particular way, however indirectly?

For all its pompous bluster about political correctness, Hollywood needs to get this racial thing right.  After all, people are watching.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Euthanasia is the Death of Life


At first, it's hard to dispute:

Dementia patients don't contribute anything to society.

Sure, there are for-profit companies in the United States that charge families big bucks to help care for dementia patients, but these memory-care facilities merely illustrate capitalism's ability to find a business opportunity in the worst of circumstances.

Nevertheless, it's not as though the memory-care industry is one of those "too-big-to-fail" sectors of our economy.  Consider how much more money dementia and dementia care costs, beyond the pricetag for housing its victims.  Consider the lost time from work as family members provide care to dementia patients.  And beyond money, consider the emotional stress, as an incurable disease erodes a loved one's memory during the course of years and years.

Suppose you've had that awful meeting with your doctor, and you've learned your diagnosis.  If you had the option of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia for yourself, would you take that route, instead of taking your own journey through dementia?

In the Netherlands, it's just become easier for you to opt out of dementia, by opting out of life altogether.  After all, what kind of quality-of-life can one have with dementia, anyway?  According to a report in World magazine, the Dutch believe there is an "unwritten moral duty" to help dementia patients avoid their agonizing death spiral.

For years, Holland has been at the forefront of legalizing suicide, cloaking the practice with euphemisms of medical expediency like "physician-assisted suicide."  Besides, it's not really euthanasia when people from a specific cohort of human beings can choose not to commit suicide, right?

Hey, it's not like Holland is methodically exterminating all of its dementia patients.

Yet there remains the fact that a specific cohort of people are being given the "right" to determine their own death.  So the stigma of euthanasia - a term we usually deploy when some despot tries to wipe out an entire race - remains in force, doesn't it?  After all, the Netherlands are crafting their death laws to accommodate a class of people:  people who medical professionals believe are nearing the end of their sojourn on our planet.  The age range of dementia patients can vary, but the concept of euthanasia for the aged and infirm can't be hidden.  If you can't contribute to society because of your health, your government will let you decide how you want to kill yourself.

And an itty-bitty little country in Europe is leading the way.

At least for now, Holland's liberalized euthanasia laws mandate that such end-of-life plans need to be set in place before the person receives their diagnosis of dementia.  Once a person is diagnosed, they will not be able to backtrack and file their suicide pact.  Good thing - we don't want people with memory problems deciding when they want to die.  But... "sane" people should be given that opportunity...

Does that make sense?

Towards the end of my father's journey through Alzheimer's, one of his hospice nurses told me, "you think the patient is the one who suffers most, but that's not really true."

I looked at her scornfully.  But she offered a pretty plausible explanation:

"Most dementia patients - especially as they get worse and worse - don't really understand that they have dementia.  They forget that they forget.  Sure, they get confused, and they get frustrated by their confusion, but then they forget that they were confused, and the frustration goes away."

And indeed, there is a cycle of confusion, frustration, and then forgetfulness that Dad and just everybody else with dementia goes through hourly.  One reason dementia patients sleep so much, it has been speculated, is that sleeping helps them avoid the confusion that sets the cycle in motion.

There's not a lot of physical pain in dementia.  In fact, one reason why dementia can last so long is because its victims usually have few other physical maladies that could otherwise kill them before Alzheimer's does.  For a while, towards the end, Dad was in considerable pain, but that pain was because we didn't realize his special wheelchair was creating a sore on his hip.  Once we got a cushion for his wheelchair, Dad's cries of agony stopped.  Dad also became quite weak, but that was from not eating.  And since nobody can survive for long without eating, it wasn't long before Dad passed away.

There would have been no point in killing him during this period of time.  It would have only shaved off several months of his life.  And whose suffering had been worse during this whole time?  His, or ours?

Ahh... that's the real dirty little secret behind euthanasia, isn't it?  We're not so much worried about the patient as we are our own selves.  We don't like watching our loved one's memory fade.  We don't like the impositions our loved one's care forces upon us.  We don't like paying for that care, monitoring that care, and not knowing how everything is going to work out.  How much easier it all would be if we knew the end process, and the end date!

I've heard many people say that they wouldn't want to put their loved ones through such a horrible experience as caring for a dementia patient.  Yet death - and the process of death - is a part of life, isn't it?  For what else are our loved ones here, anyway?  Just for the fun times, the good times?  Is that all life is about?

Is life about having lots of money left over after you die?  Is life about not having to watch a loved one suffer?  Is life only about productivity, vitality, and having a good memory?

Even if you don't believe in the sanctity of life, and the authority God has over deciding when life begins and ends, consider the practical application of euthanasia:  If not God, or "fate," or Father Time; who else gets to decide when you die?  Who decides when your vitality is over?  Who decides when you are a drain on society?  Who decides when the pain is too much?

There's no avoiding the raw reality that euthanasia is a slippery slope, and once you've set one foot upon it, there's no going back.  It's death-creep.

That's why Holland is getting it massively wrong.  Life is not for us to abort, either before a human being is born, or before their natural end comes.  We can't simply impose our wishes on any human life's most basic milestones through political whim, legislative posturing, or platitudes about suffering. Or cost accounting.

If the definition of a progressive society is one that wants to cannibalize itself, then we've gone through thousands of years of civilization for nothing.
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By the Way:  After posting this essay, I learned that a distant relative of mine, who I never knew, died from assisted suicide last fall in Finland.  In addition, according to a Finnish cousin of mine who works as an elder care professional, Finland's out-of-pocket costs for elder care, despite its socialized medicine, are climbing rapidly for individual patients.  My cousin bluntly wonders if, eventually, "natural death" may be a luxury only the rich can afford.  I hadn't thought of it that way.  Looks like we'll need to take better care of our old people, and put our money where our moralistic mouths are, so euthanasia won't become more cost-effective than natural death.