Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Not-So Fine Tuned Machine.

So...did I miss anything in the past couple of weeks while I took a short break?

A lot of stuff is going on, so let's get to it.

As of this morning, President Trump made a major policy announcement - again - via Twitter. He announced that the military can't be burdened with having transgender people serving, essentially reversing action taken by President Obama that allowed openly transgender folk to serve in our military.

The Pentagon isn't even going to try to defend this reverse in policy, and has deferred all questions to the White House. This makes me wonder if there really was a consensus among the top military officials on this decision, or if Trump has been so emboldened by his recent rallies that he felt he needed to appeal to his base, because this definitely has the stench of a purely political move.

Normally, a policy shift such as this one, results in hours of debate and hearings among committees in our Congress, based on years of studies and observations from people serving out in the field. This is how the Obama administration moved forward to reach the decision to allow transgender people to serve, because we once upon a time had a president who actually cared about doing the right thing for the military and for the transgender community. But of course, normal doesn't exist anymore. So, what we're left with is a political decision made by a man who didn't even serve in the military because he received deferments for bone spurs. This so-called Commander in Chief who once said that he would be the best ally for the LGBT community, doesn't actually care about the 11,000 plus service members who have no idea what is going to happen to their lives and careers right now.

One of the first defenses of this horrible policy is that it just costs the military too much. Well...that's bullshit. The Rand Corporation estimated in 2016 that the cost of medical services for transgender service members would be $8.4 million dollars. In 2014, the military spent $84 million on erectile dysfunction medication. Medical services for transgender soldiers makes up less than 1% of the military's budget. So again...BULLSHIT!

And all of this is because Trump's feet are being held to the fire and he's scared. This political move is a result of Trump being afraid that he's not going to get his promised border wall. On the one hand, he doesn't care about his campaign promise to be the best ally to the LGBT community that ever existed, if it means he won't get to build the wall he so desperately wants. He will literally do anything to rally that base of his beloved Deplorables whenever he feels threatened...saving his own skin is actually the most important policy to him, no matter the cost. He spends so much time obsessing about President Obama and Hillary Clinton that he doesn't care at all about how this will effect the lives of the people who have the courage to volunteer to serve in our military...something he never had the guts to do.

In other news, last night the Senate tried to jam through a major health care bill and failed horrendously, just hours after voting to move forward with procedure and debate. The vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act was 43-57, with nine Republicans breaking from their party to vote no on the bill. Even though Mitch McConnell enjoyed a small moment of victory - if you can even call it that, since VP Mike Pence had to be brought in to break the tie - it is unlikely that McConnell will get the big win he is looking for before the next recess.

So, we have the Republicans who have spent the past several years symbolically voting to repeal the ACA, who have campaigned heavily on this action ever since the ACA became law, and now, even though they have majority rule, are unable to actually get anything done. The Republicans are showing that they are unable to govern, even when they are given every single advantage possible. And what this means is what we have known for a long time - that the Republicans do not actually represent the views of their constituents and serve the people. They serve their donors and lobbyists.

And finally, to introduce a new segment I'm going to tentatively call "Oh, that's soooo rich," -

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to take some time off, because he's just absolutely exhausted from doing his job. This month, he's spent time in Germany, Ukraine, Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia . He's apparently been incredibly surprised at how hard this job can be and frustrated that he doesn't get to be the ultimate decision maker on foreign policy that effects the whole world. Rumors are also circulating that Tillerson didn't have the warm and fuzzy feelings towards Trump after the President's make-shift political rally at the Boy Scout Jamboree, as Tillerson was an Eagle Scout and was once the national president of the organization.
So, what was all that talk about Hillary Clinton having no stamina? I'd love to hear how Tillerson really feels towards Trump, his boss, who contradicts Tillerson all the time, and then sends him in to clean up the diplomatic messes Trump makes on a daily basis. The common theme here is that Trump is the absolute worst boss, ever.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Theology Thursday: Complicated Complicity.

A few years ago, I sat down with a pastor to have coffee and discuss the current political climate and differing views regarding how the Church views LGBT+ folks. I was relieved that we immediately moved past the surface discussions of what was being deemed as right vs. wrong, and we jumped into discussing this idea of complicity.

Because, when a baker with a business that serves the public decides that he can no longer serve certain members of the public, due to his religious beliefs, we're not really talking about a righteous person of faith standing up for their beliefs. That might be what they tell the public, or the story they tell to the media, or even the lie they tell themselves. But what we're really talking about here is the false notion that by providing a service to someone they disagree with, this business owner is now complicit with whatever activity they hold a religious objection to. By serving the persons they deem as engaging in "sinful" behavior, the business owner feels as if that sin is somehow transferrable to them, thereby they are also engaging in "sinful" behavior.

First of all, this is total bullshit. This is a conservative, evangelical construct to further the bogus idea that American Christians are being persecuted more than ever in our nation. And the irony here is that while conservative Christians have been telling us for years that the LGBT+ community doesn't just want equal rights, they want special rights - it seems that conservative Christian business owners who don't want to serve certain folks are now the ones looking for special rights to discriminate who their businesses serve.

And the crazy thing is that this seems to just be an issue for conservative Christians to dote on. I almost guarantee that if I walked into a Kosher deli tomorrow to order beef for a party that I was throwing, I'm guessing that they probably won't ask me if I also plan on serving shrimp, or perhaps a vegetable tray where two different vegetables might have been grown in the same field, and refuse to serve me because they personally abide by a different set of beliefs than I. Since they serve the public, it is a good business model to not refuse the service of the people who specifically come to you for the particular service you provide. If you want to provide a religious test to determine who you are willing to serve, then having a public business probably isn't the best choice for you.

In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, where owner Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, one of the points that his lawyer has made to garner public support for Mr. Phillips, is that he has lost business and received negative press for his decision to discriminate in who he provided his services to. To be clear, his personal decision has resulted in business related consequences. This is what drives me absolutely crazy. On the one hand, Phillips is proudly standing up for his beliefs, willing to lose the business of a particular couple because he has a closely held personal religious objection. He's willing to take a stand, but when the consequences result in a business fallout, he suddenly feels compelled to call himself a victim. 

This calls to mind the story of Joseph of Arimathea in John 19. This was a man who was part of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the religious governing body that handled religious and civic matters for the people of Israel. Joseph is said to be the man who was responsible for burying Jesus. This meant that he had to defile himself, because he had to touch the dead body of Jesus, a direct violation of their religious doctrine on the eve of Passover. Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, because they wanted to give Jesus a proper burial. They tossed aside their deeply held religious beliefs to remain pure for Passover, so they could serve a man who had been tried and ultimately executed at the very hands of the governing body they were a part of. Joseph even gave up his personal tomb to Christ, and insisted that his body be properly wrapped and treated with spices. We don't have much information about what happened to Joseph and Nicodemus, but to be sure, I bet their fellow members of the Sanhedrin wouldn't have been thrilled with their actions. There is a very good chance they would have been thrown out of the group, maybe even shamed and forever ruined their reputations, and likely their entire families would have been cut off from associating with anyone ever again. That's the price they were willing to pay, and they did it. They didn't cry foul or play victim. They sacrificed their religion and their deeply held religious beliefs for Christ.

On top of this particular story, we know that Jesus himself associated with all of the folks that the religious zealots looked down upon. I mean, come is arguably the most revolutionary lesson Christ had to offer - that exclusionary behavior is not representative of holiness. When we invite everyone to the table, serve them, and resist our human instinct to expel those who are different than us - those are the moments when we are the best representations of Christ.

And that's why this idea that we should feel sorry for Mr. Phillips or anyone else who has refused service to someone because of their deeply held religious beliefs is a total load of crap. He decided to take a stand for his beliefs, and there are very real consequences for that. Be willing to pay the price for your beliefs or stop pretending you follow Christ. 

The truth is that I think what Mr. Phillips' case and similar cases represent is the selfish notion that we can't serve those we have disagreements with because it makes us dirty. What a small view of God these folks must have, to think that the God they claim to serve can't differentiate between unselfish service to others and "sin." Why go into business as a means to be a representative of Christ and serve others, when you actually aren't willing to serve and "be Christ" to everyone? If you're not willing to wash the feet of others, to show love and not condemnation to those the zealots deem unclean, you are not following Christ. That's the bottom line.

And yet, in the last 24 hours we have another case of blatant hypocrisy by a religious business. Hobby Lobby, who famously went to the Supreme Court to argue that they shouldn't have to provide their employees with birth control, because it would make them complicit in providing abortifacient drugs or perhaps encourage their female employees to engage in extramarital sexual behavior, is now facing millions of dollars in fines, because their "love of the Bible" has led them buy and smuggle black-market ancient artifacts out of Iraq. It is likely that the money the company used to buy these artifacts, was paid to groups connected to Isis. So, not only did Hobby Lobby engage in purposefully lying to Customs officials by labeling the artifacts as ceramic samples while they were being shipped to the United States, but the money they used could have potentially been used to fund a terrorist group that regularly murders Christians around the world (though they mostly murder Muslims). On the one hand, Hobby Lobby insisted that they would not be complicit in what is actually a woman's personal & medical choice, but they are totally ok with being complicit in funding terrorism and murderers, as long as it saves inanimate objects.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


I'm going to take the opportunity on this 4th of July to talk about women, and I'm going to do just that, but first, I wanted to take a step back and do a little PSA on how I will cover Donald Trump from this point forward:

It has become increasingly clear that our President is a vulgar human being, who uses social media not as a platform to talk about issues or to try and make a positive impact on the world, but instead, uses it like a cowardly internet troll. And while I think there is a time and a place to call out his insanity and instability, his wrong doing and inappropriateness, I do not want to be distracted by his circus act while important things are going on. And whether or not the GOP intended for this to be their strategy - to work on unpopular legislation while everyone is looking the other way - I am going to keep my eye on the ball. It's easy to get caught up in the words of a madman, but it's the actions of his handlers and enablers that I am going to do my best to stay focused on. I encourage us all to buckle down and get more involved in understanding the actions and legislation coming from this administration & the legislative branch.

Back to the issues at hand...

A woman named Bethany Kozma has been appointed to the office of Gender Equality & Women's Empowerment. Some fun little facts about Ms. Kozma - she held a position in the George W. Bush administration, but has spent the last several years raising a family and opposing equal rights for the LGBT community, especially the T (transgender) folks. Just last year, Kozma wrote a piece for a publication arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative political organization focused on those poor, mistreated American Christians (I hope you can hear the sarcasm), in which she called for them to rise up against the Obama administration's guidance to public schools in allowing transgender students to use the restroom of the gender the students identify with. Rousing that unfounded fear tactic that children will be sexually assaulted by a transgender person, Kozma asserted that her own children were at risk and encouraged the Christian Right to go to battle over where people go the bathroom. That's right...this lady will now be at the table for the US Agency for International Development. Because if there's one important issue the US can teach the world, it's to care too much about where people go to the restroom.

In a somewhat opposite, but equally interesting move by the administration, the White House is trying to determine whether or not to keep the Council for Women & Girls. Of course, this probably shouldn't be incredibly surprising. The George W. Bush administration disbanded a similar council started under the Bill Clinton administration, so it only makes sense that the new Republican president would hit the undo button on literally anything the previous Democratic president did. We obviously know that our current president has an acute issue when it comes to women, plus we have a vice president who refuses to even meet alone with women, so that he can retain his religious sanctimony.

Despite the fact that we apparently have a administration full of powerful women, who seem to care about women's issues such as equality, the pay-gap, family leave, and STEM education when it is politically convenient (I can admit they are powerful and ambitious, even though they are either brainwashed or self-loathing), and a First Lady who has yet to do anything impactful, the administration can't seem to realize that keeping this council would be an easy slam dunk. Instead, they are so repulsed by any Obama legacy positions that they just let them die, instead of seeing how it could actually help their cause or help them gain points. I miss Michelle Obama more than ever, and miss the positive influence she had in the lives of all of our children, especially our young women. I don't think the 3rd Mrs. Trump can hold a candle to her, and she's certainly not a figure I would even want a child to look up to.

So, while the current voices in power seem to want to hush up the women, quite literally, I want to share the stories of some women who should be celebrated on this Day of Independence:

  • Deborah Samson - a young woman in her 20's, who had been freed from indentured servitude, joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment disguised as a man named Robert Shurtlieff. Samson was wounded numerous times and refused medical treatment, fearing her identity would be discovered. When she fell ill from a sickness she contracted at camp, a doctor discovered her identity. She was not allowed to remain in the Army, but was given an Honorable Discharge, and later fought to get back pay and pension from the Army. She is now officially the Massachusetts State Heroine.
  • Sybil Ludington - the 16 year old daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington, who rode a 40 mile circuit to awaken a militia to warn them of the British army.
  • Lydia Darragh - a Quaker woman who played double agent. She allowed her home to become a gathering location for British soldiers, then she passed along British information to the spy network of George Washington. Darragh sewed messages into button covers and other locations. When she passed along British plans for attack, she likely saved hundreds of soldiers. 
  • Margaret Corbin - wife of a soldier who handled cannon ammunition, Corbin often assisted her husband. During battle, when the soldier firing the cannon had been hit, her husband took over firing the cannon. Her husband was killed, and Margaret stepped up and manned the cannon herself, until she was horribly wounded from opposition fire. 
If you want to read more stories of heroic women who played incredible roles in the Revolutionary War, check out this article from Mental Floss.