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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 03:48 PM
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A couple of thoughts about the Pope and Kim Davis

There have been articles posted here and elsewhere about Pope Francis' statement, in apparent support of Kim Davis, that government officials have a human right to decline to discharge duties that violate their conscience. Just so you understand where I am coming from, I am a 54-year-old gay man, an Episcopalian, a staunch supporter of marriage equality as well as all other civil rights for LGBTQ persons -- causes I have supported since the day I came out 35 years ago, in 1980, at the age of 19. I have very much admired Pope Francis' statements on issues such as economic inequality, social justice and the environment. So you might expect that this news would come as some terrible disappointment to me. But the fact of the matter is that I just can't get particularly incensed by it. The way I see it, it is simply an indicator that the Pope has his blind spots (as does his institution). I can still applaud him on those areas where he is a breath of fresh air. But there are also a couple of other things to keep in mind . . .

First, we don't really know what information the Pope has been given about the Kim Davis case, or whether it was information he gleaned on his own or if he might have been briefed about it by, say, an American bishop or other aide. I can imagine that if he was briefed on it by someone like Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for example, then the information would have had quite a spin on it.

But besides all of the above, there's a certain fallacy built into the question that was put to the Pope, in that Kim Davis was never denied the right to refrain, herself, from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The option of allowing others to issue the marriage licenses she felt she could not, as a matter of (alleged) conscience was available to her from the beginning, and was offered as a way to avoid legal action by the lawyers for the couples who ultimately sued. But she refused that because she wanted to prevent any of her staff from issuing the licenses as well. Somehow, I suspect that if Pope Francis were fully apprised of all of the details of this case, he might see it rather differently. And if not, well, then I guess he's just infallibly wrong on this particular subject.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Sep 28, 2015, 05:23 PM (17 replies)

Much as I despise John Boehner . . .

. . . I can't quite bring myself to dance on his grave, because I fear what is in store for us will be far, far worse.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Sep 25, 2015, 08:53 PM (4 replies)

That moment in his address to Congress when the Pope . . .

. . . called for protection of human life "at all stages of development," whereupon rightwingers gave one of the most enthusiastic cheers of the entire speech, only to have him pivot immediately to a call for the abolition of the death penalty. Priceless!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 24, 2015, 12:33 PM (22 replies)

Bernie Sanders' Gift to the Left: The Recovery of our Moral Discourse

The response by an evangelical pastor and Liberty University alumnus to Bernie Sanders' speech at Liberty University, the university founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, on Monday stands as a good reminder that there are, indeed, evangelicals out there who attempt to seriously grapple with the demands of their faith. But the problem remains that far too many evangelical Christians have fallen under the influence of the Evangelical Movement, which is not primarily a religious or theological movement at all, but is rather an opportunistic political movement that masquerades as a religious one and preys upon people who are no doubt sincere, but are also exceedingly gullible and, in some cases, quite bigoted. For the Evangelical Movement, even if not for some sincere evangelical Christians, Jesus and his teachings are reduced to the role of mascot, to be trotted out in support of their bigotries and political ideas. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the "honor code" at Liberty, which the pastor mentions and under which students can be expelled for any public statements in support of any candidate or official who supports abortion or same-sex marriage.

Under the influence of the political Evangelical Movement, many -- far too many -- evangelicals have completely lost sight of the notion of collective (i.e., public) morality in favor of a strictly private morality. By doing so, they absolve themselves of any obligation to work towards a more just society (thus making themselves a prime target for exploitation by corporate and big money interests of the GOP).

But it's even worse than that. Even their sphere of individual, private morality has effectively been circumscribed so as to include an obsession with just two issues, opposition to LGBT civil rights and opposition to abortion. Speaking as someone who identifies as a non-evangelical Christian (Presbyterian by upbringing, Episcopalian by adult choice), I have long been baffled at the kind of theology and biblical interpretation required in order to reduce Christianity to a fixation on these two issues. I am not a biblical literalist (nor are most Episcopalians), nor do i believe (as most evangelicals do) in the plenary inspiration of the Bible; I support a woman's right to choose and, as a gay man, support same-sex marriage. But even if I believed every word of the Bible to be literally true, and every word to have been dictated by God, I would be hard-pressed to make a case for a Christianity so exclusively focused on just two areas within an exclusively private sphere of morality. The result has been a perverse, twisted expression of Christianity (if it can even be called that) that bears little, if any, resemblance to any Christianity I have ever known.

What Bernie Sanders speech at Liberty has done, quite remarkably, is to remind at least some evangelicals (those who attempt seriously to grapple with Jesus' teachings, that is), that morality -- even traditional Christian morality -- operates in a collective, public sphere as well as an individual, private one. Hopefully, those whose consciences he was able to move will have at least some leavening effect on those he did not so move.

Finally, though, what Bernie Sanders has done has been to bestow an invaluable gift to the Left as well: that is, the gift of recovery the Left's moral discourse. The political left, understandably eager to distance itself from the hypocritical moralizing of the right, has tended to avoid invoking moral arguments in support of its policy agenda. This has been a huge mistake. By avoiding moral arguments, we have effectively ceded to the Right the entire discussion of morality in a public context. Among many sincere, but not necessarily well-informed voters, this has led to the perception that only the GOP has any moral basis for its arguments (laughable though that notion clearly is). In his speech at Liberty, Bernie showed us how it is done!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 17, 2015, 06:07 PM (48 replies)

NY Times Editorial:G.O.P. Anti-Gay Bigotry Threatens First Amendment (and my comment)

Here is a comment I posted to the editorial (an excerpt and link to the editorial itself will follow my comment.

Mark P. Kessinger
New York, NY - 7 hours ago

The suggestion that Christian (or any) clergy will ever be forced to perform same-sex marriages5 is a flat-out lie of the first order. Churches and clergy are not required to perform ANY wedding same-sex or hetero, unless they choose to do so. Under the First Amendment, as it continues to be understood and interpreted, churches/clergy have absolute discretion as to which, if any, weddings they will officiate. There is absolutely nothing in the Supreme Court's ruling concerning same-sex marriage that changes that in any way.

But then, the right's opposition to full civil rights for LBGT citizens, from the execrable "Save Our Children" campaign of Anita Bryant, to the disgusting fear-mongering concerning HIV/AIDS of Falwell and Pat Robertson, to Mike Huckabee's shameless exploitation of Kim Davis, has never, for a moment, been about anything other than exploiting irrational bigotries for political gain.

To any Republican voters who have LGBT members in your family -- and that is likely most of you -- you should really consider carefully the message your support for this party sends to those family members.

And here's the link and excerpt:

[font size=5]G.O.P. Anti-Gay Bigotry Threatens First Amendment[/font]

[font size=2]By THE EDITORIAL BOARD - September 12, 2015

This past June, in the heat of their outrage over gay rights, congressional Republicans revived a nasty bit of business they call the First Amendment Defense Act. It would do many things, but one thing it would not do is defend the First Amendment. To the contrary, it would deliberately warp the bedrock principle of religious freedom under the Constitution.

The bill, versions of which have been circulating since 2013, gained a sudden wave of support after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is being hawked with the specter of clergy members being forced to officiate such marriages. This is a ploy, as the bill’s backers surely know: There has never been any doubt that the First Amendment protects members of the clergy from performing weddings against their will.

In reality, the act would bar the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” — including the denial of tax benefits, grants, contracts or licenses — against those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or moral reasons. In other words, it would use taxpayers’ money to negate federal anti-discrimination measures protecting gays and lesbians, using the idea of religious freedom as cover.

For example, a religiously affiliated college that receives federal grants could fire a professor simply for being gay and still receive those grants. Or federal workers could refuse to process the tax returns of same-sex couples simply because of bigotry against their marriages.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Sep 13, 2015, 04:51 PM (1 replies)

There is something profoundly fitting that that Iran deal should pass , , ,

. . . on this, the eve of the anniversary of 9-11. I say this not because Iran had anything to do with 9-11 -- certainly it did not -- but rather because the passage of a diplomatic solution to a major international problem represents, for me at least, a stark repudiation of the neoconservative approach to foreign policy that has dominated these last 14 years; an approach that first gained a foothold by exploiting the horrific events of that awful day 14 years ago. Thank you, Mr. President and Senate Democrats!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 10, 2015, 10:25 PM (0 replies)

Best response to Kim Davis I've seen yet . . .

. . . from a New York Times reader:

DT New York 3 hours ago

I am an Orthodox Jew. I can't eat milk and meat together as per my own personal beliefs. But if I were a county clerk, and someone wanted to open up a cheeseburger joint, I'd have absolutely zero right as a government official to deny that person his permit on the grounds of the rules of my religion.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 3, 2015, 05:25 PM (68 replies)

The most ridiculous aspect of the Kim Davis affair . . .

. . . has been the suggestion that there was ever even a question of religious conscience at issue. Neither a marriage license, nor a clerk's signature on that license, represents anybody's approval of the marriage that may -- or may not -- take place under that license. A license is merely a certification that a couple meets the legal requirements for marriage under existing law. It is a certification of objective, legal fact, and thus no question of conscience ever even arises. The notion that certifying that a couple -- ANY couple -- meets a set of legal requirements in any way burdens the conscience of the clerk making that certification renders absurd the entire question of religious accommodation.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 3, 2015, 03:30 PM (41 replies)
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