I remember a time when I felt exasperation when a New Yorker would ask me how Dorothy, Toto, and the tornadoes were. Not anymore. Somebody please razz me about being from the Land of Oz. I need to hear that so I can forget that Kansas has become a hotbed of bigotry, homophobia, and Christian fundamentalism.
To peer into the depth of Kansas’ hatred, look to the example of Kansas City, Kansas. Recently, it looked inviting enough that it came very close to becoming the new world headquarters of the Aryan Nation, one of the most vile and potentially dangerous hate groups in America. Topeka is the home to the “Reverend” Fred Phelps, whose website is www.godhatesfags.com, which speaks volumes about his repulsive way of being. Sam Brownback, one of our US Senators, is a social fundamentalist of the first order who is spearheading the conservative agenda to turn back the clock on many of the progressive gains we have made over the last century. His “glorious” efforts include his strong support of the “Constitution Restoration Act,” which would grant judges the leeway to mete out biblical punishments, and would legally define god as the ultimate source of US law in lieu of our Constitution. Social fundamentalists will not rest until they have manipulated the Judicial system to reflect their view of how things “should be” in America. Fortunately, the Restoration Act did not pass in 2004, but our “Good Sam” will make another run at it in '05. Count on it!
Last night, my wife and I attended a forum on Kansas' most recent display of bigotry and ignorance. On April 5, we will go to the polls to vote on an amendment to the Kansas constitution to ban gay marriage. It is not enough that Kansas state statutes define marriage as a right reserved for heterosexuals. Now the fundamentalist hate-mongers need to take it to the next legal level, where the law will be virtually impossible to modify or strike down without the intervention of a federal court. On April 5, the “good people” of Kansas will probably vote to amend our constitution to ban gay marriage, and while voting on that same ballot, will probably stock public school boards with folks whose “good Christian values” include book-banning and teaching Intelligent Design as a “rival theory” to Evolution. I am not a defeatist, but this is Kansas after all.
Reverend John Tamilio III from the Colonial Church inn Prairie Village spoke as the voice of reason and moderation as the forum evolved into more of a debate than a discussion. His assertions that homosexuality is neither a sin nor a choice were welcome to my ears. It was the first time I had heard such a statement from the clergy. Tamilio reminded us that Christ spent much of his time with the pariahs of society, and that one of his commandments was to “love thy neighbor.” Kansans’ push to deny gays their civil rights certainly does not qualify as a loving act.
Tamilio was highly critical of a literal interpretation of the Bible because the Bible was written by men (making it subject to errors), was passed down through oral tradition before it had been written, and it has been translated so many times into several different languages. Being bilingual, I recognize how much can be lost or altered in simply translating a Spanish text into an English text (or vice versa) due to cultural and idiomatic differences. Tamilio took exception to the Christian fundamentalists’ assertion that they are biblical literalists. In reality, they only interpret the Bible literally when it suits or furthers their agenda. When it comes to biblical passages that endorse selling daughters, wives being property, stoning non-virgin brides, compelling rape victims to marry their rapists, and women being the spoils of war, the Christian Right loses its zeal for literal interpretation.
My blood boiled as I listened to the sophistry of Reverend J.K. Warren of the College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe. Bigotry and homophobia were incarnate on that stage and were cleverly veiled under a cloak of “Christianity”. Soft-spoken, calm, and polished in his speech, Warren “schooled” the audience with his piercing insight into the “scriptural proof” that homosexuality is a sin. He advised us that one must interpret the Bible literally, and that numerous scriptures throughout the Bible reference homosexual behavior and decry it as a sin. According to Warren, since science has not found a gene responsible for homosexuality, homosexuality is a lifestyle and a choice. He argued that gays and lesbians are capable of choosing to convert to heterosexuality, and that if they embraced God, He would lead them there because that was where He wanted them to be. The line of questioning from the audience, and the level of applause for each pastor at the end, strongly indicated that this particular group of people (at the local community college in a large Kansas suburb of Kansas City) heartily disapproved of Warren and his message. Unfortunately, I believe that many Kansans would have given him a standing ovation.
Warren represented a growing movement of Americans who yearn to inflict their Christian morals on our secular public school system and society. Evolution is under siege in the schools by an “opposing theory” called Intelligent Design, which is supported by few serious scientists, and little or no evidence. Legislators want to bring God into the judicial system through the Constitution Restoration Act. Bush's faith based initiatives violate the Establishment clause of the Constitution by breaking the wall between the separation of church and state. Ironically, the good Reverend Warren tried to convince the audience at the forum that the Establishment clause was written into the Constitution solely to protect the church from state domination. If one believes that, one has not studied their American history very well. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and some of the other key founding fathers were quite concerned with the potential tyranny of religion over our government and the people. Our Evangelical citizens might feel “warm and fuzzy inside” living in a theocracy, but our founding fathers shed their blood and risked their lives to avoid it.
One of the key strategies of this movement has been to use gays as a scapegoat and a way to motivate their “faithful” to vote and donate money. Christian fundamentalist and social fundamentalist leaders are sacrificing homosexuals at the holy alter of the dollar, and they are pocketing the dollars. They mobilize their minions with Gideon's trumpet call to stamp out the evil hordes of gays in our midst. Dutifully, Kansans respond with money and votes. Those homosexuals must be stopped before they destroy the fabric of our society!
Not surprisingly, the Christian conservatives twisted arguments lack scientific merit. In the forum, Reverend Warren suggested that homosexuality is a choice and that gays can change their sexual orientation by “coming to God” and changing their behavior. The American Psychological Association has determined that sexual orientation results from a variety of factors, including environmental, cognitive, genetic and hormonal, and that its exact causes vary from person to person. Their position is that sexual orientation manifests itself in early adolescence (prior to sexual experience) and is not a choice. Acting on one's sexual orientation, or not, is a choice, but then again some heterosexuals choose to remain asexual or even experiment with homosexuality. The American Psychological Association takes a very skeptical view of alleged “conversion” therapies touted by the vile group called Focus on Family and James Dobson, its demagogue. As a critical thinker, I find it very difficult to imagine people accepting the beliefs of Christian fundamentalist and social conservatives, whose “evidence” consists of a literal interpretation of a book that was written thousands of years ago in a different language, over that of an organization representing professionals who have devoted their lives and careers to the study of human behavior.
What I find almost amusing about the gay marriage debate, and I emphasize the word almost, is that the Christian conservatives make virtually all of their arguments based on the assumption that “everyone” is a Christian who believes that the Bible is the source of absolute truth and law, and that somehow their religion and morals trump all others. I am a deist. I believe in a Higher Power of my understanding. While I deeply respect Christ as a historical figure, and regard him as one of the ultimate liberals, I do not embrace him as my god. I see much wisdom contained in the Bible, but I do not look to it as my sole guidance for moral conduct. Contrary to Bush's belief, and that of many of the Christian right, we are not a Christian nation. The Constitution does not mention God, and was crafted over a period of years by a diverse group of people, including deists and freemasons (whose principals strongly embrace religious diversity). Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom were instrumental in shaping our nascent country, shared a significant skepticism of religion and its potential for tyranny. Our government was intended to be secular. Many of our citizens embrace religions other than Christianity, or are atheist. While a majority of Americans happen to embrace the Christian faith, there are many non-Christian Americans, and one of our key Constitutional principals is that our government will not establish a national religion. The Christian Right needs to study history, demographics, sociology, psychology, and Constitutional law to a much greater depth if they hope to ground their arguments in reality. However, if they studied too deeply, they would find that their position is absurd, and would cease to exist as an ideology. Ignorance can be bliss!
On April 5 Kansans will vote. This is one Kansan who is predicting that the “faithful” will come out in droves to vote to “preserve the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.” Hopefully, my prediction will ring hollow, and sanity will prevail, but in the land of Oz, almost anything can happen....
a 38-year-old father of three boys, works as an account representative for a
finance company, and has a degree in liberal arts. He's active in the ACLU
as a member and volunteer. Visit his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at