Personal Connections and Transformations: Learning to Embrace “The Gay”

I was pleasantly surprised this week to read about Senator Rob Portman’s change of heart regarding gay marriage. A few comments I read expressed regret that it required a personal connection—Portman’s son is gay—for him to reevaluate his position. But I contend that nearly all of our best and most important transformations are prompted by personal connections. What was once theoretical becomes immediately, achingly personal, powerful enough to blast through our preconceived, long-held beliefs. We can all be glad that Portman was willing to let his personal connection to his son change his beliefs. Many of us know of parents who are unmoved and unsupportive when their children come out. Thank God for those who do better.

Few people are able to effect such metamorphoses only on a theoretical basis. It’s a big reason why the personal really is political. And it’s why, with fewer and fewer gay people staying in the closet, more and more of us are being transformed by those personal connections, to the extent that marriage equality is indeed beginning to look inevitable. These days we all have friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, mentors, and heroes who are gay. If your heart is open to them, then it is necessarily open to marriage equality and justice. Such is the nature of the personal connection.

"Our calling is not to cross boundaries,  defy restrictions, or escape compartments.   It is to embrace a universe  that does not admit their existence."
“Our calling is not to cross boundaries,
defy restrictions, or escape compartments.
 It is to embrace a universe
that does not admit their existence.”
For example, when I was younger, I was an enthusiastic evangelical Christian (whereas nowadays I’m a mild-mannered, unassuming Episcopalian). I believed that homosexuality was wrong for the simple reason that people I loved and trusted told me it was wrong, and I didn’t have any better information than that. One of my very best friends also believed what we were told; only for him, it was anything but theoretical. Because he was gay.

I met Patrick in high school when we were on the newspaper staff together. I went to the same university Patrick did, and seeing as how he was a year ahead of me, he took some pleasure in showing me around the big U. We did the obligatory bar hopping, and he introduced me to the very exciting if somewhat daunting Plato system—my very first encounter with a computer! He was brilliant and funny and always kind. He studied Hebrew, Greek, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic just because he enjoyed learning them. He learned American Sign Language and rode a unicycle all over campus. I affectionately called him Petruchio (the romantic lead in The Taming of the Shrew). He was my very best friend from 1974 until he died at the tender age of 32 in 1987.

When I had a religious conversion experience in December of my freshman year (1974), I took Patrick along for the ride. He came to church with me and joined the same Christian group on campus. We had known each other—very well, I thought—for maybe eight years before he told me about his sexual conundrum: he was attracted to men. I was shocked. No one had ever come out to me before. It was totally outside my sphere of experience or understanding. Still, neither of us questioned what we had been taught.

LGBT Youth God loves you beyond your wildest imaginingPatrick struggled mightily to resist temptation, and he despised himself because he wasn’t able to change. I will never forget him dissolving in anguished tears on my couch. His “failures” consisted of loveless, anonymous sexual encounters, after which he would castigate himself and resolve to do better. It was a nasty, vicious cycle of torment and self-loathing. Only a few months before he contracted HIV, Patrick said how lucky he was not to have come down with some dread disease. Obviously, his luck didn’t hold.

Patrick moved to Texas a few years before he died. The first time I went to visit him there we were both struck by how nice it was to be with someone with whom we didn’t even have to finish our sentences to be understood. Then he told me about his diagnosis. Back in those days, HIV was a swift death sentence. I went to Texas to visit him twice before he died.

The first time I saw him after he was diagnosed with AIDS, I was stunned by his appearance. He looked like a concentration camp survivor. For the first half hour or so I was with him, I found it difficult to breathe, as though I’d been struck on the back and had the wind knocked out of me. The change in him was so hard to process. While others shunned him, feared contagion, and worried about sharing a salad with him (I kid you not!), I cooked enormous amounts of food for him because I noticed that no matter how much I put in front of him, he ate half. I cleaned his bathroom and organized his cornucopia of prescription drugs. I never considered doing anything less. This was my Petruchio. What else could I have done?

I read as much about AIDS as I could get my hands on (most notably, And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts) in the vain hope that understanding what was happening to Patrick would help me cope. I ran interference between him and his mother. When he lapsed into a coma during the last month of his life, I insisted that his mother hold the phone up to his ear for ten minutes every day so that I could prattle at him, whether he could actually hear me or not. Finally, I picked out where he would be buried and made arrangements for his funeral (the first funeral home I called didn’t want to handle someone who had died of AIDS).

Patrick died on July 12, 1987. For years afterward I was furious with God, not because Patrick had died but because he died what seemed to me to be a small, miserable little death. He was in denial about his impending death right up to the end. He never faced himself or his disease. But to me he was so precious, so beautiful, so extraordinary. He deserved so much better. I know now, too, that I was uncomfortable with Patrick’s rejection of his gayness, even though I wasn’t ready to fully accept it either.

During that time, I began experiencing what is sometimes referred to as cognitive dissonance—my experiences didn’t jibe with my beliefs. I talked to some friends who were gay and asked them obnoxious, personal questions like “Do you still consider yourself a Christian?” and “When did you realize you were gay? What made you think that?” I knew a lesbian couple whom I loved very much (still “hating the sin while loving the sinner”). I realized one day that I liked them very much as a couple, and I couldn’t imagine them in relationship with anyone else. Gender didn’t really even seem to come into it. They were just right for each other.

"Inclusiveness" Window,  McKinley Presbyterian Church,  Champaign, Illinois
“Inclusiveness” Window,
McKinley Presbyterian Church,
Champaign, Illinois
In 1991, I moved to Madison, where I began attending an Episcopal church, still pretty mad at God and still confused. There I met Clay, who was our choir director. I learned not long after I met him that Clay was married to his partner, John. When I went to their home, I looked through their wedding album. It was oh-so-ordinary. And lovely. I finally thought to myself, “Well, maybe in an ideal world, people wouldn’t be gay. But since when was this ever an ideal world?” I was still processing, still questioning, and not quite ready to fully embrace and celebrate “the gay,” but no longer willing to judge or reject just because I was taught to.

I found myself wishing with all my heart that Patrick could have been able to enjoy what Clay and John had: a loving, committed, fulfilling relationship. How vastly better than furtive, anonymous, life-threatening sexual encounters followed by weeks of self-loathing and unremitting remorse. I loved being with Clay and John, because I found their love healing and comforting. I let go of the last of my reservations in the shelter of their love for me and for each other.

In 1997 Clay started Perfect Harmony, Madison’s gay and gay-friendly men’s chorus. I got to sing the part of Dorothy for “Over the Rainbow” in their very first performance. Imagine being the only woman singing with a chorus of 25 men. It was glorious! At many of the Perfect Harmony concerts for several years after that I got to sing either solos or ensembles with the men. It was thrilling. One year I sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and leaned a little extra on the line “Make the Yuletide — gay,” to the audience’s delight. Clay said to me at one point, “You know, most of the audience probably thinks you’re gay.” The thought hadn’t occurred to me. I paused for a moment, smiled, and said, “Cool! I’m honored.” I think you could say that by then my transformation was pretty well complete.

As it happened, Clay also had AIDS, only by that time treatments were much better, so he lived with his disease for ten years (instead of Patrick’s ten months) before he died. And John, Clay’s husband, was a nurse, so Clay was very well cared for during his illness. I got to visit him the day before he died. “You’re going to die too, you know,” he said to me. I assured him that I knew. He also told me he’d look up my friend Patrick when he got there, wherever “there” is. I still love the thought of them meeting each other.

The day before he died, it seemed like the veil was already disintegrating for Clay and he could see well beyond it. He faced his death with courage and even joy, ready for whatever came next. His funeral was one of the most beautiful church services I’ve ever been to. Because he had picked out all the hymns and the readings, his presence was palpable. I felt so close to him. His was a good, courageous death, unsullied by self-loathing and recriminations. It was the perfect counterpoint to all that had distressed me so deeply about Patrick’s death.

I’m no longer angry at God. I celebrate both Patrick’s life and Clay’s. I’m grateful that God made them exactly as they were. Had they not been gay, they would not have been themselves. And who they were is one of the greatest gifts God has given me. I have been enriched beyond measure by knowing and loving them. And I’m so grateful there was more to the story of “the gay” than what I was first taught. I have had the remarkable experience of personal connection, transformation, and love. I wish Senator Portman—and his son—much joy as they navigate the experience of connection and transformation together.

# # #
“Our Calling,” by Ricardo Levins Morales.

LGBT Youth” is from Tumbln Spirits on Tumblr.

The “Inclusiveness” Window at McKinley Presbyterian Church,
Champaign, Illinois, was installed in 1997 in honor of my late
mother-in-law, Carolyn Juergensmeyer Worley, longtime member of McKinley’s Social Action Committee and a woman with as kind, generous, and accepting a heart as anyone I’ve ever known.

To our knowledge, this is the only stained glass window devoted to inclusiveness as a theme in America. Symbols abound and the most dramatic is at the top. A pink triangle set against a white Celtic cross recalls the suffering and repression of GLBT persons at the hands of the Nazis in Germany in the 30’s and 40’s. Also included are the rainbow flag, an AIDS ribbon, and male and female hands clasping one another and supported by the hand of God.

Wisconsin Bill AB 371 Adds Complications and Felony Penalty to Abortions

Yesterday, February 8, 2012, the Wisconsin Assembly Health Committee convened. One of the items discussed was Assembly Bill 371. This particular bill has long been touted by Rep. Michelle Litjens and “right to life” groups. I wrote about this particular bill before it had been written. My post from last August can be found here. There is just so much wrong with this bill, it’s hard to know where to start. This post won’t go into too many details on so called “web cam” abortions because my previous post covered that topic in detail.

This bill isn’t about safe and accessible health care for women. It seeks to restrict access to abortions and goes directly against standard health care practices. Do our legislators believe they know medicine and psychology better than trained doctors and counselors? Does it make sense for law makers to legislate medical practices? We should leave medical treatment to the professionals.

This bill also implies that woman are unwilling or unable to make good decisions for themselves. I find that idea offensive and condescending. Women can and do make sound decisions for themselves every day. These women will have to live with her decision whether or not she decides to carry the pregnancy to term and need to be aware of all options available to them.

Michelle Litjens says her main concern is for women to have the ability to say “no” to an abortion if they are coerced. There was a lot of talk about “voluntary consent” at the meeting yesterday and proponents wax poetic on how women had abortions because they felt threatened. They feel that if women have a few minutes alone with a doctor they will suddenly feel “safe” and blurt out they feel threatened and don’t want the abortion. I really don’t see that happening. No law can make anyone tell the truth about their situation and doctor’s aren’t mind readers. They can’t tell when a patient lies to them. The law will take away a woman’s support system when she’s feeling the most vulnerable.

I could see this clause as being abused by anti-choice doctors to coerce the woman into not having an abortion. There is no set amount of time allotted for these doctor and patient one on ones. In theory, an anti-choice doctor can keep up a “private session” until the patient states they no longer want the procedure. Many “pro-life” people will stop at nothing to prevent women from having an abortion. This seems to smack of supposed “right to life” groups saying “it’s not coercion if we do it”.

One example that was brought up is a woman felt threatened if the father of the fetus said “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have the abortion”. Think about it for a second. Nothing the law says will change what he will do if she continues the pregnancy.

This bill provides two areas where physicians can be imposed penalties. One area is in the “voluntary consent” section and the other area deals with abortion-inducing drugs. A doctor could be fined up to $10,000 for violating the new definition of “voluntary consent”. The penalty for not following the “abortion-inducing” drugs clause of this bill is a class I penalty. The bill states:

253.105 Prescription and use of abortion-inducing drugs. (1) In this 
16section:
17(a) “Abortion” has the meaning given in s. 253.10 (2) (a).
18(b) “Abortion-inducing drug” has the meaning given in s. 253.10 (2) (am).
19(c) “Physician” has the meaning given in s. 448.01 (5).
20(2) No person may give an abortion-inducing drug to a woman unless the 
21physician who prescribed, or otherwise provided, the abortion-inducing drug for the 
22woman:
23(a) Performs a physical exam of the woman before the information is provided 
24under s. 253.10 (3) (c) 1.
25(b) Is physically present in the room when the drug is given to the woman.

1(3) Penalty. Any person who violates sub. (2) is guilty of a Class I felony. No 
2penalty may be assessed against a woman to whom an abortion-inducing drug is 
3given.
This is the part of the bill that would prohibit so called “webcam abortions”. The only state that allows this is Iowa. In a December 13, 2011 Cap Times article,

“But Lisa Subeck, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said the practice has so far been restricted to Iowa, and has been found to have comparable outcomes to conventional procedures. (Here’s an ABC news story about Iowa’s telemedicine procedure.) And it could be a way to extend needed medical services in a state like Wisconsin, where 94 percent of the counties have no abortion providers.”

So called “webcam abortions” could make it easier women in rural areas to get safe, doctor supervised abortions. The health and well being of the woman should come first. Are we going to make all remote care illegal or does this type of law only apply to abortions? Would we even consider charging a doctor with a felony if let’s say a doctor of neurology was working in conjunction with a local physician via webcam to treat a patient? Health care is only as good as your access to it. We could have the best health care in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything if a majority of people can’t access it. Let’s try to increase access to all forms of treatment.

Physicians will also face civil penalties for a medically approved practice. An item that caught my attention is the father can sue the doctor for civil penalties except if the pregnancy was caused by a sexual assault.

“(4) Civil remedies. (a) Any of the following persons has a claim against a 
5person who intentionally or recklessly violates sub. (2):
103. The father of the unborn child aborted as the result of an abortion-inducing 
11drug given in violation of sub. (2), unless the pregnancy of the person to whom the 
12abortion-inducing drug was given was the result of sexual assault in violation of s. 
13940.225, 944.06, 948.02, 948.025, 948.06, 948.085, or 948.09 and the violation was 
14committed by the father.

First off, most rapes are never reported. Most women are hesitant to report being raped and even less willing to do so when the person who assaulted them is their husband or significant other.

Second, there could be a problem identifying who the “father of the unborn child” is. Many times, paternity is unknown until testing is done. Are we going to have to start doing paternity tests before abortions are performed? Are doctors and/or their malpractice insurers going to start requiring these tests in order to prevent a lawsuit? If that’s the case, then women won’t be allowed to have abortions until they are at least 10 weeks into their pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, paternity tests can be done as early as 10 weeks into the pregnancy. This could lead to expensive and unnecessary medical procedures being performed.

The bill also requires that the woman has to go back to the same clinic for follow up care.

Section 3. 253.10 (3) (c) 1. hm. of the statutes is created to read:
7253.10 (3) (c) 1. hm. If the abortion is induced by an abortion-inducing drug, 
8that the woman must return to the abortion facility for a follow-up visit 12 to 18 days 
9after the use of an abortion-inducing drug to confirm the termination of the 
10pregnancy and evaluate the woman’s medical condition.

Many women have to travel several hours to get to a clinic that provides abortions. This places an unnecessary burden on her. Follow up care could be provided by a local doctor. This type of thing happens a lot in medicine. Many people go to walk in clinics for non life threatening illnesses and injuries because they need medical help outside of office hours. Follow up care can then be provided by their general practitioner. The main concern should be that the woman receive follow up care, not who performs it. Do we want to mandate which doctors a woman can see for follow up care? Shouldn’t that decision be left to the patient?

This bill has left me with more questions than answers and this post doesn’t go into all of the possible negative impacts if this bill becomes a law. Do we want to penalize doctors for doing their jobs? Why would we outlaw a medical procedure that isn’t even being performed here? Do we need a law stating where a woman can receive follow up care after an abortion? Common sense tells doctors they need to look for symptoms of abuse. You can encourage an abused person to seek help, but you can’t force them to take it and you can never force someone to tell the truth. No amount of legislation will make an abused person even admit to the abuse, much less get out of their abusive situation. Let’s not try to legislate the unnecessary or impossible. On a final note, wouldn’t it be great if these “right to life” people put as much time,energy and passion into helping the children already born as they put into their anti-choice agenda?

Unconscionable

The Obama administration announced this month that the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated institutions must cover the cost of contraceptives without co-pay for their employees, and possibly for students as well.

From Laura Bassett at HuffPo:

Under the new rule, set forth by the Affordable Care Act, most women employed in the U.S. will have the cost of their birth control covered with no co-pay. Churches and other places of worship would continue to be exempt from having to cover contraception for their employees if they morally object to the practice, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but all other organizations will have a year to comply with the new requirement, regardless of whether or not they are religiously affiliated.”

Of course, that wasn’t enough for Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the extremely powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called the decision “unconscionable.” I sympathize. Sorta kinda.

I don’t believe the Catholic Church should have to pay for something it believes is wrong. (Of course, I don’t think I should have to pay for unjust wars and corporate welfare either, but go figure.) At the same time, I don’t believe that women who are employed by church-affiliated institutions should have to pay for contraception out of their own pockets. Neither should women employed by churches for that matter.

In fact, the Catholic Church shouldn’t be in the business of providing health insurance for any U.S. citizens. Ever. Rather, I believe that health care is a human right and that Medicare should be available to all of us, regardless of age, religious affiliation, or employment status. And I believe that women should be able to make their own choices about their reproductive health. Those who believe abortion is wrong shouldn’t have one, and those who believe that contraception is wrong shouldn’t use it. Everyone should have the freedom to choose according to their own conscience. Simple, right? It should be.

Universal single-payer health care would solve the bishops’ problem, would it not? Religious institutions wouldn’t have to pay for their employees’ contraceptives. So why the hell aren’t the good bishops lobbying for Medicare for all? Because that’s not what the bishops really want. The bishops don’t want to have to settle for just telling women what to do with their bodies; they want to control what women do with their bodies. And there’s the real rub, isn’t it?

Of course, the bishops are entitled to their opinion. They’re just not entitled to set U.S. health care policy. But that would be news to them. More from Laura Bassett:

The bishops were not only influential in swaying votes during the health care reform debate; [Richard] Doerflinger said they actually helped Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) write the controversial anti-abortion amendment, which the House approved by a vote of 290 to 194.

“Those bishops were literally sitting in Bart Stupak’s office and, from what we could tell, instructing him all about the laws he should be supporting, and the text of the laws, and the strategy of getting them through,” said Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women. “It was absolutely appalling.”

The National Organization for Women has called for the bishops conference to lose its tax-exempt status over its lobbying activities.

War on Women
Thanks to Political Loudmouth for the great poster.

Please, for God’s sake, get this straight: the United States is not a Catholic country. It’s not a Christian country. It’s a freedom-of-religion country. That doesn’t mean that we’re an anti-religion country (God forbid!). It means that all of us have the right to practice our beliefs and religion—or our nonbeliefs and nonreligion—as we choose. It means that practitioners of one religion cannot impose their beliefs on the rest of us. That includes the good bishops.

Most lobbyists on Capitol Hill have to pay for the privilege and power the bishops wield. Government by and for the monied interests is plenty bad enough and absolutely must be eradicated. But government by and for the Catholic Church, while it pays not a dime in taxes, so that it can control what women can and can’t do with their own bodies—that’s what I call unconscionable.

I stand corrected:Pope is no Tea Partier: Benedict Backs Guaranteed Healthcare for All.”

What’s Being Restored in Bay Minette, AL?

Starting next week a new alternative sentencing program is slated to start in Bay Minette, Alabama. The name of this program is “Operation Restore Our Community” and it’s already got many people riled.

According to an article found here. Operation Restore Our Community is “A new alternative sentencing program offering first-time, nonviolent offenders a choice of a year of church attendance or jail time and fines is drawing fire from the American Civil Liberties Union as well as national attention, officials said Friday.”

Alternative options to jail time for non-violent offenders are good in many ways, but introducing religious values into the mix will only cause controversy. While I’m glad this is a voluntary program, how many people facing jail time won’t see as an option, but a mandate if they want to avoid going to jail?

Here’s what the Freedom From Religion foundation had to say on this topic.

“This proposal is an egregious violation of the First Amendment. It is a bedrock principle of constitutional law that the state cannot coerce citizens to participate in religious practices,” noted Elliott. As the Supreme Court states in Lee v. Weisman, “It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which ‘establishes a [state] religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.'” 

Who decides which, if any faiths have the “right” values? Do we want non-violent offenders to have the “choice” of being indoctrinated into any faith? Is this a back door way of increasing church attendance and potentially boosting funding to churches? With my interest piqued, I decided to learn more on this topic.

The first question that crossed my mind is “which churches are participating?” and unfortunately, I couldn’t find that information, but did find through many sources that 56 churches are participating. I’m getting the impression that all of the churches in the list are Christian by the wording used in the articles. Each article mentions that the person has to check in weekly with a “pastor”.

One of the participating churches is the Christian Life Church. In an article from the Sacremento Bee, Pastor Robert Gates is quoted as saying “You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society but that will be an influence and a help to those around them,” 

So, Robert Gates is telling us that people who love Jesus don’t commit crimes or cause problems in the community? Where to even begin with his statement. First off, Christians aren’t perfect and do commit small crimes such as speeding every day. Secondly, why is he only talking about Christians? Does he believes, for example that Jewish people are more inclined to a life of crime because they haven’t fallen in love with Jesus? Thirdly, does court appointed church attendance automatically make a person love Jesus? I say that court appointed church attendance simply makes a person a church goer, not a true believer.

It seems to be implied that most non-violent offenders aren’t attending church. I’d like to see statistics of how many non-violent offenders are active church members. For active church members choosing church attendance instead of jail time would be a “no brainer”, but what about those people whose faith isn’t represented in the list of approved churches? What about atheist non-violent offenders?

Dr. Angela Hawken agreed there could be some constitutional issues and said the following in an interview with The Christian Post.

“Hawken also believes that there is not anything inherently wrong with scheduled visits to places of worship being used for criminal rehabilitation.
“It won’t suddenly flip a switch, especially since it’s so coercive,” Hawken said.
However, “often people pick up good behavior when something like that is imposed on them,” she said, pointing out that churches can be a place where one is able to be a part of a community and find other people for support and positive reinforcement.”
From the same article:
“Hawken expressed reservations about constitutional issues, as well as the coercive aspect of choosing between being locked up in jail and paying fines or going to church once a week, which she does not consider a true choice.”

I find Hawken’s choice of wording to be interesting to say the least. First she says that “it’s so coercive”. Which “good values” do we want our citizens to be coerced into? Another thing she says is “often people pick up good behavior when something like that is imposed on them”. Good behavior is something to be “imposed” on people?

Robert Boston, from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State said  “It’s not the job of the government to place people in places of worship” I concur.

Here’s what the local police chief, Mike Rowland has to say about this program.

 “It was agreed by all the pastors that at the core of the crime problem was the erosion of family values and morals. We have children raising children and parents not instilling values in young people.”

He says there are parents raising children with no values and believes sending them to a select list of churches will train young people to have them. What values exactly is he talking about? People of all faiths, including Christians, commit crimes and atheists frequently have better values than their “Christian” neighbors. Simply going to church doesn’t mean a person has values, it just means they attend church.

How would he feel if no Christian churches were in this list? I wonder what he would say if his children were given the option of attending let’s say a Mosque or Synagogue in lieu of jail time. Would he agree with the values of those faiths?

Another quote from this article: “Rowland said the goal is to produce “productive citizens.”” Passively sitting through a church service isn’t being productive. Wouldn’t volunteering with local non-profits be more productive? There are many non-profit organizations doing great things in communities every day and they can always use extra help. As a bonus non-violent offenders would have the opportunity to be truly productive and do real good in the community.

Do we want our courts to decide which churches in the community represent “good values”? I wonder how these people will be viewed if they put nothing in the collection plate during the service. I also wonder how much extra money these churches anticipate to get when people start flocking to their services.

Will people be pressured into donating money to the church? I could almost see it becoming a protection racket. Pastors are working in conjunction with police for the Operation Restore Our Community program. What’s to stop a dishonest pastor from saying “donate money to the church or I’ll tell the cops you’re not in compliance with this program”.

Do we as a society want to give that much power to any church and/or pastor? Isn’t this program moving this country towards state sponsored churches? As a side note, I wonder how current parishioners of these churches will feel when they realize that their expression of faith is another person’s punishment.

Is Michele Bachmann Bad for a Church’s Image?

The  Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod (WELS) has recently come under scrutiny after presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her family left that synod around the same time she announced her bid for the presidency. I want to explain why Michele Bachmann is not a good fit for WELS.  I also want to look at the actual beliefs of WELS.  It’s easier for writers to paint the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod to be this wild, far out group than it is to dig into their beliefs.

Being raised in the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod gives me a more intimate understanding of the synod than someone reading about it for the first time in the news.  For the record, I am not, nor I have been an active member of a Wisconsin Synod church or congregation in close to 30 years.

Before I go any further with this post, let me state quite clearly that I am in no way attacking any particular church group or synod.  There are plenty of good, loving people that belong to every faith.    People feel attacked when their faith and/or church are questioned or judged as being bad from those outside the community.  People on the defensive aren’t open to discussion and we need to get past that if we as a society are going to work together for a better future.  The purpose of this post is not to attack or defend WELS or Michele Bachman.  Leaving the Wisconsin Synod as a “personal preference” makes perfect sense for Michele Bachmann as I don’t think she reflected their other core beliefs regarding prayer.

There are plenty of reasons and opportunities to criticize Michele, but being part of WELS isn’t really one of them as I don’t think she’s a good “fit” for that organization.  For one, WELS churches tend to keep to themselves meaning they don’t mix with other Christian denominations.  They do not approve of praying with other Christian denominations.  Michele Bachmann has publicly participated in prayer meetings that span many Christian groups.

There have been many articles speculating WELS position on the Pope among other things.  Some have even tied WELS with being anti-Jewish.  There seems to be this eagerness by the press and blogosphere to paint all WELS members as being “wing nuts”.  Maybe WELS was put under that type of scrutiny because of their connection with Michele Bachmann.  I’d like to see how many WELS members follow the “official line” on the Pope and the more obscure notion of not liking Jewish people.  Neither one of these things are talked about very often, so I almost wonder how many people in the Wisconsin Synod even know the church’s stance on these subjects.

For a little background there are three main Lutheran synods in the United States.  The Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod (WELS) is the most conservative of the three, Missouri Synod is more “middle of the road” and the Evangelic Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is the most liberal of the three.

WELS members and their church pride themselves on maintaining a separation from other churches, including other Christian denominations.  They have the Lutheran Boy and Lutheran Girl Pioneers in place of the Boy and Girl Scouts.  The accent in the quote below is mine. They are against universalism and salvation through deeds being taught to their members.

“We’re for man. We’re in favor of a correct understanding of man’s nature, so that young people can grow up right. That means we teach original sin, the innate inability to know God and do right that necessitates regeneration. So we baptize and instruct children. And we oppose any philosophy that suggests people are morally good or neutral by nature. Unfortunately, that’s what scouting does, reversing the prohibitions of God’s law with the self-righteous promotions of the scout law. “A scout is reverent” . . . he does his duty to God. One scouting manual adds: “You may never know what your duty to God is,” and goes on to promote religious evolution in place of revelation, all in the name of reverence to God.

We are for salvation, for the salvation of all who believe in Jesus, because the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace through faith, right? Then we must be opposed to any and all forms of work-righteous salvation. Unfortunately, scouting’s printed explanations of the scout oath and law foster universalism (the idea that everybody’s going to heaven if there is one) and work-righteousness (the notion that good deeds earn reward in the hereafter).

The Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod supports four universities for training future pastors and teachers.  Each one of these schools is owned and operated exclusively by the WELS.  Please note that Oral Roberts University is not listed.

I went to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod web site for part of my research and found their thoughts on the differences between Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod.  It’s located in their “Frequently Asked Questions” page.
  The document I reference is “Lutherans” under the “Denominations” tab.  What I found interesting is how Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod views prayer.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod allows for group prayer, even when the person next to you isn’t Missouri Synod.  Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are only supposed to pray with other Wisconsin Synod members (ie: full doctrinal agreement).  As a WELS member, Michele Bachmann wasn’t supposed to participate in a group prayer that included other Christian sects.

“The WELS holds to what is called the “unit concept” of fellowship, which places virtually all joint expressions of the Christian faith on the same level. In an official statement made in 1960 the WELS states, “Church fellowship should therefore be treated as a unit concept, covering every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of a common faith” (Doctrinal Statements of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1970, pp. 51-52). The LCMS, however, has historically not understood or practiced church fellowship in this way. Our Synod, for example, has made a distinction between altar and pulpit fellowship (for which full doctrinal agreement is required) and other manifestations of Christian fellowship, such as prayer fellowship (which do not necessarily require full doctrinal agreement). Disagreements on this issue led the Wisconsin to break fellowship with the LCMS in 1961.”

Those who know me personally know that I take the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod to task on their ideologies, including not allowing women to vote in the church, but Michele Bachmann’s involvement in the church isn’t going to be one of them.  That smacks of “guilt by association” to me.

I’ll close with the other reason I don’t believe Michele Bachmann was a good “fit” for the Wisconsin Synod.  Wisconsin Synod Lutherans have a long history of putting high value on education and deep theological thought.  It is the responsibility of every member to learn as much as they can about the word of God.  This is not done so they can brag to the world how great they are, rather it is done to meet their own spiritual needs.  Michele reminds me of the Pharisees who would do good works and put on a good show for the world.  True Christianity comes from the heart and shouldn’t be used for personal or political gain.

Special thanks to Blue Cheddar and Ray Lawson for their input on this topic.  Your feedback means a lot to me.

“Women’s Protection Act” Protects Women From What?

State Assemblywoman Michelle Litjens WI and State Senator Mary Lazich have teamed up to coauthor the “Women’s Protection Act”. It’s creating quite a stir, even before it’s been introduced. I have not found the actual text of the document, but did find information about the bill at both theWisconsin Right to Life web site and at the web site for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Baraboo, WI.

Here’s what proponents say the act will do:
“The Woman’s Protection Act will save the lives of babies and protect the health of women. Sponsored by Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Representative Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh), the Woman’s Protection Act will do the following:
Require abortionists to tell a woman seeking abortion that no one can coerce her to abort and assist pregnant women in abusive situations to find help.
Prohibit web-cam RU-486 chemical abortions.
Require that a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her unborn child.
Require abortion clinics to be regulated; Currently, abortion clinics are unregulated”

The first bullet point says all doctors who perform abortions will be required to “tell a woman seeking abortion that no one can coerce her to abort and assist pregnant women in abusive situations to find help”.
First off, I have a couple of questions. Does anyone really believe it’s mainly abused women who seek abortions? Is requesting an abortion going to become part of a checklist that health care agencies must follow when reporting suspected abuse? Outside forces play a role her decision, but the ultimate decision is her own.

“Voluntary consent” is a current requirement before obtaining abortion services and is defined as follows: Consent under this section to an abortion is voluntary only if the consent is given freely and without coercion by any person.”

I believe women need to be reminded that no one can coerce them into doing anything they don’t want to do. This includes coercing a woman to carry any pregnancy to term that she doesn’t want. While there are no bad times to tell a woman it’s alright to leave an abusive relationship, simply having a woman request an abortion is not an indicator of abuse.

Second bullet point is “Prohibit web-cam RU-486 chemical abortions”. There are a limited number of medical centers that perform abortions. Some women have to travel great lengths to get access to abortion services. These same women frequently have a family planning clinic that is closer. This would be the clinic she goes to for her normal family planning needs. Rural areas in particular are sorely lacking medical options that are close to home. Something like this could open doors for women to get more accessible health care. Some women may be unable to get to a distant abortion clinic for a number of reasons, including not having transportation or not being able to get the time off of work.

Planned Parenthood in Ohio has started using a method called “telemedicine”. From the ABC news article:

“A woman seeking an abortion via telemedicine has an ultrasound performed by a trained technician, receives information about medical abortion and signs a standard informed consent for the abortion.
Once that is complete, a physician steps in via teleconference. The doctor reviews the woman’s medical history and ultrasound images, and once it is determined that she is eligible — up to nine weeks pregnant and not an ectopic pregnancy — she has time to ask questions.
Then, the doctor enters a computer passcode to remotely open a drawer at the clinic containing two pills. She then swallows the mifepristone, under the doctor’s supervision, and then is instructed to take four additional tablets of misoprostol within the next 24 to 48 hours. The actual abortion happens at home.”
Opponents of this procedure claim women aren’t getting the health care and after care they need. Again from the article.
“Generally, during the actual expulsion, it’s like a miscarriage,” said Grossman. “It can be painful, but it can be easily controlled with oral pain medications. Women come back for a follow-up a week or two later to have an ultrasound to confirm that the abortion is complete.”

The third item the proposed bill will “Require that a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her unborn child.” Why should they be forced to look at an ultrasound image if they don’t want to? Having an ultrasound image available is part of “informed consent” as per Wisconsin statute 253.10 which states:

“That fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of fetal heart tone services are available that enable a pregnant woman to view the image or hear the heartbeat of her unborn child. In so informing the woman and describing these services, the physician shall advise the woman as to how she may obtain these services if she desires to do so.”

The last bullet point states “Require abortion clinics to be regulated; Currently, abortion clinics are unregulated”. Medical centers are regulated and abortion services are highly regulated. There are many requirements that have to be met before a woman can have an abortion. I won’t go into them all because it’s too lengthy for this post. Go here to look at the current hoops women and the clinics that provide abortions must go through before an abortion may legally be performed.

I hope the actual text of this proposed “Women’s Protection Act” is released to the public soon. There are too many details that need to be filled in. Just saying we’re going to regulate abortion clinics because they’re not regulated now doesn’t really mean anything. What specifically needs to be regulated? Medical clinics are already regulated. A lot of information to the patient is covered by “informed and voluntary consent”. If a woman doesn’t know exactly what she’s consenting to by the time they finish the checklist, she’s not paying attention.

Pro-life people believe in choice as long as the option chosen is continuing a pregnancy. Fully functioning, adult women chose to end their pregnancies every day because of a variety of reasons. Ultimately it’s the woman’s decision to either have a child or not. This choice is hers and hers alone and no one should take that choice from her.

Pity the Fool: Ralph Lang traveled to Madison where he was going to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies”




This is written by guest blogger, Steve. On May 26, Ralph Lang traveled to Madison where he was going to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies”. He was arrested after his gun accidently fired as he was loading it.

I decided to see if I could find out more about Ralph.

On April 22 Ralph Lang, age 63, lost his mother. Rev. Charles Stoetzel who officiated at the funeral of Ralph’s mother, is the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Marshfield. The same Church which recently ran this drivel on its website:
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“A woman on the pill … gives the impression that she is receiving her husband fully in the marital embrace, while, in fact, she is shutting down her own fertility in order to ward off his fruitfulness. On a deep level, she is rejecting his life-giving masculinity…”
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Yep, that would drive a person crazy.
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The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign records that in 2000 he gave $200 to the MaryAnn Lippert. According to Wikipedia, Mary Ann Lippert “is a Wisconsin health educator, health administrator, amd (SIC) Republican politician who served one term as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. She is currently executive assistant to the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.”
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But you may remember MaryAnn as one of Walker’s education advisors in favor of lifting the cap on virtual charter schools and expanding the voucher program statewide. But foolish choices do not a murderer make.