Houston pastor Joel Osteen and feel-good homophobia

Lakewood Church leader part of new breed who couch anti-gay teachings in forgiveness, love

Osteen.Joel

Joel Osteen

When the Michele Bachmanns or Glenn Becks of the world do their public rants about rampant homosexual perversion and the decay of American values, I’m happy to let them talk.

As painful as it is to keep the free flow of ideas going, it is important to let people fly their colors. This way you know where they stand and you get to fly your own big neon flag in response. When activists called to have the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status yanked for its role in California’s Prop 8, I took the church’s side — not because I approved of their bully tactics, but because I didn’t want to see other churches lose their right to fight for us one day.

So you’d think I’d be OK with Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s recent remarks recently to Oprah Winfrey: “I believe that homosexuality is shown as a sin in the scripture. I do.” I’m so not OK with this I almost foam at the mouth whenever I think about that nuclear white Osteen smile.

True, Osteen was just sick about having to say that we’re sinners, and almost apologized for it. He went out of his way to opine that Christians make too big a deal about homosexuality and that it’s about as sinful as being prideful or fibbing. I’m glad that my marriage only offends God somewhat.

I’ve heard that Osteen has a big gay following, and I know one of those fans well. Once I emailed him to report that Osteen called homosexuality “not God’s best” on Larry King. My friend wrote back, “Well, nobody’s perfect. You take what’s good and leave the rest.” He continues to be inspired.

Dees.Abby

Abby Dees | Thinking Out Loud

This all sounds reasonable, and you could argue that my friend was reminding me of my own professed philosophy about free speech and religion. And yet I shrieked out loud when I read his email.

The reason Fox News gets a pass but Osteen has incurred my wrath is because his message is so insidious. It’s feel-good homophobia, so couched in God-loves-you talk that Osteen avoids all responsibility for the fact that real people take his words to heart. Not everyone can “leave the rest” as my friend does.

Whenever Osteen answers the question about homosexuality he hems and haws, but always comes to the apparently painful conclusion that the Bible is unambiguous about it.

He’s quick to add that he does love gay people, welcomes them in his church, doesn’t judge, that there are worse things to be, etc. The message that it’s still a sin to be gay gets quickly obscured by smiley faces and glitter glue for hope.

Curiously, Osteen is rarely willing to take a stand on any other issues. He’s gotten criticized by the religious right for staying out of politics and being unwilling to talk about sin as much as he talks about positivity. It’s all about being “the best you can be” — God’s plan for you. When Mike Wallace asked Osteen if he thought Mormons were true Christians, he humbly responded, “I haven’t really studied them or thought about them…I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know” and “I’m not one to judge the little details of it.”

Hmm. Why so vague about the folks who have an entirely different set of scriptures, but so damned clear on the disappointing truth about homosexuality? Perhaps some serious re-examination is in order.

Another pastor whose language and selective choice of issues is spookily similar to Osteen’s is the purpose-driven Rick Warren. Also a proclaimed political abstainer, he encouraged his flock to vote against same-sex marriage and has disturbing ties to the recent wave of anti-gay policies in Africa. Warren still insists that he loves gay people and works closely with “a number of gay organizations,” though no one ever asks which ones. These men are entitled to their opinions, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy of this new breed of influential pastors who want us all to bathe in the light of God’s forgiving love. Except that LGBT people must still deny how God made them if they want “God’s best” for themselves.

California-based writer Abby Dees is the author of  ‘Queer  Questions Straight Talk.’ She can be contacted through her website QueerQuestionsStraightTalk.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

PIC OF THE DAY: Mormon church flier warns against ‘cross-gender dressing’ for Halloween

Via my Facebook friend Michael Westley of Salt Lake City (I lived in Utah for three years), above is an actual flier that was posted on doors by a local LDS Stake Center (a division of the Mormon church).

—  John Wright

Openly gay candidate Fred Karger is 1st Republican to file to run for president in 2012

Fred Karger

Fred Karger, an openly gay Republican, this morning became the first person to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2012.

He becomes the first openly gay candidate to ever run for president.

Karger has worked on a variety of Republican campaigns including Reagan-Bush in 1984. From 1977 until he retired in 2004, he was vice president of the Dolphin Group, a political consulting company.

In 2008, he founded and became co-director of Californians Against Hate in reaction to Proposition 8. He filed formal ethics violation complaints leading to investigations of the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage in California and Maine. He organized four boycotts of companies that donated more than $100,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.

Karger doesn’t expect to do well among religious conservatives, but his strategy is to win in early primary and caucus states New Hampshire and Iowa. Both of those states have large numbers of independent voters and both have legalized same-sex marriage.

By this time in the 2008 campaign cycle, at least a dozen candidates had announced that they were running in the two parties. Yesterday, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he was forming an exploratory committee, the first step in becoming a candidate. He is the only candidate other than Karger to formalize his plans.

Other Republicans have indicated that they are deciding whether to run, but no others have announced. Former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee said he would have to walk away from a lucrative deal with Fox to run. Donald Trump said he’s considering a run but due to contractual constraints, he can’t make an announcement until the season of The Apprentice ends.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are also potential candidates. Jimmy McMillan, the New Yorker who ran for mayor on the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, said he plans to run as a Republican.

Although Karger is the first openly gay man to run for president, James Buchanan, the 15th president, is the only one to have never married and was probably gay. He lived with Franklin Pierce’s Vice President Rufus King whose nicknames were Aunt Fancy, Miss Nancy and Mrs. Buchanan. King died while in office. Nieces of the two men destroyed their correspondence after their deaths so little written evidence of their relationship remains.

—  David Taffet

Mormon church says HRC statement about its stance on homosexuality ‘can’t be taken seriously’

Earlier today the Human Rights Campaign issued a press release suggesting that the Mormon church no longer considers same-sex attraction sinful.

But the Mormon church swiftly responded by saying HRC’s statement “mischaracterizes the church’s position” and “can’t be taken seriously.”

The HRC press release came in response to recent changes to the Church Handbook of Instructions. The handbook contains guidelines used by leaders in dealing with members, and the new version softened language related to gays.

The headline of HRC’s press release said, “Mormon Church: Same-Sex Attraction is Normal,” followed by a sub-headline saying, “New Church policy removes same-sex attraction from ‘list of sins.’” The HRC press release went on to suggest that recent advocacy by HRC and other LGBT groups was partly responsible for the changes.

The Mormon church responded by saying, “The HRC press release mischaracterizes the Church’s position and can’t be taken seriously,” according to Steve Rothhaus at The Miami Herald.

The statement about HRC’s press release followed an earlier blog post in which the church slammed a Salt Lake City TV station for its report about the changes to the handbook. The church suggested that the TV station’s report was an example of the type of irresponsible journalism that’s becoming more common because of changes brought on by the Internet.

So here now is Instant Tea’s official, on-the-record response:

“The Mormon church says HRC can’t be taken seriously, and while we’re not here to defend HRC, we’d like to warn LGBT youth that the Mormon church should never, ever be taken seriously. It’s like a really bad joke. And while the church laments changes in journalism, we’re busy lamenting the church’s total disregard for the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.”

Let’s see if they respond.

—  John Wright

Mormon church now fighting gay marriage abroad

Letter sent to LDS members in Argentina, where senate is debating issue

Jennifer Dobner  |  Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon church leaders have restated the faith’s unequivocal position against gay marriage in a letter to members in Argentina, where the government is debating whether to legalize gay unions.

“The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely clear: Marriage is between one man and woman and is ordained of God,” said the July 6 letter from church President Thomas S. Monson.

A copy of the letter and its English translation began circulating over the weekend on websites for former Mormons.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah on Monday confirmed the letter was sent to local leaders in Argentina, where the faith has more than 371,000 members, according to a 2010 church almanac. The country’s population is more than 41 million.

Argentina’s Senate is debating whether to approve either gay marriage or a civil union law. The country’s other legislative body — the House of Deputies — approved same-sex marriage legislation in May. President Cristina Fernandez has promised not to veto the measure if it reaches her desk.

The letter falls short of calling for political activism by members in Argentina, but is an echo of a 2008 letter from Monson to Latter-day Saints in California. Monson had called for Mormons to give their time and money to help pass Proposition 8, a state ballot initiative to ban gay marriage.

The church was seen as a driving force behind that initiative’s success, with members donating tens of millions of dollars to the campaign.

In a statement, Farah said “the church has taken no official position on the legislation being considered” in Argentina.

Still, Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn, said the letter is a significant step in political activism for the church outside the United States.

“They have not urged (members) to take political steps, but they are taking a half-step in that direction,” said Quinn, a former professor at the church-owned Brigham Young University who was excommunicated and is gay. “It demonstrates two things: how much an issue this for the LDS leadership, and what they are willing to risk.”

Quinn said he did not know if the Utah-based church, which has more than 13 million members and a presence in more than 170 countries, had ever drafted similar letters in other countries where gay marriage has been made legal.

Farah could not immediately confirm whether the letter was the church’s first such statement abroad.

Since the 1990s, the church has been politically active in defeating same-sex marriage initiatives across the U.S. and was a signature on a letter seeking a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Argentina letter was directed to congregations in the Buenos Aires area and states that it is a response to concerns stemming from the proposed legislation that would change the definition of marriage.

The letter encourages members to review the “Proclamation on the Family,” a 1995 statement from church leaders that set out traditional marriage as a sacred institution ordained by God and the family as a fundamental pillar of society.

—  John Wright

HB444: The Mormon veto?

I haven’t yet seen “8: The Mormon Proposition,” but from what I’ve read, the story starts with the LDS church’s involvement in the defeat of same-sex marriage in Hawaii 12 years ago. From The Los Angeles Times:

The documents revealed how, in a 1998 campaign in Hawaii, the Mormon Church helped to stop same-sex marriage through inconspicuous association with other denominations, such as Roman Catholics. The experience laid the groundwork for the Prop. 8 battle, during which many Mormons were encouraged to make donations to the California campaign, some of which, the film contends, were hidden. Consequently, the amount of money the Mormon Church contributed to the campaign was underreported, the movie argues.

Remember, Hawaii has the second-highest concentration of Mormons of any state in the U.S., next to Utah. More than 60,000 Mormons live in Hawaii, or about 5 percent of the overall population. As someone who lived in Utah for three years, I can’t help but wonder how much the church had to do with Gov. Linda Lingle’s decision on Tuesday to veto a civil unions bill. Honolulu Weekly’s Ryan Senaga wondered something similar in his review of the film a few weeks ago:

Perhaps after the final fate of HB444 is determined, a searing, a powerful documentary like “8″ will be made about the journey of that bill. But will it revolve around the bill’s passage into law, or its veto? If it’s about the veto, will we want the world to learn about the insidious steps behind the scenes of its demise and would we want our streets and the faces of certain kamaaina are forever documented as promoting hate?

—  John Wright

Indecent ‘Proposition’

For documentarian Reed Cowan, a gay man raised Mormon, taking on the LDS church became a different kind of mission

STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com




CHANGING FOCUS | Cowan saw a bigger story when his film about Mormon gay youth kicked out of their homes opened up to a world of prejudice by the LDS church detailed in ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’




Proposition 8: Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Getting a movie into the Sundance Film Festival is an honor in itself, but unexpected consequences always follow. For some, it’s fame and fortune.

For Reed Cowan, director of 8: The Mormon Proposition, it was death threats — a result that was especially surprising since the movie he ended up making was not the one he set out to film.

“I was raised in Utah in the Mormon church and to know that other young Mormon kids were being kicked out of their homes after coming out really pained me,” says Cowan on a recent trip to Dallas. “Ninety percent of the kids on the street in Salt Lake City in the dead of winter are gay kids. I thought, I have a camera and I can shine the light on that. So we started out to do a film about that.
“Then Proposition 8 began to bubble.”

Cowan planned his movie to touch on the initiative though he never anticipated Prop 8 would pass. Then the vote happened.

“So many of us woke up the next morning just feeling like, are you kidding? If we can’t win California, we can’t win anywhere. So many of us — gay or lesbian or people sympathetic to LGBT causes — were sickened by it,” he says. “In a figurative sense, if we were in a battle, I felt like I was sucker-punched and I looked around at my feet to see what stones I had to throw.”

As a response to the vote, Broadway singer-actor Sam Harris recorded a video blog that caught Cowan’s attention.

“He was so incensed because he’d just gotten married and was working to adopt a child and he did this vlog that was so eloquent and so beautiful,” says Cowan. “My God, here’s an artist who’s taking his resources, his music, his talent, his voice and he’s doing something about it the very next morning! What do I have at my arm’s length? I have a camera. I have friends who can edit. So that’s what I began to do.
It’s been an incredible journey.”

The film began sending shockwaves through the church before it was even completed. But perhaps the most amazing development for Cowan was the amount of information that was dropped in his lap — literally, as the box of documents that is one of the movie’s smokingest guns.

“A young man who worked in the LDS church archives came out of the woodwork and approached me directly. [His] father is very high up in the Mormon church and he was allowed access to things that most people aren’t.”

Cowan’s informant learned that high-ranking Mormons put together an internal study about gay and lesbian issues.

“It was 1,500 pages he copied and took off with. I have every one of them,” Cowan says. Those documents have since been submitted as evidence in the trial challenging Prop 8, which began closing arguments this week.

Cowan’s own life has faced destruction on multiple occasions, many directly attributable to his Mormon upbringing. When Cowan was doing his missionary work (which brought him to North Texas), he genuinely believed what he was preaching and he believes even now that many people within the church aren’t motivated by hate.

“Prop 8 wasn’t done with malice. Bigotry isn’t often done with malice. As one of the people who was in my film said to me, ‘But we do it with a smile,’” he laughs. “We do it with a smile! You don’t have to have malice and desire to go slash somebody’s throat to actually do things to destroy their lives.”

After getting married and having a son, Cowan’s wife left him and he finally came out. Today, he has adopted two children with a partner, Greg Abplanalp, whom he’s known since elementary school.

“In high school we had a relationship and one night in our small Utah town I was beaten almost to death, almost Matthew Shepard-style, where they stood over me in disgust, where they had taken me to finish me off. I lived, but my dad was so afraid that he sent me on a mission and told me I was never to talk to that boy again,” Cowan says. “And I didn’t for 13 years.”

Cowan even was counseled by a church leader to write a letter to Abplanalp condemning him, which he reluctantly did.

After reparative therapy, aversion therapy, visualization therapy and other approaches to “cure” him failed, Cowan approached another leader for guidance. That’s when he was told to marry a woman; it didn’t last long.
“I had been divorced a year, had my first relationship, got my heart broken,” he says. “I believe in karma and the person who’d broken my heart kind of just dumped and ran. I thought I was obviously experiencing the pain I caused somebody else.”

He learned that Abplanalp lived two blocks from him while he was married. Cowan wrote him an apology and they decided to meet. The two reunited and began raising Wesley, the boy born from Cowan’s marriage. Two years later, Wesley died in an accident.

“Greg saved my life after the death of my son. He’s the reason we built 25 schools in Africa for AIDS orphans in my son’s name. That’s why I fight,” he says of his decision to make the movie.

“Life taught us we’re braver and stronger and smarter than we ever thought we were,” he says. “But our little boys deserve to know that we’re a family and that the U.S. government sees us as a family and that if they’re going to define families by marriage, which I have my issues with, and give benefits to families that are married, then by damn, my kids deserve that. My kids deserve the same thing.”
It’s a fight he’s willing to pursue even though some want to stop him. Which is where the death threats come in.

“You wouldn’t believe the letters I’ve gotten from religious people,” Cowan says. “Three days ago, a guy calling himself ‘Christian4life’ wrote, ‘God took your son away from you because you’re a faggot. And your son would’ve had a horrible life and that’s why he died.’”

So many people bring his son’s death into their hate-filled letters that he’s made the agonizing decision to move his son’s body to a private grave.
But the film has generated positive feedback, too.

“I’ve had letters from gay people in their 70s that say, ‘Finally you lanced the wound, thank you.’” he recalls. “I’ve had gay kids as young as 12 and 13 contact me. I’ve had religious people say, ‘Thank you, you helped me see things differently.’”

His goal for the film is simple: A complete and total separation of church and state in our country.

“This movie is ultimately for the voter. Look at what happened with your sacred vote. Look at how the blurring of lines between church and state resulted in your sacred vote being used to achieve the objectives of a religion. And look at the danger of becoming a theocracy in history. Do we want a democracy or theocracy?” Cowan asks.

Ultimately, though, he hopes his film brings about change.

“Gay people are tough. We’re resilient. We learned to be from the time we’re in school. Most of us survive, God rest the ones who don’t,” he says. “We lay our own lives down and give our days in the service of kids who are growing up gay to make it better for them.”

………………………………………..

Infuriating brilliance

Reed Cowan’s emotionally charged and ultimately enraging documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition opens today at the Angelika Film Center, almost two years to the day after the first legal gay marriages occurred in California. It’s a fitting release date for a film that so candidly and energetically explores the LDS church’s role in reversing the decision to recognize same-sex marriages.

His 80-minute film delves into the bowels of the church to uncover a history of bigotry and exclusion. Cowan, who was raised Mormon and persecuted for being gay, frequently sought for the Mormon church to tell its side of the story, though he was mostly refused.

Cowan’s connections gained him access to hundreds of pages of private documents as revolting as they are incriminating. 8 is powerfully inspirational and should prompt every LGBT viewer to action, no matter where they previously fell on the subject of gay marriage. Even when it’s at its hardest to watch during scenes of overt condemnation and reenactments of the covert torture of homosexuals within the Mormon church, the revelation of such raw hatred and destruction is impossible to shake.
— S.L.

4 stars
Opens today at Angelika Mockingbird Station.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

Because if we can pass LGBT protections in Logan, Utah, we should be able to pass ENDA

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(The Herald Journal)
UPDATE: The ordinance passed Tuesday night by a vote of 4-0, with one council member abstaining.

Sometime in a past life that now seems like only a dream, I spent two years working for the daily newspaper in Logan, Utah.

Logan, home to Utah State University, is in a mountain valley with stunning scenery and long, cold winters about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.

The city’s population is roughly 50,000, and the vast majority of residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Which is why it’s so hard to believe that the Logan City Council will consider an ordinance tonight that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing.

—  John Wright