Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RIP Tammy Faye Messner

Tammy Faye Messner, better know as Tammy Faye Bakker, left her mark on the American cultural landscape with her unique way of talking about the Bible. Tom Gregory recalls, "Tammy Faye would call her beloved bible 'God's word,' then hand you a copy she had autographed herself -- that was Tammy Faye. She wore pain for a moment and optimism for a lifetime. Her brand wasn't all religion -- it was all Tammy Faye. "

Tammy Faye has always been a controversial figure. As the wife of the American televangelist Jim Bakker, the couple flew around the world, collecting houses and foreign cars and making bizarre demands that they billed to Praise the Lord Ministry, which they founded together in 1972. They were part of the surge of American evangelist to preach the prosperity gospel rather than the virtues of asceticism. Material wealth was a sign of God's blessing and by all appearances, they were one of their deity's favorites.

PTL Ministries dissolved in the mid-80s after Bakker was found guilty of stealing $3.7 million from his flock. The Bakkers were divorced in 1992 and Tammy Faye then married Roe Messner who helped found the Christian-themed amusement park Heritage USA in North Carolina.

Tammy Faye repeatedly defended her extravagant lifestyle. She told Larry King, "People say we went too far - but what's wrong with Christians having some fun?"

But aside from the lavish lifestyle that arose suspicion of the true motives of her dedication to evangelism, she and Bakker will likely be most remembered for their dedication to gay rights. Their understanding of the Bible meant supporting the gay community and they stuck to their message at a time when doing so as an evangelical was almost unheard of.
Jim Mayard, a gay activist (and atheist) in Memphis had this to say:
"Tammy Faye was one of the first 'evangelical' Christians to embrace people with AIDS in the 1980s when Falwell, Reagan, etc. were demonizing gays and people with AIDS. In her later years, Tammy found support among many in the gay community and even traveled to gay pride events to share her gospel of love. [...]

I may not agree with her religious beliefs, and she was not a 'saint,' but if anyone showed the true meaning of 'Christianity' I think Tammy did. She made big mistakes in her life, and suffered greatly. But if you actually read the Bible it is filled with flawed people who made BIG mistakes ("sins"), but found forgiveness ("salvation") through their belief in a god of love. Jesus himself embraced people rejected by society and spent most of his time preaching against self-righteous religious fanatics ("scribes and Pharisees").

Tammy did that too, and her son formed a church in New York that reaches out to those who do not measure up to many "mainstream" churches: poor, punks, homeless, gays, etc. I doubt he will become rich or get his own TV network, but maybe he learned the true meaning of 'Christianity' from his mother. RIP Tammy Faye, I hope you found peace. The way you lived in the end almost persuaded me there might be a god, or I hope you found something like that in the end."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Edwards On the Campaign Trail II

Last night, Rev. Reggie Longcrier pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church asked Sen. John Edwards:
"Sen. Edwards has said that his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree: it was wrong to use religion to justify slavery, segregation and deny women the right to vote. So, why is it still acceptable to use religion deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?"
This question came a few days after Edwards' wife told that her husband's stance is rooted in his understanding of the Bible (see previous BibleBending Post). To his credit, Sen. Edwards responded by cutting to the crux of the question:
"I think Rev. Longcrier asks a very important question which is, fundamentally, whether it is right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we are president of the United States. I do not believe that's right. I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue."
Rev. Longcrier, who was in the audience, had the chance to tell Edwards that he did not hear the response he would like.

So Edwards elucidated:
"I have been asked a personal question ... do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage? The honest answer to that is: I don't. But, I think it is absolutely wrong as president of the United States to use that as a basis for denying any one their rights. And I will not do that when I am president of the United States."
Lest it appears that I am discouraging straight-forwardness and begging for more platitudes: kudos to Edwards for his candidness. However, do I detect a little cognitive dissonance in Edwards' world view? He personally believes that gay persons should be (borrowing his phrase) denied one of their rights while believing that a president should never do so. Some body stop me! I want to refuse to give gay people their civil rights. Quick! give me the presidency!

Behold, the murky waters of a biblically-based world view. Squint and blink and try to figure out what the Bible says. Then soak it up and walk around bloated with biblical passages for a while in order to discern what the Bible means. But you're not done yet. Stand on your head and figure out what the Bible means to you personally. Will you be able to eat hot dogs? Accept a blood transfusion? Celebrate your birthday? Use condoms? Shave your beard? Own slaves? Hang out with menstruating women? Sleep in on Saturday or Sunday? Wear a mini skirt? Brush your teeth? Allow gay people to marry? After more "personal conflict," decide what the Bible would mean to you if you were president. By this time, if your Edwards, the presidency has made null and void the process that came before it.

No wonder politicians prefer to talk about "hope" and "change" and "strength."

Kucinich On the Campaign Trail

Last night during the 4th Democratic presidential debate hosted by YouTube and CNN, a man named Will from Boston asked the candidates if they would support reparations for African-Americans. Rep. Dennis Kucinich D-Ohio responds with this piece of biblical scholarship:

"The Bible says we shall be and must be repairers of the breach. And a breach has occurred. It's also a breach that has affected a lot of poor whites as well."

Whew. All this biblical scholarship goes over my head.
The Bible says: don't be mean. Meanness has occurred. Also to white people as well. I mean, poor white people.

When it comes to platitudes and nonsense, Kucinich was not alone. ("People have an urgent desire for change in Washington," says Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill; "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.", says Sen. Hillary Clinton D-NY; "We have to make sure that a president cares," says Bill Richardson Gov. New Mexico; Sen. John Edwards D-NC "I have the strongest, boldest ideas.")

But enlisting the Bible as an accomplice in nonsensical rhetoric sounds awfully familiar. From a man who cryptically vows that his presidency will be one that relies on "the science of human relations," Kucinich could do much to improve American relations if he knocked it off with all this biblical mumble jumble.