Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not Exactly Chicken Little

Wayne Self says the Chick-fil-A boycott is about more than gay marriage:
It’s extremely frustrating that same-sex marriage is the great continental divide. People are judged according to how they stand on this issue, as if no other issue matters. Did you know that a person can be for same-sex marriage and still be homophobic? Did you know that a person can be against same-sex marriage and be gay? We all get categorized very quickly based on the marriage issue and maybe that’s not fair. But here’s what you should know:

-- In 29 states in America today, my partner of 18 years, Cody, or I could be fired for being gay. Period. No questions asked. One of those states is Louisiana, our home state. We live in self-imposed exile from beloved homeland, family, and friends, in part, because of this legal restriction on our ability to live our lives together.

-- In 75 countries in the world, being gay is illegal. In many, the penalty is life in prison. These are countries we can’t openly visit. In nine countries, being gay is punishable by death. In many others, violence against gays is tacitly accepted by the authorities. These are countries where we would be killed. Killed.

-- Two organizations that work very hard to maintain this status quo and roll back any protections that we may have are the Family Research Council and the Marriage & Family Foundation. For example, the Family Research Council leadership has officially stated that same-gender-loving behavior should be criminalized in this country. They draw their pay, in part, from the donations of companies like Chick-fil-A. Both groups have also done “missionary” work abroad that served to strengthen and promote criminalization of same-sex relations.

-- Chick-fil-A has given roughly $5M to these organizations to support their work.

-- Chick-fil-A’s money comes from the profits they make when you purchase their products.

Romney And The Death Of Peace

The New York Times profiles Mitt Romney's chief adviser on the Middle East, Dan Senor, who inspired Romney's statements about Israelis' cultural superiority in comparison to Palestinians. Romney has made similar statements about other neighboring peoples, such as Americans and Mexicans.

During Romney's visit to Israel, he failed to mention the Palestinians or the peace process in what was dubbed a major foreign policy address. Senor may have been behind that astonishing development as well. Senor told reporters that if there's to be a two-state deal, Palestinians would have to drop their demand for a right of return. The Bush and Obama administrations favored letting Israel and the Palestinian Authority work the issue out during negotiations.

Obama's peace initiative was prematurely hobbled by his and the Palestinians' insistence that Israel suspend West Bank settlement expansion as a precondition for recommencing direct talks. While the president's tactics left something to be desired, he was at least trying to be an honest broker, putting pressure on both sides in keeping with the policies of his recent predecessors. All in for Israel, Romney has no such instincts and intentions. For today's Republicans, empathy for the underdog Palestinians and the nuances of an ancient struggle with plenty of error on both sides have evidently run their course.

Of course the Romney-Senor position -- at least as politically unsustainable for Palestinians as the settlement demand was for Israel -- may be just another sop to U.S. Jewish voters. Let's hope so. As Romney administration policy, it would probably doom the peace process. In that case, having just so fulsomely praised Israel's commitment to democracy, Romney and Senor would need to have a secret plan for figuring out how Israel could continue to call itself a democracy with two million disenfranchised Arabs living under indefinite military occupation.

Iran To Israel: Words Will Never Hurt Us

Weighing the chances of an Israeli strike before the U.S. elections, Amos Harel speculates that war would only set the Iranians back a year or two. He wonders whether Iran's foes in Jerusalem and Washington are just waging psychological warfare and concludes that the Iranians think so, too:

[B]ased on the hard line they have taken in their negotiations with the Western powers over the last few months, in which they have not retreated by so much as a millimeter or displayed any willingness to compromise, it seems that Tehran, at least, doesn't believe Israel will attack in the next few months.

Yorba Linda Sky

7:53 p.m.

New Modes Of A Great Tradition

Gary Hall, the new dean of Washington National Cathedral, on Episcopal future:
[I]f the Episcopal Church is to thrive in the 21st century, it must do three things. It must develop a clear, missional identity. It must project that identity outward and invite people into it. And it must take seriously the needs and concerns of those who come toward us and adapt to the new life and energy they bring.

Does that mean that we will no longer continue to worship in our stately Anglican ways? Of course not. But it does mean that we will need to find new modes of liturgical, musical, and theological expression to complement the great traditional strengths we already have. And this is not new behavior for Anglicans. Queen Elizabeth I forged a pragmatic consensus between Catholics and Protestants in 1559. Bishop William White of Pennsylvania led the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church to a uniquely American way of governance in 1789. The church opened itself up to the sacramental ministries of women bishops, priests and deacons in 1976. We have always been a pragmatic, evolving tradition.

Hat tip to Rich Straton

What's A Little "Enemy" Between Friends?

I love the can-do optimism that usually pervades the Economist. In this case, I hope its correspondent is right in blaming a crude boilerplate denunciation of Israel on Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood men instead of him:
[T]he apparent immovability of seasoned officials still running the lumbering bureaucracy can prove embarrassing. When Egypt’s embassy in Israel responded to a Happy Ramadan note from Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, with a faxed thank you letter in the name of his Egyptian counterpart wishing peace upon the people of Israel, Mr Morsi’s office swiftly denied he had communicated in any way with what the Brothers regard as “the Zionist enemy”.

"Tossed, Turned, And Tangled"

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / USGS
The Arkansas-Mississippi border, photographed from NASA's Landsat. The square shapes at left are fields and towns. More here, thanks to Discover.

Hot In The Kitchen

Writing anonymously, a gay Chick-fil-A employee who had opposed the boycott of the company takes an angrier view after experiencing Chick-fil-A Day:

I remember thinking, under stress, “I hope they choke.” That’s not true. Even though I did my best to make the salads and wraps extra-gay, I don’t want to harm the customers. (Otherwise I may have been moved to spit on their food. I didn’t, because that’s going too far.) The only thing that kept me going without screaming or storming off was simply knowing that I’m right. These people won’t choke on their food—I wouldn’t wish that, just as I wouldn’t wish anyone go hungry—but they will end up hurting. It’s going to be a long fall from the saddles of their high horses, once we do have equal marriage rights. Their descendants will be ashamed of them, just as I’m ashamed of my grandparents’ support of segregation. When their children and grandchildren ask, “How was it possible to be Christian and oppose equal rights?” their own words will choke them. They don’t need food to do it for them.

The Customer's Not Always Right

Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was especially hard for some of its franchises' gay employees.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pressed Chicken

Every Aug. 1, Christians who have lashed themselves to the liturgical calendar commemorate a member of the Sanhedrin, Jerusalem's council of Jewish elders, who issued a minority opinion on whether to persecute Jesus to death. Joseph of Arimathaea is famous not only for his defiance of majority rule but for giving up his own tomb to make sure that Jesus would get a proper burial.

Joseph is a patron saint of doing the right thing. What can his diligent discernment teach us on his feast day, when one of the questions before the American people was whether to feast at Chick-fil-A?

If the Foster Imposters really had their feathers set on giving their lives to be boneless breasts, this may have been their chance. At some Chicks-fil-A, white meat and tempers were sizzling. In the wake of CEO Dan Cathy's proclamations about biblical marriage, gay marriage advocates called for a boycott. The mayors of Boston and Chicago are trying to use the hammer of state power to ban new franchises. In response, Gov. Mike Huckabee and other boycott opponents called on friends of the company to get a tasty sandwich today. Even the ailing Billy Graham ordered in.

Here's how I serve up the issue.

If you don't like chicken hash, don't open the can. If my employees and franchisees depended, as Cathy's do, on selling as much chicken, fries, and ranch dressing as possible, I would confine my expression of my views about potential customers' race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political party, and positions on the Afghan war to Bible study, the dining room table, and Al-Anon meetings. That would be especially wise when it came to a flash point issue like gay marriage, which has split the American people almost exactly in half.

Boycotters should also count the chickens after they're deep-fried. I agree with Andrew Sullivan, who argues that marriage equity should be won at the ballot box and believes that the best response to Cathy's contributions to anti-gay marriage groups was Jeff Bezos' $2.5 million gift to the other side (chicken may by the only thing Amazon doesn't sell):
There is no contradiction between marriage equality and a robust defense of the rights of those who oppose marriage equality - including maximal religious freedom and maximal free speech. In fact, it is vital that we eschew such tactics, as they distract from a positive argument that has been solidly winning converts for two decades.
We may never learn whether boycotters are hurting the company more than Huckabee and Graham helped. Given the social and cultural demographics of those who are still eating a lot of fried chicken, not an especially enlightened food, Cathy may actually net out with even more eggs to pass along to his pet causes. The photo above, which I took tonight, doesn't do justice to the hundreds of cars and customers descending on the Yorba Linda store. Most probably don't like gay marriage. Some just may not like being told where to eat.

Chick-fil-A has a bone to pick with New Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Messing with the First Amendment is a treacherous business. When Gingrich was planning his presidential run, he found it politically expedient to stigmatize Muslim U.S. citizens who wanted to add a cultural center to an existing worship space near the World Trade Center. Palin and others joined in, doing considerable damage to our social and cultural consensus about bedrock constitutional principles. No one should complain about the infringement of Chick-fil-A's freedom of speech by the mayors of Boston and Chicago who didn't oppose the wannabe presidents who tried to deny freedom of religion to millions of Americans.

So call me chicken, but neither the boycott nor Chick-fil-A Day was for me. I voted against Prop. 8 and preached in the south Orange County, California parish that I serve in support of The Episcopal Church's recent decisions to permit the blessing of same-gender unions and prohibit discrimination against transgender persons who want to be deacons, priests, and bishops. As one might imagine from a glance at public opinion polls, not everyone at our church agrees. We remain together in community anyway. That may be just a little harder to do now that activists have labeled loyal Chick-fil-A customers as bigots.

Ross Douthat argues that, as with many wrenching social issues, the case for gay marriage is being made by appeals to reason as well as other means:
The cause of gay marriage has indeed advanced because many millions of people have been persuaded of its merits: No cause could move so swiftly from the margins to the mainstream if it didn’t have appealing arguments supporting it and powerful winds at its back. But it has also advanced, and will probably continue to advance, through social pressure, ideological enforcement, and legal restriction. Indeed, the very language of the movement is explicitly designed to exert this kind of pressure: By redefining yesterday’s consensus view of marriage as “bigotry,” and expanding the term “homophobia” to cover support for that older consensus as well as personal discomfort with/animus toward gays, the gay marriage movement isn’t just arguing with its opponents; it’s pathologizing them, raising the personal and professional costs of being associated with traditional views on marriage, and creating the space for exactly the kind of legal sanctions that figures like [Boston and Chicago mayors] Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel spent last week flirting with.
Boycott supporters are probably more interested in hurting Cathy's bottom line than pathologizing his customers. But now that the chicken wire has gone up, once again dividing us against one another, my junk food choices are complicated by political as well as nutritional considerations. I've had no chicken sandwiches and one hamburger since resolving to give up 30 pounds for Lent. But the next time I want one, I'll probably give Cathy and his local franchisee my business, because they make the best chicken sandwich in town. It's like the scene in "Broadcast News" in which a TV producer played by Holly Hunter tells a Nicaraguan contra to put on his boots if he wants to, not because her camera is recording the moment. I'll choose my chicken strictly based on what tastes best when I'm hungry. You can hold the secret semiotic sauce.

Is that what Joseph of Aramathea would have done? It depends on what he thought about the ethics of the marketplace, where he evidently had thrived. As long as businesspeople obey the letter and spirit of the law, they deserve to profit from hard work and reliable products. Boycotters should also think about the franchises' employees, who don't deserve to lose their jobs in this chicken-feed economy because of their big bird's big mouth. When it comes to politics, the same rule applies to Cathy and his critics. They belong in the voting booth, not the drive-through.

It Goes By Awfully Fast

From Charles McGrath's elegant obituary of Gore Vidal (he's shown with George McGovern at the Nixon library in 2009), an always-timely warning:

In 2003 Mr. Vidal and his companion, [Howard] Austen, who was ill, left their cliffside Italian villa La Rondinaia (the Swallow’s Nest) on the Gulf of Salerno and moved to the Hollywood Hills to be closer to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Mr. Austen died that year, and in “Point to Point Navigation,” his second volume of memoirs, Mr. Vidal recalled that Mr. Austen asked from his deathbed, “Didn’t it go by awfully fast?”

“Of course it had,” Mr. Vidal wrote. “We had been too happy and the gods cannot bear the happiness of mortals.” Mr. Austen was buried in Washington in a plot Mr. Vidal had purchased in Rock Creek Cemetery. The gravestone was already inscribed with their names side by side.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Halling Off To Washington

During the 1980s one of the joys of going to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena along with my mother, Jean Taylor Lescoe, a longtime congregant and former vestry member, was the preaching and teaching of its senior associate rector, the Rev. Canon Gary Hall, who's just been called as dean of Washington National Cathedral. (The Washington Post's coverage is here.)

In this video, he discusses his Hollywood roots, progress of ministry, and most recent work as rector of Christ Church Cranbrook in the Romney family's home town of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Giving Romney Too Much Credit

Two views on Mitt Romney's cultural superiority speech. Peter S. Goldman at the Huffington Post says Romney was playing to a home town audience, and not just U.S. Jews:

He is asking for votes by telling the story of a mystical America in which life is equally fair for everyone, one in which winners and losers reflect their innate virtues. So help yourself to a giant tax cut, wealthy Americans, because you've earned it! And look in the mirror, struggling people who may need help, because you are the loser spawn of damaged culture.

This is something Romney could never say quite so explicitly at home -- at least, not without running the risk of being branded insensitive and maybe a racist. But the upside of owning this message seems clear: He cultivates support among those distrustful of government, the usual means of rectifying systemic injustice such as that which separates white America from black America, and Palestine from Israel.

Jacob Heilbrunn at the National Interest, published by the former Nixon Center, argues that Romney might be right:

Are the Israelis solely to blame for the plight of the Palestinians? Or is Romney pointing to a larger problem, one that has afflicted the Arab world? It's surely not racist to point out, as Thomas Friedman repeatedly does, that there is something rotten in the Middle East, that kleptocratic tyrannies have held back their populations over the past century, that the Arab world remains far behind the West economically, despite its incredible oil wealth, and that Israel's existence has permitted Arab leaders to use it to deflect attention from their own grievous shortcomings, particularly when it comes to education and social programs. For his part, [David] Landes, who taught economic history at Harvard, was trying to explain why the West had come out so far ahead of the rest--part of his effort was to refocus attention on Max Weber's theory of the [P]rotestant work ethic. Does that ethic also prevail in, of all places, Israel?

I'd say both writers give Romney too much credit. He was being neither as diabolical as Goodman proposes (his aides seemed pretty upset about the story) nor as insightful as Heilbrunn. It's fine to talk about Arab leaders holding their people back. It's a terrible idea to talk about superior and inferior cultures, which sounds too much like a euphemism for race and religion.

Visiting Israel, Romney could have accomplished his mission of winning the votes of U.S. Jews while also demonstrating the capacity for nuance required of commanders-in-chief. Maybe he and his aides think we're tired of nuance. But in foreign policy and especially in the Middle East, you can never have too much. And yet in what was billed as a major policy address, he snubbed the peace process. Instead, he said something about Palestinians that sounded intellectual to try to make his neglectfulness look respectable.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Romney: God Likes Jews Better Than Palestinians

Mitt Romney's aides say that his views about Israel's cultural superiority compared to Palestinians have been taken out of context. Thanks to Barak Ravid at Haaretz, here's the context, which is pretty clear:

He...cited the book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” and explained what he believed to be author David Landes’ thesis.

“He says if you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and “the hand of providence” [emphasis added].

[Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat sharply criticized Romney’s remarks, calling them “a racist statement. This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.

“It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” Erekat added. “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”

"It's The Cover-Up That Gets You"

"It's not the crime that gets you," Richard Nixon warned his White House aides 40 years ago this summer, after the Watergate break-in. "It's the cover-up." While he cited the Alger Hiss case as an example, the story of King David, Bathsheba, and her husband, Uriah, would've worked just as well. Most of us are covering something up. Since the morning of July 20 in Aurora, Colorado, we've experienced humanity at its worst and best. David embodies that tension as well. My sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost is here.

Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?

Adam Nossiter reports in the New York Times:
Islamists in control of a town in northern Mali stoned a couple to death after accusing them of having children outside of marriage, a local official who was one of several hundred witnesses to the killings said Monday.

The official said the bearded Islamists, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, brought the couple into the center of the town of Aguelhok from about 12 miles away in the countryside. The young man and woman were forced into holes about four feet deep, with their heads protruding, and then stoned to death at about 5 a.m. Sunday, the official said.

“They put them into the holes, and then they started throwing big rocks, until they were dead,” the official said, speaking by satellite phone from the remote desert town near the Algerian border.

“It was horrible,” he said, noting that the woman had moaned and cried out and that her partner had yelled something indistinct during the attack. “It was inhuman. They killed them like they were animals.”

Keep The iPad, Santa. Send Me myDad.

From an inspiring photo sequence shared by my St. John's friend Tom Tierney

Mitt Witted

The GOP's global gaffe-o-rama continues. Discussing the Palestinians, who have been living under military occupation since 1967, Mitt Romney explained that they are culturally retarded.

Children And Their Expensive Toys

When Michele Bachmann was invited on Jimmy Fallon's show late last year, his house band played "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as she walked on stage. He later apologized. During a Sarah Palin segment yesterday, CNN played "Stupid Girls" and later expressed regret for any misunderstanding.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Romney's Father Would Have, Too

Republicans once honored our friend Israel by speaking the whole truth.

Obama's Naivete

David D. Kirkpatrick cuts the president too much slack:
[Barack Obama] could not have guessed that the demand for Arab democracy would instead become one of his presidency’s greatest foreign policy challenges, forcing whoever wins the November election to confront tough trade offs between American values and interests.

The popular uprisings that have swept the region since Mr. Obama’s speech in Cairo have upended an authoritarian order that was largely congenial to the United States. While they may have brought Arab nations closer than ever to fulfilling of the promise of self-determination that has echoed through the speeches of American presidents since Woodrow Wilson at the end of the First World War, they have also imperiled crucial American allies, empowered antagonistic Islamists, and unleashed sectarian animosities that threaten to drag the whole region toward chaos.
Of course he could have guessed, and he would have if he hadn't been naive and inexperienced. His democracy- and freedom-loving predecessors stuck with Arab (and global) authoritarians whenever their policies served U.S. interests. One of the realities of leading the world's greatest democracy is that the American people elect leaders for their sake and not the sake of the people of Egypt, Libya, or Russia. It's not a mistake Richard Nixon would have made.

Romney's Iran Atmospherics

Barak Ravid writes that Mitt Romney flew 5,000 miles to make clear that there aren't three inches of difference between his and Barack Obama's policies on the Israel-Iran crisis:
[A]t no point during his visit did Romney promise that if elected, he would attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The most he would say about military action against Iran recalled Obama's position: "In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."

Romney's Disconcerting Speech In Israel

After a rough visit to England, when he said that some aspects of its preparations for the Olympics were "disconcerting," Mitt Romney went to Israel and rallied in the special relationship department. Standing with the Old City behind him, dappled with the light of a Jerusalem sunset, Romney said:

I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud. We should not allow the inevitable complexities of modern geopolitics to obscure fundamental touchstones. No country or organization or individual should ever doubt this basic truth: A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel.

All true. And this:

Hopefully, this new government understands that one true measure of democracy is how those elected by the majority respect the rights of those in the minority.
No, that wasn't Romney calling on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians. He was calling on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president to protect his political opponents. Romney didn't actually mention the Palestinians -- not a boilerplate line saying that his administration would support a peace agreement that guaranteed Israel's security or even a passing reference to the two-state solution, which has been explicitly endorsed by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and was tacit U.S. policy for many years before that.

On the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, I see no problem with a paean to U.S.-Israel ties. But Fox News and Romney's other supporters called this a major foreign policy address. Let's hope they're wrong, since ignoring the peace process and an entire people living under military occupation would be dangerously radical and destabilizing in a substantive speech. Let's just call it a play for Jewish votes and go back to watching the exquisitely-run London Olympics.