The non-operative word is not “sorry.”

I’m going to be writing about transition regrets and/or reversal of transition (sometimes from folks who remain trans-identified).  Before I do, though, it seemed necessary to finish and put this article out there, as it lays the groundwork.  I’d written about the decision to be non-operative previously, and had intended to leave it at that, but it remains one of the most hotly-contested and misunderstood subjects that I touch upon.

When it comes to genital reassignment, the non-operative word among trans people should not be “sorry.”

That’s not a very popular statement in transsexual communities.  But as much as I don’t like “rules” for being trans, I have arrived at one guideline:

Do as much or as little as you need to achieve the peace that you need.

It’s not quite that clear and simple, of course, especially given the pressures to conform and integrate as either male or female, which have been idealized as binary opposites in society.  Trans (that is to say, both transitioning from one sex to another and/or living between genders) challenges those absolutes, but it’s also a lot to ask, for someone to remain a life-long challenge to society.  And phrasing it as a “pressure to conform” oversimplifies something that also includes fears about going swimming or to public places of semi-nudity, going through airport scanners and traveling internationally, being in sex-segregated spaces like homeless shelters or correctional facilities, or the possibility of being challenged in a public restroom.

Relationships can also factor into the equation.  Genital reassignment surgery is inevitably going to change a dynamic within intimate relationships, and raise questions about our sexualities and those of our partners.  While the decision for or against GRS shouldn’t be dictated or coerced by our partners, when we love someone, it’s inevitably going to be on our minds.  Some individuals will be able to consider foregoing surgery as an act of love and sacrifice, while for others it would be far too much to ask — we’ll see why, shortly.

Another factor that blurs the lines is the fact that we live in a nation where our enfranchisement in society is largely affected by our identity documents.  In Canada, only the Province of Ontario has a provision to change a birth certificate without multiple verifications of surgery — and in many provinces, the same is true of lesser documents like driver’s licenses.  While our Social Insurance card does not display a gender marker, potential employers can do an S.I.N. check which displays a gender marker in the resulting report — and that, too, cannot be changed without a new or amended birth certificate.  When our ID is incongruent, it potentially exposes us to harm and/or discrimination when we’re carded, and at many other stages of just trying to live and work and access services.  At no other time is a person’s enfranchisement in society dependent on them having surgery.  But because that is the status quo in Canada and most parts of the U.S., it will inevitably be a point of consideration, for the time being.

Medical issues can also be factors affecting whether one can or can’t obtain surgery.  This might take the form of a serious health condition that precludes undergoing other procedures (some of these — such as diabetes or HIV — can be worked around by finding surgeons with better hospital access, but other conditions can be completely prohibitive).  It might also refer to fear of undergoing a major invasive surgery, an aversion to the medical process overall, a desire to wait until techniques improve, or living in a province where GRS is not funded and not being able to afford it.  Occasionally, health care funding is an influence for GRS, such as situations where vaginaplasty or phalloplasty are funded by insurance while orchiectomy, metoidioplasty or other options are not.

But for the moment, let’s put all of these things — health, cost, relationships, social pressures, legal identification and enfranchisement — aside.  In an ideal world, the decision to have surgery should hinge on an individual’s needs and the advice of their doctor.

This may seem a little confusing for people who have read my writing about surgery being a medical necessity.  I still maintain that its availability is, and that when surgery is necessary for an individual, it is an absolute necessity.   Relationships and legal enfranchisement obviously underscore this need, and there is also an economic benefit to resolving gender identity conflicts, so that a person is better-able to function and be productive.  But it’s also important to remember what GRS is designed to do:  alleviate distress.

Gender dysphoria encompasses a number of aspects: body dysphoria (in which genital configuration causes anxiety, revulsion, discomfort, or simply unease), social dysphoria (in which the social dynamic that we experience with people is ill-fitting), and self-identification (the inner core of who we are and the face we need to present to the world).  Each of those can vary in degree, and trans individuals can experience an emotional, psychological and/or even physical distress and anxiety about their body.  Living as the gender we identify with will often alleviate the social dysphoria and self-identification conflicts… only surgery addresses the body squick.

Body dysphoria is not always a conscious thing, but can be experienced as a discomfort or aversion to the genitalia, or a sense that those parts are out of place and don’t make sense to be there.  At the most extreme, this aversion becomes even violent, driving a person toward self-harm or self-destructive behaviour.  For people who experience it less severely, it can be a discomfort toward sexual intimacy in general, or a feeling of being out of place, without being completely clear on why.  Obviously, in these situations, it makes sense to align the body with what a person understands that they need to be.

At the lower end, the stress may not be as urgent, although a sense of closure might still be needed.

Not everyone experiences this.  Sometimes transition alone, minus surgery, is enough to resolve a person’s dysphoria, while other factors pose more significant reasons not to have surgery.

Non-operative trans women are sometimes considered button-pushing because they challenge the traditional trans narrative (there is often an exception made for trans men because of the limitations of phalloplasty and metoidioplasty procedures), in the same way that some bisexual people are unfairly seen as a challenge to the “born this way” narrative of sexual orientation.  The idea that we are fixing a predominantly medical condition seems undermined by the existence of people who don’t want to completely “fix” their bodies through surgery.  And yet, individuals exist who genuinely need to transition and live as their identified sex, but don’t urgently need or want GRS.

In transsexual culture, there seems to be this perspective that all roads lead to the holy grail of GRS, and that after one has the surgery, one has “arrived.”  Part of the reason that so many post-operative trans women and trans men leave the community is because once they’ve reached that point, the weighty discussion about GRS is no longer relevant to them.  The GRS-heavy direction has also tended to exclude non-operative and other trans people, because of the implication (intended or not) that they “must not be real” if they choose not to pursue surgical methods.

Yet GRS was only ever supposed to be one step toward self-resolution.  It’s neither all-completing, nor is it always a final endpoint (and this calls for a discussion of post-traumatic / minority stress), although it does have the ability to bring closure when that body distress exists.  By comparison, cissexual (non-trans) women never stop discovering what it means to them to be a woman; cissexual men likewise.  One does not “arrive” simply from the flick of a scalpel.

The basic reality of the trans condition is that our bodies do not define us.  If we allowed that to happen, we’d have never been able to start a transition — we would still be living in the misery and shame of having to live up to everyone else’s expectations.

The trouble with a heavy (or exclusive) focus on GRS as the “endpoint” of our transition is that we can become so intent on becoming “wholly” female or “wholly” male that we abandon, hide or feel ashamed of characteristics and histories which make us truly unique, perhaps instead embracing stereotypes.  It’s important that surgery does not become a case of simply trading one mask for another.

The overarching focus on surgery also does people an injustice, as it means that we fail to talk about bodies, hygiene issues, sex, the down-sides of post-operative care, and those things that we fear might cause a person to stray from the One True Path™ of GRS, or have doubts.

And sometimes –oh, not for everyone, but sometimes — non-operative-by-choice trans people arrive at a point of personal resolution from transition alone, and find that they can take pride in how unique they’ve become.  That perspective is hard-won.  It’s a shame to bury it.  Once in awhile, it’s important to embrace one’s uniqueness, and take pride in it.

Anyone who fails to understand this needs to take themselves out of the comfort zone of their own experiences, for a moment, to remember that one size rarely fits all.  Because the non-operative word is not “sorry.”

In the end, we are who we need to be.  Nothing else matters.

(As I was wrapping this up to post, Helen at en|Gender pointed to Non-Op.  For those who want to know more, it looks like an interesting resource.)

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project)

Facts about trans youth

(Previously published in March 2012, and archived here for when it might be needed as reference)

Several in the Canadian media and the general public have become interested in trans youth.  It’s probably inevitable that many opinions and emotions have circulated as a result.  I’m concerned that some of the attention surrounding trans youth and kids is distorted by the (perhaps unintentional) omission of some important distinctions.

The medical profession has long recognized that gender dysphoria often first occurs in youth and childhood, and formalized this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) in 1980 with a specific diagnosis for adolescents.  Treatment at that time often took the form of aversion-type therapies, but because these seemed to result in increased distress and self-harm (and not unusually transition in adulthood, anyway) it became necessary for that treatment to be rethought.  As years passed, it became increasingly obvious that when there is a strong gender identity issue, undergoing puberty to become a sex that one does not feel is appropriate to them can have a tremendous negative toll on a youth’s emotional well-being.  That puberty is also accompanied by major body changes, some of which could be impossible to overcome in adulthood, if that person inevitably transitions.

It’s important to recognize that the process for trans youth that I’m speaking of is not “sex change” and surgery.  This is often the conclusion that people jump to, but the reality is that newer treatments merely delay puberty until it is certain whether further changes like hormone therapy must be undertaken… typically after age 14.  German singer Kim Petras is thought to be the first youth to have undergone surgery at the age of 16, in 2009.  Since then, a youth in the U.K. has done so as well, and there was an unconfirmed rumour that someone in Europe had full GRS at age 14, but surgery at this age is very rare, if it occurs.    By the time this decision is made, a teen has typically had several years of living as their identified gender to determine if the decision is right for them.

Youth transition does not start simply because a child wants to crossdress on occasion or because they like dolls or trucks.  It happens when there is a strong and persistent identification that clearly indicates that there is something deeper than the usual experimentation phase which most kids go through.   If a child or youth exhibits a clear and persistent identification to express themselves as a gender contrary to their birth sex, in an obvious 24/7 manner, then arrangements are made to allow the child to live accordingly.  Although this social transition and accommodation in schools is gleaning much of the attention, the fact is that accommodation is really not a new phenomenon.

What is new is the use of puberty-delaying drugs, which is credited as having been pioneered by Dr. Norman Spack, at the Children’s Hospital Gender Management Services Clinic in Boston, in 2007.  If accommodation proves to be an appropriate way to alleviate emotional distress, parents and doctors might then consider pharmacologically delaying the effects of testosterone or estrogen which would otherwise typically trigger puberty.  Even at this stage, everything is reversible, in the event that a youth changes their mind.  It isn’t until hormone therapies are started that changes occur, and that generally happens after there has been much time to consider the consequences, and the youth is able to make a mature and informed decision.

This process is undertaken carefully, with a desire to approach things in a balanced way that neither encourages someone to follow a path if they don’t need to, nor waits until a self-destructive event occurs to prove necessity.  Even so, Dr. Spack states that nearly a quarter of his patients have already engaged in serious self-harm before coming to him.

As these stories break, it is sometimes alleged that parents and medical professionals are participating some kind of agenda which might influence youth to become trans.  Yet the objective of transition is to do what is necessary in order for a person to be at peace with themselves — sometimes that doesn’t include surgery, and doesn’t necessarily follow a specific formula, but is for the individual to determine.  Likewise, trans-inclusive equality and anti-bullying education does not “encourage” someone to become trans (unless they’ve already been experiencing a gender identity conflict in a persistent way).  Instead, it acknowledges in an age-appropriate way that trans people do exist, and are deserving of the same respect afforded to anyone else.  This is for the benefit of those trans youth who do exist — either openly or in hiding — and who need to know that they are not alone, nor are they “freaks” of some kind.

The same is typically true of parents and medical professionals, who usually don’t come to a decision to assist a child to transition very easily.  Parents and doctors who form a transitioning youth’s support network ARE very much thinking about the needs of the child when they make that wracking of a decision.

National Public Radio (NPR, a semi-public broadcaster in the U.S.) previously compared aversion and affirming practices.  People wanting to know more should read the contrasting accounts told in this piece.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Criminalization by any other name…

In Meghan Murphy’s Globe and Mail op-ed of June 3rd, A prostitution solution: Outlaw the customers, not the hookers, she presents what is often referred to as the Swedish or Nordic model of legislation — removing penalties for those who sell sex but prosecuting the buying of it — as a compromise between the arguments for criminalization and those for legalization of sex work.  Ironically, she phrases this as decriminalization, when it’s actually more of a lateral or distal form of criminalization… but one which still retains the pressure on sex workers to avoid the law and live in marginal circumstances.

Murphy’s argument is in support of that of the not so neutrally named Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, and ignores several issues that exist with the Swedish approach.  The argument is often advanced by groups that see abolition as an ultimate objective, and it’s a curious anomaly in feminist discourse, where a woman’s right to choice and bodily autonomy is held as paramount, and yet a loud faction makes an exception when that choice is one of opting to sell sex.  But whether abolition is the preferable goal is besides the point.

The argument also overlooks issues raised by Justice Susan Himel in her Ontario Superior Court ruling, which has led to the case currently facing the Supreme Court of Canada.  But Bedford v. Canada will only decide on the existing laws, not what the legislation should be, so that too is besides the point for this discussion.

The idea of criminalizing buyers only is seductive, but the practical reality is that when buyers of commercial sex are criminalized, sex workers’ livelihoods become dependent on a targeted group, one which they would endanger, if they work openly.  Whether they are directly subject to arrest or not, sex workers will still need to work in the shadows, and will still be targeted by legal authorities as a means of locating their customers.  And because laws criminalizing the purchase of sex will require evidence of a transaction, it’s naive to believe that sex workers won’t be negatively embroiled in the enforcement of the law.  Where the Nordic model is legislated, sex workers work in increasing isolation, report that accessing assistance is difficult (and requires playing along with a system that treats them as victims needing rescue, whether or not that is the case), and reports the Swedish approach’s merits have had to rely on badly collected data.

Part of the problem is that we’re talking about diverse realities. Street work is not stripping is not escorting is not porn is not Craigslist is not erotic massage.  Sex work also differs by region, and the motives for engaging in it vary considerably as well, from exploitation (which is a far less frequent occurrence than is portrayed, but does happen) and poverty to a pragmatic sense of opportunity.  Any approach to laws pertaining to sex work absolutely needs the input of a diversity of people directly engaged in it, and should be informed by all of these experiences, with an end objective being to minimize harm.

In the late 1980s, I did street work (as male). In 2005, when I started my transition to female and was let go from my job for a period of time, I went into escorting (as trans female), to make ends meet. The two experiences were very different in many ways, but what I most noticed was the level of agency and self-determination I had. If street work (during a volatile time of my life) were my only experience, I might be tempted to support interventionism and Swedish-style laws, but being able to compare and contrast that with my second experience has changed my perspective.  And quite frankly, I found some of my experiences in traditional workplaces far more exploitative and demoralizing than escorting.

First and foremost, sex workers need the empowerment, autonomy and agency to determine their surroundings, have recourse when things go bad, and live without fear of arrest and harassment. And regardless of whether they want to leave sex work, or practice it in *relative* safety, they should be able to do so without the legal and social structures being an impediment.

Nothing is ever ideal or perfect. All we can reasonably do is give people the tools to control their destinies, and assurance of safety and equal support and respect from health and enforcement services if something goes wrong.

And from my experiences, I can’t see how criminalizing the buyers won’t still drive the whole industry underground.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Right-Wing Group Claims Trans Human Rights are a Plot to Normalize Pedophilia.

It has long been a practice of American far-right spokespeople and organizations that when sensationalistic rhetoric starts to fail, rather than try to polish it up and make it look more convincing, they often switch to something more sensationalistic and absurd, as a way of getting attention and scaring folks. The thinking seems to be that the public isn’t interested in anything beyond the tl;dr headline / soundbyte, so if something is said often enough and assertively enough, people will think it to be true.

Canadian far-right spokespeople and organizations are usually craftier, but when they aren’t, it’s revealing.  It demonstrates plainly just how much hate exists, just how irrational a form it can take, and just how impervious to logic and truth it can be.

And I can only guess that it is because of American far-right inspiration that Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada has switched focus from bathroom fear to alleging that the trans human rights bill is really a NAMBLA plot to normalize pedophilia.

REAL’s own action alert insinuates:

Why, then, has this transgendered bill been placed before Parliament?

The answer appears to be that the bill is intended to be interpreted by the human rights tribunals and the courts in order to extend its reach to a number of other problematic sexual activities, including pedophilia.  That is, the broad definition of the expression, “gender identity”, included in this bill, will eventually have to be interpreted by the appointed human rights tribunal and courts to determine the meaning of these words.  This intention was confirmed by MP Randall Garrison, who introduced the bill, when he stated in the homosexual newspaper, Xtra (June 5, 2012), “Once gender identity is in the human rights code, the courts and human rights commissions will interpret what that means.”

Randall Garrison’s comment was actually made in reference to the controversial decision to drop “gender expression” from the bill, opening up concerns that only some trans people (i.e. those who medically transition) will be covered, as well as fears that failing to include gender expression could result in it being designated as separate and not covered, and of lower priority to policies based on physical sex.  For trans people, the latter could take the form of “I didn’t fire him because he’s trans, I fired him because our dress code says if he has a vagina, he’s supposed to wear a dress.”

In an interview with the equally radicalized LifeSiteNews, Landolt takes the insinuation further:

Landolt said that a movement already exists that is lobbying western governments to enshrine adult sexual activity with children as the next “sexual orientation”.

The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), a prominent pedophilia advocacy group, exists to “end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships”…

Landolt’s argument, unsurprisingly, stems from American far-right groups’ wide interpretation of “sexual orientation,” used to oppose the possible inclusion of that characteristic in human rights legislation.  This can be traced to a 2009 olympian feat of spin from the Traditional Values Coalition, (who curiously no longer host their own report on their own website), claiming that the thirty paraphilias included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) from the American Psychiatric Association (and which include things like pedophilia, voyeurism and necrophilia) can all be considered “sexual orientations.”

To be fair, NAMBLA has apparently also tried to argue this, themselves.  But this argument failed in 2009, both because it strained reason, and because it also failed to take into account important considerations like mature, informed consent.  It has also failed to materialize in the actual application of laws that already do include sexual orientation, like Canada’s human rights laws.

The way that REAL has tried to retool the “30 sexual orientations” argument has led some to assert that the organization and its figurehead are deliberately fearmongering.

REAL Women of Canada presents itself as “one of Canada’s leading women’s organizations,” but has for decades has been directly opposed to feminism and womens’ issues that they find theologically offensive, such as abortion, contraception, sex work, affirmative action and even unions (which have driven several of the gains that women have made in the workplace).  REAL  stands for “Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life,” and doesn’t discourage women from working (that’s not an economic possibility for many families, anyway), but has a mandate that allows it while still favouring homemaking and idealizing domesticity where possible (and don’t get me wrong, I respect women who are dedicated to their families: however, that is not the only place for women in society).

REAL is an NGO in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and has regularly used this status to stymie international initiatives to better the lives of women, if those initiatives include reproductive rights, LGBT rights, feminist objectives and more.  They have acted as legal interveners on nearly every major social issue that has come before the high courts, including a 1993 attempt to prohibit abortion, the 1999 ruling that gave same-sex couples the same legal and economic rights as opposite-sex couples, the legal battle over whether spanking was child abuse, a court decision on whether safe injection sites could be legalized, a few different cases where they attempted to establish legal personhood for the foetus, and are currently acting as intervenors in the Supreme Court’s hearing on the sex work ruling from Ontario.  REAL Women of Canada feigns support for equality for women, while asserting that being a homemaker is a woman’s ideal calling, claiming that “the rights of men… have been marginalized while feminist special interest groups have taken center stage in Canadian policy,” and even supporting the abolition of divorce.  Because it’s easier for far right conservatives to oppose womens’ rights and needs when they can point to women who do the same.

Gwen Landolt is famous for apologizing to the world on Canada’s behalf when Canada legalized same-sex marriage.  Now, Ms. Landolt is attempting to retool the “30 sexual orientations” argument as a way of opposing extending human rights protections to trans people, in Bill C-279.

That bill does, by the way, provide a definition for gender identity:

2. (2)”In this section, “gender identity” means, in respect of an individual, the individual’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex that the individual was assigned at birth.”

Have fun twisting your brain into a pretzel trying to find a way in which that could be interpreted to include pedophilia.

C-279: First Hour of Second Reading Debate, Tues. April 16, 2013

The gender identity-specific human rights bill C-279 had its first hour of Second Reading debate on Tuesday April 16, starting with an extensive speech by Senate sponsor Grant Mitchell.  The full Hansard is online, and I’ll repost his speech below the fold.  There was one interesting little exchange after the speech began which went like this:

Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin (The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock. Is there agreement that I do not see the clock?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: We do not see the clock. Senator Mitchell, please continue.

And then Second Reading continued for another half hour.

Bill C-279 is scheduled to have its second hour of debate at Second Reading this Tuesday, and then it will be up to Conservative Senate majority leader Marjory LeBreton whether to allow the bill to go to a vote.  If it passes that, it goes to committee for review and possible changes.  If changes are made, the bill would need to return to Parliament for another vote of approval.  If not, the bill proceeds to Third Reading stage, two hours of debate and then, majority leader willing, a final vote.  Senator Mitchell hopes to have the process completed by June.  He tells Xtra:

“We’re told that the Prime Minister will prorogue in the fall and bring in a new throne speech,” Mitchell tells Xtra. “When you prorogue, everything is more or less back to square one. It would start all over again.”

His speech follows: Continue reading

Using scripture to rationalize slavery by the one percent

morecraftI grew up in a Pentecostal church, so I remember the beginnings of some of the dominionist doctrines that characterize far right faith groups today.  There was never any one principal compendium of theology that every church got behind (just as there’s no single denomination in the dominionist movement, and divisions exist), but rather there were different streams of thought that flowed in and gradually changed the course of the river of belief teachings.  It filtered in through books by C. Peter Wagner, sermons by Oral Roberts, through Maranatha Ministries publications, through Youth For Christ media, and various other influences that made up the charismatic movement.  So I remember when “abundant life” teachings became the new dogma.

Abundant life teachings were a loose offshoot of faith-healing, in which congregations were told to put their finances and trust in God and he would consequently bless them exponentially, in return.  If you had only a dollar to your name, you give that dollar to God and he’ll find a way to give you much more in return — a twisting of the parable of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44), changing the valuing of the poor that Jesus-the-man intended into a give-everything ideal that could be taken advantage of in the name of Jesus-the-legend.  There could be no excuse, then, for holding back the amount one tithed, in order to do things like pay the rent and bills, or to buy groceries.

Heads, we were right; tails, you were wrong.

It became another weapon in the shame machine, too.  Abundant life teachings implied that the poor were poor because they were sinners, were irresponsible, lazy.  And if you as a Christian gave abundantly to the church but saw no reward in return, then you needed to search your heart, because it meant that you were holding something back.  It meant that there was some sin, some doubt, some laziness, some guilty pleasure, some impure thought that held you back, and that God therefore would not reward you until it was flushed out and addressed.  And in this way, you were to give everything, and if you saw no return on it, it was your own fault.  A shyster’s dream.

Abundant life philosophy became a part of charismatic philosophy, one of the foundations for what is called the New Apostolic Reformation, or Seven Mountains Dominionism, a kind of roadmap for the Evangelical extreme, fundamentalist Catholicism and other allies to try to achieve theological-based governance.  And this is where it becomes necessary to parse things once again, because I’m referring to narrow branches of philosophy within a faith, and not the whole faith itself.  This becomes blurred, because many of these leaders pass themselves off as speaking for their faith authoritatively, and few actually challenge them on that.  I say this repeatedly in my blog because I believe it’s important that the specific abusive exploitations of Christianity that I single out not be conflated with Christianity itself, and by extension, with all Christians.

Abundant life teachings became a boon to some in the corporate sector, and had a lot to do with the growing together of dominionist doctrine and the Ayn Rand survival-of-the-fittest beliefs of the corporate class.  Abundant life philosophy taught that the rich were rich because they were worthy in the sight of God, and blessed accordingly… a self-aggrandizing patronization that was easy to believe, reflecting the self-important self-image of many financial elites.  And it absolved those who subscribed to abundant life teachings of feeling any social responsibility toward the poor.  Poverty was for the weak, the unworthy, the lazy, the irresponsible… for those who deserved it.  It fit the belief among the rich that anyone could be rich if they simply worked hard enough at it, or believed in God enough — something that fails to take into account the lack of opportunity and constant obstacles faced by the poor.

In case it’s not clear in my writing, I’m not talking about a conspiracy.  There might be another name for it out there, but I call it “coinciding interest opportunism,” the tendency of self-interested parties to move toward policies, beliefs and tactics that suit those interests, resulting in the merger we’re seeing between the top one percent of wage earners and dominionist religion.  The latter provides not only an affirmation of the growing class divide as though it’s pre-ordained by Christ, it also provides a mechanism to devalue the poor, perpetuate shame and keep adherents submissive and believing in the rightness of that submission.

And using abundant life -style teachings, even something as evil as slavery can be rationalized.

Easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than for the meek to inherit the earth… or something like that.

Vyckie at RH Reality Check pointed to a video today that vividly illustrates the convergence between far-right religious fundamentalism and the Any Rand -style corporate opportunism of the upper upper upper class.  It’s a sermon posted online, which expounds on Proverbs 11:29, which reads:

He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind,
And the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.

On the basis of this scripture, Joe Morecraft of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church teaches his congregation that in godly cultures, slavery is God’s chosen fate for the morally deficient:

“There IS a place for slavery, then, in godly cultures.  It’s the only place you can keep a fool under wraps.  It’s the only way you can keep a man from ruining other peoples’ families…”

Morecraft’s church is located in Cumming, Georgia, so there’s quite likely an undercurrent of racism throughout the sermon.  But race isn’t addressed directly at all; only through dog whistles and appealing to parishoners’ assumptions about those he defines as fools.  Interestingly, the language he uses is more often the language used to target LGBT people (i.e. about family) than racial groups.

The video clocks in at 5:50 long, and provides a stunning lesson in the way evil can be rationalized through the use of scripture.  It’s worth watching in full:

How prevalent is this kind of belief?  Well, if you look at all of Christianity, then not very.  But if you look within the narrow, vocal stream of North America’s far right Evangelicals in particular, it’s probably a lot more common than most would want to believe.  Morecraft is hardly a major name among theocrats, although his church is apparently the progenitor of an offshoot of Presbyterianism that now encompasses 12 churches.  His sermon is notable, though, as an example of the ideas that pervade pulpits in average neighbourhood churches — at least in southern states.  While theocrats aren’t usually as blunt and bold as, say, Bryan Fischer, the attitude that equates poverty with sinfulness has become pervasive in the increasingly consolidated far right.

And it’s helped to make religion a tool in the arsenal of corporate social engineers.

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project Dented Blue Mercedes)

Harper’s Theological Crossroads.

Right from when it was first proposed during the May 2011 federal election, the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF?) was met with the accusation that it was an attempt to pander to its base, concerns that it would overstep the boundary of what Canada should be doing in foreign nations, and skepticism that it could be instituted in any kind of way that would be fair and balanced for all religions.  As it turns out, it’s becoming not very popular among Evangelicals, either.

One of the clearest examples of late is RoadKill Radio’s interview with Jim Hnatiuk, who is the leader of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada.  Hnatiuk, of course, has a vested interest in dissuading far-right conservative voters from supporting Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, but what’s noteworthy is the particular aplomb with which RKR commentators lead the discussion, and continue what appears to be an ongoing conversation among dominionist-leaning (those who seek to legislate their morality) Evangelicals.  (Incidentally, the RKR commentators also indicate their support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in that same webcast)

The growing discontent with the Office of Religious Freedom parallels an increased dissatisfaction with the Harper government on other fronts.  Anti-abortion Members of Parliament have been breaking ranks and speaking in defiance after the Prime Minster’s Office quashed a motion that sought to reopen the abortion debate in the guise of condemning sex-selective abortion.  The Supreme Court’s decision partially upholding hate speech legislation against Bill Whatcott has rankled many and been characterized as curtailing religious freedom, as well.  In the case of the Office of Religious Freedom, RKR’s Ron Gray dismisses it as pandering and “window dressing to attract Canadians, people of faith.”  Hnatiuk seems to object to the image of religious diversity projected during the launch, before characterizing the Office as a deflection from these and similar events (at 8:46 in the video):

When I saw the office being established… and I looked on the website of some of the presentations that were taking place around its establishment with all of these minority faiths standing behind the Prime Minister and I said “Oh my goodness, they’re actually believing that they’re going to benefit from this and that this is all about them and not about more votes and not about the attacks on the Christian freedom that we have in Canada….”

The Harper Conservatives have been coming to an ideological crossroads for some time, now, one that many predicted when the party achieved its majority government, but realized that it could lose power just as quickly if it appeared too radically conservative on social issues.  Theocons became energized at the thought of being now able to legislate according to ideology, only to face the realization that the Conservatives are more concerned with maintaining power.

Only weeks before the ORF, Whatcott and sex-selective motion controversies, the Harper government came under fire for a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) donation of $560,000 for Crossroads Christian Outreach in Uganda, given that the organization had an anti-gay position statement on its website, and was doing work in a nation where anti-gay positions have fomented a volatile culture of violence and hatred toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people.  In classic Conservative fashion, Julian Fantino ordered a review, and then reported it completed, later that evening:

“… Minister Fantino’s office contacted LifeSiteNews Monday night to say that the review was complete and Crossroads’ funding would remain in place.”

MPs have demanded a full audit of CIDA, but that is unlikely, now that the entity is being folded into the department of Foreign Affairs.  It remains to be seen what will be made of the report coming down shortly which notes how funding to theological groups have risen significantly, while funding to non-theological groups has stagnated:

Some examples: Africa Community Technical Services received $ 655,000 from CIDA in 2010, almost three times more than in 2005. On its website, the NGO says it carries out its duties “under the authority of the scriptures” and “seeks to glorify our Lord Jesus.”

Cause Canada says: “We pray that our identification with Jesus, our concern for justice and our practical demonstration of God’s love [...] attract people to Christ,” on its website. This Alberta NGO received $ 483,000 from CIDA in 2010, an increase of 32% compared to 2005.

This rise in money to religious groups also comes at the expense of womens’ programs, which have been shut out in many cases:

Then there’s the $495,600 CIDA grant to Wycliffe Bible Translators of Calgary, which works so that aboriginal people in far-flung corners of the world can read the scriptures in their native languages.“It’s okay to translate the Bible,” says Nicole Demers “But there are aboriginal women here who are dying.”

In fact, adds Demers, groups seeking CIDA funding are being told to leave the phrase “gender equity” out of their grant applications.

And it’s becoming clear that the controversies are only going to get rockier for the Conservatives as people become more aware of them and as the Canadian social landscape becomes even more polarized.

So it’s significant that Harper’s flagship promise to theological conservatives is floundering.  Because as Jim Hnatiuk points out, these were the expectations of something like an Office of Religious Freedom (at 6:14 in the video):

Predominantly, worldwide, we see the whole issue of the Islamic worldview being predominantly the ones that are persecuting Christians — and others, and other faiths as well, but you know, by and large, it’s Christians out there.  So if that is, if they’re going to be setting up an Office of Religious Freedom that can, they have to be saying, you know, in one sense, we’re going to really speak out against these… this, uh Islamic uh what do they call it a [could not make this word out]…  

So if our government is saying that they’re going to be, I guess my point is, fight against, fight for religious freedom, they’re gonna be, they’re saying we’re going to start fighting against these Islamic regimes…

Best laid plans, and all…

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

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