Women’s Sexual Freedom, Abortion, and Religious Hypocrisy in America
Richard J. Garfunkel
May 11, 2009
Over the years I have observed the linkage between women’s sexual freedom, birth control, choice, women’s rights in general, and the ongoing hypocrisy of our country’s right-wing moralists who rarely practice what they preach. In the following essay I have tried to connect the dots between these different aspects of our culture and politics. The struggle of women for the right to work, own property, choose their own mates, and control their own bodies, has been going on all throughout modern, and probably ancient times. This battle for gender justice is still ongoing on a world-wide basis. Our values regarding the rights of women are not even universally protected here in America or in every part of the Western world. Today in many parts of our planet, this age-old struggle has generations to go to reach the standards that women enjoy in America and Western Europe.
Throughout most of recorded history, most women were married young (virginal, untouched, and innocent), confined to “controlled” sex for procreation, and didn’t particularly understand, enjoy, or even like sex. Quite often the experience was painful, humiliating, and devoid of emotion. Guilt was always associated with sex, and most women understood it to be their familial “duty.” Often they were kept barefoot and pregnant, The European/Germanic culture encouraged the three “k’s” for women; kirche (church), kinder (children) and kuche (kitchen-cooking) In other words, women rarely had the right to control their own lives; socially, sexually or financially. Often they were bribed into a contractual marriage with dowries offered by their fathers, or their marriages were arranged, or in recent history they married the first man who enabled them to get out of the house and away from their families. Even today, in some parts of the world, a woman can be murdered by her brother, or other family members, if he/they determine her “social” liaisons are unworthy of family honor or values.
There were estimated to be 5000 “honor” murders of women annually. Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.
If women around the world only had to endure arranged marriages or were prevented from accessing birth control or information on sexual hygiene, it would be one thing. But in many parts of Africa, and the Muslim world, along with other more primitive areas, where Sharia (Islamic) Law is practiced, women are forced to endure “female circumcision” where the sexual organ is often mutilated, certainly scarred, and made “unattractive” to another potential partner. Also, the purpose is to make the sexual act less pleasurable and therefore more focused on procreation. Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have been affected by some form of FGM, or female genital mutilation, with over 2 million procedures being performed every year. FGM is mainly practiced in African countries.
This practice is common in a geographic band that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia on the East coast, as well as from Egypt in the north to Tanzania in the south. It is also practiced by some groups in the Arabian Peninsula. The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Interestingly, Egypt recently passed a law banning FGM, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee the cessation of its practice. This practice of female genital cutting of FGC has been prevalent from as far back as 163 BCE.
Though some claim that Sharia was fairer to women then Western common law, it seems a moot point today. As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Sharia, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes. Of course, since this point in history the aforementioned exploration of freedom is no longer true — that is to say that it is arguable that women had more extensive legal rights under Islamic law than they did under Western legal systems. The cultural argument within Sharia for the rights of women states that Muslim women by virtue of accepting Islam voluntarily submit themselves to obeying their husbands and the veil. The veil is considered a sign of modesty, so that she may be regarded as a intelligent human and not merely an object of desire.
This practice was, and is still seen, in many areas of the world and their cultures, as a means of control over female virtue. FGC is often used as a symbol of preservation and proof of virginity. It is regarded in many societies as a prerequisite for honorable marriage. In some of these societies, the husband will sometimes cut his bride's scar tissue open after marriage to allow for sexual intercourse. Men who marry an uncircumcised woman would often suffer a lifetime of scorn, ridicule, and the stigmata associated with the perceived past.
Women who have had genital surgeries are often considered to have higher status than those who have not and are entitled to positions of religious, political and cultural power. Removal of the clitoris is often cited as a means of discouraging promiscuity, as it is viewed as eliminating the motivating factor of sexual pleasure. Feminists and human rights activists generally disapprove of the practice because they view it as presupposing that women lack the self control or the right to decide when and with whom they engage in sexual activity.
On the other side of the globe, in the Chinese culture, women were controlled through the practice of “foot binding.” It was first present in the elite, and initially a common practice only in the wealthiest parts of China. However from the 17th century on through the 20th Century, Han Chinese girls, from the wealthiest to the poorest peasants, had their feet bound. Some estimate that as many as 2 billion Chinese women bound their feet from the late 10th century until 1949, when foot binding was outlawed by the Communists (foot binding had already been banned by the Kuomintang Nationalists decades before).
According to the book, The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, 40 to 50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century. Societies developed to support the abolition of foot-binding, with contractual agreements between families promising their infant son in marriage to an infant daughter who would not have her feet bound. When the Communists took power in 1949, they had the power to maintain the strict prohibition on foot-binding, which is still in effect today. Qing Dynasty sex manuals listed 46 different ways of playing with women's bound feet. Some men preferred never to see a woman's bound feet, so they were always concealed within tiny “lotus shoes”. Feng Xun was recorded as stating, “If you remove the shoes and bindings, the aesthetic feeling will be destroyed forever.” For men, the erotic effect was a function of the lotus gait, the tiny steps and swaying walk of a woman whose feet had been bound. The very fact that the bound foot was concealed from men's eyes was, in and of itself, sexually appealing.
The subjects of female circumcision and foot-binding are basically unknown in today’s Western world. It is historically not understood, it is a distasteful subject, and it is considered barbaric in the light of our standards. When news of these practices comes to the attention of the public, most people are “turned off.” With regards to FGC, most people assume that these customs are quite limited and aberrational.
In the Western World, where we seem to be less physically barbaric, sexual freedom was in reality connected to the social status of women. “Cognatic primogeniture” (also known as male-preference primogeniture) allowed a female to succeed to a family’s property if she had no living brothers and no deceased brothers who had surviving legitimate descendants.
This was the most common primogeniture practiced in Western European feudalism, such as the Castilian Siete Partidas. In Europe, male-preferred primogeniture is currently practiced in Denmark, Monaco, Spain and the United Kingdom. Though we are into the 21st Century it is still usually the rule for inheritance of noble titles in Spain, Scotland and baronies-by-writ in the United Kingdom.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the ending of the laws of “primogeniture and entail” regarding the inheritance of private property, resulted in the more rapid division and breakup of land. This, therefore, forced the propertied classes to seek sources of wealth beyond the narrowness of their family estates in order to maintain their previous standard of living. By this breakup, or subdivision of wealth, an acceleration regarding the decline of the landed aristocracy caused a more rapid shift to democracy.
Historically the Western world wasn’t immune to some strange practices regarding “sexual control.” It was said that during the Crusades a chastity device or belt was created. This inter-locking item of clothing was designed to prevent sexual intercourse, sexual activities, and possibly masturbation. The purpose may also be to protect the wearer from rape or temptation. Devices were created for males and females. The term “chastity belt” is also used metaphorically in modern English to imply over-protectiveness. The term carries a derisive connotation and may also imply that the subject is antiquated, or is cumbersome, or provides unnecessary or unwanted protection
As to population control, women found out quite quickly that most religious leaders were teaching them that sex was only reserved for procreation. The inherent lack of birth control devices or applications made sex for recreation more dangerous and less desirous. But ignorance is bliss, and a vast percentage of women had little knowledge of even the most primitive devices used for contraception. But, again, sex only for procreation, how hypocritical, and foolish a concept! Isn’t this against the laws of nature? Men always had the right to “sow their wild oats.” Men were never criticized or questioned regarding their own virginity. In fact, the idea of the virile “man’s man” was to be one who was “worldly” and had vast (or some) sexual experience.
Men could have attained that experience with prostitutes or “scarlet” women (note the term “scarlet” and the “Scarlet Letter”) or had been married previously. I am always reminded of the image of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, and the way his persona was depicted.
The reader and the film’s audiences did not criticize him for associating with the notorious Belle Watling, who was obviously a prostitute or a Madam. In fact, they were quite sympathetic to his character. But what of the attitudes of the womenfolk of mid 19th Century Georgia!
In the extreme, the mere mention of a social indiscretion, no less even the exposure of an ankle would throw Aunt Pittypat Hamilton into a fainting spell. Any hint of even a potential scandal would bring on a swoon! But any historically literate person is quite aware regarding the pervasiveness of rape in the Old South, where the “master” continually raped his slaves, and their progeny abounded. This obvious double moral standard was not articulated in Margaret Mitchell’s story of her beloved South.
Now what about birth control in the 20th Century? It seems obvious that the same folks that decried and abhorred abortion were just as opposed to birth control. These people were also against sex education, family planning, the “pill,” hygiene, and the dissemination of any type of sexual information. What was the purpose, what was the thinking behind all of this “know-nothingness?”
One could say cynically that this policy was more about control than spiritualism. Again, the question is why should a society attempt to quarantine knowledge? The answer is plain and obvious. It was to keep women in a supplemental and inferior role. Sex is power! Women were kept at the mercy of their fathers, brothers and husbands, not only for their so-called protection, but for the gender politics of control. In most cultures an “untouched” women was more valuable to a potential suitor. Also, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the more experienced a woman was, the more discerning and demanding she would be or become!
Probably the greatest pioneer of the 20th Century with regards to birth control and women’s sexual freedom was the controversial Margaret Sanger (1879-1966). Sanger felt that in order for women to have more “equal footing” in society and to have physically and mentally healthy lives, they needed to be in control of their own bodies and to be able to choose when they wished to become pregnant. She believed fervently that access to birth control information and devices would also fulfill a critical emotional need that would free women to be able to fully enjoy sexual relations without the fear of pregnancy.
As Sanger worked with poor women of the New York slums who were repeatedly suffering from frequent unwanted pregnancies and often self induced abortions, she began to speak out for the critical need for the distribution of birth control information. While she was working on duty as a nurse, Sanger met Sadie Sachs, a woman who had become extremely ill due to a self-induced abortion. Sachs begged the attending doctor to tell her how she could prevent this from happening again, to which the doctor simply gave the advice to remain abstinent. A few months later, Sanger was once again called back to Sach’s apartment, only this time, Sachs was found dead after yet another self-induced abortion. This preventable tragedy was a turning point in Sanger’s life. She knew then that the effort to help these desperate women before they were driven to pursue dangerous and illegal abortions was critical.
After decades of struggles which included, lectures, the publishing of books on hygiene, the use and smuggling of diaphragms into America, the opening of clinics, arrest resulting in humiliation, convictions and time in prison, along with public rebuke and scorn, Sanger’s message on birth control started to penetrate with important people.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s Bureau of Social Hygiene started to anonymously contribute to her cause. Over the years she promoted the use of birth control pills, and eventually became the President of the International Planned Parenthood.
She wasn’t free from other controversies that included her thoughts on euthanasia, race, eugenics, and abortion. Many of her ideas and writings were often confused by some supporters and critics with racial practices in Nazi Germany.
But, all in all, her efforts brought women out of the reproductive “Dark Age,” Just before her death in 1966, the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Griswold v. Connecticut legalized birth control for married couples.
Ironically, about 45 years ago and a few years before her death, I happened to be at Boston University’s Hayden Hall, when a fellow named Bill Baird was arrested for giving out birth control information. And, for what reason was he arrested? It was against the law in Massachusetts to disseminate birth control information. That law was passed by a male legislature, whose members were, for the most part, pressured by religious lobbyists. Personally I believe in the “Establishment Clause” and most specifically I am opposed to religion institutions influencing the passage of legislation, plain and simple. In truth, it was illegal to disseminate birth control information or devices in Massachusetts, but one could go to almost any pharmacy and purchase that item by requesting it from the pharmacist.
William F. “Bill” Baird is the founder of the Pro Choice League. Baird established the nation's first abortion referral center and the first birth control and abortion center on a college campus. He was sent to jail for teaching birth control and distributing abortion literature in New York and New Jersey and sentenced to three months for his pro-choice activities. Baird's punishment galvanized feminists like Anne Koedt to speak out in his defense.
But, of course the late 1960’s, after decades of work by such tireless advocates as Margaret Sanger saw women rise up in indignation, and they shifted public opinion and therefore pressured their public officials. I hope that women never lose that right, and I assume they never will. But “times are a changing” and though the old guard is slowly but surely disappearing, one can never let one’s defenses down. Jim Crow has almost died out in the South, but those old Dixiecrats have been replaced by a new breed of Southern Republican, who is often from the same evangelical and Dixiecrat “cloth,” but he/she has given up their customary “bed sheet” for more subtle and less obvious attire. As to birth control and the Roman Catholic Church, their stance has been crystal clear for many years.
Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, articulated the Church’s long-standing opposition to artificial birth control. He understood that separating the natural relationship between sex and procreation would have disastrous affect on both the dignity of women and the sanctity of life and eventually open the door to legalized abortion.
He stated that contraception gives men and women the false notion that sex is simply a recreational option – like sharing a bottle of wine together – which has nothing to do with procreating. And when contraception fails – as it does 10% of the time with condoms – the news of pregnancy is felt as a curse. And who wouldn’t eliminate a curse with means that are legal, socially acceptable and described as 'reproductive health?'
Regarding the subject of abortion, a 1998 detailed study, from over twenty countries, on the causes of abortion, concluded that the common factors cited to have influenced the decision to terminate their pregnancies were: desire to delay or end childbearing, concern over the interruption of work or education, issues of financial or relationship stability, and perceived immaturity. With regards to abortion, even the Roman Catholic Church has had evolving and contradicting teachings until Pope Pius IX in 1869.
The Roman Catholic Church, circa 100 to 150 CE forbade all abortions from The Didache, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” Around 380 CE, the Apostolic Constitutions allowed abortion if it was done early enough in pregnancy, but it condemned abortion if the fetus was of human shape and contained a “soul.” Saint Augustine accepted the Greek Pagan concept of a “delayed ensoulment.”
He stated, “an abortion is not murder because no “soul” is destroyed. Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) determined that a monk who had arranged for his lover to have an abortion was not guilty of murder if the fetus was “animated” at the time.
Early in the 13th Century, he stated that the soul enters the body as the time of “quickening” – when a woman first feels movement of the fetus. Before that time, abortion was a less serious sin, because it terminated only a potential human person, not an actual human person. Pope Sixtus V (1588) issued a Papal Bull “Effraenation” which threatened those who carried out abortions at any stage of gestation with excommunication and the death penalty. Pope Gregory XIV (1591) revoked the previous Papal bull and reinstated the “quickening” test, which he determined happened 116 days into pregnancy (16.5 weeks.) Pope Pius IX (1869) dropped the distinction between “fetus animatus” and “fetus inanimatus.” In other words the soul entered the body in the pre-embryo at conception. Leo XIII (1878-1903) issued a decree that prohibited craniotomies, an unusual form of abortion occasionally used to save the life of the mother. He issued a second decree in 1886 that prohibited all procedures that directly killed the fetus, even if done to save the woman’s life.
A 2004 study in which American women at clinics answered a questionnaire yielded similar results to the ones I listed previously. According to the U.S. 2004 study, 1% of women became pregnant as a result of rape and 0.5% as a result of incest. Another American study in 2002 concluded that 54% of women who had an abortion were using a form of contraception at the time of becoming pregnant while 46% were not. Inconsistent use was reported by 49% of those using condoms and 76% of those using the combined oral contraceptive pill; 42% of those using condoms reported failure through slipping or breakage. Obviously the rape and incest factors regarding abortion are tiny, but egregious.
When I was a young man I had never heard a good word about abortion. It was always pejorative term associated with back alleys, unlicensed doctors doing horrible acts with non-sterile instruments, under appalling circumstances. This was the vicious image of the “abortionist,” a pariah in our culture. But, was there any talk of the hundreds, if not thousands, of unfortunate young women who out of desperation had to terminate their unwanted pregnancy by the use of drugs, chemical concoctions, hangers and other unmentionable activities? Over recorded history, a number of herbs reputed to possess the ability to terminate a pregnancy have been used in folk medicine: tansy, pennyroyal, black cohosh, and the now-extinct silphium. Of course, the use of herbs can cause unintended side effects, such as multiple organ failure resulting in permanent damage or death. Abortion is sometimes attempted by causing distress to the abdomen. The use, and level of force, could more than often, cause serious internal injuries without necessarily bringing on the induction of a miscarriage. These types of abortions can cause criminal liability in many countries. Reported methods of unsafe practices include the misuse of misoprostol, and insertion of such potentially life threatening items such as knitting needles and clothes hangers into the uterus. These methods are rarely seen in developed countries, where surgical abortion is legal and available. But the question remains, why were these women driven to such extremes? If they all had adequate means or access to birth control would all of this really had happened? Of course, not all sexual activity should be sanctioned or condoned, and there will be always mistakes, tragedies, and health related consequences to pregnancy, birth control and abortions.
Each year approximately 500,000 women worldwide die from pregnancy related causes. Fully 99% of these deaths occur in the 3rd World, where the Bush administration worked to prevent the dissemination of information on family-planning and birth control. The combination of health complications and illegal abortions are the leading cause of death in the world for women in their twenties and thirties.
What of these women? Why did they deserve a “Scarlet Letter” sewn on their chest forever? What about their seducer, their rapist, their incestuous family members, or just their own foolishness. Where was the societal outrage over the causation? Society often excused much of these violations under the hollow canard, “boys will be boys.” In the more modern age, why were these women excoriated, when upper-middle class and upper class women went to their private physicians and had the opportunity to a private “procedure?” Should these women have given up sex?
Personally I would never wish to force an abortion or a pregnancy on anyone. I would love to see adoption agencies be able to take care of all of our unwanted and unloved children, assuming a woman wished to carry her pregnancy to term. But unfortunately the reality doesn’t square with those desires. Women need to control the destiny of their own bodies, and no government has the right to force them to carry a fetus from an act, either beyond their control or a flawed judgment at the time. Pregnancy should not be a “sentence” forced by the state on any woman or family!
Many of these same pseudo-moralists who rail against abortion, birth control, and family planning, inside and outside of all of our religious institutions, are often the loudest and biggest hypocrites. Quite often we have been plagued by the problem of sexual abuse and the double standard that surrounds its adjudication? The violation of law regarding sexual abuse of boys and girls is one of our great tragedies, and the immensity of the crimes along with the cover-ups and pay-offs, is almost unprecedented. Where in our history could any institution or business get away with this type of horrible abuse which has affected countless victims throughout our history?
Any chief executive of a company, or an elected public official, with direct knowledge or participation in a “cover-up” of sexual abuse, would face immediate dismissal or criminal charges. But in our society, when it comes to the gross misconduct of religious institutions, the prosecutors and courts have constantly looked the other way as millions of dollars in “hush” money has passed from these same institutions to its victims.
This was from an article the American Catholic website: www.americancatholic.org/news/clergysexabuse/ July 15, 2007
Under the latest agreement, the archdiocese will pay $250 million and the balance will come from a combination of payments from insurance carriers and religious orders whose members have been accused in the abuse cases.
According to a tally prepared by the Los Angeles Times, the previous largest settlement of abuse cases in the United States since 2002 was the $157 million the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay to 983 claimants in several different settlement agreements. The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., agreed to pay $129 million to 315 claimants; the Diocese of Orange, Calif., agreed to pay $100 million to 90 claimants, and the Diocese of Covington, Ky., settled with 350 claimants for $85 million.
Cardinal Mahony said the new settlement and the one for $60 million announced in November “will have very serious and painful consequences for the archdiocese.” He said the archdiocese will re-evaluate all ministries and services, “since we will not be able to offer them at the same levels as in the past.”
On the other hand, I respect people’s right to religious belief. Therefore, they should practice “what they preach” to others. The hypocrisy amongst religious people is constantly made evident by their own actions. This hypocrisy alone has weakened the role of religion in most people’s lives.
Yes, people, often in a time of stress, anxiety and weakness, turn to religion for moral and emotional guidance and sustenance. No one could deny or denigrate that reality, but has this overall religious experience really changed people?
But what of the historic record of “know-nothingness,” which has been promulgated from our flat-earth thinking, evangelical citizens? Haven’t we learned something over the last century? It would seem that in our modern age these religious folk, who have resisted science and human advancement since the days of Socrates and Copernicus, would have disappeared
But it seems they haven’t at all. Even though the “Scope’s trial” was almost a century ago, a new group of theocrats is challenging Darwin with their “intelligent design” version of “creationism.” Wouldn’t the fictional Elmer Gantry and the real life Aimee Semple McPherson be smiling from heaven above!
The famous Pentecostal Evangelical preacher, Aimee Semple McPherson was very much opposed to teaching evolution and became a critical supporter of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes Trial. In 1925 John Scopes was indicted, tried and convicted for teaching evolution in a Tennessee school, which was illegal at the time. The former three time-Democratic presidential nominee and candidate William Jennings Bryan, and McPherson had collaborated together at her the Angelus Temple on numerous occasions They both were profoundly worried about the social implications and theological consequences associated with the broad acceptance of the teaching of Darwinism.
They believed that social Darwinism had undermined a student's morality. According to McPherson, as she was quoted by the New Yorker, evolution “is the greatest triumph of Satanic intelligence in 5,931 years of devilish warfare, against the Hosts of Heaven. It is poisoning the minds of the children of the nation.” Note the idea that world was 5931 years old!
Of course Aimee Semple McPherson wasn’t the first hypocrite, and she herself was not immune to the “temptations of the flesh” which was a “tool” of the devil’s influence over mankind. On May 18, 1926, in Tinstle Town itself, McPherson went to Ocean Park Beach, north of Venice Beach, with her secretary, to go swimming. Soon after their arrival, McPherson disappeared into the surf. It was generally assumed at the time that she had drowned.
According to the PBS Production of the American Experience:
At about the same time, Kenneth G. Ormiston, engineer for KFSG, also disappeared. Some believed McPherson and Ormiston, a married man with whom McPherson had developed a close friendship and had been having an affair, had run off together. About a month later the disappearance, according to the story in the papers of that period, McPherson's mother, Minnie Kennedy, received a ransom note, signed by “The Avengers”, which demanded a half million dollars to ensure kidnappers would not sell McPherson into “white slavery“. Kennedy later said she tossed the letter away, believing her daughter to be dead.
On June 23, 35 days after her disappearance, McPherson stumbled out of the desert in Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican town just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed that she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom in a shack in Mexico, then had escaped and walked through the desert for about 13 hours to freedom.
Several problems were found with McPherson's story. Her shoes showed no evidence of a 13-hour walk– indeed, they had grass stains on them after a supposed walk through the desert. The shack could not be found. McPherson showed up fully dressed while having disappeared wearing a bathing suit, and was wearing a wrist watch given to her by her mother, which she had not taken on her swimming trip. A grand jury convened on July 8 to investigate the matter, but adjourned 12 days later citing lack of evidence to proceed. However, several witnesses then came forward stating that they had seen McPherson and Ormiston at various hotels over the 32-day period.
There were five witnesses that claimed to have seen Aimee McPherson at a seaside cottage at Carmel-by-the-Sea, which was rented out by her former employee Kenneth G. Ormiston for himself and his mistress. Mr. Hersey claimed to have seen Mrs. McPherson on May 5 at this cottage, and then later went to see her preach on August 8 at Angelus Temple to confirm she was the woman he had seen at Carmel. His story was confirmed by Mrs. Parkes, a neighbor who lived next door to the Carmel cottage, by Mrs. Bostick who rented the cottage to Mr. Ormiston under his false name “McIntyre”, Ralph Swanson a grocery clerk, and Ernest Renkert, a Carmel fuel dealer who delivered wood to their cottage.
Have times really changed? What is really unique about this story? What is our lesson for today? Aren’t many of us still in the grip of this hypocritical nonsense about sex and the devil? So what is the current reality regarding today’s religious “snake-oil” hucksters? What can be said for these mega-churches with today’s generation of cash-register tele-evangelsists? What can be said for the Reverend Robert Schuller and his Crystal Palace Cathedral?
Reverend Robert H. Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, has announced that he removed his son, Robert A., from his preaching duties on the church's weekly “Hour of Power” syndicated TV broadcast. In a letter on the Crystal Cathedral website, the elder Rev. Schuller explains that he and his son “have been struggling as we each have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry as we move into the future.” As the lack of a unified vision has grown, Schuller felt it necessary to ask his son to step down.
Citing Ephesians 4, Schuller says that he plans to have guest pastors from other large ministries – including Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, and evangelist Juan Carlos Ortiz, credited for influencing the revivals currently sweeping Latin America. Walt Kallestad of Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona is scheduled to preach this Sunday. The “Hour of Power” weekly television broadcast has played host to Christian music artists like Matthew West, Laura Story (featured in the above video with Rev. Robert A Schuller) and Phil Stacey, giving them an opportunity to share their testimonies as well as their music with a large television audience.
And, what can we say about an interview with Schuller’s interview with CNN’s Aaron Brown in the wake of the 9/11 disaster. Brown asked the Reverend Schuller about the remarks by his colleague Reverend Jerry Falwell of the “Moral Majority.”
BROWN: One religious leader said this yesterday and I just want — give me — just react to it, OK? Here's the quote, it's from Jerry Falwell. “I really believe that,” he's talking about why this happened, he said: “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, the People for American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, you helped this happen.” That's what he said. What do you say?
SCHULLER: Oh, I don't want to interpret his comments. I can't relate to it in a spirit that would probably do justice, and I probably would have to. I'm not going there. I'm going to go to Jesus Christ, because I'm a follower of Christ. And so shocking to me is that not only the Muslims, but many of my Jewish friends respect Jesus Christ, and if we see the God of love in Him, let's focus on that.
I do believe that our country is going to become strong as we come back to God and back to morality. I do think this is going to impact our culture. I think that it's going to impact the depravity that is in the culture, and that's I think what Jerry was pointing to.
But let's be positive. Let's come back to a faith that is positive and loving and caring, so that this caring compassion that we see all over America and in the world today — I have a global telecast, as you probably know, and I've been getting telephone calls from Holland, they're weeping on the telephone for us. And in Germany, and in the Orient, the world is weeping tonight.
The Reverend Schuller did not want to criticize his colleague’s remarks about how 9/11 came about! It is funny that he has opinions on just about everything else under the sun and in heaven above, but that ridiculous statement seemed to be off limits for him.
Shouldn’t we all recall the enlightening story regarding that other stalwart of the “over-the-air hypocrisy hour” headliner, the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart? In his desire to expose his rivals and even his so-called friends and colleagues, the Reverend Swaggart’s zeal backfired on him!
In 1986, Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been accused of having an affair with another pastor's wife, who was at the time undergoing counseling with Pastor Gorman. Some said this was done out of fear that Gorman was taking away from Swaggart's audience and donations. Gorman was based in New Orleans and was adding stations throughout the Southern region and was beginning to add stations on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Gorman was also in the planning stages for a weekday telecast. Once exposed, Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God and his ministry all but ended.
The following year, Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies Of God televangelist Jim Bakker's sexual indiscretions and appeared on Larry King Live, stating that Bakker was a “cancer in the body of Christ.” Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Bakker, were at the height of the Praise the Lord Network. He and similarly-minded Baptist evangelist Jerry Falwell investigated Jim Bakker and eventually uncovered his indiscretions. In 1987, Jim Bakker's ministry was falling apart as a result. Heritage USA was bought by Morningstar Ministries in 2004 and a portion of the property has been refurbished.
As a retaliatory move, Marvin Gorman hired a private detective to follow Swaggart. The detective found Swaggart in a Louisiana motel on Airline Highway with a prostitute, Debra Murphree, and took pictures of the tryst. Gorman presented Swaggart with the photos in a blackmail attempt to force Swaggart to come clean, but Swaggart refused. Gorman then presented the pictures to the presbytery leadership of the Assemblies of God, which decided that Swaggart should be suspended from broadcasting his television program for three months. The incident was heavily satirized by musician Frank Zappa in a three-song medley referred to by band members as the “Texas Motel Medley”, consisting of three songs by the Beatles with the lyrics changed to reflect the events. While the Texas Motel Medley itself was never released due to copyright concerns, several references to the incident can be heard on the live albums The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life and Broadway the Hard Way.
On February 21, 1988, without giving the details of his transgressions, Swaggart tearfully spoke to his family, congregation and audience, saying, “I have sinned against you, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness.” On a New Orleans morning news show four days later, Murphree stated that while Swaggart was a regular customer, they had never engaged in sexual intercourse.
The Louisiana Assemblies of God initially suspended Jimmy Swaggart from the ministry for three months. The national Assemblies of God soon extended it to their standard year-long suspension for scandalous sexual immorality. Against the ruling of the national governing body of the Assemblies of God, Swaggart returned to his television pulpit after only three months. He stated, “If I do not return to the pulpit this weekend, millions of people will go to hell.” Believing that Swaggart was not genuinely repentant in not submitting to their authority, the Assemblies of God immediately defrocked Swaggart, removing his credentials and ministerial license.
On October 11, 1991, Swaggart was found, for the second time, in the company of another prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. According to Garcia, Swaggart stopped to proposition her on the side of the road. When the patrolman asked Garcia why she was with Swaggart, she replied, “He asked me for sex. I mean, that's why he stopped me. That's what I do. I'm a prostitute.” Rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that “The Lord told me it's flat none of your business.” His son Donnie then announced to the stunned audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for “a time of healing and counseling.”
Speaking of these evangelicals and the “Red States” where they exert so much political clout and legislative influence, in the November’s Vanity Fair magazine (please access the following site: http://louisvilledivorce.typepad.com/info/2006/11/red_state_blue.html ) one can read about the “real” national statistics on morality. The “Red States” lead in violent crime, overall crime, divorce, illegitimacy, infidelity, multiple sexual partners, rape, incest, teenage mortality, drug abuse and incarceration. One should ask why?
As to illegitimacy rates, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, of states with the highest percentage of births in 2003 to unwed mothers, 9 of the top 10 are “red” states. The rate for teen mortality by suicide, homicide and accidents, despite their state’s reputation for family, religious and moral values, was much higher in the “red” states. In fact the top ten states regarding that statistic are “red,” and the bottom ten are “blue!” Not only that the top ten states in alcohol dependence and abuse, are “red” states. The incidence of venereal disease is 40% higher in the “red” states.
With, all that in mind, maybe there should be some public healing with regards to all of these “frocked and unfrocked” folks. There should be a little more introspection regarding their role in our society.
And how about this week’s news! Over 360,000 people signed an online petition demanding that Notre Dame University withdraw its offer to have the President of the United States speak at this year’s graduation and receive an honorary doctorate.
An advocacy group that circulated the petition, said that the invitation, violated a 2004 bishops’ mandate that stated, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principals.” The Archbishop Raymond Burke accused President Obama of pushing an anti-life, anti-family agenda. He said that it was “a scandal” that Notre Dame had invited Obama to speak. The activists and many bishops have been outspoken in their criticism of Obama. Would they be any less critical of Hillary Clinton or any other mainstream or progressive Democrat? They seem to want their “cake and eat it also!” They don’t like the greed, the tax-relief for the rich and the lack of fairness to the poor and under-privileged which are a keystone to GOP economic policy, but they can’t handle social and gender equality espoused by the Democrats. In their litany of charges against Obama, they cite his support for abortion rights (the law of the land), embryonic stem cell research (voodoo science) and his repeal of a policy that denied Federal dollars to international relief organizations that provide abortions or family-planning related information. (Let them breed until they bleed!) And of course, they are beside themselves regarding Obama’s support for legislation that would prohibit state and local governments from interfering with a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.
Ironically polling and other evidence shows that Catholic voters have largely a positive view of the president. It seems evident that Catholics don’t always follow the church hierarchy on issues such as abortion and contraception or political preferences.
Even Patrick Whelan, a physician at the Harvard Medical School and the president of Catholic Democrats, said that “taking such a hard line against Obama, bishops and other conservative leaders risked driving Catholics away from the church rather than cool their support for the president.” Whelan added, “There are unintended consequences to this kind of angry, vituperative language about their opponents. By making themselves pawns of the conservative right, the bishops are playing into a cycle of decline of our church!” Interestingly, Notre Dame’s students seem to be quite enthusiastic about President Obama’s visit. He won 57% of their vote in an October, 2008 straw vote and won 54% of their vote this past November, and he remains more popular with Catholics than with Protestants.
Accordingly the percentage of women who are Catholic in America is 32.1% and the percentage of Catholic women who have abortions is 31.5%. One can see more on this at http://www.holysmoke.org/femfem)113.htm.
We should all be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. But we should be very careful and leery regarding religious charlatans of any discipline. The separation of church and state should be inviolable. I find religion to be personal, and if everyone in our society digested the sheer amount of religion that is fomented daily in America, maybe it would be a better place. But, interestingly, with all of our exposure to religion, and with our wonderful schools, and over abundance of religious institutions, we have more people in prison, more drug abuse, more mental illness, more murders, more gun violence, more divorce and more social breakdown then any of our Western friends.
What are the general conclusions of all of the above? First of all Western society’s concerns about uncontrollable sexual activity was understandable. Religion looked at the moral issues that constantly faced their world as critical. They saw and believed in a strong moral imperative that placed the nuclear family in a position of primary importance. As part of that desire to promote a sense and decorum with regard to moral order, they created roles for both men and women. As men were the traditional hunter/gatherers, and women were the child bearers, the future structure of the family had been delineated long before organized religion. Certainly the giving of the law by Moses and the emergence of the Ten Commandments gave a legal structure to the conduct of humans towards each other.
Over the past 3500 hundred years, humankind has been struggling with how to make the law apply within in the marketplaces, the courts, and in the family. One can readily understand the traditional and historical antipathy to homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, free love, divorce and child abuse. Certainly the concept of “be fruitful and multiply” goes back to the “covenant” between Abraham and G-d. The idea of infanticide was anathema to many in the centuries after the Common Era. Obviously today, abortion is considered by many to be infanticide. We have also seen throughout history that humans are inherently weak and many are prone to temptation. Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation,” and he for sure practiced what he preached. That expression sums up what is inherent in many well-meaning individuals.
But what is, and was, the consequences of patriarchal rule? Women were relegated to a second-class status. They were chattel, property! They were forced into marriages not of their own choice or free will, they were made to suffer loveless unions and to breed children most of their lives until they were no longer able to conceive. Yes, many were placed on virtual pedestals. Many were given secure, protected lives and were treated with love and kindness. But either way, their destiny was never really their own. And, what of the uncounted amount of unloved, uncared for, and abandoned children? What did these children wrought on humankind? What suffering to the world was manifested by their unwanted births? Obviously there are also countless exceptions, and for sure the world has benefitted by these individuals. But was the world made incrementally better? No one can tell.
The backbone and foundation of this patriarchal system has been the priesthood (leaders) of most religions. This male dominated hierarchal religious class has created a so-called moral liturgy that sustained and enforced the inferior role of women.
It would be easy to argue that mono-theistic western religion helped civilize, educate, and bring order to a barbaric valueless world. In its most base message all religions teach; right against wrong, good against evil, and justice above tyranny. Our higher laws speak of moral imperatives that quite often transcend the callowness of secular law. But can our standards of today be a captive to thoughts derived thousands of years ago? My belief is that as time has changed, our values have matured and have been broadened to become more inclusive. Slavery existed in the Bible; do we accept its existence today? Of course not! Homosexuals were stoned in Biblical days, now their right to exist is inviolate under the laws of all Western countries. Religious so-called heretics were burned at the stake for hundreds of years for merely questioning religious practice, no less the existence of G-d. Within the last five hundred years, religious courts of the Inquisition under people like Torquemada tortured tens of thousands of Moors, Jews and other individuals who did not bow and scrape to their philosophy. Religious wars were fought for hundreds of years over the blood-soaked European countryside. Our history is rife and replete with the blood-letting promulgated and abetted through the so-called word of G-d. And of course, this only speaks for the West.
Often the loudest heard today are people like the Jimmy Swaggarts, or phony preachers like the Bakers and their ilk of Elmer Gantry-like religious hucksters. Many of these self-appointed and self-aggrandizing moralists who preach to us have feet of clay and should be carefully watched. What they say should be weighed carefully before it is digested and believed. It never hurts to support and abide by “truth in packaging.” The more transparency regarding hucksters of all types and persuasions is essential. Then again, toleration is important for a diverse society to continue to survive as it works towards an atmosphere of domestic tranquility. The “golden rule” regarding a society’s attitude towards itself is one positive step towards making a balanced, fair, and tolerant atmosphere.
Innately what we should have learned over these countless years is what Lincoln said about slavery, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. What ever differs from this, to the extant of the difference, is no democracy.” Maybe that idea should be extended our attitude on many things including being tolerant and working for answers. It is better to be part of the solution than the problem.