Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Phelps Guilty

The Associated Press is reporting that homophobic Westboro Baptist Church and three of its leaders--Fred Phelps, Shirley Phelps-Roper, and Rebekah Phelps-Davis--have been found guilty by a federal jury in Maryland. The church and its leaders have been ordered to pay the Snyder family nearly $11 million dollars for disrupting the funeral of their son who was killed in Iraq.

Snyder sobbed when he heard the verdict, while members of the church greeted the news with tightlipped smiles.

Fred Phelps is confident that the decision will be overturned upon appeal.

"Oh, it will take about five minutes to get that thing reversed," he said.

Earlier, church members staged a demonstration outside the federal courthouse. Phelps held a sign reading "God is your enemy," while Phelps-Roper stood on an American flag and carried a sign that read "God hates fag enablers." Members of the group sang "God Hates America" to the tune of "God Bless America."

Blah. This church disgusts me so much. The gall to protest anyone's funeral. The gall to stand on the flag of any nation. What pinheaded stunts.

I am intrigued to see how this verdict holds up under appeal. Everybody's discussing whether the church was practicing free speech as protected by the First Amendment. But there are limits to freedom of speech. Case in point: the Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week on pornography--specifically, the issue is what types of pornography constitute "free speech." Child pornography is "speech" that is criminal in the U.S., and there is legal precedent for treating this as something outside the purview of the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court has taken issue with the last two anti-child porn laws the Congress has passed and overturned the laws. Another such law is before the Court this week.

Defining what is and is not free speech is a very touchy issue.

It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court decides this week. And it will be interesting to see what the appelate court in Maryland decides when the case of Snyder vs. Phelps comes across its desk.

Hat tip: Box Turtle Bulletin, AP

Publish or Perish


I just read the following fascinating paper, which surveys developments in control theory (my field of research) over the past 40 years.

Willems, J.C. “In control, almost from the beginning until the day after tomorrow,” European Journal of Control, vol. 13, 2007, pp. 71-81.

I like review papers like this one, because they offer "big picture" view of a topic or area of research rather than the myopic details of a particular result. Reading review papers gives me a sense of movement--where things have come from and where they are heading--and a sense of what is lacking--where more research is needed to expand understanding of a particular topic.

First, a minute biography of J.C. Willems. Willems entered the field of control theory as a Ph.D. student at M.I.T. in 1965. Upon graduating, he completed a one-year postdoctoral research position at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and was hired as a Professor of Electrical Engineering at M.I.T. In 1973 Willems was appointed Professor of Mathematics (specializing in systems and control) at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where he has remained to this day. In 2003, Groningen named him Emeritus Professor.

Willems' full curriculum vitae would consume dozens of pages. He has supervised numerous doctoral students, organized academic conferences, and served as head of his academic department at Groningen, president of the Dutch Mathematical Society, president of the European Union Control Association, managing editor of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Journal of Control for 5 years, managing editor of Systems and Control Letters for 15 years. In short, he's the shit. He's done a ton of work and made a significant contribution to the field. So people pay attention when he offers his summary of what has been learned in the past four decades, where mistakes have been made, and where new research emphasis needs to be placed.

But this blog entry is not about control theory. It's about the feverish "publish or perish" mentality that is present in universities today. I found it interesting that Willems decided to specifically address this issue in his paper--since "publish or perish" has not always been the modus operandi of higher education. Willems' tenth section, ominously titled "The Bureaucracy," explains the rise of the "publish or perish" mindset, its advantages, and its pitfalls.

Apparently, back in the day (1970s)...
The departments left researchers in peace, the university left the departments in peace, the [government] left the universities in peace… There were no annual reports to write. The system was based on trust.

But this trust was abused. The system was inefficient. Many academics interpreted the clause that research was part of their job as a friendly mild suggestion, but active researchers could concentrate on their work.
The lackadaisical approach of the 70s is long gone. "Publish or perish" has arrived.
Thirty years later, these matters have completely changed. There are continuous reports, evaluations, rankings, and visitations... the system is managed on all levels. Researchers are under great pressure to publish and compete for grants and contracts.

I know that 25 years ago, I would have defended the need for more evaluations in the educational and research system. I shiver from what it has come to.
"Publish or perish" is not all bad, however.
There are, for sure, positive things that have come out of all these. Essentially everybody contributes. Idleness is frowned upon. Teaching is done with more care and thought. The number of Ph.D. students, especially in engineering, has become much larger.
But an overemphasis on publication has given rise to some ridiculous attitudes in the way scientists work.
The [European Union] science directorate distributes substantial grants… the two main characteristics required for research programs to qualify for EU support are collaboration and excellence. The collaboration idea is based on the belief that if you tie 2 bricks together, they will float, and if you tie 20 bricks together, they will fly… All researchers involved are excellent. Excellence is defined as substantially above average. For the EU, it sometimes seems like everybody can be above average.
On equating number of publications with quality of a researcher:
Of course some counting, as citations, collects significant information, but only when combined with sober judgment. But many of the measures which scientists are subjected to are caricatures.

It is not unreasonable to assume that somebody who publishes two papers a year does a lot more research than someone who publishes two papers in 5 years… But it is absurd to assume that someone who publishes ten papers a year does five times as much research than someone who publishes two papers a year.

I often wonder what the purpose really is of the enormous publication activity that goes on. Journals and conferences multiply in size and number. The work involved in preparing publications comes for a large part at the expense of time to think. In science, more writing goes together with less reading.

I miss the emphasis on breadth and depth, on quality rather than quantity, on synthesis of ideas, on debate and scrutiny rather than passive attendance of presentations, and on reflection rather than activity.
It sounds like balance is the key, and balance is not yet the standard in academia. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. Time and critical decisions are needed to bring things to a healthy midpoint.

Hat tip: Romeo Ortega
Shameless plug: the image of equations at the top of this post is a screen shot from my prelim document.

"Is the religious right dead?"

This question is the title of the first chapter of a book presently being co-authored by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the most prominent D.C. lobbying group for religious conservatives. Although Perkins and co-author Harry Jackson argue the answer to the question is "no," research by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick has led to some different conclusions.

In the fascinating article "Evangelical Crackup," Kirkpatrick recounts conversations he has had with evangelical Christian leadership and laypeople over the past ten years. It seems that history is repeating itself for the conservative religious movement, which began its present marriage to the Republican party following disappointment with evangelical U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Current disillusionment with evangelical President George W. Bush indicate that the years of evangelicals marching in lock-step with Republicans have come to an end.

The religious right is exhausted from its 25-year "culture war" against abortion, same-sex marriage, evolution, and separation of Church and State. Moreover, they are disillusioned by the results of finally achieving what James Dobson has called the "triple crown": simultaneous Republican control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. Although Republicans succeeded in achieving this goal in 2004, religious conservatives have not seen victory on any of the fronts of the metaphorical culture war. Instead, they have found America embroiled in the not-metaphorical-at-all Iraq war quagmire that seems to lack both moral high ground and a clear way out.
Today the president’s support among evangelicals, still among his most loyal constituents, has crumbled. Once close to 90 percent, the president’s approval rating among white evangelicals has fallen to a recent low below 45 percent, according to polls by the Pew Research Center. White evangelicals under 30 — the future of the church — were once Bush’s biggest fans; now they are less supportive than their elders. And the dissatisfaction extends beyond Bush. For the first time in many years, white evangelical identification with the Republican Party has dipped below 50 percent, with the sharpest falloff again among the young, according to John C. Green, a senior fellow at Pew and an expert on religion and politics. (The defectors by and large say they’ve become independents, not Democrats, according to the polls.)
But Kirkpatrick documents a change among evangelicals that is far more profound than political allegiance. Evangelicals' theological emphases are becoming far more progressive.
The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view.
There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.
In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on the [Southern Baptist] denomination 20 years ago, the establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.” (emphasis mine)
I wanted to highlight one of the "new" progressive theologies that is gaining traction among conservative religious folks: pacifism. I'll confess this is of interest to me because I've been a part of a Quaker church for the last year and have had my non-pacifist mindset challenged over and over again.
Most conservative Christian leaders have resolutely supported Bush’s foreign policy. Dobson and others have even talked about defending Western civilization from radical Islam as a precondition for protecting family values. But on the eve of the Iraq invasion, [Chicago megachurch pastor Bill] Hybels preached a sermon called “Why War?” Laying out three approaches to war — realism, just-war theory and pacifism — he implored members of his congregation to re-examine their own thinking and then try to square it with the Bible. In the process, he left little doubt about where he personally stood. He called himself a pacifist.

Hybels traced the “J curve” of mounting deaths from war through the centuries. “In case you are wondering about this, wonder how God feels about all this,” he said. “It breaks the heart of God.”

At his annual leadership conference this summer, Hybels interviewed former President Jimmy Carter. To some Christian conservatives, it was quite a provocation. Carter, after all, was their first great disappointment, a Southern Baptist who denounced the conservative takeover and an early critic of the Bush administration. Some pastors canceled plans to attend.

I think that a superpower ought to be the exemplification of a commitment to peace,” Carter told Hybels, who nodded along. “I would like for anyone in the world that’s threatened with conflict to say to themselves immediately: ‘Why don’t we go to Washington? They believe in peace and they will help us get peace.’ ” Carter added: “This is just a simple but important extrapolation from what a human being ought to do, and what a human being ought to do is what Jesus Christ did, who was a champion of peace.”
I like Carter's dream. I hope it is a dream that is championed by more and more evangelicals over time.

Hat tip: my boyfriend

19 married men, 1 not-so-celibate priest netted in NY rest area sex sting

20 men, including a local Catholic priest, have been charged following a sex sting at an interstate 684 rest area just outside Manhattan. It is miserable to learn that aside from the priest, all these men are married.

I know the decision each of these men made to participate in public sexual activity was unique and fueled by individual circumstances. It would be far too simple to claim all of these men are really gay and were "pressured" into heterosexual relationships by a homophobic society, etc. etc. etc. Even if this were the case for all these men, they are still personally responsible for their illegal (and family-jeopardizing) decisions.

But it is intriguing that they are all married. Perhaps there is a nugget of truth in the joke of gay actor/comedian Jason Stuart:
C'mon, straight people! If you let us marry each other we’ll stop marrying you.
I do wonder how much heartache could have been avoided if these gay men had come to a sense of peace about their orientation and had pursued and settled down with someone of the same sex--rather than entering straight marriages that could never satisfy their emotional and sexual desires. Now there are nineteen wives and who knows how many children sorting through the aftermath of these guys' bad choices. These men are responsible for their decisions, but I suspect there were some strong societal factors that influenced these bad choices.

For the sake of all families, may we soon see the end of those societal factors.

Hat tip: Box Turtle Bulletin

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fred Phelps on Trial

Fred Phelps, leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, took the stand last week in a Baltimore, MD court. Albert Snyder, father of deceased Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, is suing the church for unspecified damages for turning his son's funeral into a "media circus" with the intent of hurting his family.

Questions focused on some of the ludicrous signs Phelps' churchgoers carry when the picket funerals--signs with statements like
  • Thank God for dead soldiers
  • United States of Sodomy
  • Semper Fi Fags
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett instructed jurors at the start of testimony Tuesday that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements. Bennett said the jurors must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous, and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."
Factoid: Fred Phelps is a himself a disbarred attorney.

I am quite interested to see what the jury decides in this case.

Hat tip: Bible Belt Blogger

God: George W. Bush is a "good" but "arrogant" man

Pat Robertson believes God delivers detailed prophecies to him. First the disclaimer from Robertson's website:
At some times, His word to me has been remarkably precise and the subsequent fulfillment amazing. At other times, either my spiritual perception was lacking or else subsequent prayer or actions by others caused a different result than what I anticipated. Therefore, I must speak with great humility recognizing that I “see through a glass darkly.”
Now the highlights:

Saturday, December 30, 2006 – I believe the Lord spoke these further words to me…

“American politics is marked by indecision and strife. The Iraq war was folly and there is no way out. America pretends to support Israel but in reality is pushing Israel toward suicide. This, in turn, is bringing my wrath on America.

“(George) Bush is a good man and I have blessed him. But his arrogance has led to repeated foreign policy failures that have weakened the nation."

Hat tip: Bible Belt Blogger

Personal Promise Bible


Introducing the latest translation of the Bible: the You Standard Version. No, just kidding. Almost.

The Personal Promise Bible substitutes your first name (and gender) in over 5,000 locations in the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs so that "you can experience the reality of God's love and promises in a way you never thought possible."

I tried it out. Here are some of the online samples of how my Personal Promise Bible would read.
John 15:5 Joe is a part of the true vine, and a channel of Christ's life.
I am the vine. Joe is a branch. If Joe remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from Me, Joe can do nothing.

Eph. 1:5-6 Joe has been adopted by God as His son.
Having predestined Joe for adoption as a son through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His desire, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He freely bestowed favor on Joe in the Beloved.
Hat tip: ad on AFA's website

Coming Out Straight

No this blog entry isn't about goofy therapist Richard Cohen's book with the same title. It's about what happens when a person is "gay, out, and happy, and much to your surprise you develop an attraction or feelings for someone of the opposite sex?"

Tracie Potochnik explores this strange but not uncommon scenario in her recent MSN post.

Interesting.

Fun times: see Richard Cohen on the Daily Show: part 1 and part 2.

Hat tip: Selly

AFA throws bathroom sink at assumed-to-be-gay (but really straight) teacher

Last week, the American Family Association posted an article about Mick Rabin, a San Diego public school teacher who teaches his third grade students that gay relationships are acceptable and a "pro-family activist" who is "outraged" over Rabin's "indoctrination techniques." The article set off a firestorm of comments from the AFA's conservative religious readership. There's nothing unexpected about this.

Here's the interesting part: Rabin is actually straight, married, and a father of two--facts that never appeared in the article. In fact, Rabin's personal sexual orientation, marital status, and family situation are never mentioned. But the readership of AFA overwhelmingly concluded Rabin must be gay.

What follows are excerpts from the readers' comments revealing some outrageous, inaccurate, but sadly prevalent assumptions religious conservatives make of gay people.
I'd bet he's molested children after "indoctrinating" them. Seems to be the reason for the indoctrination. What else could it be?
this teacher should never even be allowed around children much less teaching the homo sickness is OK.
The parents who know about Mr. Rabin and willing leave their child in his class are no better than this pedophile teacher.
This teacher ought to be fired, NOW! What a horrible thing for him to do, preying on these innocent children.
This is child abuse, plain and simple. This teacher should be in jail.
Reading comments like those above makes me depressed. Religious conservatives believe so many inaccurate things about gay people. Sometimes I lose hope that there's hope for reconciliation between gays and the conservative church.

We've all heard this sentiment before from the Religious Right:
Homosexuality is all about sex - that's it! It's not about lifestyle, it's not about heredity..., it's not even about love - it's about having sex
The following post left me dumbfounded.
we must warn the gays about the dangers of having same sex attraction. I learned from Conservapedia that sexually transmitted diseases don't occur in heterosexual relationships, only in homosexual relationships. If this is not enough to convince gays to be straight, I don't know what would do it. We need to teach the gays to pray. Its the fault of parents not teaching their children to pray. If they learn to pray, they can not be gay.
Granted, I do think Conservapedia is laughable, but surely they couldn't possible claim that STDs do not occur in hetero relationships... right? right? Please tell me I'm right!

hat tip: One News Now

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Phelan Strikes Back

I posted earlier about an ex-gay brouhaha going on over at Jim Phelan's blog. Jim, an reparative therapist who claims he has "obtained heterosexuality", received some scolding from the president and vice-president of Exodus after he posted a rather snarky and self-congratulatory blog entry a few days ago.

Well, Jim has posted a new blog entry, but there is still no sign of self-examination, contrition, or apology. Jim complains:
Exodus International, whom I have been a supportive member of for many years, has abandoned and alienated me over this whole issue.
Unwilling to accept any responsibility, Jim blames all on the watchdog blog Ex-Gay Watch.

Yeesh! So much drama; so little acceptance of personal responsibility. Weird.

As I mentioned earlier, it would be interesting to know what (if any) interaction Jim has with Exodus president Alan Chambers at this coming weekend's NARTH conference.

"Competent" Faces Win Elections


Wanna win an elected office? Your chances of victory may depend significantly on your appearance. A study conducted at Princeton suggests many American voters cast their ballots based on their first impression of a candidate's face. Read the study for yourself:

A Todorov, A.N. Mandisodza, A. Goren, C.C. Hall, "Inference of competence from faces predict election outcomes,'' Science, vol. 308, no. 5728, Jun 2005: pp. 1623-1626.

The abstract:
We show that inferences of competence based solely on facial appearance predicted the outcomes of U.S. congressional elections better than chance (e.g., 68.8% of the Senate races in 2004) and also were linearly related to the margin of victory. These inferences were specific to competence and occurred within a 1-second exposure to the faces of the candidates. The findings suggest that rapid, unreflective trait inferences can contribute to voting choices, which are widely assumed to be based primarily on rational and deliberative considerations.
Comments from a recent National Geographic News article:
The study suggests unconsidered responses could be more important to some voters than a rational study of a candidate's merits.

Over the course of five election seasons between 2000 and 2004, researchers from Princeton University showed potential voters photographs of political candidates running in a slew of U.S. congressional races.

The voters were told nothing about the candidates, who were running for seats in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Researchers tested voters' snap judgments about the political candidates. Attractiveness, honesty, and likeability were just some of the traits measured, but the one that stood out for voters was a candidate's competence.

Voters' competence ratings were based solely on the appearance of a candidate's face and predicted the outcomes in U.S. congressional races over five election seasons at a rate of nearly 70 percent.
Interesting. Guess this means I'll never be elected--unless the voting population is all blind ;-)

Hat tip: NPR

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Most Oft-Quoted Bible Verses


There are 31,102 verses in the Bible (well, the King James Version). An interesting site called TopVerses.com has sent a bot crawling around the web counting the number of times each verse has been referenced and "ranking" the most often quoted verses. Verses about life and death and salvation and murder and family and apocalypse and on and on...

Top of the list? You guessed it: John 3:16. Indeed the New Testament dominates the top citations. The top quote from the Old Testament is Genesis 1:26, coming in at rank 15.

I thought it might be interesting to check the rankings of the verses some people believe oppose homosexuality. Check it out:

#101: Leviticus 18:22
#127: I Corinthians 6:9
#331: Romans 1:26
#333: Leviticus 20:13
#2,271: I Corinthians 6:11
#3,080: Romans 1:27
#14,749: I Timothy 1:10
#15,895: Genesis 19:4

Comments:
  • Whereas the top verses in the Bible come from the New Testament, the most frequently cited anti-gay verse comes from the Old Testament. In spite of this fact, I was surprised to discover that the Old Testament story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (in Genesis 19) is the least-frequently quoted of the texts.
  • The most frequently-quoted verses from the books of Leviticus and I Corinthians are the supposedly anti-gay verses above. And poor lonely Leviticus; it seems the book is referenced almost exclusively for opposing gay folks; aside from the two verses mentioned above, only two other Levitical verses rank in the top 1,000.
  • Though I Corinthians 6:9 and I Corinthians 6:11 are separated by a single verse, the former is apparently much more popular than the latter. Why? Could it be due to the belief of some that 6:9 condemns gay men while some interpret 6:11 to offer them hope (to become straight)?
  • Of all the verses listed above, all but one address male sexual behavior. Romans 1:26 is the only verse in the Bible that some believe mentions lesbianism. I found it curious that this verse is mentioned far more frequently than its next-door neighbor, Romans 1:27, which is concerned with men only.
I once thought all of the above verses clearly expressed the Bible's (and hence, God's) condemnation to gay folks. That clarity disappeared under study. Whether those verses actually address loving, monogamous relationships between people of the same gender is not obvious to me due to complexities of cultural context and translation of words. Moreover, even in the unlikely case that it could be proved beyond shadow of doubt that these verses oppose homosexuality, showing that they accurately reflect the heart of God is an entirely different thing.

I believe the Bible is a collection of inspired writings, but I don't believe any of its authors wrote inerrantly or accurately captured the character of God. The (all-male) writers of the Bible were every bit as flawed and fallible as you and I. Furthermore, the (all-male) church councils that selected the books of the Bible and defined its authority by majority vote were just as flawed and fallible as we are. Finally, the transmission of the Bible has been imperfect; the book we have today resembles but does not match the original biblical texts. Even if an infallible Bible once existed, we don't possess it today.

No, the heart and mind of God are something to be pursued in relationship, not intellectually concluded from analysis of others' documented experiences (i.e. Bible study). Perhaps in a future post I will articulate more clearly my thoughts on the Bible and why I am no longer an evangelical Christian.

For other kicks, check out the Bible net art "exegesis," which displays on a single image all the verses of the Bible. Verses cites most frequently appear darker. The java interface is kinda nonintuitive and buggy, but it's a cool site nonetheless.

Hat tip: I don't remember who; but someone tipped me off to these sites.

Correlation of Homophobia and Homosexual Arousal


Hey guys, I'm excited about this post. For years I've heard people say they have hunches that the people who get the most upset over all things gay are closeted homosexuals. Within the past year, I've heard reference to a published scientific study of this phenomenon. Today, a buddy sent me the text of the study itself. You can read it for yourself by following the link below.

H.E. Adams, L.W. Wright, Jr., and B.A. Lohr, "Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?'' Journal of Abornomal Psychology, vol. 105, no. 3, 1996, pp. 440-445.

Here's the abstract from the study.
The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n=35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n=29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W.W. Hudson & W.A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A.H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.
Whether this study seems to agree with your personal convictions or not, I encourage you to read it. I have some criticisms of the study and of its generalizability, but its findings are no less interesting and important. First, though, a comment about the term "homophobic" that is used in this study. It rankled me at first, because I do feel the term "homophobic" is often misapplied to people who aren't afraid at all but have calm, intellectual disagreement with homosexuality on moral grounds.

The authors take care to distinguish homophobia from homonegativity and reference some previous literature on the distinction. So to clarify the type of person being investigated in this study, I'll repeat that distinction here. Homonegatism is defined as "a miltidimensional construct that includes judgement regarding the morality of homosexuality, decisions concerning personal or social relationships, and any response concerning beliefs, preferences, legality, social desirability, or similar cognitive responses." Homophobia is defined as "an emotional or affective response including fear, anxiety, anger, discomfort, and aversion that an individual experiences in interacting with gay individuals, which may or may not involve a cognitive component." This study's findings pertain to folks in the latter category.

By these defintions, I would classify my parents and the leadership of the church from which I was recently expelled homonegative. They aren't homophobes; they are rather thoughtful, listen carefully to my dissenting viewpoint, and respond calmly. On the other hand, those folks that are always screaming the "condemnation of the Lord" at every gay event seem to be homophobic.

Issues/limitations with the study: as is almost always the case, sampling is an issue. All the participants in the study were white and all were in college. Since this is a nonrepresentative sample of the U.S. population, it is impossible to generalize the results of this study to homophobic men who are ethnic minorities, who do not have post-secondary education, and who live outside Georgia. Furthermore, this study is exclusively about men; we cannot apply the conclusions of this study to women at all. None of these limitations diminish the significance of the study, however. That there is a measurable correlation between homophobia and homosexual arousal among highly-educated white men in Georgia is a meaningful discovery.

On an "interesting" additional note, there is the issue of the porn the researchers showed the participants. Surely not all porn is created equal; were the responses measured directly related to the particular porn flicks the participants watched? What if they showed a relatively mundane hetero flick and a relatively intense homo flick? Of course it is probably impossible to scientifically classify porn films by "intensity" or any other metric. But it's worth mentioning and perhaps future investigations seeking to replicate the results of this study might experiment with a variety of porn and study the difference in responses.

The study was well-designed to be meaningful regardless of the relative intensity of the porn films. Why? Because a group of nonhomophobic men were shown the same films. The nonhomophobic group did not exhibit statistically significant change in penis girth, but the homophobic group did. Interesting.

There's a video on YouTube that narrates a bit about the study and interviews the lead author. Check it out if you're interested.

Hat tip: JD and Darren

Exodus Leadership Publicly Rebukes Reparative Therapist

Something interesting is going on in the comments of Jim Phelan's blog. Jim, LCSW, BCD, ICDAC, Psy. D., who claims to be a member of NARTH's scientific advisory committee although his name does not appear on the organization's posted list of committee members, will be presenting at the upcoming NARTH conference in Dallas. In his post, Jim described a violent encounter he had last weekend while running in a local marathon. Jim became pissed off over a group of gay folks on one city block who were there "to cheer on runners" and had brought along "huge rainbow banners" that made it clear they were out and proud.
As I passed the group, I yelled over that, in my opinion, they were there just to "push their gay agenda". My opinion was they were using the large public event (which had nothing to do with homosexuality) to pollute it with gay politics.

Well, one runner, a huge muscled-type, didn't like me doing this and thought he'd teach me a lesson, unexpectedly shoved the heck out of me practically knocking me to the pavement, an act of violence and physical attack against my person. Of course, little did the fool know I was a trained fighter having served in an elite force of the US Army. So, I one-two drop kicked the hell out of him and got into a immediate fighter's stance ready to take more of him.

Naturally, the coward backed down and ran away. It's a shame that people, like me have to physically defend themselves, after being subjected to violence, based on their own opinions and use of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, there are many folks who are silenced by these types of cowards and unable to fight back. God have mercy.
As you might expect, Jim's actions--but mostly his self-righteous attitude, have incited quite a few comments. As you might not expect, two of the commentators are national leaders of Exodus.

Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas, president and vice-president, respectively, of the ex-gay ministry Exodus, are among the voices chastising Jim for initiating the incident for yelling instead of engaging in dialog, for responding to violence with violence (instead of "turning the other cheek"), and mostly for his unrepentant, vindictive, macho attitude.

Sez Alan:
Jim, In a recent post you encouraged your readers to remember the 'Golden Rule'. However, in this post you seemed to forget the Golden Rule. Would Jesus have 'drop kicked the hell' out of anyone? I think not. What happened to turning the other cheek?

Screaming at gay celebrants or activists is a terrible approach to dialogue, debate or evangelism. Your post is full of things we tell people NEVER to do when interacting with those with whom they disagree.

I am disturbed by your actions and seemingly celabratory post.
Sez Randy:
I think your anger over gay activists hijacking another event is righteous. I think your anger over being attacked is righteous. I even think defending yourself is pretty cool too.

It's the apparent bragging about it that I don't find in keeping with righteous anger. It's the appearance of enjoying the opportunity to dust off the gloves that I don't like. And let us not forget that we have freedom of speech unless it is used to incite a riot (I learned that in 9th grade civics class... I hope I got it right.) If I am going to get beat up for my speech...please let it be about the gospel and not about how bad gay activists are.

With regard to the gay activists, I believe a proper response would have been letters to the city, newspaper and organizers of the event (and blogging.) As for the man who attacked you, defend yourself, report his running number to the event organizers and make a report with the police (if you think it goes to that level.) "Drop kicking the hell..." out of someone at a marathon is very serious and reflects poorly on your ability to maintain a proper balance in your Christian witness and professional endeavors.
Jim responded to Alan and Randy's comments (and the comments of others--including yours truly) without remorse or contrition. At one point, he made a swipe at Randy, saying Randy is "alleged to be among the Christian elite. Sez Alan:
Your questions and points are interesting, and I will address them here, but they have an air of blame shifting about them. You seem to be focusing on the actions, reactions and perceptions of others rather than taking a deeper look at the attitude that caused you to act and then react. The stimuli is unimportant in light of the response. You, as a counselor, should know that no one can make you feel or do anything. Out of the mouth the heart speaks. Or, in this case, with the hand the heart acts.
...
I would have understood had you written about all of this and acknowledged that you overreacted. But you didn't. You held on to your hostility and brought it here in a very cavalier manner. You called the man that shoved you a 'fool' and a 'coward'. Why was that necessary? You show you’re an angry man that won't let a situation go when it is over. What was your goal in posting this story?
After another post by Randy in which he denies ever alleging to be "among the Christian elite," Alan had this to say:
In two of your replies (one to Joe and one to Randy) you have put on your "therapist" hat and been dismissive of their comments. In my opinion you have been maliscious and abusive, as well.

First, telling Joe that he might need to see a therapist because he disagrees with you and challenges you is unbelievable. Then, pulling out a Reparative Therapy syndrome (the good little boy syndrome) and pinning it on Randy is ridiculous.

You show that you have no ability to argue without using your credentials to paint everyone else as incapable of challenging you because of their unresolved issues. That is abuse.
Sez Jim:
Nothing like Exodus for a good butt chewing!
Now I'll be the first to say that I have many disagreements with and criticisms of Exodus. However, I am quite impressed with Alan and Randy rebuking this guy. For me, this exchange in the comments of one short-fused reparative therapist's blog has been very helpful in revealing to me parts of the Alan's and Randy's hearts. I like what I see, and it reminds me of the genuine good intentions of Exodus leadership I recall from my five years in the ministry. Though I think their minds and convictions are in the wrong place, I think their hearts are in the right place.

Yesterday, after his first comment on Jim's blog, I wrote Alan Chambers an email and thanked him and received a warm reply.

I'd be interested to know how the interaction between Jim and Alan goes this weekend; they both are presenters at the NARTH conference!

Hat tip: Ex-Gay Watch (check out their comments on this topic)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chuck Norris' Presidential Pick


Chuck Norris has written a piece over at World Net Daily endorsing Mike Huckabee for president. No foolin'. He likens former governor Huckabee to the biblical King David.

Hat tip: Right Wing Watch

WWJE?


Who Would Jesus Elect? This question was put to 5,775 conservative religious voters during a straw poll at this past weekend's Washington Briefing, a gathering of leaders of the religious right and Republican presidential candidates at the Hilton in Washington, D.C.

The results? Former governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, a Mormon and a Baptist, respectively, topped the charts in a statistical tie. Interestingly, the next highest vote-getter was Libertarian candidate Ron Paul, who is a favorite among my friends here in Illinois. Kansas senator Sam Brownback came in 6th place in spite of the fact that he dropped out of the race on Friday, the first day of the conference.

1. (27.62%) Mitt Romney
2. (27.15%) Mike Huckabee
3. (14.98%) Ron Paul
4. (9.77%) Fred Thompson

Near the bottom appeared national GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani and struggling former front-runner (and my favorite among the GOP candidates) John McCain.

9. (1.85%) Rudy Giuliani
10. (1.40%) John McCain

I'm interested to watch the favor being shown by religious conservatives to Mitt Romney and underdog Mike Huckabee. Romney is subject to tremendous controversy among religious voters on account of his Mormon faith (growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I was taught that the Mormon Church was a cult). Huckabee has struggled to gain national significance, although he has recently surged forward in early polls in the early-caucus state of Iowa.

James Dobson took the stage during a gala on Saturday is his honor and expressed his continued frustration with the Republican party. I recommend reading Right Wing Watch's coverage of his speech. He reaffirmed his pledge to vote for a third-party candidate if Rudy Giuliani is selected as the GOP presidential nominee. And he discussed a 2008 scenario that has him quite worried: the possibility that Democrats would "capture the triple crown"--winning the White House and strengthening their present majorities in the House and Senate.
Of that “catastrophic” possibility, Dobson shouted “We can’t let that happen!”
Dobson went on to worry aloud about the state legislature of New Jersey, which he fears is on the brink of legalizing same-sex marriage. In his mind, such an act would precipitate legislature approval of same-sex marriage in states along the Eastern and Western seaboards.
“Are we now going to throw [marriage] on the ash-heap of history?" he thundered. "I say NO! Do you agree?” Attendees leapt to their feet cheering.
Among the conservative interest groups distributing information and merchandise at the event were some fringe causes that made for some fun photos for a photographer for Right Wing Watch. Check out these images of a funny ad from Exodus (ex-gay ministry), a stack of "Change or Die" t-shirts protesting radical Islam and multiculturalism, and a booth so bizarre I want to laugh and say "huh?" at the same time.

Hat tips: NPR, Ex-Gay Watch, Right Wing Watch, Christian Post

NARTH Comes to Dallas


NARTH, the controversial National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality will hold its annual meeting in my "home town" Dallas this coming weekend (October 26-28). Keynote Speaker for the conference is none other than Stanton Jones, co-author of a recently released, controversial study of participants in ex-gay ministries. Also on the agenda is Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.

I won't enumerate my disagreements with and criticisms of NARTH here. Those familiar with the organization are also familiar with its controversy. However, I will point out that last year, a pro-gay group picked an entertaining theme for their protest of the NARTH gathering: ducks. Claiming the organization is a haven for psychological quacks, members of Truth Wins Out brought various toy ducks, inflatable ducks, duck costumes, and signs that simply said "QUACK" and enjoyed themselves immensely outside the meeting.

Participants in this year's protest have been asked to come dressed in scary/freaky Halloween costumes to parody the theories and therapeutic techniques employed by NARTH.

hat tip: Box Turtle Bulletin

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ted Haggard's Successor Chosen


The National Association of Evangelicals has formally announced the selection of its new president. Rev. Leith Anderson, pastor of 5,000-member Wooddale Church in Minnesota, was unanimously chosen by the NAE board. Anderson will fill the vacancy left by Ted Haggard, who resigned last fall in the midst of a scandal involving sex and drugs.

Hat tip: 365Gay and the Christian Post

Evangelicals on Immigration


So here's something I've never quite understood, even back in my days as an evangelical: why are Christian conservatives such strong opponents of immigration--particularly of Mexican immigration? It seems we have a pretty good thing going for us here in the United States; wouldn't allowing others to partake in our relative success be the compassionate, altruistic, Godly thing to do? Yet Christian conservatives often seem to be selfish about the American lifestyle and seem to feel that we who are born in the U.S. have an exclusive "right" to this lifestyle.

Today I read on a conservative evangelical news site an article that portrays Illinois' sanctuary movement in a decidedly negative light. Ironically, this comes on a day when my own church here in Illinois is hosting a sanctuary education event.

The Onion pokes some well-deserved fun at the anti-immigration sentiments of some conservatives. See their proposal for building a moat along the border.
"It's a well-known fact that Mexicans are not buoyant. They sink like rocks."

"That's right."

"They're only able to cross where it's very shallow water."

"I think we're thinking inside the box if we're thinking a moat is just water. It could be raw sewage, it could be oil, it could be lava..."

"We should also put money back into diseased cows that we can throw back into Mexico."
Hee Hee :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

American Opinions of Christianity


The report came out last month from the Christian research organization The Barna Group, which partners with prominent Christian organizations like Church Communication Network, EMI Christian Music Group, and Tyndale House Publishers. The Barna Group has recently released a book titled unChristian which documents the declining reputation of Christianity among young Americans (16- to 29-year-olds).

In particular, I'd like to draw your attention to the following paragraph which appears in an online summary of the book unChristian:
Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
Granted, I don't have a copy of the full report, so I know nothing about the Barna group's sampling methodology or statistical analysis. But this finding was thought-provoking nonetheless.

You can read more about the Barna report at the Box Turtle Bulletin or the Christian Post.

Hat tip: my boyfriend

Washington Briefing


It starts Friday: the 2007 "Washington Briefing," a gathering of conservative political and religious leaders in Washington, D.C. The event kicks off Friday, October 19th and runs until Sunday the 21st. The list of speakers reads as a who's who among the religious right, including
  • Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family
  • Tony Perkins, Family Research Council
  • Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum
  • Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
  • Gary Bauer, Campaign for Working Families
  • Chuck Colson, chief counsel to Richard Nixon, chairman of Wilberforce Forum
  • Dr. Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
  • Paul Weyrich, Free Congress Foundation.
Of course all the Republican presidential hopefuls will be present as well, speaking and signing books in run up to the weekend's straw poll of the conservative voters present. This meeting has the potential to affect the Republican presidential primary in a powerful way. I'm interested to see what comes of the weekend.

Hat Tip: American Family Association

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chicago study of 1,000 gay brothers

Researchers in Chicago have recruited 1,000 pairs of gay brothers in the most ambitious study to date of genetics and sexual orientation. Praise and criticism are already pouring in for the researchers who have just begun analyzing blood and saliva samples taken from the 2,000 men. The goal is to determine how great a part, if any, genes play in determining sexual orientation.

Remark 1: another study of gay men. what about the ladies?

Remark 2: one of the study's critics is Stanton Jones, a professor at Wheaton College and co-author of a recent book on sexual reorientation therapy.

Hat Tip: Pomo Prophet

Diagramming the Apocalypse


Evangelist Jack Van Impe has developed some intense graphics illustrating his understanding of how the prophecies in the last book of the Bible will be fulfilled.

Check out his diagram of major events to come, including the rapture of Christians, the tribulations on earth, and the return of Jesus (the inset image to the left is a small version).

Also check out his incredibly detailed map of the upcoming invasion of Israel by Russia and the European Union, which will precipitate the end of the world and the return of Jesus.

Interesting.

Hat Tip: strange maps

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dallas Morning News


So the big newspaper back home, The Dallas Morning News, ran a 15-page "advertising supplement" on gay issues. Created by the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay political organization, the insert contains articles on the Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episocopal bishop, the nature vs. nuture debate, reconciling spirituality and sexuality, and pro-gay advertisements from large corporations like Raytheon, Citigroup, and Dallas-headquartered American Airlines.

I was interested to see that the article on ex-gay ministries made reference to the recently released Jones and Yarhouse study (strangely released in book form from an Evangelical Christian publishing house instead of in peer-reviewed academic literature). That study's results, which have been spun so "positively" by Exodus, were spun the other way in this article. Amazing how a few words can change the tone of statistics, eh?

Hat tip: Bible Belt Blogger

By the way, check out Jim Burroway's thoughtful critique of the Jones and Yarhouse study over at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dobson sounding desperate


Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative religious organization Focus on the Family sounded desperate in his October 10th radio broadcast.
“It’s not just marriage that is at stake, it’s absolutely everything” Dr. James Dobson (emphasis his).
Dr. Dobson and several leaders of conservative organizations sounded deeply troubled that their efforts to pass a Federal amendment banning gay marriage have been in vain. They concluded that Christians have become disillusioned in their fight against an insidious movement of gay people bent on destroying the nuclear family and eventually all of Western civilization. They urged renewed efforts.

Listening to this broadcast elicited two responses from me:
  1. Wow. Dr. Dobson and his compatriots profoundly misunderstand what motivates people like me who support gay marriage. From their perspective, we are trying to "destroy" a wonderful institution granted to religious heterosexuals have. From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. I desire to be married to the man I love; why, then, would I want the institution destroyed or in any way diminished?
  2. Relief. I consider Dr. Dobson and his organization to be the biggest source of misinformation about gay people in the United States today. For decades his organization has been among the powerhouses of the Religious Right that has championed laws, politicians, and twisted science that have marginalized gay folks. It is so encouraging for me to hear them on the defensive, acknowledging that their perspective is shared by fewer and fewer American. The fight for equality is not over, but the tide of the battle has finally turned. By their estimation, the "battle" will be determined within the next two years.
I am deeply indebted to the many Americans who have struggled to see this day happen.

Hat tip: ex-gay watch

Cooperation between Evangelicals and Progressives?

The Christian Post is reporting that some religious conservatives and political progressives are vowing to cooperate on issues like abortion, gay rights, and the environment. Leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals spoke alongside leadership of the progressive think tank Third Way at an event titled "Come let us reason together."

Cool.

Hat Tip: National Public Radio and One News Now

Currently Reading


I'm presently reading The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ by Kersey Graves. Originially published in 1875, this book explores the parallels between the claims made of Jesus and the claims made of sixteen dieties whose religions predated Christianity. The cast of characters includes Krhisna of India, Thamnuz of Syria, Esus of the Celtic druids, Mithra of Persia, Quetzalcoatl of Mexico, and others. Mr. Graves brings to light a surprising number of similarities between the Christ story and the stories of these pagan gods, each examined in a separate chapter. Here's a selection of chapters from the book:
  • Messianic prophecies
  • Prophecies by the figure of a serpent
  • Miraculous and immaculate conceptions of the gods
  • Virgin mothers and virgin-born gods
  • Stars point out the time and saviors' birth places
  • Angels, shepherds, and magi visit the infant saviors
  • December 25: the birthday of the gods
  • Common titles claimed of and claimed by the gods
  • The saviors of royal descent but humble birth
  • The saviors saved from destruction in infancy
  • The saviors' kingdoms not of the world
  • The saviors are real persons
  • The saviors die for their followers
  • Darkness at the crucifixion of the saviors
  • Descent of the saviors into hell
  • Resurrection of the saviors
I've just finished the front matter and I'm about to begin the meat of the text. It should be interesting; I'll keep you posted.