Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Fear We Trust

Oy. So I'm doing a Wednesday special, because a post on Facebook caught my eye. This is not a regular thing, but I have plans for Monday's post, and this is too messy to pass up.

Apparently, a few months back (April 5-8, to be precise) there was a great huge hullabaloo about an Army Reserves Equal Opportunity briefing that contained a slide equating Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism with terrorist organizations.

Presented for your consideration, the leading salvo of said hullabaloo: Pentagon Classifies Evangelical Christians, Catholics as "Extremists."

Here's the kicker, and your first caveat: I can't find any independent sourcing on this. None. Which is not to say it doesn't exist, simply that I can't find it. And by independent sourcing, I mean any story that provides actual background, actual traceable information. But as near as I can tell, Todd Starnes is the point man on this. Many of the articles I've found cite Starnes as a primary source, and all of Starnes "source material" is self-referential. To clarify, aside from the attributed quotes, Starnes relies on his own articles as source material. Solely.

So yeah, there's my first problem. The second is that Starnes clearly states that the Army views this as an isolated incident and does not stand with or endorse the views espoused by this individual. Who, by the by, is left completely nameless. Yep. The one person in this thing who is clearly guilty of wrongdoing is never identified. Which is also a problem for me, I have to say.

Fourth problem, this paragraph:
The Chaplain Alliance uncovered in more than 1,500 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request after a U.S. Army training instructor told a Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania that Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni Muslims, and the Ku Klux Klan were examples of extremism.
 Wait...what? It leads off like it's going to say they uncovered something, but then goes on to describe a separate story about how the founding fathers are listed as examples of extremist behavior.From there, we jump to a bit about how the slide was uncovered, then jump back to a bit about how these documents show that the Southern Poverty Law Center was cited as a reliable source/sole source for a training briefing in South Carolina.

Then we jump back to a story about a slide that appeared in a Pennsylvania.

Hold on, this gets better: Starnes indicates that this information came just days after Judicial Watch found out about the whole Founding Fathers bit. Judicial Watch posted their piece last week. You know, three months after the incident in question? 

And just for one more whack on that nail, I'd like to make you aware that Starnes is a fierce proponent of the theory that President Obama only supports LGBT civil liberty because he's gay.

Step back, take a moment, breath that in. The man leading the charge on this is the same guy that, rather than choose any one of the many viable options (political power, obfuscation, cultural reform, etc.) for a president to take up a cause that is felt to be morally ambiguous (or, you know, evil, if you swing that way,) chooses to just go with "the president must be secretly gay."

No, seriously. Check out these Tweets.

So, we've got this guy who can't source to save his ass, trying to wring some fear out of a four month old story. By, and I want to stress this, using a current story that at least has some paperwork and research behind it as a springboard for a sourceless story that misleads and confuses.

How does it mislead, you ask?

Well, I'd like to point out again that it claims the Pentagon is in on this. And then turns around and says this:
Last April, spokesman George Wright told Fox News the training briefing in Pennsylvania was an “isolated incident not condoned by the Department of the Army.”
“This slide was not produced by the Army and certainly does not reflect our policy or doctrine,” he said. “It was produced by an individual without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission.”
The Army said the slide was removed, the presenter apologized and they considered the matter closed.
So, the Army denied having anything to do with it, flatly stated that they neither condone nor support the beliefs espoused, and that they fixed it.

So why the hullabaloo? I mean, the Army, sure, but it's made of people. And people can be part of a good organization and still be idiots. Well, the hullabaloo comes from Starnes only source, Ron Crews.

Just for a little variety, here's Crews talking to the Army Times:
“Our concern is that everyone who attended that briefing should be given the corrected information,” Crews said. And he is concerned that the unit didn’t use chaplains as their source of experts on religious extremism. “We’re concerned there’s an environment in the [Equal Employment Opportunity] world that allows this to be presented to soldiers,” Crews said.
The problem could be more widespread, Crews said, because his organization has received information about briefings at other Army units and at least one Navy installation that labeled groups as “religious extremists” who were part of the Evangelical Christian community.
I'd like to take a moment to point out that Crews is worried that we didn't go to a religion to have religious extremism defined for us. Because, of course, a system that holds as a default belief that it is the one true way would be the perfect source for a clear and unbiased opinion. Beyond which, if you've read Starnes' story, you're aware that Crews has also gone on the record as stating that the Army has overstepped its apolitical stance. In this article, however, he would prefer that the Army ignore that same stance to get facts about religious extremism from religious people rather than a secular organization devoted to civil liberties and an end to hate speech.


Well, you remember how the SPLC was mentioned waaaay back up there at the beginning of this post? Well, Crews doesn't like them. Those groups labeled as religious extremists who are "part of the Evangelical Christian Community"?

Those would be groups the SPLC lists as anti-gay hate organizations. Organizations like the Family Research Council. Seriously, read some of the quotes on that page. You can Google that shit. There's a difference between saying, "I have a religious objection to homosexuality" and saying, "Child molestation is a homosexual problem." One is a valid personal point of view, and yes it is valid. You're allowed to not like things in this country.

The other is scare tactics and hate speech. Flat out. So, and let's pause and clear this up, holding a belief or article of faith that conflicts with my beliefs or self-expression is fine. But insinuating that I must be a pedophile as a way of invalidating my existence is hate speech, not religious expression.

Oooh, how about the American Family Association? You know what, here's a quote:
"Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews."– Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, 2010
And while that quote does appear on the SPLC page, I've actually taken that second step of sourcing it for you. I won't say you're welcome, because that link takes you to a blog post wherein Fischer passionately defends that comment. Yeah, that's good Christian thinking, right? Ban the homos, because otherwise we'll turn into a new Nazi state. That's not hate speech at allll...nosiree, them's the fine folks you want to be associated with.

Would it surprise anyone that the third anti-gay group profiled on the SPLC site is the Westboro Baptist Church? And would anyone seriously argue that they're a hate group? No?

Then why would you argue that a group which spews identical rhetoric isn't a hate group? Because the AFA and FRC don't protest funerals? So, for instance, if one kid punches other kids while calling them names, and another kid sticks to name-calling, we're ok with kid number two?

What's my bottom line, here?

For starters, I'd like to be clear that I am in no way saying this didn't happen. I absolutely believe that some idiot would try to sneak their personal bias into an EO briefing. Hell, I'll offer $5 to anyone who can prove to me that this particular incident did not happen. That's how low my faith in humanity is.

But that doesn't mean the government is out to take your religion away from you. It means that some people are absolute morons who think that a bit of authority gives them the right to cram their personal beliefs, void of any rational or logical thinking, down our throats.

Second, the Army isn't persecuting Christians of any stripe. Beyond, that is, forcing them to live in close quarters with us dirty homos. You know, like people are forced to live alongside us every day, but closer. Forcing them to eat and shower with us. You know, like when you go to a restaurant and there's gay people there. Or when you go to a gym...and there's gay people there.

So, since the only force here is that you can't discriminate or commit crimes against someone for being gay, I'm going to have to say that's not much like persecution.

Third summation, if the concern that the Army is persecuting Christians is rooted in the fact that they may or may not accept the SPLC labeling of prominent Christian organizations as "hate groups," kindly remember that they use much the same rhetoric and logic as the WBC, or racial supremacy groups. And if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, Imma go with it being a duck.

Finally, can we please all focus on something important now? I mean, yeah, I'm all for getting my full civil liberties as a gay man. I'd really like for hate crimes of all flavors, discrimination against anyone, and bigotry of all kinds to stop. Be it against gays, women, Christians (in certain circumstances, it still happens,) Muslims, racial minorities, you name it.

But frankly, I'm confused as to why we're still bitching about this. Let's get it done, and move on to cancer, hunger, know, problems of circumstance that require attention, funds, and work to opposed to social issues that we haven't fixed yet because we're all too busy arguing about whether or not they're actually a problem and who has the moral high ground.

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