Category Archives: justice

Thanks, Twitter (2013 ed.)—Part 3

This is the third and last Twitter-compilation post for 2013 (Part 1: Seeing the Real | Part 2: Evolving Deliberately).
Changing the World includes tweets on social development, justice, activism, politics, and progress.

3. Changing the World

Long Reads and Research

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Representation and Invisibility

Photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson with quote: "The act of arguing and not agreeing seems to be fundamental to the law profession, and Congress is more than half that profession. What profession all these senators in Congress are? Law, law, law, business, law, law... Where are the scientists? Where are the engineers? Where is the rest of life represented here?"

(ht: @SaganSense on Tumblr)

Tyson asked this question on Real Talk with Bill Maher back in 2011; but he was not the first to ask and I suspect no answers will be forthcoming.

Discussing diversity and the relationships between social location, experience, and decision-making perspective seems to be one of the quickest ways to make lots of people uncomfortable. Just last week I read a report on a theological seminar held at a local Adventist university. The writer informed us that there were “about 170 attendees” and that “several [Adventist] General Conference leaders, including representatives from the vice presidential circle, the Biblical Research Institute and the Adventist Review, were present.” I wasn’t sure what meaning to assign this information, so I went back and reviewed the content of the article, the photographs of the room, and the attendee information provided. And then I asked:

Can anyone who was present share how many of the central discussants and conversants were female, non-White, non-American, or under the age of 35? Since the event was hosted by WAU, was it also patronized by WAU students? If so, how engaged were they with the presentations and responses? Did you sense that they felt any ownership of or responsibility for the story Brueggemann and other named speakers wove? (x)

So far my only feedback has been a thumbs down. Perhaps I’m not supposed to ask these questions about a public event held at a university. Perhaps it’s not supposed to matter if speakers and active participants in a theological conversation are all male, and all, apparently, over 40 years old. Perhaps we are still that naive.

Tyson’s question about the composition and disciplinary skew of Congress also applies outside politics. The collective that frames, writes, and presents theology and philosophy shapes the stories religious communities tell about their scriptures, beliefs, purpose, history, and relationship with the world beyond the gate. Its composition isn’t neutral.

Millennials and other young adults are disproportionately exiting or losing confidence in environments that don’t seem to understand that social location and experience shape and limit perspective, that visibility matters, and that invisibility marginalizes. Neither the political realm nor the religious communities can afford to dodge this, not during the election cycle, not in decision-making committees, not in public ministry, and not on college campuses.

Who speaks for the people who aren’t invited to speak? How will the invited audiences hear them? And how will their absence skew the stories told?


In Case You Missed It: Check out and contribute to Tara L. Conley’s Millennial Manifesta. While focused on economic and labor injustices, Conley is also concerned that Millennials have no peers among current members of Congress and no bloc means of insisting on accountability based on their actual interests or needs.

Today, she shared a quote from Carole Pateman’s classic book on participatory democracy (1970). Whereas some ’70s theorists claimed that citizen apathy kept a system stable, and 1980s theorists thought participatory models quaint and “outmoded,” Pateman argued for engaged citizenship. She has evolved beyond the raw populism that was au courant in the 1970s, but continues to advocate for a space beyond deliberation for ordinary citizens in the routine political spaces that affect us all.

The [empirical] findings show that ordinary citizens, given some information and time for discussion in groups of diverse opinions, are quite capable of understanding complex, and sometimes technical, issues and reaching pertinent conclusions about significant public matters. Moreover, they have to justify their reasoning in their reports. These empirical findings provide a valuable counterweight to the poor opinion of ordinary citizens found in much political science, and to the frequently heard view that many, perhaps even most, matters of public policy are best left to, or must be left to, experts.

In case you missed it: the PBS tribute to James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. (Length: 1:25:12)

What is it you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here, almost 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years. You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress? —James Baldwin

I grew up in a home with at least two of Baldwin’s books, each thin republications. On one I remember a line drawing of his face in peach and purple pencil; on the other, a black-and-white photo.

Time Magazine cover -- a life-like painting of James Baldwin looking directly at the reader

James Baldwin | TIME magazine, 1963

I saw them on the shelves, picked them off and looked at them, but never read them. I had no context for him. No one told me stories about him. Oh, they told me that he wrote; they told me what he did. But they never told me about who he was. They didn’t tell me about his life, about his consciousness, about his wholeness, about his many faces, about those faces that looked like mine.

Twenty years pass. I discover the internet and YouTube. The internet includes his articles, and YouTube hosts his interviews. I read and hear and see this young black man with fire in his eyes and piercing clarity in his mind. I see this wrinkled graying sage who never fathered children but fathered many of us nevertheless. I watch him projected from the memories of his friends… Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed.

He debates with the United States establishment and presents his thoughts to my parents’ generation of West Indian immigrants to the UK. I eavesdrop on my ancestor, grateful, reverent, wondering what he’d have seen in me, my millennium, this America.

From the Fire Next Time era:

It comes as a great shock around the age of 5 or 6 or 7, to realize that the flag to which you have pledged along with everybody else has not pledged allegiance to you. —James Baldwin

and

I’ve loved a few men, I’ve loved a few women. And a few people have loved me, and that’s, I suppose, all that’s saved my life. —James Baldwin

We are against violence in all forms, and we envision a world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation. —Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams

Alternatives to religious force exist: Christian Peacemaker Teams is one of them and could stand a whole lot more attention and engagement. Read more about this group and their nonviolence work worldwide: Embodying Peace, Transforming Violence: An Interview with Sarah Thompson.

(via Ryan J. Bell)

Storify: Who Is My Neighbor?

Misanthropes and philanthropists enjoy the same sunlight and we’re naturally interdependent with other living and non-living aspects of our ecosystem. Our ecosystem includes human systems too—families, governments, ethnic-cultural groups, religions, and economic models. Even when we have individual preferences about these things, the dominant models in our environment still affect us. Someone who never builds their own family is still affected by communities of families. Someone who drops out of the church loop is still touched by society’s religions. Someone who is “stateless” is still influenced by a matrix of nation-states.

I could refuse to vote when eligible. I could disavow my religion of origin. I could claim emancipation from relatives. But presence means participation; existence means participation. The only question is what kind of participation it will be.

Photo of the Pacific shore in the early evening.

View Who is my Neighbor? | You are my Neighbor on Storify.


FYI: Florida is one of several US states that, following a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, allows for 6-person juries rather than the conventional 12-person panel when the case won’t involve capital sentencing.

And W.E.B.B.I.E’s post flew across Web 2.0 when pop singer Rihanna and others reposted it without attribution.

Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is you.

Orson Scott Card and Art Boycotts

Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is in the news again hoping the Ender’s Game movie won’t be boycotted. But his call for “tolerance” doesn’t read like a desire for mutual civility. It’s not even a discussion of his views or their merit. He’s all about the money, snarking about others’ right not to pay into his product, and driving the canard that people working against demographic discrimination are oppressive haters who shouldn’t be trusted when the power tables ever turn. The logic: “I can lobby against your marriage and civic standing & that’s not intolerant. But you organizing against my profits—that’s intolerant.”

No. No, no, no.

Card is a private citizen and entitled to his personal and religious beliefs. He’s not providing a public service so he’s under no mandate to offer his work to everyone. He may be hired by whoever wishes to hire him; and no one is obliged to patronize him. This is the essence of market trading: producers aren’t entitled to consumers. Producers earn consumers via product resonance, price, quality, and great experiences, and so smart producers will cultivate their brand to increase resonance and improve their product, its image, and client relationships. This being so, I wonder what the strategy sessions at Summit Entertainment  look like this week!

The Artist’s Outsized Influence

There’s another issue beyond market strategy. As well as being a private producer, Card is also an artist. One doesn’t have to agree with an artist’s politics or endorse their psychology to engage works derived from the artist’s art. Students of literature and music often learn to trace artists’ psychology, politics, and life experiences in their work, and some of us use that assessment to determine what we do and don’t want to consume.

Centuries ago, Shelley wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I’ve always agreed with this, not just in relation to poets but also re. other artists and cultural creators. Card has an outsized public influence among a range of readers because of his art and the worlds he creates in that art. He’s also developed influence among religious-political lobbyists because of his willingness to speak beyond his art. How does he not grasp that because of his outsized influence he’ll receive outsized praise and scrutiny when members of the public—his audience—affirm or challenge his contributions?

Boycotting as Freedom: The Right to Opt Out

Unlike those harmed by his political lobbying and the climate he contributes to through his writing and speech, Card is not at risk for harm. There’ll be no referendum on his opinions as there’ve been referendums on other citizens’ rights, relationships, and families. Though he, NOM, and his church have promoted diminished civil rights for LGBT people, they are at no risk of diminished rights themselves.

The freedom of expression that Card enjoys as a citizen and an artist has never included freedom from criticism, and anyone may boycott his work if they wish as an expression of their rights. Economic boycotts are native aspects of American politics. They’re not “monstrous” or inherently “intolerant”; they’re an instance of liberty. They are sometimes based on un-reflective groupthink; they often channel consumer ire at local franchises rather than at corporate owners and policy-makers, and so they can be ineffective change-agents—but these are deployment issues, not essential characteristics.

A boycott is a symbol of the right to opt out, the liberty not to buy, the freedom to consume consciously and at will. It’s a tool, not an end, and sometimes it’s warranted.

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender's Game | (c) Summit Entertainment  (Lionsgate)

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game | (c) Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate)

I’d like to see Summit Entertainment’s Ender’s Game eventually though I’ve never read Card’s series: I’m a fan of Asa Butterfield and expect him to shine in this role. I also have some empathy for the cast and crew involved in this production: it looks solid and they’re not responsible for the source writer’s work or personality. Orson Scott Card is responsible for that. I don’t yet have any info on how much he will earn from the Summit film; early rumors are that the studio isn’t including him in pre-screening publicity—yet clearly the marginalization approach isn’t helping them and they may need to be more direct about their relationship.

There are lots of other films to see this year; I may save my pennies and watch the film a few months late with a free Redbox code. In the meantime, all the best to people convicted otherwise: buy or boycott as you will.

Round-up: Responses to Exodus Closure

“And away he goes, precious. Gone! Gone! Gone! Smeagol is free!”

Several organizations have responded to last week’s announcement that Florida-based ex-gay/sexual orientation change ministry Exodus International will close.

  • The National Religious Leadership Roundtable includes representatives of Christian affinity and interest groups including the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, the Unity Fellowship Church, the Metropolitan Community Churches, and DignityUSA.
  • Cindi Love is the executive director of Soulforce, a non-profit that sponsors nonviolent student Equality Rides to Christian colleges across the country.
  • Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International is a support and advocacy organization that has served current and former Seventh-day Adventists for nearly 40 years. It formed in California in 1976, the same year that Exodus International incorporated in Orlando.

Individuals have shared some powerful responses in the last week as well:

  • Sean Sala is a US veteran who participated in Lisa Ling’s special God and Gays last Thursday.  
  • Shay Kearns is an Old Catholic Church priest who grew up in churches that promoted Exodus International’s change dogma as the solution for non-heterosexuality and “deviant” gender expression.
  • Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer whose blog community responded to the Exodus announcement by sharing their experiences with Exodus and other ex-gay organizations.
  • Brent Walsh is a minister in Indiana who educates congregations on gender and trans awareness. He describes the deep impacts of Exodus’ residential program Love In Action on his life.
  • Jane Brazell is a member of an online group of ex-gay survivors and is based in Washington state.

On May 28 this year, Exodus International quietly withdrew from the Exodus Global Alliance, a confederation from ex-gay groups (the Florida nonprofit only reported this on June 12). Exodus Global has branches in Asia, the Pacific, Central and South America, and Africa, all regions where anti-LGBT sentiment has particularly violent legal and social consequences for LGBT people and their families. On June 21, the Exodus Global Alliance dissociated itself from Alan Chambers’ apology issued on Exodus International’s behalf, and pledged to continue and promote reparative “ministry” and orientation suppression.

Exodus International may now be defunct, but its legacy continues.