Readers may remember the infamous "penis pump" judge from Creek County, OK, Donald Thompson, who was disbarred and found guilty on numerous counts of indecent exposure.
Well, it looks like Judge Thompson might be getting a new cell mate: Custer Co. Sheriff Mike Burgess, who has resigned amid allegations of forcing female prisoners to commit lewd acts.
According to Scripps News, some of the allegations against Burgess include:
- When he picked up women on a drug court violation, Burgess offered
to cause the court to impose far less severe punishment if she would
perform a sex act on him.
- In May 2006, Burgess' employees staged wet T-shirt contests
among female inmates and offered cigarettes to those who would flash
- One female inmate this year was required by a jail employee to bare her breasts to receive food and aspirin.
- One woman resisted a jailer's sexual advances in May 2006. The
retaliation included being placed in lockdown and having medication
withheld. She also was served food that caused rectal bleeding, causing
her and others to subsist only on bread and water.
- One woman became a jail trustee with much more freedom after
she agreed to perform sodomy on Burgess. When she finally refused, she
lost her trustee status.
While this story has been mentioned by a number of news blogs and conservative bloggers, it is getting scant (actually practically non-existent) mention on Democrat-oriented blogs. The reason? Well, like virtually everyone else in Eastern Oklahoma, Mike Burgess is a registered Democrat.
Burgess' political party affiliation is irrelevant to the case, of course, but it is interesting that if you run "Sheriff Mike Burgess" through Yahoo! News and then read the stories from major news outlets (NY Times, SF Chronicle, USA Today, etc.), you will note that none of them mention his party affiliation. Would that have happened if Burgess was a Republican?
The title of this post comes from an edited audio recording of a private speech given by Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern (R) to a group of fellow Republicans, probably some time in February or March 2008. Rep. Kern had the misfortune of being recorded and edited, and the resulting audio of her speech went viral on the web a little over a month ago.
What was she talking about that stirred the pot so much? Nothing new, really. Just the same tired old boilerplate about "gays taking over America" that has been repeated for the last thirty years by the Moral Majority and its acolytes.
Studies show, no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted for more than, you know, a few decades ...
I honestly think it’s the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam ...
You know, Gays are infiltrating city councils ... Did you know that
the city council of Eureka Springs is now controlled by gays? ... They are winning elections.
We have the gay-straight alliance coming into our schools ...
One of my colleagues said We don’t have a gay problem in our
community… well you know what, that is so dumb. If you have cancer in
your little toe, do you just say that I’m going to forget about it
since the rest of you is fine? It spreads! This stuff is deadly and it
is spreading. It will destroy our young people and it will destroy this
Like me, Sally Kern is a nobody. No one had ever heard of her outside of Oklahoma (where she raised a small ruckus a couple of years ago). And really, there isn't anything in this speech that is profound, original, or really worthy of comment.
Or is there?
I find it interesting that Rep Kern's remarks sound remarkably similar in tone and urgency to these:
"The government gives [African-Amercians] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a
three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no,
no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens
as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she
is God and she is supreme."
"... We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black
South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done
overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's
chickens are coming home to roost."
"I am now the chairman of a national campaign to pass a constitutional
amendment to take the right to vote away from born-again Christians.
[enthusiastic audience applause] Just a little project of mine. My
feeling is that born-again people are citizens of heaven, that is where
there citizenship is, [laughter] is in heaven, it's not here among us
in America. If you feel that war in the Middle East is simply prophecy
fulfilled, if you believe that tribulation and suffering are just the
natural conditions of life, if you believe that higher education is
vanity, unnecessary, there is only one book that one needs to read ... then you don't really share our same
interests, do you? No, you do not."
Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States,
especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand
fight on the frontier called a "knock-down-drag-out," where any kind of
gouging, biting, or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of
today's red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on
or Michael Weisskopf's infamous 1993 Washington Post article about devotees to Religious Right icons like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, that described Evangelical Christians as "poor, undereducated, and easy to command."
But Mike, pants the hyperventilating leftist, those things are all true! What Sally Kern said is all lies! It's hate speech!
Several years ago, Richard Dawkins and a number of other secular humanists decided to rechristen themselves as "brights," formally defined as anyone who holds a naturalist, as opposed to a supernaturalist (that is, centered around a belief in God) worldview. As Chris Mooney explains, the choice of such a smug moniker was perhaps cunning, but ultimately insulting:
In his original New York Times op-ed announcing the
"brights" label, [Daniel] Dennett wrote, "Don't confuse the noun with the
adjective: 'I'm a bright' is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive
world view." That's certainly nice in principle. But who did Dennett think
he was kidding? How could anyone hear the label "bright" and think
anything but that atheists were claiming to be smarter than everyone
else? As ABC News.com commentator John Allen Paulos remarked
of the "brights" campaign, "I don't think a degree in public
relations is needed to expect that many people will construe the term as smug,
ridiculous, and arrogant."
And so, it seems, the lines have been drawn. On one side there are the "brights," those who are possessed of a keenly refined intellect that has been trained to excel in the formulation of public policy centered around matters of justice, fairness, happiness, and the common good, without being bogged down by such trivialities as religion and ethics. On the other side there are the Keepers of the Right, those who have charged themselves with defending their traditional way of life and restoring a Biblically-centered value system (or at least, one that they believe to be Biblically-centered) to the American culture at large.
To each side, the other is the ultimate, perfect incarnation of evil -- Godless liberals who will turn your children in to drug and porn-addicted homosexuals, or jackbooted fascists who will lock everyone away in fundamentalist re-education camps.
The keepers of popular culture (and those who document it for the boredom of future generations) would unhesitatingly suggest that the secularists, or "brights" if you prefer, are the transformers who have emerged victorious; those who, in the span of only five years in the latter part of the 1960's, managed to utterly eclipse generations-old conventions regarding recreational drug use, promiscuous sex, patriotism, respect for elders, marriage, homosexuality, abortion, vandalism, profanity, obscenity, and responsibility. And in their wake they left an older generation of Americans confused, angered, and frightened by such a sudden cultural paradigm shift. They also left behind most religious Americans and "small town folk," those who had, up to that point, experienced little cultural change in their lives.
These sometimes disparate groups of people were left wondering why -- suddenly! -- no one cared anymore about what they thought, why suddenly no one was interested in standing up and saying that certain behaviors were wrong, why suddenly no one felt any inclination to stem the tide of anti-American and anti-religious sentiments that filled pop music, movies, television, and print media. This turned out to be a significant commonality.
Thus "religious conservatives," "The Moral Majority," "The Reagan Revolution," etc. came into being. It was a reactionary movement born out of the perceived idea that the wagons had better be circled and the camp had better be defended, or else what little traditional belief that remained would soon be erased. In Ronald Reagan they finally saw a leader who believed in faith, family, and restoring America's honor. And in the Religious Right, the Republican party saw the votes necessary to win the White House. It was a simple marriage based on common interests. It's really no more complicated than that.
And so, for the last thirty years, the Sally Kerns of the world have felt that it was their sacred duty, even if it put them "in jeopardy," to resist the secularists, and to inform unsuspecting average Americans of the evil plans of dominion quietly creeping under the radar. Plans to force their agendas on your children. Plans to turn our great nation over to the forces of evil. And the "brights" have felt compelled to continually remind us, through films, songs, television, newspapers, etc. just why their revolution was so important -- namely, middle America is a collection of sincere but ignorant people who bitterly "cling" to guns, God, and bigotry because they haven't "figured it out" yet and just don't know any better; thus they are pawns for the likes of the truly eeeeevil minions of the Republican party and fundamentalist Christian leadership -- people like Sally Kern.
Why such a bitter fight over "middle America?" Because it has always been where the majority of Americans live. Up until
the late 1960's, most of our great struggles for social change were
designed to benefit them. They were (and still are) the great pool
from which the ranks of our fighting men were drawn. They grew our
food. They made our stuff. Most struggling writers, artists, and
actors came from humble means, and those who eventually reached the top
in those professions rarely showed contempt for their upbringing.
Perhaps the great robber-baron leisure class of the 19th and early 20th
centuries privately expressed disdain for the great unwashed masses
among themselves, but politicians knew that the great sea of voters was
mostly filled with them.
But just as the small-town Americans, Christian fundamentalists, and Greatest Generation Americans who had been crushed by the juggernaut of liberalism in the 1960's came together to build the Reagan Revolution, a similar alliance was forged between the wealthy leisure class and the brights. Perhaps each had what the other wanted -- money and power appealed to the brights, who were highly educated but still only dreamed of living in mansions; the erasure of moral boundaries appealed to the wealthy, who were somewhat able to buy their way out of scandals, but who still longed for the ability to say and do whatever they pleased without the nagging expectation of being "standard bearers." Nowhere is this alliance more visible than in Hollywood, where cash and leftism continually swirl together at a cyclonic level.
As a result of these alliances, politicians have had a difficult time. On one side, conservative politicians and religious leaders have wholly denounced Hollywood as the epitome of evil and have proudly disassociated themselves from it. Hollywood delights in this kind of demagoguery, and has had a field day mocking conservatives on television shows and in movies. On the other side, liberal politicians want to court the brights and the big Hollywood stars, but they can't afford to be seen as elitists or haters of Middle America. Peggy Noonan writes,
Sen. Obama seems honestly surprised by the furor his
the-poor-cling-to-God-and-guns remarks elicited, and if one considers
his background—intense marginalization followed by the establishment's
embrace—this is understandable. He was only caught speaking the secret
language of America's elite, and what he said was not meant as a
putdown. It was an explanation aimed at ameliorating the elites' anger
toward and impatience with normal people. It's a way of explaining
them, of saying, "You have to remember they're not comfortable and
educated like us, they're vulnerable and so we must try to understand
them and feel sympathy for and solidarity with them." You could say
this at any high-class dinner party in America and not cause a ruffle.
But America is not a high-class dinner party.
The reaction of liberals, particularly gay activists, to Rep. Kern's remarks was as predictable and boilerplate as her remarks - a mocking phone call from Ellen DeGeneres, a series of angry "open letters," rumors that her son was gay, etc. Of course all Republicans believe this. Of course all Christians believe this. Of course all Republicans are homophobes. Of course all Christians are bigots. Rep. Kern just got caught saying what all Republicans and all Christians secretly believe. Just like Barack Obama was caught saying what "all liberals and elitists" secretly believe*. Give me a break.
At the heart of this is a simple problem -- the over-reliance on stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies. Both the political Left and Right in this country have wholly succumbed to the temptation to reduce all of our problems to simplistic "us" vs "them" battles. We see this in gay rights issues. We see it in immigration issues. And frankly I am sick and tired of it and I refuse to participate.
You see, I've discovered that when you are sitting at the dinner table with someone and listening to them tell their life story, it's difficult to point your finger at them and accuse them of an endless list of evil plots. I've learned much more about people by simply listening to them, rather than listening to the stereotypes and conspiracy theories of others.
I would humbly suggest that everyone, particularly those in any kind of leadership position, put aside their own prejudices and self-aggrandizing postures and try this approach as well. I think we would be amazed at how much easier it would be for us to work together if we listened to each other first -- that is, if working together for the mutual benefit of everyone is really our ultimate goal. Sometimes, I have to wonder ...
* Astute readers of my blog will note that I wrote earlier about Barack Obama's "God, guns, an bigotry" remark. I questioned what Obama himself believes, and this includes beliefs that I feel represent widely-held beliefs among elites, and are thus shared by many others besides Obama, but not ALL who would identify themselves as liberal. So noted. (comment updated)
Spurred by the dream of having a major league sports team make its home in Oklahoma City, we voted yesterday to approve a 15 month continuance of the 1 cent "Maps For Kids" sales tax, which was scheduled to expire this year. The money will be spent on remodeling and improvements for the Ford Center arena (opened just five and a half years ago) in the hopes of attracting the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team to Oklahoma City.
I opposed this tax increase, mainly on the grounds that it is a regressive tax (everyone, rich or poor, pays it) but the financial benefits will probably not be distributed back evenly throughout the city. I am also opposed to the current trend of massive tax-fueled 'gimmes' demanded by major league sports teams.
And I opposed this tax increase because the citizens of Oklahoma City already made their voices heard last year, regarding the urban improvements that they most wanted to see.
Perhaps I should explain a bit here. "MAPS" (Metropolitan Area Projects) was an ambitious urban planning program approved by Oklahoma City voters in 1993. A 1 cent increase was added to the city sales tax, and the proceeds from the MAPS tax paid for a number of construction and remodeling projects throughout the city. The program got off to a very rocky start (in fact, OKC's problems convinced Tulsa voters to defeat a similar proposal for their city - heh, heh) but after the major projects were completed, MAPS was hailed as a great success.
Maps For Kids was a proposal along similar lines, but with the money going strictly to upgrade our schools and educational infrastructure.
Last year, our Mayor, Mick Cornett, proposed "Maps 3" and launched a website where visitors could vote on items they felt were in need of improvement. The result? The most popular response (with 28%) was "Transit," followed next by "Infrastructure, including streets" (8%), "Trails" (6%), "General Parks Improvement/Expansion" (5%), and "Beautification - trees, landscapes" (5%).
"Ford Center Improvements" garnered less than 2% of the responses.
Oklahoma City residents want a better mass transit system (ours currently is pathetic), better attention paid to the condition of our streets (which are also in perpetually bad shape) and more parks with better nature and bike trails. These wishes will be put on hold as our city council chases after yet another shiny penny, the allure of major league sports. *sigh*
A few weeks ago I blogged about my church, Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, and Fairview Missionary Baptist Church, marching together in Oklahoma City's Martin Luther King Day celebration and parade.
This past weekend, our congregations celebrated worship together at Fairview Baptist. The JR Inspirational Singers (named for Fairview's 45 year pastor, Dr. John Reed) performed, as well as the choir and musicians from OKC First Nazarene. Our pastor, John Middendorf (an old college mate of mine; we're the same age) preached for the crowd. And as usual, Fairview prepared a mighty spread of food for everyone afterwards.
The more that I learn about the black gospel tradition, the more I am struck by the contrast between the black gospel churches in the south, and their fundamentalist evangelical counterparts. Both groups were separated from "mainline" Northern Christianity and its European roots (Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, UCC, Disciples of Christ, etc.) Both groups emphasized deliverance through the blood of Christ, yet one group's theology centered around God's vengeance and wrath, while the other centered around the idea of a God who makes His presence known through deliverance and justice. The black gospel church in the south led the fight for justice and civil rights, while the white fundamentalist churches largely remained silent or expressed their disapproval by hiding under the banner of law and order.
It's not particularly accurate or fair to illustrate this theological contrast through the music presented at last night's worship service. My church (OKC First Nazarene) is not fundamentalist -- we have actually lost members who claimed that our church was becoming "too Democratic" (as opposed to staunchly defending Republican politics). But although we have the reverence and adoration part down pretty well, it can be said that our tradition is still trying to find its joy. And there is certainly no lack of joy in the music of Fairview Baptist.
Here are the JR Inspirational Singers performing "He's An On Time God"
Here is the OKC First Music (yours truly on drums) performing "Sing To Jesus"
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to march with them in Oklahoma City's downtown Martin Luther King parade. It was cold and very windy and unfortunately my family couldn't make it, but my friends who participated had a wonderful time. And check out that banner -- "Fulfilling The Dream." That's simply eloquent.
I have said before that it is shameful that in America, the most segregated time of the week is 10:00AM Sunday morning. And America's white southern evangelical churches certainly bear a significant responsibility for helping to perpetuate segregation in the American south. Now is the time for us to begin to heal those wounds.
(The photo was taken by my friend and professional photographer Carl Zoch, who is also one of our pastors.)
You might be interested in the efforts of Oklahoma City resident Dan Short and his new cooperative effort, Mustard Seed Development Corporation. Mustard Seed is a faith-based organization that provides assistance to families living in Oklahoma City's 73114 zip code, currently the second-poorest demographic region in Oklahoma City. From their webiste:
Mustard Seed serves a disadvantaged area of Oklahoma City
that is often overlooked by City planners and community
organizations. Ranked as the second highest poverty area
in Oklahoma City by the Department of Human Services, the
area is currently ineligible for Empowerment zoning, receives
no Community Block Grant monies, has schools that are consistently
ranked low performance, and has a significantly high crime rate.
Mustard Seed is the only community development organization working
in this impoverished neighborhood.
Second highest poverty area in OKC
Median family income $29,047
4,036 families; 24% live below poverty level
1,648 female parent households; 41% live below the poverty level
33% of households on social security and/or public assistance income.
Housing costs are over 35% of income for:
14.6% of homeowners
35.6% of renters
The 73114 zip code lies on the eastern edge of the city's northwest side. Several years ago, as retirees and younger families began giving up the starter-sized homes in the area, residents from the city's more-impoverished east side -- mostly black -- moved into the neighborhood, looking for a way out of the east side and for homes that were closer to where many of them worked. Unfortunately the problems of poverty (single female parent households, drugs, high unemployment) followed this group to the northwest side.
Dan and his organization are trying to do something about the negative situations in many of these people's lives. I had the opportunity to meet Dan a few months ago and hear firsthand what Mustard Seed is doing. I can tell you honestly that Mustard Seed would be a worthy recipient of your charitable contributions.
My friend Greg Horton interviewed me for a piece in this week's Oklahoma Gazette. His article discusses the rift among evangelical conservatives with respect to the Republican primaries. You can preview his piece here. (That's not a picture of me, by the way ... ) And be sure to visit Greg's blog, The Parish.
By now you've heard about the massive ice storm that has blanketed the Midwest, hitting Oklahoma City with a 1/2 to 3/4 thick layer of ice. We joined the roughly 410,000 customers without electricity at 7:20 am today. We sat around in the dark with three fidgety kids for most of the day. As of this evening, the thermostat in our home showed 50 degrees, so we will be spending the evening with friends. OG&E says that hopefully our power will be restored tomorrow. But we don't know when we will get our phone and Internet back. *Sigh*.