I've been asked by several friends, and at least one other reader, why I haven't said anything about President-Elect Obama's choice of Saddleback Church megapastor Rick Warren to give the benedictory prayer at his swearing-in ceremony, his inauguration, on January 20th. What I had to explain to them was that I was, originally, merely disappointed. Then the indispensible solarbird (who you should be reading if you want to stay up-to-date on the economic crisis, by the way) posted a link to something anonymously guest-blogged at Andrew Sullivan's blog: "Rick Warren and the Ex-Gay Movement" (12/18/08) ... and I became incoherent with rage. Literally incoherent, with literal rage; no rhetorical exaggeration this time. And I knew instantly why: this one hits me in a very, very personal spot, an unhealed wound. I alluded to this hurt back on March 29th, very intentionally withholding details. Well, the other night a friend put me on the spot as to why, exactly, I didn't trust myself to be coherent about Rick Warren right now, and I gave him some of the details, explained my hurt and my rage. Having heard them, he argued that it was even more important for me to say this, even if I'm not entirely coherent, because my hurt about this is important, people need to hear it, so here it is.
Almost all of my long-time readers came here by way of what is (now) the second-most-linked thing I ever wrote, my 2004 five-part series "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God." In that series, I argued that the alliance between supposedly Biblical literalist fundamentalist Christianity and the far-right wing of the Republican Party in America is the result of an overt, explicit conspiracy by members of the Republican anti-communist caucus of the 1960s to enlist the country's fastest-growing Christian denominations into the Republican Party, and that the seminary leaders and professors who joined this caucus in this cause knowingly and intentionally distorted the explicit teachings of the Bible on poverty and wealth, homosexuality, abortion, and feminism in order to better conform "Christian" doctrine, as it was taught from America's pulpits, with the reactionary politics of the Republican Party. At the time, people asked me what could be done about it, and I said that anything that could be done about it was going to have to be done by actual Biblical literalist Christians who, through their own study of the Bible, learned that what they'd been taught by their seminaries and their pastors was a pack of lies, who worked up the nerve to publicly confront those lies.
At the time I wrote that, and increasingly since, people have held up California mega-church pastor Rick Warren as an example of a guy who was doing just that, and in one regard it has been true. He hasn't come to terms with or confronted all of those lies about what the Bible teaches, but he has been quite vocal about what the Bible actually has to say about poverty and wealth, and that's put him at odds with quite a few of his fellow fundamentalists, most of them older men and women still personally loyal to the oaths they swore to the Republican Party decades ago. So when Barack Obama needed to burnish his Christian credentials among white racists who consider the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he's a member, to be little more than a faux-respectable pseudo-Christian front for the Islamist black nationalist movement, it was a natural that he'd accept several invitations to be interviewed by Rick Warren, including accepting Rick Warren's invitation to bypass the traditional Commission on Presidential Debates and hold the real first televised presidential debate of 2008 at Warren's Saddleback Church. (You may recall that I had a colorful thing or two to say about that at the time, too.) And since then, people have gotten a reminder that while Warren's willingness to confront the Republican Party on issues of economic justice does not make him a true Bible-believing Christian: he was a major campaigner in favor of California's Proposition 8. And not on the semi-legitimate, or at least debatable, grounds that I brought up (it's a radical change in long-standing marriage customs that people aren't ready for yet), but on the grounds that (as he continues to falsely claim) God Hates Fags. To a fair number of Democratic Party activists, the God Hates Fags rhetoric is something so hateful (even if they don't know, as I've shown, that it's also false) that spouting it in public should render a public figure radioactive to decent people, down there with overt white racists and neo-Nazis and other people any sane politician is embarrassed to be seen in public with.
And, frankly, I agree. But as disappointed as I was, I couldn't bring myself to be surprised that Barack Obama disagrees. Anybody who knows anything about black culture in America, even if they didn't know the rhetoric and history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, ought to know to assume that a black man, however urbane and educated, is an anti-gay bigot until proof to the contrary shows up, and I don't mean evidence to the contrary, I mean proof. Barack Obama is a smart man, and knows what he has to say to get elected as a Democrat, but I take it for granted that he has no problem with Rick Warren's position on homosexuality. I assume that like most black men, he fears it from the bottom of his gut and hates it with a fiery passion, if nothing else than from a very real fear of being seen by other black men as a possible sissy if he doesn't at least occasionally bash gay men. So I was disappointed to hear that he was going to have the first person to pray over him at his Inauguration be a gay-bashing preacher, but I couldn't bring myself to be even vaguely surprised. If you're surprised, if you thought the election of a Democrat to the White House was a good thing for gay men, you are dangerously ignorant of what it means that the Democrat in question is black. And that's where I was content to leave it, what I was inclined to write when I got around to it ... until I saw the Andrew Sullivan piece, and lost my shit, just completely lost it.
Let me put it concisely and bluntly first, and then defend my case, instead of working my way up to my conclusion as I ususally do: this "sex addiction ministry" fad in America's Christian churches, both liberal and conservative, both Protestant and Catholic, is a sick, twisted, manipulative, coercive, and overtly dangerous cult. And I knew that even before I lost someone to it. So when I found out that Saddleback Church has an "ex-gay" ministry, I was merely disgusted, but when I found out that its "ex-gay" ministry is run along the "sex addiction ministry" model, I went completely fucking ape-shit crazy with rage.
Oh, and before I go on? I miss my long-lost copy of Camden Benares' ZEN without Zen Masters. So I was surprised and delighted to find that the exact quote I wanted from it was something I was able to find via the "excerpt" link on Amazon.com's "Look Inside" feature, and I include it at the right. That being said, let's talk about the "sex addiction ministry" fad, and then I'll leave it as read what it says about Rick Warren (as Susie Bright has said, perhaps even personally) that he sponsors it.
First, let's start with a fact that nobody likes to talk about. The biggest crock of shit that anybody has ever tried to sell you, an even bigger crock of shit than the lie that tax cuts increase government revenue, is the lie that people "become perverts" by choice. The plain fact of the matter is that when anybody, anywhere in the world, begins to suspect that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual, transgendered, kinky, or polyamorous, they realize even before they're out of childhood what this means if it turns out to be true and if anybody finds out: it means they will be hated by, and will be the overt victim of discrimination from, 80% to 90% of the human race. They look at how much violence they've already seen against "queers" in their life, and cannot fail to notice that no authority, not teachers nor administrators nor employers nor cops nor judges, considers it a crime when a "queer" is beaten or mugged, and that the authorities will try to get away with looking the other way even when one is raped or murdered. They know that they're going to have a much harder and more dangerous time trying to find a life partner to love them if it's true because the vast majority of the human race will find them disgusting, they know that they'll always be in danger of homelessness if it's true because most landlords won't knowingly rent to them, they know that their odds of being unemployed better than double if it's true because employers and co-workers "aren't comfortable with people like that around." They may have even noticed, even that early, that they'll never get competent medical advice either, because almost every doctor in America will tell them that it's even more important that they cure their queerness first before they get treated for whatever else, from a toothache to cancer. And so, contrary to the dishonest stereotype you've been fed, almost no gay man, lesbian woman, or transgendered or transexual or bisexual or kinky or polyamorous person, finds this out about themself and thinks, "oh, hurray, I'm a queer, think of all the fun I'll have!" No, they all go through a phase, usually more than once in their life, of praying to whatever God they worship: "Dear God, please make it not so; please, God, make me normal."
And that angst makes them perfect victims for the "sex addiction ministry" cult and its sick, twisted and power-mad leaders. When one of these sicko cult ministers comes to a town and finds some usually clueless church to host his victimization of others, any place where he can set up shop, he offers a lifeline of hope to those victims of horrible discrimination: you, too, can be straight. No, you weren't born "that way." No, it's not natural for you to be "that way." What's more, any time in your past life that you thought you were happy, that you thought you loved someone, that wasn't proof that you're "that way" -- it was a trick that Satan was playing on you, a demon possessing you temporarily and blinding you to the fact that really, the "real you" was disgusted by the person you loved, and by the things that you mistakenly thought were bringing you pleasure. But you can be cured, and here's how: Quit your job. Quit all volunteer work that you do, including at your children's schools; don't even take time out to help your kids with their homework. Quit having sex with anyone, even "vanilla" heterosexual sex with your spouse; in fact, it's safer if you don't even touch anyone at all in any way, however non-sexual, because you can never be too safe. At least some of these leaders will add that you should keep yourself on a Nazi-death-camp level starvation diet, too, even if (or, let's be frank, especially if) it renders you unable to think clearly, lest you find any "demonic" or "fake" pleasure from food, either.
You must do all of these things because the only way you can rescue yourself from being a victim of discrimination for the rest of your life is to spend every waking hour of your day doing one of two things, and they must be your only source of pleasure. If the local cult leader is holding a meeting, you must be at that meeting, so that he can tell you what to do, so that you can be forced to denounce yourself repeatedly and humiliate yourself repeatedly in front of others, and so that you can be constantly reminded that your only hope of happiness in this world is to obey his every whim. And any time that he's not available for these group brainwashing sessions, then you are to spend every remaining hour of your life reading books or (out of context) Bible passages that the cult leader has prescribed to you, and then kneeling and praying to God, "Dear God, please make me obedient to this man. Don't ever let me disobey him or doubt him. Please, dear God, make me believe that every word he says is true." This will, of course, destroy your life. It will alienate you from everyone not in the cult. It will destroy your marriage, and wreck your children. It will make you poor, if you weren't already poor. And it will make you desperately, desperately lonely, a loneliness that the cult leader is counting on to make you even more dependent on him and your fellow cult members, that thin gruel being the only human contact, the only human connection, that you, a member of a highly social species, are allowed. And the more miserable it makes you, the more he will tell you: this, not the feelings you had before, is pleasure. This, not the feelings you had before, is happiness.
I lost a very close long-time personal friend and former lover to this cult, which has moved into her home church and from there recruited her into it. Over the course of the first several months after she fell victim to this monster, I watched the transformation of her personality in her LiveJournal without knowing what was causing it, until she finally announced her membership in the cult, and described most of the process I've just described, including the struggle by which she's managed to convince herself that the pain she's feeling now is called happiness. It showed me what I had begun to fear already was true: a truly lovely, and loving, and incredibly productive person is now dead. I spent days talking myself out of driving down there and fire-bombing the church, and that's something I'd never do; I know what the Gods think of people who desecrate any sacred space. But I was so angry at what this group had done to kill this woman's mind and soul that I was briefly willing to accept eternal damnation in Tartarus to hurt them back, even knowing it wouldn't do any good, even knowing it wouldn't save one single person from that cult. And even now, months later, I'm still angry about it. So when I found out that Rick Warren is among the pastors who've fallen for one of these manipulative, brainwashing hucksters and sponsors one through his church, my rage was black and implacable, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with politics, gay marriage, or Barack Obama, and everything to do with the powerless rage I feel while watching this cult grow and destroy more and more lives.