Tag Archives: christian

Gospel singer Kim Burrell makes no apology for calling gays ‘perverted’

Gospel singer Kim Burrell says she makes “no excuses or apologies” for a sermon at a Houston church where she referred to gays and lesbians as perverted.

A tape of Burrell preaching at the Love & Liberty Fellowship Church began circulating online.

She said that “the perverted homosexual spirit, and the spirit of delusion and confusion, it has deceived many men and women.” She referred to specific homosexual acts as perverted.

Burrell was scheduled to sing a duet this week with Pharrell on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. The singers were to perform “I See Victory” from the soundtrack of the new movie “Hidden Figures.”

DeGeneres’ said Burrell would not be making an appearance on the show. DeGeneres tweeted this week: “For those asking, Kim Burrell will not be appearing on my show.”

Pharrell posted on Instagram that “I condemn hate speech of any kind.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when Burrell gave the sermon.

She spoke on Facebook Live late last week about the tape that had circulated, referring to unspecified “enemies” for spreading only a portion of her speech.

She said that she has never discriminated against gays and lesbians. “I love you and God loves you,” she said. “But God hates the sin.”

Cities with Nativity scenes ignore takedown demands

A historic Hispanic city in New Mexico has one in the center of town on public property. A small farming community in Colorado has another outside of a public park. A Pennsylvania city refused to take its Nativity display down despite a legal threat.

Across the county, annual disputes over Nativity displays on public land have pitted local residents against advocacy groups pushing separation of church and state.

But after years of complaints, communities continue to resist demands that they remove public display celebrating the birth of Jesus from public property.

The moves come after town residents have rallied around the displays or conservative groups have offered legal assistance to keep displays up amid legal threats.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” said Jerah Cordova, the mayor of Belen, New Mexico, where a Nativity scene artwork sits year-round and was not taken down following threats of legal action last year. “The Nativity scene not only represents the history of our town, it represents our culture.”

Belen — Spanish for Bethlehem — is a small city of 7,000 people and nearly 70 percent Latino. Last year, residents raised $50,000 for a festival in support of the Nativity display following a letter threatening legal action.

In Franklin, Pennsylvania, a city of 6,500, councilors last month voted to keep a decades-old Nativity scene in a city park after receiving an email from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The foundation has sent similar letters warning municipalities that public Nativity scenes violated the separation of church and state.

Franklin’s city councilors consulted lawyers and resolve the issue by agreeing to allow other secular Christmas decoration s in the park.

Officials in St. Bernard, Ohio, a suburban of Cincinnati, ignored a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and opted to keep in place nativity scene displayed in front of City Hall.

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, tourists visit to see miniature replicas depict various settings of the Nativity story. That display is run by the nonprofit, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites and is not connected to the city government.

In previous years, some municipalities pulled Nativity scenes after receiving complaints from the foundation. For example, officials in Wadena, Minnesota removed its decades-old traditional Nativity scene off public property following a letter from the foundation.

Supporters and opponents of the Nativity scenes agree that municipalities are fighting harder to protect the displays.

“We are seeing more municipalities digging in after learning about their rights,” said Mat Staver, who heads the right-wing, anti-gay Liberty Counsel, which offers the municipalities advice to protect them and volunteered free legal help for Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said more cities and towns simply ignore complaints that placing Christian art on public property violates the U.S. Constitution.

In recent years, conservative Christians have vocally complained about the secularization of Christmas, said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We also are seeing a rural and city divide where rural areas are facing less resistance (to Nativity scenes) while there is more conflict in cities, which are more diverse,” Chesnut said.

Gaylor said some cities and towns are getting around the conflict by setting up public spaces where volunteers can erect Nativity scenes along with secular Christmas displays.

“But we don’t think putting a couple of reindeer up near a Nativity scene solves the problem,” Gaylor said.

Pressure has forced some cities to scrap plans for Nativity scene displays.

In Gig Harbor, Washington — a maritime city near Tacoma — officials blocked residents from putting up a display after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That prompted a small protest in the city of 7,000 people this week from residents who wanted a Nativity scene.

When cities and state allow the public spaces, Gaylor said the foundation tries to submit its own display. In some states, the foundation put up a Nativity scene with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the Statue of Liberty. Instead of baby Jesus in a manger, the group put in place a copy of the Bill of Rights.

In New Mexico, Cordova predicted Belen will never remove its Nativity scene.

“It’s here to stay,” he said.

 

In ‘Scopes monkey trial’ home, an evolution debate rages on

In 1925, two of America’s most renowned figures faced off in the southeast Tennessee town of Dayton to debate a burning issue — whether man evolved over millions of years or was created by God in his present form.

Today, only one of the two, the Christian orator William Jennings Bryan, is commemorated with a statue on the courthouse lawn.

A group of atheists hopes to change that.

Bryan defended the Biblical account while trial lawyer and skeptic Clarence Darrow defended evolution in the “Scopes monkey trial” — formally, Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. The case became front-page news nationwide and is memorialized in songs, books, plays and movies.

Nearly a century later, the debate pitting evolution against the biblical account of creation rages on nationally and locally. Nearly all scientists accept evolution, but many Christians see it as incompatible with their faith. Just two years ago in Dayton, professors at a Christian college named for Bryan were fired in a dispute over whether Adam and Eve were historical people.

One might expect a town that reveres Bryan to resist efforts to memorialize his antagonist, but Reed Johnson, managing editor of The Herald-News in Dayton, said that vocal resistance hasn’t materialized. He doesn’t recall angry letters to the editor.

County Commissioner Bill Hollin said he doesn’t think many people are aware of the effort, but he’s against it and thinks others will join him. “I don’t see where it would help the community at all to put it up there,” he said.

Bryan, on the other hand, represents more than the Scopes trial, Hollin said. His legacy in Dayton includes the college that was founded in 1930 and educates many of the area’s young people.

Still, townspeople are resigned to the idea of a Darrow statue, said Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, a Bryan College alumna.

“I think there is a sense that, ‘Oh, it’s only fair. We have our side, and they have their side. We have our statue, and they have their statue,” she said.

Ed Larson, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the trial called “Summer for the Gods,” said that Dayton has historically been hospitable to both sides, and that outrage over the teaching of evolution in 1925 was manufactured.

The trial is often remembered as the persecution of teacher Scopes for teaching evolution, which Tennessee had outlawed, but it actually began as a publicity stunt for Dayton, Larson said.

Larsen explained that locals had responded to a newspaper advertisement by the American Civil Liberties Union looking for someone to test Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in court. No one had complained about Scopes or his teaching; he was recruited to be the defendant, Larson said. Scopes never spent time in jail and was offered his job back after the trial, Larsen said — and Bryan even offered to pay his fine.

Evans said part of the trial’s legacy has been negative: a lasting sense that belief in evolution conflicts with Christianity, something she no longer believes.

“I grew up as a conservative evangelical, and we always heard about the trial that William Jennings Bryan was a hero who came in and put everyone in their place,” she said. “Even in college, I was told I could either believe in the Bible or I could believe in evolution.”

But many say part of the legacy is positive: Dayton has seen a stream of visitors to the red-brick courthouse in the town square that still looks much as it did when the judge moved the trial’s action onto the lawn — worried the floor would cave in from the weight of spectators — and Darrow began questioning Bryan’s views on the Bible.

The courthouse basement now holds a small museum. On the trial’s anniversary in July, a festival is held, with a courtroom play re-enacting trial scenes.

At this year’s festival, Dayton resident Richard DeArk sold hand-crafted earrings, some with a monkey theme, on the courthouse lawn near the Bryan statue. Asked about the Darrow statue, he said, “It’s about time!”

Tom Brady, the courthouse maintenance supervisor, said he hasn’t heard objections to the Darrow statue. “The trial helped Dayton,” he said.

Tom Davis, president of the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, was asked to make a recommendation to the county executive about the two statues. He said in an interview that the group supported the Bryan statue in 2005 but realized at the time “if we do this, we’ll probably face a request for a Darrow statue one day, and we’ll probably have to support that.”

The American Humanist Association is raising money for the statue, but the creative side is the work of Pennsylvania sculptor Zenos Frudakis, who says Darrow is too important to the story to leave out.

Frudakis said he has the county executive’s permission to erect the statue opposite Bryan on the courthouse lawn as long as the county doesn’t have to spend any money on it and it is similar in size and style to the Bryan statue. But County Commissioner Hollin said he believes his panel will have to give its blessing first, something he does not see happening.

Frudakis said he is a fan of Darrow but doesn’t want his statue to be controversial.

“Right now they only have William Jennings Bryan there, standing alone,” Frudakis said. “Add Darrow, and it recreates the historical drama of 1925, the way it played out in the public eye and galvanized the nation.”

Conduct code may have silenced rape victims at Baptist school

The sexual assault scandal that took down Baylor University’s president and football coach also found a problem with a bedrock of the school’s faith-based education: a student conduct code banning alcohol, drugs and premarital sex that may have driven some victims into silence.

Investigators with the Pepper Hamilton law firm who dug into Baylor’s response to sexual assault claims determined the school’s rigid approach to drugs, alcohol and sex and “perceived judgmental responses” to victims who reported being raped “created barriers” to reporting assaults.

Some women faced the prospect of their family being notified.

“A number of victims were told that if they made a report of rape, their parents would be informed of the details of where they were and what they were doing,” said Chad Dunn, a Houston attorney who represents six women who have sued Baylor under the anonymous identification of Jane Doe.

The nation’s largest Baptist university is a notably conservative place in one of the most conservative states in the country. Dancing on campus was banned until 1996. Fornication, adultery and homosexual acts were included in an official list of misconduct until May 2015, and the current policy stresses that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.”

Students can still be expelled for using drugs or alcohol, though late last year it included amnesty for minor offenses.

Pepper Hamilton investigators urged the school to expand amnesty to sexual conduct code violations; the federal government told all U.S. universities in 2011 that conduct policies may have a chilling effect on reporting sexual assault.

“Amnesty is a no-brainer,” said Shan Wu, a former federal sex crimes prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney specializing in student legal issues. “Unfortunately, these codes force students to engage in life-or-death calculations,” added Wu, who isn’t involved in the Baylor case.

Baylor officials say they are already making changes. Interim President David Garland, who took over in late May for ousted president and chancellor Ken Starr, said the university considered all of the firm’s recommendations as “mandates.”

“Expectations for our students are outlined in university conduct policies and are a reflection of our faith-based mission,” school spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said, noting that the amnesty provisions for drug and alcohol use should assure sexual assault victims that Baylor will focus on their allegations. Baylor has repeatedly declined to comment specific cases.

“Student safety and support for survivors of all types of interpersonal violence are paramount to the mission of Baylor University,” Lewis said.

But such offers of amnesty are too late for women who previously reported assaults and told Pepper Hamilton investigators about hurdles they faced in dealing with Baylor officials. Eight former Baylor students have brought three federal lawsuits against the school, outlining rape allegations as far back as 2005 that they say were either ignored or discouraged from reporting.

Dunn would not allow his clients to be interviewed by the AP to protect their identity, but relayed questions to them.

Two women said they were pushed to accept alcohol conduct violations when they reported their assaults, or feared sexual conduct violations if they did.

One woman said her case began when she called police to report a physical assault on another woman at an off-campus party. Police demanded to know if she was underage and had been drinking, then arrested and reported her to the school office that investigates conduct code violations, she said. She told Baylor officials her drinking was a result of being raped a month earlier and detailed what happened in person and in a letter.

She received an alcohol code violation and told to do 25 hours community service, and when she tried to appeal, the woman said Baylor officials urged her to drop it. The school never pursued her rape claim.

“I was told by many Baylor staff that they couldn’t do anything for me because my assault was off campus, yet they had no problem punishing me for my off-campus drinking,” the woman said. Schools are bound by federal law to investigate on- and off-campus sex assault allegations.

The threat of a sexual conduct violation was a “common issue” that Baylor did nothing to dispel, another woman said.

Even when the code of conduct wasn’t an overt issue, some women who reported sexual assault said they were grilled about their behavior.

Stefanie Mundhenk, a former Baylor student who The Associated Press is identifying because she has publicly blogged about Baylor’s investigation into her 2015 rape allegations, told the AP that she was never threatened by conduct code violations but was repeatedly questioned about her sexual history.

“I was alarmed,” said Mundhenk, who is not among those suing Baylor. “It was biased and it was unfair. They were trying to gauge if I was a loose woman. They were looking to attack my reputation.”

On the web

For information about reporting sexual assaults and addressing the crisis on college campuses:

SurvJustice

It’s On Us

Oklahoma voters to decide on return of Ten Commandments

Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The House has voted 65-7 for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion.

The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.

The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.

“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”

Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.

Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented Prescott, has vowed another challenge in federal court if the statue is returned. ACLU Oklahoma’s Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic lawmaker, has accused GOP lawmakers of using the monument as a political gimmick.

Even if the Oklahoma voters decide to amend the constitution and return the monument to the Statehouse, Kiesel said it’s likely a challenge would prevail under the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma taxpayers would be stuck footing the legal bill.

Republican Caitlyn Jenner irks transgender community with praise for Ted Cruz

Since coming out a year ago, Caitlyn Jenner has not always been a unifying force in the transgender community. Her latest political remarks — underscoring her conservative outlook and praising Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz — ignited a storm of criticism from supporters of transgender rights, who view most conservative Republicans as adversaries.

“Breathtakingly clueless” was the rebuke from blogger Monica Roberts. Tennis great Martina Navratilova and country singer Chely Wright were also among the many people denouncing Jenner.

‘Voting against your own civil rights’

Yet a more nuanced conversation followed, questioning whether transgender Americans must be monolithic in broadly espousing progressive politics, or whether they can make room for differing views in their ranks.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she is grateful there are transgender Republicans and would like to see the issue of transgender rights addressed on a nonpartisan basis. She also said it is inevitable that the ranks of transgender Americans would grow more diverse.

“Trans people need to buckle up,” she said. “With all the folks who will be coming out in the next few years, you’re not going to agree with all of them.”

While Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have voiced strong support for LGBT rights, Cruz and the other Republican contenders have expressed misgivings about same-sex marriage and supported protections for people who oppose it on religious grounds.

Among those wrestling with the fallout of Jenner’s remarks is Jennifer Finney Boylan, a writer and professor at Barnard College. She is a consultant and cast member on Jenner’s reality show, “I am Cait.”

In one episode, Boylan — who has described Cruz as a bigot — became so aggravated with Jenner’s political views that she swatted her with a rolled-up newspaper.

“In terms of equality and dignity, the difference between Republicans and Democrats is night and day,” Boylan said in an interview. “I don’t really get why you’d vote against your own civil rights.”

Cruz’s ‘trans ambassador’

Yet Boylan remains engaged in the TV series and considers Jenner a friend.

“How is it possible to communicate with people whom we want to smack with a newspaper?” Boylan asked in recent blog post. “The question, for me, is not, will Cait become a liberal? There is no operation for that, alas. But she CAN become someone who listens, who opens her heart, who has compassion. And so can I.”

Jenner sparked the furor with comments in a March 2 article in The Advocate, an LGBT-oriented magazine.

“I like Ted Cruz,” Jenner declared, even while describing the Texas senator as “one of the worst ones” in regard to transgender rights.

“The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues. I understand that,” Jenner told The Advocate. “So why support Republicans? Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues. We need jobs. We need a vibrant economy.”

Jenner suggested lightheartedly that if Cruz is elected president, she could become his “trans ambassador” and seek to sway him on transgender issues.

Christian and fiscal conservative

Jay Michaelson, a rabbi, author and gay activist, urged Jenner to backtrack.

“I’m begging you to do so,” he wrote in The Daily Beast. “The Republicans’ promised actions — especially those of Ted Cruz — would be absolutely devastating to us, and even to you personally.”

Transgender activist Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, said it should not be surprising that the former Olympic decathlon champion retained long-held political views.

“We’re probably better off if she remains a Republican,” Beyer said. “The Republicans for the most part won’t talk to us, and we’re not going to make progress unless we persuade some of them. We need access.”

Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director of the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said it would be useful if transgender-specific issues were raised in the GOP debates. He said he’d like to learn where the Republicans stand in the heated debate over transgender people’s access to public restrooms.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports LGBT political candidates, there are no transgender Republicans currently serving in elective office in the U.S.

“The question, for me, is not, will Cait become a liberal? There is no operation for that, alas. But she CAN become someone who listens, who opens her heart, who has compassion. And so can I.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, has a transgender son, and has cited that as a reason why she’s more supportive of LGBT rights than most of her GOP colleagues in Congress.

In 2010, a transgender woman, Donna Milo, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for a congressional seat in Florida.

Being transgender “doesn’t define my values, my goals, my political ambitions, my conservative positions,” Milo told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper during the campaign. “Just because you are somewhat socially open-minded doesn’t mean that you’re not

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Susan Kimberly pursued a long, bipartisan political career after going public with a decision to transition from man to woman in 1984. She served as deputy mayor under Republican Mayor Norm Coleman.

Kimberly, 73 and retired, says she became a Republican while serving with Coleman and remains one today. She’s not enamored of Republican positions on LGBT rights, but believes the GOP best represents some of her core values — including self-responsibility and limited government.

“It’s really hard to be a Republican, but it remains impossible for me to be a Democrat,” she said.

 

Trump collecting white, born-again voters

The list of prominent evangelicals denouncing Donald Trump is growing, but is anyone in the flock listening? The bloc of voters powering the real estate mogul through the Republican primaries is significantly weighted with white born-again Christians.

As Trump’s ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage.

John Stemberger, a Trump critic and head of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said many evangelicals have changed. Litmus tests that for so long defined the boundaries for morally acceptable candidates seem to have been abandoned by many Christians this year, he said, no matter how much evangelical leaders try to uphold those standards.

“Evangelicals are looking at those issues less and less. They’ve just become too worldly, letting anger and frustration control them, as opposed to trusting in God,” Stemberger said.

Trump has won the support of one-third of self-identified born-again Christians across the dozen or so states that have held GOP contests and where exit polls were conducted. In eight of the presidential primaries, he won more evangelicals than Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist who has made appeals to conservative Christians the core of his campaign, according to polling.

“We’re leading with evangelicals all over the country,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Wichita, Kansas. “Leading big, because they don’t want to vote for a liar. You have lying Ted Cruz. … He holds up the Bible and then he tells you exactly what I didn’t say.”

Trump is a Presbyterian who has said he has never sought God’s forgiveness for his sins, botches Bible references and, on a recent campaign visit to a church, mistook a communion plate for a donation plate.

Critics insist exit polls have overstated Trump’s share of evangelical support, arguing that many voters identifying themselves as “born again” in primaries are only nominally Christian.

An October survey from the Public Religion Research Institute backs this view. In the poll, white evangelical Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP who attended religious services weekly were far less likely to support Trump than those who attended infrequently.

“There’s a form of cultural Christianity that causes people to respond with ‘evangelical’ and ‘born-again’ as long as they’re not Catholic, even though they haven’t been in a church since Vacation Bible School as a kid,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore was an early and vocal opponent of Trump.

Trump’s biggest evangelical endorsement of the race — from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, who said the billionaire businessman “lives a life of loving and helping others.” — reflected the rift among Christians and even within the university itself. Trump only got 90 of nearly 1,200 votes cast in the university’s precinct in the Virginia GOP primary last Tuesday.

In remarkably public criticism, Mark DeMoss, a Liberty board member and longtime adviser to the school’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., called the endorsement a mistake.

“My concern, thinking about evangelicalism and Liberty University, is more about a style and a behavior and a demeanor and a vocabulary that you can’t find any support for in Scripture,” said DeMoss, who had advised Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. “I think the potential damage – and time will tell if there was real damage – was an erosion of trust in the school.”

Yet it’s not clear whether conservative Christian voters are paying attention. Trump’s candidacy has revealed a distance between evangelical leaders and rank-and-file Christians similar to the one coming to light in the GOP. “The laity has its own attitudes and impulses,” Anderson wrote.

While Moore and others are urging Christians to evaluate candidates using the Bible, many evangelicals are using other criteria, such as seeking a candidate who can protect them from the Islamic State group, liberalism, growing secularism among Americans and economic insecurity for the country and their families. The Public Religion Research Institute found that white, working-class evangelicals are more than twice as likely to support Trump than are evangelicals with a college degree.

The Rev. Carl Gallups, a Southern Baptist pastor from Milton, Florida, who gave the invocation at Trump’s Pensacola rally last January, said he has had many conversations with fellow conservative Christians about making a pragmatic choice in favor of Trump.

“I tell them, if you are not thoroughly satisfied with what you might interpret the depth of his faith might be, then the next thing we must look at is the candidate who will best preserve your First Amendment rights and allow you to express your Christian faith,” Gallups said. “We’re not electing a priest, a pope or a pastor. We’re electing a president, a CEO, a commander in chief. I’m not perfectly happy with Donald Trump either, but I’m a realist.

Wisconsin manufacturer won’t change prayer-break policy

A Wisconsin manufacturer says it won’t back away from a policy change that doesn’t allow prayer breaks for Muslim employees, despite an American-Islamic group’s call for a compromise.

Fifty-three employees at Ariens Co. have left their jobs in protest after the Brillion manufacturer decided to enforce a policy of two 10-minute breaks per work shift. 

Ariens had previously allowed Muslim employees to leave their work stations at different times to accommodate prayer. Ariens said Monday it has tried to be sensitive to the employees, but the unscheduled prayer breaks disrupt production. The Council for America-Islamic Relations is asking the company to revert to its previous policy until a resolution can be reached. 

The lawn mowers and snow blower manufacture employs about 900 people in Brillion.

‘Starlings’ spreads its wings at Soulstice Theatre

Can you be friends with people who don’t share your fundamental beliefs?

In his new work, local playwright Ben Parman suggests it’s not easy — but it’s vitally necessary in our increasingly divided world.

The play, Starlings, addresses that issue in the context of a gay Christian conference, where four former youth group friends re-encounter each other years after violently splitting over one’s sexual orientation. It’s a world premiere screwball comedy director Erin Eggers says she and the rest of the Soulstice Theatre board gave unanimous approval to produce this year.

“It touched a lot of people on very different levels and everybody thought it was an important work to be done,” Eggers says. “It viscerally affected me, the first time I read the piece.”

Parman says he based the play on a mix of experiences in his own life, including his own attendance at a gay Christian conference. In Soulstice’s production, he plays Neal, the member of the quartet who Parman says he most closely identifies with, and whose plot most closely follows things Parman himself has struggled with. “It was my own personal grappling with identity that informed this work,” he says.

But the original incident that separated the friends originates not from Neal, but from Matt (Claudio Parrone Jr.), who told a friend in confidence that he believed he was gay. That information ultimately spread, turning Matt’s then-girlfriend Kelly (Shannon Netteshem) and friend Ethan (David Spiro) against him.

The conference marks the first time all four have been together again since, and Parman says they can’t help but be drawn into rehashing old grievances in an attempt to find closure.

“When you have a definite, dynamic, powerful experience in your youth, you just keep going back to that. Or seeking out reasons for that, or explanations, or consolations,” Parman says. “Obviously you are not settled about this, so you keep going back.”

One of the most important things Parman says he focused on in writing the play was making sure no character’s opinion was treated like the only one with validity — a trap he says many plays that depict the conflict within Christianity between religious conservatives and LGBT people and allies fall into. He says he wrote the play with a singular principle in mind borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail: the idea of willingly embracing non-violent tension between opposing groups as a way to create dialogue and growth. “We can have constructive tension, where people are learning and listening to one another, despite differences of belief,” Parman says. “And it’s not about abandoning those beliefs for the sake of conformity. … It’s learning how to respectfully disagree.”

He also wanted to be sure the play balanced its comedic foundation with the serious topics it deals with — so it doesn’t bounce from one tone to the other and disorient the audience.

On the eve of the play’s premiere, both Parman and Eggers are carefully calibrating their promotional efforts, making sure they send the message that this play is designed for people on all sides of its central argument. Parman says he’s concerned that a mistake or misworded promo might result in alienating someone so much that they might not even attend — the exact lack of dialogue he’s hoping his play can resolve.

“I can disagree with someone and be their friend,” Parman says. “We can have a conflict and still be close, and be grateful for the diversity and grateful for that difference.”

That’s a realization Parman says his characters ultimately reach — and one he believes audiences can realize too.

ON STAGE

Starlings runs Jan. 14 to 30 at Soulstice Theatre, 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., St. Francis. Tickets are $15, $13 for students, seniors and veterans. Visit soulsticetheatre.org to order.

Falwell calls for an armed Christian campus

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. urged students, staff and faculty at his Christian school to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon on campus to counter any copycat attack like the deadly rampage in California.

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell told an estimated 10,000 of the campus community at convocation on Dec. 4 in Lynchburg. While Falwell’s call to arms was applauded, his remarks also seemed to target Muslims.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” the right-wing Falwell said. The final words of his statement could not be clearly heard on a videotape of the remarks.

However, Falwell told The Associated Press he was specifically referring to Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino last week.

Falwell’s remarks generated a sharp rebuke from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who called the comments “reckless.”

“My administration is committed to making Virginia an open and welcoming Commonwealth, while also ensuring the safety of all of our citizens,” McAuliffe said in a statement over the weekend. “Mr. Falwell’s rash and repugnant comments detract from both of those crucial goals.”

Falwell also said he believed the campus needed to be prepared in the face of the increasing frequency of mass killings. He cited, for example, the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and less than 100 miles southwest of Liberty.

“What if just one of those students or one of those faculty members had a concealed permit and was carrying a weapon when the shooter walked into Virginia Tech? Countless lives could have been saved,” he said.

Falwell’s message is apparently being heeded. He said more than 100 people had asked Liberty police about a free class to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Liberty was founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., architect of the contemporary Christian right and founder of the Moral Majority. His barbed commentary and campaign against LGBT people and their rights made him a reviled figure to some and a pioneering conservative crusader to others.

Following the San Bernardino shootings, which left 14 dead, Falwell said he began carrying a .25-caliber handgun in his back pocket. He said he’s had a permit for more than year.

During his address, Falwell mentioned the weapon and reached around seemingly to fetch it.

“Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, laughing.

Asked if he was concerned by the prospect of thousands of armed young people on campus, Falwell said Virginia has a minimum age of 21 for a carry-conceal permit. He said that meant only older students would be armed.

More than 14,000 students are enrolled at Liberty.

Falwell said he had also reached out to a first responder in San Bernardino to see if the school could offer scholarship assistance to his children. 

Falwell’s remarks were first reported by the News & Advance.