Archive for September, 2008
In honor of Banned Books Week, and in light of her crafty attempts to ban books at the Wasilla Public Library back in the day… it is worth thinking about.
I would guess that she would try to axe Dispatches from the Religious Left from library shelves — what with all of discussion of sexuality — especially marriage equality – not to mention reproductive justice and fierce, convincing advocacy of religious pluralism and separation of church and state. It’s enough to make book banners and book banner wannabes pretty hot under the collar.
I discuss this in more detail over at Talk to Action:
A social movement tells a new “story.” Learning how to tell that story, what I call public narrative, is an important leadership practice.
Public narrative comprises three overlapping kinds of stories: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. A story of self communicates values that call one to action. A story of us communicates values shared by those in action. And a story of now communicates the urgent challenge to those values that requires action now. Participating in a social movement not only often involves a re-articulation of one’s story of self, us, and now, but also marks an entry into a world of uncertainty so daunting that access to sources of hope is essential. Telling one’s story of self is a way to share the values that define the people we are—not as abstract principle, but as lived experience. We construct stories of self around choice points—moments when we faced a challenge, made a choice, experienced an outcome, and learned something. What is utterly unique about each of us is not a combination of the categories (race, gender, class, profession, marital status) that include us, but rather, our journey, our way through life, our personal text from which each of us can teach.
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Middle Collegiate Church
50 East 7th St.
New York, NY
The historic Middle Collegiate Church, in the heart of NYC’s East Village dates back to 1628 and today is as contemporary, dynamic, and progressive a congregation as there is in the country. The event will kick off with the church’s famous gospel choir – followed by conversation with Dispatches contributors, including former New York Times war correspondent and best-selling author Chris Hedges; Rev. Debra Haffner, Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing; the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Associate Minister for Missions, Social Justice and Community Action at Middle Collegiate Church – and me. The event will be moderated by the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church.
Over at Blue Mass Group, Lynne reports that Jamie Eldridge a progressive MA candidate for state sentate has learned that religious right leaders from the Massachusetts Family Institute (the MA political arm of Focus on the Family) are bankrolling anti-marriage equality candidates for the state legislature. Indeed that’s what their Massachusetts Independent PAC is for. It claims to have spent several hundred thousand dollars on candidates over the past ten years.
Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the Freedom to Read will be held this year from September 27-October 4. It is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.
Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country will highlight the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.
It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.
According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were:
1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Some early reactions to the interview: Pastordan at Street Prophets posted an excerpt from my interview at Religion Dispatches. Everyone immediately wanted to know whether he agreed with me. And Digby at Hullabaloo gets it that some Democrats have been “snowed… into believing that [Rick] Warren was some kind of bridge, when he is actually a Trojan horse.” And: “The real religious left, you see, is quite unabashedly liberal. They care about thing like …. Peace. Equality. Justice. Things that don’t go down well with the parochial aristocracy of the Village.”
Contributor Bio for Dispatches from the Religious Left:
Anastasia Pantsios is a Cleveland-based writer and photographer who has covered pop music, the arts and politics. Her photos have appeared in such magazines as Rolling Stone, the Village Voice the New York Times, on record covers and in numerous books. She was a contributing editor to the Billboard Encyclopedia of Record Producers (1999). She was associate editor of the alternative newsweekly Cleveland Free Times , from September, 2003-July, 2008, where she covered subjects ranging from the Religious Right in Ohio to election reform to the local music scene. She has a master’s degree in technical theater and scene design from Case Western Reserve University and is member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Cleveland.
The online magazine Religion Dispatches has an interview with me, conducted in anticipation of the publication next month of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. The piece covers a lot of ground about me, about the book, and about some aspects of the current state of the Religious Right.
We know that Sarah Palin does not believe in abortion under any circumstances. Not rape; not incest. So it probably comes as no surprise that she has acted on her beliefs. David Talbott, writing at Salon.com interviews Rev. Howard Bess. A retired American Baptist minister who pastors a small congregation in nearby Palmer, and whose book “Pastor, I’m Gay” was targeted by Palin’s church for removal from the Wasilla Public Library. According to Bess, Palin was a leader of the local Religious Right — including its antiabortion activities.
Bess has been tangling with Palin and her fellow evangelical activists ever since she was a Wasilla City Council member in the 1990s. Recently, Bess again found himself in the spotlight with Palin, when it was reported that his 1995 book, “Pastor, I Am Gay,” was among those Palin tried to have removed from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor.
“She scares me,” said Bess. “She’s Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.
“At this point, people in this country don’t grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology.”
Bess — a fit-looking, 80-year-old man in a gray University of Illinois sweatshirt and blue jeans – spoke with me over coffee at the Vagabond Blues, a cafe in Palmer with a stunning view of the nearby snow-capped Chugach Mountains. The retired minister moved to the Mat-Su Valley with his wife, Darlene, in 1987, after his outspoken defense of gay rights at Baptist churches in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area and Anchorage landed him in trouble with church officials. In the Mat-Su Valley, Bess plunged into community activism, helping launch an assortment of projects, from an arts council to a shelter for the mentally disabled.
Inevitably, his work brought him into conflict with Palin and other highly politicized Christian fundamentalists in the valley. “Things got very intense around here in the ’90s — the culture war was very hot here,” Bess said. “The evangelicals were trying to take over the valley. They took over the school board, the community hospital board, even the local electric utility. And Sarah Palin was in the direct center of all these culture battles, along with the churches she belonged to.”
And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a “hit list” targeted by Palin. “I’m as certain of that as I am that I’m sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do.”
At one point during the hospital battle, passions ran so hot that local antiabortion activists organized a boisterous picket line outside Dr. Lemagie’s office, in an unassuming professional building across from Palmer’s Little League field. According to Bess and another community activist, among the protesters trying to disrupt the physician’s practice that day was Sarah Palin.
Soon after the book controversy, Bess found himself again at odds with Palin and her fellow evangelicals. In 1996, evangelical churches mounted a vigorous campaign to take over the local hospital’s community board and ban abortion from the valley. When they succeeded, Bess and Dr. Susan Lemagie, a Palmer OB-GYN, fought back, filing suit on behalf of a local woman who had been forced to travel to Seattle for an abortion. The case was finally decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled that the hospital must provide valley women with the abortion option.