February 16 is recalled as the founding date of Payap University. This is the date that the committee met and took action to establish an educational institution called “Payap Christian College”. When
this was proposed to the Ministry of Higher Education [now a unit of the Ministry of Education] they had us drop the word “Christian” and use the name “Payap College” for our establishment.
This year was the 43rd anniversary of our founding, to which all past presidents and retired personnel were invited to join. The university was honored to have the Treasurer of the Foundation of the Church of Christ in Thailand preach that day.
Going back into the past, Payap College began with the McGilvary Seminary, established in May 1889 and the McCormick School of Nursing and Midwifery, founded in 1923. Payap College had its opening ceremony on June 22, 1974 and was elevated to university status in 1984. It is the first private university in Thailand, and has three campuses: Kaeonawarat Campus (home of the seminary, faculty of nursing, and college of music), Mae Kao Campus (the main campus), and
Crystal Springs Campus (not used at present).
Payap University was established by the Foundation of the Church of Christ in Thailand in 1974 to manifest God’s love, faith, humanity’s reverence for God, and human-kind’s mutual support. This is expressed in the motto, “Truth and Service”. We strive for academic excellence and morality leading to understanding, shining forth in the truth of life and enhancement of good attitudes in service to society.
38,118 students have graduated from Payap in the past 43 years.
[These paragraphs are from two documents prepared in time for the anniversary.]
A consensus seems to be developing among analysts that one of the triggers for the conservative-reactionary backlash going on in the USA and Europe is fear that is generated by the inability to adjust to rapid cultural change. Things are changing too fast for people to adjust, and of course it appears that the future will alter the centers of power away from those who now hold it and benefit from it.Trump, Brexit and the rise of ultra-right political parties are attempts to reverse the change.
Some of the issues are international in scope: migration and refugee flow is changing the “color” of traditionally light-skinned populations; LGBT emergence as a socio-political force is changing the
moderators of cultural norms; pressure from women to gain fair participation in decision-making is changing male-dominance; religious diversity following channels of migration as well as postmodernist patterns of independent thinking are changing the most visible cultural indicators (viz. churches, cathedrals and other religious institutions and even their edifices); and widespread skepticism about the role of government and the spread of globalization being beneficial is changing popular support for the way international and inter-cultural relationships operate.
As a whole these changes are so vast and vague that they cannot be grasped. They are mysterious and frightening. Fear leads to irrational reactions, which can easily be counter-productive. When
people are gripped by amorphous apprehension, small incidents can loom large, opinions become fluid and volatile, conspiracy rumors run rampant, and charismatic voices saying, “I will lead you out of this,” get attention.
Rather than re-run explanations about this and opinions about how to deal with it, I want to share reminiscences about the summer of 1969, where I first encountered my own inability to adapt to ominous change. [The pictures above are from just before I left Thailand that year.] I was certainly not alone in that, but here is my story of two incidents that shook me:
In August 1969, I arrived back in Chicago from four years in South East Asia watching governments collapse and under threat in Indonesia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia from the onslaught of Maoist Communism during the height of the horrifying Cultural Revolution. Chicago was traumatized and polarized. Mayor Richard J. “Hizzonor” Daley had used violent force to protect the Democratic National Convention (i.e. “The Establishment”) from Vietnam War protestors the year before. My own seminary in the Lincoln Park neighborhood had been “occupied” and closed down by the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican street gang, a.k.a. “freedom movement” against “The Establishment”. Scores of gatherings and marches were held to protest US actions in SE Asia and the Vietnam War. I thought I had a small set of useful stories about how brave but afraid people were in the Philippines and Thailand, to balance the discussion, or add to it a more human perspective. I found no impartial forums or seminars on the Vietnam War. Nobody wanted to hear stories that undermined their rage, and they were raging pro and anti. I felt isolated and threatened in the city I thought of as my urban home.
It was the first experience of my life where discourse on a major issue was illegitimate.
In June 1969, just months after the Six Day War between Israel and the United Arab Republic, we stopped off to visit dear family friends in Cairo. The city was sand-bagged and preparing for an invasion from Israel, which had, in fact, made the preemptive air strikes that began the war two years earlier. We met with several people who told us stories of relatives being killed, wounded or made prisoners of war, and of horrifying incidents. Not long after that, I was invited by a Reformed Jewish Congregation in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to be on a panel discussion on the Six Days War. It was beginning to be clear that the war had tipped the balance of power and delivered huge amounts of
territory into the control of the State of Israel. Who “owned” that land depended on how legitimate the 6-Day War had been. As invited, I filled my fifteen-minute slot with stories about how devastating the
war had been to families in Egypt. I had been misinformed by the organizers of the event. There was no appetite, even among those sophisticated Jews and a few Christians, to hear from the Egyptian or
Palestinian side. “The Egyptians got what was coming to them.” At the end of the workshop I had to be escorted to my car for my own protection.
It was my second major experience of unwelcome discourse.
The summer of 1969 was a time of turbulent change and I had trouble adjusting to it.
On July 20 the USA pulled ahead of the USSR in the “Space Race”. Neil Armstrong took “one small step for mankind” from the bottom rung of the Apollo 11 moon-lander onto the moondust and then he and Buzz Aldrin collected 50 pounds of rocks. There was some doubt about who was winning the nuclear arms race, but the space race was clearer after July. Watching those grainy black and white pictures from the moon, I realized that “now things are different”. It was a whole new era and our perspective about life on earth would never be the same.
The war in Vietnam was going all wrong with the USA stepping in to defend the corrupt, dictatorial regime in Saigon for reasons that were unclear and hidden but had to do with natural resources and the Cold War to prevent Communism from taking over the world. John Foster Dulles had convinced us that SE Asia was like a string of dominos. If one fell, they all would fall. In 1969 the dominos were teetering precariously. A specter hung over hundreds of Thai colleagues, students and acquaintances that I considered dear friends. My fear for them was deep and existential.
On August 15-18 I was again shaken, unexpectedly, by a cultural earthquake. The epicenter was at Woodstock. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and a whole new wave of cultural change. It was the official end of Modernism and the beginning of Postmodernism, but that was not yet clear. At the time we thought Elvis Presley and the Beetles had brought cultural change, but they were really still on the threshold. I can say it now, Woodstock alarmed me. I no longer belonged to a unified culture.
I was no longer in a position to be a moderating agent, as I had imagined I might be when I finally settled into my role as a Presbyterian pastor of a “tall-steeple” church. Intuitively I knew, by 1970 the change was overwhelming. What does one do?
There are, briefly, four options when one is attacked or threatened. Fight, retreat, surrender, or negotiate. When I was confronted by overwhelming change, my strategy was to retreat and then negotiate. First, throughout the fall and winter of 1969 and 70 I withdrew into my cave, working on a master’s degree and lying low. Then I thought I might be able to work out a rapprochement with the cultural quake, at least. Perhaps I could be a mediating influence in specific instances between anti-war and anti-communist partisans and between the Hippy-Jesus Freaks and the traditional church. The full impact of the cultural change had not yet hit me. It took me several years to learn the lessons of the summer of 1969, that THIS cultural shift had changed the dynamics of social formation. Communication has never been the same since then. Ethnic divisions leading to tribalistic
“ethnic cleansing,” and fragmentation of cultural entities leading to crumbling borders and global neo-liberalism have developed new realities. Fighting this change is what the resurgence of conservative alt-right alliances are about. They will fail, but they may precipitate another war first.
Surrender to cultural change is the only realistic course of action, and the only one where change agents have a chance to undo the lethal trajectory of tribalism and neo-liberalism. But be warned: rational discourse will not work wonders as it used to do.
“The Iron Ladies” was a surprise box office hit in 2000 before a new round of cultural suppression began in 2002. That crack-down was ineffective insofar as its attempt was to curtail public acceptance of gay, kathoey and trans persons into occasional prominence and public acclaim. “The Iron Ladies”, directed by Yongyoot Thongkongthun, is a light-hearted comedy inspired by the nationally-known success, three years earlier, of a volley ball team from the northern city of
Lampang. The team contains a variety of queer players when the previous players dropped out rather than be coached by a woman (a “tom” they claimed [using Thai slang for a lesbian, equivalent to “dyke” as the English subtitles say]). The coach accepts two trans players and so all the boys quit except one who becomes the team captain. Bee, the coach, has to make a team out of them but the
obstacles are formidable, including: personality peculiarities, family objections, opposing teams’ ridicule, and then official obstinacy. The team coalesces, wins its way to the national championship and then seems to be blocked by the homophobic, misogynistic tournament organizers, until fans overwhelm them and the main bad guy knocks himself out, so the championship can proceed and be won by the “iron sisters”.
As Yongyoot tells the story, key players being recruited and installed into the team have to overcome impediments at home, on the court, and in their own hearts. A closeted gay male player has to come out and openly defy his family to play, while another family is giddy with joy to have their kathoey-trans child going on this adventure. The coach has to confront officials about their rules being made up as they go along – no one dreamed of men playing against a team presenting themselves as an odd form of women.
Society, as “The Iron Ladies” portrays it, is coming to terms with gender diversity, but the energy is entirely from the grassroots. The issue is where do these people fit into society and into national
culture? Apparently, it will take acts of defiance to make it happen.
In retrospect, “The Iron Ladies” is much about defiance. Yongyoot is quite willing to pander to stereotypes. He doesn’t hesitate to have a player come unhinged when she breaks a fingernail. One is reminded of flamboyant Armand in “The Birdcage”. It seems hard to find normal queers in movies of that time (1996). We are all exaggerated. In “The Iron Ladies”, before the final climactic contest, every one of the players and most of their foils has been identified as a type. There is a lack of subtlety about the obedient son, the raging homophobe, the flaming queen, the doting parents, the controlling father, and the pathetic misogynist. There is a satisfying predictability about how those who rise defiantly achieve success and those who do not wither in defeat. The volleyball teams that the ladies face seem incapable of respecting their opponents or accepting defeat gracefully. The fans, in particular, are defiant. Yongyoot clearly signals that sexual minorities have fights to wage.
The main impact “The Iron Ladies” makes is not through its blunt messages. Film critic Roger Ebert disagreed with almost everything about the film except the characterization of Bee, the coach. He felt
the film was about forty years out of date in its representation of gender diversity and especially its ludicrous stereotyping. Still, the film was the second highest grossing Thai film at the time, a record
it held for more than a decade. It spawned two sequels (which were not as good, although profitable by Thai standards). What Ebert could not know when he wrote his review, is that “The Iron Ladies” was to be barrier-breaking in Thailand and East Asia. It was a movie that showed gender diversity positively, showed public acceptance of it, disparaged official repudiation of it, and then even as the credits rolled said “these LGTK people can live happy productive lives after their volleyball victory, in life among you.” No government publication, to this day, makes those claims. Moreover, the movie and its success helped fulfill those assertions. It is a help to be a national champion or a phenomenal success if one is to gain public acceptance. But the bar is lowered as more and more of the public get acquainted with the new normal. The big story of “The Iron Ladies” is about the public perception and positive response. It began with the crowds at the tournament, but spread through the Kingdom of Thailand. These queers had fans from Chiang Rai (far north) to Trang (far south) and that had never happened before.
Arnika Fuhrmann of Cornell University puts it this way, “[the film’s] greater emphasis lies on engendering national discourses of advocacy regarding homosexuality and transidentitarian positions.” She concludes, however, that films like “The Iron Ladies” are superficial in that their “potential for radical figurations of queerness remains limited.”
Who would have believed that dropping elephant acts would spell the end of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus after 146 years as “The Greatest Show on Earth”? When the announcement was made this week it momentarily rivaled political ravings on the Internet.
RBB&B claimed the circus could cease operation in May as attendance and revenue plummeted following their removal of elephants from performances. The circus without elephants couldn’t keep going. But what about elephants without circuses (and zoos), can they survive?
Elephants are big here in Thailand (I do not apologize for puns).
First, a few historical notes:
· Elephants are probably Thailand’s national animal. A white
elephant on a red background was the flag of Siam for centuries.
· National worth and prestige was measured by the size of the
herds of elephants royalty collected. An elephant round-up (i.e.
hunt) was a major cultural event in Ayutthaya from the 13th to 18th
· Chang-phuyak (commonly translated “white elephants”) were
auspicious demi-gods equivalent to royalty in status.
· Elephants were essential to the deforestation of
teak-covered mountains which was a major source of revenue for the
modernization of Thailand from approximately 1850-1950.
· Elephant attractions were prominent in the development of
Thailand as a world tourist destination from 1975-2005. Visits to
elephant parks are still essential parts of most tourism packages.
With that sketch as background, now consider elephant treatment as an animal concern in the world. When human arrogance about our place in nature began to melt in the 20th century, people started to recognize that animal feelings are authentic and legitimate. Elephants, for example, love their young, mourn their dead, resent mistreatment, and have distinct individual personalities. People living in close proximity to elephants know this. But it has taken a while to expand that line of thought to include the idea that elephants, and by extension all animals, have or ought to have rights. It may be a part of the major paradigm shift of the current era to make the adjustment away from exploitation of animals to co-existence. The movement has barely begun, but in the case of elephants there has been progress. In fact, the progress has come so late that it may be doubtful, as with pandas, that natural co-existence is any longer viable.
Two campaigns have been undertaken. The first is to end ivory trading which involves killing elephants for their tusks, which are turned into luxury items for which there is no real need and no excuse except the profit to be made from the marketing of the items. The second campaign is to naturalize captive elephants. Elephants do not actually thrive in captivity, and even domesticated elephants with comparatively large ranges have been brutalized in the process of being domesticated. Domestic elephants are coerced into doing what their human masters want them to do. In the logging industry that included pulling and rolling logs. In circuses it meant being paraded
and forced to move on command.
The problem with “naturalizing” elephants in Thailand is that most of their natural habitat is gone and free-roaming elephants invade human developments, including especially orchards, hillside plantations, and even lowland fields. There are too many elephants for free range and too little natural barriers to keep the elephants safely segregated from humans. Despite their exalted place in Thai cultural lore, the days of elephants in Thailand are numbered.
Meanwhile, elephants linger in limbo (I do not apologize for alliteration, either).
It is believed that there are perhaps 2000 wild elephants in Thailand, in national forests along the Burma border. The number is an estimate. It is comparable to the number of domesticated elephants, 95% of which are owned privately.
Most domestic elephants are in parks where they are chained or occasionally have limited space to move around under control. They are kept for shows and stunts. A staple type of elephant show here in Chiang Mai has them getting a bath and then moving logs around as they used to do, and for which they need less re-training. This ostensibly shows tourists how elephants were used in the recent past. Then the elephants give tourists a lumbering lap around the campsite or a longer lap through the woods before lunch.
Conservation parks are a newer development in which elephants are rescued. They are brought to the Elephant Conservation Center, a government project under royal patronage, in Lampang Province to receive veterinary care to recover from injuries or disease. The newer Elephant Nature Park is billed as a place where elephants are conserved naturally and where tourists interact with them responsibly. Tourists pay a hefty fee to be educated and allowed to become acquainted with elephants and pretend they are helping take care of them. Elephants in these types of parks are expected to do what comes naturally, and that does not include giving people rides, playing football, dancing, standing on their heads or painting pictures.
A significant number of elephants, usually adolescents or young adults, are privately owned outside of parks and some are constantly on the move begging for tips and treats sold by their handlers to
sympathetic folks (as was the case with the elephant who was brought to our house in the picture above). They are moved where crowds gather, in hot cities, for example. Their life expectancy is
relatively short, whereas most elephants would live to the age of 80 or 90, as would healthy human beings.
It looks like American bison and maybe timber wolves are making a come-back from near extinction. Elephants are not as endangered as Siberian tigers, but Asian elephants cannot survive if they have to coexist with humans. They cannot compete for overlapping habitat with humans. Perhaps nothing can, except maybe termites and cockroaches. Reducing the degree of enslavement elephants have endured is, in the big picture, a largely futile gesture, although it probably means a lot to the ones released from cages.
As the USA prepares to inaugurate a new and very different President and as Thailand prepares to crown a new King and elect a new government, I have been pondering what a national leader should be like. Here is my tentative description of national leaders who are worthy of respect and honor.
A WORTHY NATIONAL LEADER IS ONE WHO WORKS TO:
1. Unify the nation to include all portions of the population no matter how small or recent.
Rationale: Long-term national integrity is enhanced by rapid integration.
KPI (key performance indicator that the goal is being sought by the national leaders): Special attention is paid to rapidly diminish the disadvantages of being a recent immigrant or people at risk.
Example: HM King Rama IX of Thailand visited and supported development projects for every ethnic and regional group in the kingdom.
Counter-indicator: Particular groups are excluded or identified as undesirable.
2. Value the cultural heritage of the nation and respect the cultural contributions of all ethnic sectors.
Rationale: National pride is enhanced by valuing unique components of the national fabric.
KPI: Nationally sponsored projects and holidays signify that cultural events and heroes of minority groups are as valued as are those of the ethnic core majority.
Example: Black History Month in the USA
Counter-indicator: Only founders or the ruling elite are honored.
3. Protect those who are most vulnerable by insuring their security, health, education, essential resources and livelihoods.
Rationale: Human survival and human dignity are human rights. A nation is only as sustainable as its promotion of human rights.
KPI: progress is being made to expand equal access to legal protection and safety, health care, universal education, jobs with sufficient pay, and people’s control over their own lives.
Example: European plans for access to education and health care for all.
Counter-indicator: Health care costs for any individual could bankrupt them and their families or force them to forego needed medical care.
4. Enhance the circumstances of future generations.
Rationale: Fundamental resources must be available forever.
KPI: support is provided for visionary, valid scientific and humanitarian research and action is consistent with those discoveries.
Example: Sustainable healthy environment.
Counter-indicator: carbon emissions are ignored and/or industries that contribute to environmental destruction are allowed to continue doing so.
5. Promote world peace, human welfare, and international justice.
Rationale: The world is essentially one and people prosper when they are free from threat.
KPI: mutual regard and shared responsibility for international tribunals and inter-governmental organizations.
Example: United Nations
Counter-indicator: Actions are taken to withdraw from international forums and accountability.
6. Provide informed, enlightened leadership as a role model for others in national leadership.
Rationale: Leaders should lead.
KPI: the leaders articulate a consolidated vision for achieving the above objectives.
Example: The Prime Minister of Canada
Counter-indicator: Policies fragment society and isolate the nation from the community of nations.
New Year is traditionally a time for list-making. My lists are about living cross-culturally. I have lived in Thailand for 33 of the last 51 years. I no longer belong anywhere else. Pramote and I got married in Iowa in 2009 and built our home in a village close to his family in Chiang Mai. That is the context for my reflections this New Year’s Eve.
3 things that are persistently remarked upon:
3 things about my behavior that are hard for Thai acquaintances to accept:
3 things that I still find difficult:
OK, to be fair, what have I heard about how Americans respond to Thai persons in the USA?
I have been out of the USA for a while. Are these sorts of insults disappearing?
I have come to terms with most of these aggravations here. I cannot impact how Thai people first perceive me except by remembering to smile benignly and dress appropriately. They cannot diminish what I know and what I think, by underestimating it. At this stage in life it is time to shed regrets about what was not to be … and to dispose of books I have hoarded and clothes I have outgrown.
I’m on my way to a party down the lane where they will have ice cubes in the beer and bits of animal innards on the grill. Happy New Year, in this the best of all possible worlds.
Christmas is the most fascinating holiday I know of. What makes it interesting to me is the myriad ways it is celebrated. At the personal level most celebrants have one or two points on which they focus, without which it cannot be a satisfying, perfect Christmas for them. For many, the gift giving (and opening) are paramount. For others it can’t be Christmas without singing carols. Meals are important, usually because of the way they draw people together. In Thailand Christmas still retains its religious emphasis, and in many churches baptisms and reception of new members is traditional.
This year, 2016, shopping centers dispensed with extravagant Christmas decorations. Christmas was left pretty much up to the Christians.
This year I will regale you with a photo montage of Christmas celebrations here in Thailand. The photographs are collected from online postings by friends here.
These were one day’s news stories. They really settled a problem for me. I have been torn between (A) migrating to a little island in Polynesia where there is no Internet and I hear they no longer sacrifice virgins to the volcano god, (B) transmogrifying myself into a house elf to work in the kitchens at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where there is job security and a decent wage if you simply ask for it, or (C) withdrawing into the chemical haze I missed when the Hippies were showing us how to do it colorfully 50 years ago.
It’s clear that I don’t need to do any of those things because we already have been transported into a fantasy reality.
The only way to make sense out of what’s going on is to realize that nothing is real. It’s not supposed to make sense. I can transform all this into any fantasy I find amusing. The President-elect and everybody else are doing that, so why not me?
We Want to Join a Church that Accepts Thailand’s LGBT
And Stops Destroying LGBT through a False Bible*
Supachai Laingam, Pathum Thani, Thailand
[Translation of the sticker: We are LGBT. Stop using the Bible to Destroy Us. We are no different than other people. We want rights and freedom to be Christian.]
In this year 2559 (2016) it is undeniable that the numbers of homosexuals in Thailand and around the world who are admitting [their sexual orientation; i.e. “coming out”] are increasing. And there is greater acceptance in various countries, as well as in Asia, Taiwan, for example, where a trend is emerging to accept same sex marriage, as also in many other countries in America and Europe. Information on this is available at http://www.gaychurch.org/ where groups who believe are more understanding of sexual orientation. But Thailand still does not have a church for those who have chosen to be [openly] LGBT, not even in Bangkok where a lot of churches have been established.
PURPOSE AND HELP
We want to ask brothers and sisters who are spread across 16 sexual orientations, no matter your circumstances, age, status, or vocation to open your hearts and receive us who are LGBT to join in your ministry of service sincerely and proudly, not to exclude those of us who are LGBT from giving our love and concern in lives of enhanced service together and to move forward on the way of the Lord.
At present those of us who are [openly] LGBT are unable to join in Christian work or activities due to the use of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and many other passages as excuses. Those who use these excuses tend to rely on outward appearances and do not care about our hearts in the least, along with hating and ridiculing us as humorous, worthless, sinful and cut off from other brothers and sisters because they believe they have received the Word of God. They proclaim that those who choose to be LGBT are sinners and too unclean to be servants of God.
At the present time many local churches and Christian organizations in Thailand have not found the best way toward LGBT persons and prevent them from joining in worship of God.
Aside from this, some LGBT persons are “lost” (have left Christianity) or have posted more than 100,000 questions on Google a year. This statistic indicates a large number of believers in God with LGBT orientation who want advice and acceptance, rights and appropriate freedom of expression, and equality with other believers in God.
There have been questions on pantip.com about how to be a Servant of God [a minister or church leader] with sexual options, in search of truth, love, and salvation in the Lord. Here in Thailand there are a lot of LGBT people searching directly for right answers and who want understanding. This campaigner is a believer and has taken the name of the Lord for more than 5 years and wants to have an atmosphere of cordiality in the church on the part of all believers, free of hatred, attack, and discrimination based on sexual preference to seek the way of the Lord in Truth.
- - - - -
* The headline and text on the cross in the sticker change when clicked on. The text below the sticker remains constant.
1. This is the first public manifest of this kind I have ever seen in Thai by a Thai Christian in behalf of a change of attitude on the part of the churches in Thailand. I admire the risk Supachai has taken.
2. Supachai’s purpose is to campaign for other Thai people to join him in seeking change. He even included his telephone number for volunteers to call him. Of course, he might get calls from despisers as well.
3. Supachai uses certain terms that indicate he is acquainted with the most conservative sides of the church in Thailand, rather than the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the largest and oldest Protestant denomination in the country. But his belief that it is unacceptable to be openly LGBT as a church leader or minister applies to all. Being a member as an open LGBT person is not usually impossible in CCT churches, but discrimination on the part of other members is to be expected, as Supachai indicates.
4. Supachai does not make any reference to arguments against Biblical texts that have been used to oppose LGBT people. This is not surprising because those arguments have not yet been mentioned in Thai written material (although I would heartily welcome any citations or leads to articles in Thai others might know of). Supachai understands that it is the Bible that is the weapon used to oppose inclusion of LGBT people, and he calls that an excuse.
5. Supachai suggests that there are “a lot of people” who have LGBT orientation or preferences, without mentioning numbers. My unverified guess would be 32,740 LGT oriented persons in a total Christian population of 819,600 (1.2% of 68,300,000 Thai people). If 409 thousand men and 410 thousand women are Christians, and if 6% of the men are gay and 2 % of the women are gay the total would be 32 thousand. If only half of them were Christian believers, the churches being anti-gay as Supachai says, the number of Christian LGT persons would be 16,370 or something like 10 per congregation.
6. Equal opportunities and rights within churches for LGBT believers would include: the right to be a member without discrimination based on sexual orientation or preference for a sexual life-partner, the right to participate in all activities and opportunities for being selected for leadership positions, including the right to be considered for ordained offices on the same bases as other candidates, the right to be protected from accusations based on real or supposed sexual activities and orientation, and the right to propose interpretations of scripture and church traditions with the expectation of those interpretations being considered seriously.
AN ESSAY ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Senate of Ohio is working on a definition of when human life begins, although their express project is to specify an early end-date for legal abortions. In “breaking news” as of December 6, the senators have decided that no abortions should occur after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (using the most sophisticated equipment). That is “22 days after conception or earlier”.
To put that into perspective, the current practice is to draw the line at “viability” which is about 28 weeks after conception. “Viability” is the point at which about 90% of fetuses could survive outside the uterus. Before 20 weeks 0% of fetuses are “viable”. Full-term is 40 weeks. So the senators have agreed to shorten the time from 28 weeks to 3 weeks for pregnant women in Ohio to decide whether to become a mother.
In real terms, 22 days is before most women are even aware they are pregnant since they have not yet missed their first menstruation, much less their first two. The Ohio bill would effectively eliminate abortions, since no abortion (or any medical procedure) would be considered before someone is aware of the need for it. Ohio “Pro-life” (anti-abortion) groups are rejoicing because this is a step toward reversing the US Supreme Court’s “Roe vs Wade” decision that permitted legal abortions in order to reduce the dangers of illegal abortion practices by bringing all abortions under the law. In theory, as articulated currently by pro-life moralists, human life begins at the moment of conception Pro-life activists hope that Roe vs Wade will be overturned when the US Supreme Court takes on conservative Republican justices as soon as next year.
In short, the abortion issue in the USA and elsewhere is, “at what point is the will and welfare of the woman replaced by the welfare of the fetus she is carrying?” In its starkest form this question is, “When is it more important to save the baby than the mother, and who gets to decide?” On one side of the issue are the woman’s welfare, her emotional and physical health and well being, her social existence, and her human rights. On the other side, of course, are the child’s rights, which brings us back to the question of when does the embryo (later called a fetus) become formed enough to be called human and have legal standing.
The current choices are essentially these:
Option ONE: the state decides. Example: The Nazi state made the decision that the “Aryan Race” was fully human and other beings were less human, sub-human, or inhuman. Those excluded were Jews, Slavs, black people, homosexuals, and mental ill or deficient and physically deformed persons.
Option TWO: The church defends what God decides. Example: the Roman Catholic Church made the decision that having an abortion is a grave sin and that all who are supportive of abortions are involved in the sin. The rationale is “natural law” as a basis for canon law that human life is sacred and that no matter when “human” life begins, the purpose of sex and procreation is to produce human life. The church actually defends the process by which life has a chance of beginning.
Option THREE: the impregnated woman decides. When complex factors began to be recognized in mid-twentieth century, those factors distorted and re-described what was theretofore “normal”. At that point, priority began to be assumed in favor of those responsible and obligated to provide care for human children. The right to decide about continuing a pregnancy was allocated to parents and medical professionals as the most competent to assess the specific factors in a given case. In effect this meant that finally the mother decides. It was considered a huge victory for women gaining standing in a male-dominated world.
As of 2016, once again, the state is maneuvering to remove mothers from having a legal voice in the issue of whether or not they will be required to bring every conception to full-term if possible and then to be accountable for 18 years of care and nurture. All associated matters are obliterated. If the anti-abortion movement prevails, it will no longer matter that lives may be ruined or unsustainable. The only issue, once again, will be whether the conception happened.
Beneath this presenting issue is the philosophical one of who decides what constitutes a human being, at what point it begins and at what point it ends. Who decides who should live or die?
This round of the contest will be between states versus individuals. The problem is that states/nations fail to handle particular extenuating circumstances, and the cases all are unique, every one of them. Churches/religions also insist they are dealing with universal truths. Ironically, both states and religious entities are less comprehensive, with concerns more limited than human rights are supposed to cover. On the other hand, the problem with allowing free decisions is that individuals tend to be sometimes erratic and inconsiderate. There needs to be a steadying influence.
When it comes to defining who is human, however, states and religions have a terrible track record. Human rights are in the wrong hands when the handlers lose sight of half of the human beings they are supposed to be protecting.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.