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To my Church family:

When it comes to the fight over gay rights in Iowa I find myself in a peculiar position.  For my entire life I have been a Christian and for my entire life I have been straight.  Growing up this way in this state that I call my home I have truly never known the sting of persecution.  On top of that I can’t even boast having a single gay family member or close gay friend.  By all standards I have nothing to lose or to gain from the debate over gay and lesbian rights in Iowa.  Why, then, do I even care?

I care because, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  I care because, as a Christian, it is my duty to stand on the side of justice and to protect those to whom justice would be denied.

Many times in the past we Christians have found ourselves standing on the wrong side of history.  So many times we have taken a stand along side prejudice thinly veiled in a cloak of false piety.  We have fought unholy battles only to find ourselves stained and humiliated in the aftermath.  The past lays bare our sins before us.  This time, though, we still have a chance to change that.  We can stand beside the oppressed with faith and with love.  We can be champions of justice and messengers of peace.  Then when we stand before our Lord one day He can truly say to us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

This time around we can find ourselves on the right side of history.  When our descendants look back on us might they see not a fearful people who hated their neighbor but a people who shown so boldly with the love of God that Love and Justice became synonymous with the title of Christian.

We are once again being presented with a choice and it is a choice we cannot ignore.  Which side will we land on?  That is something only we can tell.

With Love,

Tylor

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There have been a couple political events from the last few weeks that have equally piked my interest and made me weep for humanity.  Upon examination, though, I realized that these two events basically boiled down to the same tired themes.  Let’s take a look at each of them.

"Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." - Iowa motto

Vander Plaats and the Gay Marriage Hubbub

Politics here in Iowa have been oddly eventful this past year.  After Bob Vander Plaats failed attempt to win the Republican nomination for Iowa governor a while back he essentially disappeared off the scene for a while leaving many to speculate that he was planning a run at governor as an Independent.  Yesterday Vander Plaats finally spoke publicly about his intentions.  Turns out he’s not going to be running in the governor’s race (though he still refuses to endorse anyone else).  Instead he has decided to get back up on the anti-gay bandwagon and campaign to have three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices (who last year unanimously voted to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage) when they come up for retention this November.

Basically what Vander Plaats is advocating is taking revenge on the Supreme Court justices who made a ruling that he and his supporters didn’t like.  Aside from being a tactic that would likely have no effect on the ruling in question (much like the executive order he wanted to make as governor) this move seems to demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding about the purpose of the Supreme Court.

In Iowa I think one of the smartest things we ever did politically is set up a system where our Supreme Court justices are not elected but appointed by the governor.  They are then up for retention election every eight years (which is typically little contested).  The inherent strength in this process is that it removes the justices as much as possible from the sway of political and partisan whims.  As such, they are able to rule fairly and without bias and, most importantly, act as a check for the sometimes overzealous political machinations of the legislative branch.  If, like Vander Plaats has suggested, we punish the justices for doing their jobs or even go further to change to an elected justice system we would be directly undermining the purpose of the courts and trading that asset in exchange for the sway of political rabble rousing and mob rule.

Crying to “refudiate” the Ground Zero mosque

On the nation-wide political scene, apparently many folks are up in arms about the approved plans to build an Islamic center near the area of Ground Zero in New York City.  The main complaint has been that allowing an Islamic building near the site of the 9/11 tragedy would be a desecration to the area.  This line of thinking makes absolutely no sense to me for a few different reasons.  First of all, decrying this Islamic center basically amounts to lumping the entirety of the Islamic religion with the actions of a handful of extremest who do not in any way embody the ideals of Islam as a whole.  Secondly, if the city government were to heed these cries and go back on their decision to allow the mosque to be built it could be very easily seen as an official condemnation of Islam and Islamic people as a whole.  Finally, the call to disallow this center becomes even more apparently illogical when it is learned that one of the primary purposes of the proposed Islamic center is to encourage and promote inter-faith tolerance and acceptance in the city.  Why, exactly is this a bad thing?

The common thread

Both of these cases of public opinion run a muck have two things strikingly in common.  First, both of these events are essentially non-issues (in that they don’t really effect many people going against them)  that have been hijacked by politicians for the purpose of political posturing and rallying the passions of their constituents in the lead up to another election.  Secondly, both of these instances invoke the specter of the “evil they”.  Homosexuals in the first example and Muslims in the second are being made out to be a wicked other threatening the way of life of “real Americans”.  It is a common move to make politically.  After all, nothing unites quite like a common enemy (even if the enemy is an imagined one).  It is also an incredibly dangerous move since it intentionally creates an “us vs. them” mentality  which creates fear and prejudice at its inception and hate and violence when it is carried to its ultimate conclusion.

Can we who call ourselves a people of liberty recognize the evils that are being perpetrated in our midst?  If we can’t we may find ourselves entering into a dark period that has been repeated again and again throughout the history of the world.  It’s really up to us to decide.

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I made a trip down to Des Moines today for PrideFest 2010 (Iowa’s annual LGBT celebration) and good times were had by all.   I think if you ever want to see the potential for a peaceful world you just need to visit one of these events.

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Over the years I have come under the impression that Iowa is more or less the forgotten state.  Often people seem to forget that there are folks living out among all those corn fields except when an election year rolls around.

By virtue of having the earliest presidential caucuses Iowa suddenly shifts from obscurity to the central staging ground for the November elections.  While I sometimes wonder if all the attention is deserved and if we are actually as smart as we’ve convinced everyone we are I think this year may be one to watch.

The election in particular that has caught my attention is the upcoming race for the governor’s seat.  Here in Iowa the current incumbent is a Democrat by the name of Chet Culver and Culver hasn’t been having the greatest year.  In fact his popularity has dipped so far that the Iowa GOP seems to be chomping at the bit to get one of their guys in the ring.  The question is, who are they going to pick?

Currently the two front runners for the nomination are former governor Terry Branstad and Robert Vander Plaats.  On the surface these two candidates seems almost the same.  Both follow the basic party lines: small government, pro-life, against same-sex-marriage, want to lower taxes, etc.  However, their respective approaches to these issues have been just different enough to split the part right down the middle.  Vander Plaats has painted himself as an uncompromising conservative with his most vocal issue being his opposition to Iowa’s recent Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex-marriage.  This hard right wing stance has earned him support from the tea party members and conservative Christians but has left moderates and left-leaning people fairly uncomfortable.  Branstad, on the other hand, has gone for a more moderate and open approach with less emphasis on hot button far right issues.  This has earned him support from a broader range of people but has more staunch conservatives lashing out against him.

While I don’t think I could currently vote for a Republican in good conscience I am curious to see which way the GOP is going to lean.  Will they go far right to please the tea party and anti-Washington crowd or will they go moderate and try and broaden their base?  What’s more, will Iowa’s elections serve as a microcosm for the national elections the GOP’s larger identity?

I wait with bated breath.

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Over The Fence by Michael C. Clark

Over The Fence by Michael C. Clark

I wanted to do a brief follow-up to my previous post.    After writing that post I was invited to participate in the counter-protest at Drake University in response to the Westboro Baptist’s demonstration.  I wasn’t able to go out to that (though it looks like it went quite well) but it did get me thinking about the effectiveness of protests and counter-protests.

I wanted to participate in something like that because a gathering like that would have the effect of showing solidarity with a group who’s right are being infringed upon and demonstrate that we believe things can be different.  At the same time, I have always been a bit wary of such demonstrations because I fear they may be perpetuating a deeper problem.  You see, with demonstrations like this the default mentality is us verses them.  Battle lines are drawn and any kind of real discourse becomes nearly impossible and when discourse becomes impossible so does any kind of real understanding.

Indeed, it seems that the primary purpose of a public demonstration is not to gage points-of-view or even gain converts but to simply establish what camp people are in.  For this particular issue I don’t really believe that is what’s needed.

On this issue I have made my position quite clear but from that position I often have to remind myself that people on the other side of the fence are not to be treated as enemies.  The vast majority of these people are not bigots as they are made out to be but are simply following what they believe to be right.  When you believe that your view is right no number of placards is ever going to change your mind.  No, the only way to achieve anything here is for people to bring their ideas into the public forum with sincerity, logic, and mutual respect.*  It is in this sort of forum that freedom of speech can more ideally be practiced.

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*Ironically, it was this sort of forum taking place at Drake University that caused the Westboro protesters to show up in the first place.

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There was a story in the Des Moines Register a few days back that caught my eye.  It seems that there was a stir at the little high school just down the road from where I grew up.  What happened was the local shop teacher at this school was suspended after refusing to let a student build a Wiccan altar in shop class.  Though I do think the teacher likely acted a bit too rashly and should have followed the school’s policys in the matter his action isn’t the one that most bothered me.  Instead it was this bit:

Almost 70 students signed a petition last week saying they didn’t want witchcraft practiced at the school.

This is a very small (about 180 student) rural school so this relatively large number concerned me a bit.  It indicates to me that there is a serious lack of knowledge in the area of religions when such a small event can provoke such a fearful reaction.  Having grown up in the area I am familiar with the attitudes behind such a reaction and would like to propose a solution.

It seems to me that one of the biggest things missing from public education in America is any sort of education about religion.  I would guess that this is mostly a result of the separation of church and state (point of the constitution I am rather fond of myself) but I think we may be doing ourselves a disservice here.  While public schools should not evangilise any religion it would be a great service to students and to the community to teach students objectively about the beliefs and religions of the world.  After all, there is hardly anything in human society that religion does not influence in one way or another.  To white wash such things from our schools is to leave our children ignorant the way our world works on a basic level.

Thoughts?

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I am so proud of my fellow Iowans right now.  If you recall, a long while back the Iowa Supreme Court repealed the Iowa ban on same-sex marriage declaring it unconstitutional (which made me proud at the time too).  Well a couple weeks ago I opened up the opinion section of the Des Moines Register and front and center there was an editorial from Bryan English demanding that Iowans be allowed to vote against this decision.  The article was homophobic and bigoted–distorting facts in some cases and telling whole lies in others.  Even worse, it suggested that this was a Christian position.  It made me sad.

Then, the following Sunday I opened up the Register opinion section again and found a flood of  responses to English countering and rebuking his editorial.  According to the editor’s note the Register received many responses to the essay and not a single one of them was in support of English’s views.

Iowans, I am proud of you!

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