The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pope Francis' Comments on Homosexuality

   Last week Pope Francis surprised many people when he stated gays should be respected, and deserve to be treated with dignity, while on a trip back to the Vatican from Brazil. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  said Francis to a group of reporters. Its hard to disagree with the Pope's sentiments  after reading power testimonies such as this story. men at a funeral . The news about the Pope's comments surfaced at the same time when another prominent religious figure, Bishop Desmond Tutu, has said that he would not want to go to heaven if it is "homophobic."

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  The Papal Pendulum 

  Controversy over the existence of homosexuality in the Catholic Church was especially present during Pope Francis' predecessor's time in office.  Some Traditional Catholics, equated homosexuality with pedophilia. They rationalized that the problem with child abuse was linked to homosexuality because the majority of victims were boys. However, liberally-minded Catholics say that there is no proof that homosexuals are more likely to molest young children than heterosexuals, and that it shouldn't matter because the clergy are supposed to be celibate once it is in office. Both sides of the debate agree that the banning of gay men from the clergy will create a shortage of priests, that will curtail the church's global outreach. 

   While Pope Francis is not embracing same-sex marriage anytime soon, his views are in stark contrast when juxtaposed with his predecessor. In his first encyclical released in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church's position on homosexuality. This papal directive, was embraced by many conservative Catholics who were concerned that secular society might influence church policy. Pope Benedict XVI didn't stop at homosexuality either. He even criticized, agnosticism, atheism, Marxism and liberalism. For Benedict, the battle against these ideologies was part of a larger war pitting absolute truth  against cultural relativism. This is why many Catholics were surprised, especially conservatives, when Pope Francis declared that even Atheists can get to heaven.   

No Christian Consensus 

  The debate over homosexuality in the church isn't limited to Catholics. There are other Christian denominations that have struggled with this issue. Desmond Tutu's  Anglican church has had to wrestle with this issue as well.  Episcopal church made headlines when it consecrated the first openly gay bishop. This decision, created tension between the American Episcopal church and it's parent branch, the Anglican church. 

  During the time Ratzinger was articulating the Vatican's position on homosexuality, the Lutheran church was finding it's voice in the debate. For example, in 2005 Bishops took action against a congregation in California and Minneapolis for installing gay clergy.

   In 2004, the debate over homosexuality in the church, caught the media's attention as a Lesbian Methodists minister from Pennsylvania, went to trial. Rev Irene Elizabeth Stoud, a pastor in Philadelphia, was accused of having an active Lesbian relationship. Stoud even had a defense attorney to arbitrate her case in the court of Methodist law.

   There are also mainline churches that are considerably liberal on the issue of homosexuality such as the Unity and Metropolitan Community churches. The United Church of Christ, was in the news for its controversial AD over its acceptance of gay couples. The denomination, hosting 6,000 churches and over 1 million members, paid $1.7 million to have the AD featured on TV commercials.

Quoting Scripture 

  There are verses dispersed throughout the bible that are prima facie anti-homosexual such as Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy 23 17-18. However, many liberal observers such as Bishop Carlton Pearson, and Bishop Shelby Sponge, who argue that it is important to look at the verses  in its proper context. For example, much of the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus are related to hygiene that dont apply to non-Jews such as eating selfish, touching pigs skin, and wearing cloth of two different fabrics.

   Although Jesus did not say anything specifically condemning Homosexuals many conservative Christians point to the letters from Paul such as 1:26-27 to support their views on homosexuality. However it should be noted that during that time the Romans lived in the Greek city of Corinth, where the locals worshiped a hermaphrodite, and straight men and women would exchange sex roles as a part of worship. Similarly the city of Sodom is often cited as an example of God's wrath against a society that accepted homosexuality. Again, looking at the historical context, the city of Sodom had many problems associated with it including idolatry, pride, slothfulness. Homosexuality wasn't the city's main moral issue. 

Where Homophobia meets Christianity

   Still, even today, Christian fundamentalists try to use the story of Sodom to discriminate against gays. One of the most recent examples, is Uganda where Sen. James Inhofe  (R-OK) travels to  Uganda to meet with leaders such as David Baharit, who introduced and authored anti-homosexual bill that would make homosexuality a capital punishment. Despite enacting this legislation in 2009, Baharit was still invited to the White House for a Prayer Breakfast a year later. However, the invitation was later rescinded. Some Christian leaders, claim that gays commonly engage in coprophagy. 

  The remarks from both Pope Francis and Desmond Tutu demonstrate that homosexuality will continue to play a divisive role in Christianity. With over 200 denominations, Christianity is hardly monolithic  when it comes to homosexuality. 

  The statements from these religious leaders, isn't going to cause a consensus in the Christian community over this issue, but it does offer Christians a much-needed moment of spiritual introspection.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is Zimbabwe's 33-year-long Leader's, Robert Mugabe, Power Waning?

   Elections in Zimbabwe are underway as prime minister/presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, of rigging the process. The opposition is claiming that that there are deceased people on the voter registry lists. The voter rolls contain over a million people who are dead or left the country, and 116,000 centenarians Moreover, the prime minister has accused election officials of discarding 70,000 votes from security forces, that were in favor of Tsvangirai.

   The political landscape of the south African country is starting to change. In March, Zimbabweans, went to the polls to vote in a referendum for the new constitution contain many democratic elements, including limits presidential terms, a bill of rights banning torture, and cruel punishment, and the creation of a constitutional court to protect the rights of citizens enshrined in the new constitution.

   One group in particular looking to benefit from the new constitution are women. For years Zimbabwean women had been stigmatized for being childless. Some women were beaten by their husbands if they were found to have taken contraception. However, the fight for reproductive rights in Zimbabwe started to change as the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, funded by the United States government started a campaign to decrease the birth rates. The campaign involved 800 women who rode their bikes throughout Zimbabwe reaching 70 percent of the population. As a result, the population has leveled at 13 million, and proportion of women taking contraception (43%) is higher than the average in sub-Sahara Africa.

   In addition to reducing population growth, Zimbabwe has made significant economic progress in the last few years. most of the progress is attributed to finance minster, Tendai Biti, whose policy choices cut inflation to single digits after getting rid of Zimbabwean currency and replacing it with the American dollar and other strong currencies. This is remarkable, given the fact that at one point inflation had risen to 231 million percent!

  Still, Zimbabwean officials should precede precariously with any new economic policies. In the early 90s Zimbabwe implemented Structural Adjustment policies, which cut the budget in half but also reduced social services such as medical care, food subsidies and free education. The effects of making poor economic decisions were especially acute in 2000 during the food riots. Moreover, Mugabe's  failed land reform policy also contributed to the volatility of food prices. In an effort to give land back to black farmers, Mugabe took land away from white farmers without compensating them. Many white farmers were killed and over 300 were arrested. 

  This incident caused international consternation and resulted in economic sanctions. This wasn't the last time Mugabe received criticism. During the last election in 2008, the world watched as supporters of the Tsvangirai, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were attacked by Mugabe supporters. In the aftermath of the violence, 200 people were killed and 5,000 tortured. 

       Former United States president George W. Bush criticized Mugabe for making Africa look like a land filled with autocratic leaders: 

“African leader’s good example, stood in stark contrast to the African leader dominating the headlines, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had stifled democracy,  subjected his people to hyperinflation, and turned the country from a net food exporter to a net importer. His disgraceful record was proof that one man could ruin a country."

   Zimbabwe's relationship to the United States has always been shaky. In the 1980s Mugabe held conferences for the non-aligned conferences in which heads of states critical of American foreign policy attended. Moreover, Mugabe is not known for making the most diplomatic comments. Recently he called South Africa's International Advisor to the president, Lindiwe Zulu a prostitute for questioning his political readiness. 

  Still, Mugabe has survived several round of “elections” since he came into power, ever since the British Crown lost its hegemony over  Zimbabwe.  Mugabe faced no competition during the first two elections in the 80s, but the political dynamics in Zimbabwe started to change as it become one of 9 African countries to include a provision in the constitution for multi-party elections. However, given what happened yesterday, it doesnt look like ZANU-PF will relinquish its power anytime soon.