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Hobby Lobby plans D.C. Bible museum

Bible museum, gay news, Washington Blade

A Bible museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that was the home of the Washington Design Center. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The evangelical Christian family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores plans to open a Bible museum in Washington two blocks from the National Mall, prompting outrage from some LGBT advocates.

The concern expressed by LGBT advocates comes just one month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s contention in a controversial lawsuit that corporations with religious owners cannot be forced to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

“Leaders in Washington should soundly reject a theme park for extremism disguised as a legitimate museum,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Truth Wins Out.

“The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,” Besen said in a July 16 statement.

Representatives of the Museum of the Bible, Inc., a non-profit organization created by Green, president and CEO of the multi-billion dollar Hobby Lobby store chain, say the museum will include a collection of rare and ancient biblical documents and artifacts of proven historical significance.

“The museum won’t be interpreting the Bible but presenting it from a scholarly perspective,” said museum spokesperson Mark DeMoss in a statement released to the Blade.

“This museum is about a book: the best-selling, most read and, arguably, most influential of all time,” DeMoss said. “A lot of people are making assumptions about a museum that hasn’t even been built yet.”

Information on the Museum of the Bible website says the museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that has been the home of the Washington Design Center and its interior designers and furniture showrooms for more than two decades.

The building, which has been designated as a historic landmark, was used between 1923 and 1959 as a cold storage and ice making plant. At one point it was owned by a Chicago-based company founded by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy.

DeMoss’s office told the Blade that the Museum of the Bible, Inc., purchased the building in July 2012 for $50 million.

Last week, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board gave final approval of the Museum of the Bible’s architectural plans to convert the building into a museum.

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky, former chair of ANC 6D, which has jurisdiction over the area where the museum will be located, said the ANC also voted to approve the use of the building as a museum.

“It’s private property,” Litsky said. “They showed us their architectural drawings and explained the changes they plan to make,” he said. “We did not question the content of the museum. I don’t believe that is our role.”

Besen of Truth Wins Out said he believes it is within the role of the D.C. government to raise questions about a museum that he says would promote misinformation and discrimination. He called on D.C. government officials to invoke zoning restrictions to block the museum from opening so close to the National Mall, where he said tourists and visitors would mistakenly assume it is part of the federal Smithsonian Institution’s museum system.

“It’s not designed to be a museum but to be a Trojan horse to get their ideas and make it look and feel like a museum,” Besen told the Blade. “These are hard core rigid politicized, radicalized ideologues that want to pretend they represent Christianity when in fact it’s just a narrow version of it and the most virulent and dangerous version of it.”

Besen was the only LGBT advocate reached by the Blade who called for preventing a Bible museum operated by the Green family from opening near the National Mall. Officials with other local and national LGBT groups, including the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, cited First Amendment grounds for allowing a privately owned museum to open on private property, even if they disagreed with its message.

“LGBT groups should not seek to suppress the First Amendment rights of those who oppose us,” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall. “As we are told by our friends in the ACLU…the proper response to offensive speech is more speech,” he said in an email to the Blade.

“Urging the government to suppress ignorant and obnoxious viewpoints is not only heavy-handed and improper, it is unnecessary since we have the better arguments and science on our side,” Rosendall said.

Rosendall and representatives of other LGBT organizations said they nevertheless remain concerned that a Green family-sponsored Bible museum could be used to promote an interpretation of the Bible that considers homosexuality an abomination – an interpretation that activists and many biblical scholars say is no longer supported by scholarly biblical research.

Green and his Museum of the Bible spokespersons have given conflicting signals on what, if any, message the museum would present on issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Museum of the Bible spokesperson DeMoss, founder of an Atlanta-based, religious-oriented public relations firm bearing his name, did not respond to written questions from the Blade asking about Steve Green’s views on LGBT rights, homosexuality and the Bible, or whether the museum would address those issues.

However, The New Republic magazine reported in a March 25, 2014 article that the museum’s chief operating officer, Cary Summers, said the museum “won’t mention homosexuality, abortion, or any other ‘political commentary.’”

On Wednesday, one of DeMoss’s assistants, Adrienne Young, responded to the Blade by email, saying, “We can confirm that The New Republic report accurately reflects what will (not) be presented in the museum’s exhibits.”

The New York Times reported in a July 16 story about the Bible museum that Green himself has referred to the Bible as “a reliable historical document” and said he is developing a public school curriculum “to reintroduce this book to this nation” as part of the museum project.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” the Times quoted Green as saying in a speech last year in New York. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it. If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary,” the Times quoted him as saying in his speech.

Observers who favor a scholarly, non-judgmental approach to the planned museum point to Green’s expenditure of $30 million of his own money to acquire in recent years a vast collection of Bible-related documents and artifacts from sites throughout the world that are to be part of the museum’s exhibits.

Known as the Green collection, the objects and documents include early recordings of the New Testament in the Aramaic language, ancient manuscripts, Torahs, and a nearly completed book of Psalms on papyrus paper, according to Scott Carroll, an archaeologist and historian who acted as an adviser to Green on the acquisition of the artifacts.

Although Carroll’s role as director of the Green Collection gave Green’s plans for the museum credibility, Carroll, a former Baylor University professor, told the New York Times he decided in 2012 to withdraw from the Green Collection and museum project.

“While he believes in the scholarly roots and historical significance of the collection, he is concerned that the Green family faces a difficult challenge in balancing its passion for ministry with the objective mission of a museum,” the Times reports.

Brent Childers is executive director of Faith In America, a national group that seeks to protect LGBT youth from mistreatment and abuse due to what he says is an incorrect interpretation of the Bible pertaining to homosexuality. He said the Green family has a right to open a Bible museum in Washington. But he’s concerned that it could be harmful to LGBT young people visiting its exhibits if it promotes a message of hostility toward homosexuality.

“If you walk into that museum and you see a section on biblical interpretation and how this historical book has been misinterpreted in the past, that could be a great service,” Childers said. “But from what I’m reading I don’t know if I could expect to see such a section in Green’s private museum.”

Added Childers, “If it’s going to be a museum where only his interpretation of the Bible is going to be on display, then I think that would be an unfortunate endeavor for everyone because it would open up divisiveness.”

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, an LGBT-oriented congregation, said he, too, would oppose an effort to block the Green family’s museum from opening on private property.

“Those of us who come from another perspective will have to be very alert and monitor the messaging and offer a counter voice when that messaging is going to have anything that would potentially lead to self-hatred or violence or an anti-gay message,” he said.

“At this point the weight of scholarship does not support the Bible as condemning homosexuality,” Johnson said. “The Bible does not speak to homosexuality as we experience it today. That’s why you’re seeing so many churches that are now becoming more accepting and affirming,” he said.

“It’s based on further weight of scholarship as they continue to do research on the original languages and looking at the context,” according to Johnson.

“I don’t think this proposed Bible museum is appropriate for the National Mall because the museums on the Mall should reflect the non-religious values of our nation,” said Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the national LGBT advocacy group Center for Black Equity.

“However, I would be careful not to say that a Bible museum should not be built in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The same argument could be used by those who would be opposed to an LGBT museum in Washington, D.C., which I support.”

Tim Gold, founder and director of the Velvet Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt group created to build and maintain a National LGBT Museum in Washington, said the foundation is currently finishing a comprehensive master plan for the museum and hopes to have a site selected by the end of the year.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC supports religious freedom for all people and recognizes that people of faith increasingly are supporting LGBT equality and viewing that support as an extension of their faith.

“To the extent the National Bible Museum empowers and enlightens then it will be a welcome addition,” he said. “But if the museum misuses the holy document as a cudgel for discrimination against LGBT people then it will have not only sullied the Bible, it will have exposed a dastardly political agenda.”

Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out, Bible Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

‘The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,’ said Wayne Besen. (Photo by Michael Murphy)

30
Jul
2014

Pro-LGBT Christians distance themselves from anti-gay summit

Wayne Besen, gay news, gay politics dc

Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen (photo by Michael Murphy).

One day before a conference hosted by the anti-gay Family Research Council is set to take place, Christian leaders are turning up the volume on their message that the social conservative group doesn’t speak for everyone and their faith, in fact, welcomes LGBT people.

On Thursday, religious leaders affiliated with the “Not All Like That” Christian project held a news conference at the National Press Club to decry the anti-gay sentiment often expressed by others in their religion and leaders at the upcoming Values Voter Summit.

Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in D.C., which earlier this year made the decision to conduct same-sex weddings, said it’s not enough for the religious to say they accept LGBT people, but also embrace them.

“It’s really important for the church to say, first, that sexuality is good and that sexuality is a gift, and that human beings are called to live out their sexuality freely and responsibility and creativity and compassionately and ethically with other people,” Hall said.

Heading up the conference was Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, who attributed the current gridlock in Washington to the kind of vitriol coming from the religious-right in American politics.

“I ask you: are politics in America more civil, more humane, dare I say more Christ-like since the infusion of the religious right?” Besen said. “The answer is clear, Washington, and much of the country, is angrier, more dysfunctional and more fractured than ever. It’s time for change.”

The Values Voter Summit is set to take place in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. and will feature prominent conservatives like the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). Another prominent speaker is Ben Carson, a conservative neurosurgeon who once compared LGBT advocacy to endorsing pedophilia and bestiality.

Michael Keegan, president of the People for the American Way, said the upcoming Values Voter Summit marks the “high holidays of extremism” for leaders of the religious right.

“They are extremists that have pushed vicious smears against progressives, against immigrants, against non-Christians, and, I think, most importantly, and most frequently, members of the LGBT community,” Keegan said.

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, expressed regret that he once partnered with organizations that held anti-gay views and decried that their actions are contributing young LGBT people’s decision to take their lives.

“If a pastor or church member asks you to partner with that message coming from those anti-gay religious organizations, tell them that you do not want to make a mockery of your faith,” Childers said, “because the message that would cause that type of harm cannot be sanctioned by the Christian faith.”

The news conference highlighted new videos for that NALT Christian Project, which aims to provide a voice for Christians who want to post online videos of themselves to proclaim they’re “not all like that” in terms of holding anti-gay views. Among the new videos were from Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

In response to the Washington Blade’s inquiry on the news conference, the Family Research Council replied  by sending its own video depicting Dan Savage, a co-founder of the NALT Christian Project, as bully to Christian teens. The video includes Savage using profanity as he rails against the religious right.

Besen responded to the video by saying that the Family Research Council is seeking to deflect attention away from its “insidious message” by taking Savage’s comment grossly out of context.

“Savage may use naughty words, but he is correct to point out FRC’s naughty behavior,” Besen said. “Furthermore, Savage has never worked to strip fundamentalist Christians of their rights, while FRC is a lobby group that works tirelessly to keep LGBT people as second class citizens.”

Following the news conference, Besen told the Blade he thinks progress can be made in encouraging religious leaders to be more pro-LGBT because younger people of faith, like other young people, tend to be more accepting. Still, Besen noted there’s still challenges.

“There’s still a heavy price to pay if you come out in support of equality, you could have a divisive issue, you could lose your job,” Besen said. “We’re starting to see the change where we you can speak out, I believe, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

10
Oct
2013

YouTube accused of ‘protecting’ anti-gay church

Brent Childers, gay news, Washington Blade

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America. (Photo courtesy of Childers)

The LGBT advocacy group Faith In America says YouTube has refused to explain why it removed from its website a video produced by the group about a 22-year-old gay man who says he was held against his will for four months and assaulted by members of a North Carolina church that considers homosexuality a form of “demonic possession.”

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America, said he believes the Spindale, N.C., based Word of Faith Fellowship church misled YouTube into thinking the video infringed upon its religious freedom.

Childers and others who have monitored the church say it has the characteristics of a cult and exerts extraordinary control over the lives of its members and their children. They say Word of Faith Fellowship, which operates on a 40-acre campus, has a long history of abusive treatment of gays.

“It is really dumbfounding,” Childers said. “YouTube allows a controversial video that pokes fun at Islam. But here we have a video in which a person is telling his own personal knowledge of how this bizarre Christian church treats gay youth or those suspected of being gay, and they remove the video.”

Attempts by the Washington Blade to reach YouTube, which is owned by the search engine giant Google, have been unsuccessful. A YouTube spokesperson couldn’t be reached by phone and the company didn’t respond to email sent to an address listed for “press inquiries.”

Pastors Jane and Sam Whaley, the founders and leaders of Word of Faith Fellowship, posted a message on the church website denying the church has mistreated gays and said the allegations made by the Faith In America video were false.

The gay man who is the subject of the video, Michael Lowry, told the Washington Blade his parents raised him as a church member since he was born and that he attended church operated schools on the church compound from kindergarten through 12th grade.

He said church members subjected him to severe pressure since his early teens to expel what they said were “demons” within him that were causing him to embrace homosexuality.

“I was very different than a lot of the other kids,” he said. “I was viewed as being gay. I never said I am gay…It was a very hard time. Through my whole school years I was very bullied, hurt because of that.”

Lowry said that around July of 2011, church members came to his home while his parents were out of town and forced him to go with them to a building on the church compound known as the Fourth Building, where male church members reportedly are taken for punishment for violating church rules.

He said he was held in the building against his will for four months and at one point was assaulted by church members assigned to watch over him during his stay at the facility. He said church officials released him in November 2011.

FBI may have been contacted by U.S. Attorney’s Office

Jerry Cooper, a Baptist minister and former member of Word of Faith Fellowship, said he has been assisting Lowry since last year in his role as a counselor to people who leave the church and who often suffer psychological scars from their experiences with the church.

Childers said the video that YouTube deleted consisted of an interview with Cooper talking about Michael Lowry’s case. Childers said for unknown reasons YouTube did not delete a separate video that includes an interview with Lowry.

According to Cooper and Don Huddle, a member of Faith Freedom Fund, a North Carolina group that helps ex-Word of Faith Fellowship members adjust to life outside the church, said church members brought Lowry to a nearby hotel after they released him.

“They took him to the hotel with just a few of his belongings,” said Huddle, who noted that someone familiar with the church alerted his group to Lowry’s plight and informed him that a confused and emotionally distraught young man had been taken to the hotel.

“I picked him up from the hotel and brought him to a safe house,” he said. Huddle said Faith Freedom Fund has a network of volunteers and supporters who spring into action when they learn of Word of Faith Fellowship members who desire to leave the church.

Cooper said he met Lowry through Huddle’s group in 2011 and advised him to consider reporting the church’s actions against him to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s office, which is the law enforcement agency in the area where the church is located.

He said Lowry reported to a Sheriff’s Office investigator that he had been taken against his will and held against his will by church members, and the office began an investigation that resulted in Lowry being called this week to testify before a county grand jury. His testimony was scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Childers said Faith In America contacted the U.S. Justice Department about Lowry’s allegations in October and called on the department to investigate the church’s alleged detention of Lowry and his claim of being assaulted by church members as a possible anti-gay hate crime.

A spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina, which represents the Justice Department, said she would make inquiries about whether her office has responded to Faith In America’s request for an investigation. The spokesperson didn’t immediately get back to the Blade.

However, Cooper said an FBI agent interviewed Lowry for several hours last week about his allegations against the church, a development that suggests the U.S. Attorney’s office contacted the FBI to investigate the matter.

A copy of an incident report taken from Lowry by the Sheriff’s Office in February 2012 and released by Faith in America, says a group of men affiliated with the church “held him down and hit him about the face and chest area” at the time the church held him against his will in August 2011.

“Mr. Lowry stated that he told them to let go but they would not,” the report says. “The reason they [did] this was because he was homosexual and they [were] trying to get him to stop being homosexual. When this incident was taking place, the group would tell him he had demons in him and he was going to hell,” the report says.

‘YouTube… is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth’

A statement released by Faith In America says that during Lowry’s forced stay at the church facility “he was subjected to humiliating acts, such as being made to sleep on the floor in the hallway and had to submit to supervised bathroom visits because church members feared he might be masturbating.”

“What YouTube is doing, perhaps inadvertently in this particular case, is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth and families in the name of religious teaching,” Chiders said. “In doing so, it is giving cover to a vast number of churches who do the same thing, whether a small charismatic church in rural North Carolina or a large Methodist church in some American suburb.”

In a posting on its website, Word of Faith Fellowship disputes Lowry’s allegations and accuses Faith in America of “repeated vicious lies” about the church.

“We have always been a church that has loved everybody, because God is love,” the statement says. “What Michael Roy Lowry has said never happened. We would never allow it to happen. We do not discriminate against anyone, and we never have.”

The statement adds, “We never knew Michael Roy Lowry was gay until we heard it on the news program. It would have made no difference to us, because we love him.”

Cooper, who said he has closely followed Word of Faith Fellowship since he left it in 1998, said evidence is “overwhelming” from people who leave the church that church leaders abuse people suspected of being gay or suspected of engaging in any type of sexual activity not deemed appropriate by the church, even between consenting adults, gay or straight.

He said the church has prohibited Lowry’s family from seeing or talking to Lowry, a practice he said the church carries out with most people who leave it.

09
Jan
2013