Monday, September 29, 2008

Daily Kos: Calling Gothard Cultic is not only foolish, but dangerous

Before I get to the Daily Kos, and my beef with them, let me offer a preamble re Bill Gothard.

In case you missed my last vent on the subject, I continue to track Republican VP Candidate Sarah Palin's connections with Bill Gothard, someone I've long criticized as being anti-womanist, a control freak (his teachings on obedience vs. "willfulness" have no biblical resonance as far as I can see, despite his proof-texting), and an enabler to some of the worst teachings in Evangelical/Christian fundamentalist circles. On top of that, his ideas on music are demonstrably uninformed (the augmented seventh a demonic chord? C'mon!) and his teachings on family structure plainly extra-biblical (that is, add-ons with no real biblical justification). None of this stops him from posturing as perhaps "the" authority on these matters. (You pay for the priveledge of being subjected to his teachings, by the way... maybe not quite as steep a surcharge as Scientology. Okay, so I'm venting...)

In short, Gothard freaks me out and always has.

[below: Edward Munch's "VampireII"]

One more story: A big reason I love my and my fellowship's denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has to do with former ECC President Paul Larsen. My appreciation for him was cemented after he told me of his one and only time attending a Bill Gothard "Institute on Basic Youth Conflicts" seminar. Gothard spoke of an allegedly bible-based pyramiding authority structure, in which women were demeaned and disempowered and told that males around them held authority from God to govern over them. Somewhere in the discourse, Paul began looking around at the pastors and leaders listening to Gothard's spiel. "I was shocked," he told me, "how no one was reacting, how many were even nodding in agreement." And soon after, Paul Larsen could take no more. He stood up and yelled at the audience, "Did you hear what he said?! Are you just going to sit there and listen and say nothing?!" This was particularly in reaction to Gothard's incredibly rigid ideas on women in leadership (the ECC holds that women are fully empowered biblically in ministry and in marriage, roles be, uh, darned). When no one reacted to him, he walked out on Gothard's nonsense. "I couldn't believe that biblically trained men would sit and listen to such ignorance," Larsen sighed.

Again, I really do not like Gothard's teachings. I am a Christian feminist (or pro-feminist, if you prefer), and with abortion being my one sticking point, feel far more kinship with feminists than with hierarchical Christians.

All that said, I stumbled across a post on the Daily Kos, which although it does a great job bringing out some of the weirdness re Gothard, also starts off by labeling him with the "c" word. We're talking "cult" here, as in the article's title: Former Cincinnati city commissioner outs Gothard cult. A few alleged "experts" on cults are listed -- experts that noted anthropologist and historian of religions Gordon Melton suggests are "experts in nothing" -- since "cults" as a category does not exist. Instead, one calls someone a "cultist" in an attempt to marginalize, demean, and disempower them. Sounds pretty Republican to me, and I'm sad indeed to see a liberal-leaning blog push that direction.

We who support "Change" in the most positive sense of that word should take a tip from Obama's responses to the dismissive, demeaning, and outright contemptuous treatment he received from John McCain in their debate a few days ago. Obama's refusal to take personal offense and keep things focused on issues of substance not only reflects biblical wisdom but also served him well in the polls--his post-debate national lead has increased over his rival for the Presidency.

At any rate, one should read the article from Daily Kos -- it has some very telling content apart from the name-calling. Too bad the "c" word was used, as it taints a post which would have stood on its own factual merits without either "cults" or "cult experts."

Hopeful lesson? Forego the usage of terms which, closely examined, are as vacuuous and vicious as the term "ni**er." Cult is one such word. We who claim the label "progressive" or / and "liberal" should watch our own language closely for signs that we are depersonalizing others in a potentially reactionary use of words. Yes, the left can lose its way in the heat of a moment. I'm sure a student of this blog might find places I myself have done so. All I can suggest is that we help one another by pointing out these cases of "demonization via language" and attempt to root them out. Tell the truth about our opponents, but -- repeating myself - take a page from Barack Obama. Senator Obama forcefully engages on matters of political doctrine and fact, but overall has more consistently refused to stoop to the level of personal contempt than any other Presidential candidate in my memory.

Let us follow his example.

Oh, and in the service of full self-disclosure, I should note that my own fellowship has been also targeted with the "cult" brush by some of the Kos-mentioned experts, who also call me a "cult apologist." Whatever. For more on my thoughts re the "c" word, see my old Cornerstone magazine article, "Reconceptualizing the word 'cults.'"

Hey, did I call Bill Gothard a "control freak"? Uh, yes. Guess others will have to figure out if that is fact-based or not... I think it is.

[Correction added: I'm an idiot. I said the painting was by Klimpt... it is a Munch. Duh.]

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