Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ethics, Ethics Everywhere--and Ne'er a Drop to Drink

Saturday morning tidbits, while I scan the news worried about my uncle and cousin in Houston—my cousin not answering emails as of early evening yesterday. The news from Galveston sounds grim, with 40% of the island’s population refusing to evacuate, and flood waters rising quickly and high as the backside of the storm arrived.

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And a grim story in another vein altogether in the news today: a church in South Africa firing a gay man, then apologizing to him (when he took them to court) and saying “we never had the intention to hurt you or to offend you” (

How in God’s name do church people make statements like that with a straight face?

How do they live with themselves when they behave so atrociously towards gay brothers and sisters?

We never had the intention to hurt you or to offend you:

Nah. Doesn’t hurt at all to be out of a job solely because you’re gay.

To be lied about and lied to by church people who fire you after you’ve worked extremely hard—solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

Doesn’t hurt at all to see your meager retirement savings eaten up when you can’t find work, after church folks have fired you solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

Doesn’t hurt one bit to have your reputation destroyed by church folks who believe they have the moral high road in treating you like dirt, solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

Not a bit of pain in the experience of having good church folks kneel beside you at the communion rail one day and then kick you to the curb the next, solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

No hurt at all in being excluded from Christian community, from fellowship, from spiritual resources—because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

Doesn’t hurt being without health insurance, and thus not going to the doctor because you can’t afford to, even when you need medical care.

Doesn’t hurt a whit to see the folks who have done this to you drawing salaries, with benefits and reputations intact, though they’ve orchestrated campaigns of smears and lies, even while living in glass houses—solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

It’s not painful at all to have talents and the desire to use them, to be of service to others, and be shut by church folks out of that opportunity—yep, solely because they can do so, when you’re gay and they want to be rid of you.

The full story is at the link given above. The church in question is a Dutch Reformed Church. The person fired was a music teacher Johan Strydom (imagine discovering a gay church musician or music teacher!). The church’s apology came after Strydom took the church to court and won an apology and damages.

Even in apologizing, the church letter kicks Strydom, telling him he can’t expect to work in a church, because he’s supposed to be a spiritual leader—and openly gay folks can’t be that . . . .

Reminds me very much of that hug-smack dynamic analysts of the United Methodist approach to gay folks noted following this year following General Conference: I love you; but I don't love you enough to love you, to include you, to welcome you, to affirm you, to make use of your talents (,

I don't love you enough to overlook who you are as I "love" you.

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Further shocking news: in the Department of Interior scandal about which I blogged yesterday, it’s now turning out that right before the news of gross ethical lapses in the Department broke, the federal Office of Government Ethics gave the Department one of its 2008 Education and Communication Awards (

Yes, you’ve read right. The Department whose employees were sleeping with oil-company reps, taking drugs, accepting illegal kick-backs and feathering their nests out of federal coffers: yes, that Department.

Yes. An Education and Communication Award.

Yes. From the federal Office of Government Ethics.

The scintillating achievements of the Interior Department, which won them the Government Ethics award? Well, they developed “a dynamic laminated Ethics Guide for employees" that was a "polished, professional guide" with "colorful pictures and prints which demand employees' attention." Oh, and this picture book was small enough for employees to carry (though one wonders if it was perhaps not legible, albeit a picture book, given the ethical lapses now documented in the Department).

Oooh. Colorful pictures. And prints. Hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of this story.

And, sadly, it’s an all-too-believable story. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been involved in preparations for accreditation visits in colleges/universities, where the whole, ultimate, only goal was to develop “dynamic laminated” guides with “colorful pictures and prints.”

Conceptual frameworks so absurdly inflated and so divorced from reality that anyone looking at them would be stunned—as long as (s)he doesn’t inquire too closely into the actual conditions the framework is disguised to conceal. Big, bright, shiny displays of “documents” hobbled together, with colorful covers designed to conceal the paucity of accurate information inside.

That’s what academic life has come to. And accrediting bodies let colleges/universities get away with the pretty show-and-tell game. In fact, administrators who actually try to document claims made in the pretty picture books—laborious work requiring careful attention to detail, to reality, to the accuracy of a college’s claims as measured against accreditation expectations—are apt to find themselves soundly punished for the time they invest in that work.

It’s a diversion, you see, from the real task, which is to design those nifty conceptual frameworks so intricate that the accreditation team will bow in awe at your expertise (and refrain from asking inconvenient reality-based questions). The real task is to create a pretty collection of documents with pretty covers and pretty colored drawings and charts inside.

If this is how academic life functions today—and colleges and universities get away with it; I know, I’ve been there—is it any wonder that government agencies follow suit? Who produces the values-oriented graduates that fill the jobs in those government departments, after all?

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Another tidbit: in October last year, I posted at the National Catholic Reporter blog café site about a Pennsylvania-based Catholic group called the Society for Tradition, Family, and Property ( As that posting notes, Steve and I visited his family last October and found that this group had organized a 50-state effort to have Catholics pray the Rosary in public processions. Though this was supposedly a commemoration of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, many of the marchers in these processions carried signs with overt right-wing political content as they prayed.

My NCR posting notes that I’m suspicious of the attempt of this right-wing Catholic organization (which rejects the bulk of the peace-justice teachings of the Catholic magisterium) to get Catholics into the public square as the federal elections near. The website of the Society for Tradition, Family, and Property is downright homophobic. It links to an article suggesting that the "moral decay" of New Orleans (read: infestation with gays) actually caused Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans.

My NCR comments also note that, in my view, these public demonstrations organized by the Society for Tradition, Family, and Property have a fascist edge to them. They are an attempt to dupe faithful Catholics who are not highly politicized except around the abortion issue, and who don't necessarily buy into the homophobic agenda. Their real objective is to get such Catholics to the polls so that they will vote “right” in the coming elections, and to engage the support of Catholics for causes besides abortion, including banning of gay marriage, in underhanded ways.

I said all that last October. And yesterday, I read on Pam’s House Blend blog that none other than the Pennsylvania-based Catholic group of the Society for Tradition, Family, and Property is now demonstrating in California on behalf of the proposition to outlaw gay marriage (;jsessionid=52F098258F2308C0081CBBFD3AB76764?diaryId=6974).

And its scary, overt fascist overtones are being recognized by California citizens, who report that the marchers seem to be out of a Hitler Youth rally, and are clearly part of a fascist hate group.

Well—deep breath—welcome to the nation coming into being if the theocratic slate gets voted into office in November. If that’s the choice we make, I hope we are ready, because we’ll surely be getting what we deserve when these red-caped marchers wearing lions’ pins caper in the streets to celebrate their victory.