Front and Center

Politics, society, and other random randomness

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Gay Marriage Law Passed in NY. The Debate Continues.

Friday night, New York became the 6th state to legalize gay marriage.  There was lots of cheering and applause in the gallery of the NY legislature as the bill won passage by 4 votes.  This was the second attempt to pass same sex marriage legislation in the last 3 years, as a similar bill was defeated in 2009.  The difference?  Something I think will lead to more states passing same sex marriage in the future (and noted in a huffington post article:

As older New Yorkers passed away and younger ones with more tolerant attitudes took their place, the percentage of voters in favor of gay marriage kept on going up and up, from 37 percent in 2004 to 58 percent at the beginning of this month.

Granted, a large percentage of voters nationwide still oppose same sex marriage, the issue is one handled at the state level. I’m pretty convinced that as younger voters take up more space in the voting block, we will see the percentages of people in favor go up.

There are two noteworthy things about New York becoming state number six.  First, New York becomes the largest state to become a same sex marriage state.  Further, unlike the other 5, one doesn’t have to be a resident of NY to get married in NY.  So, not only should we expect to see a number of gays go to New York to get married, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of them actually move to the state and take up residence.

Of course, conservatives are already sounding the alarm.  Michelle Bachmann, who is currently one of the front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination (it is early, folks, so that doesn’t mean much), has said that though she feels it should be left up to the states, she would offer up a federal amendment that would ensure marriage would be constitutionally guaranteed as being between one man and one woman:

“Every time it’s going on the ballot, the people have decided to keep the traditional definition,” she said. “After all, the family is the fundamental unit of government.”

I respect that many oppose same sex marriage on religious grounds.  But I have yet to understand how such a stance is not hypocritical from the traditional conservative stance of fighting for individuality.

It seems as though its all about individual rights, up until it’s something conservatives don’t agree with.  Suddently, its all about “what’s best for the country.”  Many a time, especially in debates, conservatives will be sure to use the talking points most effective with the base:  the Bible says homosexuality is a sin; marriage is traditionally between man and woman;  a mom and a dad are best for child- rearing.  The arguments have some validity to them.  But the discussion usually stops there.  I would love to ask Rep. Bachmann exactly how two people of the same sex negatively affects her or her own marriage.  Then I would ask how advocating for a constitutional amendment–in essence creating something else to be officially enforced by the federal government–does not contradict a call for limited government.  Further, I’d ask if she (or others opposed to same sex marriage on religious grounds) would advocate for a ban on divorce, since the Bible is pretty clear on that as well.

Bottom line, I’m sure that one can oppose religiously but recognize that the church and the state are two different things.  And in the absence of any substantial proof that society will end or the world will implode, there isn’t really a reason why it shouldn’t be allowed.

Wrapping My Head Around This Long Dollar Mess

Today, a bit of non-political talk.

I’ve probably talked this subject to death lately on my Facebook page, but needed one more time to get everything out in a flood as opposed to a few words at a time.  In case you missed it, or you don’t live in Atlanta, here is the jist of the situation.

Bishop Eddie Long is pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in Atlanta.  Months ago, 4 boys came forward and filed a lawsuit, accusing Long of inappropriate behavior that he engaged in with them.  Pictures released that Long had sent to the boys didn’t help him much.  Long denied the charges, taking to his pulpit and telling everyone listening that he was like “David fighting Goliath” and that he was going to fight the charges.  I, along with many others, figured he would let the furor die down and settle, but since he said he would fight, we had no choice but to take him at his word.  Meanwhile, members of his church begin to trickle away, as the combination of the leaked pictures and the compelling stories told by the victims paint Long in a very bad light.

Fast forward to recent weeks.  Long settles the lawsuit with his accusers and the settlement is sealed.  Despite that, the number leaks out:  $15 million split among the accusers.  Later, the number jumps to $25 million.  For people like me, it seems that not only did he talk a lot about defending himself then roll over, but that the sheer amount of settlement money did nothing to assuage the idea in our heads that he is guilty.  Personally, I’m aware that people settle out of court all the time to make cases go away.  But I’ve never heard of anyone or any company agreeing to pay $25 million in hush money willingly.

Here is where Pastor Creflo Dollar comes in.  He is the head of World Changers Ministry, another megachurch in Atlanta.  After the settlement was announced, he took to the pulpit and said something I have never heard a minister say outloud:  “I don’t want you here.”

When I read that, it sent me reeling.  After all, what is the job of a pastor?  In my mind, be a shepherd to the sheep in his flock, minister to them, and assist them on the path to be like–and eventually with–Jesus.  When things are bad, the church is refuge, and the pastor is always waiting with open arms.

Except when you’ve left his friend’s church.

I won’t go quote for quote on what Dollar said (you can see some of it here ).  But to summarize, Dollar directed some chastising remarks at any ex-New Birth members in his congregation that sunday, saying Long had had a “wreck” and that since everyone has wrecks, they were wrong to leave New Birth when their pastor needed support.  He described them as being “self-righteous” and “judgemental.”  He told them to join where they belong–telling them to go back to New Birth. Then he said those words.

“I don’t want you here.”

No disrespect to my friends and family that are either in the ministry or members of World Changers, but this is absurd for many reasons.  First, I want to ask him if he felt this way about members of other churches where pastors were found to be maintaining inappropriate relationships with underaged members.  Should the parents and relatives of those kids simply choose to stay and support the pastor and help him through his “wreck?”  is there a difference between a “wreck” and, say, a “pileup?”  And since he also mentioned in his remarks that there was a difference between a “wreck” and a “lifestyle,” exactly how may incidents of inpropriety constitute a lifestyle?

Second, how is it ever appropriate to turn away people who are looking for a church home, looking for peace and healing from whatever they have had to deal with?  I’ve spoken to friends who are in the ministry, related to minsters, or just well connected to the heartbeat of the Atlanta church community.  I was surprised to hear that the idea of not wanting certain people in a congregation is not new.  I guess I can understand not wanting troublemakers around.  But it seems to me that a minister should recognize that having people turn their backs on you for one reason or another is simply a hazzard of the job.   And if they can’t take it, maybe the ministry is not for them.  Besides, I would be curious to hear how they would explain such actions, comments, and thoughts if they found themselves face-to-face with the Lord Himself.  Do you think Jesus would give Creflo and “attaboy” and a pat on the back for that one?

Third, what does it say about us as people that members were clapping and laughing when Dollar made his comments?  Have we gotten to a point where we are ok with a lack of compassion coming from the pulpit?  Or is it that we are so programmed in the “that’s my pastor!” mentality that the rest of our brains disengage?  I personally can’t imagine my own pastor (and friend) saying those words from the pulpit.  But, I’m sure I, along with a few others I can think of, would be standing right outside after church waiting to have a word or two with him.  Unfortunately, a downside of being part of a megachurch is that getting one-on-one time with the pastor can be challenging, so I doubt anyone confronted him.

This entire situation has been disturbing.  Pastor Dollar will probably lose a few members over his remarks (most likely just the folks that had just gotten there from New Birth, unless they will stay and continue to be the target of ridicule).  Bishop Long not only remains in the pulpit at New Birth, but has announced that the church will expand.  And life goes on.  But, as one of my friends said, I guess in the end, the only one they are really accountable to is God.

Here’s hoping they can be “wreck-free” between now and that meeting.

Dems Say They Just Want to Go Back to pre-Bush Tax Rates. Don’t Be Fooled.

For years now, Democrats have been lobbying to have the current tax rates pushed back up to where they were before Bush II cut the rates.  The top marginal rate, now 35%, would go up to 39.6% for individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and families earning more than $250,000 per year.  Claims such as the rich need to pay their “fair share” (a term that is an undefined value, but effective in getting folks riled up), or that the rich have benefitted for long enough and need to pay up, are always used to try and bolster the argument.  I support the idea of raising the marginal rates for EVERYONE to where they were before the Bush tax rate cuts, and have said so many times.  But I discovered that, under further review, Democrats are attempting to go even further in their quest to turn high income earners into bigger cash cows for the government.

What most people don’t realize–and Dems aren’t going to hip folks to it–is that once the healthcare reform plan (“Obamacare”) goes into full effect, the tax rates for $200k/$250k earners will be more than they were pre-Bush.  How?  I’m glad you asked.

Baked into Obamacare are a number of tax rate increases designed to raise revenue to pay for the bill.  The number of taxes built in varies depending on which source you use, but there were two that jumped out at me.

First, there is a new 3.8% surtax on investment income for the over $200k/$250k crowd.  Currently, the tax rate on capital gains (profit made from an investment) and dividends (cash received for owning stock in a company) is at 15%.  The new surtax will push that rate up to 18.3%.  When the argument is made to go back up to the pre-Bush rate, which was 20%, there is no mention of the surtax.  If Democrats have their way, the rate for capital gains and dividends would be at least 23.5%.

Next, there is the 0.9% Medicare surtax, also for the $200k/$250k people.  Currently, 1.45% of everyone’s income is deducted to pay for Medicare.  Unlike Social Security, there is no cap on taxable income, so everything the person makes in income is taxed at the 1.45% rate.  However, with the new surtax, income over the $200k/$250k threshold will see a 0.9% tax increase, making the new tax rate 2.35%.  Instead of raising the top rate 4.6% to get it back to pre-Bush levels, the increase would actually be 5.5%.

A different discussion for another day is the laundry list of other taxes built in, such as the tanning tax, the medical device tax, the health insurers tax, ect.  The bottom line is, these taxes make the “we just want to go back to pre-Bush rates” argument nothing more than political foolery.  And, as usual, most of the masses fall for it.