Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is the Rage Over Red Cups Real?


I've watched in fascination as the Starbucks Red Cups Controversy has unfolded. By now you've probably heard the story, some Christians were upset when Starbucks unveiled this year's holiday cup: a plain red ombre cup with no decorations. Despite the fact that the cup is red and green (from the Starbucks logo) which almost everyone knows is distinctively Christmas-y, the new cup was considered an assault on Christmas, therefore we should be offended because... Jesus. Right. Then we had a lot of people respond pointing out how ridiculous it is to get upset over a paper cup, how there are actually real problems in the world, and how Starbucks usually doesn't feature anything distinctively Christmas on their holiday cups anyway. And finally, the latest development in this saga is that some are now questioning whether there ever really were people legitimately upset over the cups in the first place, or is this a marketing ploy by Starbucks or a conspiracy from the media to make Christians look like idiots?

Here's what I think. First, the beauty of social media is that we can go back to when this controversy started and see that there really were people upset over the cups who most likely are not shills of Starbucks (unless you think Glenn Beck is secretly employed by Starbucks, in which case you definitely are a die-hard conspiracy theorist). Second, is the media milking this? Maybe, but only to the degree that the media milks everything because of course the media loves a good story. The more attention a story gets, the more page views, the more advertising revenue. But no, I don't believe this is a conspiracy against Christians (more on that below) or a conspiracy to help give Starbucks free advertising. The real reason why this story has gone so viral is because it's such an obvious target. It's so easy to make funny memes attacking the stupidity of complaining about a cup or serious memes pointing out the very real problems in our world today that dwarf the pettiness of whining over not having a Baby Jesus snowman on your coffee cup. I have seen a lot of great responses, all from everyday people like you and me, just average citizen sharing their thoughts. This story has gone viral largely because we the people have responded in a viral way. And that's a good thing! It's great that the voices of reasons are banding together to shout down the insanity of those complaining about a paper cup.

But Bristol Palin claims that media coverage has hyped the Starbucks story and "is just another attempt by the LEFT to make Christians look stupid." She also claims that those who are upset with Starbucks are "one small group." Based on these statements, I'm guessing that Palin did not do any research on the origins and evolution of this Starbucks frenzy. Let's look at some numbers. Bristol Palin is a public figure who had her own reality television show on Lifetime and appeared on Dancing with the Stars (making it to the finals and taking third place). Her Facebook page has almost 458,000 fans. The man who started this Starbucks-hates-Christmas cup circus is Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor who has become a social media celebrity due to his inflammatory far right wing posts and video rants. He has nearly 1.88 MILLION Facebook fans. Do the math. That's almost quadruple the number of Facebook fans that Palin has. It is Feuerstein's Facebook page that Palin refers to as "one small group." But somehow this man posts an anti-Starbucks video to his "small group" of fans, who then repost it over half a million times, resulting it in being viewed over 15 MILLION times in just six days. Then he claims that as a result of his initial video/post, "tens of thousands Christians invaded Starbucks" to express their displeasure with the alleged removal of Christmas from Starbucks stores:

Glenn Beck - who in case you're wondering, has almost 3.25 million Facebook fans - has also posted against Starbucks using the hashtags ‪#‎stopthepcmaddness‬ ‪#‎standforCHRIST‬ ‪#‎merryCHRISTmasstarbucks‬. In his post, he linked to an article praising Feuerstein for his plot to get baristas to write Merry Christmas on cups but pointed out, "While this is cute to do this, don't forget he just gave them his money to write on the cup. Who wins?!" Feuerstein playfully commented that Beck was slamming him, to which Beck responded that he was not and he thinks Feuerstein is "clever":

So, we have an internet figure with a fairly large following and a very well-known, mainstream conservative figure both posting against Starbucks. Collectively, they could have over 5 million Facebook followers (though there's no way of knowing how many of their fans overlap). There is also the conservative news site Chicks on the Right which has posted against Starbucks twice since the controversy started (here and here) as well as Right Wing News which posted an article titled Christians Livid After Starbucks Releases Unusual Holiday Cups, on November 5, the day the story first broke and before it was a trending story on social media. Yesterday, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump chimed in to suggest that maybe we boycott Starbucks and actor Rob Lowe tweeted this:

Yet, Palin wants to blame the LEFT media for hyping anti-Starbucks outrage?! That's called deflection. Here's a novel thought: why don't we blame the people who are actually voicing outrage against Starbucks? And instead of blaming the media for reporting on the negative behavior of these individuals, we could blame the religious people for actually engaging in this negative behavior. We could blame Feuerstein and Beck for using their substantial platforms to complain about an issue that makes Christians look stupid. We could even take it a step further and blame the people who give Feuerstein a platform (by the way, the left wing media didn't make almost 2 million people like this dude's page). Some of these individuals who "like" him are my own Facebook friends (ah yes there is no privacy with Facebook). So for all of you who "like" Mr. Feuerstein... congratulations, you have helped make a lunatic a mouthpiece for Christianity.

So is the rage over red cups real? Yes, it is real. I doubt Joshua Feuerstein's claim is true that "tens of thousands" are invading Starbucks to demand that the baristas write "Merry Christmas" on their cups, but we can thank him, not the liberal media, for posting that lie.  Regardless of the exact numbers, we know that it is true that there are enough high-profile conservatives who are complaining about this to warrant the excellent response we've seen over the last few days.

Source: Facebook

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality, Hypocrisy, and Fanaticism

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It's been quite the week.  Before we have even recovered from last week's controversial news stories, another one is hot on its heels.  By now, unless you live under an actual rock, you've no doubt heard the news that this morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling extending marriage rights to same-gendered couples.  As a somewhat conservative Christian with somewhat liberal social views (yes, its possible), this leaves me in the awkward position of not fully agreeing with either side in this debate.  So naturally, I decided to write this post to articulate my feelings which may just end up ticking off everybody though I really hope it won't.

Here's the thing, I believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and believe that homosexual sex is forbidden. That's where I'm not on the pro-LGBT side fully.  But that's pretty much where it ends. I also believe that unmarried heterosexual sex is forbidden, as well as some (though certainly not all) divorces and remarriages, so I really dislike how homosexuality has become the "whipping boy" of Christianity while these other issues get mostly a pass.   It's fairly obvious, to me anyway, why this is the case.  We all need a way to make ourselves feel better about our own sins.  I mean, Jesus even said that we like to point to the speck in our brother's eye rather than deal with the plank in our own eye.  And it's a lot easier to point fingers at a gay man than at ourselves, while we're hitting the buffet like gluttonous pigs.  But hey, being prideful and overeating is not as bad as being gay, right? No, actually, even the most literal reading of the Bible can't point to a place that tells us that the acceptable evangelical sins are less serious to God than everybody's favorite biggie: "the gays."

While we're talking about hypocrisy, I couldn't help but note how ironic it was that on the eve of this marriage ruling, conservative darling Bristol Palin announced her second pregnancy.  Just to recap who Bristol is: she is the daughter of former vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, an abstinence advocate, and outspoken against same-sex marriage and families.  Yet the thrice-engaged yet never married Ms. Palin has now conceived her second child outside of the bonds of holy matrimony.  Bristol is receiving a tremendous outpouring of support from her conservative fan base, if her Facebook page comments are an accurate indicator.  And I am really happy to see that - shaming single mothers is detestable.  She needs and deserves support and I am glad conservatives aren't turning on her, even though she's kinda turned on them. After all, she has gone on record saying, in a rant against President Obama and his support of same-sex marriage: "we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home." I actually personally agree that it is ideal for kids to grow up with both a mother and a father in the home, or at least two parental figures in the home (but that's only if they're actually good parents). It's just ironic, though, that conservatives in general tend to be very vocal about how children of same-sex couples are disadvantaged by not being raised by opposite-gendered parents...and then rush to support Bristol as she brings yet another life into a fatherless home. (Granted, Bristol's firstborn does have an actual father though he has no custody rights to his son and only sees him on a visitation basis.) It puzzles me that they can with a straight face (haha) argue that two women should not raise a child, but apparently its okay for just one woman to raise a child?

This highlights the very huge problem American Christians face in their rabid opposition to marriage equality.  In order to consistently judge LGBT couples, we also should be judging any and all deviations from the intact traditional family.  If we're being fair and logical, I mean.  But despite conservatives' best efforts to paint gay couples as the reason for the decline in the nation's morality, homosexuality as an assault on the institution of marriage, and same-sex couples as unfit parents for children...some of us know the truth.  We know that 4 out of 10 live births are to unwed parents (a number that has increased roughly 25% since 2000).1  We know that nearly 40% of marriages end in divorce.2  And we know that plenty of heterosexual couples are raising children in broken homes, either with split parenting or one parent entirely absent.  In fact, less than half of American children (a mere 46%) are being raised in a home with two married parents in their first marriage.3  So please, conservative evangelicals, do us a favor.  Stop pointing fingers at LGBT people and blaming them for the decline of the traditional family. Perhaps instead take a good hard look at the way heterosexuals aren't exactly modelling how to uphold the institution of marriage or have intact traditional families.

That brings me to another thing: letting same-sex couples marry is not persecution of Christians.  Mike Huckabee made the irrational claim today that marriage equality is a serious blow to religious liberty.  Seriously? So according to him, my religious freedom is impinged upon if a cohabitating LGBT couple down the street from me is granted a marriage license.  I'm having difficulty processing exactly which religious liberty of mine is affected by this.  Is it my religious liberty to disagree with their lifestyle?  Doesn't appear to be since Huckabee has certainly been vocal about his disagreement and no one is restricting his voice.  Please. This persecution paranoia needs to stop.  It is completely out of control.  Newsflash Americans: religious liberty does not mean you can impose your religious standards on everyone else.   And speaking of imposing on everyone else, the Civil War has been on a lot of people's minds lately due to the recent Confederate flag controversy (I may blog on that next week actually, so stay tuned!) but did you know that civil war is also related to the marriage controversy?  That's right, earlier this year James Dobson made the statement (or perhaps "threat" would be a more accurate word) that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, it could lead to another civil war.

Let's just pause a moment to let that sink in.

Okay. So the Civil War is kind of my thing; I've had this weird fascination with it for over 15 years. But even if you don't know much about it, you probably realize it was a pretty devastating event for this nation. It is baffling that anyone would bandy that phrase around so lightly. Civil. War. Think about what that means. Brother fighting against brother. Friends killing each other.  Unimaginable destruction of resources, homes, property, and livelihoods.  Do we get that this happened on our own soil and was caused by our own citizens against one another?  It was an unspeakable horror.

But aside from that, it is astonishing that anyone would feel strongly enough about stopping marriage equality that they would entertain the idea, even for a second, of killing over it.  Killing any person at all, let alone their fellow countrymen and women!  This begs the question, does the god Dobson claims to follow really want us to kill people over a piece of paper?  And if he does, is that really a god and religion worth following? (Its definitely not the god I believe in.)   The sheer lunacy of this should be obvious yet James Dobson is not some fringe freak like Fred Phelps whom everyone writes off.  No, he is well-respected and followed by many, many evangelical Christians.

I made the statement in a Facebook discussion a few months ago, without knowing about Dobson's absurd threat, that conservatives would practically die trying to stop marriage equality.  I meant it metaphorically then. It's such a cliche phrase: "That's a hill they are willing to die on."  At the time, if someone had challenged me and asked if I thought people would literally be willing to die over this, I would have responded, "Of course not!" without any hesitation. But now...now we know that some appear willing to actually sacrifice human life on this altar of religious fanaticism.  At least, that's what Dobson's words suggest and the apparent support he gets from his fellow marriage equality opponents. Whether he really means what he said or is just throwing around inflammatory rhetoric is debatable, but either way he should be ashamed of his statement.  And we should be appalled that a man who claims to represent our faith is defaming the name of Christ by trivializing the value of human life. By disregarding what Jesus said when He told us the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  By sending the message that Christians are willing to wage a holy war against those who don't comply with our beliefs.

Honestly, its during times like these that I think evangelical Christianity has become a joke to a watching world. It's one thing to be personally opposed to same-sex marriage. I'm personally opposed to many things, like getting drunk. (Fun fact, never have been!  But I am not interesting in legislating away anyone else's right to get drunk.) Where did we get this idea that we as Christians are supposed to police our fellow citizens' personal morality? There seems to be a disturbing trend among Christians in going to one extreme end or the other on any controversial spectrum, as though if we don't actually manage to stop marriage equality, we are by default guilty of supporting it. How about considering the idea that we can just sit back and let people get married or get drunk or practice another religion or no religion at all, if that is what they desire? And leave the judgment up to God? And don't try to tell me that we have a moral obligation to stop people from sinning. Until I see Christians out fighting against divorce with the same passion that they've fought against marriage equality, I'm going to call bullshit on that one.

1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/08/13/birth-rate-for-unmarried-women-declining-for-first-time-in-decades/
2. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm
3. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/