Monday, October 10, 2011
I susbscribe to Texas Freedom Network’s online newsletter. Nearly every day, I get a newsletter in my email box that informs me of all the current church/state separation and related issues in the state of Texas. A couple of years ago, the newsletter was dominated by Don McLeroy and the state board of education. These days, the newsletter has Rick Perry fever.
While the newsletter does a great job of keeping me informed about the shenanigans in the state of Texas, they don’t seem to be aware that my adopted home of El Paso is also a part of Texas. True, El Paso is not a shining metropolis like Dallas. El Paso does not have the glistening skyline of Houston. We don’t have the funky college liberality of Austin. And while the Texas Freethought Convention looks like it will annually rotate between these three east-Texas cities, El Paso, that dusty, desert border town in far west Texas, is in serious need of a little Rational Thinking.
I just did a search on the Texas Freedom Network’s site for news stories concerning El Paso and came up with only two pages of stories where El Paso was briefly mentioned, but no central news concerning the city. I should not be surprised. Even governor Rick Perry confuses El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
I did another global search on the Texas Freedom Network for Tom Brown and again drew blanks.
Tom Brown? Why would I search for news stories for Tom Brown?
In El Paso, Mayor John Cook and two city council members are facing a recall election next May. You see, it all started back in 2009, when they committed the grave error of supporting an ordinance to pay for the health insurance of domestic partners of city employees. The ordinance was passed and now unmarried domestic partners of city employees have the came health benefits as those married to city employees.
Wait – Domestic Partners? Could that include ... GAY people?
Yup. Don’t tell me you did not see that coming. It sure can. As we say here in El Paso, “I knoooow, huuuh.”
As a result, local Christian church pastors took action. Within a week of the ordinance’s passing, El Paso church members were picketing city council. All the action seems to be coming from Charismatic Protestants. I have heard nothing from the Catholic majority in this city concerning this issue. The protests are being led by Pastor Tom Brown, pastor of Word of Life Church here in El Paso. Through his church, he was able to petition enough signatures to ask the council to overturn the ordinance. The city council ignored the petition. Pastor Brown again, using his church as a platform, gathered enough signatures to force a voter referendum. El Paso voters were asked if the city should be barred from giving health benefits to unmarried couples. The referendum passed by 55%.
Now comes the political ping pong. Mayor Cook and the city council voted to overlook the referendum. Pastor Tom Brown then gathered more signatures, this time petitioning enough to force a special recall election. So now, a special recall election is scheduled for May 2012, for the purpose of forcing Mayor John Cook out of office.
Yesterday, the El Paso Times ran a front page story on Tom Brown. In the article, Pastor Brown explains his passion for meddling with local government with one logical fallacy after another. Unsubstantiated claims (“By laying hands, Brown says he's cured "hundreds" of physical ailments, though he doesn't take credit for the healing”), historical distortions (on Thomas Jefferson’s ‘separation of church and state’ - “He meant that this wall is going to protect the church”), scientific ignorance (“According to Brown, most other men who perform gay acts were drawn in by a man who took the place of an absent father, were so bullied by boys at school that they spent their time with girls and came to identify with them, or were driven to the lifestyle by some other bad experience”), and bald-faced superstition (“Brown tells his congregation that if their lives are going badly -- their finances are a mess, their kids won't behave, they keep getting sick -- they may literally be cursed”).
I support the city council’s efforts to make El Paso a more progressive city, but their political tactics so far have been dreadful. They committed the grave mistake of invoking Jesus and the Bible to refute Tom Brown Ministries, when they should have simply invoked the Constitution. Mayor Cook asked Pastor Brown to cast the first stone if he was without sin, when he should have asked for an early investigation into illegal gathering of signatures by a non-profit religious organization. When asked about why he is so passionate about the issue, Pastor Brown speaks of spiritual warfare, demons and curses – subjects which do not belong on a political platform. He does not bring up any fiscal concerns over the ordinance, any concerns for equal benefits for the elderly, veterans; or any like concerns worthy of debate. All he has to offer the city council are items which have no meaning outside the domain of religion - Sin, Hell, Demons and the power of Curses.
Mayor Cook, if by some miracle you stumble onto this blogsite, please read this advice I have for you. The minute somebody brings up the subject of sin, hell or demons into a city council meeting, that person should be laughed out of the room – plain and simple. Please do not play into their hands by quoting Scripture back at them, or telling them what you think Jesus would do. The city council has no business basing El Paso’s civil rights issues on what you think Jesus did or did not say about homosexuals! Simply ask them to demonstrate, with evidence, the existence of demons, and if they cannot provide this evidence, have them removed from the city government assembly.
But Mayor Cook played into the hands of the religious right, and I fear the city council and the mayor have underestimated the power of charismatic religion. It may be too late to stop the growing momentum.
I sent several news tips to the Texas Freedom Network, with links to the news articles in the El Paso Times. I am asking the Freethought Community in Texas, most of whose members are in cities hundreds of miles to the east of El Paso, to keep this backwash, desert community in mind. Please spread the word!! Between Charismatic Bigots for illegal petitioning and Catholic Guilt Peddlers for "border justice", El Paso needs a serious dose of freethought and rational thinking!!
If you want to view some of Pastor Tom Brown’s sermons, he has a YouTube page. You can listen to him speak on the subjects of exorcism, angels and spiritual warfare. He kind of reminds me of a younger John Hagee.
Picture: Protestors against Tom Brown, during a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore - courtesy El Paso Times.