Monday, November 19, 2007


(Poster created and copyrighted by Austin Cline)

A controversial evangelical megachurch in the heart of Austin, the Hyde Park Baptist Church, is again in the news this week, this time for overt religious intolerance.

Last July the Church agreed to book its large facility known as The Quarries for the November 18th Thanksgiving interfaith worship organized by Austin Area Interreligious Ministries. This annual event, now in its 23rd year, is " expression of gratitude through worship and is co-hosted by a different congregation of faith tradition every year" according to Simone Flowers of AAIM, which invites Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Bahais and others to worship together.

However, four days before the event, the interfaith group was informed by Hyde Park Baptist Church that it would not allow them to gather on church property because of the Muslim presence. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Kent Jennings, one of the pastors at Hyde Park released a statement that says in part:

'The event was cancelled when Hyde Park Baptist Church became aware via a postcard on Monday afternoon, November 12th, that the event was not a Christian oriented event. The postcard promised space for Muslim Maghrib prayer and revealed that the event was co-hosted by the Central Texas Muslimaat, the Forum of Muslims for Unity, and the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. Although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us at Hyde Park Baptist Church, the church cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property. Hyde Park Baptist Church hopes that the AAIM and the community of faith will understand and be tolerant of our church’s beliefs that have resulted in this decision.'"

Tolerance for their intolerance, that's what they are asking of us. But this is also assuredly a direct result of last month's Values Voters Summit, where the evangelical Right seized on opposition to so-called Islamofascism, with its racist underpinnings, as the best organizing and fundraising mechanism at their disposal now that the anti-gay gravy train is not hurtling down the tracks as well. And according to an article on that subject in this week's Advocate, the Texas-based conservative Christian group Vision America president, Rick Scarborough, stated ''It's the ultimate life issue. If radical Islam succeeds in its ultimate goals, Christianity ceases to exist.''

News8 Austin reports that Austin's largest and oldest synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, stepped forward to host the celebration at their facilities. Interesting how a synagogue failed to recognize the threat of "Islamofascism" in worshipping with Muslims.

And I want to issue a demand here, as a lesbian, of all my queer-by-any-definition cohort, that we fight for the human and civil rights of Muslims just as ardently as we have fought the Christian Right for our own. Muslim-hating is as much our issue as Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Hyde Park Baptist Church is best known in Austin for its insistence on tearing down historic old homes and elbowing its megachurch way, with five-story parking garages, into one of Austin's oldest and most prized mixed-class residential neighborhoods. The battle between the church and the City of Austin, according to the Austin Chronicle "a cause of civic conflict for nearly 20 years", is not yet over.

Last spring, however, the Church was also in the news when a teacher at its child care center, Belinda Sue Lowry, was found guilty of intentionally injuring not-yet-two-year-old Parker Curtis by deliberately swinging her hip into him, causing him to fall backward and injure his head. The child was not treated, and despite an aide who witnessed the incident reporting it to the center's administration, the child's parents were not notified until after the aide had gone to Child Protective Services, launching an investigation, and Lowry was fired.

An in-depth article by the Austin Chronicle states this aide "had reported Lowry's mistreatment of children to day-care administrators 'almost every day' for several months, before asking to be transferred to another classroom. She says administrators ignored her complaints and told her that because she was the only witness to the incidents, her complaints were pointless."

The article goes on to state "When deposed, the center's head administrator, Ginny Braden, had said Lowry would have been fired if she had not resigned – not because Parker fell but because Lowry failed to complete the proper paperwork to report his injury. At the trial, Braden praised Lowry's teaching ability and said she would in principle be willing to hire her again."

This attitude toward children is part of the larger picture of evangelical arrogance masking their terror of modernity: We have the only route to g*d, we cannot bear to hear the viewpoint of another, our needs are more important than those of the community, and authoritarianism is our chief means of enforcement. It's exactly the same no matter which fundamentalist religion you are referencing. For an excellent overview of other Baptist behavior toward children, check out Sara Robinson's post at Orcinus, The Southern Baptist Church Has A Dirty Little Secret.

And here's my personal connection to all this: From ages 5 to 12, I was a member of the Southern Baptist Church. I went to services and children's activities there hoping for community and help -- my family was in desperate trouble, and I myself was barely hanging on. Despite years of beseeching Jesus for intervention, things were only getting worse for me. When I began changing my silent prayers for Jesus to just let me die that day, rather than endure more molestation, abuse and shame, I had one last try at asking for help. I went to Miz Urban, the woman who led the GA's of which I was a member (Girl's Auxiliary, a Southern Baptist girls' missionary group).

(Maggie and brother Bill, ages ten and six, Easter 1966, Dilley, Texas, right before heading for the local Baptist Church)

I had never approached her before, so that alone should have been a clue something was up. She was a staunch church lady, middle-class, influential, with kids in the grades ahead of me. Falteringly, I avoided telling her directly what was happening to me but did say "If you pray to Jesus for something terrible to stop, and it keeps happening, what does that mean?"

What would you do if an emaciated, terrified girl came to you and asked that question?

Well, what Miz Urban did was use the golden opportunity to teach me about Original Sin -- how, if I was suffering, it was because Eve had caused humanity to be cast from the Garden of Eden with her quest for knowledge, and thereafter all women and girls were tainted with her wrongdoing and must carry a greater burden. My best hope, she said, was to keep praying for Jesus to make me clean, because obviously whatever I was doing was letting him know I was, in fact, still a sinner.

I was eleven years old. You can imagine how this hit me.

It took me a few months, but eventually I decided to leave all connection with g*d whatsoever. I betrayed my mother in order to get us away from that town AND my molester, and I never looked back. But the truth is, I was smarter and stronger than most kids I knew. Otherwise, the Baptists might well have killed me.


WereBear said...

I just have to share my admiration for your courage; at eleven, if it seems Jesus has abandoned you, what might be left?

I had a Baptist phase in my family, though fortunately the worst of it was enforced Bible camp, with the three hour retelling of Christ's death on the cross that made me want to die, just to make it all stop.

They do love cruelty. Isn't that strange?

Anonymous said...

At about age 9, I needed some relief from being molested. So I walked a mile down the street to a Baptist Church and began attending regularly even though my family teased me. One day during the kid's service, there was a story about a little girl getting saved and she ran home to tell her father. The drawing in the book showed some scruffy dud in undershirt and unbuckled belt laying on a dirty sofa. The little girl woke him up and told him all about Jesus. The man got up, went outside and grabbed a piece of lumber, returned to the room and beat the little girl to death for waking him up. But it was OK because the little girl was saved from her sins and went to heaven.
At nine years old, I was horrified. I knew what they were saying was wrong. I knew this could very well happen to me. And I knew I didn't want to be associated with that church.
The final blow came when our dental hygenist who attended that church kept asking me why I didn't come any more. She kept witnessing to me in the dentist chair! I asked my worthless mother to make her stop but nothing happened.
I'm glad you betrayed your mother and saved yourself. We are strong!

Maggie Jochild said...

Wow, thx for your empathy, Werebear.

And yeah, the cruelty thing is hard to comprehend. I've wondered if it has to do with the unresolved grief Christians seem to feel about the pointlessness of Christ's death -- I mean, I know they think it was preordained and had a point, but underneath it seems like few of them really buy that rationalization completely. Torture of someone you love, someone who was basically kind and good, for no damned reason at all requires maturity to accept -- otherwise, you keep dwelling on it and reproducing examples of it everywhere (right, Flicker?)

Anonymous said...

Dear Maggie,
thankfully I was not abused (though I don't remember much of my childhood)....but the first time I went to Sunday School in my mother's church (a very conservative and small branch of Lutheran), I KNEW I didn't belong there. I tried to believe the "Old Testament" way they believed but could not. When at last I turned 18, I never went to that church again for a Sunday service.