The Face of HIV/AIDS
It is rare that Sauk County makes the national news. We did so this week, when a Reedsburg grade school became the target of the Religious Right's ire. The Associated Press tells the story:
REEDSBURG, Wis. (AP) — An elementary-school event in which kids were encouraged to dress as members of the opposite gender drew the ire of a Christian radio group, whose angry broadcast prompted outraged calls to the district office.
Students at Pineview Elementary in Reedsburg had been dressing in costume all last week as part of an annual school tradition called Wacky Week. On Friday, students were encouraged to dress either as senior citizens or as members of the opposite sex.
A local resident informed the Voice of Christian Youth America on Friday. The Milwaukee-based radio network responded by interrupting its morning programming for a special broadcast that aired on nine radio stations throughout Wisconsin. The broadcast criticized the dress-up day and accused the district of promoting alternative lifestyles.
"We believe it's the wrong message to send to elementary students," said Jim Schneider, the network's program director. "Our station is one that promotes traditional family values. It concerns us when a school district strikes at the heart and core of the Biblical values. To promote this to elementary-school students is a great error."
Schneider co-hosts "Crosstalk," a nationally syndicated call-in Christian radio show.
After the program aired, both the school and Reedsburg School District office were flooded with calls complaining about the event.
The response surprised Principal Tammy Hayes, who said no one had raised any objections beforehand. She said a flier detailing Wacky Week had been sent home with children the prior week, and an announcement was also included in teacher newsletters.
The dress-up day was not an attempt to promote cross-dressing, homosexuality or alternative gender roles, district administrator Tom Benson said.
"The promotion of transgenderism — that was not our purpose," Benson told the Baraboo News Republic. "Our purpose was to have a Wacky Week, mixing in a bit of silliness with our reading, writing and arithmetic."
The theme for Friday's dress-up day came from students, Hayes said.
"It's different every year. They basically present the ideas, and they vote on what they would like from Monday through Friday," Hayes said. "... They did not mean anything by this day. They were trying to have fun and come up with a fun dress-up day."
About 40 percent of the student body dressed up Friday, Hayes estimated, with half portraying senior citizens and half dressing as the opposite sex.
"I can assure you we will not be having this day (again)," Hayes said.
It looks like "Wacky Week" has gone the way of kid-friendly baseball games, another casualty of our increasingly tense and edgy culture, a culture in which adults living on the razor edge of social disintegration make it their business to take the joy out of childhood innocence.
I would hardly have thought that so innocent a day of kids having fun -- "Wacky Week" has been going on for years, apparently, and at least the folks in Reedsburg have the sense to know that it has nothing to do with the "homosexual agenda" -- would be worthy of a special broadcast interrupting scheduled programing. But the Religious Right is nothing if it is not excitable, and loves to make much ado about nothing, I guess because it has nothing but nothing going for it.
The local reaction seems to be much the same as mine, with a healthy dose of "Oh, screw off ..." added in.
Along those lines, folks in the rest of the county don't generally think much of Reedsburg, the home of the Norman Rockwell Museum and not a lot else. Reedsburg is, in most ways, a quiet, pleasant Midwestern town, I guess. I buy my cars and trucks from Schultz Chevrolet/GMC Pontiac, and it has the only half-decent Mexican restaurant in the county. In times past, it was home to Rosie's Cafe, which served the best breakfast in a hundred miles. But it has a reputation for being insular, and it seems to exude a permanent resentment because Baraboo is the county seat, and it isn't. So those of us in the rest of the county tend to look down our noses a bit at Reedsburg.
But nonetheless, it seems that most of us, even those of us who don't think much of Reedsburg, think Reedsburg deserves a break. As the song goes: "Every time I go to town, the boys start kicking my dawg around ... makes no difference if he is a hound, they gotta stop kicking my dawg around.
" Folks are talking about the flap, both in Reedsburg and in the county, and the general opinion seems to be that the Christians should stop kicking Pineview Elementary around and let kids be kids.
The Baraboo News-Republic, our county's daily paper, is running an online poll about the issue ("Did Reedsburg school officials make a mistake in allowing grade school students to dress up as senior citizens or the opposite gender as part of their Wacky Week?
") and the vote so far is 81% "No".
Not that public opinion will make any difference to our local fundamentalists. Our fundamentalists in Sauk County are a lot like Reedsburg -- insular and resentful -- without the benefit of being either quiet or pleasant.
The Baraboo News-Republic is the county sounding-board, and publishes three or four letters to the editor a day. It also runs two local weekly columns, one by a different local minister each week and the other by Myra Furse, who is an old-style progressive of a certain age. Myra's columns are generally local boosterism with a progressive twist -- she writes as often as not about local kids doing extraordinary things -- and the local pastors' columns are usually reflect a variety of our "civic religion" -- ethics in daily life and so on. Neither Myra's nor the preachers' columns are typically cause for controversy.
But every few months, the Reverend Timothy Dunbar, who is a retired fundamentalist preacher with too much time on his hands and an unseemly obsession with homosexuality, lets loose with some diatribe about us faggots. And that sets the dogs to barking in the opinion columns and letters to the editor in the Times-Republic.
The response typically follows a pattern: Myra Furse, our progressive columnist and United Church of Christ, I believe, often follows with a "tolerance" column. The Reverend Arthur Christofersen or his wife Audrey chime in with a "all Christians don't think like Reverend Dunbar" letter, and the Reverend Stephen Getsigner, a local boy who is now a minister in San Antonio and who actually attended
a seminary, writes in to point out that modern Biblical scholarship doesn't support Reverend Dunbar. Timothy "Christ the" King, of Reedsburg, or Ruth Ann Dawson, of North Freedom, write in fervent support of Reverend Dunbar. And so it goes, week after week.
The last word -- the letter right before exhaustion -- usually comes from Clarence A. Best, of Baraboo. Best is in his 70's, so it takes a while for him to get moving, I guess, but when he does, he goes nuclear. His letter this week was typical in style and tone:
Bible's messages are clear and not outdated
This is in reply to several individuals who misinterpret God's holy word and twist the true meaning to have it say what they want to impress you with. But, of course, the Bible warns us of wolves in sheep's clothing.
To validify my interpretation I got in touch with several Christian ministries; Radio Bible Class Ministries, Billy Graham Ministries, Benny Hinn Ministries, Jack Van Impe Ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and Pastor Tom Dunbar, to compare their overall interpretation of scriptures.
First of all, Myra Furse wants you to believe in Frederick Lane, and the point that he's counted 450 English versions of the Bible, and that there are certain variances in scriptures. She would also have you believe that the Bible is not for modern times, that it's outdated; strictly a humanist point of view, of course.
For your information, Furse, God's holy word is the same yesterday, today and forever, no matter what version you read. It's more relevant in this day and age than any other time in history. I guess if you are hard-pressed to find any Bible scripture condemning homosexuality as sin then you must have the same translation Stephen Getsinger has: the San Antonio version. If it's not in red letters, then all other scripture goes for naught. How convenient!
However, Furse, Getsinger, the Christofersens from Reedsburg, and any other humanists should check out the following scriptures: I Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Romans I: 18-32, and Jude 7, to mention a few. Any of the mentioned ministries would be willing to assist with a proper interpretation.
Let me be perfectly clear about the term "wannabe preacher." It pertains to any preacher who deliberately misinterprets God's holy word to appease homosexuals and lesbians. And, yes, I will continue speaking out against wannabe preachers, especially those like Getsinger who persist in spreading their putrid and deliberate misinterpretations of God's holy word. Get it right, Getsinger! Homosexuality /lesbianism is sin, and AIDS is the stigma for this sin of choice. Gee, I wonder if repentance has been omitted from their Bibles, also.
Remember, Getsinger was the one who said that he and his wannabee homosexual/lesbian scholars interpreted Sodom and Gomorrah as a hospitality issue. How's that for distortion! I guess Jude 7 is not in his Bible, which goes to show how ignorant he is of scripture.
I also asked the above ministries what the fall of five kingdoms in the Old Testament; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece; and the Roman Empire of the New Testament was all about. Quite simply, according to "Bible History 101," it had to do with idol worship and sexual perversion. This nation is on the same course.
Whoa unto any preacher for not taking a stand for Jesus. Whoa unto them on Judgment Day when they stand before God trying to explain why they led God's people down the wrong path. And whoa unto them when God says, "Away from me, I never knew you."
I will continue to pray you all will be born again.
Clarence A. Best, Baraboo
I suppose Myra, the Christofersens and Reverend Getsinger will pray for Clarence, too, maybe along the lines of Best's companion in homophobia, Julaine Appling, who closes her weekly radio broadcasts with "For Wisconsin Family Council, I'm Julaine Appling, reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.'
" In Best's case, a little knowledge would go a long way.
Michael points out the letters back and forth with a mixture of glee and disgust. I usually do no more than laugh, but this week Best caught my eye, and ire, by dragging out the treadworn "AIDS is God's vengeance on gays ..." bullshit.
So I wrote in, and my letter was published this morning:
Young people need facts on HIV to make good choices
Clarence Best, in his most recent Biblical exposition in the News-Republic, opined that "Homosexuality/lesbianism is sin, and AIDS is the stigma for this sin of choice."
Perhaps so, but if Best is even close to the truth, then the God he worships is cruel, and worse, incompetent.
Cruel and incompetent? Yes. According to UNAIDS/WHO statistics released in 2007, roughly 30 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. Of that number, 22 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 million are women, and 2.5 million are children. Almost all — over 90 percent by most reasonable estimates — are straight.
Killing millions and millions of straight people to "stigmatize" those of us who are gay and lesbian is both cruel and incompetent. The idea that God does so is akin to the idiocy that Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out the homes of scores of thousands of poor folks in New Orleans, was God's way of punishing the French Quarter, which remained largely untouched.
If Best wants to believe in such a God, that is his business. None of mine.
But Best and others like him spread ignorance, and ignorance kills.
Worldwide, young people aged 15 to 24 account for over half of the new HIV/AIDS infections. In the United States, HIV/AIDS is growing fast among young straights, including teenagers.
The myth that HIV/AIDS is a "gay disease" is ignorant and dangerous. Our young people need accurate information about HIV/AIDS to make intelligent choices.
I'm afraid that I may have set off another round of barking, but I'm sick to death of fundamentalist ignorance, and I'm tired of being a whipping boy for fundamentalist sexual insecurity -- guilt and fear about all the mucking around they did out behind the barn before they discovered boobs and Jesus.
I don't, despite my getting into the fray this time around, understand why the News-Republic wastes time on intra-Christian religious wars, with each side damning and blasting the other.
It isn't as if the News-Republic couldn't better use the space to publish news. I mean, just yesterday the News-Republic ran an article about turkeys attacking postal workers
So with news like that to report, who needs letters from over-carbonated fundamentalists?
do. "Speak Up" letters are always on the "most viewed" list -- people love to see just how nuts their neighbors really are, I guess.