Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Issue of Faith

Note: by posting this entry, my intention is not to sensationalize Cheryl's Haskins' defeat or rehash previously-discussed topics. I simply feel that this particular issue needs a bit more illumination.

In both the Seattle Times and on her campaign website at one point, Cheryl Haskins indicated that she believed my opposition to her candidacy constituted a personal attack on her faith. That belief genuinely troubles me, for a number of reasons. I have close relationships with people of many different faiths in my life, from Orthodox Judaism, to Evangelical Christianity, to mainstream Islam, and they and I know that I would never impugn anyone's personal religious or spiritual beliefs, even if I strongly disagreed with them. I believe that personal faith (or lack thereof) is something that each person needs to discover on their own, and I know that faith plays an important and positive role in billions of people's lives worldwide. In fact, several current and newly-elected Renton City Council members – all of whom I've now met – have very strong spiritual beliefs, and they've been very open about their affiliations with religious institutions and organizations. I can tell you that I've been blown away by the intelligence and integrity of these council members.

In believing that my opposition to her candidacy is attack on her faith, Cheryl Haskins has indicated that she's unwilling or unable to examine the true nature of my criticisms. Essentially, she's taking the easy way out by playing the victim. I could have done the same by labeling her a "homophobe" or saying she "hates" gay people, but I chose not to use such inflammatory terms to get my message across. I'm fairly certain that Cheryl's opposition to gay rights is far more complex than just an intrinsic fear or loathing of gay people, and I've never suggested otherwise. I've also never questioned her right to personally oppose gay marriage or domestic partnership legislation, because I understand that she has strong personal beliefs that that run counter to those concepts. What I have questioned is her religiously-inspired organization's public opposition to and politicization of gay rights issues.

There are some, including Dean Radford, the editor of the Renton Reporter, who apparently believe that discussing a candidate's faith or religious affiliation has no place in a campaign for local office. In situations where a candidate has made no mention of his or her personal beliefs, I'd agree with that statement. If, however, a candidate has publicly promoted his or her church membership or personal religious beliefs, I think it's entirely appropriate to ask what role those beliefs might play in public policy decisions. Most candidates wouldn't find such a question offensive, and would realize that it's simply a part of running for office in our multi-cultural, multi-religious society.

In Cheryl Haskins' case, though, the questions people asked of her were not focused on her personal faith, but on her public political activism against gay rights, which has clearly been influenced by her faith and her affiliation with a very conservative church, where her husband happens to be a pastor. The fact that a great deal of her campaign funding came from members of her church – people who don't even live in Renton – was also a concern for me and others, as it suggested a coordinated effort by outsiders to get a candidate with a specific ideology elected to our City Council. Many people remain skeptical that Cheryl's candidacy was masterminded by the Religious Right, and I really have no proof that it truly was. However, based on well-documented efforts by groups such as the Christian Coalition to install religious conservatives in local, non-partisan offices, it's quite possible that Cheryl Haskins' candidacy represented more than just one woman's interest in representing her community. That supposition is supported by the involvement of the state Republicans and leaders of her church in her campaign and its financing. I also believe that Cheryl intended to use the City Council as a brief stepping stone on her way towards higher office, without paying her dues in our community. Most politically-savvy observers I've met have echoed that concern.

Given all of this information, Cheryl Haskins is either being naïve or manipulative in claiming that she's being attacked on the basis of her personal faith. If she feels persecuted, I hope she can overcome that initial reaction by reexamining the true nature of the opposition to her candidacy, which I think I've made very clear.


Renton Citizen said...



I think it's important to point out the difference between Evangelical Christianity and the relatively new concept of Dominionist Christianity, or simply Dominionism. Evangelicalism is a very broad term that's used to describe many different systems of beliefs and traditions within Christianity. Being an Evangelical Christian does not automatically mean someone subscribes to a fundamentalist or literalist view of the Bible, nor does it mean they think society should be based on their own belief systems. There are hundreds of millions of Evangelical Christians in this world, and they are as diverse in their opinions and politics as any other group. Jimmy Carter describes himself as Evangelical, as does Pat Robertson. The two couldn't be further apart in their political dispositions, however.

Dominionist Christianity, on the other hand, is a very different concept. This is how it's described in Wikipedia:

Dominionism describes, in several distinct ways, a tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action — aiming either at a nation governed by Christians or a nation governed by a Christian understanding of biblical law. The use and application of this terminology is a matter of controversy.

I don't know if Cheryl Haskins herself subscribes to Dominionist convictions, but she certainly has aligned herself with those who do. For instance, here is a list of the organizations that testified in opposition to House Bill 2661, which now protects LGBT people from discrimination in Washington State: Faith and Freedom Network, Christian Coalition of Washington, Defender of the Faith Ministries, Westwood Baptist Church, Allies for [Marriage and] Children. All of those organizations, with the exception of Allies for Marriage and Children, are unabashedly Dominionist, even if they don't describe themselves as such. The Allies group, which was headed by Cheryl Haskins until recently, does not proclaim any particular religious affiliation, but anyone who is familiar with the names on its Board of Directors can see who's calling the shots.

Those of us who value our society's religious pluralism and separation of church and state have a duty to study and understand those who hold contrary views. If we do not, then we run the risk of having our local, state, and federal governments hijacked by people who have a very different vision of society.

Rationale Person said...

Boy, you do not know when to let go. Your continued and relentless attacks on her, after the fact, are bordering on hysteria. To try and paint someone you refused to personally engage, as having ulterior motives, other than trying to serve her community as a city council member is at the very least naïve, or more likely just plain mean. Your single mindedness approach to defeating those who “you perceive” as being anti gay is very revealing. You verbiage sounds polite and seemingly pleasant, but throughout this dialog, you express disdain and disrespect for other areas of the state (Pullman, Spokane, Omak), you disparage those 40% of voters who did vote for her (as if we cannot think for ourselves, and are directed by campaign signs, etc) You attack her for having republican leaders support her, yet you give a free pass to partisans like Randy Corman (his site is full of his democratic relationships, leanings, etc) How fair is that?

As I said earlier, I cannot loose with the is election, I like and support King, as a customer, neighbor, etc. The choice was hard. I honestly feel your attacks had little to do with her defeat, but rather people voting for King.

Renton Citizen said...

Apparently, Rationale, you didn't even take the time to read my posting. I can think of no other reason as to why you'd draw such bizarre conclusions about it. If anyone's dealing with hysteria, it's you.

Ben said...

It appears to me that rational(e) person doesn't understand some very basic things. Such as the meaning of the word "attack." In RC's post today, I see respectful disgreement, to be sure. But an attack? Hardly.

Also, I have no idea what to make of this from rational(e) person:

"Your single mindedness approach to defeating those who 'you perceive' as being anti gay is very revealing."

So RC merely "perceives" an anti-gay bias in Haskins's beliefs? Sure, she might not hate or dislike or disrespect or otherwise oppose any PARTICULAR gay person. But surely, you have to concede, as she herself would, that she doesn't believe gay people should have the same rights as non-gay people. Right? She opposed same-sex marriage. She opposes domestic partnership and anti-discrimination legislation. Would you not call these "anti-gay"?

Renton Citizen said...

By the way, Cheryl Haskins had every opportunity to personally engage with me, as soon as my first letter to the editor was published. The fact that she did not contact me -- either by telephone, mail, or email -- indicates that she knew *exactly* what was going down... that the lid had been blown off her "new face" charade and that no amount of charm was going to erase her past political activism. This may have been her first campaign for political office, but it certainly wasn't her first foray into politics. It was also not her first time dealing with criticism. Remember, this is someone who testified against the domestic partnership bill in Olympia, was the "go-to" person in our state for all media inquiries regarding gay marriage and domestic partnership issues for 18 months. Cheryl knew that she wasn't going to be able to convince me into letting go of my criticisms of her candidacy.