Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who is behind the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance? (中文 link at bottom)*

Big money is, along with KMT members who all have a Christian sect in common

Not long after two Chinese-language translations of my article “A feast of hatred” began circulating in Taiwan, opponents of legal amendments that would legalize same-sex unions came out guns blazing, claiming that I had been critical of a large “save the family” event on November 30 because I was — and always had been — “against religion.” 

As is usually the case when it comes to debate on the social and moral impact of allowing marriage between individuals of the same sex, its opponents had very little to offer in terms of pithy argument, hence the claims about my alleged abhorrence of organized religion. This was an interesting admission on the part of my detractors, as the Nov. 30 mass rally on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei was supposedly a non-religious affair, an expression of civil society.

Now, here’s where I stand on religion. I’m baptized, have received first communion, and as a child I went to church every Sunday. I became an agnostic in my teens, and by adult age I had become a convinced atheist. None of this by any means implies that I am against religion, only that based on my understanding of science, philosophy and history, I see no evidence for the necessity of a Creator. Nor do I need an organized religion to teach me about love, good values, or how to lead my life. I am therefore perfectly fine with other people making different choices as to how they regard the origins, meaning, and future of life, and I have nothing against people willingly spending their free time in houses of worship.

However, I have problems when religious organizations seek to impose their views on others, and when they use their wealth and power to influence legislation in a way that will impinge upon the rights of others. And what I saw in the lead-up to and on Nov. 30 was exactly that, which I described in two articles available here and here.

And since my accuser brought up the subject of religion, let me jump in and shed a little more light on the role that organized religion played in the matter.

First of all, one needn’t look very far to see the hands of Christian organizations all over the protest. Although organizers had asked participants to minimize the religious symbols, the hundreds of buses that had spirited the protesters to the site were all clearly identified by congregation (followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church did not heed the call and wore their blazons. Moon refers to homosexuals as "dung-eating dogs"). Moreover, most of the 100,000 to 300,000 people who took part in the rally knew the songs that were being blasted on stage, and those were songs of a religious nature. Others downright broke into prayer, sometimes over homosexuals in ostensible need of “healing.”

Even more incriminating were the Web sites of prominent Christian congregations in Taiwan, such as the Bread of Life Church, which prominently displayed propaganda, videos, sermons, and links supporting a signature drive against same-sex unions and encouraged people to come out on Nov. 30. In effect, they made little secret of where they stood on the issue, and in fact were very much involved in mobilizing their members against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code. All of them led to the Taiwan Family organization that spearheaded the campaign against the legalization of same-sex unions and which bought half-front-page ads in Taiwan’s four top newspapers, for a total sum of about NT$5 million (US$170,000), days ahead of the protest.

From the slick videos, newspaper ads, and the rental of top-notch video and sound equipment for the event on Nov. 30, it become evident that another factor is at play in the campaign against the legalization of same-sex unions: money.

One sect that warrants close scrutiny is the aforementioned Bread of Life Church, which openly opposes same-sex marriage. The Bread of Life Christian Church in Taipei Web site more specifically contains a substantial amount of propaganda against same-sex unions. And money? Well, it doesn’t hurt when some of your followers happen to be among the wealthiest individuals in Taiwan.

Among them is HTC chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅) — the wealthiest woman in Taiwan — who according to a testimony published in the Gospel Herald, is a very devout Christian who found God and attributes her immense success to His will. A few years ago, Wang and her husband Chen Wen-chi (陳文琦), CEO of the Taipei-based VIA Technologies Inc and a born-again Christian, founded the Faith, Hope and Love Foundation. The foundation, which has done a lot of good work supporting retirement homes, also aims to promote the gospel. According to EDN Network, Wang and Chen decided to donate “any profits from their shares to [the] organization.” Based on an entry on the VIA Technologies Web site, the foundation started with capital of NT$30 million.

Now none of this proves that Ms. Wang or Mr. Chen, who converted to the Faith at Wang’s prodding, had anything to do with the protest on Nov. 30, or the media campaign that preceded it, or that the Foundation provided money to finance the front-page ads, videos, or rally. What is known, however — and this is where things get interesting — is that the foundation sponsored a four-day event at the International House of Prayer in Jhongli, Taoyuan County, Oct. 9-12, during which David Sliker, a Senior Leader at the International House of Prayer, Kansas City, was invited to speak. IHOP is well known in the U.S. for the extremism of its religious views and the vitriol of its claims, which have sometimes been likened to those espoused by the Westborough Baptist Church. And when it comes to homosexuality, IHOP founder Mike Bickle has gone on record saying that all forms of sexual activity outside the Covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful.

In a May 2, 2013, blog entry, Sliker turned to gay marriage and had several interesting things to say. Among them: “Here’s the problem with gay marriage: there is no such thing. It doesn’t exist.” Or, “marriage is not a man-made institution; thus man has no right to define, redefine, or transform what God has ordained and established sovereignly. Marriage is from God, belongs to God, and is a prophetic declaration that He wants to make to the human race about His relationship with us.” And, “Marriage, however, falls outside of the boundaries of debate and human ‘rights.’ No one has a [sic] intrinsic ‘right’ to redraw boundaries that God Himself has drawn and defined.”

It doesn’t take long to realize the irony in the claim by the organizers of the Nov. 30 protest that homosexuality and same-sex marriage was a foreign export, an attempt to meddle in the affairs of Taiwanese society. Taiwanese with substantial financial means are paying big money to bring outside homophobic preachers into Taiwan to “enlighten” people here (more on this here).

Let me reiterate that none of this proves Wang’s involvement in any of this. For now, all of this is circumstantial. Nevertheless, the nexus of religious intolerance and big money is a worrying factor and can be detrimental to democracy. That a Christian minority could hold a predominantly Buddhist society hostage on the issue of same-sex unions through intimidation, money, power and access to politicians (through political and campaign donations) is something that Taiwan’s 23 million people should ponder carefully. Incidentally, Wang publicly announced her support for the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) during the 2012 elections. 

Among key KMT figures who have come out opposing same-sex marriage or who participated in the Nov. 30 rally are Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien (王建煊), a Christian, and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who while he isn’t a Christian himself, has frequently brushed elbows with Bread of Life ministers in recent years, from prayer session when he was running for mayor to the opening of a daycare center at the Xihu MRT station operated … yes, by the Bread of Life Church. Unsurprisingly, Hau came out in late November arguing in an editorial that Taiwanese were not ready for “for such diverse family formations.”

Oh, and who has been giving sermons at the Shilin branch of the Bread of Life Christian Church? You guessed it: the same Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien.

Ms. Wang has not made her views public on the matter. But as someone who has made a fortune selling cell phones to Taiwanese (approximately 10 percent of her customers are homosexuals), as a member of the Bread of Life Church, and as the head of a foundation that brought to Taiwan a preacher from an extremist Christian organization that militates against homosexuality, it would be very interesting to hear what she has to say about the proposed legislation and the unfortunate actions of the Alliance on Nov. 30. 

At this writing, an e-mail request for comment from Ms. Wang has gone unanswered. (Photo by the author)

NEW! A Chinese-language version of this article is available here.

* A few clarifications about some of my claims. Since its publication, a few critics have come forth and accused me of playing politics by singling out the KMT. It should be pretty clear from my years of writing about politics in Taiwan that I categorically refuse to regard the KMT, and the government, as monoliths. Consequently, a close reading of my piece should demonstrate that the individuals I mention who are associated with the KMT and the anti-same-sex movement, which itself appears to be led by the Christian right, do not stand for the KMT as a whole. Rather, as the factor of Christian nationalism in U.S. politics has made very clear (see Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg), if they are to have any impact on policy, religious groups from the right must recruit, or strike alliances with, legislators and officials in the ruling party, or with the party whose ideology is closest and most amenable to theirs. It goes without saying that not everybody in the KMT agrees with what the rightist Christian organizations are advocating. There are countervailing forces, and in fact there are many KMT members who support same-sex marriages, as there are members of the DPP who oppose amending regulations that would permit such unions.

I am well past launching parochial attacks on a single political party. But we must also be clear-eyed when it comes to rightist — and in this case alien — Christian organizations’ efforts to impact policies on matters pertaining to homosexuality, abstinence, abortion, and contraception. With the DPP a less than effective political force at the moment, it’s only normal that politicized Christian groups would seek influential allies within the ruling party.

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