Friday, April 24, 2009

Week's End News Roundup: Religious Right and Anti-Gay Hate

As the week ends, an assortment of news articles and blog postings about which I’ve been thinking this week.

First, Wayne Besen links the religious right to increased gay bashing around the globe (here). Besen notes the rise of violence against gay people in places like Iraq, Burundi, Uganda, Nigeria, Moscow, and Jamaica. He attributes the increased anti-gay violence in some of these nations to the deliberate exporting of homophobia by religious right groups in the U.S. in the past several decades:

What we are seeing in front of our eyes is the globalization of gay bashing. The United States has exported marketing techniques and church structures to culturally homophobic countries. The sexual minorities caught in these nations do not have the same freedoms that we enjoy in the west, so they can't fight back. They are essentially voiceless and fearful -- allowing insidious myths and stereotypes to go unchallenged. With gay people effectively demonized and hatred promoted by civic and religious leaders, hysteria on gay issues ensues.

"U.S. religious right sponsored programs blossomed under the Bush administration," explained Christina Engela of the GLBT group SAGLAAD in South Africa, noting the rise of such groups in her country. "Suddenly these people are using us as scapegoats to unite and build their power bases."

And, as if to prove Besen’s point, religious right groups in the U.S. have been raising a hue and cry against the so-called Matthew Shephard bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913), which yesterday received approval of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House. The bill, which would criminalize acts of violence directed to those who are gay because they are gay, will be brought before the House sometime in the next weeks or months. This act received both House and Senate approval in the Bush administration, but was vetoed by President George W. Bush when it reached his desk.

As Bill Berkowitz reports at Religion Dispatches (here), powerful organizations of the religious right have misrepresented this bill as legislation that would establish thought police to prevent churches preaching anti-gay prejudice. The bill penalizes acts that can clearly be traced to homophobic intent. Berkowitz notes,

Teetering between irascibility and irrelevance, spokespersons for a number of conservative Christian outfits are warning that on Wednesday, April 22, Christians will once again be victimized by perpetrators of the gay agenda, and life—as they know it—will change forever. That is the day that the House Judiciary Committee considers hate crimes legislation that would finally confer on sexual orientation the same legal status as race and religion.

It is impossible to read what the “Christian” organizations cited in Berkowitz’s report are saying about this hate-crimes legislation and to avoid reaching the following conclusion: the religious right wants hate in the name of Christ to be protected. The religious right is actively defending hate against gay and lesbian persons. At the same time that these organizations are either completely silent about or actually in support of torture practiced by the U.S. government, they are promoting, defending, and exporting homophobic hate—in the name of Christ.

These are points that blogger John Aravosis has made powerfully in two important postings on his America Blog this week (here and here). As the second of the two postings just cited notes,

The religious right's main legislative effort surrounding their right to kill is centered around the hate crimes amendment being debated in the House this week. As Joe wrote earlier, the hate crimes amendment takes the current US hate crimes law, that has been on the books for decades, and applies it to everyone.

Under the existing law, only violence inspired by the hatred of some classes of Americans is covered - some might even say that those classes, which include Christian fundamentalists, have been granted "special rights" under the law, since only some groups, and not others, are included in the current law. Already included in the current law is violence motivated by the race, religion or national origin of the victim. The hate crimes amendment being debated today would add gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to the already-existing law.

Regardless of your views on the propriety of hate crimes laws, if America is going to have such a law on the books - and we already do - shouldn't it protect everyone? If not, then the very nightmare that hate crimes law opponents predict - a world in which some classes of people have more legal protections than others - will not only be a reality, it will remain our current reality.

Of course, isn't that what this is all about? The religious right is desperate to protect its special rights. Thus, they viciously attack a law that secretly already protects them, in order to ensure that no other classes of Americans receive similar protection. They invoke their right to kill, in order to defeat a law that is intended to stop the killing. If the religious right were truly opposed to hate crimes laws, they would be agitating to repeal America's current hate crimes law, the one protecting them. But they're not.

And, at the same time that we move closer in the U.S. to long overdue and much-needed laws that protect gay citizens from violence directed against us solely because we are gay, some churches continue to question whether gay persons should even be admitted to the church. I have noted before on this blog that, in some regions of the country (Florida comes to mind, because of experiences I have had with Methodist institutions in that state), the United Methodist Church is split on the question of whether gay persons should even be admitted to United Methodist churches—let alone affirmed in any way by United Methodist churches (here and here).

As an indicator that groups within the United Methodist Church continuing to resist the very inclusion of gay people in the church remain alive and well: two leaders of the anti-gay movement in the UMC have recently released videos calling on United Methodists to vote against an amendment to the church’s Book of Discipline at their annual conferences. The amendment in question is amendment 1 to paragraph 4 of the UMC Book of Discipline. The amendment is part of a set of amendments on the structure of the church which last year’s General Conference has now placed before UMC annual conferences, for deliberation prior to the next General Conference.

The passage in question deals with eligibility for membership in United Methodist churches. The proposed amendment would emphasize the eligibility of all persons for church membership. This language is being resisted, however, by those within the United Methodist Church who wish to continue excluding openly gay persons from United Methodist churches, and who claim that the church has an obligation to call openly gay persons to repentance and to a renunciation of sexual activity before they join the church.

What is at stake here is, quite simply, the wish of some groups within the United Methodist Church to target and exclude a particular group of human beings—gays and lesbians—from church membership, solely because they are gay. The two videos recently produced by leaders of the anti-gay movement in the United Methodist Church, Revs. Maxie Dunnam and Eddie Fox, make that point abundantly clear (here and here). I blogged about Fox’s activities at General Conference last year (here and here). As these links indicate, Fox, who heads UMC’s World Evangelism program, led the charge as delegates voted to continue the current language of the Book of Discipline characterizing the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian life.

To his shame, in his video, Rev. Dunnam even tries to play the gays = pedophile card to encourage UMC Annual Conferences to reject the amendment to the Book of Discipline. He also states,

It [i.e., the proposed amendment] would also mean that a local church could not expect such persons to fulfill what we ask of all our members—faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness either before or after they join.

After watching Rev. Dunnam’s video, I read that line to a friend of mine who grew up in the United Methodist Church in North Carolina. My friend was a United Methodist Sunday School teacher for many years. He laughed uproariously at the suggestion that United Methodist Churches “ask of all” prospective members or actual members that they give assurance of their fidelity to sexual teachings.

My Methodist friend confirmed that my impression of United Methodist churches and their institutions is correct: only gay persons are being singled out in this way by some of these churches and institutions. Methodist churches and institutions would never dream of imposing on their heterosexual members the strictures about faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness that some Methodists want to impose on their gay brothers and sisters—to exclude them from church membership.

This is all about something that is intensely shameful, and undercuts the most fundamental claims of many Christian churches today to represent Jesus and to understand what church is about at its most basic level. It is all about making gay and lesbian people unwelcome in churches.

I’m interested in the coordinated use these two leaders of the anti-gay movement in the UMC are making of YouTube right now. Maxie Dunnam joined YouTube on 6 April (here). Eddie Fox joined the following day (here).

And as soon as these videos attacking the proposed legislation had been uploaded to YouTube, links to them began to circulate on various blogs, some of which note that links to the videos were also being emailed out to General Conference delegates. For instance, blogger Shane Raynor of Wesley Report has recently posted a piece encouraging readers to view Dunnam’s video and click the share link at the bottom of the video to send it to their General Conference delegates (

Within three days after the videos went online at YouTube, Beth Ann Cook of Maxie Dunnam's Asbury Seminary also uploaded a statement attacking amendment 1 to the Facebook site of the Confessing Movement (
here), and linked that Facebook site to Dunnam's and Fox's videos.

The clearly coordinated appearance of two of the chief leaders of the anti-gay movement in the United Methodist Church on YouTube; their use of videos to try to influence deliberation and votes at Annual Conference in advance of General Conference; their support in this activity by bloggers around the Internet: these give the appearance of a well-oiled (and apparently well-funded) campaign prior to the next General Conference to offset any action by delegates that might make the United Methodist Church more gay-friendly and gay-inclusive.

Where is the money for this well-organized online anti-gay media campaign in the United Methodist Church coming from, one has to wonder? Given the close ties of Rev. Dunnam to the Confessing Movement and the Good News Movement of the United Methodist Church—both of which have strong ties (including funding ties) to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has persistently sought to push mainstream Protestant churches in the U.S., including the United Methodist Church, to the right—one cannot help but wonder about the possibility that political groups entirely outside the United Methodist Church are now at work, once again, to predetermine the conclusions of the church's next General Conference.

For those interested in further documentation of the points made in the preceding paragraph, please click links on Bilgrimage to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and see as well here and here and here and here.