Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Manly Men and Homophobic Churches

A disturbing story today out of Ft. Lauderdale, where a gay couple, Mitchell Mart and Melbourne Brunner, eating at a restaurant Saturday said good morning to a passerby, who turned on them and beat Brunner to a bloody pulp. The whole story is at

This comes several days after a 17-year old gay teen, Simmie Williams, Jr., was shot and killed in the same city by two unknown young men. Police are trying to determine if this shooting was a hate crime because of Simmie Williams’s sexual orientation:

The mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Jim Naugle, has for some time now been leading a crusade against the city’s large gay community, in active collaboration with a group of right-wing religious leaders Last year a gay couple visiting the city were dismayed (and frightened) to hear anti-gay scripture verses being read over the loudspeaker of the airport as they retrieved their luggage at the airport baggage terminal.

The news of the Ft. Lauderdale shootings comes on the heels of news that Janice Langbehn, whose partner Lisa Pond died suddenly in Miami last years as the Seattle couple prepared to take a cruise with their children, has filed suit against Jackson Memorial Hospital because of the treatment she received when Pond was dying. Langbehn was refused the right to provide medical information about Pond, was not allowed to see her until shortly before her death, and was told that she was in an anti-gay state with anti-gay laws: see

A posting on today’s Towleroad website ( asks whether Ft. Lauderdale mayor Naugle is in part responsible for the increase in incidents of violent homophobia in his city. In my view, he definitely is—and so are the ministers and churches supporting him.

I can address the latter from my own personal experiences during Steve’s and my recent time in Florida. Unknown to us, on the day of our arrival to take jobs in a United Methodist college, the Florida United Methodist state conference of 2006 concluded. It did so after a bitterly divisive debate over the status of gay members of Methodist churches, which split the Methodist church of Florida down the middle.

We had absolutely no idea of any of this until months later, when promises made to us at the time of our hiring began to be revoked and we began to experience baffling persecution from the supervisor who had hired us as an openly gay couple. The issue at stake in the 2006 Florida UMC conference was whether gay members can even be admitted to Methodist churches in Florida—not whether gays living celibate lives can be admitted to churches, but whether gay persons should be admitted at all. About half of the churches in the state of Florida wanted, at the 2006 conference, to exclude gay members altogether.

Though we had been told that our being an openly gay couple would not present a problem at the college that hired us, we quickly learned that this was far from the case—at least, in the mind of our supervisor. Within a few weeks, she informed us that the UMC bishop of Florida, Bishop Timothy Whitaker, had told her that, if he had known we were a couple (as opposed to being openly gay but single), he would not have approved our hire. (The bishop sits on the board of the college that hired us.)

During our unhappy year working at this college, we were constantly hounded by the supervisor about appearing together—though we had only one car—about taking lunch together, and even about taking one another to the doctor, though married couples at the school never receive reprimands for such activities. Not a single minister on the college’s board sought to defend us against this unjust treatment.

All of this was baffling to us. Though many people have images of Little Rock as backwards and conservative, with respect to gay issues the churches here are in many ways light years ahead of where they are in Florida. The Episcopal bishop of central Florida has strong sympathies with the breakaway group that continues to protest the elevation of an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, to the episcopacy. In the area of Florida in which we lived, Episcopal churches even post "anti-gay" scriptures on their websites.

By contrast, the current and former Episcopal bishops of Arkansas have maintained a welcoming space within Episcopal churches for the the gay community. The previous bishop signed a statement some years ago supporting the ordination of openly gay persons to the ministry, and permitted parishes that chose to do so to celebrate gay unions. The current bishop has continued this support for gay persons.

We went to a Catholic liturgy once in our whole time in Florida. The church would have been our parish church, had we attended regularly. On the day we went to liturgy there, the parish deacon employed a dialogue homily in which he asked parishioners to tell him any words of Jesus they could recall.

A woman behind us, who muttered, “Praise the Lord,” throughout much of the homily, shouted out, “Repent!” We did not return to this parish. We were, as far as we could detect, the sole gay couple in the parish that day.

The churches are clearly a large part of the problem in our society, when LGBT people are bashed, killed, disemployed solely because we are gay, prevented from seeing our partners in the hospital, denied healthcare benefits. Given Steve’s and my experiences in Florida, I can without any doubt at all say that the churches play a large role in fomenting homophobia in that state—both through their silence when LGBT people are assaulted or demeaned, and through their active attempts to make LGBT people unwelcome, as with the group with whom Naugle in Ft. Lauderdale has affiliated himself.

It disturbs me that among the ministers egging Naugle on are some prominent African-American church leaders. I am particularly dismayed by homophobia in the African-American community. It seems to me that people who have experienced severe historic oppression should understand the mechanisms of oppression in the present, and should stand in solidarity with other oppressed groups. We who are oppressed have strong reason to stand together. The same groups who now bash gays in the churches were promoting racism a half century ago. I know. I grew up with those Christians. I heard the bible used then to justify subordination and abuse of people of color, just as I hear it used now to justify oppression of LGBT people.

One of the most shocking instances of homophobia on the part of an African-American minister in recent days was a remark made by Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Seattle in a sermon a few weeks ago. After proclaiming that "God hates soft men" and "God hates effeminate men," Hutcherson went on to say, "If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end”: see

Hutcherson is a representative of the “men’s movement” in the churches. This movement tries to retrieve the church for men—as in manly men. It quite commonly preaches that men are “naturally” superior to women and have been given authority by God to rule women. It places great stock in assuring that men behave like men and women like women—at least, according to manly men’s definition of how men and women should behave. It believes that “correct” gender behavior is mandated by scripture and by God, and that those who deviated from these mandates are to be scorned and punished.

For this movement at its most ludicrous (and for a demonstration that the same ugly attitudes are alive and well in white churches, too), I recommend (if readers can stomach it) a You Tube video of a recent sermon by Rev. Steven L. Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Rev. Anderson is preaching on a biblical phrase, "him that pisseth against the wall": see

Anderson takes the text to mean—I’m not making this up!—that God intends for men to urinate standing up. His sermon mounts a bizarre diatribe against Germans for (so he claims) demanding that men urinate while sitting down. The sermon mocks men who are “male” and not real men. Anderson’s mincing tone of voice when he speaks of males as opposed to men suggests that males are soft men who have allowed themselves to be whipped into shape by women who demand that they pee sitting down.

This would be laughable, if such rhetoric and such attitudes did not translate into the kind of violence we are seeing all too often these days against LGBT people, including gay youth. Note to churches: I find nothing in the scriptures which states that having a penis elevates a person to the status of a demi-god, and nothing which permits penis-endowed manly men to demonstrate their manly entitlement by beating others to a bloody pulp or shooting them to death.


Brad C. said...


Here's one of the reasons I love reading your blog so much: It reminds me of the many afternoon discussions we had when I would pop my head into your office after reading some bizarre news and finding you had seen the same report.

I also managed to see Rev. Anderson's "sermon" yesterday. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why his (or any) congregation, small as it may be, would submit to preaching that is more akin to an angry rant.

To Rev. Hutcherson, I would just say, if I open a door for you and you tear my arm off, which of us is being more like Jesus? His kind of rhetoric scares me, however, because it plays to a mob sensibility... and I am afraid that this violence against gays, most tragically against our youth, will only increase as those in Hutcherson's fold, and those who think like him, see the base of power erode.

I got the first idea that Hutcherson truly believes that Lawrence King and Simmie Williams and you and me and every other gay person deserves to die when less than three days after Lawrence King's murder, Hutcherson ran a photo of a student-made GLSEN poster hung up at the school where two teachers had the guts to challenge his homophobic bullying (the price of which, Hutcherson believes, should be the termination of their employment) and complained that teachers would be allowed to hang such a poster in the halls of a school. "Don't they know we're at WAR?!" In his mind, Lawrence King is the enemy and deserved his fate.

It's hard to be a pacifist in the face of such wonton antagonism. But the good news is, Hutcherson and his ilk seem to lose more credibility every time they open their mouth. And while his vile bleatings may hold sway over the adults of his congregation, its children are increasingly turned off by animosity towards gays and lesbians. So there is hope yet.

William D. Lindsey said...

Glad to hear from you, BC. I appreciate the additional information on the Hutcherson story. This misuse of faith symbols to attack LGBT people is, as you say, vile. Even more vile is the implicit justification of the murder of gay youth. Speaking of this as a war implies that those being murdered are the enemy, who deserve their fate. I fear that in the case of gay youth who have been bashed and killed in recent days, we're going to see new versions of the gay panic defense--the claim that, by making their orientation public, they hit on someone, who then took out his rage by shooting or bashing the youth. Like you, I hope that subsequent generations will make this obscene hatred masking itself in piety unthinkable. No more gay youth need to be murdered.