Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gay Leader Murdered in Uganda: Hateful (Religious) Words and Hateful (Religious) Ideas Have Real-Life Consequences

And this kind of horrific event is what we can expect when popes and bishops and many other religious leaders remain completely silent as a climate of hateful demonization of a despised minority develops in a nation.  While a pope speaks about the civil marriage of gay persons as an incomparable threat to the human race, and characterizes the human rights of gay and lesbian human beings as "alleged rights."

Or while a leader of a national Catholic bishops' conference can say that those supporting the human rights of the gay community have "lost touch" with the human race and another leader of that same bishops' conference can suggest that gay and lesbian human beings are a threat to life itself, and that opposition to the "alleged rights" of this vulnerable and stigmatized minority group is a matter of pro-life activism on the part of faithful Catholics.

Words have consequences.  Silence in the face of hateful words also has consequences.  As Emma Ruby-Sachs notes, 

The violent pursuit of minorities is a familiar theme in world history. Too many times, the international community fails to act effectively to prevent violence, hate and genocide. Today, we are given the chance to avoid making the same mistake again.

"Too many times the international community fails to act."  And sometimes some of its key religious leaders are actually right in the thick of the violence, nudging it along rhetorically, seeding the ideas that help to dehumanize a despised minority group and make it susceptible to violence.  And remaining conspicuously silent while hate-mongers within a society pick up on the rhetorical cues provided by these religious leaders and enact the violence lurking behind their hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric about a minority group.

In a nation that is over 40% Catholic--in Uganda--Pope Benedict has the power to do tremendous good by speaking out against the violence we continue to see taking place against gay and lesbian citizens of that nation.  It is not to his credit as a Christian pastoral leader that he remains totally silent in the face of that violence, as the U.S. Catholic bishops remained totally silent last year when bullying of gay youth in American schools was finally discussed openly in the mainstream media.

What are the roots of such guilty silence?  I wonder.

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