Friday, December 10, 2010

Gays, the Military and God

By Frank Schaeffer

(This article was first published on the Huffington Post)

In the light (or should I say "dark") of the Republican's stand against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" we need to understand the wider context of the fight that pits human rights against the conservative Christians who have taken over the Republican Party.

If there is one thing all Christians should have learned by now it's that we -- of all people -- should never, ever cast aspersions on anyone else's sex life!

When it comes to pointing the finger over sexual "sin" the worldwide Christian community -- from the halls of the Vatican, to some Evangelical conservative "home church" established in somebody's basement two minutes ago -- is in the morally compromised position of a sometime violent habitual rapist criticizing a shoplifter for stealing a candy bar.

We're not talking about "a few bad apples," but the whole edifice of religion top to bottom.

I look at these issues from an inside perspective. My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key Evangelical founder and leader of the American Religious Right. I grew up in a home where we knew all the key actors in the anti-gay Evangelical/Far Right "cause". I changed my mind and I changed my politics. I explain why I quit the evangelical movement in my book Crazy for God -- How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.

Speaking of rapists, an impartial inquiry into child abuse at Catholic institutions in Ireland found that the top church leaders knew that sexual abuse was endemic in boys' and girls' institutions. A nine-year government inquiry investigated a sixty-year period when more than 35,000 children were placed in a network of "reformatories," "industrial schools" and "workhouses." All of them suffered physical and/or sexual abuse that more than two thousand witnesses confirmed to the commission. They were placing children in these camps until the 1980s. Physical and emotional abuse was a built-in deliberate feature of these institutions for young men and women. The inquiry proved that child rape defines Irish Catholicism as surely as the sign of the cross once did.

(Rachel Maddow recently interviewed David Bahati, the author of the "Kill The Gays" Ugandan bill and he said that "We must do this to protect our children." I thought that actually if logic ruled and protecting children was the goal, gays would be free but Roman Catholic bishops and priests would be rounded up as a preventative measure. Okay, I'm kidding but on the face of the evidence that would make more sense!)

Closer to home the Family (or The Fellowship) ran a residential "ministry" specializing in housing and indoctrinating members of Congress in their Washington DC, C-Street residence. Several Family members -- Nevada Senator John Ensign, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and former Representative Chip Pickering of Mississippi -- were all found guilty of adultery. This fact would be meaningless to anyone but their wives, except for the fact that all three also defined their political careers by loudly advertising their so-called Christian family values. Sanford admitted to an affair with a woman in Argentina. Ensign admitted that his family paid $96,000 in hush money to his former mistress and her family. Pickering is said to have conducted his adulterous affair, within the walls of the Family's C-Street complex.

Then there was George Rekers, who played an important role in many of the most extreme Evangelical assaults on gay people's rights. His career started in 1982 with his publishing a homophobic "textbook" Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality. Rekers was a co-founder with James Dobson of the gay-bashing Family Research Council. In 2010 Rekers was found to be "in a class by himself" when it came to sexual hypocrisy (as New York Times columnist Frank Rich noted). A Baptist minister with a bent for "curing" homosexuality, sixty-year-old Rekers was caught by a Miami New Times reporter with a twenty-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The "couple" was returning from a ten-day trip to London. Rekers only mistake, he told Christianity Today magazine, was to hire a "travel assistant" without proper vetting. Rekers said, "[my assistant] did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, with many Scriptures in three extended conversations."

With the innumerable "Christian" sex scandals that seem to crash into the headlines every day we've arrived the point where I think I may -- jokingly, of course -- safely say that all Evangelical anti-gay activists may be closeted gays hiding behind their loud anti-gay public proclamations and that all the "traditional family values" leaders will, eventually, be shown to be have been committing adultery -- when not calling press conferences to denounce "godless Liberals."

There is an attending level of smarmy hypocrisy expressed as "we hate the sin, but love the sinner" that is as ludicrous as it is two-faced. For instance, in 2010 the top Evangelical leadership participated (as they have each year for decades) in a Washington schmooze fest "prayer breakfast" organized by none other than the Family. At that very moment The Family was also hock deep in yet another scandal, this time in Uganda.

The story of the Ugandan legislation to kill gays -- for being gay -- was intertwined with the Family and also with representatives of the wider "respectable" American Evangelical community. According to many press reports, the genesis of the anti-homosexual Ugandan bill may be traced to a three-day seminar in Kampala in March 2009 called "Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda." This seminar was led by Evangelical leader and hero to the Religious Right, Scott Lively. He is best known for his Holocaust revisionist book, The Pink Swastika, which claims homosexuals founded the Nazi party and were responsible for death camp atrocities.

According to sources who attended the conference (and that were later widely quoted in the press) Lively told his Kampala audience, "I know more about this [homosexuality] than almost anyone in the world ... The gay movement is an evil institution. The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity." The results of the seminar were dramatic. "The community has become very hostile now," Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda said in an interview. "We have to watch our backs very much more than before because the community thinks if the Ugandan government is not passing the law, they will deal with [gay] people on their own."

In a shameful exception to his usual decency President Obama participated in The Family-run "prayer breakfast" farce. He did this even though Bahati -- the same man behind the kill the gays legislation Maddow just interviewed -- was deeply involved in The Family's work in Uganda at that time, and the ethics minister of Uganda and was also helping to organize The Family's National Prayer Breakfast.

A day before this "prayer" schmooze-farce I participated in a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington DC, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I did so to do my bit to call attention to the anti-gay activities of the Family. "Prayer is a good thing, and Americans ought to gather to pray, but we better be careful what we pray for," said one of our presenters, Gene Robinson (the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church). "I call upon our president to make himself known to be in opposition... to this violation of human rights for all of God's children in Uganda and beyond," Robinson concluded.

A gay Ugandan, who was seeking asylum in the United States, gave a detailed account of the harassment he withstood "from my fellow Christians in Uganda." Given the multiplying death threats he was receiving for speaking out Moses (not his real name), addressed reporters with a paper bag over his head to conceal his identity. He described in detail how, "one would rather die than come out of the closet" in religiously conservative Uganda. He also spoke about how American Evangelicals had egged on the Ugandan authorities with the Evangelical-propagated pseudo-scientific myth that homosexuality is a "chosen life-style" that can be "cured" by Jesus and/or therapy, and that therefore people who remain gay are gay because they choose to be and thus are "sinning" -- on purpose.

No wonder Far Right American Evangelicals not only slander gay men and women but also have an affinity for certain repressive religion-saturated countries like gay-bashing Uganda. As we've seen, a bedrock article of faith among the American Evangelicals is that America had "Christian origins," and that today America must be "restored" to our "religious heritage." To recap, the "Puritan heritage" of America is cited as evidence for our need to return to our biblical roots -- and/or to work internationally, as do the Family -- to get others to follow our "holy" path.

Today's anti-gay Evangelicals are just carrying on the tradition of persecuting people in the name of God begun in the Bay State. Puritans were their day's Evangelical/Roman Catholic Lynch Mob. They too believed that they were defending authentic Christianity. They said that they were on a divine mission, even calling themselves "The New Israel" and a "city set upon a hill." John Winthrop (governor of Massachusetts Bay) transferred the idea of "nationhood" in biblical Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company. Puritans said the Bible confirmed their status as the New Israel. And since the Puritans claimed they were God's "Chosen People" they said that they had the right to take land from the "heathen." These were the American Indians whom the Puritans thought of as the "new Canaanites," to be slaughtered with God's blessing and in the case of the Pequot Indians, burned alive.

When "Moses" spoke at our press conference his hands gripped the Press Club lectern and when he released that grip they trembled. I hugged Moses after he concluded his remarks and discovered that his back was drenched in sweat even in that ice-cold air conditioned room. I spoke next and I felt ashamed to be holding forth at so little personal cost. I could speak from that podium without risk of more than a few emails from people who wrote things like; "you fucking fag lover" and "your father would be ashamed of you" while Moses faced death for standing up against the religion-led Lynch Mob. Nevertheless I know a little about what he was enduring because I'm used to certain types of "correspondence," like this email (typos in the original) that I happened to receive when working on this chapter.

From: D--- Date: Mon, Sep 27, 2010 10:27 am
I just read what you wrote in support of our Muslim Marxist, Lying SOB POTUS. He is a shill for the NWO and wants to bring the USA down to 3rd world status. He refuses to show his longform birth certificate, and tha means he is hiding something, like he is not constitutionally eligible to be in the position that he findshimself in. A LIAR is what he amounts to, and that kind of person does not represent me or mine. You are a jaded idoit. . . I work for a living, you should try doing the same thing, cause your ideology and your writing sucks. . . Do not reply. . . You must be a communist also, you look like one. . . RATFINK!

Moses faced daily threats from the sort of people who wrote that RATFINK note to me. But I chose to leave the Evangelical fold and also chose to support President Obama, knowing full well that, given my past, I'd attract the attention of the many people gleefully wallowing in the subterranean river of sewage that flows wide and deep just under the surface of American life. Moses hadn't chosen anything. He was hated for merely trying to fulfill the natural longings he was born with.

To be true to what I hope is the heart of the best of the universal religious message: redemption through selflessness, hope and love, necessitates a new and fearless repudiation of the parts of the same books and traditions -- be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim (or other) -- that also bring us a message of hate, exclusion, ignorance, tribalism and fear. To find any spiritual truth within any religion's holy books they must be mentally edited, by the light God has placed in each of us. To see ourselves as fellow travelers sharing a humble uncertainty is the only antidote to fundamentalism of all kinds, religious or secular... or for that matter, to the intolerant idiocy of today's Republican Party.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back


DavidD said...

If I am scrupulous about repudiating all messages of hatred, exclusion, ignorance, tribalism and fear, what's left? It's the exact opposite problem of trying to be a good Christian and not judge anyone, yet so many people deserve to be judged for the hurtful things they do. Which extreme is best? Being someone with normal human feelings, probably more than normal, I can't follow either extreme anyway. There are too many things like what evangelicals say about gays that bring out a reflexive, "They said what?!" for me never to judge. Yet if I reject all hate, all exclusion, all ignorance, all tribalism, and all fear, I'm not sure even God would be left for me. Of course I burn out from caring so much long before I've rejected everyone.

It's not just those on the right who claim to know exactly why things are as they are and say they know best what to do about that, even when their views are as extreme and simplistic as that e-mailer who calls you RATFINK. Few people from any part of the political or religious spectra work hard to document what they say. I don't. What I write is too long just sharing my personal reactions, much less explaining them fully. Then so many are like those who claim that homosexuals are out to destroy marriage and could be straight if they only surrendered to that. These arguments about which they're so proud would fall apart if they tried to document them fairly, so of course they don't. Ignorance works better for them.

Anyone who has experienced the power of empiricism over intuition has some sense that their most precious belief might be wrong. Who's willing to explore that fully? I found God helpful in doing that, once I was satisfied that whoever and whatever God really is, the real God does not say that faith is more important than love or truth. It is not a lack of faith that causes me to fail to move a mountain. It is the truth that I don't have the power to do that. Test that empirically, the first step of that being to develop perfect faith.

Evangelicals don't believe in a God who favors empiricism over blind faith. I suppose that's where the problem starts, long before evangelicals say whatever is convenient for them in their war against gays. What do you want to do about that? I know what God says to me in answer to that question. I've yet to see anyone say the exact same thing in print. Do any of us follow the same God?

DavidD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

I don't get it. Preaching John 3:16 and killing those who don't "measure up". Just live and let live. But no, it's about raw power and the present Crusades are proof that SOMEONE believes they should have and use that power...betcha their white.