Sunday, July 03, 2016

Homophobia and Anti-Gay Violence are a Theological Issue

To continue a theme that I believe MUST be forcefully addressed in the wake of the Orlando massacre is the continued role that religion plays in encouraging anti-LGBT violence and sustaining homophobia in general.  Like it or not, even gay affirming denominations need to do far more and become loud and outspoken in their opposition to churches and falsely named "family values" organizations that disseminate anti-LGBT hatred - and hatred toward all deemed "other."   Silence and passivity can no longer be accepted or tolerated.  The time has come for a line in the sand that Christians (and Muslims) need either step across or be deemed the enemy.  As the husband said to one of his gay friendly clients who remains a member of an anti-gay church, "there were good Germans too."  Yes, leaving one's denomination and/or vocally opposing its dogma can be frightening for many, but  we are truly talking about a life and death issue for many.  For Christians, they must be forced to choose between being either (i) "good Germans" who silently were complicity in horrors or  (ii) following in the shoes of abolitionists and those who fought for civil rights for black Americans in the worse days of the 1960's.  A piece in Religion Dispatches from a few years ago looks at  this time to choose.  Here are highlights: 
Beyond the inflicting of individual pain, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has effects far beyond the individual target. This is what Iris Marion Young terms “systematic violence” in her famous “Five Faces of Oppression.” It is a violence of instrumentality—violence with the effect of keeping an entire group subjugated and in a state of oppression.
We must widen our perspective from individual acts of bullying and violence to the instrumental purpose these serve in subjugating LGBT people to particular religious and cultural ideologies in which reality is defined from a strictly heterosexual perspective—and gay and lesbian people become non-persons.
As more churches and denominations ordain gay and lesbian clergy, more gay and lesbian people are featured in media, and more medical, psychological and psychotherapeutic organizations reject notions of the pathological in sexual minorities, dominant religious and cultural ideology is in a state of crisis. It is no longer an unquestioned assumption that heterosexual experience represents the definition of reality for all people. The power to define reality for the masses is at stake and this power comes with all manner of political and ideological implications. Thus, there is a vested interest on the part of the religious and political right in keeping LGBT persons silent and subjugated.
Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.
These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.
More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).
Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible. . . . the most dangerous form of theological message comes in the subtlest of forms: silence.
[W]ell-meaning, good-hearted people respond to this appeal, saying, “Things are a lot better for gay people today than they were several years (or decades) ago. In time, our society (or churches) will come around on this issue.” To these friends and others, I must say, “It’s time.” . . . The longer we wait to respond, the more young people die.
Our children and teenagers are being held hostage by a religious and political rhetoric that strives to maintain the status quo of anti-gay heterosexist normativity. The messages of Focus on the Family and other organizations actively strive to leave the most vulnerable among us exposed to continuous attack.
Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publically hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well-served by the status quo?
In the current climate, equivocating messages of affirmation are overpowered by the religious rhetoric of hatred. Silence only serves to support the toleration of bullying, violence, and exclusion. In the face of what has already become the common occurrence of LGBT teen suicide, how long can we wait to respond?

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