The very first thing that should probably be stated in this article, is what it won’t be.
It won’t be a condemnation of Christianity, or conservatism, or Republicans (in spite of their close ties). It’s not meant to be divisive, partisan, or even political. If religion hadn’t already been heavily politicized, I doubt that this article would even need to be written. The topics discussed herein go beyond politics or religion. That being the case, this article will also not be offered as an excuse for the same kind of fundamentalist insanity from the Muslim faith, or any other religion. These issues are caused by religious fundamentalism, not any particular religious tenet.
In short, this article WILL be about basic human rights issues that are universal.
That being said, the psychological and social impact of community figures of authority like these, spreading messages which not only endorse unfair treatment of homosexuals but the outright murder of them, cannot be overstated. That, itself, is enough to make people stand up and take notice.
…Especially when you’re growing up gay in a small town, and the pillars of the community are stacked against you. Who would you turn to, when you were bullied relentlessly? Who would you call if you were assaulted for the mere suspicion of being gay? Who would you call if you felt afraid for your life? The man that the community turns to for guidance is telling them that their gay friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members are their enemies, and should be treated with zero sympathy and even killed because they are “damned by God”.
Only now, these pillars of the community have public access cable channels, blogs, radio shows, message boards, YouTube channels, and a much wider audience. Granted, when they accessed the internet they opened an anthill of scrutiny (not to mention derision), but the point is that the reach of their voices from behind their pulpits has grown beyond the boundaries of their own communities.
First one case came to light, then another. A few months later a new one would come up in conversation. Was it the same guy? Surely it must be. How many can there be? The answer, after a fair amount of research, is at least 15. 15 Baptist preachers, from 12 states, have publicly stated that gay people should be put to death, or have praised the Orlando shooter for doing it for them.
Pastor Kevin Swanson – Colorado
Pastor Steven Anderson – Arizona
Pastor Charles L. Worley – North Carolina
Pastor Curtis Knapp – Kansas
Pastor Roger Jimenez – California
Pastor Donnie Romero – Texas
Pastor Tony Smith – Florida
Pastor Manly Perry – Texas
Pastor David Berzins – Arizona
Pastor James David Manning – New York
Pastor Dennis Leatherman – Maryland
Pastor Robert Lee – Georgia
Pastor Kenneth Adkins – Georgia
Pastor Robby Gallaty – Tennessee
Pastor Andy Gipson – Mississippi
I’m not sure how many cases it will take before it’s “a thing”, but it can’t be much more than that.
…And that number seems to be growing. Only a year ago there were not this many cases on the radar. In addition, this list does not include the religious leaders who are not ordained ministers, like James Dobson, Joel McDurmon, David Dykes, and Pat Robertson, who have all said that gay people should be eliminated from society in one form or another. That also doesn’t include the religious leaders who, without outright threatening people’s lives, have endorsed violence against gay people, like Sean “punch them in the face” Harris of North Carolina. In that instance, Harris was actually referring to a child… his own child, who he would punch in the face if he were gay, meaning if he suspected that he might be. That list also doesn’t include… Well, just try this for yourself: Go to a search engine and type “gays cause(d)”, “gays fault”, and “gays blamed”, you’ll see. Those wounds are not classified as “violent”, but they can be just as deadly. Zealots like these may not set gay people on fire (anymore), or throw them off of buildings like Boko Haram or ISIS, they just ostracize, demoralize, dehumanize and marginalize them to the point that they set THEMSELVES on fire, and throw THEMSELVES off of buildings. It may not be as barbaric, but it’s more cowardly, more efficient, and just as effective.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has released a map of known hate groups in the US. Of these groups, 52 are labeled as “Anti-LGBT”, including the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Sure some are saying, “But hate speech is not covered under the freedoms granted by the 1st Amendment!” Actually, with few exceptions, it is. According to Alexander Tsesis, author of “Dignity and Speech: The Regulation of Hate Speech in a Democracy“. “The 1st Amendment is designed to permit and perhaps promote open debate, thereby encompassing popular and unpopular points of view. Speech can just as easily justify genocide as it does the equal enjoyment and protection of civil rights.” However, there are other valid views, including the idea that the right to not be discriminated against via hate speech is already covered in other areas of the 1st Amendment, and backed by the fact that there is a precedent for the court to create a free speech exception in some cases. Further, “Threats of violence that are directed at a person or group of persons that has the intent of placing the target at risk of bodily harm or death are generally unprotected.”
So how do these hatemongers keep from legal entanglements? It seems there is a lot of room for judges to interpret things on their own in this matter. Fun fact: Westboro Baptist is comprised of one family, and the majority of them are lawyers, not clergymen. Let’s think about that for a minute.
Where does any of that leave the gay teenager who’s trying to survive in a town where some of the most respected figures think they should be killed? Where are the people standing up, disagreeing? Why do people keep coming back every Sunday for more? Their pastor’s hate serves the dual purpose of demoralizing targets and emboldening aggressors. Bullies are heroes, and the innocent are despised. That’s no place for anyone to spend their formative years, but it’s all too common in this country for people to spend their entire lives there.
This needs to STOP.
If you have been the victim of threats to your life, or just excessive bullying due to your sexual orientation, contact the above link. They can put you in touch with the right people who can help you, and provide you with guidance in the meantime.
You are not alone.