Sunday, June 05, 2005

Combating Anti-Gay Hate Politics

I am sometimes asked, what we can do in response to the Christian Right? And while I have written a great deal about that, and will certainly do more, for today, I want to focus on one important aspect. We have to do our homework. And I'd like to suggest an approach to this homework that may different than you may think.

Too often we look at the threat of the Christian Right in terms of single issues. While this is understandable, when we do this, we become like the story of the blind men, each with their hands on the elephant, trying to describe it. I think as we tackle any one issue, we need to develop a more comprehensive view in order to be more conversant with the nautre of the elephant. When we become more conversant, it will be easier to talk about what is going on, and therefore what we can do about it. Failing that, let's acknowledge that we may find ourselves winging it, with all that that may imply.

Nevertheless, for today, let's begin by looking through the lens of anti-gay hate politics, which is currently at the cutting edge of the politics of the Christian Right, and indeed, much of the Republican Party. In order to better contend with the politics of the growing ugliness and opportunism, here is an introduction followed by some homework. (You can pick how much you want to do, and at your own pace. You'll see.)

The current issue of Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that researches and combats hate groups, offers a comprehensive overview of the history of the Christian Right's attack on homosexuality, including an anthology of hateful rhetoric by Christian Right leaders, For example Rev. Jerry Falwell founder of the Moral Majority has said that homosexuals are "Brute beasts... part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven."

"The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit [homosexual] conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle." So said then-Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, (and possible 2006 candidate for governor of Alabama) in a concurring opinion in a lesbian child custody case.

Is that just rhetoric or do they really believe it? In the case of Falwell, maybe both. In the case of Moore, I have no doubt that he believes it. In anycase, an Intelligence Report editorial, explains, "In this issue, the Intelligence Report takes a look at the religiously based crusade against homosexuals in America -- a 'thirty years war,' as the story points out, that has intensified since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state anti-sodomy statutes in the 2003 Lawrence decision. Key points in the report include the religious right's repeated use of bogus 'science' and the bully-boy tactics of its leaders.'"

"These leaders angrily rebut charges that their cruel name-calling -- public descriptions of gays as 'perverts,' 'child molesters,' 'deviants' and 'evil' people — has led anyone to violence. They say they "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

"That is a hard one to swallow. When perpetrators of hate crimes against gays use identical words to describe their victims, you have to wonder where it began."

The editorial also refutes the key points in the Christian Right's arguments against homosexulality, among others, scientific and Biblical"

"Nothing in the legitimate scientific literature supports the notion that homosexuality is a 'perversion' or a mental illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It needs no cure."

"Even the notion that the Bible unswervingly condemns homosexuality is open to debate," the editorial continues. "Many scholars believe that several key passages actually are denouncing orgies and prostitution -- or in the case of the town of Sodom, inhospitality -- and not homosexuality."

"There are two Old Testament passages that do appear to condemn homosexual acts, one of them calling for the death penalty. But they both show up amid a long list of religious prohibitions, including eating pork and wearing mixed fabrics, that have been abandoned by almost all contemporary Christians."

The editorial goes on to make analogies to the rhetoric of the most virulent forms of racism and anti-semetism. But the Intelligence Report is not the only one writing about the ongoing campaign of anger, resentment and fear mongering aimed at gays, immigrants, and others.

Author David Neiwart, writing at his blog Orcinus, writes that part of what is going on is "a hatred of multiculturalism. What happens on the street level is that all of the minorities whose presence is embraced by multiculturalism are the natural first targets of this intolerance as it festers into white working-class resentment and finally action."

Indeed, Rush Limbaugh was recently engaging in just this kind of hate-based propaganda when he attacked a high school that happens to have a fine multiculturalist curriculum.

"Remember, too," Neiwart continues, "that multiculturalism arose specifically as a response to white supremacism -- which, in fact, it replaced as the reigning national racial ethos. Those who constantly disparage multiculturalism seem oddly reticent about what they'd replace it with -- except, of course, white supremacists like David Duke and Billy Roper, who are fairly clear on the subject."

He quotes Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates (PRA) as saying "I have seen what appears to be an increase in anger toward gay people and immigrants, as well as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."

PRA has been developing resources for understanding elements of, as well as the Right as a whole, for 25 years.

One useful PRA report documents the various "ex-gay ministries." For those interested in dominionism, PRA has definitions and a set of readings. For those who are ready to really engage in more comprehensive online reading and tutorials, PRA has 'em.

OK. I know that not everyone is going to do all of this.

But remember too, a lot of people who talk about the Christian Right, and the issues and the players, don't actually know very much about it. And while it is not reasonable to expect every citizen, activist, blogger or elected official to become experts in all aspects of the Chrisitian Right, (frankly, I don't know anyone who is), far more of us need to become far more knowledgeable than we are.

If we care as deeply about our values as we say to ourselves and to others that we do, if we are genuinely concerned about the extant threat to those values, doesn't it stand to reason that we should become more knowledgeable about the nature of the threats against them so that we can develop good and effective strategies and not risk making costly mistakes?

Any comprehensive strategy necessarily involves a comprehensive understanding of the opposition. But it has been my experience that people tend to get parochial within thier issue area, the environment, labor, women's rights, separation of church and state, whatever. But even as we focus on these things, we have to understand that there are those with a comprehensive opposition to all of these things, and that we need to adjust our knowledge and our politics accordingly. But alas, we tend to resist change -- in our thinking, in our habits of language, and in our politics.

In order to best deal with the challenges of our times, we will all need to be making some changes, and soon. It will be interesting to find out what they are, and what we as individuals, as organizations, as interest groups, and as political parties we are going to do about it.

Meanwhile, the threat of anti-gay politics is real. It is obviously of most immediate concern to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. It will almost certainly be used as a wedge issue in the next round of elections just as it was in the last one. This should be of interest to a broad range of people from moderate republicans to progressive democrats in all parts of the country, regardless of thier sexual orientation. We are all in this together.

Time to go do our homework.

[Crossposted from]


Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

I like your use of the term "homework".

It suggests that there are basics here which need to be mastered, and - indeed - there are.

Liberals, progressives and Democrats all too often envision those who vote Republican as a monolithic bloc, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Those factions confront an opposing religious supremacist hard core that is fairly small but strengthened by many allies who - if the spoken intentions of the religious supremacist movement were widely publicized - would likely reconsider that support.

Most Americans still believe in pluralism and tolerance.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Sunfell said...

This also brings to light a major difference between the religious supremacists and folks like us: education and functional intellectualism. The supremacists tend to want to limit education to very narrow fields, and actively discourage exploration outside their very narrow guidelines. The proliferation of Christian-specific internet filtering software, along with the burgeoning homeschool movement are indicators of this desire to limit learning. Add to that their desire to weaken the teaching of science in public schools.

And in their parlance, 'intellectual' is almost as bad a label as 'liberal', and they often combine it in a one-two punch when criticizing non-followers. (Pluralism and tolerance are also dirty words in their worldview.)

So, yes, let's do our homework. Let's educate ourselves, and understand (and eventually teach) that they are anti-education and anti-intellectual as well. Knowledge is power. They don't want us to 'know' because we will gain precious power- over them. Therein lies one of the things we will have to work on.


12:03 PM  

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