Canada
4 min

Religious hatred is a matter of life and death

We can't ignore fundamentalists' hateful rhetoric

For gays and lesbians, religious hatred is literally a matter of life and death. And it’s becoming rapidly apparent that the deadly consequences of such biblically motivated homophobia are not restricted to Africa or Asia. Queers in North America are losing their lives because of such vitriol.

Even churches that attempt to be open to queers are facing attacks, not only with heated rhetoric, but with actual bullets.

The latest instance occurred Jul 27 in Knoxville, Tennessee when a shooter opened fire on people at the gay-friendly Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and injuring seven others. Jim D Adkisson would have killed many more had not members of the congregation — who were gathered for a children’s production of Annie — not tackled him.

The church, according to Tennessee’s News Sentinel newspaper, “has a ‘gays welcome’ sign and regularly runs announcements about meetings of the Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays meetings at the church.

“The church’s website states that it has worked for ‘desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women’s rights and gay rights’ since the 1950s. Current ministries involve emergency aid for the needy, school tutoring and support for the homeless, as well as a café that provides a gathering place for gay and lesbian high-schoolers.”

Police say Adkisson — who apparently planned to be killed by police — left a letter targetting the beliefs of the church. The Knoxville police chief told the paper the letter expressed his “hatred of the liberal movement. Liberals in general, as well as gays.”

So for anyone who thinks that the hateful rhetoric spewed by fundamentalists — about homosexuality being a sin and an abomination and about following God’s word — should be ignored, remember what happened in Knoxville.

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That sort of hateful rhetoric was also on display at the recent conference of the world Anglican Church in Canterbury, England. More than 200 bishops boycotted the conference because some dioceses in North America have supported the ordination of gays as bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions or marriages.

The conference ended up putting off any decision on the matter, as the leader of the church — Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury — has consistently done since the issues arose. Williams didn’t even invite Gene Robinson, the American bishop who was the first openly gay bishop in the church. Robinson showed up anyway, although he was unable to attend any of the official meetings.

“If Jesus were here, rather than be with the powers that be on the inside, he’d be outside, on the fringe,” he said in interviews.

Robinson sparked all sorts of negative comments at the conference, including those from Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham, who compared Robinson’s appointment to George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

“George Bush said he was going to invade Iraq. Everyone told him not to because there would be consequences, but he did it anyway. The Americans floated the balloon in 2003 when they consecrated Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. They knew exactly what they were doing then and they know exactly what they are doing now. They knew it would be unacceptable to the majority of the Communion. They are doing exactly as they please. Either the rest of the world caves in or someone has to stand up to them.”

I’m sure George Bush would be thrilled by the equation, and it’s fascinating how that war has come to be used as a comparison for everything wrong in the world these days. But even allowing for hyperbole, it’s deplorable that Wright is willing to compare having a gay bishop to a war that has killed tens of thousands, boosted terrorism and sparked disastrous religious conflicts.

It’s also deplorable that Williams and much of the Anglican hierarchy is willing to stay silent when congregations in North America — including in Canada — are so opposed to gays that they’ve allied themselves with South American and African bishops who support the criminalization of homosexuality and even the execution of gays and lesbians.

It’s that silence that leads to incidents like the shooting in Knoxville.

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In Turkey, the country’s highest court has rejected the prosecution’s attempt to have the ruling AK party banned for attempting to introduce Islamic rule into the secular country. The party will be fined.

Six judges voted to ban the party, one fewer than was necessary for such a verdict. The party — which was elected with 47 percent of the vote last year — was charged with engaging in anti-secular activities, and faced having the prime minister and president banned from politics for five years. A number of parties have been banned for such activities in the past, although none were governing.

I find a certain appeal in a country that places such emphasis on secularism. But, as appealing as the idea of a court banning Stephen Harper for attempting to introduce Christian rule into Canada is, it’s not worth overthrowing democracy for.

Turkey’s secular constitution is enforced, ultimately, by the army, which strikes me as wildly problematic. I’m all for secular constitutions, in fact I wish Canada had a clause legislating the separation of church and state. But for the courts to be able to outlaw a religious party does not strike me as the answer. Courts should be able to strike down specific policies if such policies result from religious belief and discriminate against non-believers. But being able to ban a democratically elected party makes a court too powerful.

Especially as Turkish courts also decided last month to ban the queer group Lambda Istanbul.

“Encouragement and propaganda… of the sexual orientation of the members of the association through organizing instructive programs are predominant in the association’s aims, and these are likely to bring about a tyranny of a minority over the majority, which is against legal and constitutional regulations, and this would jeopardize the rights and freedom of the family and children,” wrote the court.

Back to relying on justice, decency and common sense.