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Pious veneer can’t hide hate

In May 1994 anti-gay activists of the Christian right from around the country gathered in secret session in Colorado Springs, Colo., to discuss a strategy for reversing political gains made by the gay rights movement.

Thinking they were out of earshot of the media, their speech was often informal and unguarded. They had planned it that way so they could say what they wished without being held accountable by a wider public.

But their comments were captured on tape recordings that were passed on to NCR, which published a story based on the tapes in its Sept. 2, 1994, issue. What came out of that gathering was an ugly, hate-filled stripping away of humanity from those who are homosexual, vilifying any who would seek protection under law from discrimination because of sexual orientation.

It might be inaccurate to draw a straight line from that gathering in Colorado to the site in Laramie, Wyo., where Matthew Shepard was lashed to a fence, tortured and beaten because he was gay. Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, died as a result of the beating.

It is absolutely essential, however, that we trace the thought that motivated that meeting -- as well as all the accumulated, hate-filled blather from the “religious” right, fundamentalist Catholic and Protestant alike -- and follow it as it winds its way to that killing place in Wyoming.

Sadly, the Catholic church, having given gay-bashers the incredible phrase that homosexuality itself “must be seen as an objective disorder” cannot be spared some blame for contributing to the atmosphere that inspires hate. To their credit, however, the U.S. bishops generally have not joined the extremists and have gone against the prevailing tide in U.S. culture, as well as in Rome, with the release of the compassionate pastoral letter, “Always Our Children.” And there are other examples, such as that of Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco (see Some labels don’t stick) who was able to work a compromise with city government over a gay partners’ law.

But the groups that constitute the religious right have shown no such balance. This past summer, Gary Bauer’s Family Research Council was behind a hideous ad campaign displaying alleged former homosexuals who claim that through religious conversion they had become heterosexual.

His group and others are following up with a new battery of ads aimed clearly at achieving political gain by demonizing homosexuals. Of course, it is not that blatant. These tacticians are shameless enough to end their ads with the slogan: “It’s not about hate. ... It’s about hope.”

But it is about hate. Catch the unguarded conversation four years ago of Paul Cameron, who identified himself as a psychologist and chairman of the Family Research Institute. He was talking about someone in Canada who had a message on his home phone recorder “about what ought to be done with queers.”

The same Family Research Council on Monday was spitting out press releases denouncing the Shepard killing, but also expressing concern “that some members of the media and representatives of homosexual organizations may be fueling hostility toward Christians and people of other faiths who believe homosexuality is morally objectionable. ... Our message is about offering homosexuals the choice to change.”

Don’t be fooled.

That’s what they and their ilk would like the public to believe. Whatever fancy words they dress themselves in, they really are inciters of hate against gays and lesbians.

Take the unguarded words of John Eldredge, a leader of James Dobson’s influential Focus on the Family, which also spews its venom while draped in religious costume. At that secret meeting, Eldredge said: “I think the gay agenda -- I would not say this as frankly as I will now in other cultural contexts -- I think the gay agenda has all the elements of that which is truly evil.” This is a so-called religious leader speaking. He could scarcely find more explicit words to give permission to his followers to go out and stomp out that “evil.”

Eldredge was joined, of course, by representatives of Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition, one of the most successful religious charades of modern times.

It was clear in that secret session in Colorado that the god of the gay-bashers is a menacing and vindictive god, one who joins in jeering those who are different, in condemning those on the margin, who mocks the humanity of those who, through no fault or choice of their own, have a sexual orientation that is different from that of the majority.

That is the god behind the ads and the sanctimonious campaigns to demonize gays and lesbians.

It is a god for whom the Christian scriptures would have to be rewritten -- and it is a god who should be soundly rejected.

If Bauer and other evangelists of this god are feeling the heat, it’s about time.

National Catholic Reporter, October 23, 1998