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The rise and rise of the anti-gay religious right

The rise and rise of the anti-gay religious right

At a time when churches are hemorrhaging members, there is a growth of new evangelical religious organizations filling their buckets with cash to oil the wheels of organizations ready to save the world from sexual degradation, permissiveness, and by default: homosexuality. And it’s going global.

In Russia, where two-thirds still find homosexuality worth condemning and with little or no sex education in schools, it was easy to get the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church for a law silencing LGBTI people. Russian President Putin had no problem repeating what many religious campaigners said about Section 28, the UK law which effectively banned teachers talking about LGBTI issues: it’s all about protecting children.

Only weeks after a brutal murder of a 23-year-old gay man at a demonstration in Moscow to protest at the introduction of the new law, 30 were arrested and several attacked by Orthodox Christian thugs singing hymns and crossing themselves. Reports of books being removed from libraries surfaced.

For many, life in Nazi Germany was being played out before their eyes. Two dozen masked men stormed a popular gay bar in Moscow and beat the patrons – mostly women – with fists and bottles. Elsewhere, Pavel Samburov was arrested and fined 570 roubles ($16 €12) and given 30 hours of detention for kissing his boyfriend in public.

Konstantin Kostin, a member of the Holy Rus movement declared: ‘Gay people need medical treatment. It’s simply disgusting to look at them. Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what’s become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country.’

Acting with impunity, the gangs luring victims online with a promise of a date before they were stripped naked, tortured, humiliated and forced to come out to family and friends whilst being filmed. Anyone can watch them online.

In one case a man was left blinded in one eye after a gang attacked him and in another a man had his clothes burnt after he was abducted and handcuffed. The gang then put a gun to his head and made him rape himself with a bottle.

As this fascism spreads, it gets added to reports like that of a 5,000-stong Christian mob of women carrying bouquets of stinging nettles and men waving Georgian flags and crosses in Tbilisi, Georgia, led by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in pursuit of LGBTI campaigners chanting ‘Stomp on them to death!’

This was the year Turkey collected nul points in the Eurovision Song Contest, storming out of the contest at the last minute after taking umbrage at Finland’s entry which featured two girls kissing. Now, it only takes a drag queen from Austria to unite the bigots as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus demand she is edited out of the broadcast.

In Greece, if the Orthodox Church aren’t protesting outside a ‘blasphemous’ play, their priests could be found blessing the offices of the fascist Golden Dawn party. In Romania, seven young people were assaulted after attending an academic debate about the history of homosexuality and the following year, 50 fascists in Bucharest halted the screening of The Kids Are Alright, assaulting and filming filmgoers chanting ‘death to homosexuals’ before singing the Romanian national anthem and waving religious icons.

In Uganda, the work of Christian extremists bore fruit after David Kato, a gay human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death within three months of an article in Rolling Stone naming the country’s top homosexuals. An Anglican priest used his funeral to condemn homosexuality. The magazine’s headlines roared: “We shall recruit 1,000,000 kids by 2012’ and ‘Parents now face heartbreaks as homos raid schools’.

They were little different to those appearing in the Scottish press during the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign to retain Section 28 that shook Scotland in 2000. Evangelical Christian lawmakers had to be held back from putting into place new laws that would put all homosexuals to death.

President Yoweri Museveni signing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act came after a long build up. The bill was introduced soon after a big seminar in Kampala called Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda.

It featured two rabidly homophobic speakers, Scott Lively, head of Abiding Truth Ministries in Massachusetts and author of the Pink Swastika, which claimed homosexuals invented Nazism and were instrumental in the Holocaust, and Dan Schmierer of the ex-gay group Exodus International.

At the seminar, Lively told the audience that a powerful global gay movement had now set its sights on Africa and the ‘gay agenda’ was unleashing epidemics of divorce, child abuse, and HIV/AIDS wherever it gained a foothold. He warned that by permitting homosexuality, ‘you can’t stop someone from molesting children or stop them from having sex with animals’.

Scott Lively met with Ugandan government ministers and David Bahati who would go on to draft the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Bahati was connected to the secretive Christian fundamentalist organization behind National Prayer Breakfasts, the Fellowship, which pours millions into student leadership programs that places government and media with disciples of Jesus, much like evangelicals plant Christian interns in the government and media in the UK.

According to Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor for Harper’s, Joe Pitts, a Republican congressman has diverted millions in US aid to Uganda from sex education programs to abstinence programs and evangelical revivals that included condom burnings.

Influential evangelist Rick Warren, head of California’s Saddleback megachurch had already travelled to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda where he blamed their genocide on homosexuals, declaring along the way ‘homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right’.

In France, the shouts and screams of thousands of mostly religious protesters coached in from the countryside to demonstrate against President Hollande’s attempt to introduce marriage equality started out as grass-roots organizations set up by the Catholic Church. They marched with right-wing politicians including a candidate for the far-right Front National to protest.

Skinheads attacked a gay bar in Lille and masked armed men smashed another bar in Bordeaux. Raphaël Leclerc, a gay cabaret dancer was beaten unconscious in Nice, Muslims were filmed kicking and punching women protesters in Paris and Wilfred de Bruijn, a young librarian who was caught holding his boyfriend’s hand sustained injuries so severe they went viral on the internet.

Despite protestations from campaigners their campaign wasn’t religiously motivated; Le Monde examined the 37 associations behind Manif Pour Tous, an anti-gay-marriage organization led by comedienne Frigide Barjot, (literally, Frigid Bonkers), a self-styled ‘press officer for Jesus’. 22 were described as ‘empty vessels’; the rest were all religious. She warned: ‘Hollande wants blood, and he will get it.’

Days after Hollande signed the bill into law he got it when a member of extreme far-right group, Printemps Français, (French Spring), 78-year-old Dominique Venner, walked into the cathedral of Notre Dame and shot himself through the mouth. He left a note warning: ‘New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleep walkers… We are entering a time when acts must follow words.’

Soon, it was Frigide Barjot’s turn to seek police protection after receiving a handkerchief soaked in what looked like blood. John Lichfield in the Independent reported her saying: ‘I entered this fight because I knew that, otherwise, the protests would be dominated by people like Venner and his ilk, the far right and the Catholic extremists.’

Within weeks of the first gay marriage, 18-year-old gay student, Clément Méric was pronounced brain-dead after an attack by a group of far-right skinheads from the group JNR Jeune Nationaliste Revolutionnaire.

As Hollande’s socialist party fell behind the Front National which jumped to second place in popularity ratings, Catholic and some Muslim groups opposed to same-sex marriage were back on the streets again in a Day of Anger which attracted 17,000 from far-right and fascist movements. Journalists were chased away with chants of ‘Nazi state, collaborationist media’. Amongst other chants picked up by the media were ‘Juif, la France n’est pas pour toi’ (Jew, France is not for you), ‘Hollande or the CRIF (Jewish representative group), who is leading who?’ and ‘Europe gay criminal Zionist’.

In the UK, the British National Party leader Nick Griffin, an Anglican who believed “nations are ordained by God” was already enjoying exposure of an hour-long program on Christian TV channel, Revelation, by 2010. When he appeared on Sky News – facing accusations of obtaining lists of email addresses of Christians to win their support in elections – he sported a cross in his lapel.

But he was yesterday’s man. Nigel Farage leader of anti-Europe political party UKIP was soon the more respectable face for the Christian-right, jockeying with UK Prime Minister David Cameron who boasted Britain is a ‘Christian nation’.

In the absence of any genuine engagement with secular organizations like the National Secular Society or Scottish Secular Society, a new bullish Christian supremacy is being manufactured in churches. It conceals a growing frustration against Islam and polarizes views both for and against religion.

In such a climate, extremism is thriving in Britain. While millions in grants ploughed into ‘interfaith’ projects, no efforts are being made to engage faith with the majority without religion who are being met only with a concerted effort by government to defend and maintain religious privilege.

As Michael Voris, a Church Militant TV presenter told a meeting of Catholics last year in Motherwell, Scotland many of them young people, he wants ‘muscular Catholicism that isn’t afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice’.

He told his audience: ‘We have such an intense relationship for Him we would die for Him,’ adding, ‘the job of the Church is not to make soup kitchens, but to make saints.’ Voris reminded the faithful: ‘The Catholic Church isn’t about feelings.’
Perhaps he’s right. Are we all being far too sentimental about religion?

Religious Fascism: The Repeal of Section 28 by Garry Otton is published by Ganymedia.

Photo by Tim Pierce.