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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bishop Robinson: Religion Kills Young People

NEW YORK - JUNE 17:  Bishop Gene Robinson attends the Stonewall Vision 2009 Stonewall Community Foundation Annual Dinner at UN Delegates Dining Room and Terrace on June 17, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Stonewall Community Foundation)

Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire - the gay bishop whose 2003 election has caused the Anglican Communion to splinter into pro- and anti-gay fragments - writes in the Huffington Post:
An increasingly popular bumper sticker reads, "Guns Don't Kill People -- RELIGION Kills People!" In light of recent events I would add religion kills young people: gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender young people.

Perhaps not directly, though. And religion is certainly not the only source of anti-gay sentiment in the culture. But it's hard to deny that religious voices denouncing LGBT people contribute to the atmosphere in which violence against LGBT people and bullying of LGBT youth can flourish. . . .

With the exception of [Asher] Brown in Texas these suicides are not happening in Bible Belt regions of the country, where we might predict a greater-than-usual regard for religious thought. Instead, they are occurring in states perceived to be more liberal on LGBT issues: California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

The case of Tyler Clementi is especially instructive about how far we have to go in accepting our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children. Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University whose roommate secretly filmed a sexual encounter he had with another male student and then posted it on the internet.

Think about it. If Tyler had been heterosexual and instead filmed having sex with his girlfriend, it would still be an inappropriate invasion of his privacy and tasteless to post the video online. And it certainly would have been embarrassing for Tyler and the girl. But chances are he would have been the recipient of some congratulatory remarks from friends about what a stud he was. And if he was straight he likely wouldn't have contemplated -- not to mention successfully accomplished -- his own suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

No, Tyler was a victim -- not of an inner disturbance of depression or mental illness--but of an external and in part religiously inspired disdain and hatred of gay people.

Despite the progress we're making on achieving equality under the law and acceptance in society for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, why this rash of bullying, paired with self-loathing, ending in suicide? With humility and heartfelt repentance I assert that religion -- and its general rejection of homosexuality -- plays a crucial role in this crisis.

On the one hand, Religious Right hatemongers and crazies are spewing all sorts of venom and condemnation, all in the name of a loving God. The second-highest-ranking Mormon leader, Boyd K. Packer, recently called same-sex attraction "impure and unnatural" in an act of unspeakable insensitivity at the height of this rash of teen suicides. He declared that it can be cured, and that same-sex unions are morally repugnant and "against God's law and nature."

Just as many gay kids grow up in these conservative denominations as any other. They are told day in and day out that they are an abomination before God. Just consider the sheer numbers of LGBT kids growing up right now in Roman Catholic, Mormon, and other conservative religious households. The pain and self-loathing caused by such a distortion of God's will is undeniable and tragic, causing scars and indescribable self-alienation in these young victims.

You don't have to grow up in a religious household, though, to absorb these religious messages. Not long ago I had a conversation with six gay teens, not one of whom had ever had any formal religious training or influence. Every one of them knew the word "abomination," and every one of them thought that was what God thought of them. They couldn't have located the Book of Leviticus in the Bible if their lives depended on it yet they had absorbed this message from the antigay air they breathe every day.

Add to that the Minnesota Family Council's Tom Prichard recently saying that the real cause of the suicides is "homosexual indoctrination," not antigay bullying, and that the students died because they adopted an "unhealthy lifestyle." . . .
Continued after the jump . . .

On the other hand, what's the role of more mainline, more progressive denominations such as mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in these recent tragedies? Mostly silence. And just like in the days of the AIDS organization Act Up, "silence equals death."

It is not enough for good people -- religious or otherwise -- to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it's not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we've seen.

I learned this in my dealing with racism. It's not enough to be tolerant of other races. I benefit from a racist society just by being white. I don't ever have to use the "n" word, treat any person of color with discourtesy, or even think ill of anyone. But as long as I am not working to dismantle the systemic racism that benefits me, a white man, at the expense of people of color, I am a racist. And my faith calls me to become an anti-racist -- pro-active, vocal, and committed. . . .

These bullying behaviors would not exist without the undergirding and the patina of respect provided by religious fervor against LGBT people. It's time for "tolerant" religious people to acknowledge the straight line between the official anti-gay theologies of their denominations and the deaths of these young people. Nothing short of changing our theology of human sexuality will save these young and precious lives.

What I Say: Yup. 

But it's not happening anytime soon.  If ever.  People have too much invested - both materially and emotionally - in the certainties that religion gives them; and taking even one little doctrine away threatens the whole structure of belief.

Your history books will show you at great length that the slaveholders of the antebellum South - and even the poor whites who didn't have a pot to piss in, much less a slave - were exhorted night and day from the pulpit by their preachers of every denomination, with page after page of quotations from the Bible proving that God not only permitted slavery, He positively endorsed it.  And the Southern people lapped it up and begged for more. 

And the South was willing to go to war, and suffer the loss of hundreds of thousands of its young men, the enormous devastation of its farms and homes and commerce, poverty, starvation, and every other hellish result, rather than give up that one doctrine - not to mention the financial investment in slavery.  Oh but, the Bible says . . . .    Right.

And even if the churches all changed their tune tomorrow, the hate and contempt would still be there, and would still take generations to eradicate completely.  As I've written here before, I well recall in the segregated South of my childhood, at the height of the civil rights era, there were no end of preachers and evangelists who could show you chapter and verse - many, many such - that proved God did not intend the mixing of the races, and that He hated it and absolutely forbid it.

I was there.  I know, I remember very clearly those sermons and books and pamphlets and tracts.  All such as that dropped off sharply by about 1970, after the integration laws started being rigorously enforced.  Nowadays, you never hear such stupid-ass shit talked about down here.  But the dirty little secret of the 21st-century South is that racial prejudice and even hatred remain strong and hidden.  We just don't talk about it now.  Though I guarantee you if it were all put to a vote tomorrow, there would be a sizeable percentage in every Southern state - maybe a majority in some states - that would indeed vote to bring back segregation.

Same with the gays.  Only God had a purpose for black people, you know:  to be servants to the whites, so they did have a place in the divine scheme of things, however lowly and menial it was.  But the gays - God positively hates them.  It says so in the Bible, look right here . . . .

So the situation is a little different for us queer people.  There is no place at all in the divine plan for us, if you go strictly by what the Bible says.  And you aren't going to get too many folks down in these parts to let go of that Bible, I tell you what.

Even lackadaisacal types who never go to church, never open a Bible, watch football on TV instead of the Sunday sermons will jump up and carry on at length telling you what God says about the gays.  This attitude of hate is deeply embedded in the culture here.  And up north too, despite all the happy talk about the blue-state wonderland - come on guys, if it wasn't endemic up there, would we be having all these gay bashings every week of the year, maybe every day?

And before somebody tries to spin the latest clever interpretation of the infamous Bible passages on this subject, let me tell you flat out:  nobody's buying it down here.  It don't read that way in their Bible, so they just aren't going to listen to you.  It takes a major spiritual breakdown and rebuilding to be able to say, "Ya know, I don't have to believe every single word in this book.  A lot of it - most of it - maybe all of it is just what some human wrote down somewhere, sometime.  Some of it is good, and some of it is pure crap.  I can skip the stupid, crazy, hateful parts." 

A big, big change of attitude.  How you get millions of people there, I don't know fellas.  Meantime, the bishop is right, and I admire him greatly for putting it so clearly and directly:  that old-time religion is killing, has killed, thousands and thousands of gay kids.

What a fucking waste.  That's not God at work, beating those kids into the ground with hatred and every form of vile contempt.  It's the Devil.


raulito said...

Good show...not only do I agree...I often post about this on my blog...but you have done so with so much eloquence.
I commend you...and thank you.

Stan said...

Right on Russ! Great to hear a Man of The Cloth speak this way.

Heretic Tom said...

Great post, Russ! Thanks. I've got to add that Robinson quote to my blog.

Russ Manley said...

Glad you like, guys.

FDeF said...

Although Robinson seems to think that speaking out will help, I share your outlook about nothing changing anytime soon...The homophobia in the "blue states" is very much like racism you describe in the South: hidden, unspoken, because it is not cool to do so. But, as one homophobe becomes bold, so more follow suit. There is always safety in numbers when bashing a fag. We (LGBTs)take one step forward and get the backlash ten-fold. It is a scary time.

Russ Manley said...

Yup. And going to get even scarier when the Dems lose both the House and the Senate this November. Remember, you heard it here first. Enjoy the blueness while you can.

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