UPDATED JUNE 13, 2016: In the aftermath of the Orlando shootings at the gay nightclub, PULSE, which killed 49 innocent LGBT victims, and injured at least 53 more, many well-intentioned folks are mistakenly pinning the cause of the violence on lack of gun control. As neuroscientist, author, and acclaimed philosopher, Sam Harris, wisely tweeted: “I favor gun reform, but was the Boston bombing also ‘about pressure cookers’? Focus on the cause, not the means.” What drove the gunman, Omar Mateen, to pull the trigger — and “laugh uncontrollably” as he did so — was not a determination to kill randomly. Mateen’s motives were driven by a viciously warped and radicalized interpretation of Islam which deems homosexuality as a moral crime punishable by death.
Gun control may certainly have prevented the attack — or at the very least lowered the death toll — but it would still only be treating the symptom and not the cause. The true cause of these barbaric attacks comes from fundamentalist religions. “A 2009 poll by Gallup found that zero percent of Britain’s Muslims believed homosexual acts to be morally acceptable. What previous polls have shown us time and again is more of the same,” writes Majid Nawaz for The Daily Beast in his op-ed entitled “Why Does Gay Sex Scare Modern Muslims? It Didn’t in the Golden Age”. Nawaz, who was once a former jihadist himself, explains how Islam was originally very pro-gay. “But as prudish Victorian values spread from Europe to the Middle East through colonialism,” explains Nawaz, “and as 19th century neo-fundamentalist Wahhabism began to take hold in the Arabian peninsula, and as 20th century Islamism gained ground, spreading from Egypt around the globe, censorship, misogyny and homophobia began to spread among Muslims worldwide.”
The Orlando shootings have also opened the door to hypocrisy on the part of Westerners who feel this type of deadly homophobia can only find its roots in the Middle East, and who assume that the Western world is now 100% gay friendly in the year 2016 — sadly, it most certainly is not. In an op-ed for The Telegraph, entitled “Islam Does Have A Problem With Homosexuality, But So Do Western Conservatives”, Tim Stanley writes: “When we ask Muslims to interrogate attitudes towards sexuality in their community, we do so assuming that our own culture is 100% gay friendly. It is not. Polls suggest that around 1/3 of Americans still believe that homosexuality should be discouraged. Homosexual acts have only been legal in the West since the 1960s. Gay marriage has only been on the agenda for a decade and is still bitterly resented by social conservatives.” LGBT citizens have fought for equal rights and protection with much success in the West, but tragically, there are far more nations where the LGBT community is being assaulted, imprisoned, executed, and murdered — and new reports from the world’s top journalists are tracing the roots of this violence directly to North America’s top Evangelical leaders.
In his report for SALON, journalist Eliot Glenn visited Jamaica — one of the most virulently anti-gay countries on Earth — where he met with human rights advocate Maurice Tomlinson. In Jamaica, innocent LGBT are chased through the streets, stoned, brutally assaulted, and often set on fire and left to die. What fuels this brutal rage, one might ask? Tomlinson says it all comes back to Evangelical leaders from North America. “There’s a coalition of Evangelical churches: the Brethren Church, the Open Bible Church, the Pentecostal churches across the board. We have seen the evangelicals from North America come to Jamaica and mount the same kind of conferences, meet with parliamentarians, do extensive high-level lobbying, pouring millions and millions of dollars into Jamaica, and the result is the same as we’ve seen in Uganda. Just as an example: What we saw on the front page of the Observer on Sunday mirrors what happened in Uganda when they had that headline: ‘Hang them; they’re after our kids!’ On Sunday, we saw in Jamaica, ‘No to Homo Agenda.’ It’s the same kind of rhetoric, which is being driven by evangelical money, and they’ve made the same kind of pronouncements saying that, ‘We should play up the whole issue of the threat that gays pose to kids.’ … The discourse in Jamaica now about gays is all about the threat gays pose to kids.”
Glenn then asks her, “So you really see a direct influence of American evangelicals here, particularly via the funds and the personnel they’re sending over to Jamaica.” And Tomlinson answer, “Yes. And it’s not just Americans; it’s Global North. Because we’ve seen persons from Canada, persons from the United Kingdom, persons from the United States. I mean, there have been more Americans by far, and the Americans clearly have a more direct influence, because many of the Jamaican Evangelical churches have American counterparts. For example, the Open Bible Church, which is a very hostile anti-gay church in Jamaica. It has roots to Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa.” (Read the full story at SALON.com)
Another of the most heinous countries for LGBT oppression is Uganda, a major Evangelical hotbed. A special motion to introduce the country’s horrific “Kill The Gays Law” was passed one month after a two-day conference was held in which Evangelical leaders from the United States asserted that homosexuality is a direct threat to the cohesion of African families. In his report written for Mother Jones, Jeremy Lybarger explains, “The biggest actors in Uganda’s gay rights drama are the American Evangelicals who travel there every year by the thousands to spread their Gospel from the far pastures of charismatic Christianity. One of the most powerful groups is International House of Prayer (IHOP), a Kansas City-based mega-church with hundreds of outposts, more than 1,000 staffers, and a declared mission to secure a ‘million new souls and a billion dollars’ for Christ by 2020. To this end, the church maintains a 24/7 ‘prayer room’ that has streamed live Gospel music and prayer continuously since 1999. IHOP also has its own university where young Americans learn how to enlighten poor people 8,000 miles away about the nightmares of hell. Under the leadership of pastor Mike Bickle, IHOP has poured millions of dollars into Uganda—much of it filtered into local churches and missions with explicitly anti-gay agendas. This is the story that Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams captures in God Loves Uganda, a documentary that premiered at Sundance in January 2013. It’s an eye-opening and ultimately infuriating account of Evangelicalism run amok.” (Read the full story at MotherJones.com, visit GodLovesUganda.com to learn more about the documentary, and watch it in full below in VIDEO #1)
In an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times entitled “How Anti-Gay Christians Evangelize Hate Abroad”, Kapya Kaoma reveals how North America’s Evangelical leadership has fueled the global wave of deadly anti-gay hate. “In nations such as Uganda, Russia, Nigeria and Belize, an insidious homophobia engineered in America is taking root. I have seen this hate being spread with my own eyes … In recent years, millions of dollars have been funneled from anti-LGBTQ Evangelical conservatives to Uganda, funding local pastors and training them to adopt and mirror the culture-war language of the U.S. Christian right. Bahati and a notorious anti-gay pastor, Martin Ssempa, were personally mentored by U.S. conservatives. And powerful Christian right organizations such as the Family Research Council lobbied Congress to change a resolution denouncing the Uganda legislation. Other prominent right-wing Evangelicals have also made Uganda appearances, including California’s Rick Warren and Lou Engle, who founded TheCall ministry. They met with politicians, hosted rallies and public meetings, and used their influence and credibility to contribute to a culture war in Uganda much more intense and explosive than anything seen in the United States; Lively himself described the work as a “nuclear bomb” in Uganda. These conservative evangelicals later distanced themselves from the law, saying they didn’t think homosexuality should be criminalized, but it was too late.”
And Rebecca Davis of Daily Maverick reports, “Kaoma wrote a report in 2012 called Colonizing African Values: How The U.S. Christian Right Is Transforming Sexual Politics In Africa, which is what introduced Williams to the subject of his documentary. Kaoma, who is originally Zambian, had observed with concern the extension and intensification of anti-gay legislation in Africa over the past decade. From 2006, when Zimbabwe expanded its sodomy laws, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and the DRC have all either mooted or implemented more extreme homophobic laws. Kaoma went undercover for months of research to try to figure out what was going on. ‘There were Christian missionaries in Africa since the nineteenth century,’ Kaoma explains between bites of breakfast. ‘It was in the 70s and 80s that a new wave of Christianity starting arriving that was charismatic, Evangelical. In the past, we used to see the kind of missionary who would come and stay for a long time and become part of a community. Now… you have 10 minutes? You can come to Africa.'”
And in a feature report for The Guardian, journalists Tracy McVeigh, Paul Harris, and Barbara Among further explain how 38 countries in Africa have been ravaged by American Evangelical Christian groups which are increasingly spreading bigotry. “‘The right-wing are losing the battle in the U.S., so they are exploiting the poverty-stricken developing world. The response of the Commonwealth is pathetic. Of the 80 countries who criminalize same sex-relationships around the world, over 40 of them are in the Commonwealth – where is the concern for human rights?’ It is not just Africa where homophobia is rife – Iran and Jamaica have seen homosexuals imprisoned and attacked and many American states have laws against sodomy. In South Africa, gay rights have advanced: its first gay pride march was held in 1995 and it has now legalized civil same-sex marriage. But for developing nations, the attraction of right-wing organizations with dollars to spend, combined with fears over a creeping ‘westernization’ of societies, is increasing the demonization of gay people.”
As U.S.-led Evanglical hate against LGBT spreads around the world, it is still a pervasive threat to innocent LGBT at home as well. Margaret Nichols, Ph.D., an expert in LGBT issues warns of the dangers of LGBT shame, which is caused primarily by religion. “Suicide in the United States has increased dramatically in the past 50 years, particularly among the old and the young. The leading cause of death among young people, suicide has increased 300% among 15- to 24-year-olds. Among young people, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and gender-nonconforming kids are more at risk than others. LGBT teens are two to five times more likely than their peers attempt suicide; a study in the journal Pediatrics in 2011 found that 21.5% of their LGBT youth respondents had attempted suicide, compared to 4.2% of non-LGBT respondents. Within this group, gender-nonconforming kids are more at risk than gender-conforming ones. Why are LGBT kids so much more at risk? Two main reasons: lack of parental support for their gender/sexual identity, and school bullying. An alarmingly high number of LGBT teens are rejected by their parents; urban shelters are packed with LGBT kids forced to leave home because of parental rejection, and LGBT kids are physically abused by adults in their families more frequently than other children.”
In a new documentary entitled Give Me Sex Jesus, filmmakers Matt Barber and Brittany Machado explore the realities of sex and shame within Christianity, and “tell personal stories of struggle from within the Evangelical Christian community to remain sexually pure until marriage. In this excerpt from the film, we meet Chris Bright, who grew up gay in one of the world’s most famous Evangelical families. It is a frank testimony about the realities of sex and psychosexual shame within Christianity, albeit a very personal one.” You can watch Chris’s story in VIDEO #2 below, and watch the full film in VIDEO #3. In his review of the documentary, Hemant Mehta writes, “They’re only interested in telling the stories of people who grew up with these rules around them and explaining where this sex-negativity comes from.”
As if growing up gay in an Evangelical church wasn’t hard enough, some of these poor kids are forced to participate in traumatic gay conversion therapy. In her remarkable documentary, Gods & Gays, produced by OWN, Lisa Ling profiles the damage that these therapies inflict on their victims. One man who forced many kids and young adults into such therapy is Alan of Exodus International, a ministry which preached to these kids that if they prayed hard enough they could become straight. In VIDEO #4 we see what happens when some of his victims confront him. As CNN reports, Exodus International shut down in 2013 after “years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole,” a statement from the group says.
Murders and violent attacks of LGBT people are among the most underreported crimes in the world — a result of poor data collection, and the victims’ fear of reporting the crimes to authorities. The following are just some of the most disturbing statistics:
☛ Between 2008 and 2014, there were 1,612 murders, across 62 countries, of transgender persons; equivalent to a killing every two days (source: JournalistsResource.org)
☛ The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported 594 hate-related killings of LGBT persons in the 25 members of the Organization of American States between January 2013 and March 2014 (source: JournalistsResource.org)
☛ Brazil saw 310 murders in 2012 in which homophobia or transphobia was a motive (source: JournalistsResource.org)
☛ In 2013 the U.S. experienced 18 hate-violence homicides and 2,001 incidents of anti-LGBT violence (source: JournalistsResource.org)
☛ The human rights arm of the Organization of American States counted 347 assaults or murders of LGBT people in Brazil in the one year period ending March 31 of 2014 alone (source: Buzzfeed’s The Rise of Brazil’s Evangelical Guardians of the Altar)
☛ Anti-LGBT violence claimed the lives of at least 594 people in the Western Hemisphere between Jan. 1, 2013, and March 31 of this year. More than half of these reported deaths during this 15-month period took place in Brazil. These include an 8-year-old boy in the state of Rio de Janeiro who was allegedly killed by his father in February because he was “unable to accept his homosexuality.” (sources: Washington Blade, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report)
☛ Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project reported that at least 1,700 transgender and gender-expansive people have been killed since 2008 in Central and South America (source: 76Crimes.com)
☛ The share of the sub-Saharan Africa population that is Christian climbed from 9% in 1910 to 63% in 2010, says the Pew Research Centre. Kaoma said: “Religious fundamentalism is strong in these countries. That provides the militant reaction to LGBT rights. One of the fears for fundamentalists is losing grip of the country; they are told they have lost grip because of the gays. They say, ‘We don’t want to lose Nigeria or Uganda just as our brothers lost America to the gays. If it means killing, we will kill.'” He said homosexuality is a rare point of convergence for Christian and Islamic hardliners. (source: The Guardian)
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For Christians seeking a more hopeful alternative to Evangelical and Catholic dogmatism, the following are interviews with Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong — one of the world’s leading Christian LGBT advocates, and a towering figure in progressive Christianity. You can watch them below and learn more of the remarkable wisdom of Bishop Spong by visiting his website at JohnShelbySpong.com, and by visiting ProgressiveChristianity.org.
Image source: All-len-All