The Revealer recently offered an excellent observation with this piece, “Mum’s the Word.”Writer Nick Street notices that the conservative Christian media have been strangely silent on the topic of the recent roundup of gays at a wedding in the United Arab Emirates. The gay men may be subjected by the government to forced hormone treatments or other measures in an effort to “cure” them.
Here’s Street’s analysis of the silence:
The basic assumption underlying the UAE’s treatment of gays — that homosexuality is a dangerous psychological disorder — also informs the social and political agendas of the biggest players in the Christian conservative press. This pathologizing of homosexuality runs counter to the prevailing wisdom of the American Psychiatric Association, which removed homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders in 1973. Editorial opinion at CBN, Focus on the Family and Breakpoint consistently challenges the psychiatric association’s decision.
Thus, the arrests in the UAE put Christian conservative media activists in an awkward position. Speaking out against the UAE’s theocratic government would force them to qualify or even contradict unequivocal statements they’ve made in the past. But condoning brutalities like forced medical procedures and lashings would surely squander the political capital Christian conservatives have won in recent years.
I noticed something similar, by the way, when I wrote a “Challenge to Christian Conservatives” recently on the Gay Spirituality & Culture blog. Always willing to play devil’s advocate, I said I was willing to assume that the Bible condemns homosexuality. And then I observed that the Bible not only condemns homosexuality, it seems on the face of it to actually call for the death penalty for homosexuals. Finally, I asked for a conservative Christian to explain why he or she uses the same Biblical texts to condemn homosexuality, but then won’t go to the extra special step and say, “off with their heads.” Perhaps I’ll need to repeat this challenge in a Christian forum, because there were no takers. (Though, predictably, several religious liberals wrote in who were simply appalled that I was “proof-texting” the Bible which so clearly doesn’t contain a word of anything so awful as homophobia if, you know, is a fine progressive manifesto if you just look at the proper historico-cultural-social-psychological-hermeneutical context.)
So what are we to make of the conservative Christian quietude in these contexts? I think Street’s on the right track, but he doesn’t go down it far enough. He suggests that religious conservatives don’t want to get caught in inconsistencies or squander political capital by advocating harsh, punitive measures against gays that would be consistent with their views. There’s truth to that, but I suspect that it’s irrelevant that the UAE measures are consistent with the views of American religious conservatives; these American conservatives mostly don’t really believe that gays should be so harshly punished. Does the average religious traditionalist really want the Leviticus codes revived in the twentieth century, but only for gays? No, of course note. Do they want to see gays hauled off to concentration camps? No, they don’t. And yet their own Biblical and long-standing Christian tradition (do we have to trot out the medieval days once again and remind everyone that the Catholic Church used to routinely burn thousands of “sodomites” at the stake and torture them as heretics?) is not a suitable guide for action.
In order to reject the stonings, burnings, and torturings of yore, conservative religionists need to set out a principle that challenges the authority of their own sacred texts and traditions. That’s something they are willing to do about many ethical issues (slavery, for example), but to challenge the authority of tradition when it comes to homosexuality is far too risky. If the stonings, burnings, and torturing of the past was wrong… and such deeds were based on the same texts and traditions that the conservative Christians insist so vehemently must be upheld as a literal truth, a fixed cornerstone of God’s revelation, a bulwark against modernity and postmodernity… then Christians are in mighty deep shit. If they start speaking up about the UAE or probing too closely around the Bible’s homophobia, then they might have to admit they could be wrong about homosexuality… and wrong about God.