Here’s a statement by Matt Foreman, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, arguably the world’s most influential gay rights organization. He wrote:
“The hatred and loathing fueling this morning’s vicious attack on gay men in New Bedford is not innate, it is learned. And who is teaching it? Leaders of the so-called Christian right, that’s who. Individuals like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk are obsessed with homosexuality. They use their vast resources, media networks and affiliated pulpits to blame lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for all the ills of society. They disguise their hatred as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ We have witnessed seven years of vicious anti-LGBT organizing in Massachusetts — and endured the hate-filled rantings of Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance and Parents Rights Coalition and Ed Pawlick of MassNews. The blood spilled this morning is on their hands.”
Elsewhere, I’ve already commented on the unwisely chosen timing and tone of this statement. Now for a few words about its content.
I think it’s beyond doubt that there is a complex chain of interaction between religious beliefs, cultural values, and the actions of individuals. Religions that teach that violence is wrong can nevertheless create a climate in which gay bashing or other violent behaviors flourish through their words and deeds, including deeds of omission. Christian theologians may not have operated gas chambers in Nazi Germany, but their theologies created socially acceptable tropes for demonizing and marginalizing Jews. Therefore, from my point of view, Foreman’s statement is, at one level, a fairly uninteresting regurgitation of some rather banal truths.
On the other hand, Foreman’s statement is deeply flawed in ways that have no necessary connection to the awful timing which gives the world the impression that the NGLTF is merely milking human tragedy for PR purposes… or fundraising capital. Here are three bullet points.
First, there is no specific link to the shooter in New Bedford and the religious figures cited in Foreman’s statement. We just don’t know enough to point the finger of blame at specific traditions. Was he a Jew? A Hindu? My guess is he was probably a Nazi-influenced atheist (two secular traditions). But you don’t see Foreman attacking secularism, do you? Rather than waiting until a clearer picture emerges of the shooter’s biography, his actual influences, the role of religion and values in his life, Foreman engages in sloppy, anti-religious stereotypes. Somehow I have a hard time picturing that the swastika-wearing shooter attended church every Sunday and picked up his inspirations from his preacher and Christian cable TV.
Second, it’s simply wrong to say as Foreman does that religionists simply disguise their hatred as deeply held religious beliefs. Perhaps Foreman sincerely believes this. In this, he is sharing a misguided prejudice all too common in the gay community. The idea is that if a person’s religious belief feels like hostility and hatred to you, then a person must be secretly motivated by hatred, even if they deny it and claim that nothing could be further from the truth. This is a complex issue, and the place where I come down is that both the hatred-sensing gays and the religionists are both right. What is offered as something like love very often appears to others as something like hatred, and that’s the nature of the world we all live in. What is sad in the NGLTF piece is that it shows once again a disrespect for religion as well as ignorance of the ways that religious people think and act. Not an encouraging sign, nor does it lead me to think that the NGLTF is an organization that has yet pulled its act together with regard to religion. I hope they keep working this, because it’s truly so important.
Third, Foreman’s screech of “blood on your hands” is just awful, shrill, obnoxious rhetoric. (That it should have been uttered at a time when the actual shooter was still at large, in effect deflecting responsibility for the crime onto Pat Robertson… well, that’s just looney.) But here’s where such rhetoric might be appropriate in the future. If a Muslim religious cleric calls for the beheading of gays and no other clerics condemn his call, then one of his followers beheads a gay person, well, Matt Foreman, you are most welcome to actually use this sort of rhetoric. It would be a most appropriate metaphor. Of course, if you’ve been issuing press releases that say “blood is on the hands” of Pat Robertson because Will & Grace is cancelled, your words in the future will have less and less effect. Nobody will be listening anymore.