Religion and politics make unhappy bedfellows. There is a particular issue when extreme political views are wrapped up in innocent sounding ‘Christian’ slogans like family values. In this post I am focussing on three organisations in the States which are dedicated to the cause of fighting the so-called gay lobby right across the world. The first two were founded by the Christian psychologist, James Dobson. His ideas have been broadcast across the States and, through the power of the Right Wing lobby, have reached to many corners of the globe. These two organisations, now operating independently, are called Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Focus on the Family was founded back in 1977 and the Family Research Council was spun from the parent organisation in 1992.
Both organisations have as their aim to ‘equip concerned citizens to make a difference in politics and culture on behalf of life, marriage and the family’. This is a coded way of saying that they are a politically/religiously inspired lobby to fight against the gay cause perceived to be spreading its influence across the world. One spokesman from Focus on the Family (FOFT) has described homosexuality as ‘a particularly evil lie of Satan’, while another describes it as ‘Satan roaming the earth like a lion, using sexual and relational brokenness to destroy individuals, families, churches, groups and businesses’. The organisations attract to themselves massive funds and are active in Christian radio broadcasting throughout the world.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is an active lobbying group in Washington with a revenue of around $14 million. In 2010 the US Congress denounced Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill and this was actively lobbied against by the FRC. Also in 2012 when Hillary Clinton declared that ‘gay rights are human rights’, this was fiercely attacked. FRC is responsible for producing a lot of pamphlets and material that suggest that homosexuals are likely to molest children. They also openly attack the attempts to address the bullying of LGBTQ individual in schools.
Another organisation based in the States, but with a world-wide ambition to attack the gay lobby, is the so-called World Congress of Families (WCF). WCF describes itself as a ‘rallying centre for the world’s family systems grounded in religious faith’. Financially supported by FOFT, it holds vast international conferences around the world to support its cause. Leaders of the American Christian Right are given prominence at these Congresses and no doubt they have a political impact beyond the particular battle against the perceived enemies of Christian moral obsessions. One particular individual mentioned as currently active in the political/religious struggle on the gay issue is the American, Sharon Slater. She urged delegates at a conference in Nigeria in 2011 to resist the UN pressure to decriminalise homosexuality. They risked losing their religious and parental rights by endorsing ‘fictitious sexual rights’ for those in same sex relationships. On other occasions she has compared homosexuality to ‘incest, sexual abuse, and rape ….drug dealing, assaults and other crimes’. These words are perhaps mild compared with the words of one Scott Lively, an American evangelist, who told an audience in Uganda in 2009 that legalising homosexuality could be linked to accepting ‘molestation of children or having sex with animals.’
In recording material about these organisations, I am not, contrary to appearances, wanting to establish a firmly held position on the issue of acceptance or non-acceptance of gays in the church. I do, in fact, have a liberal position on the issue but that can be left to one side for the moment. What I am concerned about are the examples of what I refer to as institutional abuse or bullying by ‘Christian’ organisations. These groups and others like them are exerting pressure across the world in the name of Christianity and are undermining and subverting, with all the power that money and influence can give them, the human rights of those who think differently. It is a battle being fought between and within institutions. When the methods used are unfair or underhand, one wants to cry foul! Two of the claims made right wing anti-gay groups speaking in Africa are simply wrong from all available research. It is not true that gay men are a threat to children. It is also not true that psychology or reparative therapy offers a way forward for gay men and women who wish to ‘escape’ their situation. Such false ideas uttered by ‘Christians’ do not do the faith any credit. This battle between ‘liberals’ and conservatives on this issue is being waged all over the Christian world, not least in my own Anglican Communion. It is the conservatives that have chosen this issue to create their position of power, by being totally inflexible on the morality of same-sex attraction. For myself, possibly many of those who read this blog, it is not a first order matter. And yet, because I do not agree with either their teaching on the status of gays or their use of science and the Bible, I am considered an enemy of ‘true Christianity’. In short, Christians are abusing and bullying other Christians, using tactics that are false and coercive. That has to be wrong – very wrong.
To repeat my main point – the battle that is being waged by groups such as GAFCON, FOFT and WCF against those who disagree with them, is not ultimately about the issue of gays. It is a battle about whether an authoritative vision of Christianity should prevail over one that stresses freedom, human rights and the exploration of truth over fixed dogma. This battle, if I can use such a strong metaphor, has to be spoken and described by those who recognise its importance. Otherwise Christianity across the world, will, in a generation or two, become the authoritarian monster that the Christian Right believe is the will of God for the world. Just as ISIS has achieved in a decade a massive amount of influence within the Muslim world, so Right Wing Christianity wishes to impose its strong patriarchal Old Testament version of the faith on all Christians. The battle for the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention in the States was lost to the fundamentalist reactionary forces of the Right in the 90s. Similar battles await many denominations over the next twenty or thirty years. I for one, will normally support the liberal cause, not because I necessarily agree with it at every point, but because I know that they will be standing up to those who want to control my denomination in the name of an authoritarian and punitive God. This understanding of God is not one that I warm to or even recognise.
The recent news from Ireland is to be welcomed. Reaction has not won!