Thursday, December 17, 2009

Uganda, American Evangelicals, and Homosexuality

The BBC website received waves of complaints yesterday for asking the question, in its talkbox feature, "Should homosexuals face execution?"  In response to the criticism, the question was toned down to "Should Uganda debate gay execution?"  The focus on Uganda instead of homosexuality and the substitution of the more politically correct word "gay" for the more clinical-sounding "homosexuality" (the word preferred by those who disapprove of homosexuality) are strategic rhetorical changes.

The question attracted a lot of anti-gay commentary from British responders, such as "Totally agree.  Ought to be imposed in the UK too, asap.  Bring back some respectable family values," and "Bravo to the Ugandans for this wise decision."

The original wording of the question, though provocatively blunt, not necessarily a bad thing, seems designed to excite anti-homosexual sentiment.  While defendable as the expression of a free press, promoting free speech, it seems to me as reckless as asking, "Should Obama be killed?"

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 calls for the death penalty specifically for HIV-infected homosexuals.  The penalty for being found guilty of a homosexual act would be life imprisonment, and seven years in prison for family members and friends who refuse to turn in known homosexuals.  If passed, the bill would add Uganda, which has criminalized homosexual acts since the late 19th century, under the influence of Protestant and Catholic missionaries, to the list of seven nations, overwhelmingly theocracies, including US allies, that still punish male homosexuality with death: Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Iran.

The Uganda bill appears to have been inspired by a recent visit to Uganda by three American evangelicals spreading their message about "the gay agenda" and the "recruitment" of heterosexual youths to the "gay lifestyle," but those evangelicals have subsequently condemned the bill for its harshness, as have other evangelicals, including, after some initial reluctance to speak out, Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, and prayer leader at this year's Presidential Inauguration.

The three evangelicals in question are Caleb Lee Brundidge, Scott Lively, and Don Schmierer.

Brundidge is a sexual reorientation coach with the International Healing Foundation, a Maryland-based organization devoted to treating and curing "same-sex attraction (SSA)."

Among the "causes" of this condition, listed on the IHF web site, are "unresolved family issues," "artistic temperament," "over attachment to opposite-gender parent," "detachment from same-gender parent," "name calling" by siblings and peers, "lack of eye-hand coordination," "homosexual imprinting," promotion of homosexuality through the "Internet, media, and educational system," and "divorce."

Arguably some of these factors are outcomes, not causes of same-sex attraction, whereas others have no more correlation to homosexuality than to heterosexuality.  But this view of homosexuality, naive and tunnel-visioned as it arguably is, seems representative too of other evangelicals' explanations of sexual desire.

Lively leads Massachusetts-based Abiding Truth Ministries, through which he publishes a number of books, including The Pink Swastika, which denies that the Nazis persecuted homosexuals, and the online book Redeeming the Rainbow: A Christian Response to the Gay Agenda.

Schmierer is on the board of directors of Exodus International, the "largest Christian referral and information network dealing with homosexual issues in the world."  Founded in 1976, in the heat of Anita Bryant's Florida campaign to deny job protections to gays and lesbians in Dade County, Exodus "upholds heterosexuality as God's creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God's will" and opposes "thought crimes laws" (i.e. inclusion of same-sex attraction among the conditions protected by hate crimes laws).

Evangelicals who focus on condemning and "healing" homosexuality (in ways that are far out of proportion to biblical injunctions on same-sex activity) have long claimed that their teachings have absolutely no relation to the bullying, bashing, and badgering gay people in America (and elsewhere) experience (still) fairly routinely, especially within the stronghold of "God's creative intent," the traditional family.  The example of Uganda would appear to support a different conclusion.

I, for one, do not insist that others accept me or my sexual proclivities on moral grounds.  I do not, of course, view myself as immoral, or even amoral, but it does not bother me that others should see me as such.  They have a universal human right to develop personal values and codes of conduct of their own, as do I.  They have as much right to judge and criticize me according their own ethical standards as I do to judge and criticize them according to my values.  As far as I'm concerned, the fact that people are repulsed by my life style is not a matter for debate.  I am repulsed by theirs, so there.

What I do insist on, though, is a democratic, multi-ethical society based on mutual respect, if not mutual admiration.  In such a society, law should not favor one set of values to the detriment of other reasonable alternatives to those values, unless compelling evidence is given that such values constitute a real threat to citizens or to democracy itself.

In an egalitarian and multicultural society, personal discrimination, even animosity, must be tolerated, but never given the force of law.  The law should be objective and apart from morals, as a rule.  Individuals and organizations can freely continue to despise and rail against the practice of masturbation, for instance, and they can offer "cures" for unwanted masturbatory behavior, but the state should not take up the practice of fining, imprisoning, or executing masturbators ... nor should it tolerate acts of coercion and violence against those who regularly, perhaps even obsessively jerk off, and it should not tolerate other actions that deny the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" of onanists, however reviled by churches and high-school coaches, however predisposed to blindness or hairy palms.

Telling young children that they may be doomed to an eternity in hell fits my definition of "child abuse" much more than simply touching their genitals.  I don't demand wide agreement on this point, and I recognize that my view represents my own interests and life experiences and do not expect the government to embrace it or give it the force of law any time in the near future.  I would insist, though, in being allowed to make my case, so long as no one else's liberties or lives are thereby put in jeopardy.

Should evangelicals face execution?  No.  Execution would be neither an effective way to address the manifest social problems that evangelicalism poses nor a humane and respectful way of treating other rational beings.  On those grounds, especially the latter, I would oppose it without further consideration.

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