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Frank Schaeffer

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Understanding the "Reason" Why Fundamentalists Must Exclude Gays (and Other "Sinners")

Posted: 06/28/10 05:35 PM ET

Right Wing Fundamentalists, be they Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, must hate gays (and other sinners) no matter what they say about hating the sin but loving the sinner. They also must hate even the mildest feminism, say my mother's brand of semi-enlightened "godly womanhood" wherein she believed in family planning and also acted as Dad's equal (or even as his spiritual superior) whatever she said she officially believed about women's roles. (My parents -- Francis and Edith Schaeffer -- were both Evangelical leaders in the 1970 and 80s as I describe in my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.)

Fundamentalists have to "stand against all compromise" because they themselves are in a constant battle with temptation and these temptations lead to questioning what they say they believe. And if they open that questioning door there is so much that is so plainly insane in their various scriptures that to even look into the room in their brains where all the dark little doubts are kept is to start a process where their whole faith will unravel.

The reason they have to hate every "deviation" is simple: At some point in their lives most fundamentalists do ask questions. At some point they also grow weary of fighting their own bodies. At some point they have a choice: to listen to their reasonable doubts and follow their questions, and therefore grow and change their minds by admitting the fact of paradox, or deny the reasonable voice of doubt and redouble their efforts to "keep faith."

If on top of wrestling with doubts religious believers are earning both their living and deriving their meaning from a religious leadership role -- and the power it gives them over other people -- then they have all the more motivation to deny their doubts (and their bodies and/or their sexual orientation) and dig in their heels.

I think that is why so many closeted gay Evangelical men turn out to be leaders in anti-gay iniatives. I think this is why so many leaders in Congress harping on "family values" or state governors crusading on platforms of "moral rectitude" turn out to be mired in some sexual scandal, say taking trips to South America to visit their mistresses, or getting caught in men's rooms playing footsie with the gay guy in the next bathroom stall. I think that is why sometimes the sons (or daughters) of some religious leaders are, counter-intuitively, harsher and even more extreme in their views than their parents.

Take evangelist Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham. I met him several times while we both were growing up as the sons of famous Evangelical leaders. Having bet everything on absolute certainty (not to mention on the family evangelistic business) the die is cast for the Franklin Graham-type fundamentalist who sticks with the program.

I remember talking to Franklin's mother Ruth and his sister Gigi during his "period of youthful rebellion" (Franklin was in his twenties at the time, as was I back in the 1970s) when Ruth and Gigi said how sad they were that Franklin had "fallen so far from the Lord."

Well, whatever those doubts were that Franklin was having, he's banished them! Franklin, and many like him, must therefore keep moving to the far Right and the "logical" conclusions of their theological fantasies by excluding the "other" as their only means of reinforcing their own wobbly "certainties."

Franklin's father, evangelist (and Schaeffer family friend) Billy Graham became more moderate and non-political as the years passed. In fact, in the 1970s Billy refused to become part of Dad's and my anti-abortion crusade, no matter how often we begged him to join our "call to save babies" as we did face-to-face several times. Billy refused us on the grounds that we'd become "too political" and "too harsh" (which we had, as I admit in my book Crazy For God).

By contrast, after Franklin banished his own well-documented youthful "rebellious" doubts he moved dramatically to the far Right. In the twenty-first century's first decade he established himself as a leading voice for the shrillest far Right bigots.

And with the hatred of the "Other" comes paranoia. Having demonized sinners, it's time to fear them. In an interview with Newsmax Television, Franklin was asked if he thought there was a "pattern of hostility to traditional Christianity by the Obama administration." "I don't know if it's exactly from President Obama," Graham responded, "but I'm certain that some of the men around him are very much opposed to what we stand for and what we believe."

Franklin continued, "It seems as though Muslims are getting a pass." In the same interview Franklin was asked by the host about mounting "secular oppression of Christians" in the United States. "No question, it's coming," Graham said. "I think when you preach that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the light, I think we're going to see, one day; people will say this is hate speech."

In 2010, Franklin even managed to get his father to sign a pro-Sarah Palin Graham family endorsement that was so out of character with everything the non-political Billy that I knew stood for that I can only conclude Franklin was taking advantage of a muddled old man.

There was something about that action that struck close to home: In the 1970s and 80s, I was the Schaeffer version of a Franklin Graham-type of harsh and absolutist self-reinforcing extremist. The more doubts I had the farther to the Right I moved ideologically, as if shouting loudly and angrily enough could solve my problem. Sadly I was the person who pushed my father farther to the hard Right.

It turns out that Evangelicals (and other conservative religious people) have to lie about the "Lost" in order to square the circle of their own anti-reality, anti-truth, anti-science theology.

Consider Haiti:

When a horrific earthquake struck Haiti, Pat Robertson (the evangelical leader and founder of the "700 Club" TV show) shocked and infuriated even some of his fellow far Right Evangelicals with his crass statement about the "reason" for the earthquake. He said it happened because the Haitians had once made a "pact with Satan." According to Robertson the Haitians "told Satan" that if he'd rid them of their French masters they would worship him. Robertson said this "explained" why Haiti was not just poor but had just experienced almost total destruction.

Robertson's heartlessness was in keeping with the Christian/religious-conservative view of "The Other" that I once embraced. No matter how bad Robertson's public relations judgment was in blurting out his belief that the Haitians were to blame for their own destruction, Robertson's nuttiness is what all religiously conservative Jews, Christian and Muslims actually must believe about what they call "Sin" and or "Apostasy" or even sexual orientation.

No, I don't mean that all Christian, Jews and Muslims believe Robertson's specific nonsense about the Haitians' "deal" with the Devil. What I do mean is that conservative religious fundamentalists are stuck blaming the victim, since to do otherwise would be to blame God.

What Pat did was to say about the Haitians what Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, fundamentalist Muslims and other literalistic religionists say (and/or believe) about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people or about anyone else whose nature -- or what befalls them (say getting pregnant, being born gay or crushed in an earthquake) -- puts them on the "wrong side" of "God's blessing."

For instance, Evangelicals go so far as to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual/pansexual, and transgender people that they can be healed of gayness, and even healed of gender ambiguity! They tell them that they can "change" and become heterosexual and thus "normal" if they only choose to accept Christ and/or seek godly counseling and admit that their gayness is a "chosen lifestyle" and that they weren't born that way regardless of what gay people themselves say about how and when they discovered they were gay.

The history of theology (Christian or otherwise) is the history of people desperately trying to fit the way things actually are into the way their holy books says they should be. And since the holy books -- if taken literally -- are filled with backward nonsense, something has to give.

What "gives" is decency, compassion, honesty and truth. Result? Some people do what my mother and dad did, spend a lot of time making excuses for God. The other result is the congenital sneakiness of fundamentalist religion pretending that it is more enlightened than it is or ever can be. Roman Catholic medieval dogma is rechristened as "Natural Law" and Creationism is re-baptized as "Intelligent Design," Islam calls the oppression of women the "protection of women" and so on. Proposition 8 in California is presented as something to "protect children" and so forth.

Why do religious fundamentalists hate "sinners" (in other words anyone not like them)? Answer: because otherwise they would have to blame God following the logic of their own theology. They have to say gay men and women chose to be gay or that the disaster in Haiti was "caused" by the Haitians themselves. They must say this because otherwise -- according to the logic of their own ideas -- they must blame God, for instance, for gay men and women even existing!

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).

 
 
 

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