THE BLOG
02/13/2011 02:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Indecent Piety

Few things are more vulgar or indecent than violence masked as piety. From the crucifixion of Christ to martyrdom of saints, from burning innocent women at the stake to Klan crosses in front lawns, we know in our hearts when religion has gone bad.

This horrific history and our current global dilemma over the criminalization of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the subjugation of women are the predictable results when justice and compassion are kicked to the curb by the church.

I lay much of the responsibility for the 21st century's ambivalence about the central purposes of religion -- love, justice, compassion and mercy -- at the feet of a movement and group of highly successful corporations led by new fundamentalists. And, to be fair, responsibility also rests at the feet of those of us who could be labeled "liberal" people of faith.

We have been too timid and too quiet over the last three decades while a global coalition of radical conservatives took center stage in our political, religious and social lives. But for the dedication of the marginalized voices of liberation theologians and the people to whom they give voice, justice and compassion might be extinct as ethical requirements of the church.

Sadly, these truth-tellers have fewer microphones available to them because the steady consolidation of major media outlets by new fundamentalist-led or sanctioned corporations. These owners exploit these assets to disseminate their beliefs and to help get their candidates elected. Radical conservatives get more air time and more face-time with our representatives. They are better funded and better staffed and in the case of many, right next door to the Capitol. Proximity is golden.

New fundamentalists vigorously defend "freedom of the airwaves" to the U.S. Congress for the ostensible purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once granted entrée, they use that pious programming as a Trojan horse for sexism and homophobia that have deadly consequences.

Dr. Jerry Falwell and Dr. James Dobson were the highly successful developers of this methodology and, unquestionably the founders of New Fundamentalism. They taught their followers how to use media-driven disinformation to quickly gain marketshare and mindshare. They blessed the practice of "co-belligerence" making it permissible for Christians to cooperate with people of other or no religious convictions in order to attain desired political goals.

One recent chilling example is found in Uganda, where local media outlets reported, among other lies, that gay people were recruiting children for sex in public school classrooms. Uganda's religious institutions did nothing to counter this slander, which cost the life of David Kato, a leading Ugandan gay activist who had dared to tell the truth. But the public outcry against sexual minorities by frightened parents moved the ball forward for the proposed death penalty for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The leaders of the new fundamentalist movement take aim at truth-tellers because they must be defaced and discredited if the Radical Right is to prevail. Disinformation and libelous "spins" abound (Harrison in Christianity's Indecent Decency, 31).

One of the most troubling examples appears in a brief by General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters Association. Entitled "Tyranny Over the Mind: A Legal and Policy Analysis of H.R. 1592 and S. 1105" (Hate Crimes Legislation). This publication represents NRB's formal opposition of passage of this legislation, saying that it was "a dagger aimed at the heart of free speech and free exercise of religion in America (and) an invitation for mean-spirited prosecution of politically incorrect, faith-based communicators." The NRB claimed that religious broadcasters could be shut down or sued for speaking "the Bible's truth" about homosexuals.

Fortunately, the majority of Congress did not agree with the NRB. I know that the mother of Matthew Shepherd is relieved.

It took a lot of thoughtful dialogue and intentional bridge building to support our elected officials in understanding the real intent of the hate crimes bill. Without aggressive efforts on the part of many human rights organizations to help Congress surpass its many differences in moral and ethical views about sex and sexuality, Matthew Shepherd might have died in vain.

Without similar aggressive efforts to build coalitions for civility and decency with one another, religion and democracy that heal and hope and give us meaning may well die in vain.

One courageous leader has begun this bridge-building work in an open letter to the Anglican Communion on the place of human rights in communities of faith. His name is Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, Retired Bishop of West Uganda and Director of the St. Paul's Centre for Equality and Reconciliation, Kampala. The Huffington Post honored Bishop Senyonjo for his work and I want to invite you to do so as well. A coalition of human rights groups led by the Human Rights Campaign and Soulforce will soon hand-deliver a petition of more than 40,000 names protesting the exportation of homophobia to his home country of Uganda by three ministry leaders in the United States. I plan to be at that delivery. I hope you will join me in spirit and in truth.