Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A History of Horrors

If you only read one chapter of Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report, my recommendation would be that you choose the essay by Philip Kennedy entitled God's Good News for Gays. Although there are a number of excellent points in this chapter, such as identifying the six defining features of modern theology, there is one particular segment of Kennedy's piece that I think needs to be highlighted all by itself. Hopefully, this will take the discussion out of the realm of academic rhetoric and ethical hair splitting and force us to face what is at stake if the Church does not take a stand against homophobia.

The section that I want to focus on is subtitled A Kaleidoscope of Horrors. Here is an excerpt:

From the Christian emperor Justinian in the sixth century until the eighteenth century, Christian communities around Europe regularly put homosexuals to death by burning, beheading, flaying, drowning or hanging them. The ancient Christian thinkers Tertullian, Eusebius and John Chrysostom all argued that same sex relations deserve the penalty of death...In medieval Europe, secular laws often invoked the authority of the bible to execute homosexuals. Bologna adopted the death penalty for sodomy in 1259. Padua followed suit in 1329; Venice in 1342; Rome in 1363; Cremona in 1387; Milan in 1476; and Genoa in 1556. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain actively sought out sodomites to be burned. In the hundred and twenty five years after Calvin taught in Geneva, there were thirty burnings, beheadings, drownings, and hangings of homosexuals in that city. Scores of men and boys were hanged for homosexual activity in Georgian England. Before the advent of modernity, women in Europe were also vulnerable to execution if convicted of lesbianism. The history of churches' treatment of gay people has for over a thousand years been a history of hatred, persecution and death. To this day, standard Christian textbooks devoted to moral theology and commenting on homosexuality are usually trite treatises because of their complete silence on the long-standing brutality meted out to homosexuals by churches, whether Roman Catholic, Anglican or Protestant. For homosexuals, the history of the Christian church has been a kaleidoscope of harrowing horrors. Their fortunes have now changed. Physical violence has mutated into rhetorical violence, although there are still nine countries today where homosexual behavior is punishable by death.
The nine countries are identified as Mauritania, Sudan, Afhanistan, Pakistan, the Chechen Republic, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. These are not just laws that are "on the books" but never enforced. As recently as last July, we heard news reports of two Iranian teenage boys who were executed.

Regarding physical violence mutating into rhetorical violence, we have all seen ample evidence of this. One does not even have to venture out into the Dobsen/Robertson/Falwell realms to discover it, either. A stroll through the comments on many of the conservative Anglican sites reveals that rhetorical violence is alive and growing stronger daily within the Episcopal Church. Yet we might be inclined to see the move away from physical violence to be at least a move in the right direction. If only things were that simple.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has released their annual report on anti-LGBT hate violence. In the U.S. during 2004, there were 2,131 LGBT victims of hate crimes. There was an increase in the use of weapons in these crimes, which include vehicles, bats, clubs and other blunt objects. There were 20 hate crime murders of LGBT in 2004.

Let some of this sink in. There is a history of people being beaten and killed because they were different. The justification for these deaths is the sacred texts of various religious traditions, including the bible. There are no other sources for defining this difference as a crime, let alone a capital crime. The church has sanctioned, and even encouraged, these executions in earlier times. And the violence continues today. And large segments of the Church continue to actively participate in these hate crimes by engaging in an ongoing rhetoric of violence.

This has to stop. It has to stop now.

Many of us did not choose this time and place for this confrontation. It was thrust upon us by events over which we had little or no control. But it is here. And we have looked at the facts closely. We can't return to the comfortable head in the sand stance of "don't ask, don't tell". We cannot pretend we have not seen the dark side of the Church. Now we share responsibility for the legacy we have been handed, and for doing all within our power to stop these violent attacks against an innocent segment of God's people. As Christians, we can no longer sit on the fence, because these attacks are being sanctioned and carried out in the name of God. The world is watching. How will we act as witnesses to the healing power of God's love made manifest in Jesus Christ?

To return us to the issue of the Windsor Report, I'll close with a quote from Bishop Spong which Kennedy includes within his essay:

(The Lambeth Commission) decided mistakenly that they were dealing with an issue of disunity, when they were in fact dealing with the evil of prejudice. That was clear when their solution was to invite those churches that have banished their homophobic prejudices to consider apologizing to those parts of the church that were offended by their inclusiveness. That would be like asking those nations that have thrown off the evil of segregation to apologize for hurting the consciences of the segregationists. It was an inconceivable request. Whenever growth occurs there is always conflict and dislocation. The world would still be practicing slavery, child labor, and second class status for women, had not a new consciousness confronted our prejudices in a movement that always destroys the unity of the old consensus.
J.

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