US Evangelicals: A Case Against Their “Innocence”

The prophetic James Baldwin once brilliantly forewarned, “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

Let the church say, “Amen!”

Baldwin’s biting counsel came to mind when reading the series of defensive statements offered by several well-known US evangelicals who now want others to know that their otherwise homo- and trans-antagonistic ideas are not the cause for criminalizing legislation like the now infamous Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill.

According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, writing at HuffPo:

Now, American evangelicals who insist they never supported either version of the law nonetheless find themselves playing defense, saying their statements against homosexuality at home are being twisted as an endorsement of harsh penalties against gays and lesbians abroad.

Bailey went on to note that

Media reports have connected the bill to a 2009 conference in Uganda, at which three Americans condemned homosexual behavior and promoted therapy for same-sex attraction. One of the men, Scott Lively, a Massachusetts pastor and head of Abiding Truth Ministries, said that he is not responsible for the bill.

Of course he isn’t. *eyeroll*

Lively, and other US evangelicals who preach homo- and trans-antagonistic messages and/or advise elected officials regarding “deviant” sexual orientation and gender expression, are not at all to blame for a country’s decision to formally adopt laws that will criminalize LGBTQI persons? No, not at all!

Lively only supported the portions of the bill that increase penalties for homosexual abuse among children and intentionally spreading AIDS through sodomy because, as he stated, “the penalties in the law for simple homosexuality are still too harsh.”

Lively was also apparently generous enough to say that “if he had power to implement legislation in the U.S., he would make laws related to sexuality similar to new marijuana laws, where the government would be prohibited from advocating and promoting it but advocates who practice it would left alone.”

And, as if that were not generous enough, he went on to mention that he would recommend reparative therapy (i.e. pray and counsel-the-gay-away therapy) because “there are many who are compelled to same-sex behavior, like alcoholism or any other behavioral disorder. The government should be concerned with helping them overcome their problems and not just punish them for it.”

But what Lively, and so many other US evangelicals, must be aware of is the power of discourse—namely, ideology and theology—in shaping everything from our understandings of acceptable (read, normative) social behaviors to states’ laws. The bill is violent and problematic, but it is no less violent than the insidious ideas that foreground it.

In other words, bats, guns, and laws might harm LGBTQ people (and they do), but it is also important to remember that the very thoughts that propel a perpetrator to beat an LGBTQ person with a bat, shoot one of us to our deaths with a gun, or criminalize us via laws is equally instructive and destructive. Thoughts precede action just as hateful ideology preceded the ratification of the bill.

While US evangelicals can claim innocence and attempt to exonerate themselves from having anything to do with the passing of the Ugandan anti-homosexuality law, they would do better to begin to name their complicity in its ratification because, surely, their “bread” has returned with toxic consequences.