After its peak in Scotland in 2000, religious fascism is back with a vengeance, and once again, it’s the gays they want first
A year after Turkey flounced off the Eurovision Song Contest rather than risk exposing their nation to two Finnish females snogging, Austrian bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst flounced onto TV screens calling the advance of gay rights “unstoppable”. It was in the face of petitions and demands from Russian lawmakers that television stations should ban the Eurovision Song Contest if a bearded man in a frock took part. The Twittersphere was soon awash with pictures of bearded priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in frocks. They were as unstoppable as the audience in Copenhagen as Russia’s delegate appeared on the screen to deliver their votes; the boos from the audience were heard in 120 million homes across Europe.
Yet something nasty is afoot. A warning shot of a dangerous new culture wars that is tearing Europe apart.
As each day passes, another old lady who made jam for church fêtes, or an elderly minister concerned for the sick in Africa, dies. Their legacy is something cancerous spreading from the pulpits and across the chancels to the front rows: A new, smaller, hard-core, socially conservative progeny of the zealous, immigrants, individuals with mental health problems, children indoctrinated in religious homes and schools and teens saved by pastors from drugs, alcoholism or emotional breakdowns. The musty smell of prayer books has gone. In their place are eye-catching leaflets for evangelical Alpha courses, church ‘planting’ and international missions. Across the world, churches are filling their buckets with cash to oil the wheels of organisations ready to save the world from sexual degradation, permissiveness, and by default: homosexuality.
In Russia, where two-thirds still find homosexuality worth condemning and with little or no sex education in schools, the Russian Orthodox Church backed a Russian version of Clause 28 (the law preventing the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in British schools) onto the statute books. Russian President Putin repeated those familiar weasel-words heard during evangelist Brian Souter’s ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign to prevent its repeal in 2000: ‘it’s all about protecting children’. That protection came in the shape of a law that banned representing ‘tradition’ and ‘non-traditional’ relationships as equally acceptable, making it an offence to say anything positive about being gay in public, even to tell a child there was nothing wrong with them being gay or being raised by parents who were gay.
Weeks after a brutal murder of a 23-year-old gay man at a demonstration in Moscow to protest at the introduction of the new law, 30 were arrested and several attacked by Orthodox Christian thugs singing hymns and crossing themselves. A new law was introduced banning Gay Pride marches in Moscow for a century, while for many, life in Nazi Germany played out before their eyes when two dozen masked men stormed a popular gay bar in Moscow and beat the patrons – mostly women – with fists and bottles.
Elsewhere, Pavel Samburov was arrested and fined 570 roubles and given 30 hours of detention for kissing his boyfriend in public. Konstantin Kostin, a member of the Holy Rus movement declared: “Gay people need medical treatment. It’s simply disgusting to look at them. Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what’s become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country”.
Acting with impunity, gangs lured victims suspected of being gay with a promise of a date before they were filmed being stripped naked, humiliated and forced to come out to family and friends before their torture was posted online. In one case a man was left blinded in one eye after a gang attacked him and in another found by Human Rights Watch a man had his clothes burnt after he was abducted and handcuffed. The gang then put a gun to his head and made him rape himself with a bottle. Liz MacKean, an investigative journalist who travelled to Russia to make the documentary Hunted for Channel 4 said, “We filmed these groups with their knowledge, and what I found shocking afterwards was that only a few asked to have their faces disguised. They all believe they are doing the right thing”.
Russian diplomats dismissed the violations suggesting a similar film could have just as easily been made about people victimised because they had ginger hair.
In the Russian parliament, lawmakers were taken-in by a discredited study by evangelical Mark Regnerus which received $785,000 in funding by a US Republican think-tank, the Heritage Foundation. It claimed gay parents pushed their children to suicide. An audit by an editorial board member of Social Science Research, the journal which published Regnerus’s study concluded that it should have been disqualified during the peer-review process. Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology called it “bullshit” and accused Regnerus of pushing a political agenda. That didn’t stop it continually being peddled to attack gays in Poland, France and even Africa. Catholic US Republican Brian Brown of the National Organisation for Marriage, who had argued legalized same-sex marriage led to paedophilia, testified before the Russian Duma in favour of anti-gay legislation citing the Regnerus study. Days after his presentation the Russian legislative body cited it again before introducing a bill banning Russian children from being adopted by same-sex couples. They were soon debating new laws to take away children from gay parents altogether.
Russia had fostered a climate where books like Vera Timenchik’s Ours and Theirs, about different family-related traditions and cultures across the world, had to be removed from Ulyanovsk library after the authorities were called in to investigate its suitability.
As the extremism spread, it added to reports like those of a 5,000-stong Christian mob of women carrying bouquets of stinging nettles and men waving Georgian flags and crosses in Tbilisi, Georgia, led by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in pursuit of LGBT campaigners chanting, “Stomp on them to death!”
In Greece, the Orthodox Church took to protesting outside a ‘blasphemous’ play and their priests blessed the offices of the fascist Golden Dawn party.
In Romania, seven young people were assaulted after attending an academic debate about the history of homosexuality. The following year 50 fascists in Bucharest halted the screening of The Kids Are Alright, assaulted and filmed filmgoers, chanted ‘death to homosexuals’, waved their religious icons and sang the Romanian national anthem.
In Uganda there was a big seminar in Kampala called “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda” featuring two rabidly homophobic speakers, Dan Schmierer of the ex-gay group Exodus International and Scott Lively, head of Abiding Truth Ministries in Massachusetts and author of The Pink Swastika, which claimed homosexuals invented Nazism and were instrumental in the Holocaust. At the seminar, Lively told the audience that a powerful global gay movement had now set its sights on Africa and that the “gay agenda” was unleashing epidemics of divorce, child abuse, and HIV/AIDS wherever it gained a foothold. He warned that by permitting homosexuality, “you can’t stop someone from molesting children or stop them from having sex with animals”.
Scott Lively met with Ugandan government ministers and David Bahati who would go on to draft the Anti-Homosexuality Bill there. Bahati was connected to the secretive Christian fundamentalist organisation behind National Prayer Breakfasts, the Fellowship, which pours millions into programmes that help place young disciples of Jesus in government and media. (Religious organisations like Christian Action Research and Education have been providing interns in the UK for years). According to Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor for Harper’s, Joe Pitts, a Republican congressman has diverted millions in US aid to Uganda from sex education programmes to abstinence programmes and evangelical revivals that included condom burnings.
The work of Christian extremists bore fruit after David Kato, a gay human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death within three months of an article in Rolling Stone naming the country’s top homosexuals. An Anglican priest used his funeral to condemn homosexuality. The Rolling Stone’s headlines had roared: “WE SHALL RECRUIT 1,000,000 KIDS BY 2012,” and “PARENTS NOW FACE HEARTBREAKS AS HOMOS RAID SCHOOLS”. They were little different to those appearing on the front page of the Daily Record during the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign when headlines imagined: “GAY SEX LESSONS FOR SCOTS SCHOOLS”. Evangelical Christian lawmakers had to be held back from putting into place new laws that would put all homosexuals to death in Uganda and settled for a law that sentenced anyone suspected of same-sex relations to life in prison. The punishment extended to anyone who failed to report violations of the Act to the authorities within 24 hours of the incident.
Influential evangelist Rick Warren head of California’s Saddleback megachurch had already travelled to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda where he blamed their genocide on homosexuals declaring along the way that “homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right”.
Ancient African traditions that included homosexuality and a culture of extended families and ubuntu was once again being hijacked by a western one with more in common with black and white footage of I Love Lucy. With the modernisation of Christian missions and crusades, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network were making inroads spreading their propaganda across sub-Saharan Africa.
In France, from grass-roots organisations cobbled together by the Catholic Church, the shouts and screams of thousands of mostly religious protesters coached in from the countryside to demonstrate against President Hollande’s attempt to introduce marriage equality shook the tables of Parisian cafés from Montparnass to Montpellier. They marched with right-wing politicians including a candidate for the far-right Front National to protest. Skinheads attacked a gay bar in Lille and masked armed men smashed another bar in Bordeaux. Raphaël Leclerc, a gay cabaret dancer was beaten unconscious in Nice, Muslims were filmed kicking and punching women protesters in Paris and Wilfred de Bruijn, a young librarian who was caught holding his boyfriend’s hand in Paris sustained injuries so severe they went viral on the Internet. Despite protestations from campaigners that their campaign wasn’t religiously motivated; Le Monde examined the 37 associations behind Manif Pour Tous, an anti-gay-marriage organisation led by comedienne Frigide Barjot, (literally, Frigid Bonkers), a self-styled “press officer for Jesus”: 22 were described as ‘empty vessels’; the rest were all religious. Barjot warned: “Hollande wants blood, and he will get it”.
Wilfred de Bruijn
Days after Hollande signed the bill into law he did get it when a member of extreme far-right group, Printemps Français (French Spring) 78-year-old Dominique Venner, walked into the cathedral of Notre Dame and shot himself through the mouth. He left a note warning: “New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleep walkers… We are entering a time when acts must follow words.”
Soon, it was Frigide Barjot’s turn to seek police protection after receiving a handkerchief soaked in what looked like blood. John Lichfield in the Independent reported her saying: “I entered this fight because I knew that, otherwise, the protests would be dominated by people like Venner and his ilk, the far right and the Catholic extremists.”
Within weeks of the first gay marriage, 18-year-old gay student Clément Méric was pronounced brain-dead after an attack by a group of far-right skinheads from the group Jeune Nationaliste Revolutionnaire.
As Hollande’s socialist party fell behind the Front National in popularity ratings, Catholic and some Muslim groups opposed to same-sex marriage were back on the streets again in a Day of Anger in 2014 which attracted 17,000 from far-right groups screaming, “Juif, la France n’est pas pour toi” (Jew, France is not for you). Ivan Rioufol, journalist for Le Figaro, wrote: “The Day of Anger has revealed the hideous face of fascist France”. Hollande shied away from introducing any further liberal equality legislation.
In the UK, by 2010, the BNP’s Nick Griffin, an Anglican who believed “nations are ordained by God”, was already basking in front of cameras for an hour-long programme on Christian TV channel Revelation. When he appeared on Sky News – facing accusations of obtaining lists of email addresses of Christians to win their support in elections – he sported a cross in his lapel. But he was yesterday’s man. Nigel Farage of the UKip was jostling to become the more respectable face for muscular Christianity while Tory PM David Cameron vied with him declaring Britain a Christian country.
In the absence of any genuine government engagement with secular organisations like the National or Scottish Secular Societies, a new bullish Christian supremacy is being manufactured in churches, polarising views both for and against religion. It conceals a growing frustration against the growth of Islam and wishy-washy liberalism. In such a climate, extremism thrives. While millions in grants are ploughed into ‘interfaith’ projects, no efforts are made to engage faith with the majority for whom religion is not very important. We are met only with a concerted effort by governments defending and maintaining religious privileges.
In Scotland, there is an unrelenting drive to recruit the young into Christian organisations. The New Life Christian Fellowship in Broxburn made no secret of its crusading activities, advising parents of children of pre-school age on its website: “Little Children’s Church is NOT simply a crèche where little ones are looked after.” The church deplored “unbelief” which they claimed was a hindrance to supernatural healing and claimed Lorna, a woman eight years into a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, had thrown her medication into the bin a day after ‘healing’ and walked around in high heels.
Kairos Church in Peterhead conducted Alpha courses, held an inevitable crèche and a ‘hands-on-Bible’ curriculum for children from five to 11 whilst adults attended services speaking in “other tongues”.
The Destiny Church in Glasgow boasted ‘cells’ or ‘growth’ groups and welcomed under-fives to “listen to stories.” Destiny paid over £2m for a former Clydesdale Bank building in Townhead before opening a charity superstore in the former Dobbies Garden Centre outside Paisley.
Unlike the anti-science sect Church of Christ which had unqualified access to a primary school in East Kilbride for eight years before it was exposed, the Scripture Union already had legal access. They claimed on their website: “We have a team of 30 highly creative regional and associate staff who work in primary and secondary schools across Scotland” and proclaimed, “Jesus Christ as Lord and God… as Victor over Satan and all his forces.”
Then there were the ‘Challenger’ buses run by People with a Mission Ministries parking outside primary schools. At least two of the buses contained computer stations, evangelistic DVD’s, and presentations. The upstairs area contained a coffee lounge area with a 46” flat screen TV with surround-sound and mini-cinema in the front half of the bus. Their website boasted: “In subsequent Friday visits the average number of youth attending the bus was around 12 with two or three making a commitment to Christianity.” The Ministries sold and endorsed Answers, a monthly periodical from the infamous Answers in Genesis; a well-known anti-science and young Earth creationism ministry which held regular conferences in Scotland.
Ailing churches with a shortage of clerics were sometimes remedied by an evangelised import with its occasional but inevitable clash of culture. Pastor Soloman Makhathoela was in court for calling his neighbour Catherine Kerr “white scum” after learning the mum-of-two wasn’t wed. He was reported in the Scottish Sun telling her that in his country her kids “would be shot and hung” before turning on her fiancé, Alan Brown, to tell him “it was a f*cking disgrace they had kids out of wedlock.”
As Michael Voris, a Church Militant TV presenter told a meeting of Catholics last year in Motherwell, he wants “muscular Catholicism that isn’t afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice”. He told his audience: “We have such an intense relationship for Him we would die for Him,” adding, “the job of the Church is not to make soup kitchens, but to make saints.” Voris reminded the faithful: “The Catholic Church isn’t about feelings.”
Perhaps he’s right and we are all being far too sentimental about a religion that has disappeared along with the last jar of homemade chutney.
Garry Otton 2014
Religious Fascism: The Repeal of Section 28 by Garry Otton is published by Ganymedia in paperback or download on Amazon.