Blog: Gay Pride, Religious Condemnation and Terrorism

Gay Pride, Religious Condemnation and Terrorism
Religious texts can be used to justify violence against gay people
By Jack Drescher, MD
June is gay pride month in the United States. Yet what should be a time of celebration has been disrupted by an armed lone gunman who killed forty-nine people at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando Florida. The attack is the worst mass shooting in American history.
Details about Omar Mateen’s motivations are still unclear. He made a 911 call at the time claiming loyalty to the Islamic State, ISIS. Although his family reported he was upset a month ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami, credible eyewitness reports are emerging of potential longstanding conflicts about his own sexual identity. Whether the attack is related to the American-Born shooter’s religious ideology, generalized antigay bias, internalized self-hatred or some other motivation remains to be determined. In any event, unless he left a detailed note, audiotape or videotape explaining his motives, no one will know for sure. Yet if one motive for the attack is based on religious condemnations of homosexuality, it should raise concerns among people of all faiths.
Religious condemnation of homosexuality
There is a long history of using religious texts to condemn and justify violence against gay people. Sadly, there are those who will use religion to blame the victims. The Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith once opined, “When civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”
Even hours after the shooting, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted a quote from the New Testament: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Patrick’s remarks evoked outraged responses but his words are not altogether surprising. One day later, a San Diego Baptist preacher celebrated the attack. Even some orthodox Jews are celebrating mass murder.
Yet many of today’s antigay religious spokespersons do not state their animus so explicitly. Many claim they “hate the sin” (homosexuality) but “love the sinner.” It should be expected in the weeks to come the media will be reporting on such theological parsing.
Hate the sin but love the sinner
I have no doubt that those who preach to others hope their words will lead to positive actions and behavioral changes. Yet as a psychoanalyst, I hear how sometimes the helpful meaning of one’s intended words is not what others hear.
For example, one patient in therapy reported, “My uncle tells me how much he loves me while giving me the impression that he finds my homosexuality loathsome. He sends me religious tracts and tells me things like ‘I hate your homosexuality, but I love you.’ Now that I’ve been coming to therapy, it’s interesting to notice that I wasn’t really paying attention to how judgmental and hurtful the things are he says to me.”
Another patient struggled with how to live his openly gay identity while maintaining a relationship with a religiously conservative sister: “My sister said that gays deserved AIDS, and that being gay was against God’s will. I got rather upset. I know they love the sinner but hate the sin. But if you don’t consider it a sin, how can you stop sinning? I think she wants me to go into shock therapy because I’m living a life of sin and not doing anything to change it.”
The dangerous effect of preaching moral condemnation
Unfortunately, not every believer in a religious community is capable of making the “enlightened” distinctions between gay people and their homosexuality. For just as gay people experience their same-sex attractions as intrinsic to their identities, gay-bashers usually treat them as if that were the case.
As the internet commentator, Liberal Redneck, so acutely puts it, “Saying that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married or be parents is not the same as murdering them, OK? Clearly. But that is where this road leads. This is what happens when zealous hate masquerading as faith is allowed to go unchecked.”
For some, killing sinners is the only way to get rid of sin. Even if violence is not intended, those preaching moral condemnation of homosexuality need to take responsibility for the sometimes unintended hurtful effect their words can have on those listening to them.
Jack Drescher, MD
The writer is a psychoanalyst and Emeritus Editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health.