March Down Babylon

Most of Gay Americans are cowards. We’re so chicken-hearted, in fact, we just might be the New White Meat. What makes us so afraid? Not fag-bashers in a dark alley. Not police harassment when we go to a bar. Not the possibility of contracting HIV. Gay Americans are terrified of the religious Right Wing!

How do I know this? I know it by the way we fail to overload email boxes when anti-Gay preachers vilify us in the media. I know it by the way we tend to melt like the rain-drenched cake from “MacArthur Park” when we debate Bible bigots. I know it by the way thousands of anti-Gay churches go picket-less every Sunday morning. I know it by the way millions of us flock like zombies to these same churches and willingly suffer psychological torture. LGBT folk have a fear of fundamentalist religion that makes every other human phobia pale in comparison.

Recent revelations about Prop 8 funding prove once again that fundamentalist churches are the source of slanderous perceptions about LGBT folk. Make no mistake about it! They are the source of claims that Gay couples defile marriage. They are the source of lies about Gay adults corrupting children. They are the source of rumors that we “recruit” others into a depraved “lifestyle”.

It’s fundie preachers who liken us to murderers, rapists, thieves and hard drug abusers. Their mendacious doctrine is the core reason why Gay kids are bullied, Gay Boy Scouts are banned, and Gay soldiers are forced to hide their sexual orientation; why LGBT topics can’t be discussed in most schools; why Gay adoption and foster-parenting is controversial; why community leaders, athletes and celebrities who are Gay cower in the closet; why Lesbian couples aren’t depicted in TV commercials; why movie projects with LGBT characters and non-comedic subject matter lack for funding in Hollywood. It’s why efforts to repeal DOMA and pass ENDA repeatedly stall in Congress. Worst of all, it’s why hate crimes happen to us. We’re being maimed and killed as a result of this demonization!

Our worst troubles can be traced back to some church pulpit or other. These so-called houses of God are anything but! Once upon a time, Babylon was a wicked city. Now, it’s a wicked church, filled with twice as much evil than that fabled city ever contained.

There are hundreds of local LGBT organizations all over the United States. Their leaders know as well as you and I do how devastating fundamentalist church oppression is. You’d expect them to devote much time and energy to protest actions that target anti-Gay clergy. The vast majority do not. Why don’t they?

What’s the point in calling your group a Stonewall Democratic Club if your activities don’t resemble the Stonewall rebellion at all? What good does it do to make outraged public statements about Peter LaBarbera or Tony Perkins or Fred Phelps when you ignore radical Bible bigots in your own town? How can you justify putting so many resources into Pride celebrations when demonizing doctrine gets taught within a few blocks of your Gay Community Center? What are we so friggin’ proud of? The way we let the religious Right shove a boot in our behinds year after year?

How I wish I could hire new leadership! Who I’d hire may surprise you. I’d hire people who come from a solid faith tradition. People whose faith is in God and not the Bible, and who know there’s a difference between the two; yet people well-versed in Scripture, savvy enough to not be intimidated by Apostle Paul-quoting Dominionists. People intelligent enough to know that neither the story of Sodom and Gomorrah nor Paul’s prohibitions against sexual perversion have anything to do with those Jesus Christ called eunuchs who have been so from birth (Matthew 19:12). People who, unlike our current “leaders,” don’t hesitate to make a strong moral case for LGBT rights.

I want leadership that knows a Civil Rights struggle is more concerned with morality than with politics. I want leaders who can’t be seduced or cowed by power brokers. I want leaders who are as infuriated by anti-Gay religious doctrine as abolitionists were by slavery and freedom marchers were by segregation; and I don’t give a damn if these leaders are Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or heterosexual. All I care about is that they’re committed 100% to two objectives: Achieving full equality for God’s LGBT children, and reclaiming Christianity from those who’ve perverted its meaning. These objectives are intimately connected in my mind; I don’t believe they can be realized separately.

These leaders of faith must march us into battle against the religious Right Wing. For what it’s worth, here’s my idea for a battle plan: In every city, we should identify the worst anti-Gay clergy and picket their damn churches on a rotating basis every weekend. We don’t want meager turnouts, either: There should be at least 100 people at every protest, LGBT folk and/or allies. We should schedule participants ahead of time, and have alternates who stand in when the regulars can’t make it. Only in the most inclement of weather should these protests be postponed.

I’m not talking about the standard kind of protest march, though. I don’t feature folks walking in circles with placards on their shoulders, and somebody yelling through a bullhorn. The media isn’t much interested in that kind of thing, either. It’s become a bore! Action news crews are only too familiar with those played-out tactics by now. They rate a few seconds of coverage, if that much. We’ve got to offer reporters something more exciting, a real production that piques their interest. We need a fresh approach to picketing. We also need something that will challenge heterosexist clergy in the most direct manner possible.

So why don’t we turn every church protest into a church service? Each one could last about two hours, just like regular church services do. Let’s have singing! Let’s have testifying! Let’s have down-home preaching. We could call these actions “counter-sermons,” inspirational messages that counter the hateful rhetoric spoken inside the churches we picket. We’d be contrasting that rhetoric with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and giving believers a choice of services to attend: Fundamentalist or Liberationist.

To accomplish this goal, we’d want to identify the most charismatic ministers allied to our movement and enlist their aid. When I say charismatic, I don’t just mean good speakers. I mean phenomenal speakers! The kind who bring assemblies to their feet shouting and crying. We’d ask them to forfeit one or more weekends preaching at their own churches to come and preside over an anti-Gay church protest. We can pass the collection plate on site and offer them modest payment for their services.

Sermons are just part of the package, though. At these protests, we’d want some of the LGBT attendees to share their discrimination horror stories. Most of us have such stories to tell. They’re powerful examples of the harm that’s done when religion goes wrong. I daresay much of the Straight public hasn’t got a clue about what we go through. This would be our chance to give them a clue. These kinds of personal histories wouldn’t be unusual in a church setting, either: in many African-American congregations, there’s no such thing as worship services where members of the flock don’t give testimony.

You can’t have a worship services without a choir, either. The Mormons may have their massive Tabernacle Choir, but we have our many Gay Men’s Choruses! We could really put their talents to use at counter-sermons. However, their repertoire would need to be tailored to the event. No solemn, stately hymns allowed! Nothing stiff-backed and proper. We’d want those choruses singing say-amen-somebody kind of music: Thomas Dorsey Gospel standards, rousing anthems, vintage freedom songs from the Civil Rights era, and progressive selections from the songbooks of Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Harry Belafonte and the like.

Of course, there’d need to be musicians on hand; canned music at rallies is verboten! Nothing elaborate, though: An acoustic guitar or two, maybe drums and/or bass, a tambourine, a harmonica or portable keyboard every now and then. In a pinch, musical accompaniment could consist of just a tambourine player and chorus members clapping hands. The chorus and musicians could be paid out of the collection plate as well. What about some inspirational dancers, too? Those are all the rage in churches nowadays. I think counter-sermon protests could potentially accommodate all kinds of creative expression. Lord knows, there are plenty of creative people among us.

Last but not least, our protesters should make a bold visual statement with their mode of dress. The theme is obvious: What’s the symbol of LGBT identity? It’s the Rainbow flag. Coincidentally (or not), rainbows also happen to be the symbol of God’s Holy Covenant with humankind (Genesis 9:15, 16). So rainbow stoles, the kind worn by Rev. Troy Perry and other MCC clergy, should be a wardrobe necessity for all preachers, musicians and chorus members, attendees should sport rainbow bandannas, and a huge rainbow flag should fly over every church protest. The image of Jesus Christ should be on prominent display as well.

Faith-based aggression requires a faith-based defense strategy. We can’t just show up at the church door and mount a loud demonstration. It’s not enough. The fundies will just call us godless heathen and play the victim card like they’ve done before. We’ve got to access people’s spirituality. We’ve got to inspire the people. We’ve got to arouse them! We’ve got to pit the true God against the false God. In short, we’ve got to re-invent the protest action; and once we have re-invented it, I predict we’ll start drawing supportive crowds. If the public knows you’ve got something compelling to offer, the public will turn out to experience it.

Counter-sermons could be one method of fighting back against anti-Gay preachers, but we can’t forget that they don’t just preach from the pulpit. They also access TV, radio, print publications and the Web. We can’t any ignore any of the venues religious Right Wingers use to spread their poison.

A new national anti-defamation group must rise up to replace the ineffectual GLAAD. Its mission must be to monitor all religious hate speech in the media. Local branches would have the most important work to do. They’d keep track of regionally popular televangelists and religious pundits, record instances of hate speech, and publish regular reports in all the local Gay publications. Those reports would necessarily include the email addresses of TV stations, radio networks, newspapers and websites that host offensive speech, as well as contact information for their commercial sponsors.

Everybody would be obligated to email a complaint! It wouldn’t have to be lengthy; just a sentence or two to make it clear that you won’t tolerate slander. The Jewish community responds to anti-Semitism with the cry “never again!” and we should echo that cry (after all, we were in the concentration camps, too)! We should never again allow lies to be disseminated about us without reacting in collective outrage. Get into the habit of putting your anger at Bible bigots into words; believe me, it’s both cathartic and empowering. There are additional methods we can use to strike back at religious hate-mongers, but I’ll leave those suggestions for others to make.

Recently in Washington, DC, a group called Clergy United for Marriage Equality made news. It held a press conference decrying efforts to ban same-gender marriage in the District. One of the group’s members, Rev. Louise Green, followed up with an op-ed piece for the Washington Blade. It’s fairly typical of the public statements we get from religious allies. She wrote:

“It is for religious leaders who honor loving same-sex couples to speak against the assertion that ‘faith’ leads to only one conclusion . . . we affirm that our traditions and scriptures teach us that wherever love is present, God is also present, and that our human capacity to love one another is a great gift. We say that the ability of two people to enter into a relationship and form families of love and care is one expression of this gift, holy and good . . . there will be heartfelt disagreement on this issue, and so we call on all people of DC . . . to engage in respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality. As always, I am committed to such a conversation, and encourage colleagues on all sides to do the same . . . Clergy United for Marriage Equality asks for the right to perform (same-gender marriage) ceremonies within our own sense of religious integrity, ministering to those who seek our blessing. We want the District of Columbia to recognize our religious choice by offering civil sanction of same-sex unions. In this spirit, we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry.”

I do appreciate this kind of advocacy; I’m sure most of us do. However, we need much stronger statements than this from our religious allies. They can’t just say they disagree with their colleagues on the far Right Wing; they must denounce those colleagues in no uncertain terms. Fundamentalism is wrong! There can be no “religious choice” for disciples of Jesus Christ; there’s only His Gospel. Why do progressive clergy tolerate false prophecy in their denominations? Why do they value church unity over a Christian message that’s accurate and consistently inclusive?

If termites have invaded your home, does it make sense to accommodate them? Unless you root those termites out, your house will come crashing down around your ears. Fundamentalists have corrupted the foundations of God’s house! Liberationists tolerate such corruption at risk of kindling the Lord’s divine wrath. For their own sake as well as ours, they must take up righteous arms against the Rick Warrens of this world. False prophets savage the Savior’s doctrine, just like they savage His LGBT children. Marriage equality is neither the only issue here, nor the most important.

The church of Babylon has been waging all-out war on us for too long: War on our human dignity, our livelihoods, our civil liberties, our physical and mental health. We must make the walls of Babylon tumble to the ground, just like the walls of Jericho did. We must become like Christian soldiers, marching as to war. We’ve got to march down Babylon. We’re not ready, though! We’re demoralized, disorganized and weak. We need God’s commanding officers to guide us, arm us, and help us conquer our fear of toxic religion. Our movement cries out for the leadership of Gay-affirming clergy. I pray that they’re willing to give us their leadership. I also pray that we’ll have the good sense to follow it.