One of my friends, Jay Johnson, is the Senior Director for The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry in Berkeley, CA. I just received their latest newsletter and Jay wrote a fantastic piece about religious violence against gays and lesbians. I’ve written about the use of religion to persecute gays and lesbians and Jay’s message is perfect. It is a good message to all of those people who call themselves Christians and yet still spread violent messages against gays and lesbians. This can be found in their newsletter Vol VIII, No. 4 (April 2008).
No matter the motive, violent hate-crimes are never acceptable and always appalling. Still, when such attacks appear fueled or supported by religion, it feels to me like salt being poured in an open wound. On March 20 (this past Maundy Thursday on the Christian calendar), a gay man in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was severely beaten and almost killed because of his leadership role in Changing Attitudes Nigeria (CAN), an organization that seeks to work within the Nigerian Anglican Church to change its position concerning the acceptance and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. (Pictured here are some of the members of CAN.) This unnamed man was attacked while attending a memorial service for the sister of CAN’s leader who remains in exile because of threats of violence made against him. The physical attack in Port Harcourt was accompanied by verbal abuse that was, in part, religious in nature, suggesting that Christians may well have been complicit in or taken part in the attack. (Read the CLGS press release on this incident.) We work hard every day at CLGS to provide education and training on religion, sexuality and gender to prevent such violence and to create welcoming communities of faith for LGBT people. Personally, I have been committed to and passionate about that work for years now. But in the wake of this latest violence in Nigeria – as well as the February murder of high school student Lawrence King much closer to home, in Oxnard, California – the urgency of our mission at CLGS appeared in bold relief. We simply cannot take anything for granted in this important work. Those of us who live and work in relatively safe communities can easily forget the courage and risk involved in working for organizations like CAN – or for that matter, the risk of gender non-conformity in American high schools. Those who do not identify as LGBT might not even be aware of such tremendous courage at all, not only outside the U.S. but right here at home as well. I certainly hope all people of faith are appalled and disgusted by the role religion too often plays in inciting attacks like those in Nigeria and California and far too many other places in nearly every country. All children deserve to learn in safe schools. All religious leaders should and must speak out clearly and passionately against violence. And surely faith communities everywhere, regardless of their perspectives on LGBT people, can agree on this much: religiously motivated violence must stop, now. The work we do at CLGS in all these areas absolutely depends on the generosity of our donors – and I’m one of them. I not only work at CLGS but I also give regular financial contributions to the Center; this work is just too important not to do so. Please consider joining me by making a secure online donation today and help us do the real work of religion: not violence, but peace; not fear and insecurity, but safety, hospitality and justice. The Rev. Jay E. Johnson, PhD Senior Director, Academic Research & Resources