In Politics and in Business, Homophobia Becoming Toxic. What About the Church?

 CGBG, the “Charity Giveback Group” (formerly the Christian Values Network until a March name change), is upset with gay activists, whom they accuse of  misrepresenting their business as homophobic. They have good cause to be anxious: their activities are based on affiliate marketing, whereby they earn a commission on internet sales through links to major marketing companies. As an explicitly Christian, values-based enterprise, they attract their customers by promising to split the commission with designated charities. Conceptually, it’s a beautiful business model. Set up a website, attract enough supporters on the strength of their shared values and desire to support charity – and wait for the commission to come in. All that remains, is to handle the money, and allocate their share to the designated charities. With no manufacturing, inventory, or distribution costs to worry about, the business costs are presumable minimal – just website maintenance, marketing – and accounting.

What has upset the gay activists, is that several of these “charities” are explicitly anti-gay. Key founders and backers of the company are luminaries of the Christian right anti-gay lobby, men like actor Stephen Baldwin, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. One of the beneficiaries of the commission split, the  Family Research Council, has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty  Law Centre. Others are not described as hate groups, but are still explicitly anti-gay, actively engaged in campaigns to prevent progress towards LGBT equality. It is not surprising that the queer community would not want their spending to be used to finance these groups – hence the original boycotts.

From left: actor Stephen Baldwin, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, AP Photo

What has upset the business, is that the boycott has moved beyond the customers (who may well never have been attracted to buying through them in the first place), to the big corporations who actually sell the goods – and who write those commission cheques on which the business depends. In recent months, thanks to a remarkably successful online boycott campaign, major companies have rushed to disassociate themselves. Major firms like Microsoft, Apple, Delta Airlines and Wells Fargo have declared in favour of equality and diversity, and have no wish to be associated with any form of prejudice or discrimination. They are pulling out at an astonishing rate, threatening the company’s future. This is the same financial calculation that has previously led Target and Best Buy to reconsider corporate actions that appeared to support anti-gay organisations or politicos, and attempt to undo the damage.

 CGBG is coming face to face with something that has long terrified the Christian right: the possibility that the stigma once attached to homosexuality would be transferred to those who oppose it…… there’s plenty of evidence that, from a public-relations standpoint, antigay bigotry has become toxic.

Tom’s Shoes learned that lesson this summer after its founder appeared at a Focus on the Family event and then, facing a massive backlash, issued an apology. Naturally, the apology seemed a sign of persecution to Focus on the Family, whose president called it an “unfortunate statement about the culture we live in, when an organization like ours is deemed unfit” over beliefs about marriage. But there wasn’t much the group could do. As it turns out, for all the Christian right’s abhorrence of socialism, it’s not the government that the movement has to fear. It’s the free market.

The Daily Beast

That’s the marketplace stamping out prejudice. In a parallel process, even Republican politicians are back-pedalling on bigotry, as illustrated in two stories I saw yesterday.  The most interesting example is surely that of Michelle Bachmann, for whom gay-bashing was almost the signature issue of her political career, and who once declared that same-sex marriage was a defining issue of our times – but who in recent interviews, has been seeking to avoid comment. She clearly realises that prejudice is no longer a vote-winner, even in the Republican party.

The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Sometimes I’m amazed by the rapid success of the gay rights movement. Homosexuality, the love that dare not speak its name, is now spoken freely, while homophobia has quickly become the hate that dare not speak its name – at least if one is running for higher office.

On ABC’s This Week, presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann was asked about a statement she made in 2006 calling homosexuality “personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement.” Bachmann declined to say whether she still believed her previous tirade: “I am not running to be any person’s judge. And I give – I ascribe dignity and honor to all people, no matter who they are. And that’s how I view people.” She continued equivocating on NBC’s Meet the Press: “I don’t judge them. I don’t judge them,” she told host David Gregory. “I’m running for the presidency of the United States.”

 Falls Church News-Press Online.

That’s the political market-place adjusting to new realities. What about the church?

Well, we know that in all denominations, to varying degrees, there are increasing numbers who are arguing that LGBT inclusion, equality and justice should be a religious cause, that the sin lies not in homoerotic relationships, but in homophobia. While growing, this group remains a minority, however. Conversely, there remains a hardcore of religious opposition that will not easily give way. In between, there’s a moderate middle that says it is trying to find a compromise, and objects to religious-based opposition to gay marriage being labelled “hate”.

This recent shelling of Christian groups by those who support same sex marriage is not unique. The rhythm of crossfire over marital law has become a staple in America’s culture wars. But it does raise questions about the prudence of applying emotional labels to those who disagree with one’s position.

Are organizations that oppose same sex marriage, and people who associate with them, hate-mongers? Should we assume those who support the traditional definition of marriage are “motivated by intense dislike or prejudice”?

-Huffington Post,  Redefining Hate

Are they right?

I will concede that “hate” is an inappropriate word, at least in most cases, and should be avoided. I do not agree that “homophobia” and “prejudice” are inappropriate. Phobias refer to irrational fear, and we know that much of the opposition to our relationships is based on little more than fear and prejudice, arising in turn from unfounded and unjustified prejudice. The claim is that religious-based opposition flows directly from the clear message of the Bible – but this assertion is false. A proper study of scripture shows that there the case against rests on no more than a handful of verses in Scripture of dubious relevance to modern loving, homoerotic relationships. The study of history shows how these few verses have been steadily adapted, mistranslated and misrepresented to force an apparent coincidence with popular prejudice.

So yes, we should avoid loose talk of hate, where it is not clearly justified. But we must also continue to combat irrational fear and prejudice, in every way we can. We do this by speaking and showing the truth. By coming out, we show our lives to be as ordinary – and as exceptional – as any others. We do it by engaging in Biblical and theological discussion to demonstrate the flaws in the traditional excuses for prejudice. And we do it by refusing to co-operate in our own oppression, joining in boycotts of businesses that attempt to make money from discrimination.

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