I’ve seen a lot of evangelicals today arguing that the Orlando shooting reveals the difference between Christianity and Islam—that Christians want to “help” gay people while Muslims want to kill them. I think we need to think very seriously about two things—first, why many people initially suspected this was an act of Christian terrorism, and second, what their calls to “help” gay people actually look like. And yes, I’ll talk about Islam in a moment, but bear with me here. I come from an evangelical background, and it’s only natural that I would write about what I know.
We live in a world where evangelicals have spent the last several years in a focused attempt to prevent gay people from exercising equal rights. Even today, evangelicals and others in many states are still working to prevent gay people from adopting children. But it’s not just that. There’s also the dehumanization, the othering, the stereotyping, the smearing. Think of the bills blocking trans bathroom access. Think of the rhetoric surrounding that issue. I’ve watched, over this past year, as my LGBT friends experienced euphoria over last June’s Supreme Court decision and then ever-tightening pain over what has followed. Conservative evangelicals, and others like them, have created an extremely painful and difficult climate for LGBT people. Consider the number of trans women killed in hate crimes each year.
These events may seem isolated, but they ricochet.
And it’s not just the U.S. American evangelicals have made concentrated efforts to export their hate—and yes, I’m sorry, I’m going to call it that because that’s what it is, and again, bear with me—to other countries as well. Consider Scott Lively, an American evangelical activist now on trial for crimes against humanity based on his role in Uganda’s anti-gay bill, which included the death penalty for repeated homosexual acts. Lively reportedly told Ugandans that gay people were behind the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.
In the United States, Lively is widely dismissed as an anti-gay firebrand and Holocaust revisionist. But in Uganda, he was presented — and accepted — as a leading international authority. The public persecution of LGBTQ people escalated after Lively’s conference, with one local newspaper publishing the pictures and addresses of activists under the headline, “Hang Them.”
These are the evangelicals LGBT people have been dealing with for years now, and longer. LGBT individuals have grown accustom to having conservative evangelicals work to block their rights while simultaneously creating and perpetuating stereotypes and lies about them. They’re used to hearing evangelicals say “hate the sin, love the sinner,” and then watching them kick LGBT teens out of their homes and onto the streets, or worse. Many of them have grown up with this rejection. In the face of this reality, an increasing number of conservative evangelicals have been insisting that they “love” LGBT individuals even while continuing their efforts to change them, and continuing to call their “lifestyle” a “perversion.” These evangelicals may feel this somehow makes them good, caring, supportive individuals, but it doesn’t.
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