The Christian Right and the LGBT Community
The Christian Right is a political faction that is characterized by their determined support of socially conservative policies. This religious political faction seeks to influence both politics and public policies on the basis of their Christian belief and teachings. The Christian right “is a broad coalition of pro-family organizations and individuals who have come together to struggle for a conservative Christian vision in the political realm” (Stone, 4). The Christian Right developed in the 1860s but solidified itself as a faction in the 1940s during the Cold War period and later gained greater influence in the 1970s by impacting politics on a variety of issues.
The Christian Right’s success within the American political system is a result of their motivation to raise awareness on and support to their beliefs. Members of the Christian Right are notable for advancing their socially conservative views on issues such as abortion, contraception, pornography, and embryonic stem cell research. Their dedication transcends to their ability to not only affect and influence politics in the United States, but also society in general by impacting school systems and education. Among the issues that the Christian Right has been and is still determined to address lies on LGBT matters.
The LGBT community holds a great demographic in the United States. In 2017, the Williams Institute conducted a study to determine the demographics of LGBT people in the United States: they found that 4.5% of adult Americans identified as LGBT with 5.1% being women and 3.9% being men. This statistic may seem quite low, but we need to take into consideration that due to there being a great amount of homophobia in the United States, LGBT community members are still ‘in the closet,’ a term used to describe an LGBT person who hasn’t communicated or hasn’t come to terms with their sexuality due to fear of repercussions because of the substantial levels of homophobia in the United States. In the United States, as of 2018 67% of Americans are in favor of LGBT rights, which means 33% don’t (Statista). 33% may not seem as such a large percentage but when taking into consideration the size of the United States, 33% is a substantial number.
In order to determine how and why the Christian Right has been influencing the LGBT community rights over the years we need to understand how the Christian Right actions may be explained by their political and religious theology. Furthermore, we need to investigate how the Christian Rights political actions have affected LGBT rights both in the past and in more recent times. My central thesis and what I will aim to prove argues that the Christian Right has and continues to influence politics which are detrimental and limiting to LGBT rights in the United States as a result of their homophobic stance.
The relationship between the Christian Right and American politics may be explained by various theories. The first, the theory of political activities differing depending on the types of religious agendas a religious actor – in this case, the Christian Right – has due to the state of both political and religious theology. This was developed by political scientists Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Samuel Shah. What they present exemplified the great importance of religion and religious actors and the impact they have nowadays in the political field, also how these separate fields overlap, demonstrating the deep impact religious ideas have on society and their shaping politics today. Furthermore, they explain how religious political action is also a result of the institutional context of religion and state (Toft et al). The Christian Right in the United States is a clear example of this as their anti-gay religious agenda has shaped and impacted policies and politics regarding LGBT matters in the United States contrary to the separation of religious and state affairs. Furthermore, due to the institutional context of the Christian Right within the United States, their power is amplified within the political playing field and so they are facilitated in their influence of LGBT rights.
Another theory which aids in explaining the relationship between the Christian Right and American politics would be that of the ‘Ambivalence of the Sacred,’ developed by political scientist Scott Appleby. He explains this ambivalence in relation to the sacred and the peoples ambivalent response to the violence they may exert due to the pluralism within religion. Although his theory applies to a generic violence element, we may apply it as well to the Christian Right’s anti-gay agenda. The Christian Right’s ability to inspire cruelty towards and disapproval of the LGBT community is closely intertwined with the roots of the Christian Rights beliefs which lies within Christianity. Considering they advocate for a considerable amount of positive policies, they maintain their impressive ability to inspire those, whilst inspiring hatred towards the LGBT community. There is an inherent pluralism — or rather duality — with the Christian Right as while it spreads hatred and the wish to limit LGBT rights it also advocates for family unity and education, amongst other things (Appleby).
The Christian Right’s heavy influence on American politics, and policies in general, can be viewed as an obvious violation of the separation of Church and State affairs. The first amendment of the United States’ Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The establishment clause entails that the government cannot support one religion over another. The Christian Right’s relationship and heavy influence on American politics demonstrates how the government and the decisions it makes are instead biased due to an interpretation of Christian ‘values’ which are shared amongst those politicians who influence laws and policies, especially seen in the Republican party. This biased influence allows and perpetuates the limitation of LGBT rights in the United States, adducing Christians ‘values’ as the sole motivation. Due to the Christian Right’s homophobic and detrimental beliefs regarding the LGBT community, the first amendment appears to be egregiously violated. With that said, we must keep in mind that the constitution does not necessarily entail that no religious values can influence political decision making. Moreover, it should not facilitate the limiting of a communities rights solely based on religious beliefs.
The Christian Right has always had an anti-gay ideology and has been advocating this ideology since the early 1970s, and then, they used democracy as a tool to stung LGBT rights at the ballot box. “Direct democracy, of the proposal and passage of laws through voters rather than legislators, has been a long-time tool of social movements, including those working to derail or restrict minority rights” (Stone, 1). The anti-gay Religious Right, as a movement that originated in the late 1970s, has used direct democracy to not only limit but digress the subject of LGBT rights. Their focus on shaping US policies continues unabated from 1974 to 2009, at the very least. “At the ballot box, activists can repeal local legislation and create new legislation by mobilizing public opinion and homophobia rather than navigating the complexities of either the courts or legislatures” (Stone, 5).
Beyond that, the anti-gay activists built political capital wherein they established a strong base of supporters which they then mobilized by veering their opinions on LGBT members which constricted the discretion of the elected legislators seeking consensus and public support. These campaigning activities were extremely effective at diverting the LGBT movements agenda “through the ongoing tactical innovation in its use of the referendum and initiative process” (Stone, 5). The Christian Right then continuously develop new techniques in order to win and impose their views at the ballot box. Between the years of 1974 and 2009, the Christian Right “attempted more than 245 referendums and initiatives across the country” (Stone, 6). These would be enacted for the explicit purpose of reverting “non-discrimination ordinances that included sexual orientation and/or gender identity, virulent statewide anti-gay initiatives and initiatives to create constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage” (Stone, 6).
It is important to note that during the 1950s, and continued into the 1960s, “the lesbian and gay movement experienced an upsurge in activism, as people involved in feminist movement and the New Left turned their attention to issues of sexuality” (Fetner, 5). The Christian Right’s anti-gay agenda was undeniably stimulated by this upsurge perceived as a threat to Christian’s ‘values’: “The Christian anti-gay movement was organized in a genuine attempt to stop the lesbian and gay movement from gaining any more political ground, as well as to repeal some of the legislative gains that had already been won” (Fetner, 6). The upsurge of the Christian Right’s anti-gay movement caused for a clear shift in “the tone, language, and frames of lesbian and gay activists” (Fetner, 8). The Chrisitan Right could no longer simply rely on their belief of the LGBT community violating their religious beliefs and being gay as an offence to God to move the masses, but had to start using a scholarly rhetoric based on ‘research’ and ‘academic work’.
The masses impacted by the Christian Right who had previously been either passive regarding LGBT matters or maintained a slightly favorable opinion became, with time, anti-progressive due to the negative influence of the Christian Right’s anti-gay movement. “Opprobrious depictions of lesbians and gay men were directed to both in-group and public audiences (Burack, 3). The Christian Right relied on controversial psychological research based on the ex-gay movement which entails encouraging people to refrain from engaging in same sex relationships. Furthermore, anti-gay clinicians relied upon repeting homosexuals to create a narrative of homosexuals being illfit to parent due to their violation of the Christian way. “Anti-gay clinicians have produced a narrative of development that the Christian ex-gay movement relies on its counseling of repentant homosexuals as well as in its literation on Christian parenting and childhood” (Burack, 33).
The Christian Right heavily relied on these scientific claims. “The Christian ex-gay movement has relied for its intellectual underpinnings on ostensibly secular knowledge about human development and teleology, even though much of that knowledge is repudiated by the contemporary scientific community” (Burack, 34). With these tools, the Christian Right veered the masses opinions on the LGBT community for the worst, which resulted in the nullification of previous progressive laws and policies which had started to be established in the United States in the support of the LGBT community and their rights.
One must keep in mind that the Christian Right’s resilience against the LGBT community is due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s wherein societal norms were challenged and a liberation of sorts was experienced. Because of this there was an upsurge in LGBT display which triggered the rise of the Christian Right to stand against such shifts in social attitudes on sexuality. This was further facilitated by the previous social biases against the LGBT community.
In the mid 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, a war was waged against the LGBT community, and the Christian Right was at the spearhead of this effort. In 1986, the Supreme Court, in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, Georgia sodomy law upheld “criminalizing anal and oral sex between consenting adults. In his written opinion, Chief Justice Warren Burger a lifelong republican conservative christian stated that homosexuality was ‘an offense of deeper malignancy’ than rape itself, ‘the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature’” (Vials, 223). Although Chief Justice Warren Burger was during this period of time he formed part of the Christian Right narrative due to his extremely conservative republican stances and his Christian Faith (Vials).
As time progressed, though, the anti-gay movement started to lose supporters due to changing times and the growth in distribution of information. In the 1990s, in part thanks to progresses in technology, the Christian Right became “more sophisticated in the construction and execution of punitive projects intended to stigmatize queer people and deprive them of equal rights” (Burack, 29). Today conservative Christian leaders are more careful about how they manage images of the movement and its adversaries. The Christian Right sophisticated itself as an interest group, becoming more adept at tailoring their messages for the mainstream audiences.
They softened their anti-gay rhetoric, as “several activists within the Christian Right began to re-assess the discourses upon which Christian Right opposition to homosexuality” (Herman, 347). This did not mean that all of the Christian Right’s anti-gay stance was fading, in fact it still remained significant and kept on influencing public opinions. Due to this, the Christian Right needed to more carefully defame the LGBT by attacking their stance as a minority, which the Christian Right started to deny them to be one. A theme arised around gay wealth wherein the Christian Right claimed that the community was wealthy due to “the huge assets of gay rights campaigning organization” (Herman, 350). The Christian Right’s anti gay rights discourse involved “making direct comparisons between the status of homosexuals and that of truly disadvantaged minorities” (Herman, 355). By modifying their rhetoric and attacking the LGBT community on different stances than they previously had they managed to rally the masses once more and stunt once again the progression of LGBT rights in the United States.
The Family Research Council, a Christian Right organization that “has $5 million in revenue a year… claims it ‘shapes public debate and formulates public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family’” (Cahill, 113). The organization opposes LGBT rights and has been making their stance clear against LGBT rights in a variety of ways. For example, they have argued “that gay and lesbian youth are not any more likely to be harassed in school and that reports of gay teen suicides are exaggerated” (Cahill, 106). Furthermore, they have long argued “that gay people seek to abuse children” (Cahill, 107). Peter Sprigg, a member of the Family Research Council, “also accused gay and lesbian people of ‘taking advantage of the grief and compassion that Americans do feel’, and he concluded that ‘to redefine the family based on our grief over the losses that people may have experienced as a result of the terror attacks would be a bad law and bad policy” (Cahill, 111). The organization claims “the Human Rights Campaign and the other groups in the homosexual lobby have very deep pockets. Big corporations, elite foundations, and Hollywood celebrities underwrite the homosexual lobby with ten of millions of dollars every year” (Cahill, 116). It is clear that The Family Research Council is very concerned with deterring LGBT rights and public opinion of the LGBT community. This organization within the Christian Right further demonstrates how defamation is what they wish to impose on the LGBT community.
Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 motivated gay rights movements, but despite this “antigay measures continued to prevail at the polls” (White, 129). It is worth noting that President Obama, during his tenure, did not do much for the LGBT community: “Unfortunately, the Obama Administration took away with one hand what it had just given with the other – asserting in the same statement that it did not consider sexual rights to be human rights” (Girard, 9). In 2008, at the Saddleback Presidential Forum in April stated in an interview with Pastor Rick Warren “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian – for me – for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix” (Steinmetz, 2015), it is only by 2010 that Obama begins to evolve on gay marriage and only later in decemebr 2014 that the Obama administration interpreted the Civil Rights Act as supportive of LGBT rights (Steinmetz, 2015). In 2008, in California, Proposition 8 was passed “which overturned a State Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage” (White, 129). In Florida, gay marriage and civil unions were thus banned by voters, and also in Arizona voters passed a measure which banned gay marriage. Moreover, in Arkansas, ballot measures advocated to prohibit gay couples from adopting children.
“Although many of its explicit politics have shifted over time, the Christian Right has never strayed far from the ideological deep structure exhibited by three of its primary forebears, Geral Winrod, Gerald L. K. Smith, and Charles Coughlin, all of whom looked to European fascism as they waged their campaigns to create a ‘Christian Nation’ in the thirties” (Vials, 200). Geral Winrod, a pro-Nazi evangelical author and political activist, Gerald L. K. Smith, a far-right clergyman and political organizer, and Charles Coughlin, an American-Canadian anti semite Roman Chatholic priest. These three figures merged their fascist beliefs with their Christian ones, creating essentially this form of religious extremism in the Christian Right which holds its grounds not only on Christian teachings but on fascist support too. Although this may sound very controversial, researchers have proposed the thesis that the Christian Right serves as an equivalent of an American version of Fascism due to their prosecution of gay rights. One of these is American Pulitzer Prize journalist Chris Hedges, who in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America examines the alarming agenda of the Christian Right by investigating the psychology and sociology of fascism and cults and how the Christian Right exhibits these. Furthermore he outlines the danger of such to democracy due to what he claims to be an un-Christian ideology based on bigotry, fanaticism, and homophobia (Hedges).
“As the Trump Presidency begins, advocates for sexual…rights are rightly concerned that decades of gains are at grave risk” (Girard, 6). With a president that is not advocating for LGBT rights, the Christian Right’s anti-gay political agenda has picked up once more. Trump has done a numerous of things that would constitute for him to be labeled as homophobic, these include but are not limited to: Defending state-funded adotion agencies in turning away gay ouples on religioys grounds in February 2019, proposing in August 2019 to role back an exectuive order which was signed by Obama in 2014 banning anti-LGBT disrimiation within federal contractors, and banninng transgender people to conduct military service in 2018 (Signorile, 2019). These actions are homophobic as they limit LGBT rights and thus enables us to label Trump as a homophobic president. Furthermore, Michael Pence has advocated for conversion therapy, a technique wherein one would use psychological intervention to ‘rectify’ a deviated sexual orientation. Overall, the Trump administration has taken away from LGBT rights rather than improve or increase them, in order to gain and consolidate the support of the Christian Right group.
“The American Christian Right has made an anti-gay politics central to both its world-view and immediate political agenda” (Herman, 346). Under the Trump administration the anti-gay sentiment grew as Donald Trump, a man who has explicitly expressed homophobic stances, was inaugurated as president in 2016. Trump has received an enormous amount of support from the Christian Right who have done nothing but defend him from those who criticize him by claiming that these critics have been possessed by demons, which, in itself, is quite an outrageous statement (Kilgore, 2019).
Although the Christian Right advocates for anti-gay rights, implicitly that does not allow anyone to say that Christianity advocates for that too; in fact, within Christianity there is a widespread support for LGBT rights. A great number of the LGBT community members identify as Christian and have normalized the idea that homosexuality and religion can go hand in hand despite what extreme factions like the Christian Right say and fight against. What we need to keep in mind is that the Christian Right, is a political faction, composed of the far right and thus despite there being Christian factions that embrace LGBT matters and people, The Christian Right differs greatly from those.
As a result of this tiring war between the Christian Right and LGBT community, the question has arisen whether or not these two communities can be reconciled. This would be done by implementing laws that respect secular industries and organizations to advocate and enable LGBT rights. The catch would be that religious industries and organization would have the right to not implement such laws and turn away LGBT people under the circumstances of job inquiry for example. “A 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center asked how much people sympathize with businesses seeking religious exemptions from assisting with same-sex weddings. Nearly half sympathized ‘some’ or ‘a lot’, just over half sympathized ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ with those who would refuse exemptions” (Wilson).
This situation would propose quite a few benefits as we would no longer have the Christian Right and other evangelical factions trying to tear down LGBT rights, but rather allow them to occur outside of their own jurisdiction. “The gain for human liberty will be severely compromised if same-sex couples now force religious dissenters to violate their consciences in the same way that those dissenters, when they had the power to do so, used to force same-sex couples to live in the closet” (Wilson). Rather than a reconciliation this could be described as a system of toleration wherein a ‘they don’t bother us, so we won’t bother them’ situation would arise.
It is clear that this would not be the greatest win for the LGBT community, but if the Christian Rights power cannot and will not be checked by the government then keeping to their own jurisdiction without meddling in LGBT secular rights affairs would be a great win and could serve potentially as a step towards reconciliation rather than toleration.
Since the 1950s, the Christian Right has been lobbying and fighting against the furtherment of LGBT rights adapting to changes of time and adjusting the aim to pursue the goal of imposing their ideology on the public. The Christian Right persistently influences politics which are detrimental and limiting to LGBT rights in the United States, as had been outlined above. Despite the progresses that have been made, the faction remains determined to limit LGBT rights and has been successfully doing so for the past sixty years. In today’s world, the furtherment of LGBT rights is crucial as to not stand for and support LGBT rights is simply barbaric and not up with the status quo, the first amendment, and general consensus on human rights and freedom.
The world is changing, and the United States should rather stand up and fight for LGBT rights to a much greater level in order to eradicate homophobia once and for all, but they fell short greatly under the liability that the Trump administration represents. Today, in the United States, the Christian Right stands tall but the LGBT community stands taller, and does not base its arguments on lies and falsehoods like the Christian Right does. Unfortunately, support of anti-gay ideology has not faltered despite the Christian Right’s arguments have been dismissed as simply factually wrong and cruel. The Christian Right has been enabled by the government, either by inaction or by calculated goals of political gains, and manipulates the masses to affect politics and change policies when instead they should have no place or say in.
The influence the Christian Right has is way too powerful and should be checked: in a secular democracy, on the surface advocating separation of state and religion, they should be made incapable of creating demeaning policies and banning or reversing LGBT rights. The twisted game of manipulating voters to promote an anti-democratic ideology, in contrast with actual Christianity values, even, is a dangerous one which underlines how perilous a journey could be for a society fabric torn by social tensions, inequalities, and scapegoat mechanisms which exploit ignorance, hatred, and fear of the “different” in order to seek for political power, control, and restrictions or nullification of minority rights. The slope is steep, and a slippery one, too.
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