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Religion’s Need To Construct Enemies

There is an interesting article in the “Salt Lake Tribune” regarding Salt Lake City's newly elected mayor Ralph Becker's first official action as mayor to have a citywide registry of domestic partners, which would include same-sex couples.

Beyond the courageous action of Ralph Becker, and the indications that, relatively speaking, Salt Lake City is far more progressive, loving, and civilized regarding Gay people than is most, if not all, the rest of Utah, the following comment was made on the article that I think sums up a great deal of the reasons for the homophobia of many in churches of various religions, and of the many professing Christian people, churches, and denominations within the institutional Church. I'm reprinting the comment as it was written:

“Growing up in the South in the '50s taught allot 'bout Christianity. Seems that Christian tribes have to have devils to keep the members focused and together. Nothin like hav'in an evil outside enemies tryin to destroy tribe to spur unity and loyalty. Back then is was blacks, they didn't call 'em blacks but somethin much nastier, and the Jews and of course Catholics or anyone that wasn't white and protestant. I can't recollect ever hearin of Mormons back then. Yea, you could see the church members on Sunday and know they wore triple “K” on certain nights. Today is no different, religious tribes still need devils and evil to stir the troops, today its Mexicans, still blacks but not so much, and gays. Looks like things haven't changed much in the last 50 years. Nice to see there are still those brave folks still trying.”

I disagree with this commentator on only one issue: Black people are still discriminated against in many subtle and not so subtle ways.

The famous 19th Century Sociologist, Emile Durkheim, asserted that when there is a threatening out-group, the in-group untites to protect itself against it. Therefore, in order to cement in-group solidarity or cohesion, meeting the needs of people to have a sense of belonging, the in-group constructs “enemies” against which to identify, so that the out-group is not only fodder for the in-group's hate; serves as the target of that hate; enables the in-group leaders and their followers to materially and/or psychologically and/or socially and/or politically gain from demonizing their constructed enemies designated as the out-group.

They construct out-groups as “enemies” because to do so also serves to help make members of that in-group feel self-righteous, and appear to be more “moral,” more “religious,” more “superior” to the out-group they have constructed that is frequently depicted as being “diseased,” “disordered,” “evil,” “destructive of the family, tradition, and all other institutions and values that all 'religious' and other 'good people' hold dear.”

So, even when there is no enemy at the moment, the in-group must construct an enemy, an out-group, so as to meet these needs that they have in order to make and justify their claim to having moral hegemony, and depicting themselves as being on the “moral” high ground, even when, as in the RC Church, that group is rocked with sexual scandals involving children and subsequent coverups that amount to criminal facilitation that cry out to God for vengeance.

Therefore, regarding professing Christians creating “needed enemies,” Gay people have served the same function in most of the institutional Church as have the Jews, the Afro-Americans (many of whom have now helped take the lead in the oppression of Gay people), the Catholics (who have now been among those in the forefront in the oppression of Gay people), women, and all other designated out-groups, so as to not only keep the money rolling in, but to keep people coming back to listen to fiery sermons that jack up their emotions to fever pitch, and affirming their “righteousness” and the “rightness of their cause,” and giving the hate-filled clergy forums to express their hate in the context of usually overwhelming congregational approval.

Since appealing to the dark side of people's emotions is a sure winner, as it pays off in so many ways, and for so many people, professing Christians or not, there is no end to the “rewards” gained by homophobic clergy, Black or White, in continuing their rhetorical and discriminatory targeting of Gay people, viewed by them as being “safe” targets to persecute, in order to meet their own conscious and/or unconscious needs and agendas.

This need for out-groups by self-identified members of the in-group will never end, as it seems to be one of the many tragic parts of the human condition. However, targeting a given group will definitely end when there is no longer seen to be a payoff in so doing by the in-group, and that state of affairs will only occur when there is sufficient and continuous grassroots and organizational activism that presents the in-group with the realization that the costs of their creation of the “enemy” far exceeds what rewards they have been receiving from their creation.

That is one of the reasons I have been suggesting such activism as coordinated picketing of homophobic churches; boycotting homophobic churches; refusing to support any politician who is not unequivocally in favor of full and equal civil rights; taking to civil and, if appropriate, criminal court clergy (and others) who spew hateful rhetoric that slanders Gay people and/or may reasonably be expected to cause others to assault and murder Gay people. [For my most recent salvo in this area, please see my December 29th post.]

As I wrote in response to a comment made by Don Charles regarding my January 11th post:

“Homophobic pastors who spew hateful rhetoric must be held accountable for the ravages they cause, and the lies they tell about Gay people, and taking them to court is one of the best ways of holding them accountable.

“Rather than indulge in political expediency, and being anemic regarding meaningful activism, the Human Rights Campaign should be the one to file such suits (and they should be pressured to do so), as they undoubtedly have the funds and staff necessary to see these suits to completion.”

It is important to recognize that religious homophobia has absolutely nothing to do with the things of God or of the Spirit! It has to do with the functions and perceived rewards to the in-group that hate produces! And never, never buy into the lie that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

Beyond the fact that being Gay is not a sin, these wolves in sheep's clothing hate Gay people too, and to ignore that fact diminishes the realization of the tremendous harm that homophobic clergy and their followers have done to Gay people, their families, and to society at large as partly seen in our ever-increasing coarsening of the culture.

And when LGBT people and allies finally marshal enough strength of will to put pressure on such organizations as the Human Rights Campaign to become more aggressive, coordinate meaningful grassroots activism against homophobia whenever and wherever it occurs, Gay people will no longer be considered the “safe” targets the in-group can persecute.

Then, the in-group will hunt around and find another “enemy” to construct, another out-group, to continue to meet their perceived needs that discriminating against LGBT people have hitherto afforded them.

But, at least, when that day occurs, we can expect there to be far fewer Gay lives lived in desperation; far fewer Gay suicides; far fewer assaults against Gay people; far fewer murders of Gay people. And, Gay people will be afforded the same dignity and civil and sacramental rights afforded to all other citizens.

And if these goals are not worth meaningfully and aggressively fighting for, I don't know what is!

[Also posted in expanded form on A Christian Voice For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Rights.]

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Jerry Maneker

Jerry Maneker