For a long time, opponents of same-sex marriage — and gay rights in general — have managed to put a friendly face on their efforts.
With the exception of a few zany whackos, like the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, the message has been “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
The public image has been one of healing, of redemption, and of dialogue. And for many conservative Christians, that’s an accurate and fair portrait.
A lot of people who struggle with the idea of gay marriage aren’t bigots. They’re grappling reasonably and earnestly with a major societal shift.
But privately, away from the mainstream conversation, the tone of the anti-homosexual movement has been far more toxic, often straying from the territory of legitimate culture war difference into the realm of pure bigotry.
That darker vein been exposed recently, due to an effort by gay and progressive advocates to “out” conservative religious leaders who advocate violence, hatred and repression of gays and lesbians in their communities.
The latest painful episode is a recording made of a sermon at the Independent Baptist Church in Oakland, Maryland, where Pastor Dennis Leatherman acknowledged to his congregation a desire to eradicate gays.
“First of all, there is a danger of reacting in the flesh, of responding not in a scriptural, spiritual way, but in a fleshly way,” Leatherman preached.
“Kill them all. Right? I will be very honest with you. My flesh kind of likes that idea, but it grieves the Holy Spirit. It violates Scripture. It is wrong.”
This follows on the release of audio of a sermon delivered by Curtis Knapp, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas, who goes a step further, defending the idea of killing gays.
“They should be put to death — that’s what happened in Israel. That’s why homosexuality wouldn’t have grown in Israel. It tends to limit conversions. It tends to limit people coming out of the closet,” Knapp argued.
He goes on to insist that scripture actually supports the idea of government-backed extermination of gays and lesbians.
“Oh, so you’re saying we should go out and start killing them? No, I’m saying the government should. They won’t, but they should.”
These aren’t isolated incidents, nor are they limited to tiny, fringe churches. North Carolina pastor Charles L. Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church, responding to President Barack Obama’s support of gay marriage, offered his view last month that gays should be quarantined in special ghettos.
“I figured out a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it passed the Congress. Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there,” Worley suggests. “Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”
His congregation responds with a hearty Amen, particularly when Pastor Worley describes Mr. Obama as “a babykiller and a homosexual lover.”
This is ugly stuff. And it’s healthy that the scab is being pulled off so that conservative and traditionalist Americans, in particular, can grapple with the vein of hatred, fear and ignorance that shapes this debate.
Perhaps the most disturbing image in this new series of “outings” is video of a little boy in the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Indiana. In a sweet, innocent voice, he sings “ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven.”
The congregation stands, applauds and cheers wildly. It’s fair to debate what this kind of thing represents, but it sure isn’t Christian love.