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Ryan Andresen talks with Anderson Cooper on CNN.
The confluence of recent news stories about pastor Louie Giglio and boy scout Ryan Andresen prompts reflection on spiritual terrorism. Giglio, who was removed from the program of the President's Inauguration when a viciously anti-gay sermon came to light, and Andresen, who was denied an Eagle Scout pin because he is gay, would seem to have little in common. Actually, however, they are linked by the pervasive spiritual terrorism practiced in this country, one as a perpetrator, the other as a victim.
Giglio's sermon, like other disgusting displays of naked Christian hatred directed toward gay people that frequently come to light and that can be witnessed every Sunday in churches across the land, particularly but by no means exclusively in the South, gives the lie to the frequent claim that Christians hate the sin of homosexuality, but love the sinners. It also gives the lie to the notion that the Westboro Baptist Church is the lunatic fringe of Christianity, utterly isolated and completely unrepresentative of the mainstream. In fact, despite some obvious divergences in style, there is little theological difference between Giglio's beliefs about homosexuality as expressed in the sermon and those of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Giglio's notorious sermon is quite similar to the displays of hatred that emerged during the recent campaign for North Carolina's Amendment One, which wrote a ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships into the state's constitution, and that are distressingly common in Evangelical Christian communities.
In the course of that campaign, for example, Ron Baity, pastor of Winston-Salem's Berean Baptist Church ranted about homosexuality as "a perverted lifestyle" in a Sunday sermon and told his congregation that homosexuals should be prosecuted. Another Baptist pastor, Sean Harris, urged his congregation to beat their children if they exhibited gender-nonconforming behavior. Yet another repulsive Baptist preacher, Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church near Maiden, North Carolina, recommended concentration camps for "lesbians and queers."
Videos documenting the rants of these preachers may be found here.
Lest one think genocidal rhetoric is confined to the South or to the Westboro Baptist Church, Jeremy Hooper at his blog Good As You called attention in 2012 to two Baptist preachers, one from Maryland--Pastor Dennis Leatherman of Mountain Lake Baptist Church in Oakland, Maryland--and one from Kansas--Curtis Knapp, Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas--who expressed a naked desire to kill gay men and lesbians.
Knapp's comments are particularly revealing, for after telling his congregation that the government should kill homosexuals, the murderous-minded minister asked his flock, "Is it His word or not? If it's His word, he commanded it. It's His idea, not mine. And I'm not ashamed of it. He said put them to death."
To be fair, Giglio is not as extreme as the loonies cited above, and he does not explicitly advocate genocide. Yet he shares much with them, including particularly a reliance on the Levitical passages that call for homosexuals to be put to death. He defines homosexuals as "malfunctions" unworthy of equal rights under the law, and like all the ministers quoted above, he unequivocally consigns homosexuals to hell.
In order to prevent that fate, they have to change, and he offers terrified believers the false hope of reparative therapy as a means to save themselves from hell fire. In other words, he practices spiritual terrorism, an attempt to bully and terrify people into embracing his faith.
Now what does this Christian hatred toward homosexuals have to do with Ryan Andresen?
Andresen came to the national spotlight as the result of being denied the Eagle Scout badge he had worked so hard to attain simply because he is gay. In his appearances on television news shows and on the Ellen Show, we see an articulate and self-confident young man committed to making change in the world.
However, Ryan Andresen was not always like that. In fact, as a profile by Peter Crooks in the San Francisco East Bay magazine Diablo aptly entitled "Excluded" reveals, he is a survivor of egregious bullying.
When he was a fifth-grader, Andresen joined Boy Scout Troop 212, which is sponsored by the Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. Soon after joining, he was tormented at the troop's annual summer camp week. In a particularly cruel hazing ritual, called Name Night, the scouts smeared "faggot" in charcoal on his sweatshirt and made him wear it.
When he finally told his parents about the incident, they were suitably horrified, but the bullying continued not only at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church but also at his middle school. By the time he entered high school, Andresen felt like an outcast. He ultimately transferred to a private school in Berkeley, where he has thrived.
Although he wanted to give up scouting, Andresen decided to use it as a means of responding to the bullying he had experienced. Thus, he chose as his Eagle Scout project building a "tolerance wall" at the very middle school at which his life was made so miserable by bullies.
But Andresen was not only physically bullied, he was also spiritually bullied, as is made clear in a remarkable--but heartbreaking--YouTube video he made a year ago for the It Gets Better project, which has recently been removed.
I am not sure why the video has been removed, but it is just as well for it is so painful to watch that it may not have the effect it was intended, which is to reassure young people.
In the video Andresen pointedly commented that he grew up in a religious family and community, that as a child he was convinced that he was going to hell, and that he contemplated suicide. The video is chilling even as the young man goes on to assure his viewers that things got better and that he now enjoys a lot of support from family and friends.
My point is that even this young man who grew up in a liberal community with supportive parents nevertheless imbibed the bilge that Giglio and other right-wing Christians routinely spew.
Spiritual terrorism and reparative therapy lead to the same results: self-hatred, depression, and, all too often, suicide.
People who practice spiritual terrorism have blood on their hands. As Dan Savage famously told Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, "Tony Perkins sits on a pile of dead gay kids every day when he goes to work."
But the good news, as exemplified by Ryan Andresen's courage, is that one can recover from spritual terrorism. Andresen has emerged from his ordeal a strong and confident young man who is a shining example to others.
The next time a Christian complains of having been unfairly called a bigot or hater, please remind him or her of the rants highlighted here, including Giglio's now famous sermon, which, by the way, is now being defended by right-wingers as simply standard Christian belief that should not have prompted a "public shaming" by gay activists.
Of course, not all Christians are bigots or haters: indeed many are very supportive of glbtq people and actually practice the Christian injunction to love their neighbors. But unfortunately, they have not been as outspoken in our defense as the religious right has in their practice of spiritual terrorism.
In the video below from October 2012, Ryan Andresen and his mother speak with Anderson Cooper about being denied the Eagle Scout badge he earned and alludes obliquely to the bullying he experienced in middle school.
In the video below, Savage discusses the responsibility of real Christians, "not all like that Christians" who affirm gay people.