Nicole Luisi's "Hate 3.16: The Ambiguous Nature of Religion and Its Influence over
“We owned you once, and we’ll own you again!” Although it may be considerably
disturbing to learn that comments such as this are still made regarding African Americans in
the twentieth century, its context is even more unsettling. One afternoon in conversation,
a neighbor brought to my attention a conflict being discussed on the news of late, one about
which he had strong feelings. It seems as though an African American Baptist Reverend, while
speaking at a local September 11th memorial service, linked God’s disapproval of same-sex
marriages to the events of September 11th.1 With the aid of scriptures, the Reverend explained
that God allowed those events to occur, as a method of punishment to a country in which such
sinners exist. When put in this context, the true problematic nature of my neighbor’s
comment is revealed, as it is a lucid example of fighting hatred with hatred. He was infuriated
by the reverend’s comments with regards to homosexuals, but responded with a comment
of his own that is the embodiment of racial hate in America.
For each entity that exists in the world, there are people to oppose it. As a result of this,
there are countless numbers of hate organizations in America, several for every race, gender,
religion, culture, and sexual orientation. Groups such as the Christian Identity feel
as though they can form their own militias to fight for their beliefs, and include member Timothy
McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.2 The Promise Keepers are a “Men’s Christian
Organization” infamous for their persecution of women.3 The Ku Klux Klan is
a Christian faction that organizes hate marches against non-Aryan races and homosexuals.4 The Phineas
Priesthood takes their name from Christians that wish to murder couples of mixed race
marriages.5 The Institute for Historic Review is a Christian group notorious for denying
the holocaust ever occurred.6 And, the Westboro Baptist Church is a congregation with
an extremely anti-homosexual focus known for picketing churches and funerals connected to homosexuals.7
It seems to me that the ethical dilemma surfaces when hate is endorsed as a form of religion
that is protected by our First Amendment rights, while being taught to children and adults,
perpetuating endless cycles of hate.
Hateful groups habitually use the freedom of speech policy in our country to defend their
practices. Regardless of our right to freedom of speech, our government may intervene if the
speech in question has the potential to cause violence, as it sometimes does. Private organizations
such as colleges can have their own intolerance laws on speech, comprising punishments for
those who make racial slurs or discriminatory remarks, but in the mainstream world, we cannot
legally have such guidelines. Just as those in the anti-pornography movement link pornography
to violent crimes such as rape and abuse, people fighting for hate crimes legislation link
hate speech and hate-based religions to violent hate crimes such as assault and murder.8 Both
causes believe that stronger legislation on these issues will prevent related crimes. As sympathetic
human beings, many people might agree with hate-speech laws, or anti-discriminatory actions,
but where is the line drawn before it is argued that the government has censored the people
and seized their autonomy?
Many religious hate groups label homosexuals and others as sinners; people who have done something
morally wrong. Ironically, those who burn churches, torture, and murder individuals with different
beliefs and biblical interpretations from theirs, do not feel that they are doing
anything morally wrong. Based on a compilation of actions by such groups, it could be said
that it is not morally wrong to force women to give birth at gunpoint. It is not morally wrong
to murder couples of mixed race marriages. It is not morally wrong to remove women from the
work force and keep them submissive to men. It is not morally wrong to picket and rejoice at
homosexual funerals, and it is not morally wrong to teach children that certain races are a
result of copulation with animals. All of the groups whose practices I am referring to designate
themselves as “Christian” groups, an extremely general term. There are copious
numbers of Christian religions in this country, and each Christian group considers themselves
the most sincere and truthful Christians. There are “Christian” groups that have
an anti-gay focus, and “Christian” groups that support gay members. Christians
are supposed to be those who follow Christ, but for some groups, it seems that an obsession
against a particular group of people such as homosexuals is the focus of the religion. There
are groups that form “Christian” religions based on anti-homosexual, anti-abortion,
anti-women, anti-African American and anti-Jewish sentiments, along with many others.
The most prevalent way people select their religion today is through tradition. Children are
impressionable products of their environments, and more than likely, those raised in these
hate-based religious homes, will grow up with the same hateful views, as will their children,
and their childrens’ children. In 1968 a renowned sociological study emerged, entitled Eye
of the Storm.9 Jane Elliot, an elementary school teacher, performed this study in response
to her concerns of racism in America following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. Over the course of a few days, the children in the selected classroom were separated by
eye color, and filmed while performing standard scholastic activities. On one day the blue-eyed
children were told that they were the smartest, and the brown-eyed children had to wear collars
marking their deficiency, as they were told that they were not as smart. The next day, they
eye colors were reversed, and the brown-eyed children were told that they were the smartest.
Each day, the teacher gave special praise to the students with the “smart” eye
color, and provided little or no encouragement for the students with the collars. As a result,
several observations were made. The children that thought they were more intelligent by virtue
of their eye color did considerably better work on the classroom activities. The children that
thought they were less intelligent did considerably worse on the classroom activities. And,
in addition to the effect their self-esteem had on their academic performances, the brown-eyed
students and the blue-eyed students hated one another, and weren’t quite sure why.
Eye of the Storm makes an excellent parallel to the way religion is learned today.
A parent raised with hateful beliefs will most likely pass those hateful beliefs on to his/her
children. The children then go to school with those ideas, and make them known. Children can
form their own opinions about life and groups of people when they are mature enough to do so,
but it is probably devastating for them to discover that they were given false information
while growing up. For instance, without knowing any Asian people, it may take a friendship
with an Asian person to ascertain that the stereotypes his/her parents have been uttering for
years about Asians are not necessarily true. The idea of children being raised within a religion
their family has always been a part of is not commonly thought of as an outlandish custom.
However, when it is a religion that voices strong, offensive, and hateful opinions about other
individuals or groups, it can become a predicament for society in terms of laws and public
It is not the policy of our government to choose a standard religion for its people, nor to
intervene in people’s choice of faith, but what about when certain religions harm or
threaten to harm others? How can it be decided which religions are acceptable and which are
not, without taking away people’s basic freedom of religion and blurring the separation
between church and state? Today there is pending legislation attempting to add crimes motivated
by gender, disability, or sexual orientation to an existing hate crimes prevention act.10 It
is difficult to get support for this cause because according to the statistics reported to
the US Department of Justice, the largest percentage of hate crimes does not involve these
subgroups.11 Many people are nervous about making “sexual orientation” a protected
class because they feel it will lead to too much religious controversy. They see the line separating
church and state wearing thinner, as there would be strict guidelines to what a leader can
preach to his/her parishioners. Several people feel that protecting sexual orientation as a
class will prompt support for the legalization of gay marriage and adoption. This could lead
to adding a sexual orientation question to things like college and job applications. How would
one prove that he or she is gay, and why wouldn’t one lie to receive some type of affirmative
action advantage? It is argued that sexual orientation should not be in it’s own category
such as race because it is not an indisputable characteristic. In other words, black people
are black because they were born that way, but gay people are gay because they choose to
live a life in which they will inevitably face discrimination and adversity.
Many people feel that certain controversial life-styles are a choice, and because of that
there will always be religious conflict in America. In an ideal world, people would be able
to abstain from violence and a blatant disregard for other’s feelings regardless of their
own convictions, but this is unrealistic. Anti-gay groups controlled by leaders like Fred Phelps
of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) have gone into communities holding signs that say “God
Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Fags,” and displaying scripture quotations twisted
to represent homosexuality as a sin. Phelps is well known for picketing many funerals, including
the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young homosexual male who died victim to a hate crime unrelated
to the WBC.12 Phelps and his group bring their signs, and shout abhorrent remarks at those
in mourning, in an effort to “warn” gay supporters of their own fate. Phelps also
protested at a high school graduation ceremony in Ferndale, Washington last year, because the
students elected a lesbian prom king.13 Ironically, the election was not even about being gay
or lesbian, but a girl wanting to transcend stereotypical gender roles. The fact that she happened
to be the school’s only openly gay student was all that Phelps needed to hear.
In the past, gay organizations and supporters fought the protests of anti-gay groups such
as the WBC by shouting back and physically lashing out. They have thrown eggs and screamed
profanities to express their disgust. The WBC for one welcomes this type of response, in an
attempt to instigate rioting and lawsuits, essentially acquiring money and media exposure for
Some gay organizations have changed their tactic however, and no longer confront the protestors.
Instead, communities take donations from individuals and organizations alike, for a set amount
of money for each minute the anti-gay protestors picket. The community of the Washington school
with the lesbian prom king raised several thousand dollars during the picket of their graduation
ceremony.14 In addition to Cedar Crest College and Lehigh University, the churches that invited
a predominantly gay church to the recent September 11th memorial service in my own area are
also on the WBC’s calendar of scheduled pickets for December sixth, seventh, and eighth
of this year.15 Fortunately, the letters of regret from the other churches at the service that
day indicate that they too will receive several thousands of dollars as a result of the picket.
This has been done in towns all over the United States, and these churches and communities
make as much as two dollars for each second that hateful words are preached at their expense.
This is a fabulous way to fight back, but based on reactions such as my neighbors, I don’t
think this result will satisfy everyone.
Reverend Marshall Griffith is the man who outraged my neighbor and community when he recently
held same-sex marriages and the removal of prayer from schools responsible for the September
11th attack.16 Fred Phelps doesn’t feel that there was enough hate in Griffith’s
speech, hence his motivation for the scheduled picket. Same-sex marriages are not the only
factor that some religious groups believe led to events like September 11th. During a memorial
service just a few days after the events, a televised sermon by Reverend Jerry Falwell blamed
homosexuals, but also alcoholics, addicts, and the Civil Liberties Union for the same attack.17
Falwell was required to make a public apology, but Griffith has yet to do so. These religious
leaders also link other terrible events to gays, such as the forest fires this summer, and
child abuse. Imagine the assertions that could be made based on logic such as this. We could
say for example that God allows every child that is raped, tortured, or killed in America to
be treated so, because somewhere in the United States of America two men live together as a
married couple. I suppose in some way you could argue that any two things in this world are
Every day in America, churches, individuals, and organizations receive hate mail and/or death
threats. There are thousands of hate-based web sites on the Internet, containing appalling
views on individuals and America itself. Some of them even go as far as to have counters displaying
how many days the “beasts” Matthew Shepard and Diane Whipple have been burning
in hell. There is also a plethora of hateful literature, music, and entertainment capable of
offending several groups and individuals. What is astonishing is that the people that circulate
the majority of this hateful paraphernalia are groups that allege that they are religious people-
people of God.
Every religion may have a different interpretation of God’s word. The Bible has been
translated again and again, and picked apart by theologian after theologian, and still there
is no way to confirm what the intended meaning of each scripture was at the time it was written.
Many religious hate groups use their interpretation of the scriptures in the Bible to defend
their hateful views, stating that they are not only theirs, but God’s views. There is
a devastating dissimilarity however, between the groups that peacefully take different meaning
from the same scripture with the understanding that others may see it another way, and those
that aggressively condemn people who do not share their interpretation, resulting in defamation
Although everyone is entitled to his/her own interpretation of the scriptures, it is somehow
more disconcerting when groups use their interpretations of the Bible to rationalize their
hate. The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas can list many places in the Bible that
they believe express homosexuality as a sin. Though seemingly convincing, each passage they
quote can be argued differently by people such as Reverend Samuel Kader and Daniel Helminiak,
who have written entire books exploring alternative interpretations of those same scriptures
quoted by the WBC. The WBC and many others contest that Leviticus passages such as “Thou
shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” is clearly referring
to homosexuals. In his book, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Helminiak
devotes an entire chapter to Leviticus, explaining other possible ideologies of the same passage.
He bases his studies on context clues, language translations, and the actual definitions of
the words in the period of time in which the Bible was written. He argues that phrases such
as “lie with mankind” and “it is an abomination” do not have the same
meaning as the words have for us today.18 It is his opinion that the whole passage describes
a religious taboo dealing with un-cleanliness.19 He also mentions that the punishment for homosexual
activity in the Bible was death, as was the punishment for cursing one’s parents; I suppose
Fred Phelps has never cursed his parents.20 Women also play a part in Helminiak’s argument,
as there is no mention of lying with womankind as with mankind. Those that agree that the Bible
is against homosexuality would respond by saying that women were not important enough to mention,
but Helminiak believes that this is not true, as women are mentioned in many other places in
the Bible. He feels women are not mentioned because the act of abomination, the unclean act,
is penetration, something women cannot do to one another, and is not at all relating to sex
or relationships.21 If used in the most literal sense without any insight into the time and
place that it was written, the Bible would find us all to be sinners for a number of reasons.
Whose version of the intended meaning of these scriptures can we believe? Is it ethical for
people to use ambiguous writings that still, hundreds of years later cannot be defined or proven
to mean one thing or another as the basis for their hateful actions?
Another interesting bit of irony exists concerning the individuals involved in these groups.
There are people of all different races and cultures heading these religions, but I find it
inconceivable that an African American man in the United States today, Reverend Marshall Griffith
for example, could base his faith on such ignorant stereotypes about other groups of people.
It was not all that long ago that the majority of this country thought of black people as biologically
inferior to white people. Many people believed black people were unintelligent, uncivilized,
and sub-human. I cannot fathom that someone who had to face, and probably still has to face,
oppression in this country would force the same consequence on another minority group. Not
only minority individuals lead these groups, but sometimes-gay people themselves. A lot can
be said for the sociological pressure to be “normal” that exists today. Sociologists
label the second stage of the gay identity as dissociation, in which homosexuals go
through a period of denial marked by making jokes and discriminatory remarks towards other
gay people.22 Some people do this in an attempt to hide their homosexuality; others just to
make sure they are not thought of as gay, even if they are not. Some leaders of these religious
hate groups take this concept too far by acting out their hate. There have been leaders such
as Dr. Reverend Mel White, who after years of anti-gay rhetoric “came out” as gay,
and admits it was his own fear and homophobia that pushed him to behave the way he did.23
It is hard for some people to find problems with religions that preach this way because of
their own biases, biases they may not even know they have. I would ask those people to imagine
an extreme they hadn’t considered. I would have them imagine a religion based on the
deliberate condemnation of people with, for example, high-pitched voices. A person of any gender,
age, religion, race, or nationality can have a high-pitched voice, and although it is sometimes
argued, there is nothing they can do about it, it is just how they were born. People can try
to lower their tone as they speak, making an effort to conceal their true voice, in case there
is someone who hates those with high-pitched voices present. There would be conversion centers
that maintain that voice is not genetic, and attempt to lower these people’s tone of
voice. They would have to hang out in special establishments to meet other people that have
high-pitched voices, and to be able to be themselves; they would get stared at in regular bars
and restaurants for giving “normal” people headaches. They would find or form their
own churches that accept people like them, and have support groups to help them deal with being
different from everyone else, even though you wouldn’t always know a high-pitched from
a “normal” person if you were sitting next to them. They would see web sites and
books bashing high-pitched peoples, and experience difficulty getting certain jobs or adopting
children. After all, high-pitched parents would only abuse or confuse a child with such a voice.
In addition to the challenge of every day life, on occasion a hateful religious organization
may picket in front of their church and hold up signs stating “God Hates Squealers” and “You
Hurt God’s Ears.” The hate groups may go on television and blame them for terrorist
attacks and natural disasters, stating that God allowed the events in order to punish the high-pitched.
They will quote scriptures to justify their views. Isa 40.4, ‘Every valley shall be lifted
up, and every mountain and hill be made low’ can be used to express God’s wishes
to make lower the voices of all the sinners that speak in such high tones.24 Isa 37.23, ‘Against
whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted your eyes?’ can be used to remind
people that each time they use their high-pitched voice it is like arrogantly lifting their
eyes in disrespect to God.25 What is it that makes this idea more ridiculous than the ideas
of the groups I’ve been discussing?
Just as people abuse the meaning of “freedom of speech” to defend the hateful
words they preach, people use “religion” to defend and explain the rationale of
their hate groups. This is not at all an unanticipated result, as our country cannot find a
way to standardize how much hate is too much, without taking away people’s fundamental
First Amendment rights. Almost anything can be done “religiously.” In a sense this
just means something that is done habitually, consistently or in a devoted manner. In Funk & Wagnalls
Dictionary, religion is defined as an organized system of beliefs, rites, and celebrations
centered on a supernatural being power.26 I find astounding the manner in which people can
demoralize the meaning of the word, and turn religion into an organized system of hateful beliefs
and actions centered on a perverted interpretation of the opinions of a supernatural being,
personally unknown to the creators of these religions.
- Nicole Radzievich, “Metropolitan’s Lesbian Pastor Preaches Tolerance,”
The Morning Call, 6 October 2002, sec. A.
- Andrew Phillips, “The City of God Mystery,” Maclean’s 14, no.
110 (1997): 34.
- Stefanie Richards, “Now Acts,” National NOW Times 1 no. 34 (2002):
- Thomas J. Young, “Violent Hate Groups in Rural America,” International
Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 34 (1990): 15-21.
- “News,” Christian Century 24, no. 116 (1999): 842.
- Brian Siano, “Watching on the Rhine,” review
of Denying the Holocaust,
by Deborah Lipstadt, Skeptic 2, no. 4 (1994): 72-75.
- “Far Right,” Advocate
867 (2002): 17.
- Randy D. Fisher, and Ida J. Cook, “Correlates of Support for Censorship
of Sexual, Sexually Violent, and Violent Media,” Journal of Sex Research 3,
no. 31 (1994): 229.
- Tracey Gonzalez, and Phyllis L. Mandell, School Library Journal 4, no. 47 (2001):
- “HRC Expresses Deep Concern Over West Hollywood Charges,” 4 October 2002, <http://www.hrc.org/newsreleases/2002/0210041ahatecrimes.asp> (4
- “Hate and Bias Crimes,” June 2001 <http://www.ojp.gov/ovc/assist/nvaa2001/
chapter22_1.html> (10 October 2002).
- “Far Right,” 17.
- Eli Sanders, “Anti-gay Protest Inspires Pledge Drive,” The Seattle Times,
8 June 2001.
- Radzievich, sec. A.
- Cal Thomas, “Was God Behind the Terrorist Attacks?” Human Events 35,
no. 57 (2001): 14.
- Daniel A. Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
(New Mexico: Alamo Square Press, 2000), 29-30.
- Helminiak, 61-62.
- Helminiak, 52.
- Helminiak, 59.
- Alex Thio, Deviant Behavior (Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon, 2001),
- “The Gay Ghost,” Newsweek 4, no. 122 (1993): 4.
- Isaiah. 40.4 Revised
- Isaiah 37.23 Revised Standard Version.
- Funk & Waganalls Standard Desk Dictionary,
1986 ed., s.v. “religion.”