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A supporter wrote to us asking about religious groups and homophobia. The most well known case of a religious hate group is the Westboro Baptist Church in the United States, described as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America” according to the South Poverty Law Center, a well respect US human rights organisation. Examples of statements from this church include:

  • “Filthy sodomites crave legitimacy as dogs eating their own vomit & sows wallowing in their own feces crave unconditional love.” — Westboro Baptist Church news release, Jan. 15, 1998
  • “JEWS KILLED JESUS! Yes, the Jews killed the Lord Jesus…Now they’re carrying water for the fags; that’s what they do best: sin in God’s face every day, with unprecedented and disproportionate amounts of sodomy, fornication, adultery, abortion and idolatry! God hates these dark-hearted rebellious disobedient Jews.” — Westboro Baptist Church news release, April 23, 2009

One could also point to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the way it’s justice system often sentences people to death for being gay, or forces young gay people to gender reassignment surgery to “cure” them.

Our supporter’s question, however, was not about the clear cases of hate and extreme violence against the LGBTI community. It was instead about religious groups in general and why Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups are not automatically declared to be hate groups given what is said about homosexuality in their religious scripture. Our supporter writes, “their books are extreme, they say to kill gays. 99.999999% of their followers don’t kill gays, and the followers aren’t taught to kill gays, but they are taught gays are wicked, they are taught to not mix with them and to discriminate against them.”

Let’s look at the Jewish community as an example. The peak body representing the Jewish Community in Victoria, which synagogues affiliate with, is the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV). If you visit the website you will see a rainbow heart with the slogan “no hate”.

The JCCV has a standing LGBTI reference group which in 2013 recommended the JCCV sign up to the “No to Homophobia Campaign”. On the recommendation of the group the JCCV did soIn 2015 the JCCV ran the JCCV LGBTI Community Engagement Symposium with over 80 people attending. The attendees included “Jews of diverse sexual orientation and gender diversity, as well as their families, health and educational professionals, Jewish LGBTI community organisations and representatives from Synagogues and youth groups”. There was also a unanimous vote of the JCCV Plenum (made up of delegates from each synagogue and Jewish organisation) to admit Keshet, a Jewish LGBTI group, as a member. In 2016, the JCCV released an LGBTI service directory, “a guide to local Jewish LGBTI and related services”. 10 days ago, in response to the mass killing at the Pulse night club, many faith based groups, including the JCCV, joined together to issue a Multifaith Statement Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Our supporter’s comment that “they are taught gays are wicked, they are taught to not mix with them and to discriminate against them” clearly does not appear to hold true for the peak body representing the Jewish Community in Victoria. Instead what we see is a faith based community standing up against homophobia. That doesn’t mean there is no homophobia within religious communities, there will be just as there will be racism, bigotry and every other form of discrimination. Faith based communities are after all just segments of the general community and these problems exist in the general community as well. The question is, at an organisational level what are faith based communities doing? They may be:

  • Advocating homophobia, like the Westboro Baptist Church, in which case they are promoting hate.
  • Silent on the issue, which is no different to the general population. You can advocate for your own religious community to do more to tackle homophobia. There is plenty of evidence that homophobia contributes to significant harm to individuals including a far higher suicide rate.
  • Active in combating homophobia, as we see with the JCCV. Within any faith based group there will also be some mainstream organisations which are more LGBTI friendly than others, you may choose to support these more LGBTI friendly organisations over others as a way of encouraging positive action against homophobia.

There is a valid point about scared texts in different religions including passages which would be regarded as hate speech if published today in other contexts. The LGBTI community is not the only group attacked in this way in various scripture. Most scared texts include passages about violence against a wide range of groups and, if taken literally, advocate gendered roles which society no longer supports. The issue is that being a scared text the principle of freedom of religion means you can’t order the text to be changed or ban the religion.

What society can do is insist religions don’t act on those passages. That is, in most cases, unnecessary as people within those faiths have already taken such steps through interpretation or simply ignoring those passages. In extreme cases countries can pass laws against practices found in scripture. The law of the land always takes precedence and we can, through the law, prevent extremist versions of religion within our borders. People of faith in Australia, however, generally do stand up to support Australian values and oppose extremism. We see that regularly within the Muslim community for example.

Religious groups are not perfect, but for the most part they are no worse than society in general. In some cases they are better, with religious communities providing a supportive environment and being a driver for positive change in society at large. To attack religious groups is therefore just another form of isolation and attack against a segment of the community. In the case of non-dominant religions e.g. non-Christian religions in Australia, this in not just an attack on a segment of the community, it becomes an attack on a minority. That’s no better than attacks on the LGBTI community. As always the problem is with generalization. If you wish to speak about a particularly group or individual who is clearly spreading hate, by all means do so, but don’t tar others of that faith, or the whole faith community, with the same brush.

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