The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends … is the source of all religious fanaticism.
— Reinhold Niebuhr
When we talk about human rights and fundamentalism, we must always talk about sex and gender. These are uncomfortable topics within most religious gatherings and particularly those where fundamentalist beliefs prevail.
We find it difficult to deal with sex and sexuality—an cultural inheritance and a burden left with us by the institutional church where women were and continue to be subjugated, where once they were nothing more than property, in fact where their worth was so small that fathers would give their daughters over to rapists rather than violate the ancient custom of hospitality.
We must be willing to set aside our discomfort in order to ensure that human rights legitimately anchor the laws, policies and programs to which we subscribe as a democracy and through which we influence the development and direction of other nations.
-Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director of Soulforce
Once considered exclusively a matter of religious belief and behavior, use of the term “fundamentalism” has recently expanded to include other areas of influence and absolutist ideological expression. In the United States we notice this inflation most in the areas of politics and media where people feel empowered to promote stigma and discrimination justified by their interpretation of the Bible or other Holy Books and what they believe to be G_d’s intent for humankind.
Soulforce founder, Rev. Mel White, author of Stranger at the Gate & Holy Terror (Religion Gone Bad), recognized that the “root” of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was religious fundamentalism and he spent more than 20 years in the practice of non-violent resistance to the organizations that practiced spiritual violence against the gay community.
Over time, Soulforce helped draw the links between the Christian Right and its deliberate promotion of white supremacy, power and privilege which attend fundamentalism . Soulforce has investigated, reported and publicly challenged those key influencers who promote sexism, heterosexism, mysoginy, homophobia, AIDSphobia, transphobia, racism and a host of other destructive and stigmatizing “isms” that haunt us and prevent us from achieving a safe and just world for all people.
For the purpose of our discussion, the term “heteropatriarchy” is helpful to understand. It is the building block of empires and, in fact, the nation-state form of governance. Christian Right authors make these links in their analysis of imperialism and empire. For example, Christian Right activist and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries Charles Colson makes the connection between homosexuality and the nation-state in his analysis of the war on terror, stating that one of the causes of terrorism is same-sex marriage. He says:
Marriage is the traditional building block of society, intended to unite couples and bring children into the world…there is a natural moral order for the family…(led) by a married mother and father…the best available structure for both child-rearing and cultural health…if we fail to enact (retain) a Federal Marriage Amendment, we can expect not just more family breakdowns, but more criminals behind bars and more chaos in our streets. When radical Islamists see American women abusing Muslim men as they did in the Abu Ghraib prison and when they see news coverage of same sex people being married…they see a blot on Allah’s creation. We must preserve traditional marriage in order to protect the United States from those who would use our depravity to destroy us. Societal Suicide Christianity Today 48 No.6 June 2004: 72
In the work of Soulforce in Africa and Asia, we have seen the clear and deliberate influence of this type of thinking by the Christian Right. In order to colonize peoples whose societies are not based on social hieracrchy, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. In Uganda, the “Kill the Gays” bill proposal is an excellent example(Link to Scott Lively Law Suit)
Soulforce volunteers have stood in vigil and often been arrested at Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters. Dobson’s extraordinary reach through broadcasting is very problematic for gender and sexual minorities in the United States and in other nations.
Dobson and his colleagues do not really defend family, marriage or the Bible. They defend male privilege and power. Dobson says, “God designed man to be the aggressor, provider and leader in his family. Somehow that is tied to his sex drive.” The late Rev. Jerry Falwell said, “In the Christian home the father is responsible to exercise spiritual control and to be the head over his wife and children—in the Christian home, the woman is to be submissive—homosexuality is Satan’s diabolical attack upon the family, God’s order in Creation.
Glenn Stanton, director of social research at Focus on the Family warned that if gay and lesbian people were allowed to marry, it would ratify the transformation of marriage that has been going on over the past thirty years, as people have developed more egalitarian ides of their roles in the marriage relationships”
Another form of spiritual violence is the characterization of gay people—Dobson and his colleagues compare people who are homosexual to prostitutes, pedophiles, adulterers and people who prefer to have sex with animals. They claim it is not possible for a homosexual to be a totally healthy person and that promiscuity is the defining feature of male homosexuality. None of these claims are supported by objective research.
What is at stake is our deep discomfort with sex and sexuality. Sex is too titillating and sexuality too confusing or unpleasant to think about given our enculturation about biology, conception and “appropriate” intercourse.
We learn from our dominant culture that people come in two biological sexes, male and female and that this biology naturally corresponds with two genders, man and woman. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are stigmatized and oppressed because they violate social standards for acceptable sex behavior; transsexuals because they violate standards for sexual identity; intersexuals are punished for violating social standards of acceptable sex anatomy.
But our oppressions stem from the same source: rigid cultural definitions of sex categories, whether in terms of behavior, identity of anatomy (Feinberg, 1993, 98).
Whereever we find this oppression, we go to work in a variety of ways:
- Symposiums (link)
- Appointing delegates and sending them into the field to teach
- Equality Ride
- Denominational vigils and actions
- Heresy trials
- Resource Development
- Public Debates
- Public Statements
- Leadership Training
We have evolved as an organization that focused on key influencers within the fundamentalist Christian community and their negative impact on LGBT people by excluding them from the rites of marriage and ordination and full fellowship within the church. Today we speak to a broad range of issues that arise out of fundamentalism and its attendants white supremacy, power & privilege and racism. We speak of human rights more than “gay rights” because they are one in the same.
Soulforce is a signatory on The Hague Civil Society Call to Action on Human Rights and ICPD Beyond 2014:
All Different, All Human, All Equal. The Call to Action is cited in part:
We call on governments to address the root causes of structural inequalities related to sexuality and reproduction, which contribute to the marginalization of diverse groups of people. These inequalities are deeply rooted in inequitable gender hierarchies and patriarchal notions of the need to control women’s and girls’ bodies and sexualities….We call on governments to take all needed steps to eliminate inequality, stigma, discrimination and violence perpetuated against individuals on the basis of perceived sexuality, sexual orientation, health status, gender, ability, gender identity and gender expression, and to realise the full range of human rights through: repealing or revising discriminatory laws; ensuring their access to legal documentation reflecting their gender identity and to the SRH services they need; and implementing public education programmes that challenge inequitable sexuality and gender norms and promote gender equality, respect for diversity and human rights. We call on governments to take immediate steps to end the criminalization and other punitive regulation of consensual sexual activities, reproduction, and gender expression which violate individuals’ human rights and lead to negative health and development outcomes.
Governments must address the socio-economic and cultural barriers that undermine or restrict sexual and reproductive rights. This involves reviewing and reforming macroeconomic policies that perpetuate inequality, inequity and human rights violations and restrict availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of SRH services, and removing economic barriers that prevent people, particularly marginalized groups, from accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Governments must address the central challenge of girls’ and women’s poverty and lack of access to quality services and other resources such as education, along with unequal and discriminatory power dynamics that perpetuate gender stereotypes and norms, and sexual and gender-based violence.
National, regional and international human rights mechanisms need to be strengthened to ensure accountability. We call on governments, donors and agencies to assess accountability gaps and to address them through effective planning, adequate resources, and regular monitoring, evaluation, review and oversight with full and effective participation by women’s and young people’s organizations as well as the organizations of all those whose sexual and reproductive health and rights are most at risk.