Jackson Doughart
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P.E.I. churches share responsibility for homophobia

The Charlottetown Guardian, 18 November 2010

The bishop for the Diocese of Charlottetown, Richard Grecco, responded to a recent homophobic attack in Prince Edward Island in an interview with The Guardian on Friday, Nov. 5. The incident involved a gay couple from the community of Little Pond whose house was set on fire during the night of Oct. 18. In the months leading up to the arson, the couple says that it was subjected to a series of disturbing events, including an anonymous letter condemning the sexual orientation of the men as sinful.

In the article, Grecco was quick to announce his support for the victims of the attack, but was even quicker to absolve religion of any responsibility for the incident. According to the story, Grecco said his church preaches love for everyone, even [for] those with whom it disagrees.

In mentioning that his church accepts those who disagree with it, one can presume that Bishop Grecco maintains that the Catholic Church’s position against homosexuality is correct but that the church is not responsible for homophobia because it does not officially sponsor homophobic violence or hate speech.

What Bishop Grecco purports is actually quite false. In reality, religion is indeed responsible for homophobia because churches have great power to influence the opinions and actions of those who subscribe to their teachings. Church doctrines are the most important parts of morality for devoutly religious people and as such, religious contempt for homosexuality can manifest itself as hatred toward gay people. Even though Bishop Grecco’s priests may not discuss homosexuality in their sermons, Catholics know that the larger institution is against homosexuality and that this position is supported by the Bible.

In the arson case, it appears that those responsible were religiously motivated because of the language used in the anonymous letter received by the victims, which specifically addressed the sinfulness of homosexuality. Sin is a uniquely clerical concept and the religious connotation in the letter is clear. To suggest that religious opinions against homosexuality had no connection to the committing of this crime is not taking responsibility in any adult sense.

Christians often offer a casuistic solution to the problem of conflict between traditional religious intolerance of gay people and the modern cosmopolitan view on the matter. They say that they love the sinner but hate the sin. In relation to homosexuality, this is a spectacularly contradictory position. Sexuality is an inseparable part from a person and thus to attack a gay person for being gay is a personal assault. The victims of this crime were not attacked for what they do but rather for whom they are.

Supposedly loving the sinner but hating the sin allows religion to both have its cake and eat it too. When homophobic violence occurs, these churches can say that they support the victims because they accept them as individuals. Yet when gay rights issues are being discussed, religion is there at every possible opportunity to stall the pursuit of gay people to have themselves and their relationships deemed as valid and as productive parts of society. This hypocrisy simply will not do; churches cannot have it both ways. If religious leaders really want to be taken seriously when they reach out to the victims of such attacks, they must change their attitude toward same-sex relationships.

A religion or ideology simply cannot preach against a group of people for centuries but claim to be innocent when such preaching leads to violence against that group. Instead of seeking to shift the blame away from religion, Bishop Grecco should apologize for the effects that Christian teachings have had on gay people and acknowledge that these teachings share responsibility for homophobia.

Many moderate Christians may interpret this message as a direct attack on the foundations of their faith, but it is not intended as such. Rather, its goal is to highlight the hypocrisy of churches that try to wear two hats at the same time when it comes to gay rights. Gay people are getting tired of being told that Christians care about them when these same people appear to be road blocks in their goal of equal treatment. Such moderate Christians have real power to help bring about change if they will commit to confronting homophobic sentiments in their churches. The bottom line is that these attacks need to stop, but they will never stop unless religious institutions that disagree with homosexuality take responsibility for their role in inciting homophobic violence and commit to facilitating a change in societal views about gay people.

One day, the Pope will apologize for the disturbing treatment of gay people by the Catholic Church in the same way that previous pontiffs have had to apologize for several of the Church’s other moral mishaps, including the marginalization of women, the forced conversion of indigenous peoples and its silence during Hitler’s final solution. When this apology is finally given, Bishop Grecco or his successors will have no choice but to let go of this inhumane and irrational prejudice. Until then, the Catholic Church and other churches that share its stance on homosexuality will always be a bane to gay people and should be condemned for being so.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com