This essay began as a reply to a Facebook posts from members of the LGBT community. After I read Donald Trump’s latest speech (rant), however, I felt compelled to update and expand it. Warning – it contains political statements and may upset some people.
First, let’s be clear about what happened in Orlando. It is absolutely clear, both from his actions and his words, that when Omar Mateen murdered over 50 people in Orlando’s Pulse club, his goal was to commit a hate crime against the LGBT community. He hated homosexuals; he was shocked and repulsed by them. Seeing two men kissing was enough to “justify” killing dozens of innocent people.
Despite that simple reality, a number of people, including Presidential candidate Donald Trump, are trying to “recast” Mateen’s horrific crime as Islamic extremism. Mateen was indeed a Muslim, but the type of blind hatred he espoused is by no means a uniquely Islamic phenomenon. This is why his crime is clearly a hate crime.
Am I – as Donald Trump shouts about various critics – afraid to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”? No. Unlike Mr. Trump, I have seen radical Islamic terrorism in action. I have personally been on the receiving end violence sponsored by radical Islamic extremists. Perhaps that experience helps me to see more clearly that extremist Islamic terrorism had nothing to do with what happened in Orlando and that “banning Muslims,” as Mr. Trump has once again advocated, will do nothing to address the horrible loss of life in Orlando – or to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
The deranged individual who carried out the murderous rampage was clearly motivated by personal hate of people he had never met but whose very existence offended him. It is true that he was a Muslim, but he could have just as easily drawn his inspiration from any number of prominent “Christian” leaders from the extremists of America’s religious right. If you doubt the truth of my assertion, just ask Pastor Kevin Swanson of the National Religious Liberties Council, who has publicly called for the execution of all homosexuals. Of course, the “Reverend” Swanson is just one individual, so you may want to reach out to others, such as the tens of thousands of members of his group or its prominent political supporters. For example, you could ask former GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal, all of whom appeared at Swanson’s annual hate fest even after the “Christian” pastor reiterated his public call for the extermination of homosexuals. If it weren’t for the fact that we know Mateen was a Muslim, it would be understandable to think that perhaps he was inspired by Swanson or by Tennessee Pastor Robert Gallaty, who preached earlier this year that all homosexuals must either remain celibate or be put to death. Listening to the legion of anti-LGBT fundamentalist “Christians” advocating violence against the LGBT community, it would be easy to confuse Omar Mateen for a “Christian” warrior in much the same way that Robert Lewis Dear was inspired by “Christian” leaders to murder a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
If you think that Swanson, Gallaty and their ilk are an isolated group with little real impact, maybe you should also ask Scott Lively from the Family Life Network, TheCall Ministry founder Lou Engle, or World Congress of Families leader Larry Jenkins – all “Christian” ministers who have dumped millions of dollars and political influence into encouraging other countries to enact hate-based “Christian” laws that target the LGBT community. Uganda and Russia are among their “success” stories. In Uganda, a vaguely-worded law now defines homosexuality as a capital offense.
In Russia, the LGBT community is suffering more repression than at any time since Stalin – or perhaps even before that. Putin’s views on the LGBT community almost seem inspired by the type of hate-fueled logic spewed by Florida Pastor Jeffrey Smith, who says that homosexuals are the same as murders and rapists and therefore deserve the same treatment. There is, in fact, an entire constellation of “religious conservatives” in the USA who regularly praise Mr. Putin for his “Christian” laws that prohibit “pro-gay speech.” That group includes prominent right-wing religious extremists with all-American names such as the American Family Association and even well-established “Christian” political pundits such as Pat Buchanan, a former Presidential candidate. Even mainstream conservatives, such as The American Conservative’s blogger Rod Dreher, chimed in by giving Putin “1.5 cheers” for his anti-LGBGT laws. Dreher based his own paean to Putin on his belief that “post-Soviet Russia, for all its grievous flaws, is […] more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”
The level, frequency and vehemence of the religious extremist members of the “American Taliban” (fundamentalist “Christian” leaders who believe that the USA should be strictly governed by a religious-based legal code of their personal choosing) leave no doubt that the atrocity in Orlando was not a “radical Islamic” crime but a hate crime based upon a sadly widespread and clearly multi-religious form of hate directed toward those who are perceived as “different.” After all, that is the original meaning of “queer.” If you really want to attribute the Orlando massacre to religion, then attribute it to extremist-inspired radical anti-LGBT hatred of all types – Christian, Muslim and other.
What makes Donald Trump’s statements in his speech today (the text can be found here) particularly despicable is that Trump is not a stupid man. I suspect that he understands what really happened in Orlando and why. He is, instead, an opportunist who saw the opportunity to score political points by misconstruing – and debasing the memory of – the tragedy in Orlando. The even sadder truth is that Trump was probably correct in his political calculus. Many of his supporters will likely whole-heartedly support his misrepresentation of the facts. Even those who don’t fall for this particular deception will, once again, forgive him for his “rhetorical excesses.” The saddest fact of all is that this type of successful political calculus leads us toward a future defined by more irrational hatred focused on those who are “different” – or “queer” to use the original meaning – because they follow a different religion. The one thing we don’t need in the wake of the most horrific hate crime in American history is yet more irrational hatred.
I don’t mean to say that all Christians are homophobes who promote hatred and violence against the LGBT community. I did not quote them in this essay, but there are many, many deeply devout, genuinely Christian leaders who are as outraged by this mindless violence as I am. A Roman Catholic Archbishop whom I had the pleasure of knowing a number of years ago comes to mind. When a gay pride rally was attacked by a mob of “Christian” extremists, the Archbishop opened up the cathedral and his own residence to provide sanctuary to marchers. He certainly was not gay or even particularly sympathetic to homosexuals, but he instinctively and philosophically understood exactly what Jesus would have him do. Thinking of the Archbishop and others, it seems to me that no true Christian could promote the type of bigoted hatred behind the Orlando massacre, which is why I put “Christian” in quotation marks when referring to the crowd of American-grown right-wing religious extremists I cited above. In my view, the “apostles of hate” (my term) are most definitely not Christians. If they have any precedent in the Christian Bible, it is in John’s “Book of Revelations,” where he warns of the coming of the anti-Christ and his legions of followers who will speak using the name of Christ even as they argue against everything Jesus taught.
What happened in Orlando was, first and foremost, a hate crime. If you want to call it terrorism, then is was anti-LGBT terrorism. To prevent future atrocities of this type, we cannot be lured in by the false political calculus – or the false “Christianity”- of political and religious extremism. Instead, we need to focus on the sickness that is anti-LGBT hatred, an insidious sickness spawned by those who harbor an irrational fear of people whom they perceive as different – whether it is due to their sexual or religious orientation. Tolerance, love and respect are the cures for this sickness, not more hatred.