Last spring, I wrote about a young woman named Dannika Nash who quoted the Macklemore song “Same Love” in some frank advice to the institutional church on behalf of millennials.
She warned that if the church forced her generation to choose between it and their support of LGBT rights, it was going to be disappointed in the outcome. Her message supports what research shows is shared by many in her generation—30% of whom do not claim any faith affiliation at all.
Her message implied that, for millennials, music and other aspects of their culture fulfill a social-consciousness need that religion does not.
Recently, I heard a song in my truck that caught my attention. Its chorus started out with the phrase, “Take me to church,” and at first listen, I thought of a buddy of mine who might get a chuckle out of it. But more than that, it was a surprise to hear this unfamiliar subject matter in popular music.
It wasn’t until I got home and read more about the song that I understood its topic to be no laughing matter. Having only half-heard the words while driving, I discovered upon closer examination that the 24-year-old Irish musician Andrew Hozier-Byrne (known simply as Hozier) is not asking to be brought to a religious institution, at least not the ones he knows.
Describing his experience as “Every Sunday’s getting more bleak / A fresh poison each week” Hozier, like Ms. Nash, is eschewing life in the pews for a “religious experience” of another kind—in his case a lover.
What caught my attention even further was the subject matter of the song’s video. It depicts—in brutal honesty—the abduction of a gay couple in Russia by a vigilante gang. The connection to the lyrics was not immediately clear, but if you know a little background on what’s going on there, it starts to make sense.
For about last 12 years, anti-gay sentiment in Russia has been ramping up.
Attempts to hold pride marches in Russian cities have been met with political opposition and/or violent protests. The country’s Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders have all spoken out against the observances, with the Grand Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin encouraging flogging for the participants in the Moscow Pride of 2006.
“I always stand by the song and the point that the video made, so it’s never a chore,” Hozier, a straight ally, told the London Evening Standard. “The song is about loving somebody, and the video is about people who would undermine what it is to love somebody.”
Journalist Jeff Sharlet, whose books C Street and The Family document the degree of control a cadre of evangelical Christians have over Washington, traveled to Russia this fall in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics and painted a stark picture of gay life in the country. He describes the growing hostility towards gay people as part of a larger social unraveling:
Russian civilians, encouraged by their government and religious institutions, have taken matters into their own hands.
“There’s a national network called Occupy Pedophilia, whose members torture gay men and post hugely popular videos of their ‘interrogations’ online. There are countless smaller, bristling movements, with names [such as] God’s Will [and] Homophobic Wolf. There are babushkas who throw stones, and priests who bless the stones, and police who arrest their victims,” Sharlet writes.
In the article, Sharlet describes shoot-ups in bars, rapes, beatings, and even computer surveillance of private citizens. Readers learn the measures to which people will go to survive, and the lengths others will go to tear apart the lives of complete strangers in pursuit of some dystopia fever-dream.
In 2013, the Duma passed an “anti-propaganda law” making it illegal to communicate about “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. Of course what constitutes “propaganda” can be broadly interpreted to suit the occasion, and one could be punished for doing anything something as simple as holding hands anywhere “where children might see.”
Meanwhile, victims of vigilante violence are laughed at or punished if they seek help from law enforcement.
If this rationale of “protecting the children” sounds familiar, it is because it is the same mantra used to justify anti-gay laws in Africa, with some of the same American evangelical voices taking at least partial credit. Voices like Scott Lively, who is currently the target of a federal lawsuit under the Alien Tort Act for crimes against humanity, due to his involvement in getting Uganda’s “Jail the Gays Bill” passed.
Most American clergy, not unaware of shifting public opinion, are more nuanced in their positions on LGBT issues, sometimes head-scratchingly so.
Televangelist Joel Osteen told Larry King “I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I don’t want to preach about it.” Jim Wallis of Sojourners drafted a letter to Barack Obama in favor of a “religious exemption” to the President’s recently-signed executive order on discrimination by companies holding federal contracts. Even a number of the large, venue-based churches like Hillsong NYC, attempt to avoid the topic altogether.
But we can’t not talk about it.
So long as crises as large and terrifying as the one unfolding in Russia continue to happen and there are places in our own “civilized” country where people think belonging to a church makes it okay for you to be a bully and want that enshrined in the law, we must speak out.
For those of us who believe there is a place for everyone at God’s table, the recent string of domestic victories should not be mistaken as a sign that we’re anywhere near done doing justice work. Nor can we rest on our laurels while we know that hurtful things are being done in God’s name anywhere in the world.
The one thing our Savior didn’t abide well is hypocrisy, and the millennial generation of today is reminding us of that by voting with their feet. Perhaps if they saw our churches witnessing to the pain being inflicted in the name of religion and how this conflicts with the Gospel we know, they’d be more inclined to stick around.
Photo via flickr user wfuv