Using Religion to Justify Discrimination: The Ungodly Work of Rev. Don Wildmon in America and Archbishop Peter Akinola in Nigeria

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by Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.

 Rev. Don Wildmon and his grotesquely misnamed American “Family” Association are once again attempting to demean and disenfranchise real-world families:

Many of you have written about the IKEA furniture commercial. Although IKEA is not a nationally known company, they are growing, with stores in most major U.S. cities. IKEA is a Sweden-based retail furniture company and they are trying to force their liberal worldview on Americans through television.

Their latest U.S.-aired commercial features a homosexual male couple and young female child on the floor, resting up against each other, as they lean on the front of their couch. The voiceover poses the question: “Why shouldn’t sofas come in flavors, just like families?”

This is just one of many pro-homosexual ads IKEA airs around the world.

Please let IKEA know that the promotion of homosexual couples as a “family” is offensive and undermines American values.

 


Blinded by his own bigotry and hate, Wildmon failed yet again to see reality and the obvious truth Ed Brayton pointed out in commenting on the IKEA attack.


But here’s the thing: they are a family, whether Donald Wildmon likes it or not. And there are several hundred thousand of families just like it in the United States, and millions more of them around the world. Do they magically stop being a family because a few bigots in Mississippi don’t like the way the parents in those families have sex? I’d like to see Wildmon sit across a table from the Lofton family and tell them they’re not a family.

Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau have adopted 5 at-risk children. Two of them were born HIV-positive. No one else would adopt any of these children and these two men took them in and gave them a loving home. This is the only family any of these children have ever known. And I’d like to see Wildmon look them in the eye and tell them that they’re not a real family because the parents’ sexual habits violate “American values.”

And this whole notion of “American values” is simply idiotic. There is no such thing as “American values”. I’m an American and I don’t consider Wildmon’s bigotry to be a “value” at all. And it's also clear that the American “family” Association is nothing of the sort.

Given his disdain for gay people, their children and families, no doubt Wildmon would applaud Nigeria’s move to make homosexuals non-entities:

(Lagos) Legislation that would strip gays and lesbians of all civil rights has passed its final hurdle and is set for a vote in Nigeria’s Parliament.

The bill started out as a ban on same-sex marriage and has been revised to make it a crime for more than two gay people to be in the same venue at the same time.

It prohibits LGBT social or civil rights groups from forming. It would be illegal to sell or rent property to same-sex couples, watch a gay film or video, visit an LGBT web site, or express same-sex love in a letter to one’s partner.

The legislation goes so far as to make it a criminal offense to impart information of HIV/AIDS to gays or for non-gays to meet with any group of gays for any purpose.

The penalty would be five years in prison with hard labor.


Wildmon claims his and the AFA’s socioeconomic and political anti-gay campaigns are based on Christian values. Archbishop Peter Akinola, the leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church and outspoken advocate of the country’s new legislative steps toward a “final solution” to the gay problem, also claims Christian values as his motive. Religious leaders like Wildmon and Akinola perfectly illustrate what Rev. John Shelby Spong meant when he said societies give “wide berth to obvious pathology when it is covered by religious language.”

Another cleric who finds God not in jaundiced dogma but in lived reality spoke out against Akinola and those who use religion to justify discrimination:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Friday [January 19, 2007] urged the African Anglican church to concentrate on the continent’s grim problems rather than on the row over gay clergy, and said persecuting gay people is akin to racism. …

“I am deeply disturbed that in the face of some of the most horrendous problems facing Africa, we concentrate on ‘what do I do in bed with whom’,” the South African Nobel Laureate Tutu told a news conference in Nairobi.

“For one to penalize someone for their sexual orientation is the same as penalizing someone for something they can do nothing about, like ethnicity or race. I cannot imagine persecuting a minority group which is already being persecuted.”


In the hands of fanatics, bigots, and those with ulterior motives or a self-serving political agenda, religious dogma does indeed become what Oxford professor Richard Dawkins called a prime contender for “the root of all evil.”

Evil: morally reprehensible, causing discomfort or repulsion, causing harm. Is there any more appropriate term for the anti-family efforts of Wildmon and his organizations? Is there any more appropriate term to describe Nigeria’s anti-human legislation?


The tale is an old one. Throughout history some of the most evil humans have used religion to justify their actions. “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord,” wrote Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf. Substitute “homosexuals” for “the Jew” and you have the theofascism advocated by Wildmon and Akinola.

People who pervert and use religion for their own evil purposes will probably always exist. But what is it about the dogma of organized religion that compels so many otherwise sane, humanistic people to abandon reason and common sense and embrace hate and discrimination at the bidding of “religious leaders”?

Several explanations come to mind, but perhaps the answer is simply that humanity has not yet evolved beyond the schadenfreude need to hate someone or some group. The dogma of organized religion not only fuels but also justifies that need.

Organized religion and the dogma its spawns are based on “us vs. them” thinking: believers vs. non-believers. Add to that the fact fanatical believers convince themselves that they – and they alone – know “God’s will” and crimes against humanity are sure to follow, ad majorem gloriam Dei. History is replete with examples of how religion in the hands evil men can corrupt governments and justify denying basic human and civil rights. From the Holy Inquisition, through the Third Reich to the Taliban and Nigeria’s supposedly secular parliament, the story remains the same:

October 29, 2004

Nigerian president supports antigay bishops, slams gays

Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo praised Africa’s Anglican bishops Wednesday for opposing same-sex unions and the appointment of gays as bishops, saying gay unions are contrary to the Bible. Last week a commission in London, set up by the head of the Anglican Church and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, issued a report condemning the blessing of same-sex marriages in Canada and the appointment of a gay bishop in the United States. But Peter Akinola, head of the Anglican Church in Nigeria and chairman of the African bishops’ conference, rejected the commission’s report because it also had disapproved of harsh criticism against homosexuality. “I wholeheartedly salute the wisdom, courage, and resilience of African bishops within the Anglican Communion for standing so firmly against attempts to undermine our faith and falsify God’s will and the word of God,” Obasanjo told African bishops meeting in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital.


The irony of course is that claiming to know “God’s will” defines blasphemy and is the ultimate expression of human arrogance. As Rev. Spong asked, “Can a human being escape the limits of our humanity to describe God? What makes us think God can fit into a human consciousness?”

The dogma of organized religions is, by definition, the antithesis of rational thought.

Dogma n, [L dogmat-, dogma, fr. Gk, from dokein to seem] 1a: something held as an established opinion; esp: a definite authoritative tenet. B: a code of such tenets <pedagogical ~>. C: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. 2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.


“From dokein to seem… established opinion… a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds... formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church” [italics added]. Dogma is the unsubstantiated opinion of someone or some group that must remain as is despite ever-changing social, cultural and political contexts. As one definition in the Oxford English Dictionary notes, dogma is “an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion” which uses itself as its source of authority. History is littered with the disastrous results of imposing static religious dogma on dynamic social and cultural matrices, from the Holy Inquisition to the Taliban and Wildmon’s version of “Christian values” that deny the reality and legitimacy of some people and their families.

Dogma-based “moral outrage” is useless without someone to direct it against. Victims are needed. Any minority will do, but some make better victims than others. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. made astute observations in one of his columns: “Marginalized minorities make convenient villains and scapegoats precisely because they are so easy to demonize and objectify. When ‘gay’ is just a concept, or ‘black’ only an abstract, it becomes easier to justify grotesque mistreatment.”

It wasn’t so long ago that “Christians” of the Wildmon-tradition were using the Bible, their self-serving dogma, and their version of “traditional values” to argue in support of slavery and, later, to attack suffragettes and argue against desegregation and interracial marriage.

As for Akinola, recall Archbishop Tutu’s words:

“For one to penalize someone for their sexual orientation is the same as penalizing someone for something they can do nothing about, like ethnicity or race. I cannot imagine persecuting a minority group which is already being persecuted.”


One has to question Akinola’s motives in advocating discrimination when the history of his own people is so scarred by it.

Rev. Wildmon seems more interested in promoting hate and bigotry for his own purposes than helping American families. Archbishop Akinola seems more concerned with solidifying and expanding his power within the Anglican Church than ministering to all “God’s children” or addressing the “horrendous problems facing Africa.”

Together they make a mockery of spirituality and Christianity as they feed into and exploit the dark side of the human condition for their own self-interests.

 

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