Saturday, August 04, 2007

Something that is not there

Many American Christians, especially Evangelical Protestants, but also other sects, seem to believe that the basic articles of faith of Christianity are capitalism, conservatism, Nascar, country music, and hatred of abortion, liberalism, and homosexuality. The last element of that creed seems to have been successfully exported to Iraq.
In the first panel of Iraq religious minorities ever assembled by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last week, the Rev. Canon Andrew White – vicar of the 1,300-member St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad – shared about the struggles of the depleting Iraqi Christian population and the effects of being associated with a "Western religion."

During the question and answer session, White spoke about Western culture and values and their detrimental effects on Iraqi Christians.

"Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the Christians are targeted because they are seen as belonging to a Western religious tradition," said White, who noted that in actuality Christianity originated in the Middle East.

"It is seen as an immoral tradition. It is seen as a tradition that does not uphold values. It is seen as a tradition that does not uphold the respect for the kind of issues that the Islamic religion holds as very significant to them," said the Anglican priest who has worked in Iraq for over a decade.

White said that the previous day he had received an email from some of the Christians in Baghdad asking him if it was true that the Church in America supported homosexuality.

"You see, what may happen here in fairly a benign way is seen there as particularly offensive," said the Baghdad church head.

"These positions often held by Western Christians are not held by Iraqi Christians," emphasized White. "They are very, very different. My people say the Creed and they believe it...."

Hatred of homosexuals is not part of the Nicene Creed as recited by Iraqi Anglicans, nor is support of gay rights part of the creed as recited by American Christians of any sect. Gay rights, one way or the other, are not part of the fundamental, historically based articles of faith of any Christian sect (except that of Fred Phelps, who is arguably not really a Christian, American, or human). Many mainstream Christians look at the message of social justice taught by Jesus and mean tolerance and fellowship with gays. Others look at a few verses of Levitical law and Pauline letters and believe that, since Jesus didn't specifically include gays in his message, that they must still be condemned under ancient nomadic laws. To choose which to believe, most Christians look to their own cultural norms and decide that the sacred texts support the position that they were inclined to take in the first place. Muslims, Jews, and others are no different.

Vicar White, in blaming the tolerant welcome of gays by some American Anglican congregations for violence against Iraqi Christians, is, at the same time, telling a broad social truth and engaging in the worst sort of scape-goating.

The truth that he tells is that of other people's prejudice. His Muslim neighbors see the West as a Christian society. As the local representative of Christianity, they see his congregation as the outpost of all that they dislike about the West. They were already disposed to make this equation long before Hollywood, miniskirts, or Stonewall. If these social trends did not exist, his Muslim neighbors would blame him for Western imperialism, capitalism, and trans-fats. In fact, they already do blame him for these things. As long as they equate Christianity with the West, they will blame him for anything that they dislike about the West. This is basic bully psychology: pass the pain downhill. Western power and culture make local elites feel helpless, so they exorcise that helplessness by exercising their power over someone less powerful than themselves. The fact that the local Christians bare some conceptual similarity to their tormentors, makes them that more attractive as victims.

Vicar White's crime is in supporting that equation. In pointing to American gays and the Christian congregations who embrace them, he passes the blame for his pain down the food chain to someone still more helpless. He is embracing his tormentor's frustration and violence and legitimizing it. Of course, this article only quotes a few paragraphs of Vicar White's words. I don't know if the message I'm condemning is really his or if it one attributed to him by the author and editor of the article. But, whether or not it was his intention, Vicar White's words are being used in the American culture wars to oppress a powerless and despised minority. The message of the article is that American gays must stay in their disadvantaged place; to claim their rights is to hurt others.

This is a contemptible message. I don't know if it was Vicar White's intention to pass on that message or if he is being used by American culture warriors. My feeling is that identifying the source of the evil isn't as important as stopping the spread of the evil. Blaming supporters of GBLT rights in America for violence in Iraq is vile and opportunistic. No one who believes in the virtues of peace, egalitarianism, and tolerance should give Vicar White's argument more than a moment's consideration. American values, Christian, secular, or otherwise, promote better than that.

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