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Religion Last Updated: Oct 9th, 2008 - 13:55:57

Distorting research, promoting hate, repeating history: business as usual for the American Family Association
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 9, 2008, 00:12

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Don Wildmon and his American Family Association are notorious for their anti-gay rhetoric and efforts to hurt, in any and every way possible, the families of gay and lesbian Americans.

On any given day, a significant number -- if not a majority -- of articles featured on the AFA website are negative portrayals of or outright attacks on gay people. These articles are the product of OneNewsNow, AFA�s propaganda organ grotesquely masquerading as a �news� outlet: �News from a Christian Perspective.�

On 20 September, OneNewsNow featured an article, titled �Study: Homosexual lifestyle strongly linked to depression, suicide�:

A new study in the United Kingdom has revealed that homosexuals are about 50% more likely to suffer from depression and engage in substance abuse than the rest of the population . . .

These findings strongly support the results of similar studies conducted in the United States, which have unveiled the severe physical and psychological health risks associated with homosexual behavior. . . .

True to those good �Christian� values Wildmon says he defends, OneNewsNow distorted and misrepresented the research, as Dr. Michael King, University College London�s Professor of Primary Care Psychiatry and the lead author of the study, pointed out when he denounced the OneNewsNow article:

�LifeSite News and OneNewsNow have misinterpreted our review,� [Professor King] said.

�Evidence from around the world identifies the main stressors leading to mental distress in gay and lesbian people as discrimination, prejudice, bullying in schools and colleges, and the consequent need for many LGB people to keep their homosexual identity secret, even from their families. . . .

�Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is even more devastating than other forms of discrimination such as racism, as it reaches right into families and leaves no refuge for its victims. . . .

�There is now abundant evidence that homosexuality is not itself a mental disorder and that it is compatible with a healthy lifestyle.

�We shall only begin to see a reduction in mental distress and deliberate self harm in LGB people when all sectors of society welcome them as equal and valuable citizens.�

Welcoming gays as equals is something Don Wildmon could never do. He thrives on -- and makes his living by -- fostering hate and discrimination.

Of course OneNewsNow conveniently ignored a contemporary study done by Dr. Simon Rosser, researcher and professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. His study was also published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. And what did Dr. Rosser�s study find?

. . . internalized homonegativity, not being homosexual, predicted poorer mental health (particularly increased depression) and worse sexual health. . . .

�This study is a missing link in our understanding of the relationship between sexuality and health,� [Rosser] said. �It provides new evidence that negative attitudes towards homosexuality, not homosexuality itself, are associated with both poorer mental and sexual health outcomes seen in sexual minorities. Conversely, positive attitudes towards homosexuality are associated with better mental and sexual health.�

or more than 150 years, scholars and educators have debated whether homosexuality is an objective disorder or whether societal prejudice, not homosexuality, leads to the elevated rates of depression, drug use, and HIV/STD epidemics seen in studies of gay men, Rosser said. This study tested both theories.

�Given the debates in many religious denominations about homosexuality, and in society about homosexuals and civil rights, it�s also timely,� Rosser said. �In particular, the old advice to gay men to fight, deny, or minimize their homosexuality likely only increases depression, greater isolation, and poorer sexual health. In short, viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not only inaccurate, it may be harmful as well.�

What �researcher� and what �study� did OneNewsNow cite to support the �unveiled the severe physical and psychological health risks associated with homosexual behavior�?

Drs. Paul and Kirk Cameron of the Family Research Institute revealed in 2007 that research shows that the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual. As a health threat, even smoking pales in comparison, as studies show smoking can shorten one�s life by only 1 to 7 years on average. [link added]

Paul Cameron is a discredited �psychologist� who was expelled from the American Psychological Association and condemned by the Nebraska Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. He has advocated facial tattoos for AIDS victims and the castration, deportation to a former leper colony, and even the extermination of homosexuals:

At the 1985 Conservative Political Action Conference, Cameron announced to the attendees, �Unless we get medically lucky, in three or four years, one of the options discussed will be the extermination of homosexuals.� According to an interview with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Cameron was recommending the extermination option as early as 1983. --Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995

But for Wildmon and the AFA -- as well as other �Christian� leaders and their organizations such as Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, James Dobson and Focus on the Family, and �Lucky Louie� Sheldon and the Traditional Values Coalition -- Cameron�s rants and raves constitute legitimate research.

OneNewsNow did, momentarily, acknowledge truth -- �the Health 24 article suggested that homosexuals may be pushed to substance abuse and suicide because of anti-homosexual cultural and family pressures� -- but in the same sentence offered more preposterous propaganda: �Homosexuals in the United States . . . die on average in their early 50�s.� More Cameron-isms. More distortions meant to misinform the sheeple.

Demean gays. Make them feel sub-human. Make them social outcasts. And convince others to join in the campaign. Those are the prime directives and modi operandi of the �Christian� Right.

As both the University of Minnesota and U.K. studies found, anti-gay rhetoric like that spewed daily by Wildmon�s American Family Association, James Dobson�s Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins� Family Research Council, Louis P. Sheldon�s Traditional Values Coalition, and Peter LaBarbera�s Americans for Truth has a devastating effect on people�s -- especially young people�s (�Homophobic bullying is killing gay kids�) -- self-image. Rev. Wildmon and the others know the effects of their anti-gay rhetoric, yet they continue unabated and uncaring. The word that comes to mind is �Schadenfreude.�

Freedom of speech is one thing. Abusing it -- and hiding behind religion to intentionally hurt others -- is another. Lisa Rayner said it best in her letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Sun:

Fundamentalist pastors threaten mental health
Sunday, September 14, 2008

I am concerned about the mental health of vulnerable young people who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The ongoing discussions in the Daily Sun about the proposed human rights ordinance that would include protections in employment, public accommodations, housing and education for GLBT people has brought out what I consider to be a very ugly clash between some fundamentalist religious beliefs and GLBT people. Twice in two weeks, a local Christian pastor has written letters which claim that �unrepentant homosexuals . . . will not inherit the kingdom of God� (i.e. gay people will go to Hell) and quotes from Leviticus saying that gays �shall surely be put to death.� Beyond obvious questions such as, �Does this pastor believe that gays deserve the death penalty?� are other equally troubling concerns.

I am a board member of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- Flagstaff. GLBT teenagers whose families attend fundamentalist Christian churches in Flagstaff, and sometimes their parents, come to PFLAG Flagstaff seeking help with coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. These teenagers tell us that attending these churches leads to depression, suicidal feelings and fear that their parents might evict them from their home if their sexual orientation or gender identity were to become known.

Pastors of fundamentalist churches have a First Amendment right to preach whatever they believe. However, I also believe that pastors and members of such congregations bear some responsibility for the suffering of GLBT youth in their care.

�Some responsibility?� How about A LOT?

Wildmon�s and the AFA�s pathological obsession with gays was underscored yet again in their recently issued �Voter Guide� for the 2008 presidential election. With the economy in the toilet and the ongoing fiascos in Afghanistan and Iraq, one would have thought these issues would top AFA�s Voter Guide, but nope. The first issue listed is �Homosexuality,� followed by �Sanctity of Life.� The third and last heading is �Other Key Issues.� It included (in the order listed in the Guide): �Private Handgun Ownership,� �Allowing Parents to Exercise School Choice,� �Immigration Reform and Border Security,� �Government Control of Health care,� and �Reducing U.S. Dependency on Foreign Oil.�

Why would Wildmon and the other leaders of the Christian Right see persecuting gays -- and �persecuting� is exactly the right word -- as the number one social and political necessity?

They claim they�re just being faithful to the biblical Judeo-Christian beliefs. But those Judeo-Christian beliefs also include Leviticus 24:10 (�Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him�), Leviticus 20:14 that sanctions burning sinners to death, and Leviticus 24:11-16 that calls for a community gathering in order to stone to death those who plant two different crops in the same field or wear garments made of two different kinds of threads. And then there�s St. Paul�s New Testament edict in First Timothy: suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.� Clearly, Wildmon et al have a cafeteria approach to the Bible: we can use that, but that won�t work, and we�ll just ignore that. The claim that they�re just being faithful to their Judeo-Christian beliefs is self-serving lie.

So why are Wildmon and the rest of the leaders of the Christian Right so obsessed with gays? The answers may be painfully simple.

Religion is predicated upon an US vs. THEM mentality that requires someone or some group to condemn and rail against. Gays fit the bill, and given that �sexuality� is involved -- Western religions are also predicated upon a pathological attitude toward human sexuality -- gays make the perfect target for self-serving moral outrage.

But religion is just the means to real ends: money and power. Wildmon et al �earn� their living by fueling the fires of bigotry and hate in the name of religion. As Bill Berkowitz pointed out in his April 19, 2007 article, �Still cranky After All These Years,�

According to AFA�s 2005 IRS 990 (its tax return), founder Donald E. Wildmon received about $110,000 with benefits, plus over $30,000 in expense account and other allowances -- including a housing allowance of over $31,000. AFA president Tim Wildmon got about $100,000, and the organization�s secretary, Forrest Daniels, received slightly more than $80,000.

The organization gives �scholarships� to any full time employee at �any accredited college or university,� which added up to about $54,000 in scholarships. As the blog Kevin�s Space
pointed out on March 30 [2007], �the kids of these people get their university education paid for, with funds that are donated, supposed to fight for the family. But it is clear the people who benefit are the Wildmon family.�

One can only assume Mr. Wildmon�s salary and perks have increased substantially since 2005, as have the assets of AFA. In his July 21, 2008 article, �Gay Marriage to End �Culture Wars�?,� Mr. Berkowitz noted that the American Family Associationhas an annual budget exceeding $15 million and net assets of more than $30 million; it feeds programming to nearly 200 radio stations, [and] employs about 100 at its home-base� in Tupelo, Mississippi. Apparently selective Bible-thumping to promote bigotry is a lucrative business.

Live large by promoting bigotry and hate. That�s the Wildmon Way. For Wildmon and the rest of the leaders of the Christian Right religion is a business that has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with getting and maintaining their financial, social and political power. That�s abundantly clear, as is the fact that the history of Christianity is riddled with those like Wildmon who perverted and used religion for their own self-serving purposes, which leads to the next logical question.

Given what history should have taught, and given Wildmon�s obvious deception, distortion, and dishonesty, why do so many people buy into and support his business, as well as those run by Dobson, Sheldon, Perkins, and LaBarbera?

Answers might be found in the distinction between religion and spirituality, and the blurring of that distinction fostered and exploited by leaders of the Christian Right.

Spirituality is inherently human, a quiet intrapersonal dialogue toward self-evolution, enlightenment, and peace. When spirituality is institutionalized, it becomes religion: loud, corporate, dogmatic, hierarchical, and hell bent on social control by any means necessary. The word itself confirms the anti-spiritual nature of religion:

Religion n, [ME religioun, fr. AF religium, L religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perh. Fr. religare to restrain, tie back] 1a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of ~> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural, (2): a commitment or devotion to religious faith and observance. 2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 3 archaic: scrupulous conformity.

Religare to restrain, tie back.� Spirituality is a call to evolve, move forward. Wildmon�s version of religion -- �scrupulous conformity� -- is a commodity sold to and bought by those who, for whatever reasons, would rather not think for themselves, need to hate, and fancy themselves warriors for �God.� Randall Terry identified and spoke directly to that flock of sheeple when he exhorted them �to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good . . . Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country.�

The rhetoric coming from leaders of the Christian Right and the �Christian nation� they want to establish bear a striking resemblance to what was heard and happening in Germany in the 1930s.

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