The signs of defeat for opponents of LGBT people are everywhere. Marriage equality is the most obvious, but corporate America, the entertainment industry and even mainstream religions have all accepted lesbian and gay people as part of the nation’s fabric. (Whether the acceptance goes far enough is another question. It still doesn’t for transgender people.)
The number of people who think homosexuality is abnormal is dwindling, as society rapidly moves toward acceptance. Even evangelicals are moving away from the red-meat homophobia that characterized the Christian right of the 1980s and 1990s.
But there will always be a hard-core few whose beliefs lead them to oppose LGBT rights as a hideous violation of God’s law. In the face of defeat, how are they likely to respond?
According to a report from Political Research Associates (PRA), those folks might turn to violence.
“Some Christian Right activists have lost hope that a Christian Nation can be achieved in the United States through the formal political process—including a high-level GOP operative,” the report argues. “They are calling for martyrs and thinking about religious war.”
Sound far-fetched? Just a few weeks ago, a couple in Las Vegas shot and killed two police officers, draping one cop’s body with the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag adopted by Tea Partiers. (While the couple, Amanda and Jerad Miller, apparently had ties to the white supremacy movement, there’s nothing to connect them to the Tea Party.) “The revolution has started,” Jerad Miller declared at the start of the killing spree.
The religious right has always been prone to extreme language because it feel it’s engaged in a struggle between God and Satan. But the rhetoric has taken an increasingly apocalyptic turn as Americans’ values have changed. And that rhetoric has the potential to fuel people with a tenacious hold on reality.
Take as an example the writings of David Lane. Lane is an influential GOP operative. He was one of the masterminds behind Rick Perry’s prayer rally in 2011 and has been courted by presidential hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz. But, according to the PRA report, Lane increasingly despairs that his version of Christianity will succeed in today’s political system. As a result, his rhetoric has taken a distinctly violent turn.
Last year, Lane posted a piece titled “Wage War to Restore a Christian Nation” on the far-right World Net Daily website. Even for WND, known for its crackpot conspiracy theories, the essay must have gone too far, because it quickly disappeared, but not before it was captured for posterity. What Lane wrote is a call to battle for Christians — literally.
“Where are the champions of Christ to save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage, homosexual scouts, 60 million babies done to death by abortion and red ink as far as the eye can see on America?” Lane complained. “Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”
You could argue that Lane was speaking metaphorically about political battle, except that he also quoted another Christian right extremist, Peter Leithart: “Churches must repent of our Americanism and begin to cultivate martyrs — believers who are martyrs in the original sense of ‘witness’ and in the later sense of men and women ready to follow the Lamb all the way to an imperial cross.”
It’s hard to interpret that language as being simply metaphoric. Leithart is talking about physical martyrdom. And Lane doesn’t shy away from talking about violent means. In a radio interview after his essay was yanked, he said that “car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Des Moines, Iowa” would be appropriate punishment for abortion and for “homosexuals praying at the Inauguration [of President Obama’s second term].”
There is a long, sad history of violent religious extremists. Eric Rudolph, the Christian extremist best known for the 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta also bombed a lesbian bar. Frazier Glenn Miller, who is accused of killing three people outside of Jewish community centers in Kansas City last spring, is not just anti-Semitic but also homophobic.
Moreover, the language that even less extreme religious right figures has violent implications. Christian leaders are casting themselves as modern-day abolitionists. Ralph Reed compared the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA to the Dred Scott decision, that ruled slaves were not U.S. citizens. It’s a ruling that played a major role in sparking the Civil War, which claimed the lives of roughly two percent of the U.S. population.
Let’s be clear. The vast majority of conservative Christians will never resort to violence, no matter how loathsome they find us. But when the air is filled with hatred from antigay preachers at the local level and the Bryan Fischers of the world on radio, the odds that it will fertile ground in a disturbed mind increase. So even as we celebrate our victories, there’s reason to be wary. Those who still do hate us might find violence the logical reaction to a lost cause.