Religious bigots rarely see themselves as such. Often those that use their religion to oppress or discriminate will see themselves as the real victims when they are prevented from exerting their will over others. Time and again we see examples of this, like Kim Davis, who refused to perform her job as a county clerk when ordered to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, and who then claimed that she was being persecuted for her beliefs. By claiming victimhood, she was able to garner support from like-minded zealots, and engaged in a legal battle that has caused real harm to LGBTQ people who are trying to have access to public services like every other citizen.
We, as the oppressed parties, can easily see that these decisions and actions are harmful, and even that they are rooted in a hatred of the Other, but often the perpetrators themselves do not see it that way. Since often they are well-meaning, kind people who do not feel an active, burning hatred in their hearts, the effects that their philosophies have on others are invisible to them. These people, in my opinion, do more harm than their in-your-face counterparts, because they are able to keep perpetuating a form of inequality in a way that does not set off alarm bells for those who are not directly involved with the groups being oppressed. It’s the gentrification of hatred: nicely packaged, even as it is spiritually deficient. When those who are oppressed finally do sound an alarm, we are often dismissed as being “biased” or “sensitive” (or, more recently, deemed “snowflakes”), rather than having our concerns heard. It’s a pattern that has been repeated as long as there has been a struggle for liberation of any oppressed group.
Recently actress and activist Ellen Page called out actor Chris Pratt after he appeared on The Late Show With Steven Colbert, where he spoke about his spirituality. Pratt attends the Zoe Church, which is part of the Hillsong mega-church group, an organization that has made anti-LGBTQ statements. As recently as 2011 they referred openly gay members to conversion therapy, a harmful practice that has been widely condemned by mental health organizations around the world, including the American Psychiatric Association and World Psychiatric Association. The W.P.A. described the practice as lacking any scientific credibility, and further labeled it as “unethical.” The church has since distanced itself from that view, but they have failed to do the same for their other anti-LGBTQ statements.
If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organization that hates a certain group of people, don’t be surprised if someone simply wonders why it’s not addressed. Being anti LGBTQ is wrong, there aren’t two sides. The damage it causes is severe. Full stop. Sending love to all
— Ellen Page (@EllenPage) February 9, 2019
Pratt has countered that his church does not discriminate but neglected to offer any counter to church policies which bar LGBTQ people from leadership positions, or to the various anti-LGBTQ comments made by the church’s pastor and founder, Brian Houston. In an August 2015 blog post (ostensibly titled, “Do I Love Gay People?”) Houston states:
“Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.”
That same month, Houston referenced their choir director, who at that time had recently come out as gay and as a result was no longer involved in active church leadership. In 2017, Houston went further to ask congregants to vote against a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. Houston sees no conflict with his outward stance of accepting gay people in his congregation (so long as they do not speak openly about their lives and experiences) and his policy stance of barring LGBTQ people from leadership positions. To quote the openly gay pop-band Erasure: “Who Needs Love Like That?”
Some gay ex-members of Hillsong Church have also spoken about the environment they encountered while attending Hillsong, some even asserting that the church does not see them as human beings. For Pratt, a presumably heterosexual male, the effects of an exclusive philosophy based on sexual orientation would not be personally debilitating, and this might render their effects largely invisible. This makes it much easier to be able to dismiss the real harm involved with supporting an organization such as Hillsong, even if their other work is considered to be positive.
In fact, the more positive the organization’s other work, the more difficult it becomes for members to see and address the real harm that their words and policies enact upon an already struggling minority. Pratt is probably not himself homophobic. But it doesn’t matter if he is or is not, because he still endorses a homophobic institution. His response in an Instagram story makes clear how little thought he gave to the subject. By neglecting to address the core issues and merely serving as a mouthpiece for the philosophies of his church, Pratt has failed in what could have been a golden opportunity to talk openly and genuinely about inclusiveness, acceptance, and love in a way that could be heard by a wider audience. Instead he gave us a classic case of “since it doesn’t affect me personally, so it’s obviously not happening.”
Often, the religious argument is that we are all free to believe what we wish, which on the surface would appear to be the correct stance. All Americans are protected by the first amendment and are free to express ourselves without fear that the government will censure us. Often these arguments get framed in terms of “opinions,” as if the idea that somehow LGBTQ people are less deserving (or even less holy) than any other group is somehow synonymous with “I prefer chocolate to vanilla.” This is an ignorant and offensive mindset that directly contributes to violence and inequality against LGBTQ persons, as well as increased rates of depression and suicide among queer people. This is not an “opinion” – this is a spiritual cancer.
The cognitive dissonance necessary to “love the sinner but hate the sin” is an insidious and corrupting mindset that only serves to undermine compassion and equality. It is harmful to say that one accepts gay people as they are, but then demand they not act on those feelings and desires. This is spiritual bullying, plain and simple.
Religions everywhere must begin to ask themselves why they feel justified in discriminating against any group, not just LGBTQ people. If a religion discriminates against any group of people, then that religion is a toxic one – full stop. For any religious institution to adopt a similar stance places them in direct opposition to the values of compassion and equality, which need to be the backbone of any legitimate spiritual pursuit. This I cannot stress enough. Not all religions are created equal, and some deserve to be chucked onto the trash-bin of history if they refuse to evolve from their base teachings and ignorant natures.
We may all be free to believe as we choose, but we can’t be surprised if we get called out on it when our beliefs are at odds with science, medicine, and social justice. There are no “sides” to the argument of equality. Either one believes that all people should be treated fairly, or they don’t. And if they don’t, they are on the wrong side of history. There is no nuance or debate to be had; one doesn’t get to portray a segment of society as being “less deserving” than any other and then expect to hide behind religious beliefs when those people object.
I believe it was completely appropriate for Page to call out Pratt, even if his personal stances are inclusive and kind. By supporting an organization that has actively worked to promote the idea of inequality he has given his voice and celebrity toward their cause. He doesn’t get to have it both ways.
While we certainly see many more examples of this with Christian and Muslim churches, Paganism is not exempt from bigotry. Some Pagan organizations have likewise espoused views that seek to undermine the equality and dignity of queer persons, and like their Christian counterparts, they cry foul when they are called out on them. Some people have decided that it’s perfectly ethical to deny someone a place at the table because of their religion/race/gender/ability/other identity, and they simply twist their religious tenants to justify their lack of compassion.
This, more than anything, should teach us that the problem is not singularly focused on religion, but on ethics. We can’t allow our religions to be the only source that tells us what is right and what is wrong. We need to really think critically on this. Too often the religious excuses against a certain type of person or behavior are demonstrated to be little more than cultural xenophobia couched in pseudo-metaphysical gymnastics, the likes of which would sprain my chakras.
It is highly unethical, in my opinion, to allow any institution – religious or otherwise — to dictate fully how one should approach basic human dignity. Either we are all equal, or none of us are. We should no longer accept religion to be an excuse for harmful behavior. Chris Pratt might not feel the way his church does, and I respect that. But he is still a member of a multimillion-dollar organization the helps to spread insidious hate and bigotry against my people. He might be nice, but that’s not the same as good. Hopefully this moment will give him – and all of us — another opportunity to really look at social inequality and ask ourselves what we can do to effectively counter it.