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Religion Gone Bad

Far from the more tolerant and pluralistic metro areas of California, the northstate area of "West Valley" Happy Valley retains an often hard core version of faith and family values. Like Harper Valley PTA, there is a mood of moralism than risks verging on hatred for anything new, or different, or sometimes merely vulnerable.

Religion Gone Bad:

by Mel White

The hidden dangers of the Christian right

The Murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder

Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder
Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder

Mel White's new book Religion Gone Bad

On July 1, 1999, Matthew and Tyler Williams broke into the Happy Valley home of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder, a well known and much loved northern California couple. See memorial. The Williams brothers tortured and killed these two innocent men for one reason and one reason alone: they were gay. The men's nude bodies were found the next day riddled with bullets. Investigators determined that the Williams brothers had stood on chairs at the end of the bed and "blasted away at the gay men."i

When Sally Williams asked her son, Matthew, why he had killed "the two homos," his answer was recorded by prison officials: "I had to obey God's law rather than man's law. I didn't want to do this. I felt I was supposed to ... I have followed a higher law ... I see a lot of parallels between this and a lot of other incidents in the Old Testament ... They threw our Savior in jail ... Our forefathers have been in prison a lot. Prophets ... Christ ... My brother and I are incarcerated for our work in cleansing a sick society ... I just plan to defend myself from the Scriptures."ii

On Sunday morning, November 17, 2002, while still awaiting trial, Matthew Williams, who once vowed to become "a Christian martyr," wedged himself between the toilet and the far wall of his cell, slashed open his femoral arteries, his arms and his neck with a razor and bled to death. On March 3, 2003, Tyler Williams pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder. Facing a life in prison, Tyler apologized to the families and friends of the gay couple he had murdered. "I have repented to the Lamb of God for attempting to take His place of leadership in dealing with the world's evils and in not patiently waiting for His timing."iii

Compared to the horror of Matthew Shepherd's execution felt by millions around the world, few people even noticed the life and death of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder let alone the suicide of Matthew Williams or Tyler William's sentence to life in prison. And yet this untold story of four wasted lives is just one more smoking gun found at the scene of another crime caused directly by fundamentalist Christian leaders whose obsessive anti-homosexual campaign leads to tragic consequences they will not admit. [See Matthew Shepherd page.]

Go back a few paragraphs and re-read the words Matthew Williams used to defend his heinous crime. This Bible-based fear and loathing of homosexuals was shaped in William's mind -- just as it is being shaped in the minds of tens of millions of Americans -- by the anti-homosexual teachings of the radio and television fundavangelists, the Southern Baptists, Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints (Mormons), fundamentalist leaders in every Protestant denomination and priests, bishops, and cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, especially Benedict XVI, whose antigay obsession has led to the current inquisition against innocent gay priests and seminarians. To young Williams, if homosexuals are such a "threat to the family, to the church and to the nation," it only seemed natural to eliminate that threat.

At his trial, Williams made the connection between the fundamentalist Christian teachers and preachers who had influenced his life to the murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder. "You obey a government of man until there is a conflict," he explained. "Then you obey a higher law. So many people claim to be Christians," Williams added, "They complain about all these things their religion says are a sin, but they're not willing to do anything about it. They don't have the guts."iv

How long will it take for gay-bashing fundamentalists, Protestant and Catholic alike, to realize that their anti-homosexual campaign leads directly to suffering and death? At the trial of the men who killed his brother, Mark Matson, who holds a doctorate in New Testament studies and teaches at a Christian college, admitted to a reporter that "Gary saw the danger of the religious right." Apparently, it was the one thing the two brothers disagreed on. "It is ironic to me," Dr. Matson admits, "that his reaction was correct. For him Christianity or at least a perverse segment of it was dangerous."v

It took the torture and murder of his brother for Mark Matson to realize that "a perverse segment" of Christianity is dangerous. What will it take for the rest of us to realize that fundamentalist Christianity, that "perverse segment" of the Christian church, is a threat -- not just to lesbian and gay Americans but to all Americans who refuse to support their so called "absolute values" or join them in making this "a Christian nation"?

Fundamentalism, like a mutating virus, infects and sickens Christianity -- especially evangelical Christianity -- on a regular basis and the plague that follows infects and sickens the nation as well. Contaminated evangelical preachers and famous evangelical "personalities" are particularly contagious, especially those with powerful media ministries. Professional clergy and committed lay leaders who have also been infected by fundamentalism seem helpless in recognizing the symptoms let alone in treating the disease.

Curing those who exhibit signs of the virus, stopping the plague and preventing its immediate reoccurrence will not be easy. Whether or not the 'body of Christ' -- let alone our American democracy -- survives this illness, develops at least a temporary immunity, and grows strong and healthy again is a decision every one of us must make...on a daily basis. We can watch in silence as fundamentalist Christianity reshapes church and state in their own idolatrous image or we can choose to resist guided by the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance. I hope I can persuade you in Religion Gone Bad that we must resist before the fundamentalists do what they have promised, turn the world's oldest democracy into a theocracy ruled entirely by "righteous men."

I also hope I can persuade you that the struggle for "gay rights" is the next stage in the broader struggle for civil rights in this country. Consciously or unconsciously, fundamentalist Christians are using their anti-homosexual campaign to test how much intolerance the American people will tolerate. The intolerance must end. By working to achieve liberty and justice for gay and lesbian Americans, we are actually working to achieve liberty and justice for all Americans. This is the time to rediscover our own progressive moral values, reclaim the spiritual high ground, and resist those who demean and dehumanize any of God's children. This is not just a struggle to win civil rights for gay Americans. It is a struggle against fundamentalist Christianity (to use their words) "for the heart and soul of the nation." It is a struggle we dare not lose. (See The More You Know).

A Biblically based plea for tolerance and LOVE

Cyril Connolly writes :
There is no hate without fear. Hate is crystallized fear,.... We hate what we fear and so where hate is, fear is lurking.... Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it.

Rudyard Kipling:
Many religious people are deeply suspicious. They seem -- for purely religious purposes of course -- to know more about iniquity than the Unregenerate. [Whited Sepulchres?]

Sir Thomas Browne (the scholarly physician of Queen Elizabeth's time):
They that endeavor to abolish vice destroy also virtue; for contraries, though they destroy one another, are yet the life of one another.

Somerset Maugham wrote:
My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.

James Baldwin makes the point that our moral high-mindedness comes at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. "People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster." [Stranger in the Village]

Theodore H. White:
To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see everyday, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform. (More about the art of self-disclosure - Sid Jourard)

Aleister Crowley:
Part of the public horror of sexual irregularity so-called is due to the fact that everyone knows himself essentially guilty.

Republicans grapple with private sex
lives before glare of hostile media

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