Life With God on Their Side
posted by January 27 at 12:46 PMon
Today the Seattle Times has a front-page story about how local anti-gay crusader Ken Hutcherson has found a new ally in Russian-speaking Evangelicals from the former Soviet Union.
Janet I. Tu begins the story with this scene:
On a recent Sunday morning, at a strip mall in Kent, a few hundred people gathered to worship, rocking out to a band playing contemporary worship songs and cheering on the fiery pastor — all in Russian.
This might seem an unlikely place for Ken Hutcherson — Redmond’s Antioch Bible Church senior pastor, who is known for outspoken views against homosexuality — to look for allies in his effort to overturn a state law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But then Pastor Andrey Shapovalov asked the children to come forward. Bless them, he said. “Pray that none of them become homosexuals or lesbians or have abortions or live a life of crime.”
Of course, drilling homophobia into young people’s heads can help set them up for committing crimes later in life, as I pointed out in this Stranger story about a gay-bashing conducted in 2004, in Seattle, on Gay Pride weekend, by three Russian-speaking Evangelicals from Bellingham.
The gay-bashers attended churches that preached against homosexuality, and were later convicted of assault and a hate crime for beating and stabbing former Seattle resident Micah Painter. Why did they attack Painter? Because, as a female companion who was with the attackers that night told police, Painter looked gay and being gay is “against our religion.”
This incident, which was covered by the Times, is curiously absent from Tu’s report on Russian-speaking Evangelicals teaming up with Ken Hutcherson to fight gay rights. The Times wrote about the gay bashing, it wrote about the trial of the attackers, it editorialized that “the best defense against hate crimes is a strong offense,” and after my story came out, it picked up on what I identified as the central irony in the case: That a group of Evangelical Christians who had themselves fled religious persecution in the former Soviet Union were now using their newfound religious freedom to persecute gay Americans.
As the Times wrote in 2005:
[The attackers] came to the United States from Russia, in part, to escape persecution. So it was ironic, a King County Superior Court judge said yesterday, that they were awaiting sentencing for persecuting someone else.
Why is it so important that this three-year-old incident, and the ironies involved, be included in a story about Russian-speaking Evangelicals now teaming up with Ken Hutcherson?
Because, as is often said, and as my colleague Josh Feit said recently in another context, root causes are important. Preaching homophobia as religion can be a root cause of anti-gay violence, and in fact, here in Seattle, we had, in 2004, a gay bashing whose roots traced directly back to the homophobia preached in Russian-speaking Evangelical churches. That’s worth noting in a story about Ken Hutcherson now stoking the anti-gay passions in these churches as part of a campaign to repeal the state’s new gay civil rights law.
But while we’re on the subject of root causes, here’s something else that jumped out at me from Janet I. Tu’s story. The whole alliance between Russian-speaking Evangelicals and Ken Hutcherson traces back to an event organized by Josh Feit — a Stranger-sponsored debate between Hutcherson and King County Executive Ron Sims.
The unusual alliance began last spring, after a debate on gay rights between Hutcherson and King County Executive Ron Sims. A local man saw it and approached Hutcherson to arrange a meeting with his uncle, an evangelical pastor in Latvia who heads a network of churches in 14 countries, including the U.S.
At the time of the Hutcherson-Sims debate, some people were uneasy about the event for exactly this reason.