City “We Are the Watchmen on the Walls”
posted by October 20 at 9:07 AMon
I drove up to the opening of the Watchmen on the Walls convention in Lynnwood last night. I’ll be writing more about it for next week’s Stranger, but for now, here’s part of a statement that co-founder Scott Lively read to the group in response to all the media attention:
We are the Watchmen on the Walls.
We are a global coalition of men and women of every race, color and nationality who believe in the superiority of the natural family and marriage between one man and one woman.
We are against cohabitation, divorce, abortion, adultery and other behaviors that weaken the marriage-based society on which civilization depends. But we are especially focused against homosexuality, because those who practice this self-destructive vice, and have organized themselves into a political movement, are the chief enemies of the natural family.
We do not promote or condone violence.
We do not apologize for opposing homosexuality because it is morally, physically, psychologically and socially wrong, unnatural and harmful. This is self-evident to the vast majority of the citizens of the world, whom we represent.
Notice how the statement against violence is sandwiched between statements describing homosexuals as “enemies of the natural family” and as people who are “morally, physically, psychologically and socially wrong, unnatural and harmful.”
This reminded me of something I noticed when writing about a gay-bashing that occurred in Seattle in 2004. In that attack three young Russian-speaking evangelicals from Bellingham assautled a gay man near Capitol Hill on gay pride weekend, taunting him, kicking him, and stabbing him with a broken vodka bottle. They were later convicted of a hate crime. I spent a long time exploring how the messages these three young men received from their community and church had affected their behavior.
For my story, God Was With Them, I talked to a Russian-community religious leader in Bellingham:
Walter Ilyan, a respected religious leader in Bellingham’s Russian and Ukrainian community… [told me] that their community believes in a literal reading of the Bible: “The church says God destroyed Sodom because of them.” Could a person taught this in church then come to think it was fine, even God’s will, to harm gay people? “No,” says Ilyan, because the same Bible “tells us to love our enemies and to preach the gospel.”
This idea, commonly expressed as hating the sin and loving (as a means of hopefully converting) the sinner, was echoed by the member of Slavic Baptist who asked not to be named: “It’s in the Bible, and it says they beat gays or lesbians or something with rocks. But it also says somewhere that we’re not supposed to take matters into our own hands.”
The line between intolerance and incitement is approached, but not overtly crossed.
“According to the Bible,” Ilyan told me, “[being gay is] an abomination—That person is going to be damned forever.”
“But,” he added, “we teach our children no fighting.”
I also talked to Thomas Olmstead, the evangelical lawyer who represented the young men during their trial in King County Superior Court:
One day during the trial, I pulled Olmstead aside after court and asked whether his client’s religion had anything to do with the attack. With all three defendants choosing not to testify, their beliefs weren’t getting much airtime in court. Olmstead told me he’d never talked to Samusenko about that, which seemed hard to believe. We kept talking about Evangelicals, homosexuality, and the Bible, and at one point Olmstead took my notepad and began drawing a bell curve to demonstrate to me that gay people aren’t normal. It wasn’t much of a point; everyone knows that gay people are not, statistically speaking, normal.
But I sensed an opportunity. I suggested to Olmstead that we let the bell curve instead represent all Evangelicals who, like him, believe that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin. Given that Evangelicals are such a large group, I wondered, isn’t it inevitable that a certain percentage of them, however small, will focus more on hating the sin than on loving the sinner, and will find themselves inclined toward violence against homosexuals?
He conceded that yes, this was probably inevitable.
I asked whether that might not then be a cause for reevaluating parts of the Evangelical belief system.
“No,” he said. “Not at all. The belief system is fine.”
This morning the Everett Herald notes that even Scott Lively, the Watchmen co-founder who sandwiched that anti-violence message into his statement last night, has apparently had trouble restraining himself from violence:
A court in 1991 ordered Lively to pay $20,000 to a lesbian photojournalist he was accused of dragging by the hair through the halls of a Portland church, according to the [Southern Poverty Law Center].
Later this morning Redmond Pastor Ken Hutcherson addresses the group. I’ll be there to hear what he says.