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Right-Wing Religions of the World Unite to Oppress Women and Gays More Ruthlessly

Religions that were once infamous for their mutual hatred are joining forces in a bid to preserve their shrinking spheres of privilege.

Photo Credit: Benjamin F. Haith /


When you hear the word "interfaith," you might think of people from different religions working together to do charitable deeds: running a soup kitchen, for example, or collecting clothes for the poor. But there's a darker side to interfaith as well. Whatever good that religion does in the world has to be balanced against the harm it has caused in so many other ways: sanctioning slavery, sowing xenophobia and division, excusing inequality, propping up oppressive power structures of class, race and caste.

Over the past few years, a new kind of harm is becoming more common: even religions that have little or nothing in common theologically have been increasingly willing to cooperate for the continued oppression of those groups that have historically been the targets of their persecution: women, GLBT people and non-believers in particular.

One case in point is the Boy Scouts of America. As the rest of society moves slowly but steadily toward greater acceptance of gay people, the Boy Scouts remain stubbornly entrenched in prejudice, continuing to unconditionally bar them from positions of leadership in scout troops. They also enshrine the same discrimination against atheists, barring them from troop leadership and expelling atheist scouts. All this has occurred despite a very public outcry, including the loss of sweetheart deals they once enjoyed in many cities and a Tumblr devoted to Eagle Scouts handing in their medals in protest; and despite the fact that other scouting organizations, particularly the Girl Scouts, are fully inclusive and accepting of all people.

Why are the Boy Scouts so bent on bigotry? A recent news article gives the answer: because their three biggest sponsors are Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists. These three denominations have vast theological differences; it's safe to say they span the entire spectrum of Christianity, doctrinally speaking. But despite this, they're united in taking the hardest of hard lines against GLBT equality:

According to the latest BSA figures, the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints charters more than 37,000 Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops with a youth membership of more than 420,000, the highest figures of any denomination. Roman Catholic parishes charter about 8,500 units with about 283,000 members.

...Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who chairs the Scouts' religious relationships committee, said the no-gays policy is unlikely to change as long as it has the support of the churches most active in sponsoring Scout units.

Or consider this outrageous story that began last year: a lesbian family from Vermont split up when one of the women, Lisa Miller, converted to Christianity and claimed to have been "cured" of being gay. When a court ordered her to share custody of their daughter, she first moved to Virginia, where same-sex partnerships are illegal, and tried to get the Vermont court's order overturned. When that failed, she fled the country, illegally taking the girl with her to keep her away from her former partner. A federal jury recently convicted a Virginia pastor of aiding and abetting this parental kidnapping.

And again, right-wing Christians from different sects came together to aid her at every step of the way. Before fleeing the country, Lisa Miller got legal help from Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, whose members are fundamentalist Baptists. Meanwhile, the convicted minister Kenneth Miller and his fellow believers at home and abroad are from an Amish sect, the Beachy Amish Mennonites.

In the national political arena, another case in point is the ongoing religious-right lawsuit against President Obama's healthcare reform, specifically against the requirement that employer health plans offer no-copay coverage of contraception. Almost as soon as this rule was announced, a coalition of Catholic organizations filed a lawsuit against it, arguing in effect that their religious beliefs give them the right to impose barriers on their employees' access to healthcare. Surprisingly, a variety of evangelical institutions expressed their support for the lawsuit, even though they, unlike the Catholic church, have no formal doctrinal opposition to contraception. One evangelical college, Wheaton College, went so far as to formally join the lawsuit before being embarrassed to realize that its  insurance already covered the emergency contraception it claimed to be against.

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