On Saturday May 14, 2005, about 100 people arrived outside Calvary Temple, an independent pentecostal church in downtown Winnipeg, to protest against a conference being held held in the church – about 400 people were expected – led by representatives of Focus on the Family. The newspaper story wasn’t clear on it, but it was a “Love Won Out” seminar. The conference animator was quoted as saying that Focus on the Family does not believe in trying to convert gays, accepts gays, but opposes gay marriage and wants to help gay people who want to walk away from the gay lifestyle. Which is not quite a denial of promoting the useless de-gay “therapies” that gay people have identified as harmful and repressive. The protesters wanted to expose what they see as the homophobic agenda of the socially conservative Christian churches, but they said they were defending freedom.
The protest was visible but peaceful, and the conference was private and peaceful. The protesters were against “homophobia” and in favour of same-sex marriage. The picture with the story showed a few of the protesters and heir hand-lettered signs, attacking Christianity (and Islam) for being repressive of sexual freedom in general and the sexual freedom of homosexuals. Staging protests outside churches and challenging right wing Christians to accept the rights of gays and lesbians is probably not useful way of changing right wing Christians. The protest was intended to shock – as the French saying has it, to épater le bourgeios. The act of shocking conventional values implies that the shocker is not only alienated from those values, but has superior values which must be taught by confrontation. The protesters were signalling that they have superior values.
There is an anti-religious sense to the idea of sexual liberation. The advocates of sexual liberation accuse Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and other practitioners of traditional religion of being intolerant and repressive. What is true is that some people disagree with other people’s moral, social, political and religious values. The rhetoric of modern liberalism is that liberal values are more enlightened, progressive, highly evolved. The modern radical is comfortably smug in accusing other people with different values of being comfortable, smug and conventional, which motivates the radical to challenge those values. The intellectual and emotional core of this kind of protest is the Romantic belief that religious beliefs repress people from finding their true sexually liberated selves while they are under the influence of a church. This protest was an act of aggression against Christians, to silence their dissenting views when they disagree with an ideology of secular liberation.
A United Church of Canada Minister (evidently a liberal member of a liberal protestant denomination) who was among the protesters – was quoted as saying “People have a right to their values and their viewpoints but when those values and viewpoints hurt other people, they need to be challenged.” She calls on a principle of social behaviour – no one can talk about other people’s social behaviour if the discussion hurts their feelings. That reasoning inverts the logic of pluralism. She is not claiming tolerance or freedom from discrimination for homosexuals. She is claiming the right to confront Christians in their churches and to challenge their morality. The more specific argument is that the gay rights community says that disagreeing with it about its ideas about gender and sexual orientation is “homophobia”, which is as bad as positive discrimination against their rights.
The protesters implied that homophobia is a psychological problem. The gay rights community is mobilized around the idea of fighting homophobia, and its members are easily motivated to get out and protest or march on that issue. It gives their community direction and cohesion. It gives them a chance to reinforce their beliefs collectively and to talk to the public about their beliefs through the media. The gay rights community has good reasons to view itself as embattled and threatened, to work to entrench its legal rights and to try to secure a less fragile standing in society than uneasy or contemptuous tolerance. Calling Christians repressed or accusing them of trying to harm gays and lesbians is conducive to respecful engagement.