GAY TIMES 235, April 1998

Here’s a name for your notebook: The Rutherford Institute. Although it may not be familiar at the moment, it’s likely that it will become so in the future.

Nick Cohen drew attention to it in an article in The Observer last month. He described it as the “legal arm of far-right American evangelists” which has opened for business in London. Mr Cohen wrote: “At first sight the institute does not appear too sinister. Most of their time is spent defending shopworkers who were assured that they would not be forced to work on the Sabbath when the supermarkets launched their unlawful campaign to force through Sunday trading.”

John Wayne Whitehead, an attorney and “concerned Christian”, who runs the Institute’s head office in Charlottesville, Virginia, says that the organisation’s aim is to “promote religious freedom”.

Nick Cohen comments: “I’m all for religious freedom, as long as no-one tries to exercise it within a hundred miles of me… but the law the Rutherford Institute wants to uphold is God’s not man’s — a preference shared by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.” Cohen then unearthed something that John Wayne Whitehead wrote in 1982: “We must influence all areas of life including law and politics. The courts must place themselves under the authority of God’s law.”

And this is where the Rutherford Institute turns its attention to homosexuals. After abortion, says Nick Cohen, “homosexuals are the second target. The moral majority’s tactic is not to attack them for merely being gay — it knows unadorned hatred does not play well, even in America — but to advance the slightly more sophisticated charges that gays ‘promote’ homosexuality and demand special ‘privileges’.”

The first attack came in Oxfordshire, where one of the Rutherford Institute’s lawyers — a Mr Paul Diamond — has tried to invoke Section 28 for the first time in that law’s iniquitous history. He says that the local probation service sent some of its gay members to a “gay conference” which offered “counselling” aimed at indoctrinating them and turning them even further away from heterosexuality. The service’s Christian Fellowship then demanded equal time off for prayer meetings and “counselling” for those who want to be “born again”.

Paul Diamond has already provided legal advice to Lady Young in her successful campaign to amend the Human Rights Bill in the House of Lords (see report in last month’s Gay Times). What he fails to mention in his attack on the Oxfordshire probation service is that the so-called gay conference was actually a training course for homosexual officers to learn how to deal with attacks from the public — and from their homophobic colleagues.

The Rutherford Institute is a substantial organisation, and cannot be dismissed as a tinpot band of fanatics, as can so many of our home-grown “family groups”.

As the Institute’s leading light, John Wayne Whitehead says: “We can leave nothing untouched by the Bible. Like it or not the Church is at war.”

Yes, indeed, the church is at war — and it is becoming increasingly obvious against whom the war is being waged. Until quite recently, most of the anti-gay rhetoric in our newspapers emerged from the Tory Party, but now William Hague refuses to endorse the crude anti-gay slander that was so popular with his predecessors. The press has to look elsewhere for its source of supply, and religious bodies seem more than happy to make up the shortfall.

Indeed, The Mail, Express and especially The Daily Telegraph sometimes seem like little more than supplements to The Evangelical Times.

On March 3rd, The Telegraph reported that “a biological difference between lesbians and heterosexual women has been discovered for the first time”. This followed hot on the heels of reports that gay men’s fingerprints were different from those of straight men.

In its editorial column, The Telegraph immediately went into theological mode, and began ruminating on genetic determinism and morality in relation to homosexuality.

“During the Middle Ages,” the paper wrote, “theologians agonised about whether the concept of free will could be reconciled with God’s omnipotence. In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrestled with the question of how an all-powerful deity could allow man to defy Him. Today, genetics raises the same problem: if our personalities are innate and fixed, how can we, be condemned for any wrong-doing?”

The Telegraph, naturally, starts from the standpoint that homosexuality is wrong even if it is a natural phenomenon. (“It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that homosexuality, at least in some cases, is present from birth; but this should have no bearing on the argument about whether homosexual behaviour is right.”) And so, it seems that gay people, unique among humans, must accept that they have been given natural sexual impulses (by God or evolution, depending on your standpoint) but must deny them utterly.

It is at this point that The Telegraph’s argument falls apart — as most theology does, under rational examination. The paper says: “Heterosexual men could point out that evolution has implanted the desire to combine their genes with as many women as possible. Would anyone regard this as an excuse [for promiscuity]?”

But if homosexuality is a natural impulse for homosexuals, as heterosexuality is for heterosexuals, why should it not be expressed within the same constraints as straight sex is supposed to be? It’s a Catch-22 situation for that dwindling band of gay people who are liable to believe in the Bible.

Meanwhile, up in Tyneside, the rebellion continues, as, according to The Mail on Sunday, three parishes have decided to break away from the Church of England “in protest at their new bishop’s support for homosexuals”. Bishop Wharton, for it is he, had the audacity to opine that loving homosexual relationships are not necessarily sinful.

The Reverend David Holloway, bigot-in-chief of these “rebels”, is quoted as saying: “There is an issue of elementary Biblical morality here. We believe our bishops should uphold traditional Christian teaching. Bishop Wharton clearly doesn’t and therefore it’s impossible for us to accept his ministry.”

But, as avowed atheist Roy Hattersley pointed out in his Guardian column, dissent itself is un-biblical, (“For rebellion is the sin of Witchcraft” — Samuel 15.22). It follows that if witchcraft is punishable by death (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” — Exodus 18.22) Mr Holloway and his followers must be immediately burned at the stake —preferably using faggots to do the job efficiently.

Roy Hattersley wearily made the point again about the selectivity of biblical literalists. Why do they only get excited about sins of the flesh, when much else is forbidden in the Bible? Hattersley points out that lending money for interest is strictly forbidden in the Bible and the Koran. This is only one of their blind spots.

Those gay people with religious feelings will find it difficult to come across any major (or minor) faith that will accept them on their own terms. The Catholic Church is certainly not the place to go if you’re sickened by the CoE’s authoritarians. The nearer you get to the Vatican, it seems, the more vehement the homophobia becomes. An article in The Sunday Times magazine told the story of Enrico Sini Luzi, the Pope’s personal Usher, who was murdered in strange circumstances in Rome. The police immediately assumed that he was the victim of a serial killer, operating in the city, who has already brutally murdered at least 20 gay men.

Ten days after Sini Luzi’s murder, a 39-year-old gay Sicilian man, Alfred Ormando, travelled to Rome and burned himself to death on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica. In his suicide note to his parents, he wrote that he wished to be forgiven for having “considered homosexuality normal and for having considered myself equal to heterosexuals… I beg your pardon for having contaminated the air that you breath with my own venomous breath, I beg forgiveness for the crimes of the world against my (homosexual) nature, so precious but so reviled by Christianity.”

Gay activists in Italy are outraged by the unforgivably repressive attitudes of the Vatican towards homosexuals, which drive so many to such desperate acts of self-destruction and murder.

So, given that Christians are increasingly hostile towards us, could gay people find solace in the other “great” world religion; Islam? Certainly not if they live in Afghanistan. There, The Guardian reported (a mite too flippantly for comfort, under the headline “Gay Sodomites Resurrected”) that three men “convicted of sodomy” had survived an attempted execution “in which they were buried alive for 30 minutes”.

The Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had ordered the three to be left for half-an-hour under a stone wall knocked on top of them by a tank. He declared that their lives would be spared if they survived. They did survive — and were taken to hospital. Allah may be merciful, but his followers certainly aren’t.

So what about Judaism? Any joy there? In an interview with probably the most famous gay Jew in Britain, Rabbi Lionel Blue, The Daily Mail presented us with a picture of a reasonably happy homosexual. He lives contentedly in his dotage with his boyfriend in London. It’s only when you read the small print that you realise that Rabbi Blue has had to stretch the Jewish dogmas to breaking point in order to reconcile his homosexual lifestyle with the teachings of his faith.

He has also had to spend 40 years in psychotherapy to reach his present state of mind (you didn’t misread —that’s forty years). Not many of us want to waste that much time wrestling with our “faith” and spoiling what is the only really worthwhile thing in life — love.

Then The Independent reported that Phyllis Bowman, the deeply religious executive director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), had won the right in Europe for anyone to spend as much money as they like on leafleting and broadcasting in the immediate period before an election, in order “to promote a favoured candidate or denigrate a rival”. Until now the maximum amount permitted to be spent was £5.

This, says The Independent, opens up the way for American-style election battles over the views of individual candidates on “single issues such as abortion, hunting and gay rights”.

Put this together with the considerable resources and determination of the Rutherford Institute, and religion’s war against gays could become extremely nasty at the next election.

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