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Austin Cline

Evangelical Christians Beating Gays in the Name of God

By April 13, 2005

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In 2004 three men in Seattle vicious beat Micah Painter, a gay man. Why? Because their evangelical Christian background taught them that gays are evil and must be fought - an idea that they took to its logical extreme.

The Stranger reports on the case:

Painter's father had been an Evangelical preacher and, as Painter would put it later, "having a faggot child was not his idea of fun." At a young age, Painter said, he had run away from the violence of his home life, vowing not to be beaten and bullied anymore.

The people in the truck, it turned out, shared both his father's Evangelicalism and what Painter remembers as his father's violent contempt for homosexuals. One of the girls in the truck that night would later tell a Seattle Police detective that if Painter had not been walking like a girl, with all the distasteful things this implied to the Evangelicals in the white truck, events would have proceeded differently. "I don't think [Samusenko] would ever have gotten out," she told the detective, "if [Painter] wouldn't have been gay." Being gay, she explained, is "against our religion."

But carving up a person's back with a broken bottle, which is what they did to Painter, is evidently not against their religion.

Together, the three encircled their victim, "like a pack of wolves," one witness said, punching and kicking him repeatedly. Samusenko broke the vodka bottle against a wall and stabbed Painter with its jagged edges, slashing Painter between the eyes and leaving two long, deep cuts in his back. An officer called to the scene later would describe Painter's back as looking like a sliced-up flank of meat. A doctor who treated Painter would remember the wounds as being so deep they went down to the bones of his rib cage.

The attackers were all Russian immigrants, part of a wave of evangelical Christians seeking a better life in America — a better life for themselves, but not necessarily for anyone else they encountered:

In Bellingham, now free to practice his religion, Alexi would come to talk openly about gay Americans in much the same way that people in Russia had talked about the Baptists, the low people. "I don't respect those kind of people," Alexi said of homosexuals, speaking to me last October. "I think something's wrong. If I find out somebody's gay in my community, that means something's wrong with this person."

He continued, explaining why, according to his religion, this is the only way to feel about homosexuality. "Because look," he said, "God create only two people: female and male. And Adam and Eve was just only two. God didn't create like four guys and two guys and two girls and like this, you know. He didn't do this. Just only two. And in the family, it can be only two. It can't be like two guys or two females. It can't, that's totally wrong. When you see these gay people or lesbian people kissing each other, that's nasty. I hate this." Alexi said he believes all three of the young men who attacked Painter—his brother, Samusenko, and Kravchenko—feel the same way, which is: "That's nasty. If you're gay, something's wrong with you. That's not normal."

But if you viciously beat gays, that's normal and there's nothing wrong with you.

Asked about what the boys who would soon be on trial in Seattle for beating up a gay man were taught about homosexuals, Ilyan states 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."

The line between intolerance and incitement is approached, but not overtly crossed. "According to the Bible," Illyan told me, "[being gay is] an abomination… That person is going to be damned forever."

"But," he added, "we teach our children no fighting."

So long as gays are described as "enemies" and "abominations," there will be violence. People like Illyan can't escape responsibility for the violence inherent in their rhetoric. The fact that the language is also in the Bible doesn't change things: people have a moral choice about how to treat others and what sorts of language they will use. Use of violent, barbaric language makes one partially responsible for any violence and barbarism that results.

It's true, though, that Christianity traditionally does include teachings against violence. This is ironic because these Christians attacked a gay man because homosexuality is contrary to their religion, but at the same time they did all sorts of things which are, ostensibly, also contrary to their religion. One might conclude that these Christians weren't "real" Christians, but I think that a far stronger source of this contradiction can be found in evangelical Christianity itself. Evangelical Christians spend a lot of time focusing on things like abortion and homosexuality as "threats" to Christian society — so much time, in fact, that all other "sins" will only naturally fade into the background. Instead of teaching kids to just be good people, evangelical Christians are teaching kids to hate gays and abortion providers.

It's no wonder, then, that one of the defense lawyers had such questionable character:

His business card sports an ichthus (Christian fish) and he is best known in Seattle legal circles for having once sung a Christian hymn for his closing argument in federal court. (The federal judge, Olmstead recounted, told him to "sit down and shut up.") He was "saved" by Christianity in 1969, and has since defended people who have blockaded or set fire to abortion clinics, regularly proclaiming God's law to be higher than any civil law. During jury selection Olmstead told a lesbian joke to make a point about homosexuals being too overprotected by the PC crowd (no one laughed). He also announced to the court that he didn't even like to use the word "gay" because it had been "destroyed" by homosexuals. ... Russian friends of the defendants who were watching the trial could be seen tittering or whispering to each other whenever any gay man testified.

This is the dark, violent underside of evangelical Christianity in America. Conservative evangelical doctrines demonize many different type of people because they are "different" or because their lives aren't consistent with evangelical doctrines. Evangelical Christianity doesn't produce violence in all its adherents, but it provides a warm, nurturing place for it among those who might otherwise be inclined towards hatred and it provides a divine, absolute justification for their hatred.

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