Where do we draw the line between activism and terrorism? Events this past Sunday in Lansing, Michigan brought this question to mind, as gay activists from the group BashBack! staged a protest at a church service which was deliberately designed to look and feel a lot like a terrorist attack.
Mount Hope Church is a fairly typical evangelical megachurch with lots of money and huge facilities and a large congregation. Based on their website, their most radical program appears to be a support group for men who are addicted to pornography, but according to BashBack! they are trying to:
“institutionalize transphobia and homophobia through several repulsive projects including organized “ex-gay” conferences and so-called “hell houses”, which depict queers, trannies and womyn who seek abortions as the horrors. Mt. Hope is complicit in the repression of queers in Michigan and beyond.”
These are all activities which radical Christian churches are known for sponsoring, so the accusations are believable, though some of the rhetoric is a bit over-the-top, such as the declaration that “So long as bigots kill us in the streets, this pack of wolves will continue to BASH BACK!.” I’m fairly confident that even Mount Hope Church draws the line well before actually killing their gay neighbors in the streets.
During the noon service on Sunday the 9th, a protest was staged outside Mt. Hope Church by black garbed and pink-scarved gay-anarchist activists. While that distracted the security guards, about 40 minutes into the service protesters inside the church who were dressed more normally, stood up and began throwing pink confetti glitter, condoms and fliers, shouting out slogans like “Jesus was Gay” and rushed the pulpit where they began kissing and making out infront of the congregation. Meanwhile one of the group pulled the fire alarm and several members draped the balcony behind the altar with a sign reading “IT’S OKAY TO BE GAY! BASH BACK!”. These activities lasted for less than 20 minutes before most of the protesters fled the church and drove away.
Accounts from both sides agree that the congregation and church staff were stunned into inaction by the demonstration, mostly standing and observing in shock and horror. The BashBack! activists got away before the police could even be called and the service carried on after they were gone. According to some accounts one woman in the congregation had an extreme reaction, shouted that Satan was in the church and fell down and began speaking in tongues. In an impromptu sermon the pastor asked members of the congregation to pray for the protesters. Although the protesters had video cameras no video of the event has been released.
After the protest Mt. Hope’s Rev. James Elieff described it as “an unwelcome and violent demonstration,” and the consensus among members of the congregation and Church staff seemed to be that they couldn’t figure out why their church had been targeted for the attack. Elieff described BashBack!’s claims that the church was particularly anti-gay as a “gross misrepresentation.”
Unquestionably, the gay community has plenty of reasons to be angry and to demand action. But is this type of protest the most effective way to win support, or is it more likely to generate the kind of hostile and very unsympathetic reaction found on right wing blogs like Right Michigan in the aftermath of the protest? The combination of gay activism with the techniques of radical anarchist groups seems like a very volatile recipe for potential disaster. While this protest did not turn violent, that’s more a function of luck than intent. Many who were there believe that the hope was to provoke a violent reaction from members of the congregation. It is also certainly true that BashBack!’s stated agenda is one of countering violence with violence, but targeting groups and society rather than those specifically responsible for anti-gay crimes.
Those on the right who have described this protest as terrorism may be going too far, but it is clear that the intent of BashBack! as illustrated in photos on their website and their rhetoric, is to emulate the techniques and even appearance of terrorists. It’s not a very long trip from acting like terrorists to potentially becoming terrorists and being reacted to as terrorists, and then the potential for violence becomes much greater.
Gay activists can arm themselves easily enough and we’re just fortunate that gun-toting gays like local blogger Big Gay Al of the Michigan chapter of the Pink Pistols tend to be more politically conservative and rational in focusing on self-defense rather than radicalism. For that matter, had police shown up sooner and seen protesters garbed as terrorists fleeing the scene, the reaction could have been violent and very unfortunate, though martyrdom might fit the BashBack! agenda.
There are a lot of people working very hard to promote gay rights and gay acceptance, but no matter how many wrongs may have been done in the name of intolerance, resorting to extreme tactics does more to drive people away from a cause than win them over.