The satirist Jonathan Swift once said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. ”I wonder why that is? When the Klu Klux Klan, a “White Christian Organization,”(kukluxklan.bz, 2009) makes derogatory statements about someone’s race or sexual orientation, we often call that hate speech. But when other Christian groups use anti-gay rhetoric to communicate their views, it is often legitimized and justified by hiding behind religious ideals.

The Westboro Church, famous for their “God Hates Fags” signs and picketing acts at funerals of soldiers and gay individuals, says their actions are justified because they are simply preaching against all sins (godhatesfags.com, 2009). The group American Vision says they are just trying to “Restore America to its Biblical Foundation” (americanvision.org, 2009). Abiding Truth Ministries, better known as Defendingthefamily.com claims they are just defending religious freedom, family values and human rights (defendingthefamily.com, 2009). The Traditional Values Coalition says they are just focusing on “the restoration of the values needed to maintain strong, unified families”(www.traditionalvalues.org, 2009). Focus on the Family says they are “defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”(focusonthefamily.com, 2009).

According to The Southern Poverty Law Centerthere are 84 active hate group organizations in California alone, and 11 anti-gay hate groups in the US. All of the organizations noted above, with exception of Focus on the Family, are on the hate group list (splcenter.org, 2009). What is interesting to note is that all of the anti-gay groups listed identify as “Christian” organizations. So why does the public view their messages differently from messages sent out by the KKK? Could it simply be a case of who the messenger is? Or is it the way the messages are presented? I think it is a combination of both.

Persuasion is the process of how a message is used to change the attitudes, behaviors or beliefs of an individual or group. In addition, credibility of both the message and messenger can play a key role in the persuasion process. “Social psychologists have found that who is saying something affects how an audience receives it” (Myers, 2007, p. 168). When the messenger appears credible the message also appears more credible. Who would you trust more, a politician or your priest/bishop/pastor, etc.? Is there really a difference between them?

In the case of Christian organizations, they are taking advantage of the far reach of the Internet, and they currently provide a lot of anti-gay news and information to their online readers. They update the stories frequently and provide a strong anti-gay bias to everything that is reported.“Some fundamentalists have even asserted that the Scriptures allow them, since they’re on the side of righteousness, to mislead people intentionally” (Irvine, 2005, p. 2). You can see this process in action on The Traditional Values Coalition’s (TVC) website. They have created a section called the Homosexual Urban Legends Series, where they use counter research to challenge existing research about homosexual issues and present their anti-gay biases in an educational manner. They focus on trying to link homosexuality to child molestation and to criticize activist groups, who in their eyes, are trying to promote the homosexual agenda (Irvine, 2005). By using counter research, to the uniformed reader, the message seems quite credible, when in reality the reader is not getting the full story.

“Persuasive power enables us to enlighten or deceive” (Myers, 2007, p. 184), these anti-gay Christian hate groups understand this, and they are quickly learning powerful new persuasive strategies to spread their anti-gay agenda worldwide. Armed with the shield of religion to hide behind, counter research tactics, and the Internet, their reach is expanding quickly.

References

Irvine, J. M. (2006). Anti-Gay Politics on the Web Behold the religious Right's latest anti-gay ploy: sound scientific. The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 13(1), 15-19.

Lee, E., & Leets, L. (2002). Persuasive Storytelling by Hate Groups Online: Examining Its Effects on Adolescents. American Behavioral Scientist. 45(6), 927-957.

Marková, I. (2008). Persuasion and Propaganda. Diogenes. 55(1), 37-51.

Myers, D. G. (2007, 4th ed.). Exploring Social Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Thiesmeyer, L. (1999). Racism on the Web: Its rhetoric and marketing. Ethics and Information Technology. 1(2), 117.

Photo source: http://grannygeek.us/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/phelps-followers.jpg

About the Author

Tina Indalecio

Tina Indalecio is currently working on her PhD in Media Psychology at Fielding Graduate University.

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