Washington Sketch: No arrests for conservative Christians' anti-gay talk

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; A02

Conservative Christian ministers from across the land, determined to test the bounds of a new law punishing anti-gay hate crimes, assembled outside the Justice Department on Monday to denounce the sin of homosexuality and see whether they would be charged with lawbreaking.

Anything other than sex "between a male and his wedded wife," announced the Rev. Paul Blair, "is a perversion, and the Bible says that homosexuality is in fact an abomination."

No arrest was made.

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, quoting Scripture, listed "homosexual offenders" along with thieves, drunkards, swindlers and idolators as those unwelcome in the kingdom of God. "To fail to call homosexuals to repent of their sin and come to Jesus is the highest form of cowardice and sin," he said.

No charges were filed.

"Had people listened to our plea, there would be tens of thousands of people who had not died of a dreaded disease," contributed the Rev. Jim Garlow. "This breaks our heart to see people die of AIDS."

No hands were cuffed. In fact, the few cops in attendance were paying no attention to the speakers, instead talking among themselves and checking their BlackBerrys.

The evangelical activists had been hoping to provoke arrest, because, as organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission put it, "we'd have standing to challenge the law." But their prayers were not answered. Nobody was arrested, which wasn't surprising: To run afoul of the new law, you need to "plan or prepare for an act of physical violence" or "incite an imminent act of physical violence."

Instead of getting arrested, the ministers got something else: A couple of dozen gay activists, surrounding them with rainbow flags and signs announcing "Gaga for Gay Rights" and "I Am a Love Warrior." By the end, the gay rights activists had taken over the lectern and the sound system and were holding their own news conference denouncing the ministers.

"We're here to say, my love is legit!" announced David Valk, an organizer of the National Equality March for gay rights.

Another speaker, Ian Thomas, went to the microphone and announced: "I was created a bisexual male. Just like many figures in the Christian Bible, I like boys and girls!"

Cass turned angrily to the AV guy. "We're not on the clock, are we?" He turned with equal anger to Valk. "You guys gonna help us pay for the microphones?"

The gay activist smiled. "God," he said, "works in mysterious ways."

In this case, God took the form of Chuck Fazio, from DC Podiums. Fazio was hired by the religious conservatives to provide the sound system for the event, but upon learning of their cause, he decided to donate his proceeds to the gay rights activists and to give them a chance at the microphone before shutting down the amplifiers. "I don't want bad karma," he explained, noting with some pride that the lectern they were using was the same one used by Borat on a recent Washington visit.

The conservative activists could not have anticipated this unusual turn of events when they arrived, some wearing "Fear God" T-shirts and one carrying a sign spelling AIDS from the biblical phrase "the wages of sin is death." The ministers, borrowing a page from the left, played their own brand of identity politics: They were a persecuted minority seeking equal treatment.

"Preachers will soon be targeted for prosecution, and their speech will be monitored," Scarborough warned.

"Christians have civil rights, too," declared Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., an African American minister. He said he spoke "for the many martyrs of the civil rights movement who have gone before," including Martin Luther King Jr., in saying that "none of them died to advance the cause of homosexuality."

Grace Harley, who said she lived as a transgender man for 18 years before she "was made straight," complained that she wanted to help others win "freedom from sexual immorality." But now, she said, "our government is shutting me down, silencing the lamb."

And Janet Porter, author of the book "The Criminalization of Christianity," spoke of how her car was once set afire. "I think that would qualify as a hate crime, by any definition," she said. "But because I'm not a lesbian activist, because I was a pro-life activist, there are no enhanced penalties, there's no federal intervention, there's no sensitivity training."

But there was no evidence of persecution at the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania. In fact, the cops at one point intervened to help the ministers, by ordering the gay rights activists to move away.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, concerned that the gay activists would look like the victims rather than the religious conservatives, went to the microphone to assure the activists that "we did not ask law enforcement to have you moved off of there. They did that on their own. We believe in free speech."

As he spoke, two men, standing behind Mahoney with the ministers, were kissing each other.

A conservative Christian minister speaking up for the rights of gay activists as he shared the stage with canoodling men?

God does work in mysterious ways.

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