The Philadelphia Daily News has lots of new information on the case of the older, mentally disabled man who was stoned to death by a younger, paranoid schizophrenic man.
While some queer news-n-views sites portrayed the case as being one of a man who read the anti-gay parts of the Bible and thought that going out and killing a gay person was just something he had to do, initial reports showed that the case was more complicated than that. Of course, recognizing that makes it harder to claim these brutal cases as evidence of one-way victimization of the entire community on the part of a monolithic source of power that must be destroyed instead of changed or negotiated with, a worldview that strokes the limbic brain of a certain segment of the LGBT community.
We knew when this case was first reported that the victim, Murray Seidman, had a very close relationship with the killer, John Joe Thomas, and that Thomas was the sole beneficiary of Seidman's estate. We also knew that Thomas had a history of some sort of mental illness and issues with anger management and that he was perhaps previously arrested for cruising for gay sex.
The Philadelphia Daily News report, which, if you're interested in this case, is a must-read, adds quite a few new facts:
- Thomas was a Mormon, in fact, a priest at a local LDS church.
- Thomas had once killed a cat because "the devil was dwelling inside it."
- Murray Seidman's brother, Lenny, says Murray wasn't gay, that he never hit on Thomas, and that he most likely didn't understand what he was signing when he gave Thomas power of attorney and willed him his estate.
- Thomas had a previous tangle with a gay coworker who accused of having hit on him even though his boss doesn't believe that happened. Thomas quit his job, wrote a long, "rambling" letter with lots of Bible quotations, and then egged the coworker's house.
- This one's important:
Regardless of whether the motive for the alleged slaying was financial, Biblical or some other reason, [longtime friend Bill] Stoler can't understand why his best friend didn't receive long-term help for his schizophrenia after repeated trips to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital for psychiatric emergencies.
"The system failed him," Stoler said. "Didn't anyone see by the seventh time he was institutionalized that there's something wrong with this guy? He didn't come out of the blue and kill someone. It was leading up to this.
"But our society, they give you a diagnosis, a script and you're on your way."
That's not to say that this proves that the Bible is totally pro-gay and no Christian at all has any responsibility to this. It's relevant that Thomas was involved in a particularly homophobic branch of Christianity - conservative Mormonism - and that apparently those passages of the Bible were not being put into any sort of context at his church. His schizophrenia doesn't mean that there's nothing wrong with homophobia; rather, it's a big reason why such homophobia should be fought against, especially within churches.
That's if he's telling the truth in his confession and not just making up a gay panic defense that he thinks will get him off the hook for killing Seidman for his money. That's a big if, and also a big reason we don't usually use individual cases like this to make huge generalizations.
A debate on Bilerico and elsewhere has been whether the Abrahamic religions are the source of homophobia or whether they're a tool to spread homophobia. The former requires (necessary but not sufficient) a belief that the founding texts and principles of these religions were divinely inspired, that they really did come from a source that wasn't human and then turned happy, free-wheeling, gay-friendly people to into stern judges who regulate other people's sex lives based on rules they never question. Even without complete information, the idea that Thomas would have been nonviolent if it weren't for Mormonism/Christianity strikes me as ridiculous.
If people made a religion then it's people who made it homophobic. At some point, it was someone's (or a group of someones) choice to make Christianity, Judaism, and Islam homophobic, and they made that choice for certain reasons. And if those religions are to stop being homophobic, it'll be because the people who practice them decide to make the homophobia stop, something many practitioners have already started doing.
What the Bible, a text that has huge passages that are largely ignored, says is secondary to people's interpretation of it and to the importance placed on certain parts. Just listening to the news on any given day shows how easy it is for entire populations to give a "meh" to dramatic and terribly important events around the world. And, reading the Bible's bans on lots of behavior that people don't even think twice about today shows that, unless modern humans make a passage of the Bible important to them, then it's not going to be important to them.
Blaming everything on the Bible itself just lets too many people off the hook, which is why Christian homophobes repeat the mantra that their religious beliefs are being violated if they have to face some sort of consequence for homophobia: it's the homophobic version of "born this way."
img src, h/t Kathy Padilla