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The blame game: 9/11. The tsunami. Katrina. All the gays' fault, according to certain far-right wing nuts. Are they crazy?

New Orleans officials, the federal government, and even residents who did not evacuate in time were blamed for the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when it pummeled the Gulf Coast in August. The Christian right, however, picked a different target. In a nod to tradition, they blamed us. Gay men and lesbians, they said, were the culprits, and so were their henchmen--those who refused to condemn New Orleans's hedonistic culture. Michael Marcavage, the director of Christian group Repent America, told his members it was no coincidence that the storm struck New Orleans just days before Southern Decadence, the city's annual gay pride celebration.

"We take no joy in the death of innocent people," Marcavage--a former Clinton White House intern--told one reporter. "But we believe that God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. We're calling it an act of God."

Marcavage is hardly charting new territory. Christians have long blamed gays for natural and man-made disasters. Ever since an Old Testament God destroyed the Sodomites for their depraved ways, gays have taken the blame for the scourge dujour--most notably, the AIDS epidemic and the terrorist attacks of September 11.

In 1998, televangelist and erstwhile politician Pat Robertson warned the city of Orlando, Fla., that a gay celebration the city hosted would bring the wrath of God--in the form of a hurricane or other disaster--upon the entire city. Celebrating homosexuality "will bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor," he predicted.

In 2001, Jerry Falwell blamed gays and lesbians (along with other such "sniners" as feminists, "abortionists," and the American Civil Liberties Union) for the terrorist attacks in New York City. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen," he said on Robertson's television show, The 700 Club. Falwell later attempted to clarify his remarks, but he never withdrew them or apologized for making them.

Marcavage explained that many Christians reject the idea that there are "natural" disasters. Since the hand of God is behind the weather and the actions of men, he claims, those who suffer their destructive power should assume that they deserved the Almighty's wrath.

James Hunter, a sociology and religious studies professor at the University of Virginia and the , author of books on evangelical Christians and the culture wars, says ideas of "causality" are nothing new. Abraham Lincoln thought the Civil War was God's punishment for the sin of slavery, he notes.

But Hunter adds that such extreme views are increasingly outdated, even within the evangelical wing of the Christian faith. While evangelicals aren't known for their gay-friendly attitudes' says, "even among evangelicals, this is a little fringe."

Within groups like Repent America, Hunter says, such condemnations serve a purpose. "All kinds of groups use fear to mobilize, to create solidarity in their ranks, to gain financial support--that's the name of the game."

But operating under the theory that sin equals storms, how does one explain the sprawling damage to a chunk of the country known more for piousness than paganism? After all, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are Bible Belt red states. Marcavage said there were no innocent bystanders and that most of the victims of Hurricane Katrina erred by not standing up to the gay community.

Running this theory by scientists tends to evoke awkward silence and chuckles.

"Um, scientifically, that's ludicrous," says Barry Keim, state climatologist for Louisiana and associate professor for Louisiana State University. He closely tracked Katrina and notes that the storm cut such a wide swath that it did not appear to be targeting any one segment of the Gulf region--or even the city of New Orleans itself. Scientists studying the storm have found no evidence that the storm exhibited signs of meteorological homophobia, he says.

Furthermore, the French Quarter--the area most associated with Southern Decadence and the gay community--suffered less damage than other parts of the city, Keim notes. "If God is trying to punish us in some way, he sure blew it."

Heil is a reporter for Congressional Quarterly.
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Title Annotation:FAR RIGHT
Author:Heil, Emily
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 17, 2006
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