The End of Church Militant

By Hank Kennedy

We fighters for LGBTQ rights have to take our victories where we can get them. As state governments continue to try to take our rights away, as right-wing bigots fulminate about eliminating us from public life, as we reel in horror from the death of Nex Benedict, it’s nice to get some good news. What kind of good news? How about an anti-LGBT hate group shutting down?

In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBT hate group Church Militant is closing its doors and shutting down its website. The group had its headquarters on Hilton Street, incongruously in Detroit’s premiere Gayborhood of Ferndale. The brainchild behind Church Militant was former broadcaster Michael Voris. Voris was incensed by what he viewed as inaccuracies about Catholicism presented in the book and film the DaVinci Code. He sought to clear up misconceptions about Catholicism through the website, later renamed Church Militant.

It appears that clearing up misconceptions about Catholicism was really a front for Voris’s true goal, spreading hatred and intolerance. Church Militant insinuated that more liberal Catholics were gay in an attempt to force them out of the church. They called composer of Catholic hymns Dan Schuette an “active homosexual,” and garnered even more publicity by calling the Archbishop of Washington D.C, a Black man, a “Marxist” and an “African Queen.” These racist and homophobic slurs were too much for the Detroit Catholic archdiocese, who wrote an official rebuke of the organization.

This rebuke did not lead to a moderation of Church Militant’s message. They promoted Holocaust denier and Trump-dinner guest Nicholas Fuentes and hosted a fawning interview with conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Within Ferndale, they attempted to get their neighbors on city council to fly their flag but wisely, the city decided against flying the flag of a hate group. In an episode that showed the group’s influence, Donald Trump’s head of the Federal Elections Commission, James E. Trainor, gave an interview to Church Militant. In his interview, Trainor called the separation of church and state “a fallacy” and declared that the 2020 presidential election was “a spiritual war.”

As to what else Church Militant did to earn their hate group designation, for one they endorsed the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. They ran homophobic headlines like “Episcopal Sodomy: Exposing the Enablers” and “The Gay Rainbow is the Mark of the Beast.” They targeted a LGBTQ owned bakery by asking them to bake a cake with a homophobic message.

I only encountered Church Militant once, during a counter-protest in Royal Oak. They were there, along with the 11th District Republican Committee led by fellow bigot Shane Trejo, to protest a Drag Queen Story Time event at Sidetrack Books. Happily they were vastly outnumbered. An estimated two dozen protested the event but there were 1,000 joyful counter protesters. Church Militant and friends could not halt the event and had to slink away in defeat. No children were harmed by the storytime or by any bigots.

An obvious influence on the group was notorious historical resident of Metro Detroit: The Anti-Semitic “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin, who broadcast in Royal Oak. Like Church Militant, Coughlin spewed hate against minority groups and theorized that foreigners and Communists were secretly controlling the United States. Coughlin’s hated minority was Jews, for Church Militant it was LGBTQ people. Also like Church Militant, Coughlin used modern media to spread his message. In the 1930s that was radio; today it is the internet. Church Militant seemed aware of the connection given that they posted an article to their website recommending Coughlin to members as a fighter against Communism and the welfare state. For obvious reasons, they avoided the swastika-covered elephant in the room of Coughlin’s Nazi sympathies.

A few months ago, Vorhis stepped down. He had admitted in a 2017 Atlantic documentary that he had “live-in relationships with homosexual men”, but that he was now no longer gay. Apparently that change did not take since he had been sending out shirtless selfies to male staffers at Church Militant, surely embarrassing behavior for such a virulently anti-LGBTQ organization. After that misfortune, the group was sued for defamation by Reverend Georges de Laire due to Church Militant publishing an article calling him unstable and vindictive. The costs of the lawsuit settlement are so great that Church Militant will have to shut down in April. When I mentioned at a vigil for Nex Benedict in Ferndale that Church Militant would no longer be in operation, there were cheers and applause.

While I may fantasize that Church Militant were driven out a pitchfork and torch-wielding mob out of a Gothic horror story, I’m glad to see them gone, regardless of what eventually shut them down. They are down for the count, regardless of who delivered the knockout blow. But, we must be ever vigilant and ready to mobilize against any groups that may try to take the place of that dark satanic mill of propaganda.

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