A group of priests led more than 20,000 people to attack participants in a gay rights march in Tbilisi, Georgia on Friday, but police refuse to take the incident seriously.
The New York Times reports that, in spite of the documented attack — which sent at least 14 people to the hospital after protesters punched them, threw rocks at them, and pulled people from cars — the Georgian police have made no arrests and are showing little signs of investigating further:
Instead, a bishop who helped to organize the mass turnout — ostensibly a counterprotest — said from the pulpit that while the violence was “regrettable” and those who committed it should be punished, the Georgian Orthodox Church was obligated to protest the gay rights rally and would “not allow anyone to humiliate us.”
“When there are so many people, it is difficult to speak only about Christianity and morals,” said the bishop, Iakob Iakobashvili, in his Sunday sermon in Tbilisi. “Many were not able to overcome their nature and saw enemies in the others, said bad words and punched them. I was told clergymen were among them. I am not able to either condemn or justify them. They are also humans.”
The orthodox church holds a great deal of sway in the Georgian nation, including openly supporting Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who may or may not pursue prosecutions after the attack. Georgian Orthodox patriarch Ilia II is another public figure who takes it upon himself to police the morality of the nation, even at the expense of LGBT citizens:
Ilia II is widely acknowledged to be the most popular figure in the country. He offered no sermon on Sunday, but on Friday, after the violence, he urged protesters to leave the streets and for both sides “to pray for one another.”
“We do not accept violence,” he said, according to Interfax. “But it’s also unacceptable to give propaganda” to homosexuality.
A day earlier, he had urged the Georgian government to ban the gay rights march, writing that the majority of Georgians saw gay activism as “an insult.”
Perhaps most disturbing is the Times‘ reporting on Georgian citizens who see little to no issue with the violence against the gay rights activists, clearly motivated by Orthodox teachings:
Outside of the Tbilisi church where Bishop Iakobashvili spoke Sunday, Elza Kurtanidze, 34, a former schoolteacher, said that she had spent the last days “hotly” debating if those who attacked the marchers should be punished.
“We have already gone too far by having gays and lesbians openly promoting their way of life,” she said. “This is unacceptable! By allowing things like this, we let Georgia turn from the road of its traditional destiny.”
“Arrests will be too much; it will help to further excite the situation in Georgia,” she added.
Also outside the church was Leila Dzneladze, 16, who said that while she opposed the violence, she believed that the “truth was on the side of the church.”
“No one should be punished for this,” she said. “This is for God to judge them, not us.”
It is completely unacceptable to simply let this brutality slide because it aligns with a group’s religious beliefs. Religious justifications for discrimination and intolerance are bad enough, but when religion unabashedly motivates physical attacks, the potential for it to devolve into something more severe is far too great. We should be more outraged about this.