Saturday, December 21, 2013

Culture War Legacies: Ducks, Dynasties, and Denigration

PHOTO: This photo taken May 15, 2013 shows Phil Robertson posing for a photograph at his home in western Ouachita Parish, La.By now, I'm sure you've heard of the Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) flap regarding his sentiments about gay people. If you're gay, you've likely heard it from Left-leaning media. If you're Christian, you've probably heard it from Right-leaning media, from Christian friends, or - coming to a Sunday near you - from the pulpit. If you're a gay Christian like me, you've probably been "lucky" enough to hear it from all over the place.**

Regardless where you've gotten the news, it seems to be almost impossible to resist making a comment about the whole debacle. Try as I might to live above the fray, I found myself dragged into the debate as well, and here I am making a whole post about it!

Except, I don't think the issue is all that important in and of itself. Is what he said offensive to gay people (and Black people too for that matter, which is getting surprisingly less press coverage)? Sure. Any more offensive than what is stated by millions of Americans every day? Not really. Is it worth debating? Sure. But should he lose his job for it (i.e., should A&E kick him and his show to the curb)? That's the key question for me. No, I don't mean "does A&E have the right to fire him?" That's silly. Of course they do! They're a private enterprise, and have the right to make whatever hiring and firing decisions they please with their employees. (That's actually a very conservative principle, so I'm a bit baffled why so many conservatives are so put-off by his suspension. But I digress...)

What I'm really getting at here, though, are the implications for this type of continued behavior. Martin Bashir makes offensive statements about Sarah Palin. Conservative pundits (including Palin herself) are shocked and appalled. They call for MSNBC to take action. Bashir leaves the network (leaving most of us to speculate that he probably didn't have much choice in the matter). But the examples are plenteous.  A Rightie says something stupid, the Lefties call for them to be punished in some nebulous way. A Leftie says something stupid, the Righties cry "Crucify him!" And back and forth it goes.

I would like to suggest something here. Could we perhaps call a truce? Can we end the Culture Wars? Because it has all devolved into a national gang/mafia mentality: You shoot my guy, so me and my boys go kill all of yours. And on and on it goes. Nobody wins. Everyone loses.

Many conservative Christians are starting to see the writing on the wall here. Cases like Phil Robertson's make them zealous. They wonder aloud "if this is what happens when someone stands for Biblical truth, it's just a matter of time before they'll throw us in jail just for being Christian!" They are angry, they are indignant, they are afraid, and so far it seems the overwhelming response is to dig their heels in further and take up the Culture War battle cry.

In all honesty, I think they're largely correct. The cultural tide has changed dramatically on gay issues, and saying anything that remotely equates homosexuality with sin is labeled bigotry, hateful, and homophobic. We can debate all day and night about whether that's fair or not, or about the merits and morality of gay love. But that's just more of the same. What I think is far more important to highlight with conservative Christians is this:

What exactly did you expect would happen when you proudly entered the Culture War, army in tow? In a case of mass narcissism, this entire tide change is interpreted as being "just what Jesus said would happen: we'll be reviled and rejected for His sake." Martyrdom syndrome.

I would like to offer an alternative hypothesis: perhaps you are now the victims of your own war-obsessed lifestyle. I think the more appropriate Scripture to describe the phenomenon is Matthew 26:52: "...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

Not long ago, those with minority religious views were oppressed and marginalized. It's part of the reason this nation was founded. Protecting religion is, for better or worse, part of the marrow of these United States. But there's this strange thing that happens when oppressed groups come to power: they have a proclivity to become oppressors.

To wit: Where were you, O Christian, when your gay classmates were bullied in school? Did you use the Word of God to chastise the perpetrators? Where were you, O Christian, when Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in large part because of his sexuality? Did you hold press conferences to denounce this sort of hatred? Where were you, O Christian, when it became abundantly clear that the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota was a hotbed of gay teen suicides? Did you protest the school district until they did something about this injustice? Where were you, O Christian, when Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide? Did you convene a Million Christian March for the lives of the thousands of young, helpless, tortured souls just like his?

Perhaps you were there and supportive, but only a minority of you were (outside the Progressive wing of Christendom anyway). Because my Facebook News Feed hasn't blown up with your support during any such similar events. But when Robertson opens his mouth and lets all sorts of jackassery fall out, you are quite vocal indeed. Do you really think the message the Church is passing along to gay people is truly one of love?

The problem here is that for too long, Christians have been on the same side as the general culture which proscribed homosexuality. As society oppressed LGBT individuals, Christians were more than happy to oblige, in many instances leading the charge. But now an increasing number of people are beginning to grant LGBT people the dignity that they deserve. And in no small part, this is actually the fault of Christians themselves. People young and old began to consider the hypocrisy concerning "God's people of love" and their treatment of LGBT people.  You are complicit in the disillusionment of the masses.

But now the sands are shifting. Did you really expect the LGBT community to simply forget your hateful words, your blind eyes, your mute mouths, your taunts, your torture, and your condemnation? Did you think they would simply say "Oh well, that was in the past, water under the bridge, let's be friends now!" especially when so many of your leaders continue to deny them fundamental rights and protections? Is it really surprising to you the vehemence with which many in the LGBT community go after you when you publicly declare (your version of) Biblical truth? These are the wages of warmongering, my friends, and not the "reviling" for Christ's sake that you may suppose that it is. (If you want to understand being reviled for Christ's sake, try speaking a message of love and acceptance of God's gay children without qualifications or caveats to a conservative Christian audience.)

If you don't want your doomsday scenario (being tossed in jail for having a negative opinion about homosexuality) to come to fruition, maybe consider raising the Peace Flag. Not letting go of your convictions, but simply letting go of the need to go to war over them.

I do not mean to insinuate that you do this simply because you're currently losing this war. I urge you to do so because it is right. I urge you to do so because turning weapons into ploughshares was always God's vision for humanity, and you are his hands and feet here to accomplish it. You have given the LGBT community no reason whatsoever to be kind to you, to tolerate you and your views, or to see what great "love" you have for them. Christ has given you every reason to walk justly, humbly, and peacefully with all men. You have given the LGBT community no reason to quit fighting. Christ has given you every reason to recognize that "eye for an eye" is outdated, ineffective, and off the mark. Now is the time to cease fighting a community, and fight instead the principalities and powers of injustice and mean-spiritedness.

I know what you're thinking: "BUT GAY IS SIN! It's SIN, goshdarnit! What if being nice to The Gays and no longer fighting them makes them think they're not hell-bound?!"  Honestly, I think you're jumping the gun here. I have no great expectation that you're going to just spontaneously see (or be coerced into believing) that gay love is good love. You may keep your "sin" label if you please. But try building some bridges while you do it. Try really understanding and walking in the shoes of the people you are sure are sinning. Try to find ways to fight for them (simple things like taking bullying of gay teens seriously as evinced by social action, or holding vigils for gay people who commit suicide) and see how that changes the landscape of America. You might be quite surprised by the results. And if you've got a great imagination, consider what the sociopolitical atmosphere would be like right now had this been the Christian response all along.

Finally, to the LGBT community, I want to offer a reminder. I reiterate that when oppressed groups gain power, they are in danger of becoming oppressors themselves. Consider this the next time a conservative Christian minimizes your experiences and expresses his displeasure with your "lifestyle." Consider this the next time a Christian decides not to bake a cake for your gay wedding. Put yourself in their shoes. What might you feel like if everything you believed and held dear, everything that made your world feel ordered and safe, came crashing down before your eyes. You think their refusal is because they hate you? Perhaps in some cases, but not likely in most. Their refusal has more to do with their cosmology and sense of well-being than your sexuality. It just so happens that your sexuality causes a very uncomfortable wrestling with sacred words and beliefs. I understand that to you this is about civil rights and good ethics, and no one should get a free pass on civil rights. Again, I am no more suggesting that you forego your moral convictions than the conservative Christian should. I'm simply suggesting that in the process, you try to imagine the lived experience of being a faithful follower of Christ's with a particular (often literal) interpretation of Biblical living. Just walk in their shoes for a bit. How do you think this all feels? I think some tough dialogue about the contrasting world views would be far more beneficial to all than a long drawn out legal battle over some damn cake! Yes, yes, "it's the principle of the thing". I get it. I really do. But consider how your principle applied feels to others who are different from you. It may not change your conclusion, but it might compel you to modify your approach, and that can make all the difference in the world.

Above all, remember that it is the nature of power to ebb and flow. LGBT people may be gaining more social influence and respect (as I think it ought to be), but it may not always be the case. Consider how you might want your enemies to treat you should you suddenly find that all the gains are losses anew.

**Disclaimer: I recognize that much of this essay dichotomizes Christians and the LGBT community, when in fact there is overlap between the two. I also recognize that there are many, many Christians out there who are strong champions for LGBT people. Further, I recognize that I make sweeping assumptions and stereotypes throughout. Forgive me for the caricatures. It is merely a response to the polarization I've witnessed on my Facebook News Feed over the past few days because of the "Duck Dynasty Debacle." And sometimes, not qualifying every statement one makes can be beneficially provocative. I'm hoping this is one of those times...


Anonymous said...

excellent job - well thought-out and well-stated.

Coll said...

Great post! It seems almost impossible to love someone with whom you are at war. I appreciate your words to both the Christian and LGBT community (realizing that there can be overlap). Thanks.

Robert Wentz said...

Yo, Darren. I am sharing your blog with some straight and gay family members. Well done, son.

D.J. Free! said...

Thanks, Betsy and Coll! Wentz, feel free! I'd be interested to hear their feedback!