Monday, June 11, 2012

An open letter to the non-allies in my life

Again, my posts are few and far between. But this one opens with an image!

Today I wanted to re-post this Colbert quote on Facebook (with some commentary):

But I didn't, for the same reason I don't post much potentially controversial stuff to Facebook. I feared that regardless of what commentary I added, it would be taken as simply an attack or a dismissal, and ignored. What I actually want is to gently prod and perhaps give an opening for discussion to those for whom it is most relevant. And yes, that's mainly you, Mom and Dad, but to varying degrees my brothers, college friends, and people from my hometown. So I remembered that I had this blog, and decided that it would be an excellent medium for further commentary, since it's longer-form, and is more of a read-at-will thing and less in-your-face than just a Facebook post.

So for starters, the quote in text form, since image macros are kind of obnoxious. Steven Colbert to Neil Patrick Harris, openly gay actor/singer/dancer with a husband and two adorable kids:

You are also the biggest threat of all: you're a gay person I like. Your threat is that you make being gay not seem threatening. It's almost as if your happiness does not take my happiness away.
The reason this quote was so striking to me is that it very closely resembles remarks that I have personally heard on multiple occasions. There are two specifically that come to mind. One is the general unhappiness about Glee featuring gay characters, which I wrote about (in a less discussable and more exasperated form) two years ago.

But more pointedly, it reminds me of what my parents told me when I was planning on living in an apartment with Aaron, a gay floormate, my junior year of college. I distinctly remember being told (hedged and perhaps hesitantly, but clearly) that living with a gay person would cloud my judgement, that it would make it harder to separate the sinner from the sin, that it would make me more accepting of that lifestyle. Which is pretty much exactly what Colbert is poking at here. At the time, I was already pretty skeptical of Christianity's opposition to homosexuality, and I may have even rebutted with something like, "You mean it makes gay people seem like people?". But here we are, four years later, and I still told my parents they didn't have to come to my most recent PGMC concert because it was explicitly about being gay, and they were uncomfortable with parts of the Christmas concert.

And guess I wish I had more to say here. I can't really say much, because I can't argue with religion-based convictions that leave no room for compromise. As long as it comes down to "scripture says" and differing interpretations are precluded from the start, I can't really add anything to the discussion.

But if you're someone who knows and cares about me, even if that's despite my liberal views, I suppose I would just say this: this "issue" of homosexuality isn't just a theological precept for me. It's an operative, life-based conviction. In the past few years, the number of people I know and love that are gay and other shades of queer has only grown, and yes, your fears (and Colbert's mock fears) have come to glorious reality. It has become nothing less than absurd to me to think that Jwo and Ryan's tenth anniversary should be less worthy of celebrating just because they're both men. And it is disturbing and hurtful to me that people close to me oppose such unions. Especially when their reasons, one way or another, come down to a particular interpretation of words that were written over two thousand years ago.

I know I can't really say anything, especially in a blog post, to budge most people's convictions. But at least know that my status as an ally of and advocate for those who are gay is not because I just swallow up whatever the liberals tell me, or because I feel the need to rebel against my upbringing, or because I no longer value my faith. My advocacy is a direct result of getting to know a wide variety of gay people - as well as many loving, frighteningly intelligent people who are also allies - and finding that gay people are people who want to be able to have their love and relationships recognized and accepted and celebrated, just like the rest of us.

And I know there may be all kinds of defensive reasons you have that they're different, but I'm pretty sure I've heard them all at this point, and I'd love to discuss any one of them with you. Because I've unvaryingly found that when you realize that gay people are sincere, loving, unassuming people like you and I, those reasons end up falling far short of justifying any non-trivial distinction between gay relationships from straight ones. And when those reasons are used to exclude, dismiss, fire, shame, suppress, or simply ignore people that I love, it hurts. Especially when those doing the excluding are also people I love. So I'd be glad to talk more about all of this with any of you, because I truly believe that, even within your faith and your politics, there is no reason you should have to continue standing against the people that I know and love.

Additional note: The thing I desperately do not want is for comments here to be used to try to argue or convince. I will perhaps try to clarify and offer my perspective (as per the last paragraph), but I firmly believe that disproving or changing minds solely via comments is futile.


  1. In the course of my life, first as a devout Christian, then as a doubter, and finally as a relatively firm non-believer, I have been on opposite sides of this argument, both with others and with myself. What it boils down to, in the end, is not theology, faith, sin, or belief. It comes down to compassion. It comes down to decency.

    The moment you find yourself saying things like, "Don't get too close to that person, because doing so might humanize them and make it harder to condemn them and cast them aside," is the moment you should also realize that you have gone vastly astray; spiritually, intellectually, and in your fundamental duty as a compassionate individual to accept others as people - not as gay men, or as Christians, or as sinners or non-sinners. Just as people.

    I am not sure there is value in arguing with the dyed-in-the-wool religious adherent who seeks authority only in the Bible and refuses to listen to the voice of decency inside that God gave us all.

  2. the way I've always seen it, or at least have come to see it, is this: in biblical terms, homosexuality is a sin. I've talked to people about interpretations, and their cases always seem less like honest interpretation, and more like someone searching for a loophole to excuse them from conviction, but all that aside, there is a bigger concern.
    I'd say 99% of homosexuals are outside of the church. I can't see why so many Christians are concerned primarily with convincing only homosexuals that they are sinning when they live in accordance with their desires, because EVERYONE is sinning when they live according to their desires. Most of these people, if they died tomorrow would go to hell,* and not because they are gay, but because they are unsaved sinners, just like anyone else who hasn't been saved. You can't approach someone and tell them that they're pathetic, wretched, sinful scum, and that they're going to hell, and expect them to be impressed. What the church should understand is that the biggest problem with homosexuals (and agnostics, and alcoholics, and nihilists etc) is not their lifestyle, but the fact that they haven't been redeemed. If you can show a homosexual how much God loves them, and how much they need redemption, then it becomes God's duty to convict them or not of the sins they (and all of us) have.
    a homosexual Christian goes to heaven.
    a formerly-homosexual pagan still goes to hell.

    (*by my interpretation of scripture, no one truly knows but God)

  3. Aaron: Agreed - especially the middle paragraph, that's pretty central to what I think of things. As to the rest, I hold out hope that I can appeal to the voice of decency in those close to me, and give the perspective needed to take a second look at that Biblical authority.

    EZ: Firstly, I can't begin to fully address an actual discussion in comments, and I explicitly don't want this comments section to become a place to try to change heads, because that's not how change happens. But I will offer my brief perspective:

    Per your exegesis, the same could be said of those who challenged prevailing interpretations that allowed slavery, or those who challenge interpretations that silence women. Complete literalism isn't a logically feasible stance, and anything less requires some degree of interpretation. Where you draw lines of relevance and context is hardly universal. And for an alternate perspective: some of those you see as searching for loopholes may instead be working to reconcile and understand what they see as parts of scripture that are inconsistent with the God that they know, just as opponents of slavery did.

    Per your second point: I would simply posit that many homosexuals (but in my experience vastly less than 99%) are outside the church not because Christians open with "you're a sinner", but because despite whatever dressing, emphasis, hedging, and disclaimer you add, they still end up hearing what is underneath it all: "a core part of your being is sinful". Try as you may, you can't avoid that without actually saying that homosexuality is on equal moral ground with heterosexuality.

    I'm not trying to really argue against you in either of your points, because I hate doing that in comments. I'm just trying to explain why they aren't sufficient for me, as per my last paragraph.

  4. The link below will take you to an interesting perspective from Tony Campolo to add to the discussion.

    Tom Bradshaw

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