23 October 2010

Tough Situation, Tough Words

I've noted previously that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints place huge cultural emphasis on being nice and that they hate, hate, HATE to be the bad guys in anything.

So exchanges like the one I'm going to provide here will be extremely difficult for good-hearted, faithful, well-intentioned, prophet-following Latter-day Saints to read. But there's a lot at stake, and I truly believe that all such Mormons need to seriously consider the viewpoint stated by columnist and radio personality Dan Savage below.

The exchange started with a letter from a devout, sincere Christian who said this:

Dear Dan:

I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and I heard an interview with you about your It Gets Better campaign. I was saddened and frustrated with your comments regarding people of faith and their perpetuation of bullying. As someone who loves the Lord and does not support gay marriage, I can honestly say I was heartbroken to hear about the young man who took his own life.

If your message is that we should not judge people based on their sexual preference, how do you justify judging entire groups of people for any other reason (including their faith)? There is no part of me that took any pleasure in what happened to that young man, and I know for a fact that is true of many other people who disagree with your viewpoint.

To that end, to imply that I would somehow encourage my children to mock, hurt, or intimidate another person for any reason is completely unfounded and offensive. Being a follower of Christ is, above all things, a recognition that we are all imperfect, fallible, and in desperate need of a savior. We cannot believe that we are better or more worthy than other people.

Please consider your viewpoint, and please be more careful with your words in the future.


I'm sure there are countless Latter-day Saints who could have said exactly the same thing to Mr. Savage, and truly, honestly believe every word of defense of their own good faith and intentions. I am sure all such persons believe they really are trying to follow Christ.

Now, here's the tough part. Mr. Savage's words will not be easy for any such Christians to read, much less give good faith consideration to. But I think they must, if the current epidemic of gay-bashing and bullying and suicides is going to be stopped and not repeated.

To members of my own extended family in particular, I know you read this blog. You will probably want to take great offense at Mr. Savage's words. I beg you not to do that. Please try to set those feelings aside and give every possible consideration to what he says. That's the only way you'll be able to understand how I and so many others look at not only this issue, but at protestations by LDS and other Christians that they really don't mean anything hateful or bigoted or discriminatory when they fight against gay marriage or continue acquiescing to so much of what is believed by Christians and Mormons about gay people. The LDS Church has recently stated over and over again that it desires civil dialogue and discourse. Good. I'll take the Church at its word, and say that all its members who supported Proposition 8 need to read what Mr. Savage says, take it to heart, and really try to understand how they come across and what results from their words and beliefs.

OK, here goes:

Dear L.R.:

I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments. No, wait. I'm not. Gay kids are dying. So let's try to keep things in perspective: F--k your feelings.

A question: Do you "support" atheist marriage? Interfaith marriage? Divorce and remarriage? All are legal, all go against Christian and/or traditional ideas about marriage, and yet there's no "Christian" movement to deny marriage rights to atheists or people marrying outside their respective faiths or people divorcing and remarrying.

Why the hell not?

Sorry, L.R., but so long as you support the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, it's clear that you do believe that some people—straight people—are "better or more worthy" than others.

And—sorry—but you are partly responsible for the bullying and physical violence being visited on vulnerable LGBT children. The kids of people who see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered and unworthy of full civil equality—even if those people strive to express their bigotry in the politest possible way (at least when they happen to be addressing a gay person)—learn to see gay people as sinful, damaged, disordered, and unworthy. And while there may not be any gay adults or couples where you live, or at your church, or in your workplace, I promise you that there are gay and lesbian children in your schools. And while you can only attack gays and lesbians at the ballot box, nice and impersonally, your children have the option of attacking actual gays and lesbians, in person, in real time.

Real gay and lesbian children. Not political abstractions, not "sinners." Gay and lesbian children.

Try to keep up: The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from the lips of "faithful Christians," and the lies about us that vomit out from the pulpits of churches that "faithful Christians" drag their kids to on Sundays, give your children license to verbally abuse, humiliate, and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your children—having listened to Mom and Dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry—feel justified in physically abusing the LGBT children they encounter in their schools.

You don't have to explicitly "encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate" queer kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It's here, it's clear, and we're seeing the fruits of it: dead children.

Oh, and those same dehumanizing bigotries that fill your straight children with hate? They fill your gay children with suicidal despair. And you have the nerve to ask me to be more careful with my words?

Did that hurt to hear? Good. But it couldn't have hurt nearly as much as what was said and done to Asher Brown and Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas and Cody Barker and Seth Walsh—day-in, day-out for years—at schools filled with bigoted little monsters created not in the image of a loving God, but in the image of the hateful and false "followers of Christ" they call Mom and Dad.

Tough words. I stress that I am not directing these to any individual person in my family or otherwise. They are a general example of what I believe is a valid response to Christian protests that no hate or bigotry is ever intended, only love. Like it or not, Mr. Savage is responding to things like Boyd Packer's descriptions of homosexuality as "unnatural and immoral" because that's how those descriptions came across.

I know this puts particularly LDS people in a hopeless position, caught between their faith's demands that they follow the teachings of someone they accept as an inspired leader, yet sincerely wanting to be compassionate as well. Mr. Savage's words correctly point out that there really is no reconciling those two positions successfully.

And guess what. That's exactly the position many gay Christians, LDS or otherwise, find themselves in. Absolutely no way to successfully harmonize what their churches teach and what they know of themselves. So, faithful Mormons and other Christians who want to be true to your faith but can't stand to think of yourselves as bigots or haters, how does it feel to be caught in a dilemma not of your own making where you know you face feeling or inflicting hurt no matter which way you go? Do you understand a little more now?

Maybe that realization will help a few LDS and Christian hearts and minds understand the position of their gay brothers and sisters who want to be faithful. Maybe they'll be a little more willing to set aside defensiveness and really listen and consider that perhaps something other than the ostensible love is actually getting through and having an effect, while whatever love there may be is falling short. (To be fair, as I've said before, some of the most truly Christlike people I've ever met have been active Latter-day Saints. There needs to be more such people.) I hope those who can actually see that will then consider how to change and grow so this horrible epidemic can be stopped for good.

The only way to break those deadlocks is to prioritize. What's going to win out? Dogmatic judgment or Christian charity? How did Jesus prioritize? I think most people know. Your neighbor as yourself, and all that, right? And what did Paul say the greatest of all virtues was? Actually, breaking this deadlock shouldn't be hard at all.


Tim Trent said...

I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this because I have no religion. My faith or not is my own business.

I am with Mr Savage's remarks, 100%. I was with his remarks when he told the White House where to go for ripping off the "It Gets Better" strapline, too.

Lisa said...

Dan Savage is awesome. If only I had the presence of mind to say these very same things: "dudes, it's NOT ABOUT YOU."


Tim Trent said...

Lisa, I think we do not say these things because we are trying to woo folk away from dogma by beg nice, by being logical. We try to appeal to reason, something that fails when people revert to some religious principle.

Dan Savage's tone probably will not work either. Dogma and bigotry respond neither to to logic and reason nor to an attempt to break down the armour with a battering ram.

Both routes are satisfying!

I was considering alternating sweet reason with a battering ram and leaving the bigots guessing!

Original Mohomie said...

So...question: let's say you live in a predominantly non-theist society and have children at school, and a presumed "bigoted" Christian of the kind spoken of here committed suicide at your children's school due to bullying. Would that child's blood be partially on your hands because you spoke your mind so righteously harshly against Christians of that kind?

I'm pretty sure many people will not ask you this question because they'd rather make the point privately to affirm each other without any opportunity for rebuttal on your part. Do you have a response? Is it a different scenario? Or does Mr. Savage have some tempering of perspective to do?

Tim Trent said...

Good moral dilemma, OM. It bears initial consideration. But you presuppose bullying. So far the bullying of LGBT kids appears to have a fundamentalist religious root. Without that they unlikely to be bullied for LGBTness, but for the usual kid things like the wrong trainers.

The fundementalist child will be unusual, yes. But the non theist environment is far less likely to condemn the fundamentalist christian.

That child starts from a different place, too. she or he is allowed to marry, allowed to serve their country openly as a christian, able to pray or not at their sole discretion, able to reveal their religious beliefs without wondering of their love for their deity is illegal.

They start from a place of true safety, somewhere all kids should be.

And they have a true choice. Belief is a choice. Sexuality is not a choice. I can choose to believe in the flying spaghetti monster if I wish, but I cannot choose my sexuality, nor can I choose whether I am left or right handed.

So your comparison is a rhetorical stratagem designed to bamboozle and confuse. It compares apples with potatoes, not even fruit with fruit.

And yes, if that child were to be bullied, let alone kill themselves, then those who allowed that bullying to happen locally would be to blame.

But we LGBT folk are an oppressed minority. And Dan Savage's words are wholly appropriate words for someone who is speaking out from that minority.

BLB said...

Um, no. 2 people who don't approve of same-sex marriage have treated me with the utmost respect that Mr. Savage failed to show in his letter to L.R. Honey, not vinegar, is what draws the bees. After being essentially told to "Fu9k" my feelings by Packer last conference, I see no need to further poison the world with such rhetoric.

Rob said...


Same here. Numerous active LDS friends have treated me with utmost and true Christian kindness and respect without a hint of any of the bigotry Savage decries.

His letter is not addressed to them. It's addressed to those who profess outward politeness but also persist in behavior that perpetuates the myths and the hostility. I have also seen my share of such people, both within and without the LDS Church. People who don't yet seem able to comprehend the effect they're having. Because such people almost universally do this out of religious conviction, I don't think the "honey" of soft words of persuasion is going to work. If you have an example that can prove me wrong, I would love to hear it!

darkdrearywilderness said...

My opinion is that Dan Savage falls victim to the same fallacy that Boyd K does: stereotyping an entire group of people by the actions of a vocal minority. Both are wrong (in my opinion), and both perpetuate a lack of understanding. I'm a gay man that drags my kids to one of those "hateful" churches on Sundays (to paraphrase Mr. Savage). I want them to learn charity and love, both at church and at home. Does that make me "partly responsible for the bullying and physical violence being visited on vulnerable LGBT children"?

Rob said...

I ran across a very interesting comment on another blog that nicely described some of my feelings as I wrote this post:

"There is [in the LDS Church] a tone-deaf lack of insight into the circumstances of gay people, gay Mormons in particular. The recent softening of discourse is successful in the apologetic goal of helping liberal members feel easier about their position. The vitriolic language of few decades past has gone down the memory hole, but the legacy lives on: instead of insisting that gay people don’t really exist–except when addressing Evergreen or in the case of Boyd why-would-God-do-that Packer–there is a new, more humane, demand for “those who” cannot change their orientation: just do whatever it takes to fit in to the world we imagined existed back when we said you didn’t exist. It’s like alcoholism: just try AA (well, Evergreen), or if that doesn’t work, willpower. Disappear! Problem solved!

I think it’s pretty clear whose problem isn’t solved in this way, but making it tenable for gay Mormons to stay in the church is not really the purpose."

Daniel said...


Tim Trent said...

If, darkdrearywilderness, they hear hatred preached by the pastor, then yes, it does.

If they hear only love, then it does not.

All churches are not the same