Friday, June 13, 2008

Love. Period. Again.

What do you do when you encounter hate? And when it’s dressed up as love?

This is the dynamic—the blunt reality—gay human beings deal with on a daily basis, particularly insofar as we encounter many who call themselves followers of Jesus.

To follow Jesus, you have to profess to believe in love. In fact, you have to claim that love is the central virtue, the power that moves the universe, the sole thing on which we shall all be judged at the end of our lives: it is everything that, in the end, counts.

And somehow, you have to do make these claims while denying gay human beings the right to love, the right to claim our love as love, and while behaving in anything but a loving way towards us. You have to claim to stand for love—in fact, you have to claim that the God who is Love stands on your side and your side alone—while lying to and about gay human beings, while cheating us, using our talents and then kicking us to the curb, shutting the door in our faces as we try to visit a sick partner in the hospital, ending our jobs without evaluations when we do good work and solely because we are gay.

Several days ago, Cyndi Lauper issued a statement about her intent to keep fighting for equal rights for all Americans ( Two lines in her statement keep nagging at my mind: “I'm still stunned that most Americans have no idea today that in most states a person can be fired just for being lesbian or gay, transgender or bisexual. I am outraged by crimes of violence and hate against young people because of their sexual orientation or gender expression and identity.”

I’m stunned that most Americans don’t know that an LGBT person can be fired in most states—with no legal recourse—simply because she/he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. I’m stunned that so many Christians seem capable of pursuing conversation about where gay people belong in the eternal scheme of things, without knowing that simple fact. Or that so many Christians work tooth and nail against legal protection from such unjust firing.

I’m also stunned that so few Christians seem to know—or care about—gay bashing in our school system. Watch this clip of a Michigan high-school girl being beaten up by classmates because she supports gay rights, and tell me we don’t have a problem:

What may be almost as horrifying as the assault itself is the cold-blooded way the girls planning the assault poise themselves in the background to leap on their victim, and the ring of silent bystanders who do nothing to come to the defense of the girl being pummeled.

This, folks, is Christian love. Love in action. Love translated into action, when it comes to gay human beings. This is what the churches protect, foment, encourage, stand for when they tell their members and society at large that gay human beings are less human than are other human beings, or that gay human beings are human in a distorted way that deserves condemnation and abuse.

This is what churches in Southern states like South Carolina encourage when they support attempts of the state to outlaw gay-straight alliances in schools: see A Christian state like South Carolina. One full of churches and churchgoers. A state seeking to issue license plates with “I believe” emblazoned on them, with a cross and a stained-glass window to gloss the statement of faith. A state in which a county court has just sentenced a man who murdered a young man solely because that man was gay to a three-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter. A state in which the murderer could not be charged with a hate crime because there are no state laws protecting gay people against such hate-based assaults.

South Carolina, a state full of good Methodists, who constantly talk about doing all the good one can all the time, about never causing harm. And a state full of good Southern Baptists who have just elected a native American president in an attempt to demonstrate that they stand for inclusion and tolerance—but who, at the same time, announce redoubled efforts to target gay people, and whose new president says that the rights he expects to have as a member of an oppressed minority do not extend to LGBT people. The old game of good minorities, bad minorities: the churches keep playing it, as if we are blind to the crude divide-and-conquer tactics it employs.

So what do you do when you encounter hate? And when it dresses up as love?

I’m pondering this question in light of a snappy little remark someone left yesterday at the National Catholic Reporter café blogsite. The remark is an assessment of the posting I made on this blog on 14 May, entitled “Love. Period.” Because I thought that what that posting had to say deserved discussion by religious folks, I cross-posted it to the NCR café site (never dreaming as I did so that it would then appear on the very day that the California Supreme Court handed down its ruling permitting gay marriage).

The posting has elicited comments—attacks, actually, from some of my fellow Catholics who believe that Truth is on their side. Period.

The latest comment informs me flatly that homosexuality is not about love. Well, the poster is one of those who likes to capitalize words like “truth” and “love” when she uses them, presumably to demonstrate that she stands on the side of a Love and a Truth that emanate from God. So what she actually says is that homosexuality is not about Love.

What does one do with such a remark? It is oblivious to reason, obviously. If reason mattered in this discussion, then the person making this comment would have tried to address my many arguments on this and other threads in which I have engaged her, asking for reasonable (reason-based, respectful) discussion of the claims of the Catholic Church that what gay people do and represent is not love.

Without wanting to mount a personal attack here on someone I don’t even know outside the blog café, I have concluded that reason—or, even, the desire to discover truth in shared dialogue—is not what motivates this and other posters who attack gay people in the name of Love (their definition of love posturing as God’s definition).

Argue with such posters, and one argues in circles. The poster in question first informed me that authentic Love is only love as defined by Christ. Fine, I told her, and then cited what Christian tradition has historically seen as perhaps the most succinct definition of love by Jesus in the gospels: greater love has no one than this, that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends.

I noted that I see gay folks doing precisely that on a daily basis.

Who is to tell those people, then, that their love is inauthentic?

My dialogue partner then immediately changed the subject. The subject became not love (or Love) at all, but homosexuality—her views of homosexuality, which depend on the repeated assertion (she ignores any evidence to the contrary—simply ignores) that God made all people male or female and intends for all people to live according to the biological imperatives of their God-given gender in procreative marital relationships.

I noted that, having started with Love, she had shifted our discussion to homosexuality. I noted that this places her argument on shaky footing, since Jesus talks a heck of a lot about love, but never once about homosexuality.

She now responds to my observations by informing me flatly that who gay people are and what gay people do is not love. Case closed.

She owns the truth. We who are gay do not. She defines love, even for us. We do not and cannot.

This is hate masquerading as love. It is what Christians do to LGBT people all the time.

How does one respond?

One possibility is just to ignore, not to engage. Why waste time engaging nonsense? Or, even worse, engaging nonsense that is not really even about the purported topic of discussion . . .

So many of these discussions are actually about something else. Ultimately, they are about the assertion of one group of people in our society—those on the religious and political right of the cultural spectrum—to define reality for everyone else. They are about control.

For these folks, gay people are simply convenient pawns in control games that go far beyond the issue of homosexuality. Their intent is to stop cultural movements—such as the movement for women to have access to contraception and the right to make decisions about contraception for themselves; the abolition of capital punishment; the provision of healthcare for all—that these groups see as threatening to their control.

We who are LGBT spend an extraordinary amount of energy fighting political and cultural battles with those who do not intend to respect even the most basic rules of public discourse—with those who do not respect the truth enough to be transparent about their real motives and real affiliations. We are fighting chimeras, and we expend energy in doing so that we would better expend in simply being human, in simply loving.

As a wonderful African-American friend of mine once said to me, in her growing up as a black woman in the segregated South, she learned that not every battle is worth fighting. What she meant, obviously, is not giving up and giving in. It is learning when to draw a line and stand by it, prepared to fight to the death for a principle about which one will, in this instance, simply not budge. Not every decision facing us everyday has that depth or complexity about it.

What to do when people hate while professing to love—to define love for others?

In the final analysis, I have concluded, one does this: one goes on loving. As if life itself depends on loving. As if everyone around one deserves as much compassionate attention as one is capable of giving. As if who one is depends utterly on continuing to make the choice to love, no matter what.

And if the churches want to ignore the rich witness of love in gay lives, then ignore they must. And lose they must—gifts the churches sorely need to be whole and to make the world whole, and credibility among those who can no longer ignore the discrepancy between the love professed and the hate practiced.

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