Monday, December 29, 2008

As 2009 Approaches: Predictors of Continued Assault from the Religious Right

Okay. I’ve struggled enough with this posting (and with myself). There will never be a perfect time to write it, when I am safely beyond the Christmas doldrums, beyond that let-down feeling that comes after you have worked for days to prepare a large meal for a large group. Who do what guests naturally do: eat, make merry (or not), go home, and leave you to manage the leftovers.

At Christmas, that let-down feeling is sometimes compounded, in my family, at least, by the sense that I am not much needed or respected. And when the Christmas blues join with the larger blues—from similar experiences in one’s church community and in the workplace, which also communicate one’s worthlessness—one begins to doubt the wisdom of writing. Of addressing current issues. Of sharing thoughts about the future. Of keeping a blog.

One does not want one’s thoughts about such matters to be colored by personal dolefulness—particularly when others may read those thoughts and be swayed by them. The ethic of doing no harm—which is central to the Jewish spirituality of tikkun olam, to Wesleyan piety, to the Thomistic tradition with its summary of the moral imperative as doing good and avoiding harm—forbids us to offer advice to others than may cause their hurt.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I think this blog reaches or sways many readers, or that it’s some kind of advice column on which anyone hangs. What I am crucially aware of, though, as I blog, is that there are real human beings reading, who have real human minds and hearts, and who may be affected for weal or woe by what I say.

I know a few regular readers, and I occasionally receive a “snapshot” of this or that reader who contacts me to share some detail that allows me to see into that person’s human situation—a tiny bit. Those snapshots help keep me honest. They serve to remind me that I am keeping this blog not only for myself, but for others—others who care to join Steve’s and my pilgrimage now and again.

I’m perhaps more aware of those readers and their human faces right now, because of a Christmas card I got this year. It came from someone with whom I worked in a previous workplace. Sad to say, that workplace is now so fraught with tension—some of it centered on continued hostility towards anyone thought to be associated with me, ludicrous hostility, in that I am no longer there and maintain ties with no one there—that it takes an act of courage for anyone on that campus to write and tell me that they value me.

And because of the very real danger to anyone who shows solidarity with me on that particular campus, I have to be careful about anything I might say here that would reveal the identity of the person who sent me this Christmas card. The head of this university decisively decreed that I be disappeared, and she expects that decree to hold for the foreseeable future. She is not above taking reprisal against anyone she thinks may question the cruel injustice she visited on Steve and me.

Given these circumstances, I value all the more a statement my former co-worker made in his/her Christmas card to me. The colleague says, “I read your blog. Keep up the good work in all your efforts. You were the most kind, caring and loving couple and you’ll never know how much that meant to me.”

It means much—well, truthfully, it means the world—to hear those words, in this post-Christmas season when days are long and the new year has not yet arrived. It means much to hear this message from a campus whose leader decreed that an opposite message be transmitted to Steve and me: one of disrespect, of enraged vilification, and of blame for struggles that arise out of her leadership style rather than from the gay couple she would prefer to scapegoat as the source of all her problems.

So, raw feelings . . . and this posting is heading somewhere, I promise, somewhere constructive and beyond the merely confessional—but to get to the constructive, I have to slog through the confessional material. I have to do so because it explains why I am reaching the conclusions I’ll discuss in the next half of this posting, about the imperative need to remain focused on the religious right, if we want democracy to be rebuilt in our nation with the new administration.

There is a very real backdrop to what I write about the religious right. The backdrop is my unavoidable involvement with the religious right and its assault on participatory democracy. I say “unavoidable,” because I am squarely in the sights of the religious right. I am there because they have placed me there, and they intend to keep me there. All LGBT Americans who do not intend to hide, pretend, or apologize for being who God has made us to be are in the sights of the religious right, and that movement intends to keep us there as long as doing so yields political benefits for the religious right.

I write with passion about the religious right and the assault on democracy precisely because I am there, right in the middle of the issue. When I talk about Rick Warren or Benedict XVI’s Christmas address to the Curia, I do not do so academically: I do so existentially, personally. It’s my life that is involved. It’s my humanity, my personhood, that I’m struggling for, against the religious and political right. I can do no other.

From proposition 8 to the Arkansas initiated act to deny adoption rights to unmarried couples to the Florida amendment outlawing gay marriage, then to Rick Warren and Benedict XVI: the months leading up to Christmas were hardly a time of unmitigated joy for those of us who are gay and lesbian in America today. We would be less than honest if we took stock of this year and looked to the next without noting the effects on us as human beings and on our community from the ongoing assault on our human worth.

No one can undergo such sustained assault and not be affected by it. And when the assault comes from those who claim the moral high road, even as they kick, gouge, and destroy, well: it strikes deep. It is intended to strike deep. It is intended to banish one from religious communion and God, as much as from human community.

Prefacing what I will say next about the religious right are some gruesome experiences I’ve had in recent days on blogs in my own religious communion, the Catholic one. I blogged about some of these recently ( Just logging in to some of the recent American Catholic blog discussions about the Rick Warren invitation or Benedict’s Christmas message to the Curia is like taking a dose of poison. The glib assumptions about gay human beings and gay human lives—from both right-wing and liberal American Catholics: they are astonishing. They are dehumanizing.

Right as Christmas approached, on Christmas eve, I visited the blog at the National Catholic Reporter website to find a message—a Christmas message, to me from a frequent blogger there. I’ve discussed my encounters with this blogger in a previous posting ( As that posting notes, he advocates reparative therapy for gay persons. He is also convinced that the only moral way to live with a gay sexual orientation is in perpetual chastity.

As the posting to which I just linked notes, I had several exchanges with this blogger in the fall, regarding the issue of violence in the rhetoric of Sarah Palin’s campaign. The blogger accused me of misrepresenting the facts—of distorting the truth—regarding the level of violence being elicited by Palin’s dangerous rhetoric.

When other posters and I advanced evidence to refute his attack on my veracity, this blogger fell silent. He refused to admit he had been wrong—that he had clearly distorted the truth to accuse me of failing to speak the truth. I have not heard from this blogger from then until now.

Now, at Christmas time, when he chose to attack again . . . . He responds to a posting of mine about Benedict’s Christmas message by asking the following:

Do you have any other concerns that weigh on you - matters of justice, of righteousness, of life in Christ other than this one issue? Or is it the homosexual issue alone that occupies you?

As this Catholic blogger accuses me of being obsessed (his word) with the gay issue, to the exclusion of all other issues, it seems not to occur to him—or not to matter—that our last exchange was on a thread I began at the NCR café to discuss violence in the rhetoric of the presidential campaigns! He seems unaware of threads I have begun at NCR to discuss the lack of effective governmental response to hurricane Katrina—to the many threads on all kinds of issues to which I have contributed.

He is unaware of the extent of my ethical and religious interests, as exhibited in my writings, I suspect, because he wants to be unaware. He needs to be unaware, because he needs to reduce me and my humanity to a single factor: to sexual orientation. He needs to do that in order to dismiss me.

His remarks to me at Christmas time end with an invitation that I have no choice except to hear as condescending, insincere—indeed, cruel: he invites me to repent of my sin and to be strengthened by God.

Why pay so much attention to this experience? I do so because, I propose, it’s an experience those of us who are unapologetically LGBT have over and over in American culture today. We are talked down to, berated, and then invited to repentance by those who employ untruths while accusing us of distorting the truth. We are lied to and lied about by those who call us liars.

And who still receive the support of large sectors of American society and of American cultures as they behave this way . . . . That is why the Rick Warren selection sticks in the craw of many Americans, and why this controversy will not go away. Our culture continues to give the benefit of the doubt, to accord the moral high road, to people who have succeeded in exposing themselves as untruthful, as morally dubious, as inimical to the fundamental values of American democracy. Even as they proclaim themselves as spokespersons for God and exemplary guardians of moral values.

And things aren’t going to get any better anytime soon—which is the gist of the posting that will build on this one.