Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mike Huckabee on Gay Adoption as Not Ideal, and the Churches' Need for Enemies

Former Arkansas governor (and Southern Baptist minister) Mike Huckabee told Rosie O’Donnell this week that permitting gay couples to adopt children is not “the ideal.”  This statement comes on the heels of a statement Huckabee made a few days back that equated allowing gay people to adopt with treating children as puppies.

The use of ideal vs. non-ideal rhetoric to distinguish one category of human beings from another ought to trouble people who want to build a humane world.  Whenever social (and religious) groups establish such categories, they inevitably end up demeaning and then usually attacking the group that fails to meet “the” ideal.

When religious groups promote such categorization of human beings and develop systems to enforce the categorization, the effects are often particularly destructive for the demeaned group of human beings, because religion and its classification of people are exceptionally influential in most societies around the world. 

A question that needs to be raised about the penchant of religious groups to classify straight people as ideal and normal, and gay people as non-ideal and abnormal, is this: what is it about many forms of religion that seem positively to demand an enemy?  That seem to need a demeaned other?  That thrive on turning some groups of people into sub-humans?

One of the underlying themes of what Karen Armstrong has written about the history of the Christian-Islamic encounter and about the Crusades is that, although religious groups often have bloody histories, the originating impulse from which the major religions of the world have developed is not demonization but compassion.  The need of religious groups to make and punish enemies is a betrayal of what religion is about at its deepest and core levels.

Huckabee’s remarks are, at least in part, an oblique commentary on what has recently happened to a voter initiative that Arkansas voters passed by a large majority in the last election cycle.  This law, which a state judge recently struck down, prohibited unmarried couples from adopting children.

But its real intent was to target—and to demonize—gay couples.  The voter initiative was placed on the last statewide ballot to assure that a large percentage of voters representing the religious right would turn out for the election, both to vote against their perceived enemy, the gay community, and for the “right” (i.e., conservative) candidates in the election.

And the initiative succeeded.  It succeeded because, to a great extent, many church-minded voters in Arkansas are perfectly at ease with the underlying worldview that Rev. Huckabee promotes.  Many of my fellow citizens find themselves at home with versions of Christianity that thrive on turning someone into the enemy.

In the past, for many of us who are white, the enemy was people of color, and our churches assured us that our demonization of African Americans was pleasing to God and based in biblical mandates.  In the not-too-distant past, we reveled in theologies that identified women who aspired to “men’s” roles in the workplace or in society as abnormal and far from the ideal.

Though we profess to have repented of our historic racism and we claim to be working on our misogyny, we are perfectly content now to transfer precisely the same demeaning categories of classifications we formerly used to defend white supremacy and female subordination to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. 

We need an enemy, in short.  Our version of Christianity requires that we have an enemy to vanquish, at any given point in history.  The New York Times was right, in its recent editorial about the judicial decision to strike down Arkansas’s gay adoption ban, to call that ban discriminatory and heartless. 

The pity—and the shame for us as a heavily churched people—is that this accurate moral insight has to be presented to us by a secular newspaper when it is not conveyed to us by many of the religious leaders of our state.  Including Rev. Mike Huckabee . . . .

The graphic is a picture that the Huckabee family sent on a Christmas card to friends and supporters several years ago.  The ideal family . . . .