Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on Andrew Shirvell's Cyber-Stalking of Gay College Student: If This Is Normalcy, I'll Take a Big Helping of Abnormal, Please

That bizarre story about the right-wing Catholic Michigan assistant attorney general who is cyber-stalking a gay college student continues to unfold.  

Last night, Anderson Cooper interviewed the boss of the Michigan official in question, Andrew Shirvell.  Shirvell reports to Michigan attorney general Michael Cox.  From the moment the camera catches Cox, he looks like an extremely agitated cat on a baking tin roof.  If we could be given a penny for every time he blinks to beat the band in the short interview, we'd all be Croesus.  Cox is clearly anguished by the spotlight that Shirvell’s activities are causing to shine on his office, and with good reason: as Cooper notes, Cox campaigned for office using hard-line Republican anti-gay family values rhetoric, and Shirvell is his crony.

And so Cox dances around the obvious question: how on earth can any state office that wants to maintain public confidence in its integrity fail to rein in a state employee who is harassing a college student with nasty slurs about his sexual orientation?  Incredibly, unbelievably, Cox resorts to the lame argument that he must protect Shirvell’s right to free speech, even if he deplores the content of said free speech.

An argument that totally overlooks the obvious point that free speech is limited in all kinds of ways when one assumes public office—or in almost any workplace in the nation, for that matter.  Assuming the mantle of public responsibility, or taking a job in which you have to represent your employer effectively and interact with the public with integrity, requires you to curb your free speech in one area after another.

Free speech is not an unlimited right, in any workplace.  

But liberty is now the new battle cry of those who want their own unfettered freedom to restrain and harass others, with no limits on this liberty.  While they want the rights of targeted minorities strictly restrained.  Cox is being as irresponsible as Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss has been in failing to discover and discipline the employee in his office who posted a hate statement about gays on a blog following the DADT vote.

As Kyra Phillips succinctly and persuasively notes, there’s “something very wrong with” an assistant state attorney harassing a college student and harping on his sexual orientation in the process—and being protected in this activity by his employer, the attorney general of a state!  And all this at a moment in which a Rutgers student has just committed suicide after having been cyber-outed  by malicious classmates, and when there has been a rash of suicides of young gay teens at various places in the nation.

Talk about irresponsible.  Talk about inflammatory and dangerous.

As I listen again to Anderson Cooper’s interview with Mr. Shirvell, one thing leaps out: this is Shirvell’s repeated claim that his cyber-stalking of Chris Armstrong isn’t personal, and that his harassment of the college student is merely a political game in which he has every right to engage because his faith energizes his political activism.  Shirvell makes the tired old argument that he is a compassionate Christian, even as he fiercely lambasts and slurs a young man and exposes him to danger in what he himself admits is a political game.

Shirvell is using the old hate the sin but love the sinner argument, in other words.  He clearly believes (and he’s right) that he has the full backing of his own Catholic church’s magisterial teaching about homosexuality behind him as he attacks this college student.  He is not a bigot, he informs us.  He’s merely a “Christian citizen exercising his first-amendment rights.”  The real bigot is the person he’s targeting, Shirvell wants us to understand.  Though he’s a child of God, he deserves to be targeted.  Because he’s gay.

And this mish-mash of toxic assertions disguised as bona fide expressions of faith trouble me.  This is exactly the point I wanted to stress in my posting last evening about Wayne Besen’s observation that one cannot attack the abstraction of homosexuality without exposing real-life, flesh-and-blood human beings to harm.  And when those real-life, flesh-and-blood human beings are vulnerable young people, we need to take action to protect those vulnerable youngsters.   Not to expose them to further danger.

It’s time for our culture as a whole to call the bluff of people of faith who use the love the sin, hate the sinner argument to employ rhetoric and engage in actions that are proving toxic for gay youngsters seeking to come to terms with their God-given nature. And it’s time for the silent and apathetic center to stop sitting on the fence as young people are exposed to danger, and to participate in calling the bluff of those who imagine that they are acting on the basis of a divine command when they expose gay youngsters to danger.

Many commentators are rightly noting that members of the anti-gay industry and their supporters in the Republican party are among those who chiefly need to be challenged in this respect.  But in my view, that’s far from the whole story.  It’s still far too easy for members of various communities of faith, particularly in the U.S., to disguise what is ultimately anti-gay hate rhetoric as a valid expression of their faith—and to go unchallenged, both by other members of their own faith communities who know better, and by the often far too silent “tolerant” center.

When you continue to support a pastor of a wildly successful mega-church with over 25,000 members who has for years preached an ugly message of condemnation of those who are gay, you are part of the problem.  You are giving a message to any of your own children who might be gay and to the children of others who might be gay that they cannot expect even their own churches and families to be places of love and acceptance, as they struggle to accept who God has made them to be.

When you shrug your shoulders as Congress—and a Democratic federal administration elected with a wide popular majority—play cynical political games with the lives of gay and lesbian military personnel, you are part of the problem.   You are telling your gay children and the gay children of other parents that they must not expect to grow up in a world that permits them to pursue their dreams and to have the same rights that other citizens enjoy.  Because they are gay.

When you are a Catholic and you keep spewing nonsense about how the scriptures and our faith tradition revolve around the assertion that God made male and female (and men are, of course, ordained to be on top and women and men construed as female on bottom), you are part of the problem.  When you reduce the complexity of scripture and tradition to a single verse—God made them male and female—while ignoring verses like “By this will all know you are my followers, that you love one another” or "In Christ there is neither male nor female”—you are giving your gay and lesbian children and the gay and lesbian children of others a completely warped and ultimately hateful message about the meaning of your Catholic faith and their gay human natures.

Andrew Shirvell is absolutely right to assert that he stands squarely with Catholic magisterial teaching on gay and lesbian human beings.  And he is absolutely right to assume that Catholic magisterial teaching stands behind him as he mounts a vicious internet attack against a gay college student. 

He’s also correct to assume that he represents normalcy within the confines of the Catholic magisterial teaching that fuels his attack. 

And so normalcy—and Catholic magisterial teaching—are perhaps very much part of the problem those of us who are Catholic need to confront, if we expect to deal effectively with the suicides of our gay children and the gay children of other families.  

If Andrew Shirvell (and Catholic teaching about gay and lesbian persons) are normalcy, I’ll take a big helping of abnormal, please.  And two heaping sides of out of the box.

P.S. Michael Cox is also Catholic, by the way.

The graphic is one of the pictures from Andrew Shirvell's blog with demeaning slogans about Chris Armstrong scrawled across Armstrong's face.

No comments: