Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Am Here -- A Hard Week

I am here, folks. It has been a hard week. 

I blogged a week ago about the choice of National Catholic Reporter to scrub a comment I made at that site when I decided after months of silence (when I had previously experienced such censorship) to contribute to discussions there. My posting about this latest--and, I'll be frank, deeply disheartening--experience of censorship at the NCR site vents a concern I've vented over and over here since I began this blog: the milquetoast attitude of far too many Christians of the mushy middle, as the humanity of those of us who are gay gets trampled on.

Again and again and again.

An experience about which many of us who are gay have certain feelings. Because we're human.

Whether the kind of attacks with which we cope come from the openly hateful, vociferous Catholic and evangelical right or from the "moderate" and "reasonable" Catholic center, they nonetheless remain attacks. Attacks designed to diminish the humanity of those who are gay.

And silence or liberal balancing acts that refuse to take sides when a vulnerable minority is being attacked and its humanity diminished are not ethically defensible actions.

Since I posted about these matters a week ago, Fred Clark has noted an uptick in visits of "classic trolls" at his Slacktivist blog site who engage in "drive-by trolling" designed to lob poo-bombs into discussions. Then Fred wrote about the "cesspool" that the Christianity Today internet site became after the Christian relief World Vision organization announced that it would extend its policy about married couples to married same-sex couples. 

At the National Catholic Reporter site on the same day, Phyllis Zagano noted that "electronic attitudes are increasingly hardening, and commentary is increasingly sharp." She predicts that in the  Catholic context, this may end up causing a "tornado" that's destructive for the church as a whole.

Under pressure from the hard Christian right, World Vision has just reversed its policy about same-sex married couples. Evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans responds:

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don't think I've ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people, nor had I expected World Vision to yield to that disdain by reversing its decision under pressure. Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side. 

At its Facebook page, the Christian Left writes in response to World Vision's decision,

Given what we’ve witnessed with all the print articles from The "Christian" Right slamming World Vision and all the "Christians" on World Vision’s Facebook page deriding them for treating gay people like human beings, we’re forced to reevaluate our optimism. These people aren't going to let go of the 6 or 7 clobber passages in the Bible even though all of them are misinterpreted or taken out of context. They're not going to let go of their deep-seated hatred, condemnation and self-righteousness with regard to treating gay people with dignity. Many times over the last few years we’ve heard people say, "The battle has already been won." No it hasn't.

Welcome to my world, Christian Left. Welcome to the world in which those of us who are gay have lived for a long time now. 

Needless to say, all of this has very direct bearing on my feeling of ineffectuality and despondency this week--a feeling that makes me reluctant even to continue blogging, when it's apparent to me that anything I have to offer makes little difference at all. Certainly not to the hard Catholic and evangelical right whose primary objective is to shut people like me up. But above all, not to the "moderate" and "reasonable" folks in the mushy middle of my own church, who pride themselves on setting a big table of civil discourse at which everyone is welcome, but who never seem capable of lifting a finger when the lion shows up at that oh so civil table and does what lions always do: attacks the lamb. (Not that the lamb, c'est moi. My point is that "civil" conversations contain very unequal power relationships, and the liberal pretense to balance ignores those to the peril of the weaker and the delight of the stronger.)

I don't want to hash to death what happened with NCR and me last week. One point I'd like to mention, however, because it is very certainly related to points made by those I've just cited, is this: one of those jubilating--taunting me, in fact--in the thread in which NCR silenced me is someone who had previously appeared here at Bilgrimage as one of those drive-by trolls about which Fred Clark recently wrote at his site.

The person's username gave away the fact that she or he had set up a Disqus account (and very recently, at least under that username: it had only some 7 comments when he/she landed on my site) primarily to troll. His/her comments here at Bilgrimage and NCR reinforced my initial impression that this "web lurker" had set up an account with the sole purpose of trolling religious blog sites to lob anti-gay bombs. When the account was then quickly privatized, so that no one could see the commenter's history of comments, my suspicions grew stronger.

When I saw what was afoot, I had no compunction about banning this troll from Bilgrimage. The experience of having a horde of trolls migrate from NCR to this blog after NCR suspended its comments for a period of time was instructive in all kinds of ways for me. Since they began trolling a site I myself administer, I could see, for the first time, many of the tactics they use to attack and try to silence people they target.

I learned, for instance, that they use the flag button in a sneaky (and, I suspect, coordinated) way to try to disappear comments to which they object in discussion threads. Because no one had ever done this at Bilgrimage before these trolls appeared here, I had no idea that comments were even being flagged and removed from discussion threads, until I happened to look into a folder of comments pending approval and found a slew of such flagged comments dating from the time the group of trolls lighted on this site.

At this point, I read the Disqus guidelines about flagging comments and found that I could make certain choices about how many flags will shunt a comment into the pending-approval folder, and I can, if I choose, even shut down the flagging option. My point in bringing all of this up is that I learned from watching how the batch of trolls I acquired when NCR suspended comments work that it's very easy for a group of people to target someone and simply use the flagging system to cause comments to be removed from a thread--if, that is, moderators of a blog site are not vigilant about the fact that organized groups of trolls can engage in this behavior and so silence people they do not like.

And, of course, in light of my latest (and last: I won't be returning there) experience of being censored at NCR, I wonder just how vigilant NCR's moderators are about the potential for abuse of the flagging system to drive people out of conversations. I also wonder, in the case of the troll I banned from this site who continues to have carte blanche to post at the NCR site, and who made taunting comments after I was censored there last week, whether NCR's moderators have looked at that person's ip address and discovered the interesting fact that it originates in a smallish community in Illinois that is home to an anti-gay hate group founded by a former Catholic.

As I say, I don't want to hash through what happened to me at the NCR site last week. In some ways, I'm now beyond caring. What I do want to note is that the free hand many commenters whose sole goal is to spread toxic anti-gay poisons at religious blog sites continue to enjoy at those sites, while they often succeed in running off people they target, has real-life effects on some real-life human beings.

Some of whom feel pretty worn out by the stepped-up vituperation of many "Christians" these days against those who are gay, "Christians" who are practically dancing their way through one blog site after another to mount attacks on their fellow human beings who are gay . . . . Behavior that I predict we'll see more and more of as many of these folks feel increasing desperation as the culture shifts in a tolerant and inclusive direction . . . .

Behavior that calls for action to stand with and protect those who are gay on the part of Christians of the mushy middle, if those Christians want anyone to believe that the gospel they proclaim has anything at all good newsy about it . . . . 

So this is why I've been quiet this week. March is always something of a slog for me, since it brings yearly memories of my brother's too-early death, about which I blogged some days ago. This March, in particular, I have felt bombarded by . . . too much . . . as I've dealt with news of two sudden deaths of men connected to my life, one younger than I am, one a year older, both seemingly in the pink of health. In a month in which I myself will turn 64, if I live to the point of my birthday . . . . 

Steve and I also continue to struggle with family dynamics that are often cruel beyond belief, which are premised on unacknowledged heterosexual power and privilege, and about which I just don't talk much, since why bore people with that news? I mention this now only to say, once again, that the messages of disdain, of exclusion, of dehumanization that too many Christians give their fellow human beings who are gay have real effects on us.

Because we lead real lives. Those lives are complicated, as are the lives of every other human being in the world. When we're already struggling because of this or that, the messages of disdain, exclusion, and dehumanization can sometimes become almost too much to bear.

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