Monday, November 30, 2009


Recently I attended a social gathering at a local coffeehouse. It was a simple, low-key event with about two dozen people and a musician in the background, but it reminded me once again why I normally don't go to parties like that. I understand why extroverts thrive in those environments, surrounded by people and activity and free to move from conversation to conversation, but for an introvert (even one who can function better than me in a crowd) it can be very draining. It isn't long before the noise, the constant distractions and the frequent interruptions wear me down to the point that I can barely grunt at people as they flit by me.

Even in a medium-sized group I can find it hard to break into the discussion if one or more people are dominating it; the rhythms of conversation that others take for granted completely escape me. That's not to say that I don't try, but most of the time my efforts go largely unnoticed, and it isn't long before an extrovert is complaining (to me or to somebody else) about the fact that I don't talk enough. What's wrong with that guy, that he doesn't do what the rest of us take for granted? He must be deliberately holding back, since it's so simple and obvious how these things are supposed to be done. The problem is that I'm not, and it's not, and the ones doing the complaining are rarely interested in understanding my perspective; they think I should be more like them, and nothing else is acceptable.

As much as I hate being judged and written off like that, I have to take care that I don't do it myself. In my mind, there are few things better than a good board game. Who wouldn't enjoy the challenge of a little strategic competition? Even if gaming isn't a person's forte, there are plenty of good yet relatively simple games like Settlers of Catan that can be enjoyed by a wide range of people.

Yet even Settlers of Catan is overwhelmingly complex for some people. No matter how carefully you explain the rules and the strategies, they just can't wrap their minds around what they're supposed to do with the cards with the funny pictures and the dice rolling that somehow ends up with people getting more cards, or why a wood and a brick can be used to make a road. As far as they're concerned, everyone might as well be speaking in ancient Swahili; even after playing an entire game, they have no idea what just happened.

It's very frustrating ending up at a gaming table with an individual like that. How can they not at least begin to grasp what's just been clearly (and repeatedly) explained to them? Are they even paying attention? Yet it's just as wrong of me to judge them for not being better at what comes naturally to me as it is for the aforementioned extroverts to judge me for not being more adept at group conversations. Some people simply aren't wired to think strategically, and it doesn't mean that they're dumb or lazy or anything of that sort; their talents simply lie elsewhere.

We all have things that come so naturally to us that it's hard to imagine anyone not finding them equally obvious and simple. And that bias often gets reinforced as we gravitate toward those who are like us. Thus reinforced, it becomes easy to dismiss those who see the world differently and to assume that deep down they really know the same things we do. In reality, we have just reduced those people to two-dimensional caricatures. We no longer care about who they really are; we just want to transform them into variations of ourselves so that we can pay lip service to "diversity" without having to wrap our minds around what that really means.

The same problem exists when it comes to the prejudice that sexual minorities face on a daily basis. For all their talk about "biblical sexuality," very few evangelicals have actually taken the time to study the complexities of human sexuality for themselves, much less made any effort to understand the lives and perspectives of gay or lesbian (or, God forbid, transgendered) individuals.

And why should they, when society and even nature itself reinforces their feelings on a daily basis? It's all so obvious (or "self-evident," as one prominent theologian likes to say) that surely anyone who sees things differently must be suppressing their "natural" feelings in an ongoing act of willful defiance. If those rebellious gays would just surrender to God and stop acting out on their sin, they would surely find the same happiness and fulfillment in a "real" marriage that everyone else does.

Over the course of centuries, bias that goes largely unchallenged solidifies into dogma, and its adherents can claim the mantle of tradition to further squelch any potential opposition. Add in a few verses from the Bible that appear to validate the instincts of the majority, and the result is a monolith that violently rejects even the slightest possibility that any of its edicts might be anything less than infallible.

The result is an endless series of efforts by members of the majority (many of them well-intentioned) to end the "wrong" behaviors of the minority by whatever means necessary - therapy, coercion, emotional blackmail and even the force of law. Unfortunately, even if some members of the minority manage to adopt the outward behaviors of the majority, they do so at the cost of suppressing their true selves without truly becoming like the majority.

History has seen many similar drives, where members of a "wrong" group were dehumanized through efforts to make them "right," whether it be extroverts demanding more sociability from introverts, reparative therapists attempting to reprogram gays, right-handed individuals forcing lefties to use the "correct" hand, Christian missionaries commanding their indigenous converts to adopt Western cultural norms, or schools punishing students whose learning styles aren't suited to the traditional classroom setting.

Regardless of the situation, our insatiable urge to make others into carbon copies of us says more about our idolatrous fixation on ourselves than our judgments do about those we see as "wrong." And we seldom pause long enough in our crusade to consider who we are really attacking when we demand such change from a human being made in the image of God.

Our inability to see very far beyond ourselves is simple human nature and not a fault in and of itself. How we respond to those who challenge our definition of normal, and whether we trust God enough to let him take care of anything that really does need changing, is entirely up to us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Okay, the video doesn't actually have anything to do with Thanksgiving, but who doesn't like the Muppets? Have a restful and happy holiday.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Deeply Rooted

The vast majority of Christians never have to think deeply about their faith or what it is based on. They are immediately accepted in any church they choose to wander into on any given Sunday. If they are heterosexual or from a respectable family or social class, our society ordinarily assumes them to be "good Christians." They easily accept the tenets of the faith, teach them to their Sunday school classes, listen to the preacher repeat them, and go about their lives believing them without question. They don't have to question any of these beliefs because nothing in their experience challenges those beliefs and everything outside of them affirms those beliefs.

The faith of GLBT people, by contrast, is constantly under assault. We are always questioning our beliefs and wondering whether we're being true to our experience of God or deluding ourselves. Our more conservative friends come down firmly on the side of delusion, but often their opinion is colored by their own unexamined faith - a faith that isn't used to being challenged. Instead of questioning their own faith, they question ours. They insist that their faith must be right and ours must be wrong - but this isn't necessarily true. An unexamined faith is not a bulletproof faith. A faith based on a "this is what we've always believed" mentality is not a faith that can withstand doubt. Instead, that kind of faith must insist on its own way - by discounting or demeaning any faith that disagrees.

Remember, if our faith is doubted or questioned by others, it has nothing to do with us or our faith. That's "their stuff." Our faith has challenged them in a way that is unfamiliar to them. They've never had to question their faith. They've never had to examine what they believe and why. The preacher said it's in the Bible, and they believe it. That settles it for them. The appearance of a GLBT person of faith presents a danger to their own faith, so they lash out at us, calling us names or condemning us to hell. Don't take it personally. It has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with their faith and the shock of having their faith challenged.

The difference between a bulletproof faith and one that cannot handle a challenge is that a bulletproof faith embraces the doubt. It welcomes it, makes it at home, and begins to explore what this fresh doubt means and how it may change, improve, enhance, or have no effect whatsoever on faith. When we embrace doubt as an opportunity for growth and not as an enemy to our faith, we have the ability - and the humility - to say, "If new evidence ariese, my faith can adapt without being destroyed."

-Candace Chellew-Hodge, Bulletproof Faith (pgs. 137-138)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It is an unfortunate reality that positive progress rarely occurs in a straight line; there are always setbacks along the way, as the vote yesterday in Maine demonstrated. At the same time, it's worth keeping sight of the fact that, on the whole, the cause of GLBT rights is gaining more ground than it's losing, as other votes taken yesterday demonstrated:

-In Washington State, the people appear to have voted to retain domestic partnerships. While the absence of the word "marriage" probably made the difference between victory and defeat, the fact that gay couples can win even that much recognition in a statewide referendum is proof of how far we've come in a short time.

-In Kalamazoo, MI, voters overwhelmingly approved a non-discrimination ordinance. This one wasn't even close.

-Openly gay candidates in Chapel Hill and Detroit won election to city office, and another in Houston moved forward to a December runoff election.

And meanwhile, the Matthew Shepard act is law and the District of Columbia appears poised to legalize same-sex marriage.

A sampling of reactions from around the blogosphere:

Kate Kendell (via Pam's House Blend):

It is a travesty of every principle that made this nation great that the rights of a minority group can be put up to a popular vote. There are many ignominious moments in the history of this country, moments of shame that were corrected by Courts or by legislative action. If those great strides, in Women's rights, in the rights of religious minorities or of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans or American Indians had been put up to popular vote we all know how those votes would have turned out. The shame would have endured. And the taint on our Democracy would have continued.

Joe.My.God (stated a bit pointedly, but no less true for it):

They [Yes on 1 supporters] should also thank NOM for its illegal refusal to comply with Maine's financial disclosure laws. And they should thank Stand For Marriage for consistently lying about "teaching gay marriage." And they should thank the Archbishop of Maine for passing the collection plate during Ma$$.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Conservatives pride themselves on their skepticism, and generally dismiss liberals as soft-headed Utopians. But in so many ways, political conservatism is Utopianism for the powerful. It isn't broadly skeptical of human nature, so much as it's broadly skeptical of people its agents don't particularly like. Hence the sense that Americans are intrinsically "good people," that this country "is the best nation that ever existed in history," that the South is home to "the greatest people that have ever trod the earth," and that the murder of four little girls in Birmingham was the work of a "Communist" or "crazed Negro," which had "set back the cause of white people."

Hence the notion that those voting against gay marriage, are not actually, in the main, motivated by bigotry, but a belief in tradition and family. But very few people would actually ever describe themselves as bigots. We think we know so much about ourselves. This is a country--like many countries--which is deeply riven by ethnic bias, gender discrimination. And yet we don't seem to know any of the agents of that discrimination.

Alvin McEwen:

But the landscape is changing. The more America sees lgbt couples, the more America sees lgbt families, and the more open and out we are, the more opportunistic charlatans like Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown, and the rest of the "we need to protect marriage" crowd will be seen for what they are - silly clowns repeating silly catchphrases rooted in scare tactics and phony victimology of being called a "bigot."

Justin Lee (via Box Turtle Bulletin):

To be sure, legislation is an important part of changing the future for the better. But no bill or ballot initiative can eliminate homophobia, hate, or prejudice. Increasing the penalties for hate crimes won’t stop them if churches are preaching hate. And federal marriage rights won’t stop a gay kid from being pressured into a loveless straight marriage by his parents or church.

If we want to make the world a safe place for the next generation, we must do more than change the laws. We must change the culture. So instead of thinking of people of faith as just another voting pool, we need to think about all the ways that faith impacts culture, and how supportive people of faith can help make those changes. Because even if your goals are exclusively political, it’s worth noting that culture shapes the political landscape in big ways.

Andrew Sullivan:

But I do want to point out that, from the perspective of just a decade ago, to have an even split on this question in a voter referendum is a huge shift in the culture. In Maine, where the Catholic church did all it could to prevent gays from having civil rights in a very Catholic and rural state, gays do have equality but may now merely be denied the name. The process itself has helped educate and enlighten and deepen the debate about gay people in ways that never happened before the marriage issue came up.