By now you’ve probably heard about Duck Dynasty and the whole A&E fiasco. Phil Robertson made some offensive comments in an interview, almost (but not definitively) equating homosexuality with bestiality, and then A&E promptly put him on indefinite hiatus, saying the network supports the LGBT community. All well and good, I suppose. It hardly seems any bit different than what happened to Paula Dean over the summer. Fair enough.
In all honesty, the decision means very little to me: I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty and I don’t watch A&E in general. But I woke up this morning and started perusing through Facebook, and I gotta say: The news is everywhere. And if my informal observations are anything to argue from, you might be surprised at what I saw.
I feel a disclaimer is in order: My evidence is two threads that appeared on my wall, one championed by a cousin who’s Christian and the other by a local LGBT-rights group. Additionally, despite the generalizations I’m about to make, there were clearly outliers in both groups that held opposing opinions. This by no means was a social-science worthy study, but if my intent here is to observe the world as it existed in a snapshot of Facebook–which it is–then my words shall at least ring true to that demographic.
Primed and proper as I hope that has left you, let’s carry on.
The LGBT group’s participants were largely unfazed by the matter. Many of them argued that Phil Robertson has freedom of speech as much as anyone else, and though they disagreed with his comments and some even said they felt hurt by them, they weren’t at all surprised. “He’s a Bible-thumping redneck,” said one person, “what did we expect?”
Did they feel he should be taken off the show? The opinions were mixed, but I think the general idea was against it: The comments hadn’t been made on the show, and so long as they were kept off it, most of them appeared to see no harm in having it continued. Echoing the words of the one commenter, what do people expect?
The Christian group echoed the same notions of freedom of speech–but took it a step further. Or a few steps further. Instead of showing tolerance towards the right of others to believe as they see fit, they went on tirades bashing A&E, proclaiming the world is at war with Christianity, and that Christians “need to stand up for [their] rights.”
(The irony: most of the rights the LGBT community is fighting for are actually a direct result of the Christian community taking them away. But that’s not today’s conversation.)
What struck me most was how vehement, even violent these comments were. They showed no respect to anyone else–not to A&E for conducting business as they see fit, not to the LGBT community who was targeted in these comments, not even toward others who expressed more moderate beliefs. It was terrifying, some of the things they said. In this day and age, I had hoped such baseless hatred no longer existed–but it does.
As a mostly-neutral party, I was taken aback at how differently these two groups responded: Both feel victimized in some understandable way, but whereas the LGBT community accepted the right of others to hold their own beliefs (with their biggest complaint being when these beliefs are unfairly made law), the Christian community seemed to suggest that the only acceptable belief is their own.
And that’s unacceptable.
No matter what your beliefs are, accepting only your own as valid is unacceptable.
The sad part is that Christianity and LGBT-ness are not exclusive territories. There are LGBT people who are religious and suffer greatly for their sexuality and gender identity, and there are religious people in the LGBT community who suffer greatly for their beliefs. I still recall being asked, “You’re gay and Jewish? How does that work?”
No one should be forced to choose their faith over who they are (or vice versa). I’ve known many Christians who fully accept the LGBT community, and I know many people in the LGBT community who hold no qualms over religion provided it doesn’t preach hatred or try to dictate how they live their lives–all fair and honest requests, mind you. Then again, I think this happens to be a minority mentality–one most Christians don’t have.
Belonging to a minority, I’ve learned a lot more about majority culture than the majority has learned about me. I’ve grown up knowing my beliefs are on the fringe, knowing that I’ll need to answer questions (sometimes incessantly many questions) because people just don’t know anything about what it means to be Jewish or what it means to be gay. I had to learn, at a very young age, to accept people’s beliefs when they are different than mine and, even more so, to articulate my beliefs to make sense to others.
For those in the majority, no justification is required. It’s a privilege I’ve never had–to know unconditionally that most people (in fact, probably everybody) believes the same way I do–why, I can’t imagine that. But for many, if not most, Christians in the United States, that is precisely the world in which they’ve grown up. They never had to learn to accept differences in ideas or beliefs because everyone around them thought the same thing.
It’s a shame, really. They’ve lost so much perspective that enriches the world and deepens the personal relationship they can share with it–with nature, with other people, with themselves, with God.
And when things like this Phil Robertson/A&E fiasco occur, suddenly everything they know is being threatened. Suddenly their entire world is under attack. Suddenly they need to get defensive–because obviously what they believe is the only belief that’s acceptable because they were never blessed with the opportunity to learn otherwise. They’re trapped in a narrow hallway with change behind them and fear propelling them forwards–but it’s a long and dark and lonely hallway, and I pity all who are stuck inside it.
With a few easy steps, they could turn around and join us, open their minds and open their hearts and enter a world brimming with all the glory of God’s creation. God is not a narrow deity, creating but one true form–children do that. The God I believe in, the God I know–this God created a diverse world full of many colors and textures and things, so many things, and each of these things–these thoughts, ideas, beliefs–are each as valuable and meaningful as the next. The solemnity of the mourner’s kaddish on Shabbat morning, each of those remembering a passed loved one standing and chanting in unison. The vibrant images of Vishnu and Ganesh and Hanuman–each picture so amazingly detailed I get lost in the nuances of color and form. The rhythmic rise and fall of bowing in prayer alongside my Muslim friends, the beauty of Wiccan rituals honoring the earth, the joyous sounds of holiday music at a Christmas celebration. Each of these things brings so much life and richness to our world–and yet so many people choose to be blind to most of it.
When I began writing this I expected to become angry–instead I’ve become sad. I thought the contrast of two communities responding to the same story would make me mad and frustrated–but instead I’m disappointed. I thought I’d at least once make the point that we’re arguing over television when just today a pastor who officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding has been defrocked, that this is a matter that matters, but instead I’ve lost myself in the beauty of the world, the diversity God has given us, and those here who refuse to see it–who do not accept God’s creation past the tiny piece they’ve been given.
Privilege is painful, and I pity them.