Naughty Words and Culture Wars

You know what I wanted to write about today? I wanted to write about the different incarnations of the Incredible Hulk and how their various origin stories affect the pathos of the character, maybe tying in Mark Ruffalo’s use of his greatly enhanced celebrity status to continue pushing his anti-hydrofrakking message to good effect.

Instead, I feel like I should reply to Amendment One. It’s not that I don’t care about this issue. I do, very deeply, but let’s be frank for a second: there was no way this wasn’t going to pass. 61% isn’t a blow out, but it’s pretty damn close to one in a political context, and with the full weight of the majority of churches behind this, as well as a number of advocacy organizations associated with churches pushing this in a Deep South state, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. I don’t know if anybody seriously thought better of the people in the situation, but I set my expectations low on this one for a reason.

And as much as I hate to say it, we should be honest that the main push for this measure came from conservative Christianity. Not every church was for it, a decent number were against, but as with most social progress issues from slavery to sufferage to civil rights, the weight of the institutional church was placed almost exclusively on the side that opposes equality. And as Ed Brayton pointed out, when equality is reached, there will be waves of apologists who “will point to Gene Robinson and some of the very same liberal leaders who embraced equality while they themselves stood foursquare against it, and they will declare that equal rights for LGBT people was based on Christian principles all along.”

I’m not saying this to score a meaningless point against Christianity or any other such non-sense, but it’s important to understand the role that it played in this fight. It’s because of that role that I was particularly struck by Rachel Held Evans’s post today on the measure.

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? 

Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?

Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?

Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?

And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?

Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it’s costing them.

The problem for many people, of course, is that the answer is indeed “yes.” The thing is, I don’t see how it could be otherwise. If you’re 100% convinced that you know the absolute and unvarnished truth of the universe, one handed down by an all-good, perfect creator, why on Earth would you change your tune because a bunch of fallible humans don’t like what you have to say? It strains credibility to think that people who are so convinced of their own rightness (and righteousness) would alter their perspectives in the face of public pressure or risking the loss of status. Held Evans suggests there’s a persistent, internal voice asking “what if we are wrong?” The problem is, I don’t see any evidence of that voice in so many people that have glorified conclusions over methods, destinations over journeys, and faith over the process of reaching it.

Andrew Sullivan described the process as “The Politics of Spite,” arguing that essentially the process of doubly, triply, quadrupelly banning gay marriage served no useful purpose other than to send the very clear message that LGBT people are not welcome, are not wanted. A response to that post pointed out that only a small portion of the electorate actually showed up to vote, but all that says to me is that a significant portion of North Carolinians care so little for other human beings that they couldn’t even be bothered to get up and support them. You get no more cookies for apathy than you do for aggression.

Of course, supporters of the amendment will say that is has nothing to do with spite, it’s about love. And I can somewhat understand this argument, have even written about it in the past, and I get it. There’s a great yawning chasm that you’re convinced lies before everybody unless they accept the love of somebody who will prevent them from falling. That comes with it certain behavioral obligations, but grace and stuff and, more importantly, eternal bliss rather than eternal misery, which does sound like an act of love on its face.

The most recent manifestation of this has been in the PR campaign by a number of people on the far right to couch themselves in the most polite of terms. My favorite blogger, Fred Clark, has addressed this new move to very kindly call people abominations a number of times, some of my favorites being here and here. It’s an attempt to prove that even though a same-sex partner isn’t considered spouse-y enough to visit their partner in the hospital, it doesn’t mean that the person barring the door is a bigot. No, rather they’re trying to use the state to save these people from eternal torment since years of open hatred, mistreatment, and abuse didn’t seem to do the trick to get rid of all the queer people. Now the idea is to kindly inform them of their failings before the Almighty.

And so we have the fallout from Amendment One. North Carolina spitefully multi-bans gay marriage, equality supporters call them spiteful bigots, they shout back from their wedding-reception-themed victory parties that there’s no reason for the riff-raff to be using such language, and we move on. But, as Held Evans pointed out and I believe, this does nothing but drive people away from the organizing institutions, the churches. The martyr-complex-afflicted members of IndigNation may be willing to sacrifice their faith on this particular beach (you thought I was going to say “cross,” didn’t you?), but it becomes a matter of what you seem to think you’re trying to say.

If your message is that there is a god, and the chief joy in life comes from satisfying its need for obedience, then you’re on the right track. If it’s that there is a path to eternal life in the arms of a loving god, you’re losing the message somewhere along the way. I don’t have a dog in this fight, I’m more focused on making this life a better place, but if the message you’re seeking to pass on is the latter of my two options, then the answer to all of Held Evans’s questions above must be “no.”

Update: As I was writing this, President Obama came out publicly in favor of gay marriage. Much like North Carolina, we knew this was coming. There’s probably an aspect of political calculation to it, but I suspect this is what he honestly thinks and has for quite some time. Ultimately, it’s nice to hear, but it makes very little difference in any sort of political way. It feels good to LGBTs and Allies, in the same way that passing a state constitutional amendment to do what was already a part of state law feels good to spiteful bigots, but it doesn’t move the ball in any real sense. I’m more shocked that I used a football metaphor than that this happened. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy it happened, but I don’t have any illusions that it significantly changes things.


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