One of the most interesting things to come out of the DOMA decision this week has been seeing how various factions of Christianity have been handling the spanking they got at the belts of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
Here’s a quick primer on just what got changed, if you need it. In terms of definitive moments in the culture wars, you couldn’t do a lot better than this one. DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, got de-fanged considerably. SCOTUS stopped short of legalizing gay marriage everywhere, but they did repeal some important parts of DOMA and affirmed that couples who get legally married in one state will be eligible for federal benefits, recognition, and protection no matter where they go later on. It’s not full equality yet, but you wouldn’t guess that from looking at the reactions of some of the anti- groups.
Unsurprisingly, Christian voices known for their friendliness to egalitarianism, like Rachel Held Evans, called for their peers to PTFD. Also unsurprisingly, groups that don’t like equality in any form and really wish women would get back into the kitchen and gays would shut up and go away, like Focus on the Famblee, are collectively losing their shit. Michele Bachmann, the GOP’s favorite squawkbox, released her usual crazy-eyed dizzying assessment, which got an off-the-cuff “Who cares?” from no less than Nancy Pelosi. Some Catholic bishops who still labor under the strikingly inaccurate idea that they are yet relevant claimed that DOMA’s defeat was a “tragic day for marriage”–because nobody can get married anymore, I guess. I dunno, I’d have thought condemning love between consenting adults is way more tragic, but this is Catholic logic we’re talking about here.
I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines about right-wing groups’ whining and stomping-of-little-fetties just like I have, but do let me point out Bryan Fischer’s response because it is hilarious: “American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer claimed on his radio show today that anti-gay activists will become “second class citizens” and be relegated to “steerage status” as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act: “They’ve done to us exactly what they were falsely accusing us of doing to homosexuals.” (From Right Wing Watch.) He really thinks this way. No really, he really believes that losing a bit of privilege and being publicly called out for his boorish and incomprehensibly false and abusive words comes anywhere close to the blood on his hands as a result of the thousands and thousands of bullied and dead gay kids he’s emotionally tortured and maligned with his constant stream of lies and abuse about them. (BTW, I’m going to predict right now that one day we are going to discover some truly terrifying skeletons in that man’s closet. NOBODY spends this much time denying others their freedoms and rights without being a little tilted in the brainpan. You heard it here first, y’all.)
And here’s a PDF file of the various Christian groups throwing a hissy fit over the whole thing, in case you wanted to know, though the worst part of their remarkably petulant display is that nobody really cares anymore about their reaction (except to mock it) except them. OH NOES! SOME ZEALOUS BIGOTS ARE UPSET! — would this be a reaction you’d have even imagined 20 years ago? Nothing makes control freaks unhappier than being ignored or dismissed out of hand. They’re flouncing and threatening to take their ball and go home, and everybody’s waving goodbye and asking if that’s a promise and can we get that in writing please. That can’t be easy, realizing one’s cultural irrelevance.
What really perked my ears up was that the people most known for embracing women’s equality in Christianity also tended to embrace civil rights for gay people. I’m not the only person who’s noticed that gay rights and women’s rights tend to coincide and overlap a lot. Dan Savage once wrote, “Any gay man who can’t see the connection between a woman’s right to have children when she chooses and his right to love and marry the person he chooses is an idiot.” And it’s true. Both groups of people–feminists and gay people (and by this I include the full range of LGBTQA* folks and hope you will forgive the shorthand)–fly in the face of traditional Christian conceptions of sexuality and sexual expression. Those who move outside those narrow bounds are threatened and punished.
To narrow-minded zealots, women are incubators and sex partners for men. When women have sex without marriage, or have sex with or without it but reject the idea of motherhood, or make decisions for themselves, or reject the idea that anybody owns their bodies except they themselves, or enjoy full equality with their partners, that’s not okay. It’s threatening. I’m sure you remember Pat Robertson insisting that feminism makes women morph magically into lesbians and witches (in which case wow am I doing it wrong, as I am neither a witch nor a lesbian, and here I’ve been a feminist for 20 years; lesbian witches out there, you know what you have to do). We’re not allowed to express our sexuality except in very, very carefully controlled ways. We’re dangerous! We can’t be allowed to just go live our own lives without supervision. We must be covered up, silenced, shamed, and leashed to our biology before Christian leaders feel comfortable around us.
Straight men, too, must be strong, square-jawed, masculine, and obviously the breadwinner of the family. Mark Driscoll, one of the most seriously disturbed Christian leaders around, said stay-at-home dads are “worse than unbelievers.” That’s a pretty strong term, isn’t it, to apply a Christian man who just doesn’t fit the normal mold Driscoll wants to see all men fit? He’s had similarly weird views on effeminate men and seems desperately to wish that all men would just be as manly-man as he is. But he’s not the only one to think that way. An associate professor over at a Baptist seminary, Owen Strachan, calls men who don’t fit the Christian ideal “Man Fails” and “Dad Moms”–the latter term because the worst thing you can say about a man is that he has female characteristics, apparently. Men must fit certain ideals, this guy goes on to say, and being the primary earner for a stay-at-home wife is a big part of what he thinks the Bible demands for men. If a man happens to be a bit more emotional, or prefer to stay home with the kids (or I suppose even worse doesn’t want kids at all), or be content with a working wife who earns more than he does, he is outside the Christian god’s will. Goodness, so much for the easy yoke, huh?
In the same manner, gay people fly in the face of the happy 50s Mayberry ideal that Christians hold dear. Out of every other thing a person could do to defy the Christian conceptualization of sexuality, being gay (or bi or trans or otherwise genderqueer) has to be right up there. As the Catholic church has demonstrated, if you’re a kiddy-diddler, you’ll be protected. You’ll get to retire with your pension or you’ll paid off to accept a slap on the wrist. You’ll get moved from church to church as you ruin one little life after another, and your flocks won’t even get a hint of warning not to leave their kids alone anywhere near you. You’ll die with your title and honor intact. But if you are gay, or if you even come close to speaking in support of gay people’s civil rights as one priest did not long ago, you get defrocked or worse. Nicholas Copolla, a gay Catholic, married his partner and in return for his desire to live a normal life committed to his partner in marriage, he was forbidden by his church from even volunteering in his area, while Father Murphy, a known pedophile who raped hundreds of boys at a school he served, died a priest despite a few bishops’ efforts to defrock him. It turns out that the Vatican decided to be lenient, a generosity that surely warms the hearts of the hundreds of families hurt by the monster that same Vatican allowed to run roughshod over the world. The message seems clear: pedophilia is easily forgiven and excused, but there is no leniency or flexibility whatsoever for being gay or being supportive of gay rights. Clearly one fits the conceptualization of gender roles and sexuality, while the other threatens and damages that message. If pedophilia were nearly as threatening to the Church as gay rights, you can bet 100% that they’d be stamping it out a bit more fervently than they are. It’s just sad that consensual relationships between adults would be the thing that threatens and damages the message even above and beyond what pedophilia could do.
There is a similar attitude in place around women who don’t follow the script. There’s plenty of flexibility for priests who abuse children, but a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock (especially once it came out in this case that the lady in the link was a closeted lesbian who’d used–GASP–IVF)–gets no flexibility at all. She went outside the script. She didn’t follow the rules. And she was punished bigtime for it, while who even knows how many pedophilic predators not only were not held accountable but were instead protected and coddled by their church.
In the Protestant world, the same thing happens when someone defies the old white male farts at the top of the food chain. Rachel Held Evans is a big voice in the Christian blogosphere. I remember hearing how most Christian pastors and bloggers really liked her and thought she was just awesome. Then she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood which got perceived as being critical to evangelicalism’s definition of women’s gender role (singular term used on purpose–there’s only one really). Suddenly she was a pariah. LifeWay Christian Resources, a huge Christian bookseller, refused to stock her book for some rather flimsy excuse about it containing the word (cover your children’s ears now!) “vagina.” Mark Driscoll is allowed to write a sex manual which frankly explores anal sex, and bookstores don’t make a peep about it, but Evans isn’t allowed to say “vagina” in a book specifically discussing womanhood. It’s hard for me to imagine a more womanly topic than vaginas, personally, but then, I’m not a Christian anymore, so what do I know? What I do know is that the Christian response to her work has been really dismaying, with some folks even saying she’s really not even a Christian (see point 6 on that link, and many of the comments on it). Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine anybody putting into practice the best principles of her religion as graciously and as lovingly as she does, and her piece How To Win a Culture War And Lose a Generation stands out as a loving rebuke to the evangelicals’ brutal and oppressive all-out war on gays.
It’s hard to imagine, seeing it all laid out in front of me, anything but this: that the worst sin any man or woman could commit against Christianity is to step outside its definitions of what it is to be a man or woman. The twin culture wars Christians started around women’s rights and gay rights both deal with those forced definitions. I can easily imagine that Christian leaders were sure these two battles were shoo-ins. I mean, at the time, opinion was sharply slanted against both ideas in the Christian world. The eagerness with which Christian leaders leapt toward the politicizing of their religion through the technique of pandering and fearmongering around those two battles was both sickening and thorough, to the point that when someone identifies as Republican now, most of us automatically see them as Christian, and if someone identifies as Christian, we see them as Republican. The GOP is the Jesus Party, despite it having absolutely nothing in common with its rather socialist-leaning savior. And their politicians had no reason whatsoever to think anything but that their voting base would always be large enough to consistently deliver votes to get dumber and dumber, more and more willfully ignorant, and more and more hardline politicians elected.
Then the crazy thing happened.
Only 62% of Protestants voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Sure, he grabbed the Mormon vote, but not completely there either–78%. And the less fervent the branch of Christianity, the fewer he captured. Non-believers only went for him 26% of the time.
I don’t know about you, but the entire campaign leading up to the 2012 election, all I heard was that Christians were in his pocket–once they got over the fact that he was in fact not an evangelical or a Catholic. They weren’t totally sold on Mitt himself, maybe, but a vote for him was a vote against the Scary Black Muslim Atheist Kenyan in the Oval Office. Then on election day itself, Mitt couldn’t even grab all the Mormons!
When I saw these exit polls, for the first time I realized that Christians were really divided on the subject of politics, and that the religiously unaffiliated were becoming a huge percentage of the votes. Not only that, but these “Nones” were overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning. And their numbers are growing hugely year by year, contributing to what one blogger calls the “Republican Demographic Death Spiral”: Christianity is, simply put, hemorrhaging numbers left and right, and it can no longer deliver the votes in the quantity that GOP politicians need.
The GOP still hasn’t quite figured that out or realized just how desperate their situation is; the worst part is that when they do, there won’t be much they can do about it. They’ve managed to anger and alienate pretty much every single voting group except middle-aged, right-wing Christians (and remember, they don’t even get all of those), and now they can’t risk being too friendly to any other group without angering and alienating their only real base, which does not tolerate any form of tolerance, inclusion, or compromise. I’d feel sorry for them if I weren’t so furious with them for making the destruction of civil rights and the denial of science such key parts of their mission.
The GOP’s fall from grace means that as people leave Christianity (or fail to convert in the first place) and stop voting the way their churches illegally tell them to vote, “Christian” concepts like gender identification, sexual orientation, and sexual expression and power are on the chopping block. We’re starting to question those old assumptions and really examine how good they are for society–and we’re starting to encounter a sea change in how people feel about both women’s rights and gay rights. (61% of respondents in a Gallup poll said abortion should be legal in the first trimester as of 2012, versus only 31% who felt it should be illegal! And another Gallup poll had 59% of respondents saying that a gay/lesbian couple was morally fine compared to only 40% thinking that in 2001. Bonus: on that same page in the 2nd link, notice how many people are totally cool with contraception–91%–which does not bode well at all for the Catholics fighting the Affordable Care Act.) We’re going to get there, guys, is what I’m saying. Most people understand that people own their bodies and should be allowed to choose their own adventures. It’s just going to take time to drag the rest of humanity up on deck.
And that time is not on Christians’ side.
Unlike in the past, when Christians could and did hold fast to old prejudices and still manage to keep their religion afloat through other social conditioning and herd thinking, I genuinely see the religion as being at a Rubicon here with respect to these two battles. Young people are simply different from how my generation was in the past–back in my day, I rejected all sorts of misogyny and obvious junk science, and yet still feared leaving the religion and felt there was some good in it because I had all these other things in my face affirming my belief. My peers and I had multiple supports for our faith, so it took a long time to knock them all out of place before we gained the courage to leave Christianity–if those supports ever got toppled at all. Today, young people have access to all the experience of their predecessors. They have documentaries, blogs, the benefit of instant information at their fingertips via tablets and smartphones, and of course the outspoken presence of non-believers and ex-Christians alike sharing their moral outrage and detailing the abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of religious people and institutions. This all blends to make a potent, heady mix that we just haven’t ever seen before in our history. Once a young person takes that first frightening step of confronting the absolute cruelty of maligning and marginalizing gay people or limiting women’s freedom, it doesn’t take long to notice a slew of other contradictions and troubling revelations.
What I’m saying here is that I just don’t think Christian leaders have the luxury of time anymore. If they don’t act to keep those supports in place as quickly as they can and as effectively as they can, they are going to lose these young people and they will never get them back–as indeed anybody can see happening right now. They can’t count on sheer size, societal dominance, and cultural conditioning to carry these young people through their doubts. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. Books come out constantly with even weirder and weirder junk science by cranks like William Dembski. Others are so full of irrational reasoning that there are whole websites debunking them, such as this one about William Lane Craig’s main arguments. Young people aren’t stupid. They might parrot these disturbing platitudes, and it might work for a time, but many of them eventually start wondering, as one prominent now-atheist blogger named Libby Anne did creationism, why those arguments ultimately disappoint them. And when they discover that one set of deceptions has been packaged and presented as the truth, it won’t take long for them to wonder what else isn’t true. This entire process seems like it’s happening at lightning speed nowadays compared to the years-long glacial flow of my own deconversion.
I only see two ways this can go. Christianity’s big voices can either hold to the hard line regarding women and gays that they did in the past, and enjoy being “right” all the way to total irrelevance and complete hostility and distrust from an increasingly large number of outsiders, or they can figure out some way to reconcile their religion with human progress and survive as a faith system. Either way humanity wins, I suppose, but part of me hopes they manage to change before it’s too late. A housebroken neighbor is not a bad thing, and all those bigots and racists need some gentle leadership and training in how to change.
It’s sad to consider that the people crying for bigotry are going to be known, in 50 years, for how they dragged everybody else back and held others down. They’ll be known not for their love for others, but for their judgement and stigmatization of them. They’ll be remembered not for how beautifully they embraced those who were marginalized for so long, but for how fervently they tried to keep people from getting their full civil rights. It’s got to suck to be on the side of oppression. I can easily understand why Christians’ egos can’t handle that idea. But I see no reason to appease them in any way. They will need to keep up. We’re moving fast nowadays, and while we’re sympathetic to their plight, we’re not infinitely patient.
Too many people’s health, freedom, and happiness are on the line. Too much is at risk. There’s just no time anymore to screw around. If Christians can’t start moving ahead, then its adherents will start moving ahead without ’em. It’s that simple.
Next up, we’ll be changing gears a bit. I got into an argument online with someone about open-mindedness over on La Tube, and I’d like to talk about what I think that term means and how it applies to spirituality and religion. Hope to see y’all there.