Musings on “Torn”: About these “good people” who keep hurting gay people…

[Content Note:  Discussion of subtle homophobia.]

While reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate,” I began to notice a pattern in the book.  Justin would often describe an unpleasant and even hurtful experience he or another person had with a fellow Christians, then note that the Christian acting hurtfully was really a good person.

I think I get what he’s trying to say here.  I get that he’s trying to make it clear that he didn’t consider any of these people horrible monsters that deserved to be vilified.  I also get that, as he was writing a book that was trying to find common ground and build bridges, it makes sense to affirm and focus on the humanity of those who have done and said hurtful things.

decent-human-cookie.jpgAnd yet, I find it hard to think of someone who has just dismissed what another person has said about their personal experiences as being very “good” in that moment.  I find it hard to think of someone who has just said something — even out of ignorance or misinformation — that deeply wounds and alienates another person as “good,” either.  Certain people may not be Horrible Monsters?, but can we at least acknowledge that there’s a huge spectrum between those two points?

I’m reminded of a recent comment Fannie made on her blog when she was writing about people who denounce and wish to distance themselves the Westboro Baptist Church:

Many bigoted[1] opinions and actions are far more subtle, insidious, and
micro-aggressiony than the rhetoric and actions of either of these
groups. These groups are widely recognized among reasonable people as
being hate groups, extreme, and very problematic. And, for that reason,
opinions and actions that are more subtle than WBC or KKK-style bigotry,
when called out as harmful, are often more readily dismissed and
trivialized (often by those who denounce the WBC) and are therefore more

While I appreciate Justin’s desire not to demonize those Christians who have done and said hurtful things, I do think that calling such people “good” helps keep those more subtle microaggressions[2] invisible.  Enabling people to continue to think of themselves as “doing good enough” — which is what I feel the “good people” tends to do — as long as they meet a very low bar of not actively disowning LGBT children, picketing funerals, shouting condemnations at those attending pride events, and so on is something I find troubling.

On a related note, Justin often suggests that many of these Christians say, do, and believe in the things they do often due to misinformation they’ve been given by certain other Christian leaders.  I also find this problematic.  While I certainly agree that many Christians have been misinformed by wrong-headed and even deceitful Christian mouthpieces, I think there comes a point that every individual needs to take responsibility for what information they accept as factual and solid.

I’m actually rather disturbed by the idea that some Christians take the “expertise” of Christian leaders — many of whom are straight — as authoritative and never check in with gay people, who are most likely the experts regarding their own lives and experiences of gender and sexuality.  Even when listening to ex-gay Christians, who have at least had some experience with same sex attractions themselves, I would think it important to dig into what they are saying and make sure (1) you understand what they are really saying and (2) that their own experiences are truly universal to all gay people.  The first is often not true due to uncommon language uses (e.g. nuanced meanings of words like “change” and phrases like “freedom from homosexuality”) among ex-gay ministries.  The latter is not true simply because of the diversity of experiences that gay people have.

It seems odd to me that people who belong to a religion that claims to value truth — a religion in which the Apostles themselves praised people for testing for themselves everything the Apostles themselves taught and urged them to do so — would simply accept information so uncritically, as many Christians appear to do when it comes to questions around homosexuality.  So while I can certainly appreciate the misinformation they operate under, I’m inclined to hold them responsible for it, whereas Justin seems more inclined to excuse them for it.

It often seemed to me that Justin — and in fairness to Justin, I have seen this tendency in others and no one should take this as me simply bagging on one guy — is in such a hurry to get Christians to build bridges that he’s willing to prioritize making sure their consciences don’t get ruffled too much over the unhelpful and sometimes hurtful things they have done.  Personally, I don’t think that this is a working strategy, as I think that often, the only way to truly change that is to ruffle some consciences.

[1]  I will ask readers not to get hung up on the word “bigotry” in this quote.  This post is not intended to be a forum on what does and does not qualify as bigotry, nor will I allow commenters to turn it into one.  If the word really bothers this much, I would suggest you mentally substitute the phrase “things that make gay people’s lives more difficult or cause them pain or harm in any way” for the word for the purposes of this discussion.  I believe the point both Fannie and I are making will still be clear.

For those of you who really want to know why I have no desire to get into the “what counts as bigotry game,” I will note that it’s partially because I think it’s too often a game played with a stacked deck.

[2]  I will include specific examples of the kinds of things I’m talking about in future posts as I talk about a number of the items Justin discusses in chapter fifteen, “The Way Forward.”

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