Black Tsunami (Alvin McEwen) writing for Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, has a thoughtful post about the collusion between religious Faith and bigotry. The use of the word, collusion, is extremely interesting and I hope there will be greater dialogue around that notion. But I want to focus on two other aspects of this intersection of Faith and bigotry, and how the two feed each other.
Part1: Bigotry and Religion
Preface: Others may disagree with me, but I am not saying that Religion itself is bigoted or a problem. Religion exists and has existed in all cultures sty all times since the beginning of human existence. Religion provides us with a system within which to grapple with our orientation- to ourselves, other humans, the world in which we live, and the greater cosmos. We need this, but we also need to constantly consider this frame through which we explore this. When we fail to question this frame, we fail to use Religion for our own good and use it as a weapon against others.
Those within the anti-LGBT camp love to call out those who use the words, bigot and bigotry. They site this as an illustration of intolerance against them, in their attempts to obfuscate their own intolerance. It is a useful bullying technique: distract attention away from yourself by blaming the other of doing exactly what you are doing. But the reality is that naming bigotry is not intolerance in and of itself, and bigots would actually get further if they simply owned their own bigotry.
The connection between Christianity and bigotry can be traced to the structural basis of Judeo-Christian theology. There are those who are God’s children and those who are outside that group. The way one “belongs” has changed from the earlier Hebrew roots to today’s Christianity, but the base dualism of those who are sacred and those who are profane remains. There have been theologians throughout the history if Judaism and Christianity who have offered critique on this base notion. Some have reached some prominence while others have been ignored outright, but I believe it is safe to say that all those who leave religion do so, because this base differentiation fails to meet the needs of real people living in this very real world. There are far more important theological ideas that address real needs,but when they become subsumed by this dualism, they become invisible or outright ignored.
Bigotry, thrives upon this same dualism in fact, it demands a duality between those who deserve to have differentiated from those who are undeserving. Not only is there a dualism, but a hierarchy of worth structurally used to justify the bigotry.
I came to a new appreciation of this while participating in two recent threads on Facebook regarding Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ. The first, begun by a pastor happened within a day or so of the controversy. A prime focus of the discourse was how the Gays were trying to silence Robertson’s religious views, and the pastor, a guy I have had some respect for, surprised me in his willingness to defend a guy who was claiming that Blacks were happier, and singing in the fields, in the Jim Crow South. I also expected him to be put off by the vulgarity of Robertson’s language as he described a vagina as being like a happy meal with “more to offer.” After the thread, I felt much of it had been knee-jerk reaction while the mainstream media was playing up the controversy. The pastor, while passionate about his ministry is just that- a pastor, not a critical thinker offering cultural commentary.
But my pastor friend and other commenters in that thread weren’t all wrong either. There are those in the LGBTQ community who wish to silence people like Phil Robertson. They are tired of the way so-called Christians cherry-pick scripture and use it as a weapon to perpetuate their power and place within the hierarchy. I don’t count myself among that contingent. I believe the answer is to confront the hate mongering with truth and more real information. Still I stand with these LGBTQ persons in the sense that hate-mongering is wrong and in my opinion, very unChristian when you get down to it.
Christianity has failed big time and has set the stage for my pastor friends and others to be astray from a real message of Faith. Scriptural cherry picking and revisionism of the text has for centuries created the tool used so maliciously. For example, Phil Robertson’s being confronted for a paraphrase of a passage from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. The reality is that the word, homosexual, never appears in Paul’s writing. Paul, who wrote in Greek uses two terms, and neither is a description of what today, we call Lesbian and Gay people. But in the past, these Greek terms were translated in such a way to perpetuate the bigotry of those who had the power to be doing the translation.
Modern Christianity has failed by refusing to question textural as sues like this, and by allowing an unquestioning blind allegiance to old, outdated, and mistranslated words. Modern Christianity has set the stage for the collusion between Religion and Bigotry.
In some of my earliest postings on this controversy, I incorrectly implied that Robertson was talking about Blacks during slavery, when in reality, he was referring to blacks during the Jim Crow days, prior to 1965. As I write this today, I am still caught up in the mindset that allowed me to phrase it as I did- as if he was talking about black slaves, partly because of Robertson’s use of the phrase “singing in the fields.” This conjures up a notion of the disciplined slaves (or post slavery poor blacks) singing spirituals. Intentionally or not, Robertson connects the African American experience of singing spirituals, with Faith, and with being happy when they had few rights. Lynchings were common, but for Robertson, thems Blacks were happy because they was singing in the fields.
Religion played a crucial role in slavery and in post slavery Southern culture. This is another plentiful subject to explore but too much for this blog post.