January 18, 2012
I recently attended the gathering of roughly 300 concerned citizens reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish synagogue in a neighboring town. The rabbi and his family of seven live above the synagogue in the residence. Mercifully, no one was injured, but, of course, the family is shaken: scared because of the violence and saddened because of the hate.
‘Hate,’ similar to ‘violence,’ is a rather ambiguous concept, prone to semantic dispute. When asked to define either of these terms, most people tend to recall their own experiences for explanation: People hate me because I’m Jewish/Muslim/Black/Gay/Female, etc. Violence is beating/rape/spitting/yelling obscenities/shooting a gun, etc. Because of these discrepancies, we tend to forget that others too experience hate and violence in their own unique ways. Hate and violence are personal, and things we think we own.
At the vigil, members of the community, politicians and local clergymen made grand statements describing their outrage and expressing hope for peace and unity between the Jewish community and their own. I leaned forward and whispered in the ear of our minister, “You should make a statement, if you feel comfortable. Please mention that we are an open and affirming congregation that welcomes people of all sexual orientations.” He nodded.
There were many different kinds of people at the gathering, mostly varying on the basis of religion. The yarmulke on Jewish men, habit on Catholic nuns, and kufi on Muslim imams signified diversity. Then there was our Protestant pastor with no distinguishing religious attire – that I can recall, just a tweed jacket and a gentle expression. He rose and spoke on the subject of disbelief: how he and others couldn’t understand how such a heinous act could occur here, in this quiet little burg.
And that was all he said.
Oh well, I thought; there’s a missed opportunity to plug our mission. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable being OPENLY gay in a crowd of people who aren’t open to people being gay. I can certainly respect that, since you never know when and where hate and subsequent violence can sprout. Perhaps the mention would have caused a riot. After all, this is not a community that’s hosting vigils for LGBTQ (the ‘Q’ stands for Queer) individuals who are survivors of violence, firebombing or otherwise.
Wait just a minute! Why is that? Why is this community, which purports to accept and love all religions (or at least those on display), not professing its love (or lack of hatred) for gays? This wasn’t just a missed opportunity for a little PR, it was a missed opportunity to remind religious folk of their hypocrisy: loving those who follow the heteronormative formula, and rejecting those who don’t.
Even while the inter-faith flag flew, it was easy to tell that topic at hand was not simply hatred or violence. Instead, it was hatred and violence against a pristine family, one with a composed yet doting father, a beautiful mother and five precious children who – aside from fittingly, physically resembling their parents – look like they’ve just stepped out of an ad for GapKids®. So they look normal…acceptable? They follow the rules. And the rules are these: be born, squelch your natural instincts if you don’t fit the hetero formula, grow up, date and marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and die. Happy? Probably not. The restrictive gender binary that holds our society together is gradually tearing us apart because we collectively resist change and adhere to an antiquated understanding of “the way things should be.”
Our church, open and affirming though it may be, is not superior to this resistance. Just try offering up a suggestion for change: “That’s not the way we do it.” We’ll never get and keep new members if we’re sticks in the mud. But the reason I joined this church is because I wanted to be social in an environment that has boldly crossed the current frontier: we love the people who identify as LGBTQ. And this was not something that was easily fostered: many left the church after it adopted an O&A stance, not necessarily because they weren’t open to these identities, but because they couldn’t commit to affirming them. And now, here we are: the product of some old thinking, some new thinking, but with both feet firmly planted on the side of love. I think Jesus would approve.
It’s easy to point to LGBTQ and say “they’re the victims” these days. Bullying and suicide have reached extreme levels in our American society. But the truth is queer bias is simply a fallout from our all too rigid gender binary which informs the aforementioned formula. Look at how we react to the likes of a Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins pairing. Many remark, “Why don’t they just get married?!” Marriage is the crucible upon which we tend to level our fear of the unknown or the undesirable. This is not just because of a fear that gays and lesbians marrying will breach the gender binary (and cost the government millions in lost tax revenue)… No, it’s the manifestation of our deeper need to put people into categories: male/female, masculine/feminine, married/single/widowed/divorced, secular/non-secular, working mother/domestic mother, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, socialist (gasp!)/capitalist, violent/non-violent, Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian, etc. GEEZ – we’re judgemental! But that keeps us safe, right?! (It’s a pity that Sarandon and Robbins have split…just as we were starting to get a handle on the concept of domestic partnership!)
If you’re not normal and we can’t understand you, we hate you. Period. I wanted my daughter to be exposed to diversity at the gathering, and I was sorry for the lack of it beyond religious/ethnic categorization…or at least obvious categorization. Some people still have to hide. Perhaps worse: some people still believe they do even when it’s safe?
Of course, it’s completely impossible to quantify hate. I mean, the synagogue incident is terrorism; it’s horrible! It’s not the byproduct of a greater hatred than that which exists for other terrorized peoples. We can’t be in the business of oppression olympics, even if we are identifying systemic causes of violence. If someone says, “Life is harder for me because transgendered people can’t use public restrooms without dirty looks and, in some places, physical assault,” someone else could say, “Yeah?! Well millions of Jews died in the Holocaust!” or “Did you know that one in six women in the United States is the victim of rape?” etc. Any hatred and resulting violence is wrong: even if it’s just a mean word designed to hurt feelings. (DO NOT SAY IT!)
But in the wake of hatred and violence directed at you, try to remember that it is also directed elsewhere. Reach out with love. And if you haven’t experienced a beating or a rape or a firebombing…remember this: there’s always tomorrow. And somebody probably hates you too.