Hate is easy in the abstract

This is a nice essay at We Give a Damn by Matthew, who was raised to use the Bible as a defense of homophobia.  An excerpt:

I admit it. When I was a teenager, a young man who saw the world in terms of black and white, truth and fiction, right and wrong, I used the bible as a road map to reality. And I used biblical verses to justify positions that seemed completely right to me at the time. I eschewed rational thought for easy, wholly incorrect textual answers.

In the abstract, you can justify damn near anything. When it’s concepts, verses, and philosophy, you can talk and rationalize yourself into believing anything.

But reality is harsh and wonderful. When I met gay and lesbian people who were unafraid to identify themselves publicly, the picture changed dramatically. Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to assume a position of moral righteousness over actual people, who were loving, kind, intelligent friends.

I definitely identify with what he says.  When I went to college, the number of out LGB people I knew personally was exactly zero.  This changed literally as soon as I started my freshman year.  On the first night of orientation, I noticed Kate, one of the girls in my dorm, wearing a shirt with the name of a church youth group on it.  I’d been well taught that campus would be a hotbed of secularism and anti-religious bigotry, and Christians would be few and far between – especially Christians brave and faithful enough to broadcast their faith as publicly as this girl had.  So I jumped at the chance to introduce myself to her; we struck up a conversation and ended up chatting for a few hours in her dorm room.

Over the course of the conversation it became clear that my new friend wasn’t exactly the sort of Christian I’d been taught to associate with (pretty much exclusively, though I was never that good at following that).  And by not exactly, I mean totally different to the point of being alarming.  She believed women could be pastors, and thought Paul was a sexist ass.  She didn’t read the Bible literally (obviously), or believe that Jesus was the only way to heaven and that all non-Christians were headed for hell.  This was concerning.

At some point I must have changed the topic of conversation and asked Kate where her assigned roommate was, since her room was obviously meant to have two occupants.  As it turned out, she didn’t have a roommate.  And the reason why she didn’t have one was because she decided, before school started, to be honest with her assigned roommate about her sexuality.  This roommate was unwilling to share a room with a lesbian, and had her parents call the school to demand that her room assignment be changed.

Well.  My reaction to this news was surprisingly (to me) very mixed.  On the one hand, my immediate reaction to finding out Kate was lesbian was one of panic.  I remember looking over my shoulder to confirm that the door to the hall was still open – worried, I guess, that she wouldn’t be able to control her wild lesbian desires and would jump me right there.  This is a funny thing about homophobia – what is it that makes so many homophobic people assume all LGB people want to sleep with all people of their sex?  Are straight people attracted to every single member of the opposite sex?  This is a rather silly (and arrogant!) thing to assume, and actively dangerous – especially when it’s used to prop up hateful stereotypes of LGB people as sexual predators and pedophiles.  It occurs to me now that I felt like I was in some sort of unspecified danger, which is another one of the most insidious and potentially dangerous effects of homophobia.  People can react in all sorts violent and dangerous ways when they feel threatened, rationally or not.

Anyway, I began to feel panicked and was actively plotting ways to end the conversation and get myself out of the room as quickly as possible.  At the same time, I felt sorry for Kate.  It was sad that she was missing out on the experience of having a roommate when she hadn’t really done anything wrong.  And part of me recognized that her assigned roommate’s response was pretty mean and, disturbingly, didn’t strike me as terribly Christian.  If we were supposed to love everyone like Jesus loved, and still love the sinner even if we condemned the sin, how could it be right to just refuse to live with someone without even meeting them first?  I knew that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes – was it really the case that Jesus would draw the line at lesbians?  Or was rooming with a lesbian as the same thing as rooming with a straight man (a thought I would also have been horrified by at the time, but now don’t think anything of)?

I didn’t know what to think.  I understood and shared the roommate’s concerns, but was disturbed by the fact that acting on those concerns necessarily meant treating Kate like she was too evil to even share the same space with – like she was less than human.  I’d never thought of gay person as a sympathetic figure before – never knew any gay people to sympathize with. They were always one-dimensional and  unequivocally bad – yet so invisible in my world as to be almost imaginary.  Suddenly being presented with a real person, with real feelings, and a Christian, no less, really shook my assumptions and beliefs (it’s impossible to be both gay and Christian, y’know)

A few weeks later a good friend of mine from high school came out to me as gay.  Another shock.

My anti-gay beliefs didn’t change right away, but my image of LGB people as cartoonish villains was steadily being undermined. And the more LGB people I counted among my friends and loved ones, the less confidence I had that traditional teachings about homosexuality and evangelical assumptions about “the gay lifestyle” were right, or fair.

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7 Comments on “Hate is easy in the abstract”

  1. Associated Baptist Press – Video of evangelical women’s rights meeting posted online…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. platypus says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story with us… It is beautiful, and beautifully written. I’ve often wondered about when and how you changed between high school and now… I’d love to hear more of it sometime.

    Yours is truly a beautiful soul and thold i luckyoave you.

    • Grace says:

      Thanks, platypus! Heh, one of my friends from college told me the other day he thinks I’ve changed the most in the past several years out of everyone he knows. I told him that was probably true ;)

  3. acme says:

    Hi, platypus–nice to see you here!

    This reminds me of the “Aunt Susan Effect” that I heard about on NPR.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130264527#commentBlock

    “The Aunt Susan Effect

    One huge factor in that increased tolerance? More marriages across once-rigid religious lines.

    “By now more than half of all Americans are married to someone in a different religious or faith tradition,” Putnam says. “Our friendships increasingly cross religious boundaries.” And as Putnam says, “it’s hard to demonize people of a certain religion when you have someone like that in your own family.

    “We call that the ‘Aunt Susan effect,’ ” he says. “Almost every American has an ‘Aunt Susan’ because of intermarriage and so on.”

    No matter what religion this putative Aunt Susan follows, knowing and loving her makes it hard to judge her.

    “You know that your faith says … she’s not going to go to heaven, but I mean, come on,” Putnam says. “[It’s] Aunt Susan, you know, and if anybody’s going to heaven it’s Aunt Susan. So every American is sort of caught in this dilemma, that their theology tells them one thing, but their personal life experience tells them to be more tolerant.”

    • Grace says:

      That’s definitely what happened with me – my personal experience with LGB people didn’t jibe with the theology I was told I had to believe at all. I know people who are willing to believe that kind and loving LGB people are going to hell just because of who they have sex with, but ultimately I realized I could never worship a God who would punish people so arbitrarily.

  4. but ultimately I realized I could never worship a God who would punish people so arbitrarily.

    Grace, I had this exact same reaction as you. The big moment for me came at the end of high school. I had this really conservative friend (we went to the same church) and she’d met this guy at some political rally. They were friends and he eventually came out to her over instant messenger. She was devastated b/c she’d liked him romantically. I then watched her and her family systematically shut him out of her life (changed email addresses, changed screennames). The worst part came as I listened to them as they planned to write his father a letter, outing him to his parents. His father was also a minister. I was so disgusted, so shocked by the level of hatred it took to calmly set about ruining someone’s life. I still believed what I’d been raised to believe but nothing could justify that behavior to me. And that was the beginning.

  5. […] Christians from different traditions, with people of different faiths, with atheists, liberals, and queer people. Spent late nights in dorm rooms debating politics and sex and ethics and all sorts of […]


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