October 8, 2004
Mayday, mayday! Why Every American Should Worry About the Rising "Culture War" Against Gay Marriage...and Gay People
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
"Sharpen your pencils, girls, and hold them like this at all times," my friend’s mother instructed us, her voice raspy and urgent. Demonstrating the procedure, she held a pencil below her naval, its eraser pressed firmly against her abdomen and the point directed menacingly at our imaginary assailant’s "private parts". The year was 1967, and the racial integration of Virginia public schools was about to begin.
"Now when they come at you," Mrs. Hudson continued, "you’ll be safe because you’ve been walking down the hall or down the sidewalk with your books held over the pencil where nobody will see it." She gave us each two books to hold horizontally with our left hands ("just hold them normally" she urged) about one inch above the pencils that we were simultaneously pushing against our bodies with our right hands. Pretty difficult—try it and you’ll see.
"This is important!" she reminded us. "Now pay attention girls and stop giggling. This could save your life! Now when black boys come at you, here’s how you do it."
With a ferocity that made us wince, the usually mild-mannered Mrs. Hudson jabbed the pencil into the proposed assailant’s groin area. "Now as soon as you do this, run and scream and tell an adult what happened. Now you try it. I’m a black boy, coming at you like this—so what do you do?"
Getting into the spirit of the thing now and feeling a bit like Agent 007, I stabbed the air violently with my pencil and ran shrieking into the living room. Mrs. Hudson was pleased with my performance. At the end of the day felt she’d done her best to protect us.
Imagine our surprise when the attacks never materialized. At first we kept our pencils sharp just in case, but after the first week we lost enthusiasm for the project.
Bullies and their battles
What we didn’t know was that the bully boys—the ones who’d called me the "n" word before integration because my lips were full and my hair was kinky—had enough enthusiasm for all of us. Rumors started flying around the school that "our" boys were going to fight "their" boys in a series of pre-emptive attacks designed to safeguard the flower of white womanhood. These righteous battles would become legendary, we were assured, with each victory striking a blow against "Black power", a term feared and hated by unhappy white boys as fervently then as "gay marriage" is today.
The only hitch in the plan was that, while nobody dared admit it, the white boys were a little scared of the black boys, who presented a decidedly tougher challenge than girls like me. As a result, the race riots were postponed again and again. "Our" boys were further dissuaded by warnings over the loudspeaker that adult agitators from "their" side were looking for a fight. The specter of grown men with knives (it sounds unbelievable now, but in 1967 nobody, not even the "hoods", had guns) was enough to put a damper on the whole thing.
But that only added to the simmering resentment in the bully boys, the ones who’d always bragged that it didn’t faze them a bit when their fathers whipped them or locked them in a closet. As has always been the case, the bullies beat up on girls and smaller boys whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. Even in elementary school we knew that the bullies desperately needed to do to somebody what had been done to them…but needed a righteous cause to make it legit and praiseworthy.
"Is—is that blood?"
On a warm September afternoon, two weeks later, Diane and I were running late to chorus. As we hurried down the hall, Diane stopped in her tracks, bending down to look at something on the army-green tile floor. "Is—is that blood?" she asked.
I laughed, "of course not! Must be paint or something—art class is down this hall." But then we saw another streak of brownish-red. We looked at each other with the certainty that at long last the race riots had begun. Turning the corner, we were only a few yards from the classroom when we noticed little bits of glass and metal. What on earth??
Our pace quickened, and as we reached the door we were breathless with anxiety. Mrs. Barclay, our chorus teacher, was leaning over the grand piano crying. A few girls were talking quietly to her with their hands on her back, their eyes bright with worry.
"What happened?" Diane and I cried out in unison.
"Ricky," one girl answered. "Some guys jumped him in D hall…"
"Black guys?" Diane asked, remembering her mother’s warnings and our failure to take them seriously.
"No, white guys."
We just stood there, not knowing what to think or what to say. Ricky, the best classical pianist Mrs. Barclay had ever had in her classroom, was white. He was a funny and kindhearted friend of mine, slender and delicate with intelligent eyes. He got along well with kids of both races, and was one of the smartest kids I knew. Why Ricky?
Hatred is a heat-seeking missile
What I didn’t understand then was that bigotry is dynamic and flexible, not static and specific. The need to find and punish "enemies" can switch from one target to another, particularly when the target of choice appears too dangerous to pursue in a direct way. Hatred is a heat-seeking missile that can be redirected to a safer target until circumstances change.
As a kid I didn’t realize that some of my friends were, or would later be, gay. I knew they were different, but chalked this up to—well, difference. Years later I learned that they stayed in the closet because it wasn’t safe to come out. A few of them married women and went to church regularly in an effort to appear heterosexual and feel accepted. In every case, their wives eventually realized that something was amiss. Those were the 1960’s and 1970’s in the South, when living a lie was considered better than living the truth, no matter how many people it ended up hurting.
We are seeing a rising tide of intolerance, persecution and blatant threats aimed at gays and lesbians in this country, sugarcoated to appear to legitimate and praiseworthy, with righteous-sounding words like "preserving family values" and "protecting our Judeo-Christian institutions". Radical religious "conservatives" are touring the country in a PR-heavy campaign to "protect the sacred institution of marriage from activist judges."
The idea, a novel one you must admit, is that we must prohibit gay marriage in order to save straight marriage. Not wanting to rock the boat, we try to keep smiling and nodding, "yes, gay marriage is what destroys straight marriage" and so on. We try not to notice the bald fact that it makes no sense: As every divorced person knows, things like heterosexual infidelity, boredom, immaturity, and relationships based on lies are what threaten marriage.
Mayday, mayday! Christfree Christianity is going mainstream
Another "Mayday for Marriage" is planned for the National Mall in Washington DC on October 15, with a host of speakers who’ll urge Americans to vote for the "pro-family" (anti-same-sex marriage) candidate (guess who?). With preachers like Jerry Falwell telling people to vote for Bush because he’s "pro-family" (and letting Bush know he’d better stay that way), you can see why this event is scheduled just two weeks ahead of the presidential election. With Jim DeMint, Republican congressman (SC) publicly stating that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to teach in public schools, you can imagine how frightening it must be for teachers, gay or straight, who wonder what’s next. And with fundamentalist preachers like Jimmy Swaggart bragging on television that if any gay man were attracted to him (highly doubtful) he’d "kill him and tell God he died", you can almost smell something burning.
Whether you’re conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, Christian or otherwise, if you’re an American you probably value the right to be left alone to live one’s life in peace. You may not know any gays or lesbians, and you may or may not like them if you do. You may never have seen a gay or lesbian couple, or maybe you have and the thought of gay marriage "grosses you out". Fine, there's nothing that say you have to like the idea, but be warned—the bullies are at it again, starting as always with a safe target: gay marriage…and gay people.
In May, "Focus on the Family's founder, Dr. James Dobson, told the crowd that if gay marriage becomes legal, Christians will have lost the culture war". (CBN News, 5/4/04). Always an enemy, always a war: Men like Dobson, Swaggart, Robertson and Falwell must have an external war to fight because there’s a war raging inside of them. Peace and mercy and fairness and love are dismissed as passive, wimpy, liberal, "unChristian".
To "love your enemies" or to "do to others as you would have them do to you" is abhorrent to bullies, who pick and choose whichever Bible verses support their personal agendas while carefully omitting Jesus’ teachings, or minimizing them as spiritual teachings that to impractical to use in our public lives. With Christfree Christianity it’s easy to conceal what is burning in one’s breast.
No matter how righteous and church-sanctioned the bullies appear, Americans need to wake up and smell the coffee: If they can lure us into joining them in this "war", against this "enemy", to stop this "threat", they won’t stop there. Who’ll be next in line for a "traditional" (male dominated) family makeover—someone like you or me, perhaps?
It’s essential to understand that bullies can’t stop, because that heat-seeking missile will turn inward if not continuously aimed outward at one or more enemies. But we can say no to unfairness and persecution, no matter how prettily it’s packaged. We can refuse to endorse undemocratic and unChristlike values like domination, unfairness, oppression and exclusion—now, while there’s still time.
By the way, in case you wondered about those little pieces of glass and wire, scattered atop the still-wet blood—they were the all that remained of Ricky’s eyeglasses. Rev. Fred Phelps and his Christfree Christian supporters would probably say he had it coming.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist and the author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles that Will Transform Your Family. She teaches parenting workshops at churches and community centers, works on leadership research, and writes articles about Christ-centered perspectives on current issues. She can be reached at DrTeresa@JesusontheFamily.org through her website, www.JesusontheFamily.org.
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