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Bigoted but not a bigot

I'm sure many people wonder why I write so much about religion and sexuality (specifically the intersection of the two).  There are many reasons. The most significant is that it is a personal issue for me.  I grew up in a religious home where my sexuality was taboo.  I was taught from a young age that to feel the way I do about other males is inherently wrong.  I have overcome these feelings of self-loathing and I feel that I have a much healthier outlook on myself and on life, but I would be naive to assume that there are no lasting scars from my many years as a homophobe.

I see so many people object to being called bigots.  I really do, and here's an article I read that I believe does a very good job addressing just that phenomenon.  I was bigoted when I was a Mormon.  I believed, as the church taught, that homosexuality and gay marriage were sinful.  I opposed marriage equality.  I believed it was ridiculous that people were trying to marry someone of the same sex.  But I was not a bigot.  At least, I didn't consider myself to be a bigot.  I didn't hate gay people.  I knew someone who was gay and I went out of my way to be nice to him even when other people would tease him (behind his back and even to his face).  I was his friend.  I met other gay people later in life (even before I came out myself) and I extended to them similar kindness.  I didn't dislike them.  I didn't think they were evil.  I might have had the condescending view of "I love you, but I don't approve of what you do." but I believe I was genuine in my compassion and kindness.

I say this not to vindicate myself.  It may be the case that I'm looking at my past with rose-colored glasses and I was more cruel than I remember.  But I say it so that I can relate to people who are currently in this situation.  I personally know dozens of people like this.  They range along a spectrum of kind toward gays to refusing to speak to anyone who is gay.  But most of them believe they are not bigoted.

I would like to write very personally.  I often write vaguely about people so as to obscure their identity to avoid any animosity that might be generated toward them.  I will step away from that practice for this post for a specific reason.  I want this to be personal article.  I want it to be relatable.  I want people to read it and think of someone they know who fits into the category, even if that person is you.

I am specifically talking about the recent change in policy that the LDS church published (which I wrote about in my previous post).  And the people that I want to talk about are my parents.  My parents are good people.  They taught me to love others, they taught me to be kind and to share.  They taught me to respect people, to treat people with kindness and fairness.  They love me very much.  They have been and are a good influence in my life.  They want to do what is right.  They want to be good people, and they do a good job of it.  Hopefully if you're reading this blog, you feel the same way.  You want to be good, you want to make the world a better place.  These are the kind of people my parents are.

When I heard about the policy change, one of the first things I did was contact my parents and tell them I was hurt by the new policy and ask what their opinion was of it, whether they believed it was of god or not.  I honestly don't know what I was expecting in response.  Was I expecting them to say yes, so that I could be angry at them?  Was I expecting them to say no so that I could feel vindicated in denouncing their religion?  I don't know.  Perhaps I was just looking for reassurance that they loved me as their son.

I must say I was hurt when my mother responded with an email defending the church's policy and explaining why she felt it was a good thing.  Her argument was that it could be confusing for a child to learn one set of values at church and come home and learn a different set of values (she did not specify, but I inferred that she meant specifically the question of whether gay sexual relationships are morally right or wrong).  Several of the arguments given defending the church's position can be found in this article.  A rebuttal to that specific article can be found here.  But it is not my purpose in writing this article to debate whether the change is good or bad, rather to discuss the viewpoint of someone who believes that it is good.

I would not call either of my parents racist.  I do not recall any comment exiting either parent's lips which could be classified as overtly racist.  I did not hear any derogatory remarks toward people of different ethnicities or skin colors.  However, my parents were faithful Mormons during the time the church had an official ban on black men holding the priesthood.  Prior to the declaration made in 1978, any man who had even one single African ancestor was barred from becoming a part of the LDS priesthood, which Mormons teach is the authority to act in god's name.  My parents were raised in a church which systematically discriminated against black people.  They were married in the Ogden temple in 1973, five years before the ban was lifted.  They were devout, faithful Mormons and fully supported a church which had a racist policy.  I have not asked them how they personally felt about this policy.  I believe that if I did, they would recite one of the many apologist answers which are given, and are very similar to those given in support of the current anti-gay policy.

I lay out this stark contrast to draw a parallel in my parents' minds between the two policies.  They do not hate black people.  They never have (as far as I'm aware).  They do not believe they are superior because of their skin color, nor do I believe they did prior to the year 1978.  Similarly, I do not have any reason to believe that they hate gay people.  I am gay, and they reassure me that they love me, and I believe them.  They treat me with love and kindness.  They are not racist but supported a church which had a racist policy.  Similarly, they are not anti-gay, but support a church which has an anti-gay policy.  (To be clear, the church has always been anti-gay, the new policy only made it explicit that being in a gay marriage qualifies in every case as "apostasy" and that even children of gay couples should not be allowed membership in the church.)

So what I would like to discuss is what would cause my parents to place themselves in two seemingly contradictory positions.  In each case, the church they give their devotion to systematically practices something which they do not personally believe to be good.  They don't feel any need to alienate me from their lives because I am gay and live with a man (whom I plan to marry).  They don't (as far as I'm aware) feel any need to alienate themselves from any black people that they may encounter--nor do I believe they ever felt such a need.  Yet their church had a policy which alienated black men and currently has a policy which alienates not only gay people but their children as well.  Why would they do this?

I asked my parents a question.  A very direct and perhaps harsh question, but one to which I did want an honest and sincere answer.  I asked that if the church were to decree that in order to be faithful members, they must disown any family members who enter into a gay relationship, would they disown me in order to remain faithful in their church.  Of course, I did not get a response to the question.  What I did observe was a phenomenon which in psychology is called "cognitive dissonance".  Both of my parents were clearly distressed that I would ask such a question.  In fact, my dad even said as much--that he was hurt that the question was raised in the first place.  My mother did say that she would not disown me.  That is reassuring.  But it is not an answer to the question.  The LDS church does not require its members to disown their gay children in order to remain faithful members.  So that response is easier to give.  Why was she unable to answer the question as it was posed?  I believe because of cognitive dissonance.  She would be forced to choose between two things which she loves dearly.  I am her son, she bore me and raised me.  She and I have had many happy and loving experiences together.  To think of never speaking to me again would be emotionally distressing.  On the other hand, she loves her church.  She was raised in it, she was taught her whole life that it is the path to eternal salvation.  She has devoted her life to service in the church.  It brings her comfort through difficult times in life.  It even helped out the family financially when we were having trouble making ends meet, when I was a small child.  To turn her back on all of that would be unthinkable.  I believe Tevye captures this sentiment very well in his famous scene where he is deciding whether to accept his daughter's marriage to someone outside the faith.

I do not believe my parents are bigots.  I believe they are sheep.  I believe they obey the church that they love because they believe it to be true.  I think it is honorable to have a moral code and to stick to that code.  I believe there is value in being part of a community, such as a church, and participating fully in that community.  However, what I do not believe is good is obeying without question.  I believe it is a virtue to question and challenge authority.  I believe we need authority in order to keep order in society.  I am not an anarchist.  But I believe that there is no authority any one person or group of people should have which is entirely and wholly without reproach.  This is why the Framers put checks and balances into the Constitution.  So even the three branches of government, individually, could not be permitted to act without challenge.

The issue that I have with organized religion is the requirement that the leadership must not be questioned.  Typically, this is because the leadership claims to get its beliefs directly from the heavens.  This is certainly the case with the LDS church.  LDS doctrine asserts that God himself speaks with the prophets and apostles and reveals to them His will for the entire world.  Thus, when the president of the church speaks as the prophet, his words are not his own but are from God and therefore cannot be questioned.  Indeed, the Mormons often repeat variations of this saying by Eldon Tanner, who at the time was a counselor the president of the church, "We cannot serve God and mammon. Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over."  In addition, in the church's official handbook for its lay clergy on how the church should be run, under the list of acts which are considered to be "apostasy" (to which, "Are in a same-gender marriage." was recently added), the number one item is "Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders."  To publicly criticize the church is apostasy, which is one reason why its members are afraid to do so.

I know that one day the church will reverse its position on this matter, just as they have done in the past with so many of their positions which have eventually been found to be too backward to coexist with modern society.  Eventually, acceptance of homosexuals will reach a point where it is not acceptable for an organization as big as the LDS church to remain bigoted against us.  They will be forced to choose between becoming an insignificant splinter cult or embracing full equality for gay people.  (When this prophecy comes to pass, you can start following me as  your prophet, since the current leaders of the church insist that will never happen.)

However, until that time comes when the church accepts gay people, its faithful members will continue to support the bigoted policy or, as some of my close friends do, secretly oppose the church for it and feel guilty for doing so (either for betraying their church or for going against their conscience to support equality).  The members who support the policy because the church tells them to, but who have no personal hatred toward gay people I do not consider to be bigots--not in the sense of the word as it is usually intended.  I consider them to be sheep.  They follow rather than lead.  They obey the edicts they are given.  They do this out of goodness, out of the desire to be faithful to their god, which must be commended in itself since I would not condone someone performing an act ey truly believed to be immoral.

I refuse to be a sheep.  I am not a sheep.  I am a spitfire.  I get passionate about injustice.  When I believe I am being oppressed, I speak up about it.  I take a stand.  I refused to participate in my high school graduation simply because I didn't approve of Josten's having a monopoly on cap and gown rental.  I take up causes and fight for them.  I do the same when I see other people who are oppressed.  And so when I see a bigoted policy such as the one put out by the LDS church, I will openly criticize it.  I denounce the policy.  I refuse to support it.  I refuse to be quiet about it.  It is a hurtful policy.  It has and will cause much harm to many loving families.  It discriminates unnecessarily against gay people and their children.  It will be seen by history as bigoted, just as the church's position on blacks is currently seen as bigoted.  It is unjust, it is unfair, and it is harmful.  I will criticize any organization which institutes such hurtful policies, including the LDS church instituting a bigoted anti-gay policy. I am not asserting that the policy was established because of animus.  I do not see a need to go so far as to speculate the motivation that caused such a policy to be instituted.  I speak out only about the cause that I know the policy will have--and has already had.  It is hurtful.  It is damaging.  It will cause gay people in the church to hate themselves, to contemplate suicide.  It will break families apart.  It will teach children that it's okay to treat gay people as less-than, as sinful.  It will teach homophobic adults that their hatred toward gays is justified by their deity.  It has burned many bridges that church members and gay people have been trying to build over the last decade or two.  I do not believe there is any good in this policy.  And so I speak out against those in authority because I believe them to be in error.

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