Calling a Bigot a Bigot

Biblically Based Bigotry

A new book by Stephen Eric Bronner presents the argument that homophobes are bigots, nothing more, nothing less; and that, as bigots, there is no way to talk them out of their rejection of gay rights, gay marriage, gay ordination, gay anything. Refute an argument--point out, for example, that the passage from Leviticus in the picture above is surrounded by other laws presenting equivalent condemnations of eating shellfish, wearing mixed fiber clothing, and being sassy to one's parents--and they simply shift to a different argument, refusing to even acknowledge that the previous one has been deflated.

This is the experience I've had with homophobes for as long as I've attempted to deal with them. For a time, principally in the 1990s when I was serving as a United Methodist pastor, my approach to the homophobes I occasionally encountered in my congregations, much more frequently encountered in ecumenical settings, was to be patient and evasive, to avoid bringing up the topic at all and, if it did come up, to avoid at all costs entering into any sort of debate about it. To do otherwise was an exercise in futility. They felt what they felt, believed what they believed, and would not see reason on the topic. My hope was that, in time, the Supreme Court would make a ruling, attitudes across the country would ease up, and homophobia would wither away, just as racism has.

Of course, there's a huge fallacy in that hope: racism has not, in fact, vanished, though its proponents have had to alter their approach, finding cagier, more politically correct ways of couching its expression: battling affirmative action as reverse racism, for instance. But it is much harder to be channel one's bigotry into racism now than it was forty years ago. And that is, perhaps, the main reason homophobia has seized so much of the national attention in the last twenty years: it may not be acceptable to hate persons of color anymore, but in much of the United States it has still been quite safe to go on hating persons with a same-gender sexual orientation.

That, too, is fading, though, especially as "defense of marriage" laws fall across the country. Homophobes are becoming shriller, more desperate, in their arguments, and have given up on many of their most precious myths about homosexuality. The one avenue remaining to them is a reversal so Kafkaesque it boggles the mind: insisting that according civil rights to gay couples means denying the right of religious expression to bigots who believe their hatred is Biblically grounded. The Supreme Court gave a nominal blessing to this argument with the Hobby Lobby decision, though the topic of that case was contraception; but the principle is already being applied by bigots hoping to avoid having to treat gay men and lesbians like any other human being.

This, too, is likely to fail, and in the end, bigots will have no choice but to surrender on the issues of equal rights to marriage, employment, housing, adoption, and whatever other privileges the "normal" community already enjoys. One could hope that homophobia will finally wither away. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that the hatred will simply shift to a new target; and already, right wing media attacks on transgender individuals are increasing. Simultaneously, there is the growing uproar over undocumented immigrants.

Hatred, it seems, is like life, as described in Jurassic Park: it will always find a way. Haters gonna hate. Whatever it is about bigots that makes them direct their rage against sexual minority individuals will, once their rights have the rule of law to back them up, and the battle against them is finally conceded, simply shift to a new target, yet to be identified. Bigotry is a virulent pathogen that must have an outlet. Once the new victim is identified, justifications will quickly follow. The scripturally oriented will turn to their Bibles, poring over them until the right passages are located to prove that God hates Mexicans, or Wiccans, or vegans, or hipsters, whoever it is, just as much as God used to hate homosexuals but apparently no longer does.

And this is the challenge for progressives: the hatred will always be there, and we who just want everyone to get along, want everyone to enjoy all the Constitutional freedoms that are so precious to us, will be confronted with people claiming their Constitutional right to hate, and to claim it as the be all and end all of their faith. Salt of the earth Christians will go on insisting that God loves everyone, but hates whatever it is that makes this particular minority different from the rest of us, so we must purge them of their differences or, barring that, build a wall of exclusion around them to keep them from enjoying the same rights and privileges we normal folk do. Our liberal tendency will be to urge caution, patience, just to bide out time until the Supreme Court rules, as it must, in favor of expanding, rather than contracting, civil rights. We will want, above all else, not to apply labels to the haters.

And yet, Christians though they may be, Americans like us though they are, there is one word that best describes them in their rejection of fellow human beings, and that word is bigot. Not traditionalist, not conservative, not even reactionary. Bigot.

And the only way to deal with bigotry is to tell it "no," firmly, assertively, politely when possible; but, unquestionably, "No."

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