So a self-identified fundamentalist bible-thumping redneck, who is also the star of his own reality television show, says out loud, in a very high-profile public fashion, what we already knew he thinks about same-sex relationships. Understandably there is an outcry about this. The network that produces his show responds by suspending him. Hordes of the duck guy's fans lose their minds on social media, enraged that his right to free speech has been violated (even though it hasn't, but that's another article). So here we are. Some of us are saying, "What does it matter what he says? We already knew what he thought." Why shouldn't we just dismiss such ridiculous, ignorant comments, especially when there are so many other urgent matters pressing upon us? What if it's just a publicity stunt, designed to increase ratings? Why dignify such nonsense with a response? Please continue below the fold for the answers to those questions.
So why can't we just dismiss Phil Robertson's (aka the duck guy) comments and how important can they possibly be when compared to the host of pressing and urgent issues we face as a nation and as a planet? There are two very compelling reasons why this deserves our attention. First, while he may be just one man, and a rather cartoonish one at that, the duck guy's beliefs about same sex relationships are representative of what you will hear in almost any Christian church in this country. (Please note I did not say ALL Christian churches; there are a few, such as the Episcopalians, who are inclusive.) Second, because so many Christians are in agreement with him, and because their belief is, in their minds, UNQUESTIONABLE BECAUSE IT IS GOD's WORD, his very public comments are potentially, no, almost certainly, impetus and fuel for a renewed wave of dangerous homophobia not only in this country, but around the globe. And when I say dangerous, I am not exaggerating. Anti-gay hate speech and violence destroys lives and even ends lives, every single day.
I grew up in a Christian church. Despite my parents not being churchgoers, I felt a need to go to church. I'm not sure if it was due to an instinctive desire for an outward expression of innate spirituality, or if it was in response to my earliest church experiences in which I was presented with the gospel and asked to make a choice. Perhaps my parents' lack of religion left a vacuum, a giant internal question mark that seemed to find its answer the first time an adult expressed concern for my soul. At any rate, I do know that upon hearing that I had to make a choice between God's love and eternal damnation, I didn't need much time to think it over. Of course I agreed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And all seemed very well following that decision, until the day I sat in church listening to the Pastor describe the horror-story consequences to the unsaved and connected the dots. My parents were not saved. Terror ensued. I went home, no longer imbued with a sense of peace and safety, but filled with terror for my mother and confusion for how this could be. How could it be that my sweet and good mother would have to burn in hell?
All this was going on in the early years of grade school. Somehow I persisted with Christian church into my years as a young mother of three children, but eventually I branched out. I now consider myself a polyfaithist, a blend of Christian, Pagan, and Buddhist, with a little Sikh thrown in. And I don't intend to stop there, not when there are so many religions left to experience. But why am I sharing this here? It's to say that I understand, totally, where the duck guy is coming from and where a whole lot of my fellow American citizens are coming from, including people who are my friends and family, people I love.
And now, 50 years later, I find myself in a bind similar to that of my childhood: people I love are telling me that other people I love are unnatural, abominations, sinners who are going to hell, and Phil Robertson is merely the mouthpiece of millions of American Christians and they are EVERYWHERE. Make no mistake, Christianity is a powerful force in this country. Perhaps it's been slumbering a bit, after all, American Christianity got over divorce. It's accepted, not agonized over anymore. Even though Jesus actually said it's sin to divorce (and never said it's sin to love someone of the same sex), Christians, like everyone else, are getting divorced willy-nilly. Isn't it interesting that Mr. Duck did not include divorced people in his list of abominations? Why is ending straight marriage acceptable and gay marriage, no matter how committed and loving and beneficial to the community, not? But I digress.
In closing on this first of two reasons, what the duck guy says is important because he speaks for a population within our nation that touches many of us, and many of us probably intimately. He has given voice, albeit a coarse one, to the elephant in the room that so many of us encounter when with our Christian friends and family, when we also have LGBTQ friends and family. We don't mention it. We know it's there, but it's too charged, too fraught with emotion to place on the table for discussion. Until someone like the duck guy comes along and all hell, literally, breaks loose.
But what if you were not influenced much by Christianity growing up? What if you don't have many or any Christian friends or family and you are not concerned with what Christians in America think or believe? That brings me to the second reason why I believe it matters when someone like the duck guy advances anti-gay hate speech: the very real danger to the lives, both qualitatively and literally, of the LGBTQ community here in the United States and in countries all over the world.
It is not safe to love someone of your own gender in this world. We are working to make it safe, but we are far, far from that goal. Yesterday the Utah Supreme Court threw out the ban on same-sex marriage, making Utah the 18th state to legalize gay marriage, but in the remaining 32 states the LGBTQ community continues to be denied the rights that straight people so take for granted and they suffer, they lose out, they do without, because they can't not love who they love. ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ folk in the workplace, languishes in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. In Uganda, MPs have just passed an Anti-Homosexuality bill (aka the "Kill the Gays Bill") that makes loving someone of your own gender a crime punishable by life in prison. The bill also proposes years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to homosexuals, a provision that would ensnare rights groups and others providing services to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. Russia has recently passed odious anti-gay laws that have cast a shadow over the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Obama's response to this is a wonderful example to us all). These facts are just rolling off my recent memory as I type. I don't even have to google for enough examples to make a point. All over the world, including here, people are killed for being gay, lesbian, transgender. And many, especially youth, commit suicide because they are bullied, mercilessly and relentlessly. Some even commit suicide because they are gay growing up in a "devout" Christian family, perhaps their parents are even well known church leaders, and they cannot reconcile their faith with what their very own soul insists is their truth.
So when someone like Mr. Duck comes along and pumps jet fuel onto this steadily burning global fire of anti-gay hate, the danger index soars, the terror alert goes red, and people we love, dear and precious people who've done nothing but love another who happens to be of their same gender, or done nothing but take the steps to assume the gender they know inside to be the right one for them, these very dear people are untenably imperiled, unbearably threatened, unforgivably treated as if they are human garbage.
And that is not okay with me.
And that is why, when the duck guys of the world speak, we must respond.