Friday, December 11, 2009

More on Rick Warren, or the bigotry of good people

revised
I've got to say, I'm really tired of the Rick Warren bashing. What gets me is how mad a lot of people on the left are after he made a statement denouncing the Anti-Homosexuality legislation in Uganda. Because we all know the way to win hearts and minds is to tell people they are bad people and deserving of punishment. That the way to woo them to your side of the argument is to beat them up when they have supported your position.

To be honest with you, I don't know much about Rick Warren. I've never read Purpose Driven Life. The only times I've heard him speak were the prayer at the inauguration and the dealy-bobber I posted yesterday. He may be a terrible person, I don't know. Is he a homophobe? Probably. He may just be a product of his time and culture. He may be a mix of things.

Personally, I would tend to believe the analysis given by David Link in the Independent Gay Forum (referenced by Andrew Sullivan): "Like so many other heterosexuals of his age and older, Warren is caught in a bind. He believed the lies and misperceptions about homosexuality that history, particularly as embodied in his religion, have taught him. He relied on those distortions, and built his belief system around them." Link thinks "a bit of empathy may be in order." So do I.

This is partly on my mind after reading The Help. One of the strengths of this book, as I mentioned, was that it allowed things to be complicated--and particularly the relationships between the white employers (for lack of a better term) and black servants. Were the whites bigots? You bet. But not in a cartoony way. Not in a way that writes them off as human beings.

We've got lots of bigots in our history. We celebrated the feast of St. Ambrose on Monday--a big name in the early church. It is also well known that he was virulently anti-Semitic. A commenter on the blog a while back asked if I would note that William Temple "demanded Bp. R.O.Hall's resignation (Bp. of Hong Kong) for ordaining The Rev. Florence Li Tim Oi." Were they bad people? Were they good? Were they a mix of things and products of their times and cultures? And how will people look at us down the road? How will we see ourselves?

My main man Ta-Nehisi Coates gets this very well:

This expectation that "good people" won't be bigots is rather amazing. I came up in a world where it was nothing to hear the word "faggot" bandied about. Where those people awful human beings? Nah. Were they bigots? Yep. And I will tell you, without a moments hesitation, that I was one of them.

[I heartily encourage you to read TNC on the subject of bigotry and racism. Actually, I encourage you to read him all the time.]

People change; they are converted. But they're not converted by accusations and abuse. Or by fear. Or by assumptions. Or by avoidance. Love, love, love, people. Even if they never get it. Even if they don't agree with you. Even if they persecute and revile you--remember that part? Jesus didn't say it was going to be easy.

6 comments:

Art Deco said...

Betwixt and between:

1. What is the purpose of sex?

2. How is it properly expressed?

3. What human relationships are properly given legal recognition?

4. By what authority have you come by your answers?

5. Can you or Ta-Nehesi Coates define 'bigot' so it constitutes a coherent concept (say, including people who give one answer to each of the above questions, but not the other answer)?

Laura Toepfer said...

Hey, Art Deco! How are you?

This blog entry isn't really an opinion about sex, gay marriage, legal rights, or any of that; it's about whether or not people can be a mix of good and bad, which I think we all are, but by God's grace can still be welcomed into the Kingdom and work for the Kingdom of God. But you knew that.

The point being, I don't want to get drawn into a long discussion about sex, gay marriage, legal rights, etc., etc. at this time. I don't think it's germane.

As far as by what authority I give my answers, I don't claim any. They are my opinions based on my experiences, reading, and--yes--prejudices. I will say, though, that I believe I am willing to be persuaded by reasons that make sense to me. I don't think I'm inflexibly bound by my opinions.

As far as the definition of a bigot, I'll just go with Merriam-Webster: "one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance." Which can apply to most of us in one area or another, I suspect. And is one reason why I wrote what I did.

Art Deco said...

I gather you do not wish to discuss it, but you brung it up.

If I understand correctly, Mr. Warren has been taken to task because an associate of his in Uganda has offered something of an endorsement of proposed legislation that would institute draconian penalties for consensual sodomy and some related crimes, with capital penalties for an offense equivalent to statutory rape. (New York used to have a provision in the law proscribing consensual sodomy, but it was a class b misdemeanor like prostitution).

I cannot see, that being the case, how an evaluation of sodomy or the subculture which surrounds its practice is not 'germane'. If you or Ta-nehsi Coates are having a discussion of how to properly assess the general virtue (or lack of it) of 'bigots', you are, in effect, suggesting that you are contemplating one. The thing is, the term 'bigotry' in this country is not applied to erroneous opinions but to opinions that are conceived to have no legitimate expression in the common life and require no serious engagement.

William Dannemeyer, the Pope, Anthony Esolen, Jeffrey Satinover (and presumably Mr. Warren) have offered a critique of those practices and that subculture, drawn from an understanding about optimal social architecture and the proper boundaries of sexual expression. Unless they are quite vitriolic, contemptuous, and crude, it does not make much sense to raise the specter of 'bigotry' unless it be your view that the question is settled to everyone else's satisfaction and that the dissidents have defects in their cognition or character. (And I think I have just fairly summarized the expressed views of Dan Savage, among others).

Within the Catholic Church, the answer to the question 'by what authority' is Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium. I gather the lines of authority are getting rather uncertain in the Anglican Communion.

Art Deco said...

Also, you endorse this view:

"Like so many other heterosexuals of his age and older, Warren is caught in a bind. He believed the lies and misperceptions about homosexuality that history, particularly as embodied in his religion, have taught him. He relied on those distortions, and built his belief system around them."

To which lies and misperceptions are you all referring? What are you imputing to Mr. Warren?

Laura Toepfer said...

Art Deco,

You know, I think you're right when you say, "the question [of homosexuality] is settled to everyone else's satisfaction and that the dissidents have defects in their cognition." I wouldn't say character, however.

I think there are a lot of us who are simply saying to ourselves, "Argue as much as you want to; you're just plain wrong. The same way people were wrong when they insisted black people were not fully human or women were not equal to men. We hope--for your sake as well as ours--that you'll figure that out eventually."

As far as the "lies and distortions" I am imputing to Rick Warren, I believe I am only suggesting the ones he has said himself: that he believes homosexuality is unnatural, and that even if it were natural, it would still be wrong because the Bible says so. Here's where I found that: http://thinkprogress.org/2008/12/19/warren-gay-maturity/

That being said, I reiterate that I don't want to continue a long discussion on this topic. I thought your question asking for clarification on what I thought were Rick Warren's distortions on homosexuality was worth answering. Otherwise, I think I get where you're coming from, and I imagine you understand my point of view. I hope that we can agree to disagree. Or maybe even someday agree!

But for right now, this conversation is done.

Art Deco said...

I have to say I do not think your answer is exactly gutting it up.

I think there are a lot of us who are simply saying to ourselves, "Argue as much as you want to; you're just plain wrong. The same way people were wrong when they insisted black people were not fully human or women were not equal to men. We hope--for your sake as well as ours--that you'll figure that out eventually."

I do not personally have much knowledge of the epistolary literature of the 19th century, so perhaps it was a common view that blacks were some other species. That aside...

My grandparents would not be considered racial egalitarians, not because they considered the blacks they crossed paths with as something other than human, but because they understood social relations across the color bar to be properly conducted on a patron-client basis. Allowing as how that is a position difficult to defend to a contemporary audience, one might also consider that some of the shticks which surround race relations in our own time look fairly asinine to folk outside certain subcultures (i.e. people not employed as educational apparatchiki).

You might say one is 'plain wrong' when one asserts 'women are not equal to men'. The thing is, among the responses you might get would be, 'equal in what way?', or "is equality in conflict with complimentarity?".

(And, of course, homosexual sets are behaviorally defined, not ascribed like these other categories).