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What Drives our Social Fears and Hate?

May 12, 2012

President Obama’s announcement of support for gay marriage this week has aroused a lot of discussion about the issue, not to mention controversy and high emotion, of course.  One massive segment of this interaction is among Christians.  I follow the young evangelical writer, Rachel Held Evan’s blog some and participate there occasionally (link in sidebar at “RHE”).  She, and those watching, have been astounded at the amount of response to her post on the subject just a few days ago now… so many comments that she could not reasonably keep up with monitoring them all and had to close the thread for comments. 

Why do I mention this? First, as an example of how much energy and need for dialog there is around issues of sexual orientation and behavior.  It’s broader than just marriage for others than heterosexuals, though this is a particular flashpoint.  Second, that Christians are taking widely varying positions on acceptance of gays in general and their marriage, ordination, and other things in particular. 

Many Christians, even among Evangelicals, are far more open and accepting than the American media would lead one to believe from the outside, with their tendency to throw together all self-described “Evangelicals” into one rigid and very conservative group.  Partly this divide is an age divide, but far from fully.  Partly it is a theological divide–the more traditional on core doctrines, the less accepting–but again not fully.  Why is this?

Sexuality is an intensely personal issue.  Next “out” in concentric circles, it is a family issue.  Then it is an extended family and friends issue.  Then it is a community (church or other) issue.  Finally, an institutional and societal issue, including a political one. 

I think we fail to realize just how personal it is–how our feelings about all matters sexual arise from a primal place somewhere deep within.  So when something seems unusual or “out of the norm–not normal” to us, we tend to feel uncomfortable.  For gays themselves, it is realizing, as they mature, that they are feeling things the majority of others are not.  How can or will they fit in? How can they or will they respond to those deep inner drives?

For heterosexuals, there are often the uncomfortable feelings of how to relate to a gay person. (Often not grasping, at least at a subconscious level, that the great majority of the time, one can just relate as usual, person-to-person).  Still, there can be an unsettling feeling that may come from not being “practiced” in relating to someone who may appear or sound like they don’t fit typical categories–ones that are more comfortable merely by familiarity.  I have to confess, as consciously open and accepting as I am, that I sometimes experience this, especially if someone is at first not easy to identify as one gender or the other.  I make it a point to remind myself that I can and will “sit with” that while I pay focused attention to the person (particularly the inner person) before me, or that I may be observing at some distance. 

I think it has become pretty obvious, via numerous public examples, that the personal aspect of our reactions are molded strongly by those close to us.  Many who were once opposed strongly to gay rights in one form or another, or unaccepting of gays in Christian fellowship have changed views and feelings because of a family member or close friend who is gay.  The main point is that this is not merely an abstract issue! … If a person has not had much direct and personal interaction with gay people, doesn’t it make sense to accept this limitation (or relative ignorance) and withhold opinion–including voting or other expressions–until they have broader experience? Until they perhaps make a point to do that personal kind of research and personal stretching?

Were this done, I know we’d have a lot less making of assumptions and perpetuating of misconceptions.  My further point: Our fears, and the resulting tendency to hate (whether the “sin” or the “sinner”) exist often at a deep place within, but one that can be touched and matured or healed often by mere extension of love…. enough love to extend oneself toward someone we may have trouble fully understanding, whether a family member, co-worker or whomever…. We all know people who have a sexual orientation different than ours; or we may suspect so and a little caring conversation may make that clear and make it a non-issue as far as any negative reaction.

Have you had experiences along these lines? What other insights can you share to help someone reading this post who may have real struggles, either as a gay or a straight person?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2012 6:45 pm

    Some good observations. I was thinking this morning that we may be “ideological tolerant” of others, but not have the experience to live it out. Although my view is that we can do better than being “tolerant of each other. We need to find ways to accept and love others on their own terms. God does that with each of us every day.

    • May 14, 2012 3:10 pm

      Well said. Doesn’t it seem a real cop-out much of the time when people blithely say “love the sinner, hate the sin?”

      • May 14, 2012 11:04 pm

        It is a cop out when we’re focusing on one particular sin that someone else has committed rather than assessing our own sin. It isn’t if we are being honest more broadly which is rarely the case.

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