Monday, February 21, 2005

Indignance vs. intolerance

This isn't an easy blog for the day, but I have to get it out of my head and out here on the web where others can read it and help me chew on it.

I have an interesting family dilemma going on. I have a brother who's gay and has been out of the closet for some time. Now, we're not here to talk about his gay-ness. It's there. Let's all just get over it. The question for me is about some friends and family members who are struggling with this, and how he responds to it.

On one hand, I am entirely sympathetic to him -- knowing full well he stayed in the closet for years, I don't think we need to shove him back in every Christmas so someone else in the family doesn't have to deal with his gayness. On the other hand, I know how conservative some friends and family members are, and that they do occasionally speak up on the matter, but really are just quietly uncomfortable with discussing the whole topic. So far nobody had started any holy wars about this issue.

Well, until recently. A family friend sent this brother a book titled something unbelievably hilarious to those of us who are at least understanding of the homosexual community. It read "You Don't Have To Be Gay!" Packed with pseudo facts and anecdotal stories of gay men gone straight, it was a personal affront to my brother, natch.

The thing is, no one in the family sent this...and yet my brother has recently decided to discuss this issue with everyone in the family, fanning the embers of a conversation that no one really wants to have except him. On one hand, I see why -- I mean some people's bigotry or biases against something is in my view, not something to be condoned or encouraged. On the other hand, I feel that those who are more conservative on some issues aren't necessarily bad people, we just happen to agree on some very important issues. For that reason, for example, I will not leave any children I have to be raised by a more conservative member of the family, but rather a like-minded sibling if I were to die prematurely.

I guess for me it comes down to the difference between me being indignant at someone's behavior and beliefs or intolerant of them. I do believe it is imperative (especially in this day and age) that people learn to be more tolerant of each other. I can defend my ideas to the ground (act indignant that people are being racist or classist, for example), but it doesn't mean I have to be intolerant of them. In keeping the conversation going, more progress can be made than by slamming the door on the relationship. I realize that this could be construed as complacency, but that's not what I mean at all.

I don't think it's a matter of semantics. I think it's a matter of accepting that other people have different beliefs while still defending your own. Intolerance instead says "you're wrong, and you're wrong until you believe what I do." Sure, the people who sent this book were out of line and should be talked to, but expecting anything to come of it seems a bit naive.

Meanwhile, the loud voice in my head keeps saying ala Rodney King of the 1990s riots "Can't we all just get along?"


Sarah said...

Wow, that book really was out of line!! YIKES!!

Does your brother understand that many of you (or family members) are accepting of his gayness, but do not wish do go into more detail? Is he misunderstanding indignance vs. intolerance?

I really enjoyed this post, stated something I think gets misunderstood a lot...and I think we can both agree that both you and I do not have intolerance towards one another (and beliefs). I most certainly would never expect that you have to believe what I do and vice versa I'm sure. (Although, in being completely honest, there is only one thing I am intolerant least I admit it.)

I had to LOL at your "guardianship" issue. My extremely liberal brother and sis in law have actually asked US to be guardians of their son should something happen to them...I think it was just generally "love" motivated and not "values" motivated...if that makes sense. Though, I have to admit, I would not have them do the same, mostly because our parenting styles are so very different. (Actually, I think it was a matter of what they had to choose from..isn't that sad? Her side of the family is actually part of a semi well known family in NYC...and I think we're the most normal family setting available for them.)

Though it did get hot under the collar before the election for both sides, I'm overall pleased that we were able to have "discussions" without either one of us walking away from the table. Or maybe that just shows what stubborn goats we are! LOL!

Anyway, conservative or liberal, I agree with your post and enjoyed it.

Lauren said...

Jules, as I was reading your post the phrase that kept running over and over in my mind was, "hate the sin, love the sinner." If we all did that, what a wonderful world it would be... that is if we TRULY loved and not just "self-righteously" loved.

In my mind, true love would never, for instance, say, "the Bible tells me that I must love you and, therefore, I love you... but I hate your sin." This wouldn't work on several levels: one, it's pompous and two, most gays do not see the way they love as sin.

Some of my very, very dearest friends in life -- the ones who have stood by me through thick and thin -- are gay. Would I choose that life for a child of mine? No. Why? Because the world can be a terribly cruel place.

I understand your brother's feelings - I would be indignant... perhaps FURIOUS that anyone would presume to send such a book. I would also imagine that the book stirred up a whole hornet's nest of emotions for him. I'm sure it was not easy for a preacher's son to come out in the first place.

I seem to be rambling a bit here... so let me go back to my original thought: hate the sin, love the sinner... I wish that for your brother and I hope your family is capable of providing that level of support to him as a person -- not to his "gayness."

Tammy said...

Hey Jules... I have thought long and hard about what you wrote and honestly I agree with all that you said. Isn't that amazing, lol???

You are right. The situation and issues involved is not about his
gay-ness. It is a much bigger picture than that. I would be indignant too, if someone gave me a book that outlined where the very core of who I think I am was all wrong. When I was in Seminary, I didn't speak to some family members (ok, mostly my Mother) for several months, believe it or not, because they/she didn't believe that women had the right to "preach" or speak the truth, especially if men were present. That just gives you a glimpse into the conservatism I come from...believe me, that is not where I sit anymore. It was such a personal attack because I knew with all that I am that this was what I was called to do. I gave up a well-paying secure job, nice house and car, a supportive network of friends to do this. And here I was, not being supported by some family who was supposed to support me no matter what. I was indignant and defiant at THEIR behavior. And I let them have it!

But then I remembered back, well, 8 -10 years earlier to an incredibly tumultuous time in the life of our family. I have an uncle who was gay and died of AIDS. This guy was the light of my world. He always went on vacations with us, spent Christmas with us and on and on. We loved Unc. It wasn't until he told us he was sick that he told us that he was also gay. As you can well imagine, it was hard for our conservative family to wrap our heads around. And the worst part of it from my end was HIS intolerance of my point of view. He wanted to accept him for who he was (and I was willing to do that with my whole heart...I loved him with my whole heart.), no questions asked, no holds barred. But yet, he wouldn't accept us for who we were because we may have disagreed with his choices. He thought we were intolerant of him because of his choice, and we thought he was intolerant of our more conservative viewpoints on things. I mean I wasn't fact I was 18 and on the verge of leaving that conservative way of thinking for a few years as I sorted things out. It wasn't that I just went along with the "crowd" of my family and shunned him but he wouldn't let me speak to the issues I had with his choices. He only wanted me to accept them. HE was dying for heaven's sake, and I couldn't be mad about that, regret his choice that was taking him from me. He wanted me to love him without questioning him AND without him accepting the fact I had some problem with it. That is quite an impasse to face on a death bed. There was so much anger and grief that spilled out. By that time, I didn't care he was gay, I just cared that he was dying and he wouldn't be had he made other choices. All I cared about was that I was losing him. And he didn't care about what I was feeling. Intolerance TO THE CORE. And a sad way to end a relationship...

I suppose what I am getting at is, remembering that he wouldn't consider my point of view at all, led me to be more compassionate with my Mother when she wanted to "do away" with me as preacher because they didn't agree with it. She had been brought up/taught a certain set of values that were her core as well. Was she right? In my mind, no. But I couldn't disregard her viewpoint just because it differed from mine. I calmed down, had compassion on her and we worked it out. I hope this can happen in your family.

One further note...the questions are... "Are there things to be indignant about?" YOU bet!!!! "Are there things we shouldn't tolerate?" YES! I sure have my lines in the sand (which I am sure you will hear about on my blog someday!) but never should we do that without taking off our shoes to walk in someone else's for awhile. That is when true family comes together.

Sorry I went on so long. It is just sometime near and dear. Thanks for putting it out there. Great post...


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