Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Soft Bigotry

NOTE: Updated Tuesday, September 20, 2011.

I've come across a number of well-written responses to what's been described as the "soft bigotry" of local Roman Catholic priest James Livingston's op-ed in yesterday's Star Tribune. It was written in response to a previous op-ed in the paper – one that I highlight here.

Livingston heads the local chapter of the Courage apostolate. That fact, along with the title of his op-ed ("Some People Can Make the Gay Go Away"), probably tells you all you need to know about his perspective on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Still, for the truly horrendous details, you can go here. (But don't forget to come back and read the following responses – the first three and the last four of which are from the Star Tribune.)


It is a cold comfort that Rev. James Livingston is "glad" for Ron Bates' acceptance of himself as a gay Christian, loved and created by God, seeing how he spends most of his commentary insinuating that Bates is an immoral weakling.

It may be that some find a balance between their conflicting sexual orientation and precept of religious chastity that Livingston espouses, but it has not been the case for members of Livingston's own Courage/Faith In Action group.

As Lavender Magazine's John Townsend showed through his investigative journalism outing the Lutheran anti-gay pastor Tom Brock last year, Courage/FIA is definitely not working for many.

But if we take that gladness and Livingston's statement that "traditional marriage" was an "imprudent start" for Bates at face value, then we cannot accept the conjecture that his form of marriage is part of some "universal moral law," as Livingston is then condoning a break from that law.

It is certainly part of a religious tradition of which Livingston, Bates, myself and many others are a part, but that tradition has changed many times throughout the years, away from subjugating women and justifying slavery, and most radically when Jesus came down to Earth to absolve sinners and affirm the primacy of love.

If, in a civil society, we can get past controlling the "sex" part of sexual orientation and marriage, then we can celebrate the love between rational, consenting adults, continue to act ethically and stop casting stones willy-nilly.

– Carl Atiya Swanson

Livingston's commentary is an example of a problematic type of "soft bigotry" that many exhibit toward the LGBT community. Although he purports to show compassion to people with same-sex attraction, it is predicated on the assumption that such attraction is a dysfunction to be suppressed and corrected.

Many who oppose gay rights hide behind supposed religious truths and are unable to explain what actual harm homosexuality poses to society. It is not dissimilar to arguments used by those opposed to the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.

– Patrick Finnegan

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the Star Tribune does not have to publish every illogical, ill-conceived, bigoted and fact-free bit of insane drivel that comes its way, whether it's from a religious figure or not.

From its assertion that much same-sex attraction comes from "loneliness or lack of confidence" to its ridiculous claim that gay identity is being forced onto young people who are then imprisoned by it, Livingston's article is filled with nonsense with zero basis in reality.

If I wrote a piece describing how my magic beans cure cancer, the Star Tribune would refuse to print it, because I would have no evidence to back up my claims, and the presence of such a piece in a respected newspaper could, in fact, be dangerous, as cancer patients leave hospitals to try my beans.

Well, Star Tribune, allowing Livingston to make these false statements in your pages is similarly dangerous, and the blood of gay teen suicides and the victims of anti-gay attacks is now on your hands.

– Ben Smith

The problem with Catholic [clerical] leaders like Livingston is that they are only concerned with their own beliefs about “spiritual” health, so they ignore and deny any research about what promotes psychological health if it compromises those beliefs. Contrary to his claims, nobody knows the exact roots of their own or anybody’s sexual orientation, but psychologists understand there to be a complex mix of genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation. The medical community agrees that any attempt to deny or repress one’s sexual orientation can cause psychological harm, but it is exactly that harm that Livingston advocates through his ministry.

Perhaps that is why the last line of his article may be his most offensive: “Minnesota citizens, you can support traditional marriage and be a friend to persons with same-sex attractions.” Trying to convince someone to hate who they are so you don’t feel guilty about voting against their rights isn’t really what “friends” do.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are not broken. We are not in need of repair.

In a recent op-ed, Rev. James Livingston argues that reparative therapy can be used to change peoples' sexual orientations and suggests that Minnesotans can "support traditional marriage and be a friend to persons with same-sex attractions."

In reality, many people of faith affirm the inherent human dignity of all people, including those with LGBT identities. They recognize that, instead of asking how we can change a child's identity, we should ask how we can change our world so children will be supported as they are and be free to make the best choices for their own lives as they become adults.

Every major medical and mental health organization in the country has condemned reparative therapy. Young people subjected to it are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, and shame and to commit suicide. In short, reparative therapy can kill.

The phrase "reparative" implies a need to change. Those who advocate reparative therapy seem to believe that LGBT people are somehow dangerous, and until they are "fixed," LGBT people should be excluded from civil institutions like marriage.

Rev. Livingston is wrong: true friendship means valuing friends for who they are. We cannot call ourselves friends to LGBT people if we work to deny their love, erase their identities, and exclude them from marriage.

– Rebecca Waggoner
Anti-Violence Program Director, OutFront Minnesota

Rev. Oby Ballinger
OutFront Minnesota People of Faith Roundtable

In recent years, attacks against homosexuality have become less overt. People have learned that shouting vicious things and physically attacking people are no longer effective ways to win support for the anti-gay cause, so they mask their hate in seemingly innocent statements.

As both the Rev. James Livingston (in his Sept. 12 article) and Donna M. Ferber (in her letter to the editor on Sept. 15) have done. To quote Ferber, "one may support traditional marriage and still care about those with same-sex attraction."

What is frightening is how casually homosexuality is referred to as if it were some type of condition. As a gay man, I can assure you that it is not. I can also assure you that you cannot be for gay rights or care about gay people and be against gay marriage. That's not how it works.

Just because you don't use hateful words doesn't mean you are not a bigot. I'm sure there were a lot of people in the early 1960s who said things like, "It's not that I have anything against African-Americans, I just don't think they should be able to vote."

I think we can all agree that is a bigoted statement. If you think that homosexuals do not deserve a fundamental human right, you are a bigot, even if you think that you are not. Being polite about hate is still hate.

– Alec Barniskis

I have been following the recent discussion in the paper about homosexual relationships with some interest, because of my fealty to the church, and was excited once Livingston weighed in. As I have been following the discourse, I have noticed a fundamental flaw.

The problem, as I see it, is that there really is not an argument happening here; rather, two groups of people are talking past each other and calling foul. In order for there to be any real discussion, there first must be some shared axioms and agreed-upon first principles, which I fear are not present and thus no real dialogue can commence.

Perhaps we should turn this debate to several more fundamental problems, including, but not exclusive to, what are our ethical foundations for our positions in this debate and what is our metaphysics (if any) to support these claims. Only once we have done this can a rational debate on this topic commence.

Now turning to support Livingston: We must look at his position in light of the rest of his moral claims. He cited, and justly so, that natural law is the foundation of Catholic morality.

Now, if you are going to critique him for his position, either do so on his own terms, testing for internal consistency, or argue against natural law. Neither has occurred in this forum in any concise and substantial manner. In regard to his consistency, his claims of chastity apply to all people and make no exemption.

– Michael Musielewicz

[Michael Musielewicz] complain[s] that the exchange of opinions about an Opinion article written by the Rev. James Livingston lacks a common ethical foundation and "shared axioms."

The situation is really quite simple: The Catholic Church occupies a political position on marriage that is at variance with the concept of basic human rights.

Members of the church may support this position as expressed by the letter writer, but it is incumbent on the state to remain neutral so that followers of other faith traditions have the the same access to the legal rights associated with marriage as do Catholics, Lutherans and those in other well-known denominations.

"Equal rights" is a radical concept. It means that no matter whom you are or what your gender identity, sexual preference or religious faith may be, you can participate fully in public life. Nothing metaphysical about this.

Faith communities are free to set their own standards for members, including rules for marriage within their system of beliefs. Writing these rules into a secular document such as a state constitution is oppression.

– George Hutchinson

[Michael Musielewicz] states that there has been no concise and substantial argument against what he and Livingston refer to as "natural law," which apparently militates against same-sex relationships in their minds. Setting aside whether or not such a thing as "natural law" exists, let's start with the assumption that it does exist, and on their terms.

The most relevant definitions of "natural" include "existing or formed by nature" (as opposed to artificial) and "based on the state of things in nature."

Unless I'm missing something, both heterosexual and homosexual relationships both have existed and have been the state of things in nature since our ancestors began recording history.

That homosexual relationships are not "normal" – as in "conforming to the standard or common type" – cannot be easily debated. But it seems obvious that "natural law" has by definition made room for both the homosexual and the heterosexual in our species.

And if it does so, on what basis is a minority denied the rights granted to the majority?

I understand that many heterosexual people are uncomfortable with homosexual behavior. But please recognize that this discomfort is based on a bias, albeit a culturally conditioned bias. But that does in no way make the bias "natural" nor justify the denial of rights.

– John F. Hetterick

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
"Curing" Homosexuality
What Scientists in the UK Are Saying About Homosexuality
It's Official: APA Opposes "Reparative Therapy"
The Dreaded "Same-Sex Attracted" View of Catholicism
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
The Real Meaning of Courage
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Beyond Courage
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
Debunking NARTH (Part II)
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace


Unknown said...

You just don't seem to be very "pro-choice", Michael, when it comes to voluntary requests of those who want to participate with Courage/Faith in Action.

But you no doubt wholeheartedly support the right of women to choose to abort their babies?

Are you fearful that it might be possible for people to change? Are you "Courage-phobic" about that? Would it invalidate everything that you think you stand for if it is possible for someone to change?

You will no doubt reply that you are attempting to prevent these people from "hurting" themselves.

Why don't you have the same feelings for babies in the womb?

Why do you use the word "bigotry?" Is there no room for anybody to disagree with you on any issue at all?

Is that part of "New-Think?"

I find that to be Hate-Speech!!!

brian gerard said...

Great post, Michael. It is good to see reasoned responses to Fr Livingston. My time with Courage in Wisconsin was not in any sense harsh, but they were a mis-guided group doing nothing to encourage a true response to Jesus. The term "soft bigotry" is apt.

Mareczku said...

Ray, I don't see Michael supporting abortion here. Where do you get that from? Father Livingston's comments that you can "pray away the gay" are insulting and misleading. I feel bad if Father is telling people in his group that they are a disordered and defective group of sinners.

Unknown said...


You don't believe in prayer? That doesn't sound very Catholic or Christian to me.

The only thing that counts is love thy neighbor, huh? No room for God?

Let Michael speak for himself.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

Not everyone thinks that the Catholic church should do all the thinking for everyone and everyone just thinks what the Catholic church teaches.

I am an ex-gay survivor of Courage/FIA and I know what a concentration camp like program the Catholic church supports in that group. They like the Catholic hierachy along with "orthodox" Catholics are just kissing the bank accounts of EWTN and Irrelevant Radio to become walking robots who cannot think for themselves let alone with some element of actual reason.

I have a big problem with so-called "pro-lifer's" making the decision about whether or not a woman should have to carry a child to term. Yet, they are also content with allowing the laws of this country to create two classes of women. Those who can afford reproductive services and those who can not. Those who can not, also will not have health care, job education, employment, well regulated child care. All so called "pro-lifers" are happy with is being sure women have crisis pregnancy centers that only put fear and shame in to the minds of those poor women.

Courage is for the annihilation of LGBT people, so that they function as the Catholic hierarchy thinks they should. That is why Fr. Livingston and Archbishop Nienstedt, and Pope Benedict are WRONG!

Michael J. Bayly said...

Wisely and beautifully said, Mark!

colkoch said...

Ray, the fact you interjected abortion into this conversation, a completely different issue, has dropped your argumentation to the zero level in my book. But since you brought up abortion, why don't you and your fellow pro lifers get all over heterosexual men who have indiscriminate sex and 'create' the conditions which lead to abortion? Or divorce, or adultery, or illegitimate children, or single parent families.

Instead of doing any of that, you jump all over gay men who are in no way shape or form adding to the abortion issue, or much of the adultery issue, or divorce, or single parent families.

I work with the wreckage from heterosexual sex, and I can't think of too many of my clients who are the result of homosexuality. In fact I can't think of any. I would personally appreciate it if you pro lifers would expend the same energy on the various forms of the immorality of heterosexual activity, rather than hide your own immoral short comings behind the convenient sin of 'homosexuality'.

Your heterosexual hypocrisy is nauseating. I really pray you actually think about what I've written.

colkoch said...

Mark, I wrote my blast before your comment was posted. You are absolutely correct that we would all be better off if instead of 'praying the gay away' we prayed the hate and hypocrisy away.

Anonymous said...

In what sense is Father Livingston's article an expression of bigotry?

One definition of bigotry is "intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself."

Caricaturing others -- and painting entire groups of people with a single brush -- can be a form of bigotry. I did not see Fr. Livingston doing this in his article. In fact, he wrote, "The plain truth is that people with same-sex attractions experience them differently."

It is one thing to disagree with an idea -- such as the idea that homosexual relations are normal and ought to be endorsed by society. Someone can hold such a notion without being a bigot.

Holding beliefs up to scrutiny is one thing: it is called critical thinking. Attacking persons because of what they believe is another: it is called bigotry. I just don't see any bigotry in what Fr. Livingston has to say here.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi, Clayton. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I haven't much time at the moment to write a lengthy response to your comment but I will say that I think your definition of bigotry is a bit, er, "soft." (It does, however, lend itself to the points you're attempting to make!)

You say that bigotry is "intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself." What's missing from this definition is the sense that a bigot believes that certain people are inherently inferior and thus (depending on the framework one is operating from) sinful, sick, depraved, dangerous or immoral. It's not just about strongly disagreeing or being intolerant of "different opinions" or ideas. I mean, like me, I assume you're intolerant of the opinion that injustice is okay. That doesn't make us bigots, does it?



bobfett11 said...

Philip, do you know Father Livingston? What is your opinion on this? Is he a tolerant man in your opinion? This is an interesting discussion.

brian gerard said...

@colkoch So well put!

Unknown said...


"Perhaps prayers would be better directed at asking God to soften the hearts of those that hate gay people and would do them harm."

I am very confused. How is it that "homophobia" began to be defined as "hatred of homosexuals."

All of the other phobias, to my knowledge, are considered to be "fears": heights, snakes, spiders, enclosed spaces, not enclosed spaces, etc.

Is this Big Brother's "New Speak?"

Pete1970 said...

Come on, now, Ray. Haven't you heard people who have a fear of spiders say: "Oh, I hate spiders!"? They avoid them, maybe even believe all kinds of crazy shit about them. People tend to dislike, even hate, what they fear. I'd wager this is a common dimension of all kinds of different phobias.

bobfett11 said...

OK, Ray, I can see that you may not like the word "homophobia" as some people that this word may be used against don't really fear gay people. What would be a better word to describe people who have a strong dislike for homosexuality and a strong dislike for gay people?

Anonymous said...

Having a strong dislike for homosexual activity does not, in any necessary way, imply having a strong dislike for those who engage in it.

This is a possibility that gay activists refuse to acknowledge. They simply dismiss the idea of "hate the sin, love the sinner" as so much rhetorical claptrap. Of course they are free to do so, but it amounts to telling others what they do and do not believe, what they do and do not mean.

Michael has written a follow-up post in response to my earlier comment on this post. I've replied to his follow-up this morning on my blog: Soft bigotry?

bobfett11 said...

But the fact is that many people do have a strong dislike for gay people. Some gay people have even suffered violence from such people. My question is what is a more correct term for those that dislike gay people. It seems to me that some who claim to hate the sin and love the sinner do not like certain types of "sinners." Mark