Snapshots of Life

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hate and Bigotry

Hate:  to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward. 

Bigot:  a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

It seems that in the last week and one-half these words have flown around like the Autumn leaves falling from trees, except they've been descending about as gently as bombs.  The accusers are people all over the country who are enraged over the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which is, as we have all come to know, a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  It seems that the accused, interestingly enough, are largely leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who supported the amendment.  That support came from individual citizens in the form of financial donations, volunteer time, and a vote 'yes' at the ballot box.  Never mind that members of the church only make up 5% of California's population and never mind that the 'Yes on 8' Coalition was made up of numerous different organizations and faiths, and never mind that the church made NO monetary donations as an organization, and never mind that the measure passed with 52% of the vote, and never mind that the church put out several statements urging love and civility throughout the process.  None of that seems to matter to those who are pointing fingers at the church as the main force of “hate and bigotry” behind the amendments adoption by the majority of Californians.  Granted, the First Presidency encouraged members to participate and they responded with nearly half of the money raised for ‘Yes on 8’ and contributed a huge portion of the volunteering.  But ultimately it was the voters who decided.  Is it not a stretch to say that 52% of Californians were duped and manipulated by the “hateful” minority of Mormons?  Nobody forced anyone to the polls nor did anybody force anyone to vote yes.  It is an especially interesting accusation given that the ‘No on 8’ campaign had just as much advertising, more money, and more prestige.

The church has now been a major target of the protesting that began almost immediately after the official word of successful passage of the proposition.  It has come in the form of a burning Book of Mormon on chapel steps, protests at sacred sites, shot-out windows, white powder pranks, vandalism, boycotts and threatened boycotts, forced resignations, and a drive to send Pres. Monson a post card for every donation made to the reversal campaign that will indicate the donation is being made in his name.  These folks carry signs that malign the church and its members as hate mongers and bigots.  They further express their belief that the church and its people are forcing their beliefs on others and inappropriately mixing church and state.

As I have watched the events unfold I have wondered where the hate and bigotry really lies.  For anyone who has taken an introductory psychology class you have likely learned about defense mechanisms.  Defense mechanisms are strategies of the psyche that we use to deal with difficult truth or reality through which we avoid facing intolerable feelings such as guilt, anger, hatred, and so forth.  Projection is a defense mechanism in which we ascribe to another person or group feelings, thoughts, or attitudes that are actually present in ourselves.  See, if we project unpleasant/unacceptable feelings or attitudes onto others, as if they are theirs, we do not have to face the truth of ourselves.  Displacement is a defense mechanism in which we transfer an emotion from its original focus onto another, usually less threatening or easy target.  For example, we get angry at our boss but can't take it out on him so we take it out on the secretary.

Back to the question then, where does the hate and bigotry lie?  No doubt, there are plenty of members of the church who are hateful and bigoted.  Surely, some supporters of prop 8 have displayed these characteristics.  Nevertheless, I am not aware of any protests by members of the church against the L.A. or Salt Lake Pride Center when 4 presumptuous judges on the Supreme Court of California made a decision about same-sex marriage on behalf of 34 million people.  I'm not aware of any book burnings, or vandalism, or shot out windows.  I know of no signs at that time that accused the supporters of homosexual marriage as being intolerant and hateful, nor do I know of any forced resignations, or mocking/vilifying of the leaders in their community.  I'm not aware of any of that from Latter-day Saints.  Nor do I suspect there would have been any of that had the measure failed, aside from perhaps some fringe-type wackos.  In fact, the church has called on its members throughout the campaign to be compassionate and civil.  They have reiterated over and over and over again that we must be peaceful, respectful, and kind.   

So I ask again, where is the hate?  Who is the bigot?  Is it hateful to have a differing view about marriage?  Is it bigoted to stand up for what you believe in?  Or, are these vitriolic accusations a kind of collective projection and displacement?  No individual or group in our society wants to be labeled a hater or a bigot or a discriminator.  So-called closed-mindedness and intolerance seem to be the ultimate social sins.  Thus, these labels become over-used and easy ammunition to silence and invalidate anyone who disagrees.  At the same time, they are persuasive to hypersensitive fence-sitters who don't want to commit any social sins or appear on the wrong side of "progress".  To be fair, not everyone that supports gay marriage has engaged in the rhetoric and immature behavior.  In fact, many are calling for peaceful and constructive dialogue.  But it seems ironic that those who are shouting "hate" and "bigotry" the loudest seem to have an awful lot of it in their own hearts.  

This is a very difficult issue, one that will not go away anytime soon.  It is creating dissonance in communities and congregations and families all over this nation.  Positions will likely not change on either side.  What can change, however, is a little more empathy and charity on both sides.  More to come on this later.