Monday, January 23, 2006

"Darkness cannot put out darkness."

This post is a copy of a reply I posted in a discussion at Talk To Action. The discussion is about my essay "The Lesbian and the Fundamentalists." Since this reply took up all my blogging time today, I'm posting it here.

In a 1967 speech, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about fighting injustice and the meaning of tolerance. He spoke about power and its abuses and about the best way to right wrongs. And he did that by noting one important truth. He said,"Darkness cannot put out darkness."In other words, hatred cannot defeat hatred. Violence cannot defeat violence.

In my essay "The Lesbian and the Fundamentalists," I wasn't writing to ask fundamentalists to like me. I wasn't writing because I expected them to ever accept me. I wasn't writing because I think the only way to deal with our cultural struggle was or is to be so "tolerant" that we let dominationists destroy us or our country.

I was writing because I had noticed something that was quite bizarre to me. I realized that I actually had something in common with these people who hate me so much. I wanted to acknowledge our shared humanity. I wanted to let what may only be a handful of fundamentalists know that I am not their enemy. (That would be the few religious conservatives who can allow themselves to listen to a queer.)

I am not under the delusion that this will make them like me, or that it will make them stop attempting to destroy me or my family. However, I refuse to battle darkness with darkness. I refuse to demonize the opposition for two very important reasons.

The first is that I think demonizing any political opposition simply doesn't work from a practical, political point of view. My perspective comes from my experience in the cold, hard, crass world of politics. I worked for years as a political reporter for a Knight-Ridder newspaper. I was press secretary for a candidate for governor in Kansas. Last year I ran the communications operation for the campaign to defeat the amendment banning same-sex marriage in Kansas. I serve on two political boards, and am currently vice chair of the first statewide organization fighting for equal rights for GLBT Kansans, the Kansas Equality Coalition. I've also worked as a public relations consultant for foundations and companies.

Now I'm not crazy -- or well, maybe I am given that I work in gay rights in Kansas -- but I'm not a political babe in the woods. I KNOW that a political message based on demonizing, or in today's slang: "swift-boating" someone, can work. That message can move votes and actions.

But right now in this discussion, we're not talking about the message we're sending out. We're talking about how we ourselves think about our opposition. The worst thing a campaign can do is to take a simplistic view of the people they have to reach. In order to fight effectively, you have to understand.

One of the political mistakes I think we make is to view religious conservatives as being monolithic andidentical. A 2004 survey of white evangelicals done for PBS' Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly showsthat isn't true. (You can find the survey here.)

One of the results that floors me is that 10 percent of the evangelicals actually approveof same-sex marriage. Yes, I know 10 percent is tiny number, but supporting same-sex marriage has got to be the most radical social position an individual can take today, and yet, here are religious conservatives who agree with me. Interestingly enough, only 42 percent of white evangelicals even approve of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Honestly, I would have thought the numbers on both of those questions would have been 100 percent.

The survey also reports that religious conservatives aren't uniform in their attitudes about their own leaders. While 76 percent rank James Dobson favorably (a rating which does worry me), only 55 percent think favorably of Pat Robertson.)

These numbers don't mean that evangelicals will be rushing out to vote for my rights anytime soon, but they do show that religious conservatives don't all think the same. Therefore, to approach them as if they do is a serious political error.

In watching religious conservatives here in Kansas, even in watching those who want to dominate us, I've noticed that they break down into three main groups.

The first are those who simply want power, and may or may not agree with their own message. However, they can see that this kind of fear-based religion and politics is a way to control people. We will never win these people over.

The second are those who are so psychologically damaged that they feel that they must belong to a group with strict rules, harsh punishments and the certainty that everyone else is going to hell. These folks do not feel safe unless everyone agrees with them. They have an innate need to dominate, and there is nothing we can do to reach them.

The third group, though, are people who just want to have the freedom to worship the way they want. Their leaders have so terrified them that they truly think they're fighting a war for their own survival. Because of that, these folks think they have to dominate us or we will destroy them and take away their Bibles and their churches. These are the people we might well be able to reach. Even convincing a few of them to support the idea of religious freedom and a non-theocratic approach to government can make a huge difference in our culture.

I also believe that demonizing the opposition hurts us with an important constituency: the many middle-of-the-road Americans who simply want to live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.

If we fight evil by using evil methods, I believe it will ultimately lead this vast middle to believe that we are no different than the people we fight. If we cannot show that we are differnt than those who seek to impose a theocracy on this nation, then these good people will never support us. Instead, they will turn away in disgust. They won't go to the polls, and we will lose every vote. In part, this is what has happened to the political parties. Many folks label the parties as being equally bad, so they don't vote and, well, we end up with the kind of disastrous government we've got right now.

Finally, I believe that refusing to acknowledge our shared humanity with our opposition does damage to our souls. It makes us shut down part of ourselves. We do to ourselves what soldiers are forced to do. In order to kill, they must turn off their natural ability to feel and to emphathize and deny the humanity of their opponents. I have no intention of doing that to myself.

Psyche, you note, that "we cannot be intimidated or feel guilty: we need to protect ourselves and fight back."

I agree with you completely.

But I think you misunderstand me. Acknowledging my shared humanity with those who would seek to destroy me has nothing to do with feeling intimated or guilty. It doesn't even have anything to do with being tolerant.

I DO have something in common with them, but I refuse to tolerate their actions. I fight by knowing we share much, by knowing many of them are probably just as frightened as I am, but I also fight by speaking MY truth and by organizing.

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