THE BLOG
01/02/2014 01:49 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2014

Confusion Between 'Diverse Opinions' and 'Oppressive Characterizations'

"Why do Leftists have such a hard time with the concept of Free Speech? They are so intolerant of those who disagree with them and seem to always want to censor ideas they do not like... I thought Leftists or at Liberals claimed to love Diversity. How about showing it?"("What the Duck: Justice or Lost Opportunity")

This respondent's reply to my recent Huffington Post editorial blog on the controversy swirling around Phil Robertson, the patriarch on A&E's popular show Duck Dynasty, reflects larger questions on issues of free speech, multiculturalism, dominant group privilege, and oppression.

In my editorial, I challenged Roberson's comments in a GQ interview focusing on homosexuality, "race" relations, and socioeconomic class:

On the topic of homosexuality, Robertson quipped that 'It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus,' and he proclaimed that same-sex sexuality leads to promiscuity with multiple male and female partners, while likening it to bestiality. He concluded by paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6-9 from the Christian testaments: 'Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers -- they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right.'

Three years prior to his GQ interview, Phil Robertson asserted as a guest speaker at the Berean Bible Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania: "Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another and they received in themselves the due penancey for their perversions. They're full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil."

On race relations and socioeconomic class: During his youth growing up in the Jim Crow South, Robertson talked about the "singing and happy" black people whom he worked alongside hoeing and picking cotton since, as Roberson phrased it, he himself was "white trash." "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once." Then taking aim at current safety-net programs, he asserted: "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have revised historical realities and have also employed "religion" to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.

Robertson, of course, does not stand alone in employing religious texts and tenets, as well as his personal experiences (read as "historical revisions") to justify and rationalize his opinions and "values."

Take, for example, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, who argued: "What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America..."

Robertson and Dabney engage in similar dire warnings, but, and here is the key, they are referring to two different issues -- Robertson refers to same-sex sexuality and marriage, Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, referred to women's suffrage -- but they forebear similar consequences: the destruction of the family and civilization as we know it.

In actuality, both Robertson and Dabney are arguing for the maintenance of heterosexual male hegemony, privilege, and power over the rights of women and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans people. Unintentionally, Robertson and Dabney show the clear connections between misogyny/sexism and heterosexism/cissexism, and by so doing, expose the true motives for the denial of rights to entire groups of people.

Let's look at another parallel case, the issue of prohibiting individuals from different "races" from engaging in sexual relations (miscegenation). The state of Virginia in 1958 arrested and tried a white man and black women for violating Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute, its so-called "Racial Integrity Act" of 1924.

The plaintiffs in the case involved Mildred Loving (born Mildred Deloris Jetter, a woman of African descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a man of white European descent), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia's restrictive statute. Upon returning to Virginia, police stormed their home and bedroom, arrested, and charged them with violating the law. At their trial, the judge convicted and sentenced them each to one year imprisonment, but suspended their sentences on the condition that the couple leaves the state of Virginia for a period of 25 years. At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used Biblical justifications for his verdict.

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix."

In their arrogance and presumption believing that they and only they know ultimate truth, the Southern Baptist Convention, unfortunately, has a long history of oppression.

The issue of slavery became a lightening rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a "good Christian," one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.

Well, either by divine "inspiration" or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African-Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an "original sin"), and also apologizing for its support of "Jim Crow" laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.

Regarding its stands on women in the Church, however, at their 1998 session, the SBC declared that a wife should "submit herself graciously" to her husband's guidance, and the denomination has since removed women from top executive posts. According to the 1998 resolution: "...The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ....[She] has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation." Later, in 2000, the SBC declared that women should no longer serve as pastors.

In 2010, the SBC passed its "Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military," which stated in part: "RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention...affirm the Bible's declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible's promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)."

I want to be very clear that Christianity comprises many sects and denominations in places throughout the world, and, therefore, Christianity cannot be understood as monolithic, for people adhere to or diverge from a strict interpretation of scriptures depending on their denomination and personal beliefs. Some denominations have been welcoming to LGBT people, to women, and to people of every so-called "race."

In addition, anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the expression of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their full human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for they have entered into the realm of oppression.

Oh sure, we are seeing individuals and entire denominations framing themselves as the true victims whenever we challenge their religious justifications in their attempts to perpetuate their already pervasive Christian hegemony and social privileges, and their characterizations of others. My critique, however, does not amount to a simple theocratic disagreement. This is not a "disagreement" at all! It speaks to issues of power and control; it goes to who has the power to define "the other," and who has the power and control to define "the self": the individual and members of social identity groups, or rather, the Church with a capital "C."

With freedom of speech and with religious rights come responsibilities, and with words and actions often come reactions and challenges. Whenever clergy and lay people pronounce and preach their conservative dogma on sexuality and gender expression, on issues of "race," on women, on other religions and on atheists, and on others, they must expect opposition to their ideas and to their dominant group privileges, to their interpretations of scripture, and to their constructions and revisions of history. Moreover, they must take responsibility for the bullying, harassment, violence against and suicides of these individuals and groups.

Regarding my respondent's critique of my editorial blog, this does not merely fall into the realm of "accepting diverse opinions," but rather amounts to standing up to oppressive and destructive characterizations and attempts to define "the other." To tolerate intolerance amounts to condoning oppression. To tolerate intolerance amounts to condoning bullying on the micro level often leading to genocide on the macro level.

Therefore, we have a right, no, an obligation to counter this destructive and, yes, oppressive discourse, and to stand up, to transform ourselves from bystanders into empowered upstanders taking with us our voices, our energy, our unity, our intelligence, our righteous indignation, and all the love of which we are capable.

Speaking to a packed audience at the Creating Change Conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Atlanta, Georgia, Coretta Scott King (2000) served as a model to us all:

"...I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."

I, therefore, personally refuse ever again to debate my existence or the existence of all other minoritized peoples or to "tolerate" it when others negatively characterize us on "religious" grounds, since there is no "debate," for to quote Mansour Rene Descartes, "I think therefore I exist," period, the end.