Dear young friend in Anchorage: here’s why Prop 5 was defeated

In The New York Times this morning I found the article Gay Rights Bill Appears to Fail in Anchorage.

Surprised smile

I also found waiting for me an email from a follower of my blog in Anchorage, asking me to pen a word or two to his 14-year-old daughter about why Prop. 5 was defeated. So:

Dear A:

It’s touching to me that you care—and nearly heartbreaking that you—along with compassionate, sane people everywhere—are confounded as to why anyone would vote to give employers and landlords the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

First of all, don’t be discouraged by the vote. For one, as far as I can tell, as I’m writing this Prop. 5 may have actually passed. (Man, could that voting process have been more messed up? How could they run out of ballots, right? Try to get a teacher at your school to initiate some sort of student project that ends up with whomever runs elections in Anchorage getting fired. That person has one job, and it’s critically important. Voting Day: FAIL.) But either way, statistically indistinguishable from half of the people in Anchorage voted not to allow employers and landlords to fire/and or refuse to rent to people just because they’re gay or questioning.

Half is a lot. Half now flat-out guarantees that in the not-too-distant future such a measure will pass. By the time you’re old enough to vote, there probably won’t be anything like Prop. 5 left to vote on.

First women fought for and won their legal rights.

Then black people fought for and won their legal rights.

Now gay people are fighting for, and without question will continue to win, their legal rights.

Yay for democracy!

But boo for fear. Fear is the destroyer of human freedom. But you knew that. At some level I think everyone does.

Fear is what keeps so many people from wanting to grant to those who are in some way fundamentally different from them the status of being fully equal to them. If I’m striped, and you’re a solid color, then how can I still be all good if you, so different from me, are equally good? We can’t be different and equal.

That’s how a lot of people really “think”! And that’s how throughout history untold trillions of people have died from war, genocide, “ethnic cleansing,” and so on.

As you’re already no doubt aware, it was largely Christians (of a certain frenzied ilk) who effected the defeat of Proposition 5. And the leader of Christians Freaked by 5 is, of course, Rev. Jerry Prevo. [Prevo is long-time head pastor of mega-church Anchorage Baptist Temple. He's basically the Sith Overlord of conservative Christians in Alaska; he has more pull than Sarah Palin driving Bunyan's monster truck. In 2009 Rev. Prevo personally made sure that Anchorage's current (and just re-elected!) mayor, Dan Sullivan, vetoed a bill passed by the city assembly that would have extended basic civil rights protections to gays---just as, over 35 years earlier, he had made sure that Dan's father, George, then mayor of Anchorage, vetoed a similar bill. And here you thought Dynasty was just a TV show.]

Pastor Prevo—as, again, I’m sure you know—has built much of his power base through forever braying from his pulpit inanities about LGBTQ people so foul, disgraceful and pointedly cruel that I wouldn’t think of repeating them to you. (Whoops—accept via the image I’m gonna use to illustrate this post [which was done and sent me by Anchorage's own Glenn L. Harvey]. Sorry about that. Though I expect by now you know perfectly well that the quote of Prevo’s used in that illustration is just bumptious and bilious babble.)

There is always fortune and fame to be had by demonizing an underrepresented minority. Especially if while doing so you wildly wave around a Bible. People love being told that their anger and hatred comes from God. Then they can feel enraged, self-important, and morally righteous. Perfect!

Not perfect for the population target for prosecution, of course. Those people are screwed.

Anyway, that’s why so many people voted against including “sexual orientation” and “transgender identity” to Anchorage’s housing and employment nondiscrimination code: fear—which is to say anger (which is what fear instantly transmogrifies into once, as by instinct it usually does, it starts fighting) of the foreign, mixed with a perceived moral authority telling them God not only sanctions their fear and anger, but encourages it.

And that’s the exact same fear and anger, by the way, that traditionally has informed the way people read, translate, and preach the Bible. (For more on why that is a rationally and morally indefensible read of the Bible, see my The Best Case for The Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality.)

Anyway, A., don’t worry about the Prop. 5 vote. Relative to this particular struggle we’re just in that phase where the people who hold the power are slowly but surely having their fingers pried off it. And, thanks to the Internet, these sorts of changes now happen at what, historically speaking, is lightening speed.

Look at us, with a black president! Pure awesomenicity.

LGBTQ people will win their full rights. That scale has already tipped.

And people like Rev. Jerry Prevo will die. And on their graves first flowers will grow, and then grass, and then weeds. And then they will be forgotten.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • MD

    YES!!!!

    From a fan in Alaska

  • HF

    Truth. Thank you.

  • Valerie

    amen

  • Lisa Metzler via Facebook

    Thank you, Mr. Shore….a voice of reason!

  • Sunshine

    Hope is awesome

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    That last part makes me uncomfortable. That’s kind of… dark. Also kind of fruitless when you consider that one day, we all will die, first flowers, then grass will appear on our graves and *we* will be forgotten (I mean as individuals, not as a movement here). I’d rather see people stop with ignorance, grow some empathy and change for the better than die. It is inevitable, however, that history marches on and that most people who “held to ideas of their time” are forgotten.

    I think it would be cool for more people to strive to be remembered for the things they loved rather than what they hated. Maybe people would care more about love, then..?

    I hadn’t heard about this Alaska thing, but here’s something I saw today on Yahoo that made me think of everyone here: http://news.yahoo.com/video/cincinnatiwlwt-18191085/student-sues-to-wear-jesus-is-not-a-homophobe-shirt-28823305.html

    A free-expression case in which a gay high school student wasn’t allowed to wear a T-shirt at school. When I first clicked on the story, I was expecting to see something like a cheeky-flirty shirt like one might get at Hot Topic or something like a gay equivalent of those “Big Johnson” shirts that were popular with young, heterosexual men at my high school a decade ago…

    The kid’s being hassled over… WHUT?

    … I personally don’t see how a rainbow-fish is “sexually indecent,” unless the principal is imagining a bunch of rainbow-fish spawning or something.

    The news-station poll for their viewers is split at about half.

  • Gordon

    Excellent post, John Shore!

    I hate it when my civil rights are put up for a popular vote. Maybe you’re right when you say that, relatively speaking, things are moving along at lightning speed. But, if you’re gay in America, it really doesn’t feel like it. I am amazed and saddened that ballot measures like this even need to be proposed.

    • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

      I’m sad to think that that the good people of Anchorage somehow succumbed to the blatant hate-mongering of Jerry Prevo and his mega-church. Sure, eventually gays and lesbians will receive full equal rights across America. But how much longer will it take before that translates into plain old, ordinary acceptance?

      My mind boggles to think that it is so-called Christians, whose God is a god of love, are at the forefront of this campaign of hatred against a small, marginal group that really just wants to be left alone.

    • http://sus4th.wordpress.com Paul Ardoin

      I was working a Democrat booth at a county fair in 2008. My wife was pregnant at the time; she was a surrogate for an awesome same-sex couple in New York. “Congratulations!” said my booth co-worker, who was a sixty-year-old white guy with a white mustache when he saw my pregnant wife and two kids. “Number three!” “Actually,” I said, “my wife’s a surrogate.” He had a bunch of questions (as people often do) and I said it was for a gay couple. He got really quiet for a minute, and then he said, “You know, I’m gay. And when I started in the gay rights movement in the sixties, we were trying to convince people not to *kill* us. I never thought I’d live to see the day where we were fighting for gay marriage, and where I’d be having a casual conversation with a straight guy whose wife was having a baby for a gay couple.”

      I know I live in California, not Alaska, and I’m pissed off about the state of LGBTQ equality and DOMA and all that, but I do think we have come a long, long way in the last 20 years.

      • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

        That’s a good point, Paul. Thanks for making it.

      • Lymis

        That’s wonderful! And special hugs to you and your wife!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Reed-Boyer/1019995702 Reed Boyer via Facebook

    Cold comfort. Prevo’s still alive.

    • Sybil

      He’s not “alive” so much as undead. I grew up in Anchorage, I know whereof I speak.

      • Diana A.

        Aw man! Where’s Buffy when we need her?

  • http://www.facebook.com/BlueAndAmy Amy MacLeod via Facebook

    I’m going try to use the word “awesomenicity” in a sentence at least once a day :-)
    And thanks for another great piece!!

  • http://someamusingblogpun.wordpress.com/ Alan

    Yup. To paraphrase Max Plank, social change happens one funeral at a time.

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    I agree with you about the issue. I am beginning to struggle with the “fear” explanation. First of all, I think lots of people in Anchorage, not a particularly religious place, didn’t get why people must be identified by name to have their rights protected. (I get it, but a lot don’t.) Secondly, I’m beginning to feel as if the Christian left is passing on a message to the effect of, “Look at us! We’re not afraid! We’re better than you!” Honestly, I’m afraid too, although of different things; of a society in which owning a gun is the only right that matters; of the spread of poverty, hunger, and disease to such an extent that all I can see is human misery and I don’t have the power to change it; of losing track of the fact that I also am selfish and sometimes contemptuous of life, human and other. While I think fear is part of the problem, I wonder if it isn’t the result, rather than the cause, of discrimination. Don’t know where to go with that.

    • Lymis

      If fear is the result rather than the cause of discrimination, the answer is the same – end the legal and institutional parts of the discrimination.

      Change what can and must be changed, and then work to make the next change.

  • Silvia Wilson via Facebook

    I’ve found that it really helps to understand that hate and anger are masks for fear. Just as a pet or wild animal snarls in self-defense, a bold display of anger is a cover-up for being scared. When someone blows hateful words, he or she is “shaking in their boots.”

  • John Carson via Facebook

    It’s not surprising. These ARE the people that gave us Sarah Palin, after all…

  • Vince

    There are reports of a lot of problems with this election. First, Anchorage requires voters to register for an election 30 days before it occurs, yet an email sent Tuesday afternoon by Jim Minnery with Protect Your Rights, a group opposing Proposition 5, told people they could register and vote on the same day. There were ballot shortages across the city and many people couldn’t vote, and it’s being reported that this email is at least partially to blame.

    Anchorage Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein has said she had reason to believe that people from outside Anchorage were attempting to vote.

    Additionally, there were voters being told to vote questioned ballots, which can take as long as two weeks to process.

  • Mr. Po-Po

    Wow, just wow about that first quote. I didn’t even get done reading this whole blog post yet but that quote about bisexuals really annoyed me.

    I am a bisexual myself. Why? Because I believe in unconditional love and I don’t give a damn about who someone is physically, I just want to unconditionally love their soul.

    It isn’t about having sex with everyone, at least not for me.

    For me it is about loving anyone.

    • Lymis

      Well, those of us who aren’t bisexual aren’t monosexual because we’re unable to love unconditionally. That’s a bit condescending, not to mention both inaccurate and, if you intend to extend that to the rest of us, more than a bit offensive in itself.

      Your broader point is still accurate – his quote is offensive. Being bisexual isn’t about having sex with anyone who lets you any more than being straight is about having sex with anyone of the opposite sex who will let you. It is about being sexually and emotionally attracted to at least some people of both sexes.

      Bisexual people aren’t (usually, at least) erotically attracted to everyone. It’s just that their attractions are not limited specifically by gender.

      • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Lore

        ^ This.

      • Melody

        Exactly. Bisexual should not be confused with pansexual, in which you’re attracted to whomever you’re attracted to (anyone on the QUILTBAG scale, as well as heterosexual). Saying being monosexual makes you a conditional lover is wrong. It’s like saying I’m homophobic because I’m not sexually attracted to women, or that someone is racist because he or she isn’t particularly attracted to people of another race. At the risk of using the same argument homophobes use to discourage same-sex relations, we don’t have to be sexually attracted to someone to love them unconditionally. That’s why we have so many platonic friendships. I think you need to work this one out some more. It seems pretty over the top to me.

  • Grant

    Man you folks are in one crazy country.

    Why don’t you all get up and move north. Not to Alaska. To the country inbetween you and your northern most state. Life is decent here. Sure there’s always room for improvement but for GLBT folks there is this thing called Canadian compassion and sensibility (notwithstanding the fact for some reason we have a conservative federal government).

    There are alternatives. Too bad folks can’t see the fact the world has not come to an end at least in Canada. You know – that country to the north of you…the one we when we feel pretty inferior figure you guys don’t know exists. :)

    • Diana A.

      Don’t think we haven’t thought about it…more than once. If it wasn’t for certain personal commitments of mine, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    • Shannon

      I’m trying! I’m trying! Stop taunting us with your health care and your politeness and your excellent geographical position as global warming increases!

  • Michael M

    There is a quote that I’m hearing on NPR promos recently (can’t remember which show it is for), it is Chris Rock, saying that he doesn’t like saying that black people have “come a long way” because that implies that blacks used to deserve to be segregated. “What really happened is that white people became less crazy.”

    Slowly, gradually, throughout America, straight people (and self-hating gay people) are getting less crazy, and learning to give up their fear. Some haters, like this Prevo guy apparently, will carry their crazy hatred to the grave, but there are, praise God, many others who are opening their hearts. My parents are going through this process right now, and I am very proud of how far they have come because I recognize that it has been painful and scary for them to reject beliefs that they once accepted without question.

    It is horrible to think that we must delay justice, especially while innocent people are suffering, but I have come to believe that this is how God wants us to defeat the evil of homophobia–by convincing our enemies to join our side. If LGBTQA tolerance was imposed by fiat on a populace where the majority were homophobic, then their hatred would just go underground, fester with resentment, and then eventually explode. But if we keep preaching our truth, turning the other cheek, and loving our enemies, we will win over the majority. Someday, laws like Prop 5 will pass easily. Someday, laws like Prop 5 won’t even be necessary.

    • http://kellythinkstoomuch.wordpress.com KellyK

      I like that Chris Rock quote, both for the reason that you stated and because “less crazy” is different than “not crazy.” It’s not like racism is over.

  • natalie

    The Bible says not rejoice in the death of another man. Though, as stated in the article a death may be necessary for a change to come.

  • MaryKaye

    When we were teenagers my best friend and I did a project where we attended different churches in Anchorage–sort of a religious walkabout. But the project ended suddenly after our visit to Anchorage Baptist Temple. (This would have been in around 1977 but Prevo has been there a loooong time.)

    Their youth pastor bragged that a girl troubled by the temptation to bestiality had come to him and he had screamed at her, shamed her, humiliated her. He was proud of having treated a probably mentally ill teenager this way.

    Someone else in the youth group told us that the biggest sin affecting our lives was masturbation. Even at 14 I wanted to put up my hand and say “Really? Not hate? Not greed? Not lack of compassion and charity? Not laziness? *Really*???”

    They haven’t changed as far as I can tell. They drove Pagan pamphlets out of information racks at shopping centers when I was a young adult. They were big backers of the Moral Majority movement.

    And they have good reason not to preach about greed, because Prevo is, or at least was when I lived in Alaska last, a very rich man.

  • Heather, from Anchorage :p

    Jerry Prevo is EVERYTHING that is ugly about Christians these days. He’s hateful, intolerant, arrogant, greedy, showy, self-righteous, hypocritical and LOUD.

    His latest project, now that he’s done with prop 5, is trying to get building permits for a 230 foot cross to be built on the church property. He even has to get clearance from the FAA, it would be so tall. It would be one of the tallest structures in the city – about as tall as the BP building downtown.

    What would this project cost? I don’t know. But I know a lot of cold, hungry homeless people (including families with children) here who might find something better to do with that money.

    But that’s Jerry. He loves to show off. He loves to show how much he looooooves God…as long as it gets him the spotlight and makes him look good. This is one man who has missed the boat.

    If, as Jesus says, the first will be last, and the last will be first, I hope Jerry’s wearing comfy shoes, ‘cuz he’s gonna be waiting at the back of the line for a loooooooong time.


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