A political and social movement starts to die when it decisively becomes far more obsessed with hunting heretics than making converts. Over the past couple of days, I have made it pretty clear that, though I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty, I think that the latest attempt by the Gay Legion of Menacing Visigoths for Tolerance to crush free speech and anathematize Christian sexual morality is, as usual, way the hell out of line. So, by the way, does the refreshingly frank lesbian atheist Camille Paglia. She can spot a Stalinist when she scents one. Even TIME is voicing its doubts about this latest display of gay fascism and corporate cowardice. I think the suits at A&E and the gay lobbyists who are breathing down their necks are committing another spectacular act of overreach in trying to muzzle Robertson for making some perfectly predictable and justifiable remarks as a Christian who thinks homosex sin. I think they may well get Chik-fil-A’d in reverse and it couldn’t happen to a nicer pack of fascists and corporate suckups.
Moreover, I think the spectacle is just plain hilarious. A&E leadership was responding in panic to the loudest gay agitprop voices in the blue state bubble and is now realizing that those people never watched the show anyway and they have just killed the cash cow in order to still get invited to the right parties. There are meetings in well-paneled offices right now in which A&E execs and sponsors are screaming at each other, “WTF DID YOU *DO*? The highest rated cable show of all time and you decided to go all thought police on the star so that Lady Gaga wouldn’t bounce you from her Artflop afterparty? Are you insane?” An epic instance of sin making smart people very stupid indeed. I was and am content to snicker as the riptides of PC thought subject the network to the unbearable tidal stresses of lust for mammon and terror of the wrath of Ganymede. I appreciate it when God casts down the mighty in their arrogance and lifts up the lowly.
All of which is to say, I’m a natural ally for conservatives who honor traditional Catholic sexual morality on this.
But, O the humanity!, I have also noted that the same dude who is being wrongly persecuted for his views on homosex has made some rather embarrassing remarks about life in the Jim Crow South of his youth, basically suggesting that it was a golden age in which black folks had no complaints and just sang happily all the time. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, a preposterous picture of the Jim Crow South.
To be sure, I take his remarks to be a truthful expression of his personal experience, just as I can truthfully say to a Frenchman or Englishman asking about growing up in America in the turbulent 60s that I personally never witnessed a race riot, an anti-war protest, a hippie or even somebody smoking pot (that would happen in the 70s). I lived a sedate suburban life in Everett, Washington, far from any violence or social upheaval. I didn’t even see anything out of the ordinary when I was living near Detroit in 1965. Vietnam was on the boring news my Dad watched. My brothers were there, but their tapes they sent home were mostly humdrum with no sense that they were swept up in an epic social upheaval transforming America forever. Racial tensions were completely incomprehensible to me because there was only one black kid in my elementary school and everybody else was named Haugen, Almvig, Olsen and Anderson. When Martin Luther King was murdered, I had not the foggiest idea who he was or what his whole deal was about. I could, just like that guy on DD talking about the Jim Crow South, truthfully say that I never personally witnessed anything of America in the 60s that people think of as “America in the 60s”.
If, however, I let my account stand to my mythical Frenchmen or Englishmen without noting that, of course, my experience was a very tiny and parochial slice of what was actually happening to America in the 60s, they might be forgiven for supposing I was offering a heavily edited view of things, particularly if I compared that Golden Idyll with America today and added editorial commentary on how everything was great “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” (meaning “before damn libruls started interfering”) but strangely forgot to mention the great act of liberalism called “the Civil Rights Act”. My mythical foreigners might indeed be forgiven for noting a very strong affinity between such language and exactly the same kind of things said by segregationists about damn libruls 50 years ago. It is, at the very best, inept and infelicitous to suggest that the Jim Crow South was some kind of golden age and to say the black folk under Jim Crow were merely “singing and happy” or to say, “I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!” without the teensy weensiest hint that at one possible reason for that silence was due to a long history of lynchings, Emmett Till style murders, step to the back of the bus, colored only water fountains, huge KKK rallies and (as Jim Crow was falling) bus bombings, church bombings, beatings, shootings and the whole ugly reality of Jim Crow. Whatever its failings, what mortally wounded Jim Crow was damn librulism. And good riddance to it. It was not a golden age. Jim Crow was evil. Period. Some mention of that needed to be made and the DD guy needed to make it–and didn’t.
Here’s the deal: Christians in the US are, increasingly, foreigners. As such, we cannot take for granted that we are immediately comprehensible to the audience we are trying to persuade. Indeed, we often are not, particularly when it comes to any proposition that challenges the notion that consent is not the sole criterion of the good. That’s why students here in Seattle just staged a mass protest because the bishop told a gay vice principal at a Catholic high school that, no, you can’t marry your boyfriend and continue to be a vice principal at a Catholic high school. This is news even to huge numbers of young Catholics, not to mention the average Seattleite who will no doubt wonder when the pope is going to call the guy and give him his job back. For such a culture, there is no appreciable difference between the Church’s opposition to homosex as sin and racism. Both are irrational prejudices until we make clear the difference. Therefore, if we are smart, we will not give so much as the slightest hint of making excuses for racism. And going to the mat to defend the suggestion that the Jim Crow South was a paradise of happy singing black folk with no complaints until the damn libruls screwed it up is, like it or not, rather likely to persuade most people outside the bubble of conservatve Christianity that, yeah, Christians are irrational bigots.
So, those who want to leap on the culture war bandwagon with the pied pipers at FOX and scream along with the latest 15 minute hate directed (this week) at A&E can do so and allow themselves to be played into appearing to defend the DD guy from all those damn libruls who are so mean for thinking that it’s pretty stupid to speak of the Jim Crow South as a paradise for black people. Or we can be smart and agree with him where he’s right, disagree where he’s wrong, and stick to the subject, which is that opposition to homosex is perfectly legitimate and that crushing the free speech of those who think this is vile and un-American, not to mention an assault on religious liberty.
I say all this because I want our side to *win* on this. People who are interested in making converts will get this. People who are interested in rooting out heretics in the endless search for absolute tribal purity will declare me an enemy for pointing out this bleeding obvious fact. Jim Crow was bad. Anything that so much as *suggests* the contrary is, at best, ignorant and, at worst willfully blind.
“But you were inflammatory, using that picture of that horrible lynching! And it’s not even from the South!”
Last things first: The obsessive insistence some people had with noting that the picture was not from the South (it was from a lynching in Duluth in the 20s) is emblematic of the sort of minimizing of the problem I’m referring to. My point was not “Look at what these Southerners here did”. It’s “Look at the threat of violence black people lived under. Doncha think that might have *something* to do with why they never had a word of complaint?” The source of the picture was irrelevant. For, of course, I could just as easily have found lots of images that did originate in the Jim Crow South, as we all know. I could have posted the horrifying image of Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy tortured to death in Mississippi during those warm golden years of Jim Crow for the crime of not knowing his place and speaking to a white woman. So yes, the picture was inflammatory, because what needed to be ignited was some small light of acknowledgement that “I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!” is the Theresienstadt version of life under Jim Crow and Christians are fools to deny it or diminish it. It’s a *guaranteed* losing strategy if we cheer for that guy’s free speech rights as a Christian while making excuses for when he uses his faculty of speech to soft pedal the Jim Crow South.
So: do we want converts or do we just want to attack disloyal heretics for not maintaining unit cohesion at all costs? I prefer converts. And this is an unusual moment where we can make a few. Even TIME magazine is with us. Or we can screw it up and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by going to the mat for this dumb comment.