On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals

On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals April 19, 2015

I just read this on Right Wing Watch:

Later in the program, Dobson took issue with pastors “who are compassionate toward those who have attractions to same-sex individuals.”

“I would like them to think, just for a moment, about ‘LGBT,'” Dobson said. “The ‘B’ stand for bisexual! That’s orgies!  Are you really going to support this?”

I guess I feel like if you’re going to get up on your platform and speak on an issue, you should do your research first. Or maybe I’m just old fashioned like that.

Being bisexual does not make one any more likely to engage in orgies than people who are straight. (Dobson does know straight people sometimes have orgies, right?) All being bisexual means is that one is sexually attracted to members of more than one sex. It does not mean one is not monogamous.

Bisexual individuals often end up in a weird bind when it comes to public conceptions of them. They’re either thought to be polyamorous, or they’re erased entirely—after all, a bisexual person currently with someone of their own sex is viewed by the public as gay, and a bisexual person currently with someone of the opposite sex is viewed by the public as straight. So I don’t want to come down on just Dobson here—lots of people misunderstand what it means to be bisexual.

However.

Evangelicals frequently talk about the “gay lifestyle” as a dangerous and foreign thing, ignoring the fact that gay people tend to lead lives not all that unlike straight people. Evangelicals also stereotype transgender individuals as pedophiles and molesters, ignoring the fact that transgender individuals are far more likely to have violence exercised against them than they are to exercise violence against others. So it’s not just bisexuality we’re talking about here.

Evangelicals’ understanding of LGBTQ individuals is less about reality and more about crafting an image that fits within their worldview. In evangelical parlance, homosexuality, orgies, and pedophilia—these things all naturally go together. This is why evangelicals believe that gay people are naturally promiscuous and that transgender individuals are likely to abuse children in public restrooms. This image they have crafted of LGBTQ individuals may not resemble the reality, but it does allow them to fit the issue snugly into their belief system.

As more people have openly gay individuals in their lives, evangelicals are increasingly faced with a choice. They must either deny the lived experience of the (often few) LGBTQ individuals in their lives, or they must reject the image they have been given of LGBTQ individuals by their pastors or other evangelical leaders as false. If they do the latter, they have to find a way to adjust their belief system to account for this new understanding of LGBTQ individuals. And there are evangelicals today who are doing this, though I don’t have percentages. The past of least resistance, however, is to simply deny, deny, deny, and hold tight to the unquestioned belief system, and that is what most seem to be doing, at least for the moment. It’s certainly what Dobson is doing, though I’m unsure whether he knows any LGBTQ individuals.

The problem here isn’t just religion, though it certainly is that when it comes to LGBTQ issues specifically. When we look more broadly, it’s ideology in general that is the problem. Any time people set out to fit the world around them into a specific preconceived ideology, without a willingness to also look critically at that ideology, they will end up twisting pieces to fit them into their preexisting puzzle. Religion may be the most obvious example of this, but there are others, too. Think of communists or libertarians, for instance. Any time an individuals proclaims an ideology supreme, they run the risk of finding themselves twisting pieces to fit them into it rather than being willing to adjust the ideology when things don’t fit.

When I began to walk away from evangelicalism, one of the most amazing things about it was being able to simply accept the hugeness and wideness of the world without having to fit every little thing into my evangelical ideology. I loved being able to just let difference be. It was a relief to be able to accept that that person who didn’t go to church or ascribe to evangelical beliefs probably really was as happy as she looked, rather than having to find some way to believe that she was actually internally miserable. And so forth. Sure, I eventually had to find ways to piece the world around me together into a new understanding, but the new understanding I have crafted is flexible and by definition willing to give.

The best thing we can do for evangelical friends or family members is to live lives that don’t fit their preconceived notions and present information that also doesn’t fit. For example, about a year ago when I was with my family they made some offhand comment about boycotting a business that supported LGBTQ adoption, and I mentioned, also sort of offhand, that I have a friend who is raising a little boy with her partner, and that they’re great mothers. There was no response to this comment and I wasn’t expecting one. What they do with contrary data points is up to them. They may twist them to fit their ideology today, but perhaps they’ll niggle in the back of their mind and build up and build up until they realize it is the ideology they must adjust rather than the information.

I’ll be honest—I don’t hold up much hope for James Dobson changing his beliefs about LGBTQ individuals. But for evangelicals of my generation, especially, I have some hope.

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