The NPH and why evangelical Millennials can’t trust their elders

The NPH and why evangelical Millennials can’t trust their elders June 19, 2012

Michael-in-Norfolk posted this graphic from Neil Patrick Harris’ appearance on The Colbert Report.

Michael writes:

If people find out that we LGBT individuals are basically just like them, that we have similar hopes and dreams and, God forbid, that we have normal functioning families, the Christianist anti-gay jihad falls apart. … It’s easy to hate and oppose something/someone unknown. It’s far harder when the targets of hate are one’s friends, neighbors and family members.

This, I believe, is a huge part of the reason that Millennials are increasingly skeptical about the church, and particularly the evangelical Protestant parts of the church.

Note that it’s not simply that they disagree with what the older generation of evangelicals is teaching about LGBT people. It’s that they have come to see that the older generation is lying to them about LGBT people.

Lying is not a good way to earn or to keep trust. Particularly not when the lie is one that is so easily refuted just by meeting actual people — those friends, neighbors and family members Michael mentions. Millennials have grown up knowing and knowing of many LGBT people and they have seen, firsthand, that these friends, neighbors and relatives are nothing like the portrait painted of them by the older generation of evangelicals.

I wrote about this last year in a post discussing “the generational chasm that seems to have opened in two of the vanguard groups opposed to equal legal rights for GLBT people: Republicans and evangelical Christians”:

Polls of both groups continue to show a large disparity between the antigay views of older members and the lack of such sentiment among younger members. Those younger Republicans and evangelicals recognize the need for non-sectarian legal arguments in support of nonsectarian legal discrimination, and the lack of such arguments from their older counterparts is a big part of the reason that older, antigay Republicans are now seeing, for example, their own daughters recording videos on behalf of New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.

Another component of this generational divide is that younger evangelicals and Republicans tend to have friends, acquaintances and co-workers who did not hide their GLBT identity the way the older generation’s friends, acquaintances and co-workers were forced to hide theirs. The younger generation thus knows people, and knowing them, they know that these people are not the dangerous bogeymen that the older generation makes them out to be. The younger generation has learned that what the older generation has to say about this issue cannot be trusted — it is objectively not true.

The older generation of anti-gay evangelicals says that this amounts to a disturbing “moral relativism” on the part of these younger Christians, but what the younger Christians see is an immoral and deeply ingrained dishonesty on the part of these older evangelicals who continue to bear false witness against GLBT people. The “moral relativism” they see is the older generation’s willingness to say false things in pursuit of a political agenda — the ends-justifies-the-means reasoning of those who think lying about GLBT people is somehow justified in pursuit of the supposedly greater good of “traditional values.”

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  • Antigone10

    Lying about QUILTBAG folks is the tip of the lying-about-how reality works that I got in my church.  Off the top of my head:

    1) Men and women are just so naturally different (I kept going on this vein, and realized this was a pretty good summation).2) Republicans are righteous, Democrats are evil. (Though, fortunately, they never said Republicans were good- all sinful, yada yada- but that they were righteous).
    3) Pop culture (in my day it was mostly Harry Potter but there are other things) are actively unChristian.
    4) The Rapture will happen any day now.
    5) The government wants you from being Christian.

    They lied about a lot to me.  

  • twig

    I had the odd yet wonderful experience just prior to college of ending up in a Wiccan get-together pretty much back-to-back with an extremely conservative traditional church group get-together.

    Pretty much the same thing, just swap out the nouns and add some pretzels to the Wiccan get-together.

    Some days I think it’s amusing.  Other days I find it sad.

  • This post is rather timely, as I just recently discovered the webcomic Dumbing of Age (mundane Walkyverse AU, for those of you familiar with that setting) and I’m looking forward to seeing how much of an effect this will have on a fundamentalist main character’s development. Also, I… kinda want to see what would happen if she were talked into reading some of the posts on this blog.

  • Tricksterson

    When I went to pagan ceremonies of seceral varieties i cobnsistently found three major differences between them and going to a Christian (in my case Catholic) church,

    1:  I got a spiritual lift i never did from church

    2:  I liked the people I met there a lot better

    3:  Pagans throw much better parties.

  • I totally love this post; it’s so true. I grew up in a Muslim family and had a similar experience, in that when I would go to Sunday School (which was kind of sporadic) I would always notice the differences between what they would tell me and what I saw in my everyday life, even at a young age.

    For example, it’s difficult to believe that people of other religions are going to go to Hell and/or that being a member of one particular religion is necessary for being a good person while going to school and seeing people from many different families. It’s difficult to believe that a religion which has discriminatory teachings about gender is actually loving towards women while learning about progress made in equal rights and seeing how people’s lives are affected by those teachings. I wasn’t told anything about LGBTQIA people (their existence wasn’t mentioned), but it was a safe bet the teachers at the Sunday School would be against it. When I realized that there are LGBTQIA people, the teachings of many in the religion didn’t convince me, because they already had a history of being wrong, so I didn’t trust their teachings as a source of accurate information.(Also, the NPH in the title made me pause for a second. There’s a type of insulin that’s used to treat diabetes that’s called NPH, and that’s what came to mind.)

  • C

    So very true, Fred. I grew up hearing that gay people were sick promiscuous perverts (not even exaggerating there) and the behavior in gay pride parades — men in thongs doing pelvic thrusts to disco music while riding on floats shaped like penises — was the norm for all gays.  “It’s just how they are — weird and sick!”

    Then I grew up and found out that while some folks are fabulous like that from time to time, gay people are really just…normal. There were a lot of things I saw in my journey from there to here. I befriended people THEN found out they were gay, and I realized I just couldn’t tell them apart from the other people I knew. I listened as a gay friend gushed about his new boyfriend, just the way that I had gushed over my boyfriend. I visited my favorite professor/scholar-idol/future academic adviser, and sitting on her desk was a photo of her hugging her partner and their dog in their backyard. My heart broke when a very dear gay friend called me and cried while he told me about an angry customer screaming homophobic epithets at him. And finally I have gay friends who are just as generous and supportive toward me — and in most cases even more so — than the church folks I used to know.

    All that time, I think those people in church were lying to me, but I also think there’s a lot of ignorance. They don’t really know how gay people are. Maybe some do, and they are lying. Maybe some are just repeating the lies they’ve heard and they don’t know any better.

  • twig

    Eh, I wouldn’t say my overall experience was ‘rah! Pagans!,’ not that Catholicism did much for me either.  I mostly spent services looking at the ceiling fan and all I can remember from Sunday school was snack time.

    Everyone on both sides was about the same, as far as I could tell – some standoffish, some friendly, some happy to quietly watch while others wanted to adamantly declare What This All Was About.  A few who were probably just there to support the significant other, or find one.

    Generally a lot of people just searching for something more/true/real.

    I wish I could say that the real difference is that the extremely conservative Christians would of course immediately oppress the people different from them while a Pagan majority would never, ever make that decision – but I’ve seen just as much infighting among them as anyone else, and for mostly the same reasons. 

    The minute there’s an ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’ there seems to be an entire playbook of rules and strategies and “We Must….” to go along with it.  It’s a shame we haven’t figured out a really good way to just get to an ‘Us’.

  • If the drug actually was stem cells from Neil Patrick Harris, it would have the side effect of making diabetics (like me) much, much cooler! 

  • Joshua

    And I’d just like to say that 
    Neil Patrick Harris was totally awesome in Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

    There’s so many subtle little expressions and things going along that sell the character non-verbally, and some of the singing is really tricky.

  • Joshua

    Disqus seems to enjoy inserting random hideous linebreaks in my posts at the moment. I weep.

  • NPH just plain loves musicals. Stereotype, I know. Anyway, here’s a fantastic bit from Megan Mullally’s show:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhXsJjVdj1E 

  • Julian M Elson

    I think that it goes further than that. Homophobic lying isn’t just immoral on the part of the homophobes — it puts pressure on gays to be worse people too. Taking it as a given that sexual orientation is not a choice, the homophobes’ solution, short of genocide, is to force gay people back into the closet.

    Closeted gay people tend to do things like cheat on their spouses (to whom they are, after all, not attracted), lie about their lives, etc. In doing so, they hurt their families, beards, etc. Of course, straight people and out gay people also sometimes lie and cheat on their partners and hurt people. I don’t think it would be unfair, though, to say that closeted gays are generally under more pressure than straights or out gays from the dissonance between their public persona and their desires.

    Naturally, some gay people in homophobic circumstances, in spite of widespread homophobia, don’t do the closet-case things that hurt those close to them. Some don’t create a façade of heterosexuality, and live as “confirmed bachelors” or “old maids,” enduring whatever suspicion and social opprobrium accompanied that. Others might marry opposite-sex partners, and painfully repress their sexuality enough that they don’t have to cheat or lie. However, being closeted, and cheating, is a widespread way of (very imperfectly) resolving sexuality and social pressure.

    So when churches force people into the closet, it both is a direct form of violation against LGBT people themselves, and also sets the stage for secondary immorality from LGBT people covering up. The initial violation of LGBT people’s humanity is a bigger evil, but the fact that homophobia creates many of the sins that it holds against gays makes it particularly cruel and stupid.

    In some ways, I suspect that that’s the point — the very fact that out gay people in  fairly non-homophobic circumstances don’t live sordid lives of denial and deception is what so many homophobes find frustrating. LGBT people aren’t inherently more sinful than straights — but they’ll try to make them so, by making them run a gauntlet of social pressure which many of them won’t get through without hurting those close to them.

  • Julian M Elson

    I like watching Neil Patrick Harris sing “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” from the 2001 San Francisco Symphony Orchestra production of Sweeney Todd.

  • Anonymous

    I’d never thought of it this way before, but now that I see it written out on a page, I think you’re absolutely correct.

  • Tom

    Yes, it’s pretty well accepted among gay theorists that widespread homophobia encourages more one-off anonymous sexual encounters.  A few decades ago it was literally impossible for 2 men (or women) to have a long term romantic relationship without arousing suspicion, add to that internalised homophobia (remember – back then a lot of (most?) gay people thought themselves that what they were doing was wrong) that meant people would try to repress their sexuality most of the time, the exception being moments of ‘madness’ when it all got to much.

    This situation greatly increased practices like ‘cottaging’ (don’t know what you call it over there – quick and anonymous sexual encounters in toilets/truck stops etc) and STIs like HIV.

    Only now where, for the first time in pretty much thousands of years, gay relationships are starting to be accepted as equal to straight ones, are we talking about things like gay marriage and seeing gay people start to settle down.

    It’s a complex topic because, in all honesty, a couple of decades ago lots of the things the crazy homophobes said about us might have been true (gay people having more, riskier and more meaningless sex than straight people) but they weren’t true because gay people have evil DNA – they were true because of the desperation caused by the situation those same homophobes set up.

    A similar situation is all the rich white dudes trying their best to prevent opportunities for ethnic minorities based on the fact that there is higher poverty and crime among ethnic minority communities – caused by lack of opportunities.

  • Tonio

    It’s that they have come to see that the older generation is lying to them about LGBT people.

    I wonder if that’s simply a newer version of the point Molly Ivins once made: 
    “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting
    point–race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you
    start to question everything.”

  • Tonio

     

    homophobia creates many of the sins that it holds against gays makes it particularly cruel and stupid.

    While that’s probably true, I have some level of discomfort with the argument.

    That’s partly because it’s also been used to explain the abuse of children by priests. Those crimes were first and foremost about abuse of power, and I strongly condemn the idea that having to live “sordid lives of denial and deception” creates the desire to abuse one’s power. I suspect they already believed they had the right to use their power however they wished and that that having to live a lie enabled them to more easily rationalize the abuse in their minds.

    And partly because the argument doesn’t seem to distinguish between repressing one’s sexual desires and one’s sexual identity, and again the former sounds too much like the twisted rationales that rape apologists give.

  • It’s a complex topic because, in all honesty, a couple of decades ago
    lots of the things the crazy homophobes said about us might have been
    true (gay people having more, riskier and more meaningless sex than
    straight people) but they weren’t true because gay people have evil DNA –
    they were true because of the desperation caused by the situation those
    same homophobes set up.

    That kind of reminds me of the whole argument that the government should abolish same-sex marriage and deny employment protection to gay people because giving such rights encourages homosexuality, and encouraging homosexuality is bad because gay people have a higher tendency towards things like depression and suicide. Of course, they usually leave off the part where, if that’s true, it’s probably because homophobes control the government and persecute and demonize gay people. 

    It’s like saying the government should make driving illegal, because driving is dangerous, and the reason driving is dangerous is because it’s illegal and you could wind up in jail.

    They’re essentially using their own malicious abuse of other people to justify itself, and they’re getting away with it.

  • Tonio

    The other falsehood in the argument is the idea that homosexuality can be “encouraged,” which is merely a euphemism for the old hateful belief that people can be seduced or recruited into it. At the least, the argument doesn’t explain why such rights would encourage people to switch from straight to gay, or cause straights to have gay desires when they didn’t have them before.

  • Ladyevenstar120

    This article really strikes a nerve for me.  I grew up in a dual-faith household.  When people would try to tell me how evil and awful non-Christians were, it was an impossible thing for me to believe – after all, one of my parents wasn’t Christian and was a fantastic, wonderful parent to me and my sibling as well as a generally good and moral person.  When one of my Christian friends snidely told me she would pray for my parent (it was clearly in a “wow, how can you live with a non-Christian” way) and I got very offended, it was that parent who gently told me that all prayers are heard by God and that it was always good that someone was praying for him.  That was a kind of grace I’m not sure Christian-professing me is even capable of…

    Basically, once I had realized all of this, it wasn’t hard to make the leap to realize that all the stuff I’d heard about how sinful/evil/different gays are wasn’t true either.  I’ve been fortunate to get to know some really great people that happen to be gay.  It destroys the credibility of the church when it tries to demonize people who are different…because if they’re not telling us the truth about those things, what else isn’t true? 

  • Münchner Kindl

    Lying is not a good way to earn or to keep trust. Particularly not when the lie is one that is so easily refuted just by meeting actual people — those friends, neighbors and family members Michael mentions. Millennials have grown up knowing and knowing of many LGBT people and they have seen, firsthand, that these friends, neighbors and relatives are nothing like the portrait painted of them by the older generation of evangelicals.

    Fred sees this as a sign of hope: people can be reached, they can learn and change their ideas.

    But on the other hand, the old men in charge also see this, and their reaction is to double down and isolate further to prevent this. It’s already the case with evolution vs. creation and abstinence-only vs. sex ed: if the schools expose your children to stuff that could lead them to question, you homeschool the children to keep them in the bubble. You either don’t send them to college, or to approved ultra-fundie colleges where the staff has a dress code for female students, and students have to be in bed by 10 pm.

    Instead of people leaving the church in drove, or the church having to reform, you get a new generation that believes the old lies because they never got exposed to anything else. Like the Phelps clan is already doing. Lather rinse repeat (esp. with the high birth rates due to the “no contraception” interpretation) and soon the numbers will be up again.

    And despite their skewed education, those people can vote and will follow their evangelic leaders telling them whom to vote for.

  • Sarah Jane Gray

    Thanks for clarifying this, Tonio — I also was uncomfortable with this argument, but was having a difficult time  articulating why.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    “Homophobic lying isn’t just immoral on the part of the homophobes — it puts pressure on gays to be worse people too.[…]Closeted gay people tend to do things like cheat on their spouses (to whom they are, after all, not attracted), lie about their lives, etc. In doing so, they hurt their families, beards, etc.”

    This is illuminated by the recent Mark Regnerus study which ludicrously purports to be about same-sex parenting but actually serves to illustrate the perils of the closet.

  • Akedhi

    But that doesn’t always work. My siblings and I were all homeschooled, kept in the bubble, etc etc etc, and all five of us who have reached adulthood are varying shades of progressive. It’s all but impossible to really keep children ignorant, especially now.

    Three of my sisters are still one strain or another of Christian, and have sought out more open-minded denominations in which to practice their faiths. They have much more in common with Jay Bakker and Fred than with the Phelpses.

    Don’t write off an entire generation because our parents raised us on lies. ‘Those people’ include myself and my sisters, one of whom is attending a Church of Christ college and yet who regularly stands up for the rights of QUILTBAG individuals and speaks out against bigotry wherever she sees it.

  • Tonio

    The “study” apparently had funding from the National Organization for Marriage, and defines “lesbian mother” as any mother who has had a same-sex relationship. Below is a good critique of the work:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/06/new_family_structures_study_is_gay_parenthood_bad_or_is_gay_marriage_good_.html

  •  Absolutely true.

    My own response to this is to ask myself whether I think that exposing myself to new experiences and changing my beliefs in response to them is a good thing from a consequentialist perspective, or merely from a deontological one.

    That is: do I think doing that leaves me better off in some measurable way in the long run? Or do I just endorse it as “good” even if it leaves me worse off?

    If such exposure leaves the community that does it better off, then when communities double down on their isolationism, the visible differences in results increase, and you get things like people in community A railing against the immorality of community B that leads to high divorce rates, when A has a higher divorce rate than B. And keeping people in A from knowing that requires doubling down again, and the process accelerates.

    Pretty soon community A’s beliefs are so isolated from the actual world that, for example, meeting a single queer person who isn’t obviously amoral or degenerate can cause the whole edifice to collapse.

    Or, to put it differently: after some pretty severe brain damage a few years ago, I was suffering hallucinations and delusions of various sorts. When I healed sufficiently to start tracking with reality again, I observed that the nice thing about consensual rather than private realities is that I don’t have to do all the work of maintaining everything myself. That was exhausting!

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I was echoing Saletan’s point about what if any use this study has. It does not say what social conservatives are pretending it says.

  •  “3:  Pagans throw much better parties.”

    I think it’s well established that Pagan-Catholic mash-ups are where the real dope is at. 

  • Tricksterson

    You went to a Muslim Sunday School?  Woudn’t that bjave been Friday School?

  • Tricksterson

    No, alas I’ve been witness to too many “Who’s a real pagan?” debates and diatribes, largely on the net but in real life too.  Never claimed pagans were perfect just, for me, better. 
     And there’ll always be an “Us” and “Them”.  To quote St. George Carlin:  “I get along pretty well with most people in groups of five or less.  More than that and they start to choose up sides and wear armbands”

  • Tricksterson

    Yes but the more closely you isollate yourself rom the outside world the more difficult it become, at least if you want to function in anything but a hermit comunity.

  • Tricksterson

    Me like, what is it?

  • Rio Carnival.  

  • Tonio

     While I appreciate the clarification, I had understood you the first time as echoing Saletan’s point, and I wanted to provide the link here for everyone.

  • The_L1985

    As a Pagan ex-Catholic, I would love to see that!

  • The “study” apparently had funding from the National Organization for Marriage, and defines “lesbian mother” as any mother who has had a same-sex relationship. Below is a good critique of the work:

    I did read today that the upshot of homophobes dashing to defend this study is that if you accept the study as legitimate, you are implicitly accepting the result that only 80% of people count as “fully heterosexual”

  • NPH

    Hey there, it’s Neil Patrick Harris himself.  I just want to say that I really appreciate this article and, more importantly, the ensuing dialogue.  Almost everyone expresses themselves clearly, coherently, and effectively.  It’s rare to find that on the internet as of late.  

    For me, I was grateful to Stephen Colbert for choosing the angle that he did on his show.  He could have played a much more ‘bigoted’ version of himself, and I would have had to either correct him or chastise him somehow.  Neither option a fun one.  He was instead pointed, yet just lovely.  It was a fun night. 

    Finally, and most importantly, I wholeheartedly agree with Julian’s comment about my version of Pirelli’s Miracle Elixer.  Some of my best work.

    n

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Yay, good on you and Colbert both!

    Almost everyone expresses themselves clearly, coherently, and effectively.

    That would be cool blurb for what we’re all hoping is Fred’s upcoming book. “By the author of the slacktivist blog, where almost everyone expresses themselves clearly, coherently, and effectively” :)

  • The_L1985

     Neil, (if it really is you–sorry, but the Internet makes it easy for people to pretend) I greatly admire your work.  Over the years, you’ve been able to convincingly play a variety of roles, from a supergenius with an M.D. to an idealistic supervillain.

    If we were meeting in person right now, I’m not sure what I’d have on hand for you to autograph, but I’d probably insist that you autograph something.

  • Alisonb

    This is tangential, but what’s with the different use of “LGBT” and “GLBT” between the two articles?  Did the shorthand used to be in a different order?

  • Apocalypse Review

    One reason is that in Chinese, saying “LG” sounds similar to a bad word, so some people switch the order. I think one group came up with “BGLT” or something. “BLTG” sounds tasty. ^_~

    (That said, I like the more modern QUILTBAG. It always makes me feel fuzzy. :) )