Confessions of a bigot
No one likes to be called a bigot. Lord Carey certainly doesn’t, and nor would I. It’s an uncomfortable judgement on someone’s impartiality and openness to persuasion. Above all, it suggests that they’re not just interested in holding or opposing a position, but actual hatred of a group. Unfortunately, it’s often an accurate description.
The problem, as I see it, is that there’s a tendency for both the people who use the word and their targets to view it as a boo-word, rather than a factual description or something to be considered and corrected. So it’s time for a confession – I used to be a bigot.
I didn’t mean to be, and I didn’t think I was, but there’s no denying it. I was a bigot.
Say it yourself – that’s what the word’s for. Shout it at me. Bigot!
Once upon a time – it feels like a lifetime ago, but it was more like 15 years – I became a young, enthusiastic and frankly naive evangelical at university. I’d never given gay rights much thought, but if I’m honest, I found the idea of gay sex a little unsettling, a result of my same-sex education and straight orientation.
So when I got involved with a Christian Union that told me gay sex was a sin, I had no difficulty in accepting that. And to my shame, I shared that view loud and long. I didn’t go out of my way to tell anyone of my views, but nor did I do anything to conceal them. The best I can say is that I tried to sugar-coat it.
I wish that made it better. Unfortunately, I think it makes me more guilty. The fact that I was trying to sweeten the pill clearly shows that I knew there was something very wrong about what I was saying. At the very least, I knew it wasn’t a view that was generally acceptable. I knew it sounded unpleasant and judgemental – and looking back, I realise that’s because it was – but I continued to say it because my beliefs mattered more to me than the people I was hurting.
One of the most ironic aspects of those years is that I knew more gay people then than at any time before or since, and they accepted me as a friend, even though they knew I politely considered them to be perverted sinners. Above all, I remember my inability to understand why they might feel offended by what I was saying.
I tried to “hate the sin, love the sinner“. It’s not just a cliche, I really did, and I said so. And if I told them I thought they were sinning, so what? We’re all sinners, so what’s the big deal? I even once compared homosexuality to murder to demonstrate that God could forgive anything. Really! I just didn’t get it.
Looking back, the one moment that sticks in my mind more than anything else is when one of these long-suffering friends described me, with a smile, as the friendly face of bigotry. I laughed. I was used to religion being an object of derision, and I’d learnt to shrug off critical comments and treat them as part of the game. But this sticks with me. It may have come with a smile, but that comment was uncomfortably close to the truth.
Just take a look at what I was doing. I was lecturing to people, given the least opportunity, about what they did in the privacy of their bedrooms. I didn’t do that for everyone – it was a special service for the same-sex attracted. I really thought I was helping, and it made perfect sense to me at the time, but there’s no doubt that I was a bigot.
Maybe I still am a bigot. I’m sure I have plenty of beliefs that I haven’t examined recently or thoroughly enough to be confident that I’m not simply knee-jerking my way into hating an out-group. If that’s the case, I want to know, so that I can change it. What I don’t want is for people to feel unable to point out my bigotry or to politely ignore it.
Maybe that’s what separates me from Lord Carey.
Photo by Trinidad-News.com, used under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0