Silencing: The Beginning of Persecution

This post is our first contribution to the What Persecution Is series that we are exploring with Jake Dockter at The Great White Whale. This series explores faith, gender, sexuality, race, culture, and identity. We’ll be posting one post a week for this series over the next several weeks. We’d love for you to join the conversation. Please let us know if you’re posting any related content on your own blog, so we can talk with you.

In the initial post of this series, Jake asks the following questions:

Compared to the discrimination that our LGBTQ family has felt over generations, being denied rights, being denied love, being denied salvation, being denied access to God or the body of Christ, and worst of all being denied their own identity… does having a real estate reality show cancelled really add up to discrimination?  Is being asked to not pray [meaning, lead prayer at a banquet sponsored by the President] symmetrical to the death threats, hate crimes, actual murders, denials, and mockings that gay and transgender and questioning people experience every day?”

Reading Jake’s list of the ways LGBTQ people have been discriminated against might be jarring for some. Many a good Christian will say, “But I’ve never thought about killing an LGBTQ person. I would never kill or physically harm an LGBTQ person. I’m not persecuting them at all.” However, we believe the beginnings of persecution are much more subtle than wishing active harm on another human. We’ve observed that LGBTQ people who want to share their stories frequently get met with shouting, finger-pointing, name calling, and Bible thumping. For example, once when Sarah was talking with a friend, Sarah’s friend shared about how her priest gave a homily about treating LGBT people with respect and dignity. Almost immediately after describing the homily, she launched into a rant about how that message was uncalled for and the priest was a flaming liberal. When Sarah tried to suggest that the priest’s homily sounded like a nice reminder of the importance of treating every person like a human being, Sarah’s friend cut Sarah off mid-sentence. She expressed unwillingness to listen because from her vantage point, if Sarah thought it was possible to be a lesbian and a Christian, Sarah was not worth listening to and was certainly a heretic.

Silencing. “I’m right, and you’re wrong.” Stiffening necks. Pursed lips. “I have God on my side, so I don’t have to give you the time of day.” Flashes of anger in the eyes. Hands curling into fists, even if involuntarily. Immediate shifts in posture.

We’ve seen these all before. The patterns repeat themselves the instant we mention that we are LGBT. Conversation takes on the character of defensive combat. Topics discussed not even five minutes before are forgotten as adrenaline floods the body and emotion overtakes reason and civility. The more we try to explain ourselves, the more likely we are to hear “Shut. Up. I’m not interested in hearing your story,” with a sneer that indicates our perspective is little more than a fairy tale, or “You have nothing to contribute to this conversation. You’re just deceived and trying to deceive others.”

We are bemused by many stories where Christians in America claim they have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. Often, someone has rescinded an invitation to speak in a teaching capacity where a person has the potential for reaching a large audience. In crying persecution, this person is effectively saying, “Everyone should listen to me.” But while advocating for his or her own desire to be heard, that person seems to have little to no appreciation that every day, he or she is silencing others. When a person claiming to follow Christ presents “biblical” teaching by comparing LGBT people to those who engage in bestiality, it’s almost instinctive for LGBT audience members to try and curl up in a ball, take up as little space as possible, and remove themselves from the situation as discreetly and expediently as they can. This kind of comparison when used by Christian “teachers” dehumanizes, vilifies, and demonizes LBGT people. Furthermore, it obfuscates any true Christian teaching by packaging orthodoxy with hatred.

There is a marked difference between being silenced and losing an opportunity to speak your views to a national audience. Freedom of speech in America means that you will not lose your liberty over something you say. It does not mean that you are entitled to escape the social consequences of what you’ve said. Children who brag the playground that they can throw the football the farthest should not be surprised when their classmates take them up on the challenge. Articulating one’s view about contentious social topics like LGBT issues and having those views challenged by others who disagree does not amount to persecution.

It’s telling that consistently and repeatedly, we get the message from others that we have no business telling our story. On our blog, we’ve processed negative messages from people telling us to shut up by stressing it’s not easy to tell a story, asking whose story counts, wondering why people act as the language police to force us to use particular scripts, musing on whether the church extends conditional welcome, and sharing about how we sometimes feel betrayed. We’ve discussed that when people say things like, “Our kids should not encounter a gay couple on the television in our living room,” we feel less than welcome to visit their houses. At least seven of our 128 posts on this blog to date deal with our responses when others tell us that we shouldn’t be speaking at all. That’s 5.5% and is an exceptionally conservative estimate.

Now please understand, we are not trying to say that we are experiencing persecution on a personal level or are being treated worse than other folks who are also engaged in this discussion. We are experiencing attempts at silencing. But we wonder, what tactics of silencing must one employ before he or she crosses the boundary into persecution of the other?

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6 thoughts on “Silencing: The Beginning of Persecution

  1. This. This is good, thoughtful, and sound. Also reminds me to be patient with people, you know? It can be hard when all you want to be is simply heard. A person may not ‘agree’ with me or think I can be ‘fixed’, but at least listen. The silencing is frustrating. Like you both have said, a person may not be killing or harming someone. Yet, that silence still shuts us down, creates isolation, and even fear.

    • Indeed. There’s a lot more to persecution than engaging in more obviously hateful actions. We’d like to explore the theme of silencing more at some point in the future.

  2. Pingback: What Persecution Is. Part 2. | The Great White Whale

  3. Pingback: What Persecution Is. Part 3. | The Great White Whale

  4. i described myself as ex-gay and evangelical in the past, and as i’ve moved away from those descriptors, i’m kind of caught. i remember what it was like to feel i was silenced as an evangelical ex-gay man–and i think a lot of it was just what we all thought was “persecution”–and i know what it’s like to feel silenced as a gay man now. what do you do with the people who feel like they’re being silenced, people whose voices we hear all the time in the media and in popular discussion? the voices of people fighting against legal rights for queer and trans people? i have a hard time in discussion these days, because i know the people i disagree with believe they’re being silenced by non-christian, liberal agendas. any thoughts?

    • Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment here. So much of silencing requires extending power over another to prevent messages from being sent. A persecuted person has to think of various workarounds to get a message out. Media sources can be a powerful way of sharing messages, but they can also shut messages out. When people talk about feeling silenced, we’re inclined to listen to them (if only for a moment) to understand what silencing means to them. We’ve seen people with wildly different experiences as it relates to feeling silenced and being silenced. So many times, people simply feel shut out from conversation where listening before speaking can do a lot to restore dialogue.

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