Harking back to a conversation I had with Richard Helmer last summer, I am moved by the announcement that the Roman Catholic Church has come out in opposition to a proposed UN declaration that would call for the repeal of criminal statutes and punishments aimed at homosexual persons. (H/T Episcopal Café.) While intended to address the harsh punishments inflicted upon such persons in certain parts of the world, the rationale offered by the Vatican is based on the concern that states that did not provide for same-sex marriage might somehow come under threat of punishment on that account.
This reveals one of the dynamics about which Richard and I spoke last summer. People and organizations who are intolerant tend to imagine that they will also not be tolerated. A dynamic of projection is at work. They know what they would do if they were in charge — indeed, we saw what the Roman Catholic Church did when it was in charge, in those uncouth times when the secular arm could be employed to torture and to kill. One gives thanks for the decline in that capacity.
As a result of this projection one often sees a rhetoric of fear; calls for a “safe place” or for “security” — as if they are going to be made to do something they would not choose to do, and be punished if they did not do it. The idea that churches are going to be forced to perform same-sex marriages, or punished if they do not, is ludicrous: in much of Europe the state does not even recognize church marriages as having any standing whatsoever. As we have already seen in California and now on the global stage, however, the Roman Catholic Church does not simply wish to protect its own rights not to perform same-sex marriages, but to see to it that no one else does it either — as if that were in any case the purport of the proposed declaration!
Closer to home, canonical regulations concerning the ordination of women are a case in point in our own church. As it now stands, bishops are not required to ordain anyone against their will; while at the same time the process leading to ordination must remain open in all dioceses, without regard to sex or sexual orientation. The individual bishop with a conscientious objection to the ordination of women is only required to provide a way for women to explore the possibility of being ordained; and the actual ordination can be performed by another bishop. Nor is any bishop forced to ordain a gay or lesbian person, celibate or not. It is true there may be some social pressure, but there is no legal penalty for not ordaining someone.
Nor is there any persecution — unless it is the “persecution” of being disagreed with; which is where we come back to the basic nature of intolerance: the desire that all should do as one does oneself. And it strikes me the root of intolerance may simply derive from a lack of empathy — the lack of ability to imagine that there might be people who do not in fact insist that all do as they do. This seems to be the chasm fixed between tolerance and intolerance.
Another dynamic that I’ve observed: One finds language of the most appalling sort on some of the conservative blog comments, aimed at Episcopal Church leadership, and accompanied by moans of protest should a sharp-tongued liberal reply in kind (one thinks of my friend the Mad Priest, and of course, I too have been known to make the odd sharp remark). And indeed my first posting on tolerance was a result of someone styling this blog as “vicious” — I think a rather wild exaggeration, especially compared to some of what passes for dialogue in the blogosphere.
This kind of asymmetrical behavior is essentially adolescent. The intolerant believe in the world of “No fair hitting back.” It is a mind-set of testing boundaries, full of insecurities masked with bluster, resentful of limitations but creating rigid systems of rules and hierarchies to stabilize their world. And worst of all, they project all of their fears upon “the parent” — who was portrayed as forcing their response.
Later today, at a conference in the Windy City, it is said that a safe haven for fearful Anglicans and former Anglicans will be unveiled. Only time will tell what becomes of it; but I think its foundations are built on the sand of fearful imaginings.
Tobias Haller BSG