Billy Graham asks, in a full-page ad urging support for candidates who wish to enshrine inequality in marriage, that we “Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.” That implies that in the past we had our hearts toward God but that at some ill-defined point we turned away.
Which raises the question – when was that? Was it before 1865, when the law of the land and plenty of good Christian churches justified slavery, could find support in the Bible and custom for a person owning another person, for the idea that one race was inherently inferior to another? Is that the time he’d like to go back to?
Was it maybe before Brown vs. Board of Education, or the Civil Rights Acts, or the Voting Rights Act, when black people were legally separate and never equal, when lynchings and burning crosses were used to reinforce the color line that was “distinctly drawn by Jehovah himself…drawn in nature and in history in such a form as to make it a sin and a crime to undertake to obliterate it?” Should we pray to turn our hearts back to those days?
Perhaps the good Reverend means before the end of the draft, when rich kids could get college deferments and poor kids were sent to war?
Whatever he meant to imply it’s clear that for him and for his ilk, things went seriously off the rails, or “the nation turned against God” when power, previously concentrated in white male heterosexual hands, became diffused, even if ever so slightly, to sectors of society that didn’t resemble him and his concept of the white male heterosexual God (in this view, Jesus is a white male, possibly Episcopalian, not a brown-skinned Jew).
He fails to remember, or would rather you forget, that his past of glorious closeness to God was a time of oppression, of brutalization, and of lynchings. Of union-busting thuggery, voting qualification tests, and of back-street abortions to save the nice young men for the nice young women and from the sluts they knocked up. Of colored entrances and “No Irish Need Apply.” Of Father Coughlin and Jim Crow and Orval Fabus and sweet-looking old ladies who spat in school kids’ faces. This is the America he would return us to, the one where ‘our hearts were turned to God.’
Yes, since the 1970’s there has been extremism and license, but there has also been a succession of hard-won gains for women, for blacks, for youth, for minorities and even a little bit for the gays. And if Reverend Graham, and those who think like him, are to maintain even a scrap of the superiority they yearn to have again, they must stop this last win for America’s less-thans. They have lost so much that it genuinely panics them to lose the last status to which they can cling and from which they can exclude others – the right to have their libidinal and romantic relationships enshrined in law, licenced by their government, and held forth as superior to all others. That is the real reason behind the opposition to marriage equality, as it has been the reason behind the opposition to any equality, gender, race, or ethnic, and that is why Billy Graham is merely the ten-dollar, besuited, version of the five-cent gay-bashing thug.
What the preacher behind the pulpit and the thug with a baseball bat want is exactly the same; they want someone to be superior to, to look down on (in a Christian loving way) and the only easily identifiable vulnerable group they can think of is gay folks.
So don’t be fooled when some rosary-swinging priest, some scripture-thumping pastor, or some torah-waving rabbi wants to have a ‘genuine, loving debate’ over marriage equality, no matter how many biblical tracts he wraps himself in. It’s not about what they say it is; their arguments are collections of threadbare absurdities that fail to conceal the real fear and the real determination to avoid the loss of superiority, to stop being special, and to stop having people to be better than.
In today’s politer society, on television, and from the altar, it doesn’t look always so good to scream insults or commit physical assault on gay folks, so they have the Billy Grahams, the Mitt Romneys, the whole cabal of cassocked hypocrites to march out in front of cameras and voters and tell the most outrageous falsehoods that a child of four would be ashamed to advance.
But don’t forget, they are just the respectable face of the gangs of drunken teens with baseball bats. Don’t forget that ministers of the loving savior have opined that gay kids should be hit, have their limbs broken, or that gay people should be put in concentration camps. Again, these and the bashers are merely the more honest versions of the polite peddlers of prejudice and hatred who are sliming across our screens at the moment.