Impoverished Procreativity and Bullying

Here in Minnesota, in the past year alone—in one school district (Anoka-Hennepin) alone!— there have been three suicides of gay teens; three gay teens who resorted to killing themselves in response to intolerable bullying.  We know it was intolerable because these precious young people were unable to tolerate the bullying—and they took their lives.

Today, in Minnesota the news report is that a Roman Catholic high school in St. Louis Park (a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, just 9 miles from the Anoka-Hennepin school district) called Benilde-St. Margaret’s, removed a student newspaper opinion piece by a student who opposes that Archdiocesan stance against same-sex marriage.  The Washington Post (and elsewhere—check Google News) reports that in spite of some comments supportive of the student’s position, there were many who expressed opinions contrary to the student’s position.  It is obvious now who is in charge, who is in power, and who is enforcing their views on others.

Who is empowered in the decision to silence this student who obviously knew he or she was a dissenting voice?   Who is made more powerful when this student is made to shut up?  The question here is who are the real bullies?

The real bullies are not the students who did the dirty work of tormenting their classmates to the point of suicide (okay, I am being hyperbolic, since of course they really are ‘bullies’, but stick with me). It seems to me that the real bullies are those who, from their perch of safety, empower parents to inculcate their children with homophobia. The real bullies, the big bullies (i.e. the Senators who uphold Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Senator who thinks it is acceptable to discriminate in employment against LGBT people, the Minnesota Archbishop who sends out an anti-gay-marriage DVD weeks before the midterm election, etc., ad nauseam), are the ones with power and a voice, which they use to create little bullies to do their dirty work.  In this way, the real bullies create in our schools and communities perpetrators and victims.

These bullies are enforcing (and it really is by using force) a sexual ethic whose time is literally past.  Gone are the days when the risk to a tribe of human beings was that the environment would overpower them, would consume them. Today we live with the reversal. There are already too many human beings on the planet: the answer to our problems is not to demand that all the human beings create new human beings. In fact, that is the opposite of the solution—it is the problem.

In any case, the principal problem with the sexual ethic that promotes just the kind of sexuality that produces more children is that it is working from an anemic theology of procreation.  We think so simply about cause and effect that we are lured into an irrationally diminished notion about what it means to be a co-creator; what it means to be a participant in the emergence of novelty and value in the world.  Procreation can no longer be comprehended as a reduction to the mere begetting of human offspring who share our DNA.  Rest assured, the drive to procreate in this way is in no way undermined, and we are in no danger that people will give up sexual procreativity any time soon. At least I am not worried about that.

What I am worried about it that we fail to meet the challenge of our day, which is to build a vibrant, creative, pluralistic human cooperative community.  The task for us is to grow up.  We must no longer be contented to hide in our safe enclaves of people ‘like us.’ In fact, that kind of cowardice is increasingly no longer even an option.  As we grow together, it is the height of hubris to imagine, and act, as if some of the cosmic and divine creations in human form are worthy of this cooperative human community, and others are to be excluded.

Lesbian and gay persons may be the challenge of the cosmos for us to see that every human being is capable of vast creativity quite beyond the mere capacity to make more people.  We are all the holders of vast powers of creativity, vast powers of procreativity that urge human cultural evolution forward.  The planet cannot afford for us to leave anyone behind as we face the challenges of the devastation of human communities, devastation of ecosystems, in fact the devastation of the biosphere.  Failing to recognize the procreative potential in gay and lesbian people reflects the failure to recognize the procreative potential in every human being.

If there is truth in the observation that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, as the book of Genesis declares, it is time to ask ourselves how we are doing in the business of reflecting our God.  The divine procreativity is not to issue forth little copies of divinity to multiply and fill and subdue the earth. The divine procreativity is pluriform.  The divine procreativity is astonishingly multivalent and incomprehensibly complex.  The divine procreativity is not to be understood as the Tyrant in the Sky; not to be understood as the Bully that enforces sameness. As one species that is the result of divine procreativity, the species that believes it is the very image and likeness of God, we are required, therefore not to manifest as bullies enforcing a death-inducing sameness. Instead, we are required to unleash the co-creative, the procreative potential within us in the myriad of ways which includes genital procreation, but can never be reduced to it.  Bullying gay and lesbian people impoverishes us all. We should be in the business of enriching the cosmos.  That is the only vocation (calling) worthy of the species that believes it reflects the image and likeness of the God of radical pluralism, of breathtaking procreativity.

Let’s become a new creation together.

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12 thoughts on “Impoverished Procreativity and Bullying

  1. Beautifully said. The repeated silencing of GLBT voices and the amplifying of the voices of fear that show up in our traditions take our imaginations captive, don’t they? It was in listening to a lesbian couple describe their working out of their partnership that I first realized how my own gender biases and subsequent expectations were getting in the way of my own marriage. Fear that we won’t become what God “ordained” is the opposite of the faithful creativity in risk and freedom for which we were created.

  2. Very interesting article, Paul. One point I might push back on is the question of the “real bullies.” I’m not sure that high school or college or other anti-gay bulliers are (or are mostly) influenced by Senators, bishops, etc., in fact, I wonder if such bullies are aware of such legislation or mass mailings at all, and if they are aware, it seems to me far fetched to say that their response to receiving a political DVD in the mail is to say, “Hey, let’s go beat up some gays!” I wonder what the social science literature says about this sort of thing? Do such mailings or legislation really foster bullying, or is this a false association?

    Also, I think it’s important to note there are religious people who disagree with homosexual practice but who actively campaign against bullying, intimidation, and so forth. Even the Chuck Colsons and James Dobsons were quick to criticize and condemn draconian legislation being considered in Uganda last year, and one of my self-described fundamentalist friends is active in raising awareness of human rights issues faced by gays in Iran. He basically said once (I’m probably not getting it exactly right), “I don’t believe homosexuality is good, but I don’t believe in beheading gays, and we have a responsibility to protect those who are being persecuted for any reason, including sexuality.” Anyway, I hope this is thought provoking!

    1. Ben- Thanks for the indeed thought-provoking reply. Due to space constraints I had to severely truncate my argument about the “real” bullies. Because I believe that the creators of the environment of hate are the people with real power to legitimize hateful stands, I believe that it is only out of the soil of hate they have fertilized that particular instances of hatred can grow. In other words, it is rank hypocrisy for a religious or political leader to call for policies that dehumanize LGBT people in one breath, and with the next breath denounce the actual instances of dehumanization of LGBT people. I cannot put gas in the car and then be outraged and shocked and dismayed when the car keeps running for another hundred miles. Cheers, Paul

    2. I agree with Paul. These faith leaders create an environment in which it is not only acceptable but mandated to consider gay people as less valid in the eyes of God than straight people.

      Ben asks “I wonder what the social science literature says about this sort of thing? Do such mailings or legislation really foster bullying, or is this a false association?” The literature is very clear – gay bullying and self-hatred, self-harm, alcoholism and other forms of self-abuse are much worse in environments in which being gay is seen as non-ideal. Homophobic bullying, for instance, is worse in religious than non-religious schools:

      It seems to me elementarily clear that when young people hear individuals in authority decrying gay marriage, the “gay lifestyle”, the “gay agenda”, “homosexual practice” etc. as a “sin”, as “immoral”, as the cause of social breakdown, then they will be less empathetic towards gay people and bullying is the result.

      In schools with a positive and affirming attitude towards gay people these incidents are much lower:

      All this speaks to the critical responsibility of faith, political and educational leaders in addressing this issue, and many faith leaders and religious politicians are making the problem WORSE, not better.

      They don’t call it the “bully pulpit” for nothing.

      As for those “religious people who disagree with homosexual practice but who actively campaign against bullying, intimidation, and so forth”, I welcome their efforts. But make no mistake – they are NOT our allies. While they still harbour discrimination in their hearts, they cannot truly join us in our struggle for full recognition.

  3. It those people that are the real bullies though. Little kids don’t just go to school and say “oh those kids are gay, lets bully them” but rather their upbringing and socialization tells them to bully GLPT people. If no leaders pass down the idea that this bullying is wrong and homophobia is still built up and sent to kids the problem will still persist. We have a cultural hegemony that says gay is bad and it is drawn out by the real bullies like Paul said. Maybe kid bullies don’t think of the DVDs or legislation but their parents do and it is sent to their kids.

    And Ben, I agree that there are always cases like that, people believing it is wrong but still being anti-bully but that falls way to short. It is not okay to think black people are lesser than white people but it’s not okay to lynch people. It doesn’t help; it adds to the idea that hegemony that GLBT people are “different” and “wrong” and increases the problem. I do think that it is a start though, it is a lot more helpful to preach against bullying than support it, but we need to recognize “the procreative potential” in all people because we are all human beings together.

  4. Paul: Your love, compassion and insights are wonderfully creative and life-giving. Thanks for sharing. . . I am still amazed at the simplicity of all World Religions and the moral compass we are all supposed to live by: Treat Others the Way YOU want to be treated!

    EVERYONE is called to do this. I look forward to the day when every Catholic, those in positions of power and the rank and file, proclaim this from the rooftops!

    Anyone looking for something very creative that the GLBT community has taken as an anthem of sorts? Check out iTunes video “One” by Mary J. Blige. . . “We are ONE, but we are not the same. We GET to carry each other. . . sisters, brothers.”

  5. Hi All,

    Thanks for engaging Paul and me on this. I need to figure out how to receive an alert when followup comments are posted on something I comment on!

    James, assuming those stats you cited are true, it is a shame that the religious schools cited have more trouble with gay bullying than public schools. A couple of more state of formation challenges, first an easier one, then hopefully a real stickler:

    1) I anticipated the idea that the political and religious elites can contribute to an “environment of hate” by their actions, but my guess is that people like Obama, for example, see “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” as a pragmatic and probably temporary approach for coping with the controversial role of sexuality in military culture. We might wish (or even work towards) the military being more welcoming of gays in its ranks, but since it is not at this time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is an ad hoc coping mechanism.

    2) More importantly, and I think this is very important, I find saying that people like my “fundamentalist friend” supporting human rights for gays will “never be our allies” extremely, extremely problematic. Think about it this way, James and Will. It’s true that people who believe homosexuality (which the more nuanced mean “homosexual sexual activity” vs. orientation or attraction alone) will never be able to fully concur with practicing homosexual gay activists on the neutrality or goodness of homosexuality, and many homosexuals will say that they cannot stand with tose who oppose homosexuality because they are denying an integral (or good) part of who gays are.

    HOWEVER, what if I were to say that as a religious person whose belief in God is a good and integral part of who I am, can never work together, stand with, or ally with humanists like James and Chris, because they are contributing to an environment of hate by disbelieving or actively criticizing religious people, religious beliefs, or other issues closest to my heart or identity, or in favor of political measures that I perceive curb my religious life and expression. Do their criticisms of religion contribute to hate crimes against religious people? There are plenty of anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes, though I don’t know the comparative stats.

    The traditional religious believers I interact with–and by charitable extension the anti-gay political leaders–do not believe that homosexuals have inherently less worth than straight people, but that they are engaging in behavior that is unnatural, wrong, and/or harmful to themselves and others by way of, for instance, health issues and the spread of AIDS despite precautionary measures. If speaking out against homosexuality contributes to hate crimes against gays, then one can also argue that humanists who speak out against aspects of religion are contributing to hatred against religious people.

    But as for me, I don’t have to agree with everyone I work together with or love on every point near and dear to my heart. If your heart is as my heart on human rights, religious dialogue, or a host of other causes, then take my hand, even if we disagree on other issues.

    Religio et Eruditio,


  6. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for your reply – there’s lots to think about there. You raise two questions, and I’ll address them in order. As regards the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell issue, it may be that the administration considers maintaining discrimination against gay people in the military a pragmatic move. I think this unlikely, since much of the army’s leadership and most service-people themselves do not think that repeal would have purely negative consequences for the military:

    But even if this were the administration’s concern, there is a difference between a course of action being pragmatic and it being right. Obama is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, and he is unwilling to order his military to cease discrimination against sexual minorities. That is morally wrong, and cowardly. That it may be pragmatic does not impress me.

    Your second question is, as you say, tougher. First, note that I did not say that people who support (some) gay rights while at the same time feel homosexuality is morally could NEVER be our allies. I said I “welcome their efforts” but that they are NOT allies as long as they wish to sit in a place of moral judgement over us. Once they change their position and recognize the truth – that homosexuality is, for some people, a natural and positive part of their sexual identity, then they can join us under the rainbow.

    Second, I do not accept the distinction, made by religious opponents to gay people (but by no one else I know), between “sexual orientation” and “sexual practice”. Both feelings of attraction and the sexual practices that stem from them are a crucial part of people’s sexual identity. Some people are unable to fully understand (and therefore inhabit) their sexual identity without engaging in sexual practice. So I think the distinction is, at the very least, far less clear than religious conservatives tend to make out.

    Third, I did not say, nor did I mean, that gay people should not work with religious individuals (even ones who disparage homosexuality) if their goals align – I think these sorts of collaborations can often be quite useful.

    Finally, and most crucially, I think your analogy between those who decry homosexuality and those who take a naturalistic perspective is fallacious. When I say I am a naturalist i do not thereby disparage religious believers in any way. When I say that I think the belief in God is ill-founded and intellectually unsupportable, I am saying that, in my judgement, those who do believe in God have made an error. This is worlds away from saying that they are doing something MORALLY wrong – the error is epistemological, not moral. But the claim of religious conservatives regarding homosexuality is at root a moral claim. This makes it entirely different to the critiques of religious privilege some naturalists are beginning to advance.

    By saying that people who make love to other people of the same sex are engaging in a practice which is “unnatural, [morally] wrong, and/or harmful to themselves”, such individuals are essentially saying that those people are deserving of moral opprobrium. I do not say the same of religious people’s beliefs – I simply point out the difficulty of justifying those beliefs.

    Since there seems to be interest and heat around this topic, perhaps folks would be interested in reading my latest post?

  7. Wow! If anyone had asked me what part of the piece would generate “heat” I wouldn’t have guessed this. Thanks for the great conversation!

    To be honest, for me the hardest kind of homophobia comes precisely from the people who say they love me, yet vote in ways, election after election, that empower people whose agenda is to diminish my life, disenfranchise me, and diminish my participation in society. In some ways, the ambi-valent stance of strangers is easier to take than when it comes from people who say they love me.

    Anyone have a critique of my critique of the impoverished procreativity at the root of religiously/biblically-based homophobia?

    1. Well, I’m not a theologian, but I didn’t find that part too convincing. First, and incidentally, overpopulation is not any longer the concern, I am reading – in fact, many countries are apparently heading for a very concerning crash in population in the next few decades due to declining birth rates.

      But more importantly, I am not sure how significant the fact that gay sex does not make babies actually is to the sexual ethic which motivates homophobia. My reading would place much more emphasis on the sexism that underlies homophobia, which is present in the Abrahamic faiths and continues to affect women to this day.

  8. I think I get your gist here, James, about epistemological vs. moral errors. I’m just not sure it’s as cut and dried as that with regard to the critiquing various issues related to religion, sexuality, and so forth. I’m sure we can discuss this further later. Enjoyed reading your post, by the way!

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