I have never been a big fan of the word tolerance. To me to tolerate something is to put up with it. I’d prefer words like celebrate, or acceptance. It does not mean one has to celebrate something that he/she is not comfortable with, but at least “acceptance” has less of an edge. It seems more peaceful. Words mean a lot and the way we use and phrase them in certain situations set the tone. Still true tolerance is still better than what we get at times when we refuse to disagree with someone without violence of thought, feelings or action.
Most groups in my opinion have their challenges when it comes to tolerance, acceptance, or celebration on issues that run contrary to their core. These are not limited to religious groups either. Take the controversy over Barack Obama’s ministerial picks for the inauguration. The gay and lesbian communities, as well as pro-choice advocates lost their minds over Rick Warren and his personal beliefs which opposed theirs. I wrote a piece on that and also posted a column that someone else wrote talking about how Warren did his best to avoid getting caught up in the machine of the media wars concerning gay rights and abortion. Sure he has his personal beliefs which are noted for the record. But I didn’t recall him trying to force that on anyone else. True indeed he supported the gay marriage ban in California days before the election. He succumbed to the pressure put on by other evangelicals and added his name to the very machine he sought to avoid.
Anytime a group is in a struggle, it’s difficult to learn how and when to pick battles. I thought that to have a brain aneurysm over Rick Warren, a preacher who will not set Obama’s policy while disregarding Rev. Joseph Lowery, a pro gay rights advocate who also will not set policy, but will participate in the same ceremony was the wrong move. The President Elect said all along during his campaign that he would allow differing voices to be heard within his administration, and he is keeping his word. I also argued with several friends of mine, that at least Warren is not a hate monger. If you look at the last eight years, there were no progressive ministerial voices at the White House. As much as I disagree with some of the conservative voices out there – especially the extreme ones, I tend to figure their voices are strong enough that you cannot just shut them aside no more than they can shut me or my beliefs aside. We can take turns running Washington, overturning each other’s laws based on who has the majority, or we can try to dialogue with reasonable people who may disagree with us.
For instance, is it not reasonable and possible that a Christian, or a Muslim may not believe that their perception of God endorses gay marriage? Is it possible that a loving person of devout faith may feel that abortion is a sin under any circumstance? Are we to just dismiss them as lunatics who need to be overthrown? Its that kind of attitude that fosters this US against THEM mentality – where we never get anywhere.
Some of my pro choice and pro gay rights friends simply reply to me that if the group were against rights for African-Americans that my stance would be different. There is so much wrong with that statement – just on a personal level that I won’t get into. Still I never bought into the idea that the gay and lesbian battle is the same as the ones being waged for African-Americans in this country. But setting that aside, historically we have had to dialogue with adversaries for centuries on some level or another. Lyndon B Johnson didn’t initially want to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He didn’t want to lose the Southern vote. Kennedy didn’t want MLK to march in Alabama. He asked him not to several times. You see it wasn’t just about the George Wallace’s and Bull Conner’s of the world that we had to deal with. It was liberal thinking white people who were not fully convinced that they wanted blacks in their neighborhoods or dating their children – let alone have equal pay for jobs or god forbid be the boss.
I recall academy award winner Sidney Portier talking about how Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were skeptical of what he would be like to act with on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” When they met, Hepburn didn’t even speak to him the first day. Tracy was stand – offish too. And they were liberals! Portier knew that he had already won an oscar by that time, and if he were Paul Newman he wouldn’t have to take that crap. And yet he understood that people like Tracey and Hepburn never met a black person who was not a janitor, a porter, housekeeper or cook. They didn’t know any black doctors, teachers or lawyers. So their scope was limited. The hell we didn’t have to work with people who disagreed with us. Hell most blacks do it everyday at work. Sure it’s frustrating but it had to be done. We had to and still have to pick our battles and not just try to overthrow every white person who does not see my freedom and passionately as I do.
So why should the plight of gays any different? Especially since many of them feel their battles are just like the one’s fought by African-Americans. I’m just sayin.