Anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice is childish

by Dan Rodricks

When I was a kid, a dour woman named Nellie walked by our house every day, almost always in a gray overcoat. She never spoke to anyone, never looked at anyone. Someone said she was a witch, and kids in the neighborhood either mocked her or avoided her. Years later, when we “put away childish things,” we came to understand that Nellie was not a witch, not evil. She was just profoundly and forever shy. 

There were two brothers in my elementary school, Paul and Danny. They wore the same clothes every day and smelled bad. Danny’s eyeglasses were held together with tape. We used to make fun of them, from a distance, across the playground or cafeteria. Years later, when we “put away childish things,” we understood that Paul and Danny’s family was deeply impoverished. Their house, near a junkyard, was little more than a shack. 

I think of those long-ago moments of childish narrow-mindedness and cruelty when I see bigots on the march, demagogues getting face-time on cable or hear Christians spouting intolerant beliefs. June is Pride Month, and apparently few things stir the fundamentalist blood like the rainbow colors on the sales racks at Target. 

Before I go on, a quick reflection on prejudices:  

Most of us pick them up from our parents and pals, then spend a good part of adult life trying to shed most, if not all, of those old beliefs. 

That doesn’t come from political correctness. It’s not wokeism. It’s called growing up. It’s called developing empathy. It’s the good feeling that comes with keeping an open mind, embracing the live-and-let-live ethos and practicing the Golden Rule. 

As Jesus Christ said (according to the Gospel of Matthew): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  

And so I look at the parade of politicians, religious leaders and self-proclaimed followers of Christ who still, to varying degrees, demonize people who identify as LGBTQ+ and I wonder why so many Christians are still stuck in that dismal swamp. 

The politicians are relatively easy to understand. They want votes. They get votes by making people comfortable with their prejudices. A Republican governor can rail about “groomers” and decry wokeism without believing a single word he says — it could all be performative — but he’ll succeed in stirring up a base primed to battle the devil. 

Religious leaders are far less understandable. They are Christian, yet preach intolerance, if not directly with words, indirectly with actions, claiming the Bible tells them to be this way. 

In Baltimore on Thursday, the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to allow the disaffiliation of 23 of the 603 congregations within the conference, an unprecedented separation in its 239-year history. 

Why the split? It’s complicated, but mostly about LGBTQ+ issues — specifically, whether to allow LGBTQ+ people to be ordained as ministers and bless same-sex marriages. The churches leaving the conference don’t want that, even though disaffiliation is expected to cost them a great deal of money. 

The religious foundation is in the belief that only heterosexuality, birth-assigned gender and male-female marriage are in accord with God’s law. Everything else is sin. 

That has never struck me as Christian or charitable. In fact, it sounds childish to me — just a few degrees from the kind of prejudices we developed as kids and had to shake off to live in this modern world. 

Meanwhile, even more childish is the Target situation. Some conservatives lost their minds over Target stores having LGBTQ-themed merchandise for sale. The chain pulled some of the items, with a spokesperson saying threats to employees were “impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.” Some customers have called the merchandise “satanic” and joined protests outside the stores. 

Maybe this is an example of the Christian Nationalism that we’ve been advised to take seriously: Politically incited evangelicals helping to rev up a full culture war on the way to the 2024 election. Christian Nationalism is not something that can be easily dismissed as crazy talk — not with a Supreme Court that includes Justice Samuel Alito, who has publicly expressed the view that Americans are not adequately religious. 

But back to my point about Christianity and a question: In what way does intolerance of LGBTQ+ people emulate the life and teachings of Christ? Do evangelicals believe the Prince of Peace would throw Pride merch on the floor at Target?  

And, religion aside, what difference does any of this make to the vast majority of us? There should be no skin off anyone’s nose if a guy loves a guy, if a woman wants to marry a woman, if someone assigned one gender at birth becomes happier living as another. 

A culture war grounded in these old prejudices is such a waste of time and valuable energy. There are far more pressing issues than whether Target sells Pride apparel. 

Dan Rodricks is a longtime columnist for The Baltimore Sun newspapers, and former host of the Roughly Speaking podcast for baltimoresun.com.