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a "heterosexual dictatorship"
> In order to ensure that we do clearly understand each other, let me ask you
> this question: do you, Louie, really, sincerely in your heart believe that
> our present system of USA society is a dictatorship? The 20th century has
> known many dictatorships. At the cost of great sacrifice, many members of
> my family have helped to bring an end to some of these dictatorships. Do
> you really believe that the United States of America is a dicatorship?
'Dictatorship' is a tricky appellation. Those who are the
beneficiaries of the dictators rarely describe them as dictators. For
example, growing up in the white South with full apartheid in force, I
never heard the South described as a dictatorship, although our laws
dictated crippling restrictions on persons of color, even on their
enfranchisement. Instead, I was fed on the rhetoric of 'freedom and
justice for all,' evidence to the contrary all around me
notwithstanding. And even after supporting the overthrow of that
unjust system when I taught at the University of Alabama in the four
years just after integration, it never would have occurred to me to
refer to the new order an end of a 'dictatorship.'
Traveling in South Africa last August I was struck by what seemed to
me strange diction when again and again white South Africans, even
without black South Africans present, referred to the 'birth of
democracy' as synonymous with the 'end of apartheid.' At first I
thought this was merely rhetorical, a symbolic way of showing
solidarity with black South Africans. "We were not free under the old
system," explained one white bishop to me. "But you could vote," I
naively replied. In Alabama we who could vote during our apartheid
still treated ourselves to the luxury of calling ourselves a
democracy, just one that was not yet complete. The SA bishop
explained to me that while as a white man he could vote, the system
dictated severe limits as to whom he could vote for. So had they in
apartheid Alabama. Most Americans speak of our democracy as beginning
with the Constitution, not with the end of slavery. Do the white
South Africans have something to teach us?
When I lived in Beijing (83-84), few of my students referred to the
communist government as a dictatorship, and almost no one wanted to
talk politics. Only when I was off campus did students from dozens of
other places, students whose names I could not know and possibly
reveal and jeopardize them, seek me out to tell me of their
frustrations with the system. Only in the safety of anonymity dared
they talk about the government as a dictatorship. But when Tienanmen
Square came, some who had been my own students were killed in the
When I was in Zimbabwe for the World Council of Church in December
1998, the Council invited President Mugabe to address them, and
Christians from all over the world applauded, yet few political
leaders in the world have a human rights record as bad as his, even
according to my colleague Diane Knippers, of the Institute for
Religion and Democracy and a member of Truro Parish.
You can rarely identify dictators by what dictators say about
themselves nor by what their beneficiaries say about them.
Strictly speaking a dictatorship is a government in which one person
or a few people dictate major choices for everyone else. Those who
are pleased with those choices, would not complain. So it was in
Franco's Spain when I visited there in the 1950s. No one I met
casually then spoke of Franco's government as a dictatorship. Anyone
who did would have had to go underground, or certainly would not have
been generally accessible to me as a casual visitor. Universities
continued to function, to train doctors, lawyers and other
professionals, most of whom said little or nothing to protest the
state. The world did not come to a crushing halt as the comic book
portrayals of dictators might lead us to believe.
Few in Iraq describe Sadam Hussein as a dictator. To do so would be
too dangerous, yes, but many also believe that he is a great hope
against the evil invaders from the USA.
Hitler Youth applauded the Fuehrer and his bold plans for the
Does a lesbian 10th-grader in an ESA parish in a diocese with major
support for Lambeth and in a school that bans all books that give any
positive portrayal of lesbians live freely in this society? How much
freedom is enjoyed by the African American teenager who whispered to
Ernest and me his fears of being discovered as gay when we stopped at
his family's bbq stand in rural Alabama last week?
As I indicated, the days of the heterosexual dictatorship are
numbered. In many places, hetero abuse of power has almost
disappeared. Heterosexuals used to dictate the choices of books,
association, behavior, public discourse, for almost everyone in the
country, especially for every lesbian, gay male or bisexual person.
They did so in almost absolute ways when I went to college.
Isherwood was not known to be a flaming political activist; most of
his political work he did working for the Quakers. In using the phrase
"heterosexual dictatorship" he raised my consciousness in life-giving
ways. I had grown so accustomed to the restrictions I had not even
dared to give them a name. I remember vividly the day in 1963 when
for the first time another male whispered to me on a bus when he saw
that I too was admiring a young man outside the window: "Isn't he
gorgeous." It was my friend's way of coming out to me, and I trembled
lest anyone on the bus have heard his whisper. He had spoken a simple
gay observation that I was afraid even to utter to myself.
Byron in the persona of the 'Prisoner of Chillon,' noted that it is
not easy to be free when you have grown accustomed to accepting
So much a long communion
tends to make us what we are
that even I
regained by freedom with a sigh.
> Do you really believe that the United States of America is a dictatorship?
That's not what I said. Isherwood spoke of a "heterosexual
dictatorship" not of "a USA dictatorship" nor of a "British
dictatorship." To the extent that heterosexuals have dictated the
political, personal, educational choices of lesbigays in any place,
those places have to that extent enabled "heterosexual dictatorship."
Right now heterosexuals dictate lesbigay choices far less in the USA
than in Zimbabwe. Heterosexuals dictate far less in ECUSA than at
Porto, Portugal. Anyone reading the AAC press release cannot mistake
the intent of AAC and its allies among the primates to try to dictate
the policy of ECUSA and to pre-empt General Convention, the only
legislative authority of ECUSA.
Do I mean that our country or our church is filled with comic book
villains? Absolutely not. Most who promote these dictates sincerely
believe they are serving the good of the whole, yet even a moderate
like Bp. Paul Marshall commented last night:
> I wish I had detected in the primates' document or in the AAC statement
> much interest in asking why gay Christians would bother to stick around
> this Church. I have never quite recovered from the day a gay colleague
> at Yale whose piety I can never hope to approach asked me with enormous
> pain, "Paul, why do they hate us so much?" The strident voices I hear in
> the church, especially from people with whom I find myself in some
> agreement on this one small issue in a vast complex of questions, keeps
> that question alive, and much more important than the presenting issue.
> Is there a greater sin against the neighbor than contempt?
May God give us all the courage to love one another fearlessly,
especially those with whom we disagree.
P.S. I am going to sign of this chain for a while because of
pressures of other work right now. Thanks for prompting these
reflections, and thanks to all who have read this far.
There are 95 days left until General Convention.
Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison St., #12D, East Orange, NJ 07018-1225