It’s an expression I didn’t hear until a few years ago. It’s an old southern slave-owners complaint. It refers to Benjamin Franklin Butler who, while he was addressing Congress, displayed the shirt of a so-called carpetbagger who had been whipped bloody by the Ku Klux Klan. Southerners across the country were outraged by his show of the methods of the KKK. Their attitude was mostly “We didn’t do it”, “Maybe we did do it but you’ll never prove it”, “he had it coming” and finally “what are you going to about it?” It’s a defense of brutality and a mockery of those caught unaware or unable to defend themselves from being whipped like a disobedient slave. It is in short, a very ugly turn of a phrase… that Rod Dreher chooses to evoke in his column in the New York Times. Waving the Rainbow Flag Does he even realize that his phrasing is repulsive to anyone who thinks racism is a blight on this country? (Spoiler: no) I suppose with Trump’s popularity surging on a platform of naked racism, it was only a matter of time before older and cruder defenses of racism were employed by people at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and reactionary politics. I mean, just look at the breathtaking dishonesty of this framing:
The Times took a similar line in its lead editorial today, smearing G.O.P. politicians opposed to various L.G.B.T. rights laws with the blood of the Orlando dead.
This escalates the culture war to an openly religious conflict, in the sense that neither side can back down without compromising what it holds sacred. And it turns L.G.B.T. advocates into heretic hunters who persecute thought criminals by demonizing dissent.
This isn’t “smearing G.O.P. politicians… with the blood of the Orlando dead” this is pointing out that the hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric regularly spoken, printed and disseminated from the religious right has deadly real-world consequences. This is not an attack on religion. This is an attack on bigots who wrap their bigotry in religion. The heretic hunters aren’t LGBTQ people and their allies, the heretic hunters are the same hateful opportunistic weirdos that see no problem exploiting the most hateful messages of any scripture they can find to get power by stepping over a mound of corpses. If Rod Dreher doesn’t like the way that looks, he should really stop looking in mirrors.
Oh, he spends a paragraph saying Christians have sometimes been cruel to gay people… in the past, like a long time ago, and despite the fact that gay people are “broken” they are created in the “image of God”. But he jumps right back into his retrograde theology and morality as if it were as if “the meaning of sex and marriage within the cosmic order” were spelled out in letters of fire a thousand feet tall on the side of Mount Everest instead of being arrived at through successive translations of ancient manuscripts allegedly dictated to mythological heroes whose existence can charitably be described as “unproven”.
and of course he defends his point of view with this twaddle:
But I strongly reject the oft-heard accusations from the Left that opposition to whatever identity-politics goal it pursues can only be based in hate. It’s a crude and illiberal attempt to suppress dissent.
So, just what are the reasons LGBTQ people shouldn’t be able to live free from the fear of being targeted for mass murder for their identity? Are they being targeted out of regret, or jealousy, or envy? Does it make their murder better if the motive wasn’t hate? Does the possibility that they were murdered from boredom or ennui or post-thanksgiving-turkey sleepiness make them any less dead? What motivation is behind Rod Dreher’s depraved indifference to the mass murder of dozens of LGBTQ people? What motivation other than hatred could one possibly have for denying LGBTQ people the chance to live their lives with dignity and respect and free from the fear of senseless murder? I know the answer, it’s ‘love’. It’s the particular sick kind of love that fundamentalists have for people who suffer. It’s the ‘love’ that says they won’t lift a finger to help because the poor and downtrodden are going to a reward in heaven. That doesn’t sound like love to me.
As Madonna once said, we are living in a material world, Rod. Spiritual explanations might make a Ghostbusters plot, but they cut no ice in a court of law or in a scientific laboratory. I cannot vouch for their presence in Rod’s daily life, he certainly acts like a god bothering and god-bothered scold. But he might want to bring a microphone to the next one of his little chats with god, and see if it picks up anything besides his half of the conversation.
Because there’s lots of good Christian people, that don’t think the good news boils down to “purge the unrighteous”. I was raised Lutheran, and they at least had the good grace to be embarrassed about the part they played in the 30 Years War.
I would invite Rod, as diplomatically as I can, to look up the definition of “oppression”. Because “Not getting to make the lives of LGBTQ people as miserable as possible” isn’t it. Backing up the freedom of LGBTQ people to fully participate in society with the force of law isn’t oppression. Daily reminding Rod Dreher that he acts just like he’s so deep in the closet he’s finding Christmas presents, isn’t oppression. It may be mean but but he deserves that and worse for the fetid bilge he regularly spills into the national discourse. And that really is as diplomatically as I can put it.
So, as long as Rod is complaining about people “waving the bloody shirt” we can be secure in our knowledge that Rod is more comfortable defending the KKK or in this case the institutionalized oppression and murder of LGBTQ people, than he is for actually fighting oppression.