On Faith repeatedly asks powerful questions related to the role of religion in issues related to same-sex attraction. This week’s question asks about marriage, and more broadly, about the line between church and state on these issues. I can’t speak for the Catholics or those that sponsored same-sex marriage in New York. Nor can I speak for Mormons. Yet I can speak for myself, and perhaps I can simply widen the perspective through which we each will view the lines of sexual attraction amongst those that are same or different; the lines between church and state/religion and politics/disciples of Christ and professed Christians
I recently studied Norman Rockwell’s magnificent collage of mankind at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, linked here. A larger version of this painting is displayed in the United Nations building. As I looked at the faces of each person that Rockwell painted into his collage, I imagined that each had a characteristic that defines a minority of mankind. By illustration, I saw someone that was obese; one with bipolar disorder; another with same-sex attraction; and one was trying to speak to me through his stuttering. From their personal perspective looking out of the painting at me and the dozens of museum visitors admiring Rockwell’s collage, the majority in front of them loomed as a monolithic block; a block consisting of all those free of minority-defining characteristics. I sensed that those in the collage were feeling uniquely disadvantaged. In subtle and overt ways, each felt ostracized and discriminated by the majority at large.
I then realized, of course, that there was not a monolithic majority that these confronted. Rather, the majority comprised those who in the collage were surrounding them: They were different “minorities” of their own. I saw that Rockwell had painted Clayton Christensen three times in the collage, incidentally.
In my mind’s eye, I saw that there was a point in the past of many of these people’s lives where the overwhelming opinion – even amongst the “experts” – was that the characteristic that defined them as a minority, had been chosen, and could be changed with a decision and goal to simply change or “fix it.” Then I saw that, one minority after another, the preponderance of belief about the cause evolved. Researchers concluded that a primary cause of these characteristics often were genetic differences that causes enzyme or chemical anomalies, which in turn drove some, but not all, behaviors or physical conditions.
Consider Bi-Polar Disorder (BPD), for example. BPD typically emerges in its patients in their late teens as they become aware of feelings inside that are different. Their life becomes very different. Medicine helps; but most must deal with it through a set of behavioral changes. The minority of alcohol addiction also was once viewed as a choice. It is now better understood as one with physical origins. Some muster the willpower to stop drinking alcohol. But the deep desire to take another drink is with them to the end.
And obesity. Those that were not obese assumed that those that were overweight just lacked willpower: without discipline they ate too much. But we now know that there are powerful genetic factors that drive obesity – factors that are so powerful that eating patterns are very hard to change for sustained periods.
In each of these cases and many, many others, after some point at which they realized that they had a difference from others, their former friends began avoid them; they felt ostracized; careers were blocked, families dissolved, and marriage was often unobtainable.
In other words, I saw in my mind’s eye that nearly all of us are in the collage. We all have minority-labeling traits: same-sex attraction, Mormon, atheist, stroke victim, etc. As we look to our left and our right, it is stunning to realize that the burdens we carry are remarkably similar. And if we would look closely at the others, we would see that the burdens that many of them are shouldering are heavier than ours.
Norman Rockwell could have stopped with a masterful painting if he had simply depicted the minorities of mankind, as he did. And yet, embedded within the faces and clothing of those in the collage is the message to look beyond ourselves, our rights, our hurts, our pain; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
So often in the pain and desire to have what everyone else has, and be treated like everyone else is treated, we do exactly the opposite of this Golden Rule. Because we so desperately want to be “normal” and feel the right to be treated “normal,” we aggressively lobby for laws that specifically guarantee what we want for ourselves but ignore, in our selfishness, that many other minorities that are around us have the same desires, needs, and pains – simply manifested in different ways.
Hence, a pox on every side of the war related to the same-sex marriage legislation in New York, and the undercurrent effort of separating true religion from the state -- because separation would be disastrous for a society like ours, where the majority is comprised of minorities. By example, leaders of the same-sex marriage initiative in California continue to wage a war against members of the Mormon Church for their support of Proposition 8 in California. But the Mormons are in the collage right next to those with same-sex attraction. Mormons are isolated by many other Christian churches because they, and only they, frame marriage as a religious belief. It is not historical. It is not cultural. It is a religious belief. Marriage is a binding commitment for eternity that parents make with each other and their children. And they believe that the purpose of marriage in the eternities is to continue to have children, as husband and wife. The Mormons might be right, or they might be wrong. But it is a belief that is deeply held – and because of that, they are baited and bullied.
The current change in New York’s marriage laws may feel like a win for many. Men and women in same-sex relationships may feel they are closer to being a part of the “majority” and have victoriously left behind the group of minorities of mankind still in Rockwell’s collage. The Mormons are still in the collage – worrying whether the next court decision might limit their ability to fully follow one of their most important beliefs. As an individual person who belongs to that and several other minorities, I say to the leaders of the same-sex marriage initiatives: Don’t leave the Mormons behind. Don’t belittle them or splat paint on their homes and churches. Help them ensure that that a key belief that defines their “minority-ness” also is explicitly honored.
Because we are truly all in this together, we all must succeed together. If there is a win for one minority, we must not allow the natural course dictate that another will lose. When one loses, society loses.
Christ urged all of us, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you . . . By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. And in Mormon scripture, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
We are facing some difficult questions and decisions in our world and society. We need the type of religion in our state that is described above. I simply hope that each of us will look to our left and right and see more of what others are carrying.
The statements made herein are mine. They do not reflect positions of the Harvard Business School or of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member.
Clayton Christensen | Jun 30, 2011 1:47 PM