I FEEL sorry for Michelle Shocked. Perhaps I shouldn’t. She is, after all, just another religious person who thinks faith gives them licence to be thoughtless and offensive.
In case you missed this story, last weekend Shocked told a show in San Francisco, of all places: “Once preachers are held at gunpoint and forced to marry the homosexuals, I’m pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.” Audience members walked out, the gig was stopped, and other shows were soon cancelled.
A “damn sorry” Shocked has since “clarified” her comments: “I do not, nor have I ever, said or believe that God hates homosexuals. I said some of His followers believe that... I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should.”
I put clarified in inverted commas because I’ve heard a recording of the gig, and it strongly suggests it was, in fact, her own viewpoint. “I ain’t scared,” she tells the crowd. “This is not a tribunal, this is one woman’s opinion. I could not come here tonight and pretend that I was above the conversation. I had to join it.”
Shocked’s outburst has made headlines partly because her politics – she’s been a green campaigner, a supporter of Occupy, and a defender of abortion rights – seem to make her an unlikely bigot. But she is also a born-again Christian. This is clearly a source of conflict, as demonstrated by a fascinating interview by writer John Cody in 2011, which explores her difficult relationship with her mother, her schizophrenia and alcoholism, and her conversion to a simplistic form of Christianity, which has, as it does for many troubled, confused people, brought her some peace.
At one point homosexuality comes up, in the context of sex outside marriage. “It’s pretty clear they’re both pretty much violations of what God’s visions of our lives are. So I continue to fornicate, and pray feverishly.” She then worries she’s said something homophobic, and tries to clarify her point. Too late. Her view is clear: being gay is against God’s “plan”. So yes, hurtful and homophobic.
Shocked’s “clarification” last week felt like the same blunder – her liberal and religious values collide, she blurts out something stupid, and backtracks. Shocked says she’s “upholding my punk rock values in the most evangelical enclaves and, in this case, speaking up for the most fearful of fundamentalists”. The implication: she’s caught between a rock and a hard place so cut her some slack.
It’s a sad, rather pathetic position. I can’t help thinking of Cardinal O’Brien, a man with a history of gay indiscretions who has said many hateful things about gay people. I feel sorry for him too. The problem here, ultimately, is religious intolerance. For all the hurt they’ve caused, Shocked and O’Brien are both victims of it. «