In 2003, as preparations for the inevitable war intensified, I decided to do something I’d never done before: I decided to march in a protest. Marching and chanting aren’t really my style; I prefer to protest by writing. But this was important, and I wanted to do something extra. So I made arrangements to head to Phoenix for the long weekend of Presidents’ Day.
When my mother asked me about my plans for the long weekend, I told her I was going to visit friends. I didn’t tell her why I had asked these friends if I could stay with them for a few days, because I knew it would upset her. I did tell the friends about my plans.
These were people I’d known since I was an undergrad. At one time H, the husband, had been more liberal than I was. But he got more conservative as he aged, while I got more progressive. By 2003, he’d given up driving small fuel efficient cars and drove a giant truck on his hour-long commute to the prestigious hospital where he worked as a doctor. He and his family made no effort to conserve water, even though they lived in a particularly water-deprived region of the Phoenix area. And he supported the war--although more cautiously than a lot of people. But he still thought it was the right thing to do.
The night after the protest, H, his wife and I went to dinner. He told a story about going home teaching to some inactive guy. The man wasn’t there when the home teachers arrived, but the guy’s roommate was. He was pleasant to the home teachers, but said there was no reason for them to come back, because the guy had realized that he wasn’t welcome at the Mormon church. One of the home teachers kept saying, “That doesn’t sound right. We welcome everyone. Our doors are always open. We invite people back, and we mean it.”
The clueless home teacher’s partner was writhing in embarrassment, and tried his best to cut the visit short. In the car, he said to his hapless companion, “Didn’t you realize?! The guy is gay! That was his partner we were talking to! He can’t come to church because he’s gay!”
Brother Clueless was mortified, and at first suggested that they return, so he could explain to the guy that he just hadn’t realized that they were gay. The less idiotic one said that would only compound the embarrassment, that they should just act differently when they returned, or else not return at all.
Given that H had told--and laughed at--a story that underscored how backwards and clueless Mormons were about homosexuality, and given that he had made it clear that he understood that gay people truly aren’t welcome in the Mormon church, no matter how many official church statements are issued claiming otherwise, I thought he would be agree with me when I said I just didn’t see what the big deal was, that being gay was a perfectly acceptable thing to be, that gay partnerships could be every bit as respectable and ethical as straight ones.
But H said, “I don’t actually believe that. I do believe that homosexuality is evil, that acting on gay desire is a sin.”
I sat dumbfounded for a moment; finally I said, “You really think that someone’s choice of a sexual partner is automatically a more important indicator of a person’s moral character than things like, say, how honest and kind they are?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Really.”
He said, “Yes. I think that fornication is a sin akin to murder.”
I said, “You really think that having sex with someone you’re not married to is as bad as willfully ending another person’s life.”
He said, “It’s not exactly the same, but it’s as bad in its own way, yes."
And I thought, wow, I really underestimated this guy. I didn’t realize just what a prick he’d turned into. (I have to wonder if he thinks Bristol Palin’s fornication is a sin akin to murder, or if he’ll let her off the hook for any number of reasons, like Bill O’Rielly and others.)
Our contact decreased considerably after that. There was occasional email but little else. And then, in 2004, as we prepared for another presidential election, I read something about the horrific trauma and suffering the war had brought to the Iraqi people, about the fact that we don’t even count how many of them we kill.
So I sent it to H, along with a note saying something like, “Here are the results of the war you supported. Do you still support it?”
In response I got a note in which he told me, “You have underestimated me. I take no pleasure in dead Iraqis.”
Boy oh boy did I ever underestimate him. It had never occurred to me, in my wildest dreams, that he might take pleasure in dead Iraqis. I had mistakenly believed that he’d be SAD about the senseless, painful deaths, the brutal suffering.
I told him that, and I ended the friendship.
I’ve confronted lately a number of ways in which I’ve underestimated other conservatives. I’m trying to decide what to do about it.