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Hidden prejudices?

N. Eugene Walls | Wednesday, November 19, 2003

While clearly his intention was not to demonstrate the application of social science concepts in the “real” world, Joe Licandro, in his Nov. 19 column, gives us a good example of a couple of social science concepts and dynamics in action. The first is that individuals from devalued communities are held to standards that are not expected or if expected, not enforced, for individuals from majority communities (see Biernat and Kobrynowicz 1997). Licandro claims that, if Gene Robinson had been heterosexual and had left his wife for another woman, that it is doubtful that he would have been appointed bishop in the Episcopal Church. Why is it, then, that Barry Valentine – a divorced and remarried heterosexual man – was appointed Bishop of Rupert’s Land (Winnipeg) in 1969? And today there are at least six active bishops in the Episcopal Church who have been remarried after divorce.Concerning Robinson’s divorce, Licandro paints a picture of a man deserting his former wife and children: he “turned the other way” from his family. Why is it, then, that the dissolution of their marriage was done with the full support of his wife and that today they remain good friends? Why is it that his two daughters are fully behind him in his life and his ministry? Why? Because both he and his wife handled the divorce with maturity, sensitivity and honesty. Their divorce even culminated in worship service where they received Holy Communion. Clearly Licandro is holding Robinson to a different standard and doing his best to put a negative spin on the facts regarding the dissolution of Robinson’s marriage. The second social science lesson is about modern forms of prejudice. Research has shown that as the expression of prejudice has become less socially acceptable, individuals who hold discriminatory attitudes have had to develop new rhetoric to support attitudes and policies that privilege the group to which they belong over those “other” people (see Crocker, Major and Steele 1998; Fiske 1998; McConahay 1986). Part of this new rhetoric goes something like, “It’s not that I’m racist, it’s that interracial marriage makes it more difficult on the kids” or “I have nothing against gay people, I just wouldn’t want my daughter to be one.” Well, Licandro wants us to be assured that he doesn’t judge Bishop-elect Gene Robinson for being gay (an attempt to establish his moral credentials as an egalitarian), yet goes on in his article to compare him to alleged rapist Kobe Bryant and then invokes the “gay men are selfish and narcissistic” stereotype. And let’s not even mention that he draws a parallel between Catholic outrage at pedophilic priests and Episcopalian outrage at having Robinson as a bishop. I don’t know, but I have a hard time believing that Licandro is not judging Robinson’s sexuality.It is not Robinson’s “selfish” behavior that is creating the schism in the Episcopal Church. It is the homophobia of many of the leaders and members within the Church, something clearly not unique to Episcopalians. Would Licandro argue that the first woman bishop in the Episcopal church was being “selfish” for accepting her nomination to be bishop or would he, in hindsight these 20 years or so later, report that sexism was the root cause for the major upheaval that occured – an upheaval that included a number of churches breaking away from the Anglican church.

N. Eugene Wallsgraduate studentsociologyNov. 19