Last night we had rather extended family come and stay the night with us. By extended family, we're talking the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a step-grandparent. A family of four that we've seen twice before. They are back in Canada, visiting for the summer after two years of missionary work in the Philippines, where they "spread the word" and run an orphanage. They are strict evangelical Christian, and their religious practices and beliefs deviate wildly from my own.
I won't go into a great deal into my own beliefs and spirituality except to say this - I was raised within the framework of an organized religion, and while I do not believe all of the doctrine or strictures of that particular religion I still take comfort in the rituals and routines of the church when I choose to attend. From a belief perspective, I (and Mr Babbler, both) fall on the exceedingly liberal side. I believe that the Bible (or any religious document for that matter) should not be taken absolutely literally, and instead is a mixture of reality, representation and parable, and is reflective of many writers, revisions, place and time and translation. I believe in difference of religion, and that ultimately we are all getting to the same place no matter how or to whom you pray to, if you so chose. I believe in questioning the leaders or organized religion, and that religion is free to expand and change with new realities. These are just a few of my beliefs. I do not impose them on others, and I rarely discuss it, as I believe it is a deeply personal matter and choice.
We approached the visit with trepidation, but figured that at the most at least it would give us fodder - a few amusing stories or anecdotes. To say that the visit was awkward would be a colossal understatement, and that while we have some stories they came at an enormous personal cost.
I did my very best to be a gracious host - I did not swear nor take the Lord's name in vain (wasn't that fucking polite of me for God's sake - heh, get it? A wee bit of gallows humour there. Moving right along.) I was careful to remove literature from the living room that they would most likely find offensive and would not want their children exposed to (an issue of Glamour magazine, and the God Delusion) despite being sorely tempted. We stuck to water and juice while in the living room talking, abstaining from the glass of wine that would have, at the very least, taken the edge of the awkwardness and made everything a little hazy and, perhaps, bearable. At breakfast I refrained from eating or serving Peanut immediately, instead bowing my head while they said their grace before the meal. I was, in a word, accommodating.
The parents told us of their time in the Philippines, with all the religious and cultural intolerance that seems to only come from those most fundamentalist of believers of any religion, Christian or otherwise. We bounced from one uncomfortable topic or anecdote to another, while terms such as "those Muslims", for example, were bandied about, together with loose quotations of scripture from the Koran to support their assertion that "those Muslims" are more aggressive. All of this couched in language so innocuous and non-aggressive as to be discussed as fact and not worthy of argument or discussion. We are right, and we have God and Jesus on our side. Ergo, you are wrong.
The children, now 14 and 16, are mimics of their parents with no real opinion of their own and a social awkwardness that comes of being homeschooled their entire lives and kept, rigidly, from any exposure to outside or "deviant ideas". Like, say, feminism. Or equality. Or cultural differences. Or freedom of belief and religion, apparently. They do not question, they are not curious. (In one of the only humorous moments, when trying to remember the children's names prior to their arrival Mr Babbler referred to them Rod and Todd - names that stuck for us privately despite the fact that one of the children is a girl.) I would have preferred, infinitely, the sulking sixteen-year-old boy, nose in a video game, and snotty, arrogant fourteen-year-old girl - siblings who either squabble or ignore one another mercilessly, to the wide-eyed religious fervor we were faced with.
The most wrenching conversation for me came this morning, when they took it upon themselves to tell me that the little boy whom they are raising (as "English", or course, with none of the "dirty habits of his country", despite the fact that he will have to live in that country, belonging to neither one culture or another) was not allowed to play with dolls. Because, of course, "they did not want him to be gay, like half the boys there, with all their dirty cross-dressing and freakishness". This, of course, was supported by the assertion that "God does not make mistakes, and that God has a plan for us, and we should be what He intended for us to be".
This screed went on for several minutes - minutes in which my stomach turned nauseously, the breakfast we had just eaten roiling uncomfortably. Mr Babbler was at work, and the family was due to leave any minute. Did I say something? Stand up for what I firmly believe in. Argue that God's plan may have very well been for that person to embrace their homosexuality, despite their gender? That the two (sexual identity and gender) are mutually exclusive? Did I fight back, finally, about their ideas and intolerance regarding "those Muslims" whose land they were invading, with their proselytizing and preaching? Did I finally speak up and refute every one of the far-fetched, ridiculous, intolerant, racist ideas?
I did not. I twitched, I avoided eye contact, I did not agree nor give any sign that I was similar in my belief. I attempted, several times to change the topic and to offer up distraction (look at Peanut? Peanut, want to play with your dollies?), but I did not say outright that what they said, that what they believed, sickened and disgusted me. That I did not share their intolerance and was offended, deeply, by their opinions and their need to verbalize them in my own house.
In the end, I felt like a stranger in my own home, as they filled the air with intolerance. I felt alone and dirty, and I wished desperately that Mr Babbler was there with me, so I could speak up secure in the knowledge that I had someone their who believed as I do, and who could back me up. I thought of my obligation, as someone who should have defended what I believe in, should have defended those (gays, lesbians, Muslims, Filipino and every other group denigrated by their words) as they were unable to speak for themselves, despite the fact that my words would, in all likelihood, not made a lick of difference - their security in the rightness of their actions and beliefs so strong that nothing I could say would dissuade them). I questioned the limits of being a polite host - of where responsibility and obligation and good manners ends. I thought of my in-laws (whom, I should note, do not believe as this family does) who have been so good to me, and never hesitate to host my friends, and how this was done as a favour to them. How a wrong word could make family relations very uncomfortable for them in the future. All this ran through my head, together with the knowledge that they were leaving imminently, and how (cowardly as it was) I did not wish to delay their departure by opening their Pandora's box of theological arguments.
I am ashamed and sickened and disgusted with myself. All I could think was that I was so grateful that Peanut was not old enough to understand their words. How, if she had been older, I would have had to intervene, to say something, for we are not an intolerant family and I don't want her, for one minute, to think that that gross display of intolerance we were subjected to is either acceptable or moral or right.
Mr Babbler and I have made a decision. This family is no longer welcome to visit us. We will be having a frank conversation with our family about what occurred and how we felt about it, and we will leave it to our family to explain (if they so choose) why this family is no longer welcome in our home. It's not a perfect solution, and it doesn't solve the shame I'm currently feeling, but it is a first step.