On Gatekeepers in Politics

You can’t be a feminist if you’re pro-life. You can’t be pro-life if you believe in the death penalty. If you voted third party, you might as well have voted for Trump/Hillary. Everyone who voted Trump did it because they’re a bigot.

I’ve been seeing statements like this all over the internet–and hearing them come out of people’s mouths–for quite some time now, and I think somebody needs to say something about it:

People are entitled to think for themselves.

Let me say that a little louder for those in the back:

PEOPLE ARE ENTITLED TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES. And if you have the attitude, “Those who don’t agree with ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF EVERYTHING I BELIEVE IN aren’t with me, they’re against me,” you’re going to find yourself in a very small group.

Now, I don’t have a problem with pointing out what you feel may be inconsistencies or hypocrisy in people’s philosophies. If someone celebrates Martin Luther King Day one week and the next week tells you that they think political protests should never stop traffic, absolutely do engage them in a conversation about King’s protests. And if you see something problematic with someone’s philosophy, like a feminist whose position would only help women of a certain race or social class, totally engage them in a conversation about that.

But please, in the name of all that is holy, don’t tell people they’re not welcome in your movement if they don’t agree with you on every single point.

I like to look to the example my mom’s church sets. Her denomination is United Brethren, and their official position, from all the way back in the 1700s, is that the church’s job is to teach the fundamentals of the faith, what C. S. Lewis would have called “Mere Christianity.” The doctrines, the debatable, more minor positions, the church leaves up to the conscience of the individual believer.

This doesn’t mean that the United Brethren Church doesn’t have doctrinal positions. For instance, they’ve been ordaining women since the 1880s. But if an individual member of the church believes that women shouldn’t be ordained, that’s their right to believe that. The church is going to continue to ordain women, but they can’t tell that person “you’re wrong and you should feel bad.” An oft-repeated phrase in the founding documents of the church is, “Thou shalt not traduce thy brethren.” And yes, I had to look this up, too: traduce means “speak badly of or tell lies about (someone) so as to damage their reputation. Synonyms: defame, slander, speak ill of, misrepresent, malign, vilify, denigrate, disparage, slur, impugn, smear, besmirch, run down, blacken the name of, cast aspersions on” etc.

Basically, members of the church have to agree on the most basic principles of Christianity and the denomination. After that, all other areas are up to them to make up their own minds about–and you can’t be a jerk to someone because they believe something different than you.

I wish more political/social movements held this belief. Many feminists will argue that the definition of feminism is wanting equality and justice for people regardless of their sex or gender: they believe women should be equal to men. I agree. But if that’s the position, why then do some feminists insist that you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? Yes, the subject of abortion is one that is very much about women, and because of their beliefs about gender, many feminists have become pro-choice. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be pro-life and be a feminist. Abortion is a debate about when/how a fetus/baby becomes a person, and under what circumstances the rights of the mother to her body and her future can impinge on the potential rights of the fetus/baby to its own body and future. It’s a SUPER complicated topic–not that “Women’s rights to their own bodies!” vs. “No baby murders!” watered-down version we normally get. And as it IS a very complicated topic, it is the responsibility of all people who are going to argue for a position on it to understand the full complexity of the debate and be willing to engage in discussion on that complexity. And it is perfectly conceivable that a person who believes that women and men should be equal in society might still come to believe that abortion may be morally wrong under some circumstances, or outlawed in some or all circumstances, and to have their own ideas about how and when those laws should be put into effect. To say that being feminist means you have to be pro-choice is frankly ridiculous.

And I’m not just talking about liberal people’s gatekeeping, either. We all do it sometimes–I’m sure I have–and conservatives are certainly not immune. One statement that I’ve seen frequently of late is that if you’re pro-life, you have to be against capital punishment. Now, once again, it’s true that both of these subjects have to do with when the government should allow or carry out legal termination of a life. But you can be pro-life–which, by the way, is a HUGE umbrella term for “advocating against the practice of abortion and its legality” and could conceivably apply to a vast range of opinions about why and how legal abortion should end–and still hold a variety of beliefs about the government’s use of capital punishment for crimes. A fetus/baby and an adult criminal are two totally different subjects, and while you may believe in the sanctity of all human life and therefore be against abortion AND capital punishment, that doesn’t mean that all people who are against abortion have to agree with you to fall under the umbrella term of “pro-life.”

I believe that all people should feel safe and respected in their communities and should be entitled to their rights as people and as citizens. As such, I believe in supporting gay people’s rights to feel safe and respected and have equal rights. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe that Christianity says that gay sex is okay: that’s another subject. And I believe that trans people should be safe from abuse, violence and discrimination–but that also doesn’t necessarily mean that I am totally decided as to whether being trans is something that should be “celebrated,” as many others campaigning for trans people’s rights and safety say, or whether it’s actually a sign of a mentally unhealthy body dysmorphia, or a serious problem with our culture’s social construction of gender. These are complicated subjects, and just because you believe one thing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you have to believe another.

This is part of the problem with the two-party system. It tends to oversimplify issues into yes and no, and then one party holds to a certain collection of yeses and nos, and the other party holds to the opposite collection. And they both tend to “traduce their brethren” by painting members of the opposite party, who might be voting a certain way because of issue A, to be a terrible person because that means they MUST feel THIS way about issue B. And that’s MADNESS.

All Americans, regardless of our political parties or our beliefs on ANY issue believe in our rights to have our own opinions, to think independently about important issues, to come to our own conclusions, and to undertake political action to make our voices heard. As such, we need to stop gatekeeping: stop keeping people out, and start inviting people in. America is a democracy: it’s all about the voice of the people. And two voices speaking in unison on any given subject are far more likely to be heard than one.


2 thoughts on “On Gatekeepers in Politics

  1. I [heart] you. As someone who’s felt like I’m not welcome by any group these days, due to having moderate, complicated beliefs that don’t match up with any party, this post is a breath of fresh air.


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