by Leah Waldron
As a child of the American South, I often heard the phrase “they grew up in a different time” as a reason to give an elderly person leeway for being racist, homophobic or any other type of crazy. Unfortunately, this sentiment is still used today—particularly around Thanksgiving, when generations unite for a tense, alcohol-drenched meal.
I know we have to respect our elders, but can we please stop using their age as an excuse? Just because granny or pop pop (or prime minister so-and-so) is 83, it doesn’t give them the right to discriminate ad nauseum (and without reprobation) against all of “the gays” or “the Blacks” or “the Catholics.”
Unfortunately, some of the most influential leaders in the world are getting “up there” in years, but instead of “evolving” based on decades of experience, they are going in reverse—all the way back to the “good old days.” This is not true for all seniors, but for the three octogenarians below, it’s a problem.
3. Pat Robertson (age 82)
Born: March 22, 1930
At the age of 82, Pat Robertson is one of the oldest televangelists on the Christian circuit, and one of the most homophobic. The host of the “700 Club,” Mr. Robertson shocked the nation this year when he announced his support for the legalization of marijuana. Speaking in an interview with The New York Times, Robertson shared some pretty astute wisdom:
“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol…If people can go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol and drink it at home legally, then why do we say that the use of this other substance is somehow criminal?”
Well said. I think even Jesus would approve. On gay rights, however, Robertson is not so forward-thinking. Just a few days ago, Robertson had this to say about the “kiss in” protesters at Chick-fil-A:
“I defy these homosexuals to bring forth a baby from that part of the anatomy which they concentrate on. When that happens I will change everything I’m saying; until that happens, I wish those demonstrators would shut their mouth.”
I’ve heard of a Virgin birth, but an a-hole birth?
To put things in perspective, Robertson was born in 1930, just six months after the day the stock market crashed, which began the Great Depression. From 1948 to 1952, Robertson claims to have fought courageously in the Korean War, but his active combat has been disputed. He went on to earn a degree from Yale Law in 1955, but never practiced law because he could not pass the bar. Instead, he attended Divinity School and graduated in 1959—over 50 years ago—and was ordained in the Southern Baptist faith. His televangelist program, “The 700 Club,” has been on the air for almost as long, since 1966.
Its hard to say if Robertson has calmed down a bit since the 1960s, but his pro-marijuana stance can only mean one of two things: he’s either going senile, or he’s growing up. Let’s hope he continues to evolve on the gay rights front.
2. Robert Mugabe (age 88)
Born: February 21, 1924
Robert Mugabe is just two years shy of 90 years old, but that doesn’t stop him from his political work as the president of Zimbabwe. And it may be time for him to retire. Mugabe was elected president in 1980—32 years ago. As a child, Mugabe was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household, and spent most of his young years—admittedly lonely and sans friends—with his mother, or with priests. Mugabe’s first college degree was a Bachelor of Arts, but he went on to gain six more from correspondence schools, including a Bachelor of Administration, a Bachelor of Education, a Bachelor of Laws, a Master of Laws and a Master of Science.
Mugabe was a college professor, and was married by 1961. Three years later, he became a political prisoner—from 1964 to 1974—in Rhodesia. While in prison for 10 years, Mugabe earned his law degrees, and was elected to his first political position. You would think that a man with so much education and leadership experience, not to mention a politically-motivated, decade-long jail sentence, would understand the plight of less-fortunate people.
Mugabe is one of the world’s most outspoken anti-gay leaders. Just five years into his presidency, in 1985, he introduced a law (still in power today) that criminalized homosexuality. Roughly fifteen years later, in 1999, Mugabe gave a series of speeches to Africa’s highest-ranking chiefs and leaders that contained the following message:
“Unlike pigs and dogs, which knew their females and could naturally become intimate with them, gays and lesbians could not differentiate between males and females…we, as chiefs in Zimbabwe, should fight against such Western practices and respect our culture.
Mugabe continues his homophobic rhetoric to this day, even while international organizations try to stop him. Just this week, 44 gays and lesbians were arrested at a pro-gay rights meeting, and were beaten by “drunk” police and jailed overnight. The United Nations and the U.S. Embassy have expressed anger over the arrests, but, as usual, the pleas for an end to the discrimination have fallen on hard-of-hearing ears.
Hopefully, he will someday begin to listen.
1. Pope Benedict XVI
Born: April 16, 1927 (age 85)
Compared to Mugabe and Robertson, Pope Benedict XVI is a saint—at least when it comes to his views on homosexuality. He’s not trying to “change” homosexuals, but turn them into celibate, unmarried Catholics.
As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is—as expected—100 percent against gay marriage, and has made this one of his most hell-bent crusades, particularly in the United Kingdom. In January of this year, the Pope said that marriage “is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
That’s a surprising statement from a guy who served in Hitler’s army.
The Pope was born in 1927 in Bavaria, Germany. At the age of 5, a precocious Benedict announced that he wanted to be a Cardinal. Nine years later, in 1941, he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth program, a requirement for all 14-year-old boys. But two years later, when he was 16 years old, he left his seminary job to join Hitler’s army as an “air force child soldier,” which he served as until 1945, when the Americans arrived.
Like Mugabe and Robertson, the Pope was well educated, and even served as a professor of theology at several German universities. He was a priest by the age of 25, but concentrated on his academic work. In 1977, when he was 50 years old, he was ordained as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, a promotion that shocked many in the Catholic world because he had more academic than pastoral experience. Benedict was in his late 70s when he became Pope, in 2005. Since becoming “the Pope,” Benedict has said that the answer to homosexuality is celibacy (because that always works out so well…).
Maybe, in the case of the Pope, a man who has never known reciprocal romantic love (that we know of), it’s easier to just give up on trying to convince him that gay marriage will not ruin society.
Or is it?
These three men, as evidenced by their leadership positions, education, and life experience, are pretty intelligent, even if their views on homosexuality are out of the dark ages. Pat Robertson, Robert Mugabe and Pope Benedict XVI were each significantly impacted by war as young men, yet their messages are not about peace or understanding, but hatred and discrimination.
But I can’t help wondering: are you ever too old to grow up?
Now The End Begins
Robert Mugabe Webstarts
Roman Catholic Blog