Posted on Nov 15, 2012
Yesterday a discussion that should have been about apologetics strategy went off-topic and toxic, and I deleted a large portion of it. I’m not into whitewashing or hiding, so if you want to you can read the PDF I saved. What remains on that page is what I hope will be of interest to Christians who want to be more strategic in their honest persuasive efforts.
But I want to make a very pointed comment about something bigbird said (#29 in that PDF):
Perhaps it is time for the Christian church to re-evaluate our opposition to SSM. It doesn’t matter what reasons we give and how good they are, we are coming across as if we hate gays….We need to ease up on the hysteria and realize it isn’t the end of society if a small minority of marriages are SSMs. The battle is surely lost in the next decade anyway. And maybe gays would slowly begin to realize we don’t hate them.
There are several things here I agree with strongly, and several with which I disagree. It’s a confused mix that needs unraveling. I’ll start with the good stuff he had to say.
1. It’s crucial for us to do every legitimate thing in our power to demonstrate we don’t hate gays.
2. Hysteria is never wise. I’ve been embarrassed by some overblown warnings of what damage SSM will do to our world. (See point a. below for more perspective on that.)
3. We are indeed coming across as if we hate gays.
That’s all valid. However he also says,
4. “No matter what reasons we give and how good they are, we are coming across as if we hate.”
That is, the most reasoned and reasonable position can produce nothing but an impression of hate. And then,
5. “Maybe gays would slowly begin to realize we don’t hate them.”
A Patronizing Position
Now if he’s right, then the only responsible thing for Christians to do would be to shut up.
But look at what he’s saying about gays: the only way they’re ever going to respond to reasoning, no matter how good it may be, is by considering it hate. Isn’t that a sorry depiction of his fellow human beings, to say they can’t evaluate a reasoned position, but can only take it unthinkingly in the gut?
I’m sorry, bigbird, but I think your position is terribly disrespectful toward gays. Don’t you think they can think? Don’t you think they can recognize reason when they see it?
Obviously I’m not defending unreason, or hysteria, or sloganeering, or fear, or any such thing directed toward homosexuals. But that’s not what bigbird was talking about. He was saying that good reasons can only be interpreted as hate. He wasn’t slamming the reasoning, he was slamming people who he thinks can’t handle good reasoning.
It’s patronizing. If I were a gay man I’d pull bigbird aside and let him know I’m more grown up than that.
An Unloving Position
Bigbird’s position is also demonstrably unloving. Now, everyone knows that opposing SSM could be, in certain forms at least, a genuine expression of hate. I maintain that it could also be an expression of love, even from the perspective of those who endorse SSM (see below). But bigbird’s position is neither of those. It’s actually rather pathetic: “Let’s be careful not to seem as if we hate.”
This is related to something I wrote a long time ago about tolerance. If you want to know something I do hate, it’s the way tolerance is touted as the finest and highest of virtues. That’s an intolerable, deadly sham. It’s horrible. Here’s why. Tolerance in current usage comes down to,
I won’t let your opinions or beliefs bother me. I’ll coexist. It doesn’t matter what you believe, I’ll choose not to criticize. I appreciate your doing letting me be, too.
That sounds good, until you compare it to true love as Christ demonstrated it. (I’ll illustrate it in the context of the current discussion, not meaning to imply that this is all there is to Christ-like love.) Here’s what differences of opinion can look like where there’s love:
I’ll treat your opinions seriously enough to engage with you on them, to give you the respect of disagreeing where I disagree, agreeing where I agree; always respecting you as a fellow human being of great worth who deserves a hearing.
Tolerance is actually a move away from the other; love is a move toward the other. Practicing tolerance, I withhold part of myself from the discussion; with love I bring myself into the discussion.
I’ve had these kinds of loving conversations with gays. I could have just gone along with what they said, but if I had, I wouldn’t have really been there. I would have been offering them a fake version of myself. There is no love where there is pretense.
The Reality of Disagreement Being Regarded As Hate
But bigbird is right about this further oddity: when we disagree, we come across as if we hate, even if we bring good reasons into the discussion. Disagreement expressed reasonably is indistinguishable from expressions of hatred. Expressed that way it’s obviously silly, but that’s the rhetorical environment in which we live.
How did it get that way? Christians are partly to blame. We haven’t made all the right distinctions along the way, such as for example:
a. SSM isn’t so much the problem; the breakdown of marriage in general is the problem, and it’s been hugely damaging. SSM is merely the final endorsement of that breakdown. Our defense against it is just a last ditch effort in a larger war. We’ve mistakenly let it appear as if it’s the whole show. I wish I had seen that sooner than I did.
(Note: we’ve been fighting the rest of the battle. We haven’t been ignoring it. If it’s not seen in public the way our SSM battles are, it’s because we’re fighting it by way of encouragement, teaching, and counseling; in small groups, in conferences, in sermons, in Sunday School classes, and in the counseling office. Those are appropriate places for that effort to be pursued. SSM is by definition a public issue, which is the one reason we engage with it publicly.)
b. Some opponents of SSM are hateful. Some are foolish. We haven’t separated ourselves sufficiently from them, so it’s not surprising that we would be regarded as being in the same camp.
SSM advocates are also partly to blame for this odd confusion that prevents reason from being interpreted as anything but hate. For example,
c. Their chief advocates intentionally maneuvered the rhetorical situation to make it difficult for us to distinguish our reasonable representatives from haters and fools. See #5 in this 1989 article. That was dishonest.
d. Some of their chief advocates continue to define our position as hate, regardless of how we express ourselves. This too is dishonest.
Treating One Another As Humans
For these four reasons and probably others, it’s difficult to disagree without being branded as haters. But I think the pro-SSM community can do better than this. Unlike what bigbird seemed to be implying, I don’t think they’re incapable of reading reasons as reasons. I don’t think they are programmed with circuits that bypass rational thinking, and proceed like a malfunctioning robot straight to “he’s hating me, he’s hating me.”
We’re in this mess together. We’re all human beings here. I intend to treat others that way. I ask them to do the same with me.