Challenge Number Nine: “You’re a bigot!”
(Ninth in a series of ten, from my new book Critical Conversations!)
I know some Christians can be bigoted. I’m sure I am some times. I can’t claim to be perfectly free of that error.
But this charge isn’t directed toward my behavior in off moments. It’s global. It’s about all of me, and all of you, too, if you feel any hesitancy toward gay rights or the gay activist movement. Only bigots have any doubts about gay rights, they say, so that makes you a bigot.
Or does it? What really justifies calling someone a bigot? Webster’s dictionary says a bigot is:
a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group) : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance7
I don’t think that describes me.
- I don’t dislike other people without significant, personal, direct provocation. I certainly don’t dislike them for being members of another group.
- Do I accept gays and lesbians? The dictionary was a bit sloppy putting that term in there, since obviously not all not-accepting is bigotry: the American College of Thoracic Surgeons doesn’t accept me because I’m not one of them by nature. If it means to accept as friends, though, then yes, I accept gays and lesbians; I have done so on every opportunity I can recall.
- I am persistently devoted to my own opinions, but not obstinately. Someone might suggest that I’m seeing that wrong, that my position is obstinate and prejudiced; but they’d be hard-pressed to prove that without displaying some definite bigotry of their own.
- I don’t hate LGBT people. As for intolerance, that’s another term that’s way too ambiguous to be useful here. Would it be sufficient — clearer, too — if I said I sought to treat people with love and respect?
Further on “Acceptance”
The question of acceptance needs further explanation. The best way I can do that may be through my comments policy on this blog. It’s a poor two-dimensional illustration in some ways since it’s online, but at least it’s a shared environment for us all here.
The bigoted thing to do would be to reject every commenter who revealed he or she was gay or lesbian or atheist or whatever. Instead I welcome everyone, regardless of what group or position they represent, and I continue to welcome them regardless of their position.* A small minority of commenters have shown by their individual actions that their individual contributions don’t help the discussion, and they have been banned; but that’s individual and it’s behavior-based, not group membership-based.
Not only that, but if I had a chance to have coffee with any commenter — including ones who have been banned — I’d love to do it. People are different in different situations, and more importantly the relational purpose of a conversation is different in different places, so I’d be glad to go for it. I’d start with the assumption we could be friends, and stick with that expectation unless and until proven otherwise.
So if “bigot” means what it means, I’m not perfect but neither am I generally bigoted. I think bigotry is ugly. Most of my fellow Christians aren’t at all bigoted either.
Whether it always means what it means is doubtful, though. Sometimes, unfortunately, the word is employed to shout down and shut up opposition. From where I sit, sometimes it seems that what matters isn’t whether the accusation is accurate but whether it works — or whether it’s behavior they’ve seen other people in their group practice.
Advice to Believers
So here’s some advice to Christians: when someone calls you a bigot, asking them what the word means. If they can answer you might be able to have a relationally respectful fruitful conversation. If not, you can ask them why they’re insulting you with a word like that when they don’t even know what it means. Or they might say (this happens) “It means you hate me!” or “It means I despise you,” then you can gently remind them that’s not what the word means, and then talk about what they’ve explained now: whether you actually hate them or what it means that they despise you — which might even be an expression of bigotry on their part, according to the true definition.
There’s more in the book!
In Critical Conversations I develop and extend the answer to this and other challenges, and I share practical relational guidance on how to share the answers in conversation. For parents, pastors, and other Christian leaders wondering what to say to children in their vulnerable years up through high school or even college, the book clears away the awkwardness and confusion. It clears a path toward conversations that can strengthen not only your teens’ faith but also your relationship with them.
*I do not welcome people who claim first and foremost to be Christian and who badly distort Christian doctrine.. I have Scriptural reasons for treating other ostensible Scripture believers that way.