ASK MJ: CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS AND GAY RIGHTS, LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE
How can Christians–especially conservative ones–help people see that they’re not all hateful bigots? Or I guess another way to ask is, how can someone share opposing views and feelings without being categorized as an evil/horrible/awful person?
Now my reason for asking: I admire the way you show support for LGBTQ (is that right?) without being unkind/hateful to those who don’t agree. The way you’ve tackled other tricky issues with common sense on your blog makes me think you could touch on this in a way that brings understanding, not hate.
I’m from Utah and was raised Mormon, a very conservative Christian religion. I have many gay friends, both in Utah and around the world, and I adore them all without consideration of their sexuality. I don’t think I’ll ever abandon the basic Christian values I was taught, but I’m completely torn on what I think of homosexuality. The contrast of avoiding sin and loving/accepting everyone makes it an interesting moral dilemma, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
It concerns me, though, that in the effort to bring equal rights/privileges to LGBTQ, those with an opposing viewpoint–most notably conservative Christians–are being categorized as hateful bigots. There are definitely wackos out there who are like that, on both sides really, but I’m really seeing a lot of hateful language thrown at those with conservative morals/values/whatever you want to call it. It’s to the point where I see a person identifying himself online as a Christian being immediately bashed and verbally abused. I saw one man today being called a Nazi and other horrific things because he opposed gay marriage, even though that man had made a reasoned argument for his position and wasn’t attacking the opposition.
I guess what I’m saying is that I fear reasonable and respectful dialog on this issue–as well as other important ones–is being prevented by both sides villainizing the other. If you have advice on that, please share.
I got this letter the other day and have not stopped thinking about it since. I have so much empathy for someone in your position, and it’s so great to talk to people who are open, questioning, and striving to do good.
I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to talk to you about your own religion. It’s not my place to tell you how to have a relationship with your chosen religion and with God. I can only address this issue from my own heart and belief system. And though I’m not a conservative Christian, I don’t see that the two necessarily clash.
I think that comment about the “Nazi” requires CONTEXT.
There’s not a gay person I know who hasn’t been told they were damned at some point or other. In fact, the insults and threats of eternal damnation are so common that most gay people I know have had to develop a thick skin for these things. But there’s more than that. There’s the fear of rejection from family members and friends, the attempts at intimidation, the physical violence . . .
And then there’s the absolutely bald fact that in most states, gay people can’t marry the person they love. They can’t have the same, totally basic American right as other American citizens. They pay taxes. They contribute to society in all of the same ways. They are Americans not allowed to live as Americans. And the American system is unambiguous on this point—we all have freedom of religion, and no one, NO ONE, is subject to anyone else’s religious laws. This gives you the freedom to be Mormon. You would never be subjected to the laws of any other religion.
Which is why banning gay marriage doesn’t hold up. You can’t base an American law on any interpretation of any religion. This doesn’t mean that people who have a religious objection have to LIKE it—it just means that that particular objection doesn’t have a place in the law.
Simply imagine it. Imagine that heterosexual couples were not permitted to marry. Imagine that, every time you tried to demand that right, people of another religion (or even a different branch of YOUR religion) selectively cited their main religious text (or yours), told you you were disgusting and damned, and that you didn’t have that right. Then you replied that America isn’t based on that religion, and they just ignored you. Imagine having to justify everything about yourself and your relationship to every random person you met.
Sounds crazy, right? But that’s exactly what’s happening. So when gay people see yet another seemingly well-meaning person give his or her argument against gay marriage . . . I think you can understand why they might be a little fed up. Those who respond calmly have to take an extremely deep breath and try, for probably the hundredth time, maybe the thousandth time, to explain why they should get the same rights as anyone else.
I realize that since you wrote this thoughtful letter you totally GET all of that—I’m just suggesting that, however distasteful it is when someone snaps and uses a word like “Nazi”, it comes from a place of pain. Does it help? No. But when people hurt they sometimes have to shout a little to release that pain.
When you say: “I saw one man today being called a Nazi and other horrific things because he opposed gay marriage, even though that man had made a reasoned argument for his position and wasn’t attacking the opposition.”
. . . it’s like saying, “The man made a reasoned argument on why gay people deserve fewer rights and should be treated differently than other Americans.” That the opposition of gay marriage is, in and of itself, an attack on people’s rights and their human dignity.
I’m 100% sure the man in question wasn’t sitting around his house, twirling his evil moustache, thinking up ways to hurt other people . . . but that’s what that “reasoned argument” does. The fact that it’s “reasoned” is almost worse. Historically, cool, “reasoned” arguments have been made to justify all kinds of things that we would recoil from now. You may have thought the man in question was harmlessly voicing a view—but that view has been converted into laws that break hearts, that leave gay teenagers feeling hopeless, that separate families and loved ones. That law keeps devoted partners apart when they are ill or dying. Those words you thought were so reasoned and mild have sharp edges that cut very deep. That’s where the harsh comments come from.
Do people like you—Christians who care, who make it your mission to live out the tenets of your faith, who really think about what they believe and why they believe it—deserve to be called Nazis? No. But was injury done with that reasoned argument? It really was. I would suggest (with respect) that the suffering caused by a thoughtless comment on the internet is far less than the suffering of being refused a life with a loved one, a family, and all of the benefits owed by the society in which you are a member.
WHICH IS NOT TO SAY that’s it’s cool, either, largely because it does nothing to further this incredibly important argument. It might bring temporary relief of frustration, but it doesn’t help the cause. All I’m saying is that it’s very difficult for people to sit quietly, and to take blows like that calmly.
I can’t aid you with your religious struggle—but it sounds like you are a pretty cool person. I’m sorry insults are thrown around. I really am. My hope is that in talking about where they come from, in describing the hurt, I might provide something useful for you to work with. We can all benefit from perspective, from a reminder that none of us are evil. We’re all just trying to do what’s right. What we see as right may not be what another person sees as right—that’s always going to be the case. And the truth is: some people just like to shout and bluster. Especially on the internet. The amount of mental calm needed to get through a stream of comments on ANY serious topic requires several hours worth of meditation and/or sedation. Don’t let the trolls get you down.
I guess the simple answer to your core question, “How can Christians–especially conservative ones–help people see that they’re not all hateful bigots?” Well, writing letters like this. That’s definitely one way. I genuinely believe that in fifty years (hopefully less, but I use that amount of time as a historical marker), people will look back in amazement at the debate over this law, much in the same way that we look back at the inequities of the past. And I really believe thoughtful Christians will play a huge role in making things right and in ending so much of this suffering because they will recognize it as suffering.
I don’t know if I lived up of your incredibly generous assessment of my abilities, but I gave it a shot, since you really went out on a limb to write such a moving letter. If I come off as preachy, I really apologize. I didn’t mean to. I just feel very strongly. It takes a lot of effort to calmly discuss things that really get you in the heart. I’m sure I’ve missed something obvious, so hopefully people reading this will bring elegance and eloquence to the discussion.
All thoughtful comments on whatever side of the argument are welcome below. Anything vulgar or full of nothing but hate speech, in whatever direction, will be nuked by me with my magic comment-destroying button. No trolls here!
Posted: Sunday, October 17th, 2010 @ 2:06 pm
Categories: ask mj, pompous behavior, questions, things that are awesome.
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