Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Bigotry, Boycotts, and Chicken Sandwiches


            If anybody was previously unaware that Chick-Fil-A operated on traditional Christian principles, the proverbial cat has now left the bag. Facebook and Twitter have been flooded with traffic on CEO Dan Cathy’s response to an interviewer for the Baptist Press asking about Cathy’s views on marriage. Cathy responded that he was “guilty as charged” for supporting a definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. He went on:

“I think we are inviting God’s judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about...We are very much supportive of the family--the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that...We need to be more faithful to depend on a God who does love us and wants to have a relationship with us, and wants to give us the desires of our hearts...we intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Predictably, gay-rights advocates mobilized to lobby against this bigoted, outdated Bible-thumping fundamentalist. The response has been swift and fierce, sending a clear message that if a person holds a traditional Christian definition of marriage and voices this opinion publicly, there will be hell to pay.
            Governor Mike Huckabee, incensed by vitriolic attacks on Cathy, responded by rallying conservatives to participate in Chick-Fil-A appreciation day--not in the first instance as a defense of traditional marriage, but in defense of free speech. Many Christians, despite mounting social pressure to “not judge” and concede the integrity of homosexual lifestyles, have also reacted by vocalizing support for Chick-Fil-A. Rev. Billy Graham was one such participant. But Christian conservatives are realizing that to stand against the moral zeitgeist of our age does not come without cost. Character defamation is commonplace (being called a “bigot,” a “homophobe,” a “gay-hater,” and unless we get with the program, society and the public square will simply leave us behind.)
            Commentators defending the homosexual community have fired back with a two-pronged approach: they have a) promoted a same-sex kiss-in on August 3rd, and they b) clarify that the free speech protection of the First Amendment is rightly interpreted as a protection from government--not individuals or their respective interest groups. While the left of course grants that conservatives have a right to their own opinion, they say, that opinion is not free from scrutiny. The boycotts of Chick-Fil-A, according to the left, are private individuals and groups voicing disagreement with Cathy’s views, rendering the “free speech” cry of conservatives a moot point. Bottom line: When you take a political stance on a hot-button issue, you’re going to lose some customers.
            And yet, the mayors of Boston and Chicago (Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel, respectively) have rebuked Chick-Fil-A by asking them not to expand the chain in their cities, threatening to block them from obtaining building permits. They justify this action by making a distinction between the liberties enjoyed by churches (nobody in Boston or Chicago is trying to shut churches down yet) and the speech of businesses. Since Chick-Fil-A restaurants are not places of worship, the argument goes, they are not similarly protected by the First Amendment “free exercise” clause. A business owner has the right to her own private beliefs, but government officials, under anti-discrimination laws, have the power to curb how those beliefs are expressed.[1]
In response to critics and countless charges of being an anti-gay bigot, Cathy sought to set the record straight:
“We’re not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”
But it was too late. The damage had been done, and Cathy’s clarification was either unreported, ignored, or fell on deaf ears.

Yikes. I hardly know where to begin... How should we respond?

First, it is helpful to say how we should not respond. We should not overstate our case by crying foul over boycotts against Chick-Fil-A. Even if this particular boycott is counterproductive and rhetorically dangerous (I’ll come back to this), boycotting, too, is a legitimate and important form of free speech. Moreover, we should not patronize liberals who choose not to eat at Chick-Fil-A. If eating there offends your conscience, don’t do it.
Second, we must not respond in kind with hurtful words or stereotypes. Name-calling is a form of bullying, and Christians call Lord the man who willingly suffered his (un)fair share of it. Unless we are engaged in a just war for love’s sake, we must not respond with violence in word or deed. Vengeance is finally the Lord’s alone.
We should remind ourselves of the violence that the homosexual community has endured in the face of real hatred. Bullied homosexual teen suicide rates are startling and tragic; “gay” is still commonly used as a negative epithet (i.e., “That’s gay” / ”He/she’s gay”). And for the last time, God does not “hate fags.” (I cringe to even type the words.) God hates sin. So should we. But some on the right sloppily use the word “fag” in a derogatory manner to refer to the whole of a person--a person made in the image of God for whom Jesus gave His life out of love and in obedience to His Father’s will. God hates homosexuality just as much as He hates heterosexual promiscuity, adultery and divorce. He loves all sinners, and to my deep regret, too many Christians bemoan homosexuality and homosexual marriage as if we ourselves are home and dry. We are not. True, homosexuality is a point of contention that is raised to us more often than we raise it ourselves. True, homosexual marriage has captured the national stage in ways that divorce has not in decades. (Maybe it should again.) True, we are often wrongly slandered as hate-mongerers--a charge that rocks us to our core precisely because we seek to love like Jesus with every ounce of our soul. True, we should stand for the righteousness that exalts a nation. But we must never speak out of a condescension that says we’ve earned our moral high ground. We were comforted by grace--unmerited favor--and in commending this grace to others, we are merely beggars telling other beggars where there’s bread; unprofitable servants at best.
It is not enough to merely consider one’s choice of words. As users of rhetoric, we are also largely responsible for considering how our words will be heard and understood. I understand that many of my Christian conservative counterparts feel squeezed by the constraints of political correctness, but we must understand that careful word choice is not about being PC so much as it’s about being properly understood. Don’t we want to share the Gospel in ways that our culture can understand? So we remind ourselves of Paul’s flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9--it is a flexibility of the messenger--not the message.

On the other hand...

1) The protection of free speech is a legitimate concern.
            Ross Douthat has helpfully pointed out that the words “free exercise” of the First Amendment include but are not limited to “freedom of belief” and “freedom of worship.” Doubtless “belief” and “worship” are in view, but these terms are not interchangeable with “free exercise.” The distinction is not frivolous, since “free exercise” extends beyond privately held beliefs or parish walls. Followers of Christ understand that our trust in Him defines who we are--it is not something squeezed to the periphery of our schedules on weekends.[2] When you object to believers reasoning from their religious traditions in the public square, you are claiming (by whose authority?) that the cost of entry into public discourse is the abandonment of our core identities. Such a cost is too high and, despite secular rejoinders, is finally unnecessary.[3]
            This alleged distinction between freedom of worship and free exercise is the fallacy on which Emanuel and Menino’s argument turns. To their minds, they’re not restricting free exercise of religion, because religious exercise is something that happens exclusively at church,[4] which they concede they must allow. To them, biblically faithful engagement within the public square isn’t worship--it’s unwelcome bigotry. The rights afforded to churches, then, are not similarly afforded to individuals whose faith permeates our public identities; our employment, our politics, our ethics, our discourse. Once we allow the Bible to shape those, we’re intolerant. This is sounding more and more like a strained argument. The irony is that Christians found in hypocrisy are ridiculed for not aligning public and private identities--we say one thing publicly but live another way privately. But now, when we seek public/private alignment, we are ridiculed for that as well.
The ethos of Chick-Fil-A is an expression of biblical Christian principles. To penalize an organization on the basis of its CEO’s religious views but not similarly penalize churches would effectively establish buildings of worship as free speech “safe zones.” Is this really the America we want to live in? I doubt it. The fact that Menino and Emanuel even seek such power is more indicative of a desire to silence and exclude those with whom they disagree then it is to preserve genuine tolerance. Perhaps for once the bigotry is coming from the other side.
            Under current discrimination laws, this is an open-and-shut case. The law would only criminalize Dan Cathy if he a) refused to hire homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation, or b) refused to serve homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Neither case is in sight. Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the ACLU, notes:
“The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is punish someone for their words. When an alderman (a local zoning official) refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.”
            Yet, the shift in America is, I believe, moving in that direction. Today’s moral zeitgeist eventually shapes tomorrow’s Supreme Court precedent, and although it may seem like whining, there seems to be a particular intolerance of historic, confessional Christianity. Quite apart from international martyrdom (such as the persecutions in North India, the 2 million dead in Southern Sudan, the 8,500 killed in the last four years in Indonesia, or the pastors who quietly disappear in Iran almost monthly), the spirit of such outbreaks are subtly blowing on our shores. Lawsuits are brought against Christian organizations daily--the Menino/Emanuel gaff was a drop in the bucket of discrimination complaints brought against Christians (including, but not limited to: Boy Scouts of America, Christian campus groups who don’t allow practicing homosexuals, atheists or Muslims to engage in leadership positions [Vanderbilt is only the most recent in a slew of such cases], Churches ousted from renting public places, Christian adoption agencies forced to close down because they do not condone homosexual parents adopting children, Christian hospitals and schools forced to cover Plan-B and other abortifacients, pastors forced to proceed over homosexual marriages, etc.) And these are merely cases brought on paper. For now, Christians seem to be winning most of these cases, but the frequency with which they are brought points to a shifting trend in how we as a nation understand religious liberty.
And these are just court cases--they’re “on paper” and say nothing of, for example, “artwork” like Pisschrist, the virgin Mary coming out of a vagina, Mary encased in a condom, a portrait of the Archangel Gabriel handing Mary a coat hanger for an abortion, or artwork aside, pop-culture guru Perez Hilton’s astounding remarks about Carrie Prejean, among countless others (I could offer quite a list of examples). Do not misunderstand me--I am not suggesting that such speech be censored. I simply wonder a) At what point will we see anti-discrimination laws trump religious liberties, as more and more people believe they are increasingly in tension, and (I’m going to stick my neck out here) b) What would happen if the left played as loose and fast with Muslim or Jewish figures and symbols? (Recall the Danish cartoon incident depicting the prophet Muhammad, which saw its author receiving multiple death threats.) Provided Christian conservatives are being bashed, few are excited enough to notice, and if they do object, they’re quietly ignored with a dismissive wave.[5]
            Lest my gripe take center stage, suffice it to say that religious expression is being threatened by rhetoric used to bully Christian conservatives out of the public square, even if that rhetoric has not yet filtered down into the interpretation of our laws. The free speech outcry from the right is a reaction against rhetorical bullying. I will address this more below, but it’s terribly difficult for someone in favor of traditional marriage to voice her or his opinion on the matter without being labeled a hate-filled bigot. It used to be that this sort of name-calling was handled by tenured academics or shock-entertainment media pundits. Now, it is simply assumed to be a mark of journalistic integrity, “calling it like it is,” and the name-calling has taken on new life behind the safety of keyboards, illusive screen names, and social media. The left attacks the person while the right is busy attacking the position. I’ll come back to that point--it’s the heart of this piece.
                       
2) Boycotts, though important forms of expression, are trending towards overuse.
            The intentionally unnamed “protester” was dubbed the New York Times’ 2011 Person of the Year for a reason. With the onset of the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, mass demonstrations broadcast from the Middle East, relatively frequent uprisings in Greece and similar youth uprisings in the Eurozone, protesting is back en vogue. This is not by itself a good or bad thing. After all, protests can be hate-filled (KKK rallies in Skokie, IL) or necessary--especially in civil disobedience (i.e., the Civil Rights Movement, protesting colonial imperialism, etc.)
            To be clear, boycotting organizations can be a perfectly legitimate way of having a positive impact on society. But if boycotts or protesters adopt voices where vitriol is normative and civil, thoughtful discourse takes a backseat to rhetorical hostility, then it ought to be for extremely good reason and even rarer in circumstance.
            Jonathan Merritt, in his article on boycotts and Chick-Fil-A, hits the nail on the head:
“On both sides of our latest culture war divide, we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts. As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, ‘businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.’ ”
Certainly boycotts against business can in some instances be warranted. After all, one's politics influence one's practices, and consumers' reactions to this can be a good and healthy thing. And, if Chick-Fil-A were treating homosexual customers differently, or offering different people different products, or acting discriminatory in their transactions, I'd be right there with the boycotters against Chick-Fil-A.
But that's simply not what's happening. Rather than boycotting immoral business practice, we're boycotting the company CEO's political/religious stance. Again I insist, a CEO's stance can affect how their business operates. But with Chick-Fil-A, as far as I am aware, they have an astounding customer service track record and treat all customers equally by offering everyone the same good old chicken sandwich. They are hardly a poster child for discrimination.
People will weigh issues that are important to them differently. For some people, they'll drive the extra mile past Wal-mart to buy a product made in America, or pay the extra dollar for organic produce. Others will drive past Chick-Fil-A and opt for Burger King instead. Everyone must make their own purchasing choices. If a person is terribly offended by the CEO of Chick-Fil-A's stance for a Biblical definition of marriage, that person is perfectly in their rights to boycott the restaurant and not shop there for food.
But what Merritt is getting at is this: the fact that we so constantly feel the need to demonize those with whom we disagree with accusations of hate speech or threats of boycotts is evidence of our impoverishment in moral discourse. We can only use the language of "hate-filled, homophobic bigots" who stand against "our rights"--words so often thrown around without asking tough questions about what those words really mean (Where do they come from? Why do we have them? By whose authority are they secured?). Calling people bigots for their stance on gay marriage has powerful impact in the hearts and minds of the people, and I fear this negativity aimed at persons rather than positions is becoming commonplace. The result is that political division is sharper and harsher--we assume the worst in those with whom we disagree, which in turn undermines civil discourse.
Merritt's point is to underscore this cycle and challenge it.
I insist again--if a business is engaging in immoral practice, there is an important place for boycotts and the language of evil. But that's not what we're dealing with--we're dealing with different religious perspectives and different political views that, as far as I can tell, have not impacted Chick-Fil-A's customer service. Pushed to its logical limit, we would probably have to stop shopping with at least half of the companies where we get our goods if we insist that the CEO's of the companies we buy from share our political/religious views. That's fine if a person wants to research who their local dry cleaners’ CEO supports. But I'm not sure that it's always the most helpful first recourse.
Of course, there are liberal versions of company donations to causes I may not agree with. Starbucks largely supports liberal causes. Microsoft, one of the wealthiest companies in the world, supports the most liberal news station in America. This won't stop me from buying a PC for $200 if the competitor from Apple is $1,000. I may disagree with their political contributions, but I'm not prepared to demonize people or organizations for this. If Starbucks makes good lates, they make good lates. Despite their vocal support for same-sex marriage, I just can’t get around the fact that Oreo simply makes the best cookie in the world.
On the other hand, suppose Microsoft started using slave labor--we would have a very different argument on our hands. But as it stands, I could buy a PC and not boycott Microsoft just because the organization supports pro-choice candidates. I enjoy my Oreo cookie without a guilty conscience (unless I eat more than two).
Pushed to its logical limit, we'd have to investigate the beliefs of every CEO we buy from. I find this mildly silly, as it imposes an intolerable burden on the conscience of consumers.
I suppose what the left is protesting, then, are Chick-Fil-A’s donations to “anti-gay” groups that “promote hatred and bigotry.” Of course, nobody denies that the institutions Chick-Fil-A has donated to have been Christian organizations trying to stand on Biblical principles. This has never been secret, even before Cathy's comments. The question is, isn't that Chick-Fil-A's right? Should we be looking to silence them? You may disagree with who they give funding to, and you may choose not to eat there in disapproval. We choose our battles, of course, and for the left, this is clearly a battle to be chosen (on par with Civil Rights issues). But understand at the same time that good people on both sides can disagree about the ethics of the federal government blessing homosexual unions as "marriage," [6] as well as the prospect of “gay rights” being today’s Civil Rights movement.[7]
More to the point: The groups to whom Chick-Fil-A donates are not "anti-gay hate groups." Some of them are pro traditional family groups, but there are many Christian organizations to which the restaurant donates that, as Merritt's article points out, fund good causes: foster care, high school programs, after school care, kids camps, and scholarships for employees to go to college who otherwise couldn't afford it. Personally, I would include funding pro-traditional family causes in the "good" category, but that's not the point. If we are trying to force Chick into a place where they should not donate freely according to their Christian convictions, understand that these other donations, too, would go out the window. To Cathy, these donations are (all) natural outworkings of Christian faith, and I tend to agree with him. So, when we say Chick-Fil-A funds hate groups that promote bigotry, I find we are painting with far too broad a brush. Nor do I accept that these groups promote "bigotry"--even the pro "traditional Biblical model for family" groups--because that would assume intolerance. These are not intolerant groups just because they disagree with particular lifestyle or behavioral patterns.
I suspect that last statement will be the most contentious. Questioning contemporary notions of tolerance is incredibly taboo--rude--lacking in good taste. So here we go.

3) We must expose faulty premises in contemporary definitions of “tolerance.”
            Dr. D.A. Carson has written eloquently on the subject in his little book The Intolerance of Tolerance. By all means, poke it up on Amazon--this point is by extension.
            What is tolerance? What is a bigot? Christian conservatives are commonly called “intolerant bigots” when we voice our beliefs in favor of biblical marriage, family structures, salvation through Christ alone, etc. Calling someone an “intolerant bigot” is a powerful charge. A bigot is “a person who is intolerant of differing beliefs, creeds or opinions.” In other words, one’s definition of “bigot” is intrinsically tied to one’s definition of tolerance/intolerance.
But tolerance has been so redefined (for reasons that I do not have time to go into here, but that Dr. Carson lays out thoroughly in his earlier work on epistemology) that today it means something like this: “You must not say that someone else is wrong/living wrongly. If you say someone is wrong/living wrongly, you’re intolerant.”
Contrast an older definition of tolerance, best articulated by Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” Notice the subtle but crucial difference between the two definitions--in contemporary tolerance, we are tolerant not of individuals--we are tolerant of all positions. Under Voltaire’s definition, I might object that what you’re saying is wrong, stupid, corrupt, or ignorant, and yet, I insist on your (the individual’s) right to speak. The tolerance is aimed at all persons, while there is ample room remaining for robust disagreement. Under this classical definition of tolerance, you can defend almost anybody saying almost anything in the public square.
But because we so unquestioningly embrace the new tolerance and have only the remnant of a tolerance for the individual, we are comfortable with such powerful language demonizing a man like Cathy with whom we disagree. The attacks are on Cathy’s person--he is “a bigot, an anti-gay fundamentalist, a homophobe, gay-hater, etc.” Recall Cathy’s response to the criticism he received: “We’re not anti-anybody...While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.” Cathy disagrees with the views but respects the individuals.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are typically still functioning with an old definition of tolerance. The majority of us get confused and feel hurt/wrongly slandered when we’re called homophobic gay-haters. We’re busy saying things like, “Wait...but I don’t hate/fear gay people...I love the homosexual community and I don’t wish them any harm. I simply disagree with them on gay marriage and consider premarital sexual expression to be morally suspect.” [8] So both parties feel hurt and both parties wind up talking past one another.
I find it deeply unfortunate that many who read this post will have no other means of processing these points other than to dismiss them as hatred. This is anecdotal, and I certainly can’t prove it, but “hatred” or “fear” are simply not what I feel in my heart towards anyone I disagree with. While I may seek passionately to persuade others, I must never force my beliefs on anyone, or coerce with deception. If I say that “I believe such-and-such an action is morally wrong,” I am, in response, met with character charges--I am “full of hatred” or “homophobic.” Why? Because at the end of the day, we believe so deeply that nobody deserves to be offended, or to have their moral and sexual freedom challenged.
What is a bigot? A bigot is a person who seeks to silence others because they find contrary opinions too objectionable--they are intolerant (old definition) of others’ beliefs, opinions, or creeds. So I ask: Who is trying to silence whom? Who is really a bigot?

Epilogue: Compromise and Ways Forward
This post is not intended to be a forum on the legitimacy of homosexual marriage. I’m happy to discuss it, but my aim here is to question the rhetoric used by the left, especially in light of the most recent Chick-Fil-A mess. But, I suspect that as you’re reading this, if you’re a supporter of same-sex marriage, or if you identify as homosexual, you may be more interested in discussing the case for homosexual marriage than the nuances of rhetoric. Of course, careful, thoughtful, engaging, loving conversation will eventually take the conversation there anyway. If that’s the case, even while I’m not going to address the matter in this post with the time and care it deserves, perhaps we could find some preliminary common ground and compromise, in the name of progressive civil discourse.
Perhaps the libertarian argument (and I'm not a libertarian, by the way) could offer such a compromise. When the founding fathers laid out their plans for how the country would work, they envisioned a multiplicity of state and local governments acting as laboratories of sorts, trying out different paths and allowing people to move freely from state to state according to how they personally believe. I would concede, as compromise, allowing states to vote according to how their people decide the state should define homosexual unions. I would choose to live in a state that did not recognize such unions, but others would be at liberty to live in a state that did.
This is what conservatives mean when you hear them say that same-sex marriage views are being "forced" on them--they are forced to legally recognize unions as marriage in a way that offends the individual's conscience. (And it gets worse--very soon, I do believe we'll see lawsuits against Pastors and Priests who cannot, in accordance with Scripture or in good conscience, wed a homosexual couple. What a terrible breach of liberty!) What two people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is none of the government's business, but I'm not sure it should be in the business of blessing such acts, either. Suppose you reject this proposed compromise on the basis of "universal human rights." Fine, but allow for disagreement. (Again, one might well ask where such rights come from, or on whose authority they are guaranteed.)
Here is another possible "bipartisan" way forward: For whatever couples (homosexual or heterosexual) that the government decides to offer certain tax benefits to, define them all as "civil unions" and leave the institution of "marriage" strictly to the Church. As a private institution, they can define "marriage" as they please--it could count as one form of "civil unions," and the government can maintain "civil unions" outside of the Church. In other words, get the government out of defining "marriage" all together. Now, I'm not totally comfortable with either of these paths, but that's what compromises are, right?


[1] To be fair, not all liberals have taken their Chick-Fil-A boycott so far. In fact, many liberals have rightly come to Chick-Fil-A’s defense and reprimanded Menino and Emanuel for abusing their power. The ACLU--no friend to the evangelical community--has defended Chick’s right to obtain building permits despite its position on gay marriage. After all, if businesses can be blocked because of their objection to gay marriage, they can similarly be blocked for their support as well. We rightly identify a slippery slope in blocking businesses from opening because of the views of business owners. Think of it this way: Supposing the CEO of Wendy’s restaurants had disclosed his donations to pro-choice organizations--should a conservative mayor have the power to deny Wendy’s restaurants building permits on the grounds that she believes her city is predominantly pro-life?
[2] Christian conservatives are often ostracised in the media and academia for claiming that secularization is undermining religious liberties. Liberals typically dismiss this as myth-making, since we are in many ways becoming, they say, more religious--churches are still extant, some are growing in number, and most Americans still believe in some sort of God. The number of Americans who reject evolution yet believe in hell, they say, is staggering. But this is a misunderstanding of what conservatives mean by secularization. We speak of secularization, not as the abolition of religion but as the marginalization of religion; the exclusively privatized religion. That Christians even need to clarify this point is itself indicative of the trend towards privatization.
[3] What did MLK Jr. say? Did he say, “If everybody would only reason from secular places, we’d be a lot better off”? No, he said just the opposite: he exhorted us to get closer to, more in touch with, our commitment to Christ. Was the Jewish community thereby excluded? Hardly. He called on everyone to similarly get in touch with the resources available in their faith communities and bring them into the public square. Helpful in thinking through the pragmatism of merging faith-based rationale with the public square during the Civil Rights movement has been Chappells analysis.
[4] I speak primarily of Christianity because that’s my frame of reference, but I welcome Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and naturalists as comrades in the public square, equally able to reason from their faith (or no faith) communities, provided our legislative conclusions finally sit under the Constitution.
[5] I am not suggesting that other groups are not discriminated against. I can only imagine what loneliness a Muslim must feel when they’re walking through an airport. I can only imagine the struggling conscience of a young Sikh asked to remove his turban at school. For me, here, I’m simply saying that religious minority groups do not have a monopoly on discrimination. Moreover, in the public eye, there is a fundamental difference with respect to how such violence is reported to and read by the public. Violence against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews is easily and commonly lamented--recognizably indefensible, save fringe bloggers and commentators whom almost nobody takes seriously anyway. Hatred and rhetorical violence against Christians, however, is particularly sinister, since, even while it is not as typically coupled with physical violence, nevertheless basks in the glow of public approval.
[6] Whether or not they should be in the business of blessing any union as marriage, or whether this is the exclusive prerogative of the Church, is another can of worms that I'll let pass.
[7] There have been, for example, very vocal African-American Christians who not only support the biblical definition of marriage, but are incensed by the parallels drawn between the gay rights movement and the Civil Rights movement.
[8] The left, of course, argues back by simply saying that if heterosexual couples can get married but homosexual couples are denied the same right, it’s simply not fair and people are not being treated equally. To them, it is quite obviously a form of discrimination. I will not take the time to respond to this point here, since this post is not really about same-sex marriage. But it is important for my conservative counterparts to hear and feel the weight of this objection.

5 comments:

  1. Dillon, what a thoughtful post on this. I was particularly fascinated with your breakdown of the rhetoric and free speech rights. I would really like to talk with you more about this. great post!

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  2. People are boycotting them because they use their proceeds to donate to "pray the gay away" type organizations. I would not want my money going to something like that. Also, I don't think its fair for you to categorize those who support gay marriage as liberals, because I am definitely a conservative, but you bet I support gay marriage.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hey Jill, thanks for the response. I guess just two quick points.

      First, the point of this piece was not so much to ask why CFA is being protested, or even to defend the organizations they donate to. (I personally think the causes they donate to are productive, and list many of their benefits under point 2.) I just don't think that boycotts are always the most productive response as a first recourse when there's disagreement for reasons I listed above, and I provided some liberal counterexamples (Oreos, Microsoft, Starbucks). I suppose we could discuss a particular point or example you take issue with, but as I said, you're perfectly in your right to choose not to buy from CFA if it offends your conscience.
      *The point of this piece, rather, was to raise the question about whether or not the left's rhetorical tact is appropriate in attacks on the individual rather than the position, especially in thinking through what "tolerance" actually means.* It's an attempt at clarity, since I do believe both sides wind up talking past each other for this very reason. I also find it readily apparent that there's bullying of Christian conservatives going on, and I tried to provide some preliminary evidences of that.

      Second, while it's true that there certainly are some conservatives who favor same-sex marriage (as well as some liberals who oppose it), the fact is that the majority of proponents are disproportionally liberal, while the majority of folks who question SSM's ethical tenability are disproportionately conservative, and this piece is aimed at that general audience. I tried to be careful to specify that I was talking about *Christian* conservatives in particular, which adds another wrinkle to it. Yet, I recognize there are many (theologically) liberal Christians, who believe themselves politically conservative, who nevertheless side with liberals on certain social issues. Bottom line--people are complex, and don't always hold consistent views (including me, I'm sure). I didn't mean to minimize the diversity of opinions here. I plan on addressing the question of (theologically) liberal Christian objections to conservatives' hesitancy on SSM (i.e., "Jesus never forbade homosexuality", "Leviticus also condemns shell fish, so why does the right pick and choose morality from the Bible", "Jesus was about love and unity, and told his followers not to judge," etc. The "Biblical" arguments favoring SSM are plentiful and, IMO, not very...nuanced. Not sure if that's what you had in mind as a conservative supporting gay marriage. Maybe you're referring to those who are economically conservative but socially liberal (I'm aware you hold other liberal stances on other critical social issues as well, but this may not be the proper forum to take you to task on those). But you make a good point--there's a lot of diversity of opinions out there and I didn't interact with as many as I could have. This piece was aimed at a general audience, so I admit I painted with a broad brush at times.

      In some ways, at the popular level, I guess we're less conscious consumers of rhetoric. Even popular TV shows like The View, Modern Family, GLEE, How I Met Your Mother (a show I love, btw), among countless others, are quick to vilify those who just want to "stand in the way of true love" and crash the gay-marriage party, while glorifying SSM as normative. Maybe conservatives are love party-poopers, maybe they aren't--my point is, I can't help but wonder how much the shift of popular opinion owes to popular TV, media pundits, liberal intellectuals, and an increasingly powerful government that's more interested in giving people what they want (including unfettered sexual expression) in their fight to retain and expand power (Menino & Emanuel?)

      Thanks for the read, Jill!

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  3. Not to be argumentative, but are you suggesting that I (or others) who support gay marriage do so because of the TV we watch?? Because that is far from the truth. It is because I have experienced the world of marriage and raising a family, and I want my loved ones who are homosexual to be able to experience one of the best things life has to offer.

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    1. Well, no, not at all. Sorry, I probably should have been more clear. I'm suggesting that the media inevitably impacts our views, and characters holding views typically considered in line with Christian conservatism are often vilified as raining on everybody's love parade, as if the reason we object to SSM were to try and withhold one of life's greatest blessings simply out of spite. This portrayal has an impact. When I examine the rhetoric of popular media (and I could offer numerous examples), I think it'd be naive to suggest that they *don't* impact our views, whether subtly or powerfully--directly or indirectly. Truth be told, such influence is inevitable, and I'm quite sure that I've been similarly influenced myself.
      This is anecdotal, but when I in turn look at my Facebook feed or read Twitter posts, or read blogs written by SSM advocates, most of what I read are blanket appeals to "equal rights" (gosh, that sounds so good--who could be against that?), or Christian conservatives are folks just standing in the way of true love--we're cold, and we really should just get out of the way and let people be. After all, if heterosexuals can marry, why shouldn't homosexuals? But its the superficiality of these objections (strong language coupled with emotional appeal tends to suffocate nuance) and the frequency with which they are raised that makes me question whether or not, at some level, we're being influenced in these ways.
      (Christian conservative responses, I'm sorry to say, are often just as superficial, and sometimes down-right mean-spirited, without a clue as to how they are being heard--things said like "Life doesn't come from you," or "God hates you, you wicked sinner, you." I detest such superficiality just as mch, and believe me--I've taken to task friends who use such language.)
      That said, I have no reason to believe that those in favor of SSM are only so because they're simply "brainwashed by TV" or something, I wouldn't suggest that for a moment, and I apologize--I should have been more clear. People are clearly more complex than that, and I understand the weight of appeals to equity and justice; I do hope that I've responded in kind. If I've said something offensive, I do apologize. But if the offense is taken at my voicing my personal view supporting traditional definitions of marriage, then I'm afraid that that's something I cannot apologize for. We may also have different understandings of precisely what "marriage" is. But my question to you is this: Do you think less of me as a *person* for supporting a traditional definition of marriage? Are you so offended by this? If so, where is tolerance? What of the freedom to disagree, yet insist on civility in discourse? If you were to think less of me as a person, the divide between us is likely to be sharper and our words harsher. I do hope we can at least agree that this is to be avoided.
      I cannot stress enough that this post is not the proper forum for a debate on the legitimacy of SSM. My point is about rhetoric, how we respond to it, and how it is being abused, in this instance, by the left. The right has been just as guilty at times, but at the end of the day, I love those with whom I disagree--gay, straight, bisexual, male, female, young, old, liberal, or fellow conservative. Can you (metaphorical "you") say the same?

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