I came across this on twitter this morning:
First, we lost the art of critical thinking; then, the art of dialogue; then, the civility of disagreement. Now, to disagree is called hate.
— Glenn Packiam (@gpackiam) August 16, 2012
My initial reaction was a resounding YES. It's not difficult, in an age of sound bites, status updates, and screeds, to recognize that our discourse has deteriorated. I lament the ugliness as much as anyone but also the peculiarly Christian tendency (related to the gospel of playing nice) of equating honest criticism with hate. I see it online among believers even when the disagreement is cordial.
I don't follow this pastor or know the context in which he typed the tweet, but it went a bit viral, and suddenly I had a sinking suspicion that maybe it resonated with some for other reasons, possibly related to the embarrassment that was "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" earlier this month.
There's been plenty of insistence lately from Christians that their vehemence against the "gay lifestyle" is not hatred, and perhaps it isn't directly. Plenty of people honestly want to love God and their neighbors, and their beliefs aren't motivated by hate so much as a desire to be faithful. If we long for understanding and elevating the discourse, it might be helpful if critics on both sides experimented with the practice of assigning positive intent (while recognizing that the stakes are considerably higher for some and that calling someone a bigot is not equal at all to acting like one).
But does it really matter what one's motivations are if what we're taking about practically is denying legal protections to fellow citizens and families?
Marriage is not only a religious symbol or sacrament. In this conversation it is critical to remember that marriage is the exclusive avenue for couples and families to obtain myriad legal rights that straight folks largely take for granted in everything from health care to insurance, survivor benefits, adoption, parenting, guardianship, and so much more.
The right to marry is not equivalent to the right to marry in X place of worship. If gay couples are granted the same legal benefits as their straight peers, religious communities would still be able to decide who to marry [straight couples, members, couples previously unmarried, those not co-habitating, ones who submit to premarital counseling, etc.] according to their convictions, just as always.
(If we were feeling especially honest, Christians might admit that the "biblical" definition of marriage isn't quite as traditional as we've let on: polygamy, concubines, child brides, sex with slaves/servants, taking women as spoils of war, and forced marriage all appear within the biblical narrative.)
Christians like to raise the persecution banner and decry how unfairly we've been accused of hate, but would we have to defend ourselves from such accusations if we were actually known for our love?
- What if we took time to listen to the voices and stories of queer Christians and others?
- What if our churches reached out to homeless teens, a staggering 40% of whom may identify as gay or trans*?
- What if our youth ministries were safe and welcoming places for all kids? What if we were known for our firm anti-bullying stance instead of quiet complicity?
- What if Christians shut up about homosexuality altogether and got on with the unsexy everyday of loving God and people, like Jesus did?
After all, it won't be our chicken or bumper stickers that show the world that we're Jesus' disciples but his love in us, poured out abundantly and overflowing.
Love is the narrow path and the light to guide the Way.