A Culture War Versailles
But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.
I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s not something a free society should try to control by law. There is a big difference between legal coercion and cultural isolation. The former should be anathema – whether that coercion is aimed at gays or at fundamentalist Christians. The latter? It’s the price of freedom. The way to counter it is not, in my view, complaints about being victims (this was my own advice to the gay rights movement a couple of decades ago, for what it’s worth). The way to counter it is to make a positive argument about the superior model of a monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marital bond. There is enormous beauty and depth to the Catholic argument for procreative matrimony – an account of sex and gender and human flourishing that contains real wisdom. I think that a church that was able to make that positive case – rather than what is too often a merely negative argument about keeping gays out, or the divorced in limbo – would and should feel liberated by its counter-cultural message.
The problem with this is not that trads are losing the argument. We clearly have. I can live with that, and indeed accepted as early as five or six years ago that this was going to happen. Seriously, I did; if all the old Beliefnet archives were still online, you could look it up. No, the problem is that the victors in this war seem bound and determined to impose the most humiliating possible terms on the losers. This is not going to end well.
Andrew asks us to make a “positive case,” but I submit to him that this is impossible now. The climate that now exists, and that will only grow in intensity, is one in which any dissent from the pro-gay consensus, no matter how nuanced or irenically stated, amounts to “hate” that cannot be tolerated. Error Has No Rights. Conor Friedersdorf, who supports gay marriage, writes about the phenomenon of pro-SSM supporters attributing all opposition to hatred and bigotry, and how unfair that is. Excerpt:
Set aside for a moment the tension here between individual liberty and non-discrimination law. Whether you think the New Mexico Supreme Court decided the case rightly or wrongly, that is separate from the question of what motivated Elaine Huguenin. I’ve never met the woman. None of us can look inside her heart. But her petition presents a perfectly plausible account of why she would refuse to photograph same-sex weddings for perfectly common religious reasons that have nothing to do with fear of gays, intolerance toward gays, or hatred of gay people.
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has spent an appreciable amount of time around practicing Christians. In such circles, there are plenty of ugly attitudes toward gays and lesbians, as well as lots of people who think gay and lesbian sex and marriage is sinful, but who bear no ill will toward gays and lesbians themselves. I wish even the latter group would reconsider. I don’t regard homosexuality as sinful. Unlike my friends in the orthodox Catholic community, I don’t regard sex before marriage or masturbation or the use of contraceptives or failing to attend Sunday Mass as sinful either. Knowing those Catholic friends neither fear me nor treat me with intolerance nor bear hatred toward me, it’s easy for me to see how they could view gay sex or marriage as sinful without hating gays or lesbians.
Care should be taken before alleging hatred, partly out of fairness to the accused, but also because it’s awful to feel hated. Telling a group that an incident or dispute is rooted in bigotry when evidence supports a different conclusion increases the perception of being hated more than reality justifies. Dealing with the amount of actual hatefulness in America is already hard enough.
The eagerness with which pro-SSM folks are willing to believe the absolute worst about those who oppose them is appalling, and when you think about what this is likely to mean for the near future, deeply depressing. For many of them, it is not enough that we are wrong; we must also be purely evil. I received an e-mail yesterday from a gay man seeking to know how I could oppose SSM. I told him that I was disinclined to have a dialogue with him, because dialogue almost always ends up with his side telling my side how evil we are, end of story. He went on to say that in reading my writing about SSM, it seems to him that gay people would think I’m the sort of person who is
like the rest of the religious folks who condemn them to hell and would (and have publicly advocated for) have them executed or at least rounded up and put away, for the children of course.
Where do you even begin with this? I believe in civil unions, but otherwise believe what the overwhelming majority of people in this country believed until a period beginning about 20 years ago. I believe what the president of the United States professed to believe until about two years ago. Where was the gay gulag? Where were the prayer rallies asking God to send us a gay Holocaust? The thought here seems to be that all Christians are members of the Westboro Baptist Church. This is the precise equivalent of wild-eyed Christians believing the smear that all gays are pederastic predators. What self-respecting — what sane — gay person would bother talking to someone who approaches the conversation assuming that he, the gay person, is a pedophile until proven otherwise? It’s nuts. There is no point in engaging in talk with someone who can read the things I’ve written defending my position and believe that I would subject gay people to mass murder or life in a concentration camp.
The more interesting question here is why would someone want to believe that about his fellow countrymen, when there is absolutely no evidence that anyone not on the far radical fringe would endorse something as wicked as what he thinks is mainstream among Christians?
But this is where we are with many people in this country, both gay and straight, regarding the conversation. (For the record, before you read it in Slate or Salon, it is not true that Christians make our communion wafers with the blood of stolen gay babies.) It’s a moral panic, and what’s even crazier about it is that it gets worse as the gay rights cause solidifies its victory. This is the cultural climate in which a news organization like the Associated Press feels comfortable distributing a photo of Christian children who are part of a non-gay pseudo-Scout troop falsely appearing to give a fascist salute, and in which one of the country’s most prominent religion journalist sends out a tweet likening this kids to Hitler Youth. (N.B., the AP withdrew the photo under fire, and the journalist apologized.) We can all make mistakes, and do. The point is the eagerness among the media and gay rights supporters to demonize anyone who dissents. The formerly oppressed become the oppressors, and believe that the perceived righteousness of their cause excuses anything. It’s an old, old story. And it’s also an old, old story that this kind of suppression feeds radicalism.
If Andrew believes that Christians should tell positive stories, then the best thing he can do for us dissenters, now that he is on the verge of victory (and I can’t think of a single figure who has done more than he has to achieve victory), is to explain to his side what he perfectly well knows from being friends with Ross and me: that not every Christian who opposes same-sex marriage is a hater, and it does none of us any good to pretend that they are.
UPDATE: I heard from a pastor this morning who said a parishioner approached him last week to ask his advice. His parishioner said that a colleague in his workplace is openly gay, and keeps pestering him to declare his views on same-sex marriage. The parishioner is a traditional Christian who doesn’t believe in SSM, but he also doesn’t believe the workplace is where this sort of thing should be discussed. The parishioner just wants to get on with his work, but the colleague, who is in a semi-supervisory capacity, won’t let it drop. The parishioner said that the climate in his workplace — a business that has nothing to do with marriage or social issues — has shifted to where one is expected to declare one’s support for SSM, or be suspected of harboring hateful views. The parishioner just wants to be left alone, but he doesn’t want to be accused of being ashamed of his religious views. He wanted to know what he should do.
This is coming. What is wrong with policing a work colleague’s behavior, not his thoughts? If the parishioner were treating gay colleagues disrespectfully or otherwise unjustly, then sanction him. And if not, what business is it of anybody’s if he’s guilty of thoughtcrime?