Monday, July 13, 2015

It isn't “love” when you're hurting people...

Love is kind, love is patient...
love wants to take your rights?
After the SCOTUS decided that gay Americans are protected under the constitution too – and so deserve the same marriage rights as straight Americans – there's been a noticeable shift in the winds from some corners of the anti-LGBT Christian community. Not that minds have changed, of course, but rather that the tone being promoted by many has softened: it's a lot less “Westboro Baptist” and a lot more “concerned friend.”

There's always been the “hate the sin, love the sinner” nonsense, of course. But that's tended to focus a lot more on the hate, with the love being the caveat that (supposedly) makes it all better: hey, don't call me a bigot, man; I hate that you're gay, because that's disgusting, evil, and totally icky...but I totally love you!

After the initial impotent, sputtering indignation following the ruling, some thunderstruck conservative Christians seem to be trying to figure out a different approach. Unfortunately, they're attempting to figure out a new way to say exactly the same thing, in support of exactly the same positions: in short, a more palatable excuse for fighting to deprive gay Americans of equal protection under the Constitution.

And while some of the results have been so absurd as to border on self-parody, the tone softening deserves a closer look. Following the ruling, Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today, for instance, offered this exhortation to Christians bemoaning this “re-definition” of marriage:
As we live in a culture that has just defined marriage in a way contrary to what evangelicals and others believe, we must understand that, as Christians, we aren't the only ones who care about marriage. As a result, we must keep in mind that discussions surrounding the definition of marriage carry a lot of emotions and must be handled with care.

As evangelicals contend for the definition of marriage in spheres outside the law (that is settled now), we must keep in mind truth is often not heard if it's not communicated in love. If we want to be heard, we should communicate in a way worth hearing.

Mark Galli (also at Christianity Today) hoped Christians would take this defeat as an opportunity to re-engage LGBT people. The National Association of Evangelicals' statement mourned that “the legal definition of marriage...is now at variance with orthodox biblical faith as it has been affirmed across the centuries and as it is embraced today by nearly two billion Christians in every nation on earth” … but they encouraged

...Evangelicals and other followers of the Bible have a heightened opportunity to demonstrate the attractiveness of loving Christian marriages and families. Evangelicals should renew their commitment to the sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness to which Jesus calls all husbands and wives.
As witnesses to the truth, evangelicals should be gracious and compassionate to those who do not share their views on marriage.
Bob Lepine at Family Life spent a good deal of space calling out the angry, hateful approach Christians have embraced toward homosexuality, and calls instead for Christians to “reach out with compassion” following the ruling. But, again, at no point are we talking bridge building and acceptance. As Lepine writes,
I believe in the months and years to come, there will be people who have either sampled or participated actively in homosexual activities who are going to be looking for a way to deal with their shame and their guilt. They are going to be looking for a way out of the lifestyle. Would these people even think to look to the church for help? Would they think of us as "kind people who really care about me" or as angry, hate-filled men and women who will only make them feel more ashamed of where they have been? Are we preparing ourselves as the church to be ready to provide help and hope to those who will be seeking a way out?
So the tone is definitely, in some quarters, shifting -- or, at least, we're seeing the gloves-on approach promoted more often. There are still the presidential candidates who are vocally advocating means of reviving marriage inequality (including Wisconsin's own Sarah Palin Scott Walker). There is still ample rage and hateful commentary to be found. But there's also a kinder, gentler face emerging. 

But is it really? Certainly, the rhetoric is being toned down. But is rhetoric the problem?

I don't think so. Language is important, but the fight over marriage equality wasn't a fight over how we talked about it. Conservatives' vitriol might have contributed to the change in public opinion by alienating people, but the problem wasn't that gay people were denied their rights in a hostile manner; the problem was that people were denied rights based on their sexual orientation. And that's the sort of thing a smile can't fix.

This gets really interesting when it's all put forth in a “we're doing it for your own good” framework. Bolstered by witnesses like these (the market for a “gay de-conversion” story is as strong as it ever was, I guess), I've seen this line more frequently these days. Like Bob Lepine argues, the Church has to be there to “help” gay people overcome their “lifestyle”.

It would be bad enough if the “help” conservative Christians had in mind was inflicting self-hate and shame on people – all for the sake of redeeming them, naturally! But as we've already seen, and as the Republican front-runners are keen to remind us, they're not just intent on inflicting emotional anguish. The rash of “religious freedom” bills we saw when conservatives began to realize they might lose on the marriage front is a good indicator that even if they accept, of necessity, that marriage equality is here to stay (a position that even now is disputed by many GOP presidential candidates), conservatives are going to fight tooth and nail to continue discriminating as long as possible.

Which brings me to the point of my title. Conservative Christians have been, are, and will likely continue for some time, fighting to make gay Americans' lives hell. Conservatives may tell themselves that it's all for a good cause, that they're just trying to save gay people from an eternity in hell, that this is just a brand of tough love, that they have to be cruel to be kind...but at the end of the day, if you work to ostracize, isolate, shame and persecute someone; if you try to legalize discrimination against a subset of your fellow Americans, and try to deprive them of equal protection and rights under the law; if you throw a tantrum when you can no longer legally control the behavior of other people; if you think you should be able to deprive someone of a consenting relationship, of a family, of legal benefits and general dignity; if you think you should be free to imply that a person's love for another consenting adult makes him or her a monster and a threat; that's not a manifestation of love. And insisting that you're only doing it because you love the person so very much is not just duplicitous, it's creepy as hell. It's the kind of rationalization an abuser offers, and with the same justification: none.

Because you don't hurt the people you love. And if you do, it's not love. No matter how many times that you insist it is, or how wide your smile as you say it...

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