OK so what’s this to do with me? I live on a small Island about 4,000 miles from the nearest Chick-fil-A, in fact until recently I didn’t even know how to pronounce that brand name. Similarly the consensus of government, media and most of the people I know is that (a) LGBTQ represents an identifiable minority group and (b) as such they should be afforded at the very least some basic legal protections against discrimination in access to housing, employment and government services.
So I have watched this silly-season story run and run, and have seen some good points expressed as well as some rather immature ones, I have seen attempts to be a peacemaker and other attempts to pour hot chicken fat on the flames. As an outsider to the “culture wars” I have at times been baffled – especially it seems when only one side claims to be engaged in warfare and the other claims to be seeking to live in peaceful harmony – can you have a war when the other side doesn’t turn up to fight?
What do I have to say about the whole thing?
Well firstly on hatin’ – I really do believe that most of the people on the conservative evangelical side of the conversation really don’t feel a hatred for gay people. They may feel some level of disgust – the “ick” factor, and some degree of bafflement – they why-would-you- want-to factor, and also to some extent feel under a duty to oppose, whether in obedience to prominent leaders, or to their honest desire to be faithful to what they believe the Bible says. There are a few haters, but I don’t read that as the majority affect.
Point One – let’s stop calling those who oppose gay rights “haters”
What does it do when you call someone’s position hatred? It hardens their hearts, shows them you don’t understand them and also makes it very difficult for you yourself to carry on in conversation. Who wants to break bread with a hater? While we’re at it, let’s be careful not to replace the language of hatred with that of ignorance “they don’t understand”, progress “they still believe x” or demonization “a spirit of intolerance has gripped them”. My starting point has to be these are my brothers and sisters in Jesus, common disciples of the Prince of Peace and I should accord them that respect.
From there I need to maintain (and sometimes it is difficult) that they are opposing LGBTQ rights because they feel, for whatever reason, that it is a good, noble, right and moral thing to do. The moment I compare them to slave-holders or Nazis, then its conversation over.
Point Two – let’s all agree that all analogies are bad analogies
Saying that lifelong committed homosexual unions are like eating shellfish is a poor analogy, saying that opposing gay rights is like opposing slavery or votes for women is a poor analogy and comparing same-gender marriage to murder, theft or coveting is a bad analogy. Bad analogies do two things – (1) they give you a false sense of having made a good point and (2) they show the other person that you really don’t understand the way they see the world, or themselves.
Point Three – let’s try to separate the issues
There should be separate answers to questions like “What God wants for you?”, “What God or the congregation wants for your Church?” and “What we should agree together as a state or nation to prohibit with the force and sanction of law?”. In the first question my opinions, my thoughts, my interpretations of Scripture and my feelings and preferences can hold a great deal of sway. I don’t like fishing – I ain’t going to do it – no-one’s going to make me.
Coming to the second question it’s not all about me anymore. We are part of a voluntary body, we share our live with each other and we work out what are the characteristic of our shared life together. Some churches may say “we are a house of peace, there is no way we would welcome a soldier in here”, others might say “we can admit a former soldier if repentant, but not a serving one”, for others; “we are fine with soldiers in the congregation but not in leadership” whereas others might say “ we are open and affirming of military Christians and even those who have killed on behalf of a nation state can serve in leadership here.”
Question three – I share this country with people I didn’t chose to share it with, and they didn’t choose to have me in it either. So the basis for personal choice or communal norms cannot apply. As soon as you get to a national level and you are talking about what the government, with its swords and prisons, should be able to restrict life and liberty about, we need a new basis. Democracy is half the solution – but the rule of an organised mob can be worse than no rule at all. Civil or Human Rights are the other half of the solution. Civil Rights recognise that the deal each of us have in society is that there is a minimum level of dignity that we each accord one another. So I’m not going to legislate to make compulsory each of my own preferences, or to enshrine in law the way my faith-community have decided to regulate our common life together. When it comes to law-making we should ask ourselves seriously whether we really do need to control people’s lives with what is effectively a threat backed by force – and ask ourselves whether a law prevents a greater harm than having no law. In most cases I would suggest the answer is that no law is good law.
Point Four – if you can only be right or be nice, be nice
This for me is the essence of the issue. If Christians are those filled with the Spirit of God, and overflowing with the love of God then love should be our rule. Who is my neighbour – the one who needs your love. It’s always nice to be right AND to be nice, and as Christians committed to truth we do invest a lot of energy into finding out what is right, but if we learn anything from the way Jesus interacted with people, I think the lesson must be to be known for our love rather than our knowledge. It’s a trite saying but “people won’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care”.
Now who’s for a home cooked chicken sandwich with me? All are welcome at my table…