I’ve been getting a lot of mail about my recent pieces on Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty. And when readers haven’t been calling me names, they’ve been telling me that Robertson’s message about gays is one of love, not hate.
Roberton’s message, they say, is about steering everyone away from sin. We’re all sinners, and gays just happen to be engaged in the sin of homosexual activity. That’s the word of God, and if I don’t like it I should take it up with Him.
There are a few problems with this claim.
1) The love sure seems to be wrapped in a lot of hate
I got a lot of mail explaining to me that we are all fallen and homosexuality is just one sin among many.
I also got a lot of emails calling me a faggot, urging me to “have fun burning in hell”, saying gays should “buy an island and get out of our faces,” etc.
If Christian messages against homosexual activity come out of love, how is it that they ended up producing so much hate?
Sure, I can laugh when I get these emails. I already live on an island full of gays. I have family and friends here who love me, and a successful career in a workplace where people accept me for who I am. I am winning the culture war, the readers who insult me are losing it, and these emails are a sign of their exasperation.
But I’m terrified for young, powerless gay people growing up in less enlightened places than New York City who can’t laugh off these comments, especially when they come from their parents and teachers and clergy. In these places, when people calling themselves Christians use fear and loathing of gays as an anti-sin tool, gays and lesbians become collateral damage. Sometimes they’re driven to suicide. That doesn’t seem very loving to me.
I got one email from a man who said his greatest fear was that one of his sons would grow up to be gay. How harrowing must it be to be his gay son?
If social conseratives were serious about loving the sinner and hating the sin, they could (for example) support measures to prevent anti-gay bullying in schools. But they routinely oppose these measures out of fear that they will send the message that it’s O.K. to be gay. I think they see cruel social attitudes toward gays as a useful anti-sin measure.
2) Gays are singled out
The bible proscribes all sorts of things, from taking the Lord’s name in vain to murder, but gays are suspiciously singled out for special attention from the anti-sin brigades.
This shows up in Robertson’s own remarks. Look at the comment to GQ that started this whole firestorm. Asked what he considers sinful, Robertson said “Start with homosexual behaviour and just morph out from there.” There are lots of sins, but gays are at the top of Robertson’s mind.
When Karl Rove wanted to goose the evangelical Christian vote in 2004, he didn’t promote a national campaign of ballot measures aimed at making divorce more difficult or imposing penalties on drunkards. He pushed proposals to ban gay marriage.
Why us gays? Partly, because we’re an easily targeted minority. Lots of people want to drink or get divorced. Only a small minority of the population is attracted to people of the same sex.
And partly it’s because a lot of people feel non-religious disgust toward gays. This is another theme that popped up over and over in my emails: Gays are welcome to do what we like in secret (“in the privacy of your no-doubt extremely well-decorated homes,” as one charming reader put it) but should not talk publicly about being gay, lest we cause any straight people to think about gross gay sex.
Gay people see this animus all the time. It’s why we don’t take people seriously when they say their objections to homosexuality are just part of a generalized concern about sin.
3) Religious teachings against homosexuality are incorrect.
All that said, there is an internally consistent story about how it could be loving to foment negative attitudes about homosexuality: God is so distressed about the idea of men having sex with other men that he will cast them eternally into hell for doing so. Therefore it is very important to discourage this behaviour and promote the idea that it is shameful, even if doing so produces hate and makes gays miserable.
Of course, this view should also imply a much more intolerant attitude toward all sorts of sin. If we should shun and demean homosexuals and demand that they keep their deviation a secret, we should do the same to the divorced, and to women who have abortions, and those who reject Jesus Christ.
My argument against this position is that Christianity is simply incorrect: There is no God, and religion is made up. But many (most?) people who consider themselves Christians share my view that prohibitions against sin often should not be enforced, either by law or by social sanction against sinful behaviour. They socialize with the divorced and accept their gay children. Some of them are gay themselves.
Just because a teaching is religious in nature does not mean it has to be accepted in polite society. In the past, people have advanced religious justifications for the burning of witches, the subjugation of women to their husbands, prohibition of interracial marriage. Today these views are considered impolite because they are widely recognised as incorrect — even though they may be sincerely held by religious people.
A lot of people writing to me asked why I can’t be tolerant of their anti-gay views just like I ask people to be tolerant of gays. One reader, using exactly the same form of complaint, stuck up for the idea that we should respect the views of people who reject interracial dating. “Why is it, that these various groups demand tolerance & acceptance for peoples choices — sexual orientation, interracial dating, etc — yet, when someone disagrees with it, the pitchfork & lynch mobs come out?”
When you put these two requests together, it’s easy to see why the request for tolerance of the intolerant is absurd. Interracial dating is O.K., and espousing the view that it is wrong is not O.K. The only difference between the request to tolerate racist views and the request to tolerate anti-gay views is about 40 years of social change.
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