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now you see the violence inherent in the system

Timothy Dalrymple, over at his blog Philosophical Fragments, hosted a guest post from Rob Schwarzwalder, a leader of the Family Research Center: Hatred, Bigotry and Truth. He’s basically arguing that simply because evangelicals resist things like gay marriage, this doesn’t mean they’re actually homophobic. And I agree with him: people can have good-faith disagreements without one of them having to hate the other. I do think that in practice many religious conservatives act in a way that is more driven by negative feelings toward homosexual people, often including a hatred for what homosexual people represent. There’s a good way and a bad way to approach this issue, even if you believe homosexuality is morally wrong or sinful.

I have a grudging respect for Mr. Schwarzwalder here. He’s laying out a challenging position and he’s doing it coming from a place where he probably isn’t used to hearing people disagreeing with him. Tim Dalrymple’s site is fairly conservative, but it’s on a blogging site that represents pretty much all corners of the religious blogosphere (including atheists blogging about religion). He could have picked a safer venue. I did find him dismissive toward people like me, folks who take the Bible seriously and interpret it as honestly as we can bug come to different conclusions about what it says. I honestly don’t believe the Biblical passages most often cited about homosexuality are talking about what we recognize as homosexuality today. This isn’t me dismissing Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, so much as me disagreeing about what they mean. And I found Mr. Schwarzwalder dismissive on those points. At the same time, though, I recognize that his organization was threatened with physical violence last summer, and I think his basic point – can you think homosexuality is immoral without actually hating gay people – is a question evangelicals aren’t used to asking in a situation where someone might actually answer “no.” So I wanted to give him an honest answer.

Mr. Dalrymple’s site threw me back my comment as potential spam, I think because it was too long. So I’m going to post it here. I hope you find it interesting, whether or not you choose to read Mr. Schwarzwalder’s essy.

First, I want to express my condolences to your organization for the act of violence the FRC suffered this summer. That is inexcusable, whatever I think of your politics. I’ve said as such before (on my blog and on FB) but I’ve never had the opportunity to say it to someone affiliated with that group. As someone who had a good friend (a gay man) face pretty vicious bullying by several campus Christian groups, I know how painful it is when you are singled out for this kind of attention.

I also want to say, in no uncertain terms, that people can resist gay marriage or other aspects of what I often hear conservatives describing as the “gay agenda” (I don’t believe there is any such thing, personally). It all comes down to how you present yourself. Do you present your moral belief with integrity and respect to those who disagree with you? Or do you present faulty social science as fact and use it to keep gay people from receiving full protection under the law? Do you try to set up rules that make it easier for families to stay together, or do you support immigration laws that separates families built around gay marriages in countries where this is legal? Do you try to mitigate the negative impacts codifying your moral beliefs into the law will have on those who don’t share them, or do you push for laws that criminalize homosexual sex, often with severe punishments?

Obviously from the way I’m phrasing things, you can guess I think your group’s political questions fall on the wrong side of this divide. Certainly they result in actual gay people being attacked around the world, though I’m willing to consider that you are acting in a way you think is in their best long-term interest. You know your own heart better than I do, though. I leave it up to your own good conscience to decide whether these criticisms are valid.

I would appreciate it if, in return, you would do me two courtesies in return. First, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t denigrate my interpretation of the Bible by calling it “almost comical expositional gymnastics.” I have read my Bible cover to cover multiple times and am a lifelong Christian. I take it very seriously. And when I read common “proof texts” like Lev 18:22, I sometimes have the same reaction when some of my Christians can look at a Bible verse in the heart of a list of pagan practices… and conclude this isn’t talking about a particular pagan religious practice, but is about consensual homosexual sex of the kind we see in modern America. I also have a hard time reading Rom 1:26-28 and seeing in it a condemnation of homosexuality; rather, it seems much more likely it’s either about sexual orgies or about people living in a way inconsistent with their natural inclination, which would include homosexuals who live as heterosexuals. But I recognize that the Christians who interpret these passages as as teaching against what we moderns would describe as homosexuality are my brothers and sisters in Christ, interpreting the Bible as best they can. So I try to practice humility and work with them to understand God’s word better. I don’t think laughing them off as comical is helpful to anyone, which is why I try to read their explanations, take their interpretations seriously, and (if I find them convincing) change my own views. I would hope that other Christians would offer people interpreting the Bible differently from them the same assumption of good faith.

The other courtesy I would appreciate would be for you to seriously consider whether the marriage we are discussing is the sacrament of marriage so many Christians hold dear, and with good reason. I find it offensive in the extreme to think that any country’s law could redefine what counts as marriage. Sacraments are not up for a democratic vote, and when New York made marriage accessible to all citizens regardless of their gender (a fact I’m very proud of), it did not change in the slightest the marriage offered by the Catholic church, or my own Methodist church, or the Jewish synagogue where I sometimes attend Biblical study groups. That sacrament is not up for popular vote. My own understanding of history points to several ways the Christian conception of marriage has changed over the years (regarding for instance bigamy, child-marriage, marriage as a consequence for rape, the conditions under which divorce is acceptable, and other related things), but –again– I will leave it to your conscience and integrity to make of that what you can.

But the sacrament of marriage is one thing.The kind of relationships a certain society chooses to protect and recognize under the law is another. In America, we choose to live with people who do not share our morality, and our legal statutes reflect this. That’s why Scotish or Ethiopian or Korean customs don’t get the protection of law. And Christians aren’t any less welcome to take part in the political process than anyone else. In my own natal state of North Carolina, they recently voted to write a heterosexual definition of marriage into their state constitution, and many of the people who voted for that amendment did so because of religious beliefs. They sincerely believed that marriage was meant for one man and one woman, because they thought this was what the Bible said. I don’t agree with that decision in a major way. But in a democracy we fight to change peoples’ minds. Or we go to court and say this law is invalid because it violates other laws. When we fall short in those places, we don’t get to still insist other people live by our principles.

I will try to respect your position because I recognize it is based on a good-faith effort to understand God’s word. It would be good if you offered other Christians the same respect when they disagree with you. Pax, Brother.

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