Black and white. Right or wrong. Agree or disagree.
This seems to be the polarized world in which we are living. Whether it is politics, sexuality, or even sporting events, there is a growing element of “if you aren’t with us, you are against us.” That leaves moderates ( who love hard questions with even harder to find answers about as much as the rest of you) in a place where we feel cast out of all camps simultaneously. I’ve always been told that the middle of the road was a dangerous place to hang out.
I’ve noticed some of my compatriots falling away, choosing a side so that there’s a place to go when the winds blow cold or when the heat gets turned up. And those of us who don’t make that decision, we find ourselves getting yelled at by Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other.
One might begin to think that there’s only two sides to this and one is right and the other is wrong.
But maybe — just maybe — there’s room for honest disagreement.
Let’s take a look at a pair of blog posts. The first is from Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist). The post is entitled, “If You Oppose Marriage Equality, What Else Am I Supposed to Call You?”
He’s about as liberal as they come, and by his own definition. I don’t have a problem with his stance. It belongs to him and he gets to deal with it just like I live with the consequences of my own. My problem comes when he starts to paint, with the same broad strokes all around, everyone who disagrees with him.
If you’re voting against marriage equality, you’re a bigot. If you’re denying somebody a right that you possess — for no rational basis whatsoever — I don’t know what else to call you. There’s not a single, credible, non-religious reason to deny equal rights to gay people. [emphasis mine]
He’s not willing to recognize that many of the folks who are disagreeing with him (Hemant) are disagreeing on religious grounds. Some of these folks believe that God’s will is more important than the will of the people. You start to see why they vote against it.
Further problems develop when Hemant starts quoting people who paint with even broader brushes. For example, Jen McWright calls Chik Fil A CEO Dan Cathy a bigot because “you support those terrible things I listed above: legally denying GLBT individuals equal rights, slandering them publicly, damaging them through terrible psychological programs, and even killing them.”
I doubt that even the most diligent liberal researcher could find that Dan Cathy has at any time suggested or supported the idea of killing homosexuals. But hey, maybe I’m wrong. I’m a moderate. I try to allow room for that. But I do think that Cathy is trying to keep the government from approving a practice that results in an institutionalization of a sinful act. I think he believes that. I think many Christians are motivated by that — not because they need the moral high ground, but because there is an honest fear that redefining marriage will result in more and more people committing sins that will result in their ultimate destruction — and that the .
Conservatives Go Too Far As Well
On the other side of the coin, there are far too many Christians who are doing exactly what the left is claiming they are doing. The second post for your examination is found at CNN and is more of a roundup. The article, entitled “We Don’t Teach Hate” demonstrates the venomous attacks from the most conservative churches in our country.
CNN reports, “The video of the singing boy was the latest in a string of viral anti-gay videos that have surfaced from independent churches. Those videos have been resoundingly condemned by religious leaders, even by conservatives who believe homosexual sex is a sin.”
AFA and Bryan Fischer are at the forefront of the anti-gay movement. Their rants are featured on right-wing watch group websites so often, the members often leave comments like, “Is this really news? A new day dawns and Fischer says something hateful. That’s not news.”
The problem with AFA and Fischer is that their remarks are the basis for the broad brush attacks on Christianity from folks like The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta.
Look at Both Sides
There is more to Christianity than the people who claim to speak on behalf of us all. Rachel Held Evans wrote a remarkable piece about what not to do in the midst of this Chik Fil A brouhaha.
The article, “Some Words for Christians on Both Sides of the Chik Fil A War,” got some seriously heavy traffic on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and produced a large number of responses, both good and bad across the blogosphere.
In fact, that article is what got Hemant Mehta so uptight to begin with.
He completely missed the point of Evan’s article, which is to say, he’s missed the main point in this conversation. This is no longer about who gets to be right or wrong. Unless we begin to actually have civil conversations about these issues without slapping people around, verbally, physically, or otherwise, we are going to find ourselves divided to the point that we are no longer able to live together — on the Internet or anywhere else.
Church: We must redevelop our ability to tolerate (not necessarily agree with) people who hold different opinions than our own. We must redevelop our ability to speak lovingly to people who are living lives that we feel are disobedient to God’s will. We must redevelop our ability to look beyond the actions of a person and see that they are beloved by God whether they know it or not.
Some Ideas on How to Remain Engaged
The point is simple: There are those of us who are not going to stand in the way of those who choose to live their lives this way. In fact, I’m more likely to shout down the folks who are vitriolic than the people who are passionate, regardless of which side they stand on.
You must ask yourself: Is my goal to be right, or to help others see things the way I see them?
If you are only interested in being right, then you’ve read the wrong blog post, obviously. Your comments are still welcomed, but you’re trying to find a chicken sandwich at a taco stand. There’s not one here.
For those of you who have resolved to make your way through this without losing your mind, or selling your soul (regardless of your religious beliefs), here are some things you might want to keep in mind:
1. Have a clear definition of words like “bigot,” “intolerant,” and “hate.” The world doesn’t have to agree with you. People who disagree with you are not automatically intolerant. Your religious opinions are opinions; a matter of faith. Your secular opinions are still opinions; a matter of your convictions. The rest of the world is not required to agree with you. I highly recommend seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.
2. Don’t assume that your religious argument is going to sway a secular person. There are hundreds of books and articles that demonstrate clearly that the basic beliefs of Traditional Christianity are not resonating with a large number of USAmericans. Books like, You Lost Me and Unchurched by David Kinnaman and the raw data coming in from Barna Research clearly indicates that we cannot roll out our teaching summaries and expect people to “get it.”
3. Don’t assume your secular argument is going to sway a religious person. When someone has to decide between keeping friends and obedience to the Creator God of the Universe, you might not rank above the Almighty in that consideration. Right or wrong, religious beliefs that are strong enough to make it into the public square are often deeply held.
5. Look for the common ground. After all, we are human beings sharing a planet, geography, and an internet. If you are willing to write someone off just because of their beliefs, then why would you be surprised when someone writes you off for yours? As a miserable moderate, I find myself arguing with almost all of my friends sooner or later. I’ve had “likes” and kudo comments on Facebook one day, and then snark and slam posted in less than 24 hour’s time. And yet, I keep going back for more. Why?
Because my friends are not picked and chosen based on how they vote, where they work, or with whom they sleep. My friends are usually chosen based on their ability to see me as a human being who is trying to see them as a human being as well.
What other advice can you share to help us get through these polarized battles? How can we reframe the conversation so that everyone’s worth is recognized?
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is the pastor of Grace UMC in Jackson, Tennessee. He and his wife, Laurinda, have two children, Jack and Becca. There’s also a cat named George living at their house. Their idea of a great day usually involves Happy Hour — at a Sonic Drive-In.