First published 18 November 2012
It wasn’t until the day the 2012 US Presidential Election results were announced that I finally took a little bit of interest in it. I don’t normally have much time for news, from the newspapers or from the radio or TV. I have become somewhat cynical about media reporting, not only because of the way certain stories are reported, but because I’m suspicious of the editorial decision-making over what constitutes a newsworthy story in the first place. Be that as it may, I’ve observed over many years that the British media coverage of US politics is pretty anti-conservative. They largely poked fun at Reagan, ridiculed both Bush’s, especially the last one; and Dan Quayle was especially targeted. We seem to wring our hands in frustration that Americans could be so stupid as to vote in their millions for such “idiots”. It’s very hard over here to feel we are getting an unbiased view of US politicians in our news reports (or any foreign politicians for that matter), so I tend to pay very little attention since I don’t have to vote for a US President.
However, when I heard Mitt Romney being referred to as a “moron” (a play on words on his Mormon faith), a “cretin” and a “bigot” in social media discussions based on anti-Romney news articles, I thought it all sounded a bit extreme. So I had a little look at what might provoke people to name-calling and, to be honest, downright religious hatred. I found that he’d been CEO of Bain & Co, a very well-respected international management consulting firm, and Governor of Massachusetts. I also found it interesting that, whilst he did not win the election, he was voted for by 59 million people (more than the entire population of England). So why was it we Brits took such a dislike to the man?
Partly, at least, it appeared to be the simple fact that he allowed moral principles arising from his faith as a Mormon to influence his policies in public life. Probably most notable was his opposition to legalization of same-sex marriage whilst Governor of Massachusetts, which was played out rather awkwardly in a tussle over whether same-sex partners could both be named on birth certificates of children they either adopted or had born to them. Whilst it was hard to see through the rhetoric and the editorial arm waving, and despite the fact that I could only find the sound-bite quotations, rather than the speeches and discussions reported more fully in context, it appeared to me that Mr Romney was acting out of principled belief and not out of bigotry.
And what of Nick Clegg, the British Deputy Prime Minister, who in September this year reportedly referred to opponents of the redefinition of marriage as “bigots” in the first draft of a speech in September (later redrafting to refer to “some people”)?
The gay rights charity Stonewall has an annual awards evening that includes an award for ‘Bigot of the Year’. The 2012 award was won by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland.
As someone who is very concerned about, and opposed to, the proposed redefinition of marriage to include long term same-sex partnerships, in response to these kind of comments I have to ask myself, am I a bigot? Am I being bigoted in saying that I think that homosexual relationships are wrong, and therefore the concept of same-sex ‘marriage’ is wrong? I’m an evangelical Christian, rather than Mormon or Roman Catholic, but since I come to a similar position on this issue via similar logic, if Mitt Romney and Keith O’Brien can be labeled bigots then so should I. Should I be concerned? Offended?
Yes and No.
Of course, the position that views same-sex relationships as wrong on the basis of religious conviction is not by definition bigoted. One definition I found says that bigotry is the “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” Disagreeing, begging to differ, debating, defending a position, having a different view, has never been seen as necessarily intolerant. So given that I’m not trying gag the gay rights lobby, however vociferous they are, and I’m not trying to outlaw anyone from saying that homosexuality is right or ok, and I’m not unwilling to engage in debate, there is no way I can legitimately be called a bigot.
The historic legal position, or even the taboo, which was intolerant of homosexual practice also cannot be labeled bigoted, since bigotry relates to intolerance of having opinions. Western (democratic) society was intolerant of homosexual practice because the majority believed it to be wrong and perverted. That is simply what happens when you have a moral principle: people who transgress are either criminalized or culturally marginalized, or face some consequences, democratically decided. For example, we have other moral principles that are still agreed on today – e.g. we don’t think it’s right to cheat, so the Lance Armstrongs of the world face regulatory consequences for their actions as well as the condemnation of the media. But we’re not bigoted against cheating. (On the other hand, if someone wanted to argue that doping is not cheating, and should be legalized, fair enough, let them argue their case. And it would be bigoted not to listen to that case!)
So it’s not a concern to be labeled a ‘bigot’ from the point of view of the fact that it’s clearly incorrect. However, it is a concern and it is offensive, because it shows that legitimate debate has given way to name-calling.
But as I outlined in my series ‘Whose RulesRule?’, name-calling is all but inevitable when we are bereft of common ground or a higher authority on which to appeal. Christians appeal to the moral standards of God Almighty, the Creator and Ruler of the entire Universe, as the basis for deciding what is right and wrong. Secular non-religious Westerners only have themselves to look to as their ultimate authority.
My fear, as I mentioned in one of those previous articles, is that whilst Christians are not bigoted and intolerant (in the main – although there are a minority of Christians who do not act in a loving way), the opposition from unbelievers is becoming bigoted and intolerant. It is becoming culturally unacceptable – open to condemnation, victimization and oppression – to say what one thinks, especially in the realms of sexual freedom, feminism or pre-birth human rights (or even, let’s be honest, in the realms of the creation of the universe).
To the secular non-religious Westerner the existence, in their democratic society, of opinions that would threaten to stifle their freedom to choose their own moral path is becoming intolerable. Because of our Christian heritage they want to be able to argue the case, but find that with no common ground their opponents are immovable. And therefore, they resort to the name-calling and fun-poking that we have seen over the past 40-50 years, and are now moving to the active oppression and intolerance we have been increasingly seeing over the past 10-15 years.
How then should we proceed?
My first appeal is to readers who are not Christians: Please don’t be intolerant and bigoted. Please don’t write Christians off as such. We are not stupid, nasty or hateful (as I was labeled in one social media discussion). Rather I appeal to you to engage with the Christian worldview. Find out why we believe what we believe, and find out what it is that we really believe. Find out why Jesus Christ is the focus of God’s love and yet is the most divisive character in history. One place to start, which is only convenient because you’re here on my website already, is my other articles on morality – the ‘Whose Rules Rule?’ series. Send comments and questions. Discuss. Engage.
My final appeal is to readers who are Christians: Please don’t be discouraged when you are verbally attacked and called a bigot, homophobe, fundamentalist, Bible-basher, stupid, nasty, hateful, ridiculous, religious nut, etc, etc. Our Saviour told us to expect it. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…” (Luke 6:22-23)
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
If the unbelieving world with which we come into contact does not hate Jesus then they have not understood him properly. Once we do our job of explaining and showing Jesus to the world, they will either hate him or repent. If we leave them to see Him as another version of Buddha or Confucius, a kind man who teaches us to be nice to each other, then they will not repent and then will not have any chance to be saved. Once they understand that Jesus’ purpose in coming was to turn them back from their sinful rejection of God’s rule over their lives, because they love their autonomy, they will hate all that He stands for… and the people who preach His name.
Remember the Jews liked the miracle-working-Jesus, but hated the sin-defeating-Jesus. Remember the Roman emperors didn’t mind the hard-working-Rabbi-Jesus, but they hated the worship-me-alone-Jesus. And they hated Him, called Him names, and killed Him. And He’s the One we are called to take up our cross and follow.
So let’s make sure that we don’t shy away from talking about sin, about what’s right and what’s wrong, calling people to repentance, because that’s what Jesus is all about. And as always, let’s “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)