“House Bill 2,” receiving national attention as the most extreme measure of its kind, is on the books, for now. The bill, and the conversation it is generating, are both cause for concern.
As I try to weigh my own emotions, I find that I am awash, swinging from bewilderment to anger to anxiety… but the strongest sentiment I feel is just a soul-deep sadness. There is a mean spirit in the air. Social media allows us to be meaner. The Church and nation are suffering from our meanness.
HB2 focuses on an area around which it is most sensitive to create public policies, because sexuality is intimate and personal, and because cultural attitudes about sexuality are deeply entwined with religious belief. And religious belief, whether rightly or wrongly formed, is passionate belief.
But there is room for us to respect each other, even when we strongly disagree. Failing to do so betrays the very heart of the faith we claim to be our guiding star. A little thoughtful consideration in our language would go a long way.
To some of my progressive friends, I want to say that the use of the word “hate” is not helpful. Hate is a strident word and nearly always creates a visceral reaction. Accusing people on the opposite side of the HB2 vote of being, personally, hateful is a pointed, mostly-blind attack on identity and character.
People hold widely divergent views on homosexuality and traditional, conservative religious views on homosexuality are not predicated on hatred, but on a narrow reading of scripture. Because I once shared this view, I think I can fairly say that most people who oppose homosexuality do not do so because they hate gay people, but because they believe the Bible says being gay is not natural. That position is misguided and harmful, but all who hold such a view do not hate gay people.
Some of my conservative friends need to understand, however, how much their anti-gay rhetoric does in fact sound like hatred to gay people. Conservatives like to say “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but such a position misunderstands sexuality. As I sit alone typing these words, I am heterosexual. It’s not something I do. It is something, someone that I am. So, hating the “sin,” does sound like hating the person – because gay is not something you do; it is something you are.
Some of my conservative friends also need to understand how unkind and offensive it is to sincere, deeply-committed Christians on the other side of HB2 to be self-righteously mocked with simplistic readings of the Bible – as if we don’t already know what the Bible says. The Bible was almost the first book I ever held in my tiny little hands. I’ve been reading it, loving it, memorizing it, studying it, even in its original languages, for all of my literate life.
But anyone who claims to follow the Bible “literally,” and on that basis to reject homosexual reality, needs to come clean about the inconsistency of such a “literal reading.”
I know of no church in America that prohibits women from singing in the choir or participating in responsive readings in worship, though the Bible forbids both: “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent…” (1 Cor. 14.34). If you object to my use of this text, if you’re saying to yourself, “No, what Paul meant was…” then you are interpreting scripture, not reading it “literally.” (Welcome to my world.)
There are many verses I could quote in such a proof-texting exercise – but doing so with any of them, “using” the text just to prove my “rightness” would be a terrible misuse of the Bible. The same is true when supposed “literalists” quote the six verses conveying the word now translated “homosexual” and use those words as a simple, blanket condemnation of all homosexual people.
Thousands of pages have been written on this subject, and Christians, across the theological spectrum, disagree on how to understand these ancient texts, so please do not dismiss my faith because you disagree with me on HB2. It is unbecoming of you, and it is counterproductive to our shared mission.
My liberal friends, on the other hand, need to respect our conservative counterparts for their reverence for scripture – even though we disagree with their understanding of some texts. We need to remember (because most of us have been there) how important the Bible is as the source of authority and inspiration. Our language, while not intended, may seem to diminish the value of sacred text.
For conservatives and liberals alike, the Bible is a unique treasure of transcendent wisdom. The least we could do is quit using it as a weapon.
There is common ground, and it is a solid place to stand, even when we disagree. The common ground is people – let us not forget – not positions or policies. The common ground is people: straight and gay, male and female, conservative and liberal, every color of the rainbow, in complexion and in perspective.
In the end, our shared humanity is our common ground. If we continue to disrespect one another, sincere people of faith will find that we have no place to stand.
Photo Credit: Jan