You can’t deny people their rights and be nice about it

You can’t deny people their rights and be nice about it June 11, 2012

The Theological Is Personal,” Dianna Anderson writes.

She’s talking here specifically about the perennial controversy over how much equality women are to be allowed in the church, but her comments apply just as much to the “debate” over how much equality LGBT people are to be allowed in the church, and to the “debates” about how much equality both women and LGBT people are to be allowed in society as a whole:

Here’s the thing we need to always remember in the discussion of complementarian theology: women cannot not take such a discussion personally. It affects everything about how we are to behave, how we see ourselves, how we interact in our relationships, how we manage our careers, our children, and our lives. Even for single women, I have to continue to fight the perception that I am “outside of God’s will” by delaying marriage and children, perhaps refusing them altogether. If complementarians are right, my world falls apart.

How can I not take that personally?

And this is what is so often missing in the discussion of these competing theologies: the human factor.

For men, it’s very easy to forget that this complementarian theology affects women much more so than it does them. …

For me, the discussion can never be abstract. The potential for abuse is far too real and far too ripe for me to see the debate as a mere “fun discussion between friends.”

Because for me, it’s not just for funsies. It never will be. It is too real, and too personal for me to discuss it “for fun.”

Mercedes Ruehl earned a well-deserved Academy Award for her work in The Fisher King.

"You don't get to be nice."

One of her best scenes in that movie was the scene where Jeff Bridges’ character, Jack, tells her he’s leaving. She breaks down, sobbing, and he starts to comfort her. Then she pulls herself away from him.

“No!” she says. “You don’t get to be nice! I’m not gonna play some stupid game with you so you can walk out that door feeling good about yourself. …”

She’s right. He doesn’t get to be “nice,” or to pretend he’s not the bad guy so that he can feel good about himself. What he’s doing shouldn’t allow him to feel good about himself. What he’s doing makes him the bad guy.

I thought of Ruehl’s performance, and of Dianna’s post, when I read this self-serving attempt to be the “nice” bigot by Halee Gray Scott at Christianity Today’s her•meneutics blog, “I Am Not Charles Worley: The Plea of a Christian Who Opposes Gay Marriage.”

Scott wants you to understand that she’s not at all like the infamous homophobic preacher Worley. She’s totally different.

Worley wants to deny LGBT people their basic civil rights and legal equality because he hates them. Scott wants to deny LGBT people their basic civil rights and legal equality for other reasons.

See? See how very different they are? Same result. Same vote. Same fundamental discrimination enshrined in law. But Worley is mean. Scott is nice.

And Scott has had it up to here with people not recognizing the extreme importance of that distinction:

I am not Charles Worley, and I’m tired of others, especially fellow Christians, assuming that because I’m opposed to gay marriage that I’m hateful like him. It’s time to extend a hermeneutic of grace to each other — especially to fellow Christians who still do not favor gay marriage and believe that homosexuality is not God’s intent for human sexuality. …

Scott shares Worley’s hateful goals, but not his hateful sentiments, so how dare anyone compare them?

Note also that Scott hasn’t quite thought through what she’s arguing here. She says she opposes the civil right of same-sex marriage because her religious beliefs teach that “Homosexuality is not God’s intent for human sexuality.”

OK. But Scott doesn’t believe that, for example, Mormonism is “God’s intent for human spirituality,” and yet she’s not arguing that Mormonism should be illegal. So why is homosexuality different?

Scott can’t say. She seems not to have thought about it. But you mustn’t assume it’s because she’s some kind of hater. That sort of assumption — lumping her in with people like Charles Worley just because she wants the same legal outcome as they do — is hurtful. It wounds her feelings. Being compared to people like that is not nice.

And people should be nice to her, just as she’s being so nice to all the LGBT citizens whose legal equality she wants to nicely deny.

“I’m not asking for anyone to approve or accept my views,” Scott writes, magnanimously.

And it’s true. She doesn’t want anyone else to approve or accept her religious perspective. All she asks is that they allow her to write it into law.

Really, is that so much to ask?

I’m not asking for anyone to approve or accept my views, but I am asking for Christians to be kind to one another, no matter which side they’re on. In particular, I am asking Christians who support legalizing gay marriage to not assume fellow Christians like me are hateful, bigoted, backwards, or just plain mean because we oppose legalizing gay marriage.

Can’t we just agree to disagree respectfully? It seems churlish of me not to agree to this.

After all, Scott is willing to treat me nicely and to respect my right to believe that she should stop beating that old woman with a crowbar. So shouldn’t I reciprocate by treating her nicely and respecting her right to continue doing so?

That’s only fair. Or at least, it’s perfectly fair in Scott’s little world — a world in which the old woman being beaten doesn’t even register as a participant in the discussion. She’s invisible and unimportant. She doesn’t count.

Here, again, is Scott, in her own words:

I’m not asking for anyone to approve or accept my views, but I am asking for Christians to be kind to one another, no matter which side they’re on. In particular, I am asking Christians who support legalizing gay marriage to not assume fellow Christians like me are hateful, bigoted, backwards, or just plain mean because we oppose legalizing gay marriage.

The truth is, most of those who share my view are not like Pastor Worley, and most of those who support gay marriage aren’t in favor of some drunken Woodstock free-for-all. Most of us are in the silent middle, and each believes that our view is loving, but the truth is that none of us are loving if we continue to browbeat people who don’t agree with us.

… With the long election season looming ahead, can’t Christians assume the best about one another, no matter how differently we see things?

She can conceive of two and only two sides, and neither of those sides includes the actual human beings whose legal equality — whose lives and loves — are at stake here.

Look, here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if you think you’re a nice person. And it doesn’t matter if your tone, attitude, sentiments and facial expressions are all very sweet, kindly and sympathetic-seeming. If you’re opposing legal equality, then you don’t get to be nice. Opposing legal equality is not nice and it cannot be done nicely.

Nice is different than good, but opposing legal equality for others is neither. It’s simply unfair.

So be fair.

It’s probably best to be fair and also kind, but fairness is the important part. As long as you’re fair, no one else will really care whether or not you’re particularly kindly about it. But if you’re not fair, then kindness isn’t even a possibility.

It’d be terrific if Scott’s heartfelt plea for “a hermeneutic of grace” toward Christians who oppose legal equality had also thought to include such a presumption of grace toward the human beings whose legal equality those Christians continue to deny.

But you know what? Forget about all that. Forget about grace and graciousness. Forget about niceness. Forget about kindness, civility and charity.

It’d be great if those could come along later, but they’ll have to wait. None of those matters a bit right now because none of those is what’s missing right now.

What’s missing right now is the bare minimum, the essential first-step starting point of simple legal equality — simple human equality. I don’t care if Scott grants it churlishly, spitefully or reluctantly, but until she grants that then all her talk of graciousness, kindness and civility is empty talk and clanging cymbals.

Scott wants to carve out a space in which she can be unfair, but still kind. Such a space does not exist and cannot exist.

Halee Gray Scott is unfair. And thus she is also unkind.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Do straight people engage in a drunken Woodstock free-for-all when THEY get married? No? Then why would gay people? BIGOT.

  • It shouldn’t be on the ballot, because it being on there is unconstitutional as fuck, which is why I’m confident the Supreme Court will systematically shut every state’s move to legalize hate and discrimination eventually. I’m a born-and-raised Californian and very liberal so you can imagine my shock, disgust, and shame when Prop 8 was passed (with the help of lots of illegally-contributed out-of-state Mormon money). 

  • Merkmal

    In peace time on a busy block, this is perfectly understandable.  During wartime under a brutal, anti-semitic government, this argument doesn’t really pass muster.  People didn’t want to know what was going on.  

  • Guru Mike

    “I’ve heard that the Dalai Lama is opposed to gay marriage. If true, what do you make of that? Is he a bigot?”