Yesterday marked an important day in North Carolina history as ‘Amendment 1’ was voted on by its residents. For those of you who may not be aware, Amendment 1 defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. When the voting was totaled and Amendment 1 was passed, it had the direct impact of making same-sex marriages illegal. Needless to say it was a hot button topic in Asheville where there is a sizeable homosexual community.
Having just moved to Asheville, and having just moved here to be a pastor, this has put me in a unique position to observe some interesting and often heated conversations on the topic with both Christians and those of other faiths. To be sure, this is a difficult topic because it is precisely at the intersection of religion and politics, neither of which are easy to talk about these days. But there seems to be something new that’s a part of the conversation, maybe I’m just hearing it for the first time, but it seems a bit newer to me.
The conversation hasn’t changed much in recent years and I understand the arguments of both sides. But I think what has really struck me since moving here has been the tone of the conversations. It’s understandable for there to be some ‘heat’ in the conversations, even some words spoken in anger to come out – these are tough conversations. But there’s a tone in the conversations that really makes them almost unbearable to watch and makes any sane person want to avoid them like the plague. And I think the tone that characterizes these conversations is contempt.
These sides don’t just disagree with each other; they have contempt for one another.
When contempt is added to a conversation it changes things from ‘I disagree with your perspective’ to ‘I disdain who you are because you hold this perspective.’ Contempt, when added to any relationship, dehumanizes those with whom we disagree and allows us to say things to them we would probably never say otherwise. It also blinds us from actually seeing and understanding each other’s perspective. Here are two common statements that I’m seeing from the differing perspectives.
‘Christians are hateful bigots because they believe marriage is between a man and a woman.’
‘Your children will be taught to be gay if we allow gay marriage to be legal.’
Both of these statements are characterized by contempt. They dehumanize the people who disagree and ultimately make the issue more difficult to discuss because they simply add false information to an already confusing conversation – making the conversation almost incoherent.
Voting against gay marriage doesn’t mean that someone hates gays. It simply doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying that because I’m against tattoos that I hate people who get tattoos. Disagreement does not equal hatred. And on the other side, voting for gay marriage doesn’t meant that your children are going to be brainwashed into being gay by anyone! In fact, that is a pretty big mischaracterization of most gay people I know. Most of my gay friends simply want to allow people to be free to be themselves, they don’t want to promote or enforce their lifestyle on anyone else.
These conversations, characterized by contempt are not just bringing about a stalemate, they’re actually making things worse. The divide between the sides to the point where there’s no longer any meaningful conversation going on. Those in the middle have gone silent or worse, become apathetic because it’s simply not worth speaking up in this conversation. Elie Wiesel says ‘The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference.’ And sadly, that’s exactly what I see here. Compassionate and loving Christians have withdrawn from this conversation and left a HUGE void. Which is the exact opposite of what is needed right now.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns us against harboring contempt, and says that ‘anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the court.’ And the way to do that is not to become passive, but to actively try to love those with whom we disagree. I hope Seacoast Asheville can be a part of filling that void with love and compassion rather than remaining silent.