Great! You Can Empathize with Homosexuals. Can You Empathize with Christians, Too?
I considered not making this post since I got to writing about the issue so late, but the topic continues to be brought up in the media with the occasional new case here and there or the conclusion to an old one. This is not an actual defense for the behavior or beliefs of Christians (I am not arguing for the truth of their beliefs), but rather an attempt to relate to them and realize their behavior is not as inane as many make it out to be.
The recent controversy over religious freedom laws in Indiana left many Americans shocked and outraged by the continued discrimination against homosexuals. I was shocked as well, but for quite a different reason: I found the reaction by LGBT supporters to be overblown, excessively belligerent, and in some cases, downright harmful.
Shortly after Indiana’s law had made national headlines, a reporter visited a pizzeria owned by a Christian family in the state. The couple was asked whether they would cater a gay wedding, to which they answered no, since it would go against their religious values. As the two later clarified, they didn’t mind serving homosexuals generally; the issue was serving them if it meant participating in their marriage. The Internet’s “justice” vigilantes were quick and furious to jump on the case (how dare these bigots not sell pizza to someone!?). Masses of individuals swarmed the company’s yelp page with negative reviews, leaving it in ruins. The owners simultaneously received nasty e-mails and letters, some including death threats. To top it off, someone managed to grab the company’s name as a URL, listing dick pizzas on the menu and creating false quotes by the owner in order to harass the company.
All of this. Because of what? Let’s take a more detailed look at the belief the owners verbalized and bring some clarity to their statements. The owners stated they would not cater a gay wedding, but they had no problem serving gays on normal occasions. Immediately we can see from this distinction that the Christian owners are not discriminating against people but against actions of people. They don’t want to directly assist in what they consider to be immoral actions. For an analogy, consider you own a shop that sells sharp knives, and a person comes in saying he wants to murder someone, requesting the best knife for the job (What!? You’re comparing gay sex to murder?? Yes, on very limited grounds, so stick around so you understand my reasons for the comparison). You would be completely justified in such a situation not to sell any of your knives, because you wouldn’t want to directly assist in the immoral activity of attempted murder. This is how Christians view sexual acts and marriage between same-sex couples: as sinful behavior. Clearly, the degree is vastly different for those that believe it(it’s actually annoying I have to point that out, but too many people do not make the distinction between degree and principle and recklessly dismiss analogies just for a difference in degree), but just as most people consider murder immoral, Christians consider the latter acts wrong. As such, they do not want to directly assist in those behaviors.
Now that we have a proper analogy, we can easily dismiss some of the poor ones many have been making. For example, in a separate case in Georgia, a Christian flower-shop owner who said she would not sell flowers for a gay wedding was asked whether she would serve an adulterer, since the Bible also speaks about how such behavior is sinful. When she answered in the affirmative, she was instantly accused of hypocrisy. However, the question in this case does not properly mirror that regarding gay weddings. The relevant question would instead be “would you sell to someone who you knew was cheating on his wife and purchasing the flowers for a mistress?” Again, Christians are not choosing to discriminate against anyone who is a sinner (hilariously enough, according to their beliefs, that would mean they could not sell to literally anyone, a reductio that should make people who believe Christians hold this view pause and rethink that), they are choosing to discriminate against people in cases where the seller would be directly assisting in behavior they believe to be immoral. Another poor analogy people like to make is that of discrimination against African Americans in the south in the post-civil war era. The problem with this is the same (not gays in general, but gays in the immediate process of certain actions).
So people are sending death threats and publicly harassing others over a relatable, albeit not agreed upon, belief system, that when put into action, leads to a gay couple temporarily not getting a cake, or flowers, or pizza, etc. for their wedding. Homosexuals aren’t starving to death, they aren’t being physically harmed, and in fact, the direct consequence of not getting [insert item here] is easily handled by walking across the street to some non-Christian establishment where the owners will have no problem selling the item. The worst consequence seems to be that some individuals are offended. Yet people think it’s completely proportionate to put someone’s livelihood (the business could have been seriously damaged) under threat when the owners also have a family and employees depending on them.
If you still aren’t with me, consider some opposing beliefs that people hold where similar outrage never occurs. Let’s take Obamacare for example. If you believe Obamacare is bad for the country, you might believe that it will lead to worse health care outcomes, longer wait periods, and even death for some. Alternatively, if you believe the opposite, that Obamacare is good for the country, you might believe that the lack of it (or the lack of single payer, etc.) will lead to worse health care outcomes and again, even death. Yet, regardless of which belief you hold, have you ever considered threatening someone who disagreed with you on this issue? Did you ever consider publicly harassing them or trying to destroy their reputation? The consequences are clearly, undeniably far worse in this disagreement. For other examples, think of the Iraq war, or any war. Even if outrageous reactions move a step up here compared to Obamacare, they rarely get to the same point as that that occurred with the Indiana pizzeria. My purpose is of course, not to argue that people should be so outraged in these circumstances as well, but rather that they are correct in not going off the edge. These can be confusing and complicated issues, and there are millions of arguments in favor and against them. Rather, people should look at the issue of Christian discrimination in the market against homosexual marriage and properly place it on the spectrum of outrage where it makes sense: very low.
EDIT: Made a misstatement; changed it so it wouldn’t be a distraction.