How Tolerant Should We Be of Intolerance?

Posted on February 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I received warring press releases this week from both sides in the controversy over a film called Silencing Christians, each accusing the other side of intolerance and censorship. Each side believes that the other is infringing on its right to live within its beliefs.
“Silencing Christians” argues that the “homosexual agenda” interferes with their freedom of religion. It was produced by the American Family Association and scheduled to run on a Michigan television station as a paid broadcast (like an infomercial). But the Human Rights Campaign organized a protest and the station canceled the broadcast. The HRC, in requesting that the broadcast be canceled, did not ask for a one-sided portrayal of the issues but proposed that the station “air a fair discussion or debate on both the issues and pending legislation.”
Words like “propaganda” and “censorship” get tossed around in situations like this one, and they usually and understandably throw as much suspicion on the people using the terms as on those they are describing. Freedom of speech and equality are the foundation of the United States. They underlie every aspect of our politics and culture. When they clash, as they do here, we end up with both sides feeling that their rights have been trampled. The AFA wants the freedom to describe homosexuals in ways that affront the notions of equality of many people, including heterosexuals and others who are members of Christian or other faith communities. When does “speech” become “hate speech?” When is one side’s version of the truth so biased that it should not even be permitted to be said?
It is hard to make much of a case for censorship here, despite the television station’s decision (which was made not on the basis of the merits of the argument but on the equally valid basis that they did not want to be in the middle of the fight). Silencing Christians is available online. Even a few minutes’ viewing will raise some questions for anyone not already convinced. The use of terms like “agenda” should always be a red flag; for some reason everyone wants to accuse the other side of having an “agenda” but you never hear them acknowledging their own.
As a lawyer with a strong commitment to freedom of speech, my inclination is to let all sides be heard. The bigots, the ignorant, and the liars will betray their biases and hypocrisy with their own words. They get more attention by protesting “censorship” than they do promoting their views. Better to let them say what they have to say and provide a rebuttal. It only adds to the credibility of those who tell the truth to recognize that nothing anyone can say will mislead those who make their judgments based on facts, logic, and a commitment to fairness and integrity. “Silencing Christians” is itself the best proof of the spiritual and intellectual vacuum of its arguments.

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11 Replies to “How Tolerant Should We Be of Intolerance?”

  1. It’s one thing for the American Family Association to express their disdain for Gay Americans. We’re all used to that. But it’s NOT okay for them to use TV program to spread lies:
    1. Lie: If hate crimes laws are passed, pastors will be prosecuted for preaching what the Bible says about homosexuality.
    Truth: Pastors will not be held liable for hate crimes based on preaching anti-gay sermons. The First Amendment protects a preacher from being charged as an accessory to a hate crime simply because of their speech. The Matthew Shepard Act only punishes violent crimes, not a person’s speech, beliefs or thoughts. In fact, the legislation contains language specifically protecting free speech.
    2. Lie: Legislation that will provide employment protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity will force churches to hire homosexuals.
    Truth: The federal legislation contains language exempting the vast majority of religious corporations, associations and educational institutions, and permits all religious organizations to condition employment on compliance with its significant tenets, including ones barring LGBT employees.
    3. Lie: Homosexual acts have a key role to play in the spread of all STDs and HIV/AIDS.
    Truth: HIV and STDs don’t distinguish by gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other characteristic. Statements such as those made by the AFA in this video hamper efforts to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases by spreading ignorance and misinformation.
    4. Lie: Allowing the government to redefine marriage hurts children because studies show children need a mother and father to do well in life.
    Truth: All scientifically reputable studies on the subject of same-sex parenting show that the sexual orientation of a child’s parent does not affect a child. Furthermore, all leading children’s welfare and rights organizations conclude that there is no measurable difference between children raised by loving lesbian and gay families and those raised by different-sex couples.

  2. Thanks for a wonderful comment, Chuck! Allowing the AFA’s claims to be in the open is the best way to show how they manipulate both facts and scripture. I appreciate your providing this rebuttal.

  3. Way to go, Chuck! As the mother of a gay son, I get so tired and dismayed at all the horrible LIES put out by the so-called “religious right” (now there’s an oxymoron for ya!)about homosexuals. I remember what someone wrote about the “homosexual agenda” in an editorial. It was from a gay man who stated that as a homosexual, this was his agenda, and I paraphrase:
    “Here’s my agenda: I get up, I shower, I feed the dog, I have breakfast, I go to work, I do my job, I talk to my friends and co-workers, I go home,I make dinner, I eat, I walk the dog, I do my laundry, I watch a little t.v., I read a bit, I go to bed and the next day I do it again. See, my agenda is just like everyone else’s–I just want to live my life, don’t you?”
    Pretty much says it, right?
    There are those of us who are Christians who just know in our hearts that God makes people to be just the way they are–no weird agendas, just ordinary people who want to live and be loved like we all do. AND in another son’s Christian church there is a great pamphlet–it shows a picture of Christ and says “Do you know what Jesus says about Homosexuality?” And when you open the pamphlet to the inside—-it’s BLANK! There’s the real truth.
    Thanks again for the great comment.

  4. A great comment, Mary, as always! Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but he said a great deal about compassion, grace, and not judging others. Many of these people who pretend that they speak for all Christians could learn a great deal about those qualities from observing the very people they find so terrifying.

  5. LIE: Pastors will not be held liable for hate crimes based on preaching anti-gay sermons.
    TRUTH: Swedish pastor Ake Green was sentenced to one month in jail for violating Sweden’s “hate speech” law when he preached a sermon on the sin of homosexuality.
    LIE: Federal legislation will protect churches and religious organizations from having to hire homosexuals.
    TRUTH: Such legislation is regularly challenged by groups like the ACLU and overturned by liberal activist judges. There is no guarantee that churches and religious organizations rights will be protected.
    LIE: HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease.
    TRUTH: It is and always has been a gay disease. Just because gays have caused the disease to jump gaps through bisexual sex, blood/organ donations, etc. does not mean it is not a gay disease.
    LIE: Same-sex parents are just as good for kids as parents of opposite sexes.
    TRUTH: Children raised by opposite sex parents have fewer psychological and behavioral issues.
    LIE: Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.
    TRUTH: Jesus spoke of only ONE form of marital union: one between one man and one woman. He spoke out often against fornication, which is defined as anything – ANYTHING – other than sex within the one man-one woman marital union.

  6. As a pastor I have to weigh carefully my response to various church member’s emotionally charged remarks about political or religious issues. I have to remind myself – to the point of biting my tongue – that I am the pastor to the whole congregation, not only to those who agree with me. I still squirm when insensitive, foolish, or ignorant remarks are made. However, I have also been called to preach, which affords me some latitude in the pulpit. So I use those opportunities to emphasize the unity we share in our covenant, that we respect each other, reminding folks it is better to be caring than to be “right”. Once in a while I lean toward to prophetic, but not often.
    My preference would be to never tolerate intolerance, but that is its own self-fulfilling hypocricy. I have colleagues and friends who seem very satisified with their prophetic stances and proclamations. But they are often preaching only to those who agree with them. I hope I am more effective by pastoring, preaching and teaching those whose intolerance chafes and itches me as much as my tolerance effects them the same ways. I think we are all the better for having that relationship, even (especially?) when it is uncomfortable.

  7. Jinx, you are wrong.
    Sweden does not have the same Constitutional protection for freedom of religion that the U.S. does and no U.S. clergy can be prosecuted for expression of anti-gay views, no matter how hateful.
    Please give an example of any attempt by the ACLU or a court to force churches or religious groups to hire gays or people who do not practice their religion. The ACLU supports freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Indeed, The Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church was supported by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri in their challenge of a law limiting their protests of gay rights.
    HIV/AIDS is not a “gay” disease as you can see if you review worldwide statistics from the UN or other independent sources. The data you cite on children are minority views and not widely accepted by scientific, statistically-supported, independent peer-reviewed publications. A study published by the American Psychological Association concludes:
    In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.
    You may interpret Jesus’ views as you wish; I only point out that many clergy come to a different conclusion. And that Jesus did have some very specific things to say about those who judge others.
    I appreciate your taking the time to share your views but I am sorry to see Christianity represented by statements with so little compassion and grace. As I noted in my post, it only demonstrates the logical fallacies and spiritual emptiness of the position you are trying to defend.

  8. I awoke this morning and as usual, put on the coffee and sat down to pray. I was moved to go online in search of something inspiring to meditate on throughout the day and I happened on to beliefnet. I wondered if it was my will or Holy Spirit inspired. Once again I am just fascinated at how much energy the Christian Right puts into Gay lifestyle. With all the painful issues that exist in the world today I firmly don’t believe that thier AGENDA is one that is truly inspired by God. How often do the Christian Right discuss topics and make videos revealing the real evils of the day. The abuse and torture of woman throughout the world, child pornography, child labor,rape, famine, homelessness, abuse of animals, and the list goes on. Ask yourselfs if you really believe that an all loving God is moving such a powerful organization to use their platform to condem two people who love each other while the true suffering in this world cries out for a voice. They should be ashamed of themselves. What would Jesus say? Abuse of power maybe? Search your hearts and pray for the courage to take an action in this world that really is inspired by God and not one that keeps you comfortable.

  9. I would like to refer you to an excellent book on religious division in the U.S. called Divided by God written by Noah Feldman. You cannot refute faith and belief with logic or vice versa. To say that a person’s belief is illogical and empty because it doesn’t fit your own rationalism is a fallacy since you cannot disprove spiritual faith with logic. In asserting such an argument, you demonstrate your own level of intolerance for beliefs that are arrived at through other means besides logic and reason. They are no less valid because a different path is trod to arrive at them. I agree with Feldman that the unwillingness of people to meet in the middle has polarized our country and contributed to a severe problem in which that polarization prevents any progress on issues. It is easy to point fingers at evangelicals, conservatives, etc. because their views come from a place of faith, but such a position implies that logic is superior to faith in its ability to inform an individual’s thinking. Not so, as any person of faith will affirm. And believe it or not, many willingly span the two and come to the same conclusions anyway. For many Christians, opposition to gay rights issues are not about hate or difference. It is about the church’s eminence in determining morality. For example, who defines marriage–God or the government? Many Christians would argue that marriage is a religious institution and historically they have a point. Civil controls over marriage came into being in the western world as a result of government attempts to wrest power from the church in Europe over centuries. Is that a good thing? That’s certainly debatable.

  10. Thanks so much for a very thoughtful comment. You make some excellent points and that is exactly why I am in favor of rebutting rather than suppressing offensive speech. You are right that those who rely on rationalism and those who rely on faith will have a hard time communicating and will find it just about impossible to persuade one another. The problem is when either or both sides want to impose their views on each other rather than just being comfortable in an environment that makes it possible for each of us to live as we wish. With regard to marriage, some people have suggested separating the religious institution of marriage from the civil agreement that gives rise to a wide range of rights. The real challenge is deciding how tolerant we can be to those who are intolerant, especially difficult because tolerance means different things to different people.

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