Oh Gods, I thought, not again. When Christians become a ‘hated minority’, an article by CNN writer John Blake, is like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
In the first place, Christians are far from being a minority in this country; a 2012 Pew poll shows 73 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian. In the second, they are first and foremost the ones doing the hating here.
Rejecting the Christian message, particular that part of the Christian message which is exclusionary and intolerant (which is quite a bit of it, including the entirety of the Old Testament) is not hate. If some Christians insist the Bible gives them the right to view the constructed Other with revulsion, they have no right to object to others viewing them the same way when they jump on the hate bandwagon.
I realize they feel they have exclusive access to some capital-T truth but they have to understand by now that many of us don’t agree with that assumption, and that we feel just as strongly about our beliefs, whether our beliefs include many deities or none. They may say their God gives them this right or that right but if their god does not exist, or if he is not my god or your god, that argument becomes somewhat less compelling.
Don’t try to tell them that, however. Blake writes that,
Bryan Litfin, a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Illinois, says Christians should be able to publicly say that God designed sex to take place within a marriage between a man and a woman.
Christians are able to say this and they do it all the time, whenever and wherever they want, leaving me to wonder what universe Litfin inhabits that he isn’t aware of this. It’s on TV, the radio, newspapers. The Internet is full of such pronouncements.
But we have an equal right to an opinion, last time I checked the First Amendment.
Litfin, nonsensically, I think, goes on to complain, “That isn’t so outrageous. Nobody is expressing hate toward homosexuals by saying that. Since when is disagreement the same as hate?”
Nobody? And “disagreement”? Is Litfin paying any attention at all to public discourse on this subject? It would seem not.
Here’s the thing that people need to realize: it is perfectly fine for Christians or any other religionists to disapprove of lifestyles, choices, and even sexual positions and persuasions. Nobody is asking them to marry a person of the same sex, after all. But I understand that their religion leads them to believe that their position should be quite clear and unequivocal. I get it. I do.
The thing is, if they are going to go out of their way to announce their disapproval to the rest of us, we have a perfect right to respond and to let them know what we think about that disapproval. We have a right to let them know how we feel about these issues. It isn’t as though people are walking around hating on Christians simply for being Christians, not when 2 out of every 3 people you see are themselves Christians! Far from it. Even as a religion in decline (78 percent of people self-identified as Christians in 2007), Christianity dominates our society still.
Come back when you see big box retailers having Lughnasadh sales every fall, or when Jól sales replace Christmas and people are ridiculed if they have a crèche instead of the Wild Hunt on their mantle.
Let’s face another fact: conservative Christians have behaved badly throughout history. As Blake points out, both scholars and pastors admit that, “A literal reading of the Bible was used to justify all sorts of hatred: slavery, the subjugation of women and anti-Semitism.”
Just a minor correction: Not just “was,” but is used. There are still those citing Scripture in defense of slavery, subjugation of women, and anti-Semitism. Right here in the United States. You don’t have to look far to find them.
It is true, as Blake writes, that “The point where religious speech becomes hate speech is difficult to define” and it’s equally true everybody will not agree on one single definition of what constitutes hate speech. But Gerd Lüdemann makes a valid point in his Intolerance and the Gospel (2007) when he says that “intolerance seems to be an inherent, even necessary ingredient of the Christian religion.” Lüdemann cites theologian Karl Barth, who wrote that “No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like him.” If that is the most dangerous, the second most is the Great Commission, which has been used to justify religion-based bigotry for twenty centuries.
Lüdemann concludes that “In reality, neither Christian theology nor the church can champion freedom of religion without betraying a considerable degree of hypocrisy. For tolerance requires an unconditional acknowledgment of the freedom and dignity of human beings without recourse to God. Yet the jealous Yahweh of the Bible who demands unconditional obedience can never approve of such liberal affirmations.”
Witness sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, a Mormon, avow that “tolerance is not the fundamental virtue.” But it is in a modern liberal democracy. A modern liberal democracy demands toleration for its diverse and pluralistic citizen body.
And thus the position of the LGBT community with respect to conservative Christians. And the position of Heathens like me, and atheists and Muslims and others, including even Jews.
Conservative Christians, however, are claiming that they are the ones being persecuted for their beliefs, that they cannot employ their hate speech with impunity. Apparently they seek some privileged position in this, because I know of no other group free to employ hate speech without consequence. But nobody is persecuting conservative Christians simply for being Christians. People are simply expressing their disapproval of the hateful discourse employed against gays, lesbians, and others. This is an important distinction, and one conservative Christians willfully and wrongly ignore.
That is not persecution.
Blake cites Joe Carter, editor for The Gospel Coalition, an online evangelical magazine:
“Faux civility, embarrassment, prudishness and a fear of expressing an unpopular opinion has caused many Christians to refrain from explaining how homosexual conduct destroys lives.”
Some Christians fear that opposing homosexuality could cause them to lose their jobs and “haunt them forever,” Carter says.
The thing is, there is no evidence at all that homosexual conduct actually destroys lives. Demanding the right to lie is hardly laudable. And unlike Christians, all a Heathen or a Wiccan or another Pagan has to do is admit they are Heathen or Wiccan or what have you, and they can lose their jobs and homes and even their children. And not as a consequence of hating some group, but simply as a consequence of being what they are. This is a lesson I learned early on.
And that is persecution.
Blake also cites the examples of Edward Johnson, a communication professor at Campbell University in North Carolina, “[who] says we are now living in a ‘postmodern’ era where everything is relative and there is no universally accepted truth. It’s an environment in which anyone who says ‘this is right’ and ‘that is wrong’ is labeled intolerant, he says.
Well gosh, let’s go back seventeen hundred years to a time of true religious freedom. Our ancestors once lived in the ‘premodern’ era when moral relativity was not a bad word; when true religion was religion that worked for those practicing it; when all religions were, in effect, true.
There was a time before the true/false distinction was introduced into religion. Since the time of Moses that distinction, which Jan Assmann calls the “Mosaic Distinction,” has meant that those who do not follow the One God are seen as Gentiles/Pagans, a truly constructed Other to be the object of persecution.
The entirety of the Old Testament is an anti-Gentile diatribe. People speak of anti-Semitism. They do not often speak of anti-Gentilism. But even the loving Jesus could not keep himself from dismissing Gentiles as dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6).
This anti-Gentilism is preached to this very day in churches all across this nation and nobody bats an eye at the endless spew of hate and intolerance or its consequences. The true problem isn’t that people object to anti-gay rhetoric of Christianity, but that they do not object to the rest of its exclusionary and intolerance rhetoric.
Peter Sprigg, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, takes a disingenuous approach to the problem of Christian hate speech, but I doubt he fools many:
“Maybe we need to do a better job of showing that we are motivated by Christian love,” Sprigg says. “Love is wanting the best for someone, and acting to bring that about.”
Yes. It was Christian love that motivated the thousand year persecution of Pagans in Europe, and Christian love that motivated the Crusades, and Christian love that motivated the Inquisition and the witch burnings. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of how Christian love can be employed to beat the Other into submission to the teachings of the Church. We can do without any more of that “acting” thank you very much.
The well-used Evangelical lie that the Bible says to love the sinner but hate the sin; the Bible does not say that and it’s not even theologically sound. And it makes little difference to the persecuted whether they are persecuted out of love or hate. The end result is the same, as they are disempowered, disenfranchised, and reduced to the status of second-class citizens. In a country built on the precept that all men are created equal, we cannot accept this result: and we have not only the right, but the obligation, to say so.
 Lüdemann (2007), 259.
 For Pagans and the law see Our Troth, Second Edition. Kveldúlf Gundarsson (Ed.). (2007), 109-120.
 Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
 Geza Vermes. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2003), 109-110.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.