“You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means!” So said Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. In the movie he was speaking of the word “inconceivable.” He could say the same thing today about the word “hate.” When people disagree with one another over moral issuesthey no longer simply declare one another wrong, misguided or mistaken. The other side, most often the side supporting traditional values, is declared to be “hateful.”
I saw this recently in an unexpected place, a sports column on Yahoo. The author, Jay Busbee, wrote an article about the potential fallout resulting from the Georgia legislature’s passage of a bill protecting religious institutions and individuals who do not perform services that go against the tenets of their faith. The bill, HB 757, does not specifically address a particular service, but no one denies that it was designed to address potential recrimination against those who do not perform same sex weddings or allow the use of their facilities for that purpose, and for religious individuals such as florists, photographers, and bakers who similarly wish to decline participating in same sex ceremonies.
Mr. Busbee wrote that the city of Atlanta might lose out in its bids to host major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Fours as a result of the legislation. In his article he made his thoughts about the legislation clear. He called the legislation a “so-called Religious Liberty bill” and said that the bill was “discrimination, plain and simple” and suggested that the bill arose out of “anger crossbred with fear.” He closed the piece by writing that Georgia is “The State Hanging on to Hate.”
It seems that in the eyes of Mr. Busbee (and those who think as he does) hate is the only possible motivation for those who do not want to participate in same sex wedding ceremonies. It is never a result of a kind and loving person following a sincerely held religious belief. He seems to be either ignorant or intolerant of what the Bible teaches on the subject. There are a number of passages (such as Romans 1) that communicate dire consequences for those who live contrary to the moral teachings of Scripture. He dismisses out of hand the idea that if someone believes a lifestyle to be harmful, refusing to participate in it or support itcould be construed asan act of love, not an act of hate.
His words imply a profound disrespect of faith, a position that religious belief should not intrude into everyday life, endure beyond Sunday mornings or extend outside the walls of the church. To Mr. Busbee it seems religion is at its best quaint and at its worst evil. This is a convenient position to take, for when religious belief is marginalized, when it is considered to be mythical, false or deceptive, there is no need to respect its teachings or the people who follow them. We are reaching a point where our society respects an individual’s right to believe what they want but only respects the individual’s right to live according to those beliefs when they are inoffensive to others. Faith only matters in matters that are insignificant. When it comes to serious issues that impact society, faith is irrelevant.
The unpleasant truth overlooked by Mr. Busbee is that when acceptable religious practice is determined by those outside of the faith, faith loses its significance. If God exists, He by definition will not be bound by the values of any culture. Morality and righteousness will be determined by Him alone, independent of the desires, beliefs and practices of those He created. More significantly, when defined by God, morality does not change.
God does not change but societies do. As societies become more secular conflict between individuals of faith and society at large are increasingly likely, for people who truly believe will not likely yield. Mr. Busbee was correct in writing that there would be adverse consequences should the Georgia legislature side with those whose faith puts them in conflict with changing social values. As our society is evolving rapidly, these conflicts will become more frequent.
As people of faith find themselves in the minority they will also find themselves in increasing danger of being persecuted for their beliefs. Those who call religious liberty laws hateful and who threaten boycotts are inadvertently making the case for the proponents of religious liberty laws. It is a fear of recrimination and punishment, of being treated as if religious faith is hateful, that inspires such legislation. The Georgia law, and others like it, was designed to protect people of faith from those who disagree with them. Calling the law hateful is a simplistic denial of this reality.
While there are compelling arguments on both sides of the debate it is important to remember that if we wish to be a truly tolerant society, tolerance will need to be bidirectional. If only one side of a debate is tolerated, tolerance does not exist.