David French at National Review Online draws our attention to what he calls the “mistaken belief” that while “sexual orientation is absolutely core to a person’s identity,” religious faith
…is something else entirely — so superficial that any given person is one Vox explainer or Bill Maher monologue away from enlightenment. Yet only a few millennia of human history demonstrates that religion is core to human identity that countless people have been willing to burn rather than recant their deepest beliefs.
He asks us to consider whether or not it isn’t “also bigoted to believe that a person is incapable of expressing disagreement with a person while also treating them with dignity and respect?”
French understands that “some Christians are bigots” who
…actually do hate others and harbor malice in their hearts. But actual Christian orthodoxy — including orthodox Christian sexual morality — is anything but hateful. It expresses the beauty and intent of creation, it honors both the marriage vow and the single life, and it creates a framework for having and raising children in loving, stable homes. It recognizes that each and every person must put a restraint on their desires, orienting their lives towards the true “chief end” of man — glorifying God and enjoying him forever.
After summarizing the Golden Rule, he asks
All across America LGBT Americans live and work alongside Christians who disagree with their actions and beliefs and also treat them with dignity and respect. It’s not hard to do when you love people and seek to imitate Christ. Should these Christians be muzzled while contrary views be given free rein? Or can we actually be tolerant and realize that disagreement is not mistreatment, and love is not hate?
For at least a small, vocal minority of Americans, the answer to French’s question is clear. Yes, those who disagree with the LGBT agenda most remain silent. Ideally, they should do so voluntarily but if not they should be compelled by social pressure. If need be, they should be compelled by the force of law.
But is it really true that sexual orientation or gender identity is absolutely central to a person’s identity while a person’s religion is merely a superficial add-on?
Thinking about French’s argument, I am reminded of conversations with people about why someone might reasonably (and charitably) refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. What French has helped me understand is that many of those who found such a refusal bigoted likely thought that religious faith was superficial–something that could be put on and taken off as easily as an overcoat with the changing of the weather.
But is religious identity really like this? For some people, no doubt. For others though, religious identity is the core of who they are.
I’ve had several conversations (most notably with psychologists or other mental health professionals) who assumed my Christian faith and/or my priestly vocation were roles I played. Sincerely held roles to be sure but roles nevertheless.
Conversations with these individuals quickly turn abusive as they seek to strip away my Christian “veneer” or my clerical “role.” Or, as one clinician put it “Who is the real you behind your religion?”
What’s noteworthy for me is that these clinicians would never dare assume–much less say–about sexual orientation or gender identity what they assume about me: That Christian faith or vocational commitment obscured my identity.
Just as there are bigoted Christians, there are Christians who use the Gospel as a way to hide from others. Likewise, there are clergy who hide behind their office. For the majority, however, religious faith and vocation are at least as important as sexual orientation or gender identity are for other men and women. It would be good of both sides remembered this.
The other question raised by French’s analysis is important for our life of civil engagement. If disagreement is tantamount to hatred, then LGBTQ advocates are themselves guilty of hating Christians who hold to that tradition’s historical moral teaching.
Such mutual accusations of hatred don’t foster civil discourse or peace between different segments of the population. What it does do is encourage strife as we see our life together increasingly as a zero sum game in which one side can only win to the degree that the other side loses.