Jason Collins, gay rights and the limits of tolerance

Religio-phobia on the left and bumper-sticker religion on right stymie gay rights progress. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2013 ― In the aftermath of Jason Collin’s announcement that he is gay, an earnest lament has been voiced by ESPN’s Chris Broussard and many conservatives, summed up pithily by Brietbart.com: “tolerance requires tolerance on both sides.” That is, we should accord tolerance equally to both homosexuals and those who object to homosexuality on religious grounds.

This is false equivalence. But progressives have gotten themselves into this pickle by being evangelicals for the religion of “tolerance.” We hear statements like, “what others do is none of my business,” and the glib, “If you don’t want a gay marriage, don’t get one.” These reflect a decades-long sentiment that we don’t have to agree with the conduct in order to tolerate it.

Two problems. First, tolerance is not really a value because it is makes no commentary on “the value … of the thing being tolerated,” as philosopher Michael Sandel notes. Second, if same sex relationships are as bad as their opponents believe ― unnatural, sinful, corrosive to children ― then they don’t merit tolerance. However much progressives think they “don’t judge,” we all take a stance on morality, implicitly or explicitly, by whatever position we take.

Supporters of Collins will never change the minds of Christians like Broussard until they stop arguing for tolerance and make a Christian case for supporting Collins. A Christian case for Collins would go beyond such vacuous platitudes as “Jesus loves everybody,” which succumbs to the all-too-easy popular rebuttal, “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

Rather, a smarter Christian case would begin by noting all the Biblical rules that almost no Christian today defends, such as “slaves, obey your masters” and death for working on the Sabbath.

A Christian case for Collins would note we have to understand many rules as time-specific reflections of certain social (menstruating women), sanitary (pigs), and hospitality (Sodom and Gomorrah) customs. 

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A Christian case for Collins would acknowledge the procreative function of heterosexual unions fits with a divine order. Yet the examples of contraception, baby formula, tampons, vasectomies, and tubal ligations show us that something being unnatural does not mean it defies divine order.

This Christian case for Collins would argue there are thoughtful versus lazy ways to read scripture. It would then offer as a plausible interpretation that modern Christianity’s jettisoning of polygamy, slavery, concubinage, and marriage as a property transaction fits with the fact that “love” is the word that appears more than any other word in the Bible, that we are instructed “God is love,” and as the Catholic catechism synthesizes well: Romantic relationships exist to serve both “procreative and unitive” functions. Therefore, love which unites two human beings is the highest expression of the Christian ethic.

“Christianity,” G.K. Chesterton once observed, “has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” I submit one of the central difficulties that leads to rejection of Christianity by atheists, unwillingness to talk about it in politics on the left, and bumper-sticker religion on parts of the right is that we find the interpretive work too difficult. “Most modern freedom is at root fear,” Chesterton also observed. “It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”

Left, right, and apathetic have a responsibility of citizenship to have this national dialogue. And a country where the vast majority call themselves Christian and where, from presidents to jurors, we swear oaths to God on Bibles ― will never become more accepting of Collins until his supporters argue from the vantage point of a deep dive in Scripture.

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Charles Badger

Charles Badger has been a columnist for The Washington Times Communities section since 2013. He is a Republican political strategist, speechwriter, and former aide to a Member of Congress, currently working in disaster relief logistics & communications. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Berea College.

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