We are within a few weeks of the release of What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense , an expanded version of Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson’s seminal paper on the same topic. I’ve read an advance copy of the book, and I will have a review forthcoming. For now, in the briefest possible terms, I would describe it as a work of philosophical reasoning in favor of conjugal (man-woman) marriage.

I could further describe it as charitable, clear, and persuasive, but those descriptions are beside the point for my current topic; for it seems that whether it’s well-reasoned or not, it carries the kind of toxicity with which Christians ought to quit poisoning our witness. Or that’s what I’m being told, at any rate. A commenter on my Thinking Christian blog wrote yesterday,

Perhaps it is time for the Christian church to re-evaluate our opposition to SSM. It doesn’t matter what reasons we give and how good they are, we are coming across as if we hate gays . . . .

This commenter, “bigbird,” went on to say that since the battle is already lost, we might as well accept things as they are; and if we do, then eventually gays might realize we don’t hate them after all.

I’m encountering this plea more and more often these days.  “Elections in four states last week are further proof that there’s no hope for the defense of marriage. Let’s let it go. Let’s  learn to love again. Anything else is just pushing the hate button.”

It seems so gracious and loving. If I were a gay man, though, I would be appalled.

For this is the message it would be sending about me: “My response is predetermined. No matter how cogently or charitably the other side reasons, the only reaction I can possibly offer in return is that it’s hateful.” Who could hear that, and not stand up and shout? “I am not programmed with your automatic answer! I am no dog salivating to the sound of a bell! I am a human being, and I can treat others as human beings, too.”

If anything qualifies as hate speech, it seems to me that bigbird’s recommendation would, for it assumes gays are by nature emotionally programmed and not fully rational. I do not mean it is in the same class of hate as, say, outright bullying or blaming hurricanes on homosexuals. Rather it is a more subtle form of contempt: it assumes gays are not grown up enough to engage rationally in reasoned discourse.

As a Christian I refuse to treat another human being that way.

Yet I am sadly confident that bigbird is at least partly right: there will be those who will receive What Is Marriage? as hate speech. Those who do so will reveal more about themselves than about the work they’re responding to.

I have hopes that they will be in the minority among SSM advocates. I have hopes that the majority will cast off rhetorical manipulations and automatically-expected responses, and treat the book as an invitation to reasoned discussion together as fellow human beings. Call me naive: I can dream, can’t I?

Articles by Tom Gilson

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