It’s not often these days that we can note positive developments concerning religious libertyespecially when it comes to same-sex marriage.
But something this week is worth noting and applauding. Fifty-eight supporters of same-sex marriage affixed their name to a laudable statement that criticizes those who won’t allow for any dissent on the subject of same-sex marriage.
The statement bears some resemblance to an article I wrote here in early April about the need for a “Root Beer Summit.” Greg Forster wrote a helpful followup titled “We Can Share This Country” that listed what a meeting of Christian and LGBT spokesmen would look like.
In my article, I began by laying out what peaceful co-existence could look like between Christian and LGBT communities:
I won’t rehash all the principles of the new document, but the signatories offer helpful principles for peaceful co-existence and respect between two parties that possess seemingly intractable disagreement. A few quotes are memorable, in particular:
The natural consequence of true liberty is diversity. Unless a society can figure out a way to reach perfect agreement, conflicting views will be inevitable. Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically.
The test of our commitment to liberal principles is not our eagerness to hear ideas we share, but our willingness to consider seriously those we oppose. . . .
Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equalitynot in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity.
Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.
There is much that is good in the statement, but there are two lessons springing from this latest statement that I found particularly compelling:
(1) Conformity fractures civil society and is fundamentally illiberal.
(2) Working toward peaceful co-existence requires an intentional willingness to call out the fringe elements from both sides of the debate.
On the first, even those who did not sign the statement must insist that the freedom to dissent is a fundamental American value. On the second, fringe elements from opposing sides are more alike than either is willing to admit. Two sides of the same coin, these figures traffic in caricature, preferring distance rather than conversation; insult rather than introspection.
This means that gay activists who incite hatred toward traditionalists need to be sidelined from debate and that Christians (or anyone) who depict all LGBT persons as degenerate perverts need to be sidelined from the debate and disciplined by pastoral authorities.
Let both sides exist, of course, but let them exist on the margins, content with percolating hatred and marginalization, and in turn, misunderstanding. Let their relevance wither as individuals and organizations move toward mutual respect and kindness towards those they disagree with. I may be too optimistic about what I see at least is a minimal consensus developing around the freedom of conscience. But even naïve optimism is preferable to a fracturing civil society and an embattled citizenry.