Sally Kohn, a liberal columnist once employed by Fox News, gave a TED talk in 2013:
Liberals on my side, we can be self-righteous, we can be condescending, we can be dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with us. In other words, we can be politically right but emotionally wrong. . . . Conservatives are really nice. . . . I think Sean Hannity is 99 percent politically wrong, but his emotional correctness is strikingly impressive, and that's why people listen to him. Because you can't get anyone to agree with you if they don't even listen to you first.
For Kohn emotional correctness—the ability to empathize and explain—opens the door to real conversation:
We spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements, and if we can start to find compassion for one another, then we have a shot at building common ground. It actually sounds really hokey . . . but when you try to put it in practice, it's really powerful.
Times have changed. The 2015 post-Obergefell version of Sally Kohn wrote in the Daily Beast:
Will anti-gay Christians be politically and socially ostracized? I sure hope so. . . . To those who remain in the fringe minority stubbornly mired in hatred and the dark rationalizations of the past, please try to lose gracefully. You are not being exiled. The world is simply moving on without you.
The “fringe minority” (roughly 40 percent of the country) need to get on board with her progressive ethics or remain in their bigoted darkness while the march of history goes on. It appears that after a great legal victory for her causes, Kohn forgets her calls for handling disagreements with understanding, compassion, and an open mind, and instead demeans those whose viewpoint only received four Supreme Court votes as opposed to five.
Last week, I wrote about the need for conservatives to avoid sinking down to name-calling and outrage in their response to liberal attacks. Many commenters and readers supported this, though there was, I guess unsurprisingly, some conservative outrage in response. The problem is that outrage rallies the base, but reason persuades the mind.
My argument about conservative outrage serves two purposes. One is practical. Satire and strong words can be effective, but these should not be the norm. Commentators become the boys and girls who cry “Wolf!” if every George Takei statement is a cause for fury. Not all issues have equal importance, and all debates demand respect to be taken seriously by more than cheering fans.
Secondly, if Christians believe they have the truth, and that human beings are created for the truth, they needn’t resort to mudslinging or cheap shots; the truth will triumph in the end. Good ends are never justified by wicked means. Human beings created by God have a right not to be slandered or degraded, and if their views are incorrect, that should be demonstrated with clarity and charity.
Take for instance the header image of the article. It shows two images of Christ dressed up in tuxedos for a gay wedding. No one who isn’t inclined to agree with her in the first place will be convinced by either her argument or that image. Rather than get furious at the article and the image, just let it be. It’s not gaining any converts.
Kohn’s shift in tone and argument is troubling, as is the fact that a mainstream liberal website published her article. It serves as an indication of the breakdown of civil discourse, and the attempt by some culture warriors on the left to denigrate traditional religious believers as a darkened sect, unworthy of consideration.
Conservatives need to defend themselves against marginalization, even as we realize that if we are to remain faithful, we might have to commit civil disobedience. But it must be done with respect, well thought out arguments, and courage in the truth. Think more Kathryn Lopez, Ross Douthat, Chad C. Pecknold, and Ryan T. Anderson, and less angry talk radio and talking head news shows.
I hope Kohn can come to know better the millions of loving Christians who believe in the traditional definition of marriage and debate with them respectfully, rather than cast them out of civil discourse. She seems to have agreed with me on civil discourse in 2013, but her recent article has fallen short. Kohn calls for graciousness on the part of those who lost the latest legal battle, but victors are called to be gracious as well.
As we try to get our orthodox Christian message out—love of God, love of neighbor, and the call to live according to his design—fury will only serve to lose the respect of the many who have already tuned out all the shouting between left and right. What each person needs is the truth, presented in love.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.