Facebook friends will immediately flee and label me a bigot just for the title of this piece. Most of them will not read what we have to say because they can reach their conclusion simply on suspicion that we might be on the wrong side of marriage equality. A great irony is embedded in that fact. And it’s an irony we must understand.
The heart of the irony involves prejudice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, prejudice is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Prejudice is the enemy of equality, since it is an a priori judgment about someone just because of, say, the color of their skin, their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation. If you see an African American walking down the street and automatically think he must be a violent gangbanger, that’s prejudice. If you see a Muslim and think she’s a terrorist, that’s prejudice. If you oppose gay marriage and are immediately named a bigot, that’s prejudice.
Prejudice is wrong and many times ignorant, and Christians are often guilty of it. Have Christians been prejudiced against gays and lesbians? Absolutely. Do we need to repent of that prejudice? Absolutely. Every man and woman has been created in the image of God, and is deeply loved by him, regardless of his or her sense of sexual orientation. Christians have no right to mistreat gays and lesbians because we know that, apart from the grace of God, we are all guilty rebels before him — as guilty as anyone else anywhere else.
But now the tables have turned. Christians are the new targets of prejudice. If we oppose gay marriage, we are automatically bigots.
How did that happen?
The movement for marriage equality did two extremely clever things. First, it used the word equality. Who could be against equality? Only bigots. There it is — if you’re on the wrong side of equality, you must be a bigot.
A bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions about race, religion, or politics and who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.” In other words, a bigot is someone who is strongly prejudiced. As soon as equality was introduced into the discussion, the quest for marriage equality was viewed alongside the Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage, and so on. Anyone against such positions is simply wrong. End of story.
“If we are truly following Christ, letting people get to know us will help dispel prejudice against Christians.”
The second clever thing the movement did was to assume the conclusion in the premise (also known as “begging the question”). That is, by calling gay marriage “marriage,” the conclusion has already been reached. We are then only talking about whether gay marriage should be equal to heterosexual marriage. Once the conversation begins there, there’s no way for us to oppose the idea of gay marriage and win.
The real question is “Should we redefine what marriage is?” That is the fundamental question, since marriage has traditionally been understood to be an exclusive union between a man and a woman who are not directly related.
The movement for marriage equality was clever not to frame the discussion in terms of “changing the definition of marriage,” because that would surely meet greater resistance than pushing for “equality.” Instead, pushing for marriage equality already assumed the conclusion in the premise: a homosexual union is a marriage.
The New Prejudice
These moves have been so successful that now the crowd cannot see the irony. If you oppose gay marriage, you must be a bigot. There is no way to think otherwise, since the discussion has been framed in terms of equality, instead of in terms of the redefinition of an established social institution. The prejudice is now on the other foot. Without even considering arguments to the contrary, people will form negative conclusions about others because of an alternate opinion. That is prejudice.
Ironically, those who say that Christians are bigots are in fact engaging in bigoted behavior. And not just against Christians, but against anyone who holds reservations about “marriage equality.” You do not need to be a Christian to recognize the problems with it. Remember that a bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions . . . who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.” Society will now not even listen to alternate points of view on the issue. And therein lies the irony.
The Old Prejudice
Christians facing prejudice is nothing new. The first Christians faced it head-on in the Roman Empire. The apostle Peter encouraged his readers to conduct themselves honorably among the pagans so that “when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Notice Peter’s phrase “when they speak against you as evildoers.” How could genuine Christians be thought of as evildoers?
“Unjust opposition is nothing new for Christians. We are called to suffer it well, following Christ’s example.”
The Romans thought that Christians hated the human race (so recorded the historian Tacitus), that they engaged in incest because they were married to their “brothers and sisters,” and that they were cannibals because they ate the body and blood of Christ. All of these were obviously grave misunderstandings. But Peter’s exhortation is, in effect, let them get to know you. The only real solution to prejudice is knowledge. As a friend of mine once said, “It’s hard to demonize someone when you get to know them.”
We are now the targets of an irrational prejudice. But we should not pout, despair, or withdraw. Unjust opposition is nothing new for followers of the crucified Christ. We are called to suffer it well, following his example (1 Peter 2:21–25). So far as we are able, let’s allow those who vilify us to get to know us. If we are truly following Christ, knowing who we really are will go a long way to dispel prejudice.