I recently had a conversation with a friend in which the following quote, falsely attributed sometimes to Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, came up (more likely said by Rick Warren):
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
This is an example of one of those times when a quote sounds good, but feels wrong. This is something I came across a lot growing up in Evangelical Christian culture. My husband helped me pick apart this quote and realize why it feels so wrong. In doing this, I’m beginning to understand that so much of conservative Christian rhetoric is like this. I think it’s important work to dissect these kinds of statements so we can begin to understand why these ideas are wrong, and know how to combat the ideas and instead spread accurate information. It is important work for me personally because I was so affected by these types of quotes during my formative years. I often was able to cling to negative ideas and believe lies about myself and the world using this kind of language, language that sounds good, but feels wrong.
Let’s start with the problems with this quote. The first problem with the quote is that I don’t actually think our culture accepts these lies. The next problem is that the first “lie” is a bit vague. The third problem is that this quote is often used by people who don’t support same-sex marriage, trying to defend their actions and claim to be compassionate, but the actions these people take often are not compassionate. The fourth problem is that, if your convictions are causing you to act in a way that is not compassionate, you may have to compromise your convictions if you want to live a life of compassion.
1. Does our culture really accept these lies? This is something I read a lot coming from both parties: claiming the other side believes something they don’t in order to make your point. I don’t think that “disagreeing” with someone’s lifestyle automatically means you fear or hate them. This digs into problem #2: what does it mean to disagree with a lifestyle? Does it mean you don’t live the same way, or that you think their way of living is wrong? In the latter case, what are we judging to be wrong about their lifestyle, and how do we react? If we accept their right to live their life a certain way, even if we judge it to be “wrong,” I don’t see this as demonstrating fear and hate. I don’t think our culture has accepted this lie. As for the second lie, I don’t think I have to agree with everything someone believes or does to love them. I do not always agree that my husband uses his time the best way he could, but still love him. I do not agree with my Muslim friends on their views on how women should dress, but still love them. And I don’t see this reflected in the culture, either. I just don’t buy that these lies are actually accepted.
2. I mentioned this above, but what does it mean to disagree with a lifestyle? It could mean you don’t live the same way as someone else. It could mean you are judging them to be living “the wrong way,” or breaking some moral code. It could mean you think they are being harmful to themselves or others. I’m just not exactly sure what that means; I guess I would need more context, but for now I will assume it means you think someone isn’t living the “right” way.
3. Let’s say that, by disagreeing with someone’s lifestyle, you mean that you don’t think it’s “right” to live as a gay person. I’m not so interested in how you feel or think as much as how those beliefs make you act, and evaluate whether your actions are compassionate or not. I think people use this kind of language to imply that fighting for equal rights of gay and lesbian couples is compassionate. While I agree that love does not mean agreeing with everything someone believes or does, I don’t think love is fighting for people to not have hospital visitation rights for their dying life companion. I don’t think love is denying two adults who want to raise children together the rights of equal parenthood, so that if one parent dies, the other may lose their children as well. That’s cruelty, not compassion, no matter if you “agree with their lifestyle” or not.
4. I disagree with the last sentence altogether. If your conviction is to kill someone who doesn’t believe the same way you do, then you may have to compromise this conviction if you want to be a compassionate person. Forgive me the extreme example, but it happens in the world. If your conviction is to say that owning slaves is not really such a bad thing, you are not coming from a place of compassion. Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Maybe you justify this by saying you believe gay people will go to hell, and you want to prevent the future suffering that you believe will occur. OK, but find a way to do it that doesn’t make their life on earth full of misery and suffering, and then I’ll see if you’ve earned the title “compassionate.”
Sounds good, but feels wrong. Until I broke it down, it was difficult for me to know why I felt weird about it. I still get confused by evangelical rhetoric, especially since I somewhat remember how to think like an evangelical Christian. Overall, I still have work to do in the area of understanding how this type of language confused and hurt me, and how to untangle the lies from reality.