Disagreement is not Hate-Speech
The American author Stephen King recently put his foot in it: In response to criticism of the Oscars for their lack of diversity, he posted on Twitter something along the lines of, “I don’t take diversity into account, I just judge based on the quality of the art.”
You might think that sounds fair enough, but bear with me. The Twittersphere exploded in outrage as this, “Ignorant, backward,” statement. All sorts were voicing their horror that such an esteemed figure as the great Stephen King could say something so barbaric and hurtful.
Other than one or two brief news articles, I didn’t follow the whole thing too closely. We can only imagine crowds of angry people gathering to burn his books. I hope that King has a thick skin by this point, and could probably see the funny side of it: So used to seeing his horror novels burned by the ‘evangelical’ right must appreciate the irony of a backlash from the liberal left. “When did I become a representative of conservative values?” he must be thinking.
One of the more reasoned responses, however, pointed out that there was more to the whole issue than immediately met the eye: While King’s statement was well-intentioned, there was a big problem with it – as a heterosexual white male, Stephen King has a particular taste informed by his background that will make him not see the artistic value of films made by people from other backgrounds. Without being a racist, Mr King (along with the rest of us) is statistically likely to prefer films made by and about heterosexual white males – because this is the world he lives in, understands and appreciates.
This one comment, even though I can’t remember who made it, really stood out to me. Amidst the anger and outpouring of shock at King’s “backwardness”, it showed a respectful willingness to try to see things from his perspective, as well as try to show him the errors in his thinking.
These days, you’re unable to disagree with certain moral issues without being accused of hate-speech, particularly as regards gender ideology and human sexuality. The whole tenor of debate is hectoring and bullying: There are politically powerful, impressive lobby groups, who can force people and institutions to tow the line, whether they want to or not. This is enforcing conformity through fear. In most, if not all of these issues, Christians will find themselves on the “backward” side of the argument. We’re retrogressive in our thinking, apparently.
We live in a pluralistic society, which should permit multiple conceptions of the good life. Put simply, everyone’s entitled to their opinion – or at least they should be. But if you state the Biblical position on marriage or sex – well, that’s hate-speech, which you should keep to yourself.
Scripturally, there’s not much defence for the idea of pious silence: Christians are called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We’re told to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reasons for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter, 3:15, NIV 2011) Historically, we’ve failed to do this, and have been more desperate to win arguments than souls.
But if there's to be change in anyone’s thinking, and not just a hardening of hearts on both sides of the debate, then we can’t just shut down the conversation by accusing people of hate-speech (or, we might add, just writing people off as sinners). Disagreement with any position is not automatic bigotry: It might be, as in Stephen King’s case – well-intentioned, but without having seen things from a certain perspective.
If people mean to convince us to believe something other than what the Bible teaches, then are they willing to engage with us and understand why we believe what we believe? Some Christians genuinely are bigoted – the same way some advocates of the new diversity are bigoted – but that doesn’t mean that we all are. They’re unlikely (I trust) to change what we believe, but they should better understand that we’re motivated by faithful conformity to the Word of God, not retrogressive conservatism and ignorance. I would hope that a mutually respectful approach would help Christians see the genuine difficulties with which some people live, day-by-day.
If our society is to remain free and democratic, instead of being forced down the path of moral totalitarianism, we need to learn, respectfully, to agree to disagree.