The last week has seen an explosion of indignation at the remarks of Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson on homosexuality (he referred to it in the context of “sin”). A lot of this condemnation is misplaced, based, as it is, on a mistake and a double-standard.
The mistake is in thinking that calling something a sin implies hatred or bigotry against whoever it is that happens to practice it. But there is no necessary connection. From the standpoint of a non-religious person, Robertson’s judgment that homosexual conduct is sinful is just his opinion–an opinion that he knows is rejected by practicing homosexuals. Yet it ought to be obvious that it is possible to disagree with someone else’s views or conduct without hating that person. If disagreeing with someone else’s plan of life is hatred, then almost everybody is hating somebody all the time. It would mean that the people who disagree with Robertson hate him.
Admittedly, there is in human nature a self-love that makes us tend to get angry with, and maybe even hate, the people we disagree with. Who do they think they are, not seeing things the way we do! But the proper response to this tendency is to control it, and not to try to banish all possibility of hate by making all disagreement illegitimate. It is fair to point out here, moreover, that, judging from what he said in the now infamous GQ interview, Phil Robertson is a calm and mature man who is capable of disagreeing with conduct without hating the people who do it.
This mistake is so obvious that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that those who are making it are making it on purpose–that their aim is not so much to prevent hatred as to stop any conversation on the topic of sexual morality. That is, their aim is not so much to promote civility as to ensure that a certain side of the argument will prevail. This brings us to the double-standard. Suppose some left-leaning secularist with a TV show had said the opposite of what Phil Robertson said. Suppose this person had said that the Biblical understanding of human sexuality is repressive and wrong, a cause of human misery. Does anyone seriously think that this person’s career would be in danger? No. Accordingly, the campaign against Phil Robertson is not so much about preventing hatred and bigotry as about ensuring that the nation’s commitment to Christian morality will continue its rapid decline without any public complaints from influential people.
It’s also worth noting that from Phil Robertson’s remarks were, from his own standpoint, not only innocent but even an act of love. Christians believe that sin is deadly to the soul. They therefore believe they are trying to help the sinner by alerting him to his sin. This view is reflected in the old Catholic tradition that says that “admonishing the sinner” is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Of course, those who don’t believe in Christianity or its morality may reject the admonition as misguided. But it is hardly reasonable for them to assume that the person making the admonition is necessarily animated by ill-will.