Almost all Americans agree that “hate groups” are not a good thing. The racist attitudes and promotion of violence which characterize the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other “white supremacists” are rightly denounced across the political spectrum. Controversy has developed, however, over attempts to attach the “hate” label to groups who have almost nothing in common with the KKK. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) became well known in the 1970’s for providing legal help for victims of the Klan and other white supremacists. Recently, however, the SPLC has broadened its definition of hate groups to include those who have been vocal in their opposition to legalized same-sex marriage. As a result, numerous Christian organizations (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant) have appeared on the SPLC’s “map of hate,” including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the Ruth Institute.
Is the charge that these groups are guilty of “hate” warranted? It would seem that even those who favor same-sex marriage should concede there is nothing extreme about the position of their opponents. The view that marriage is to be a relationship between a man and a woman has been the consensus of the Christian church for almost two thousand years. That continues to be the understanding of most Christians today. It also should be remembered that just a few years ago, the majority of Americans held that same opinion. In 2007, less than forty percent of adults in our country favored allowing same-sex marriage and politicians such as Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton (now advocates of same-sex marriage) insisted that “marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
In the ruling (Obergefell vs Hodges) which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that opposition to same-sex marriage because of religious beliefs must still be respected. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate that same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” Kennedy went on to encourage “an open and searching debate” between proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage.
The SPLC, like any organization, has the right to label those with whom they disagree as hateful, stupid, or evil if they so choose. When they do so, however, they are fueling the harshness and incivility that characterize many of our public conversations and are really part of the problem rather than part of the solution. True tolerance, which means respecting those with whom we disagree, is a virtue that seems to be increasingly rare, but very much needed in our society. We as Christians can make a significant contribution to the common good in our country by advocating civil discussions, avoiding name calling and derogatory labels, modeling a willingness to listen to those whose views are different from ours, and treating others with respect, even if they disagree with our deepest convictions. Heeding Jesus’ instructions to “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also for them” (Matthew 7:12) is the best way to combat hate in our world.
Rev. Dan Erickson, Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church