by Phillip Brown
One of the central roles of apologetics is to defend against all those who attempt to hinder Christians from living out the Gospel. This is central to our work, but it is also probably the most difficult job that an apologist has to do. There are a few reasons for this. In this article I will lay our three challenges that Christians and Christian apologists in particular face in fighting back against the suppression of our beliefs. My ultimate goal is to show that all three reasons come down to a misunderstanding and misuse of the term hate.
The first big challenge in dealing with these sorts of issues is that they tend to revolve around controversial topics. It is very easy these days to find reports from various media outlets speaking about Christians being hateful, discriminatory, and bigoted. And subsequently charged, fined, and at times even jailed as a result of things that they have said when either preaching, or defending the Gospel1.What lies behind this persecution of Christians is that the Gospel stands firm on a number of moral issues, from sex, to sexuality and its views are simply unpopular. They are unpopular to the point of being deemed hateful. But is hate an accurate description of Christian views? I will answer that question a little later on.
Another major challenge is that, due to the unpopularity of many Christian ideas, to hold to them and vocalize them has literally been deemed illegal by some governments. An example of this is the simple gender binary that Christians follow. This is made clear at multiple points in Scripture. Mark 10:6 is about as clear as it gets. In Canada in 2017 an act was passed to amend the Charter of Rights And Freedoms so as to include gender expression under its protection. This presents major issues for those defending the clear view of the Gospel. By simply speaking the truth about gender and not accepting what is outside of the binary, which by the way is supported by our most fundamental understanding of biology, Christians are at risk of life ruining prosecution under Canadian law.
This issue also presents a secondary issue for those who are required to interpret Charter law. Under section 2 of the same Charter2, we are allowed freedom of religion as a fundamental right. Each time a charge of hate is brought up against a Christian for professing his, or her beliefs, judges are required to enter into the murky realm of trying to figure out exactly what wrong, if any, has been done. In any case, it is not at all clear, as far as the law is concerned, that by simply speaking about what the Gospel says regarding something like sexual orientation, or gender, that any crime is ever really committed.
The third challenge is that we are dealing with people’s emotions. Whenever emotions are involved facts tend to be thrown out of the conversation. In fact, conversation tends to be thrown out altogether in favour of grand appeals to emotion on the part of those upset by a particular thing that has been said, or done. And this third point drives right at the heart of our problem. Because people become so emotional, and understandably so at times, hate becomes a default word that gets thrown around without real concern for its actual meaning.
Disagreement is Misunderstood and Mislabelled.
What is really happening is that disagreement is misunderstood and is often mislabelled as hate. This is philosophically problematic. It is an issue because it collides with reality. Seeing a particular issue in a different way is entirely different than hating an opposing view, or hating the person, or people who hold that opposing view. By way of example, let us look at a disagreement about the best way to get to the grocery store. You might think that the best way is to take Short Street up to Highway 1, then get off at Back Road, which will take you right to the store. My preference is to take Short Street to Long Drive, which will also take me to Back Road and subsequently to the store. We can argue about the merits of our preferred routes, but really, all it means is that we disagree on the best way to get to the grocery store. It does not mean that you hate my preferred route, or I yours, and certainly does not necessarily mean that you hate me, or that I hate you. We simply disagree. There is no hate that figures into the proverbial equation.
For the sake of clarity, it is important to note that whether one’s view is factually correct, or not, for example, your idea of taking Highway 1 to the grocery store is in fact safer and faster than my preferred route, is only relevant in terms of what the issue is. It does not do to conflate the fact that people disagree on an issue, with the views proposed by the interlocutors who are having the disagreement.
Hate, on the other hand, is something quite different. A standard definition might be, to feel extreme enmity toward, or to regard with active hostility3. To hate someone, or something is something that is a) difficult to establish objectively, and b) not rooted in some kind of fact, or set of facts, but rather an emotional response to a particular thing, a view, a person, or a set of circumstances. This is nothing like reasonably disagreeing with someone. And it is not at all necessarily true that people who hold different views regarding a certain lifestyle, for example, hate one another. It seems to me that, according to the above definition, to establish hate, one has show that there is enmity and active hostility directed at someone, or something. That is not always an easy task. Hitler hated Jews, the KKK seem to hate all people of colour, and it may even be true, that Ottawa Senators fans hate the Toronto Maple Leafs. What is consistent with hate about their behaviour is that, at least more often than not, it can clearly be shown to display directed enmity and hostility towards identifiable groups of people. A Christian, or anyone else for that matter, simply talking about the morality of a behaviour, or a lifestyle, in no way, necessarily displays such behavioural characteristics. Further to that, the issue is with a behaviour, or a lifestyle not a people. And so, it is unreasonable to compare the behaviour displayed by the likes of Hitler and the KKK, which is indeed hateful, with that of people who simply disagree about things, even if the things about which those people disagree are issues that are very personal in nature.
Giving that people’s lives could be ruined by simply mistaking hate for disagreement, it is quite obvious that this problem is indeed a dangerous one. The details of the outworkings of the kind of confusion in question are too many to go into at this time, however, it is safe to say that if we continue to misrepresent disagreement in the way that it has been as of late, we set the stage for greater forms of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of words and actions. And sooner, or later – please excuse the cliché – an Orwellian scenario will begin to emerge.
I hope that this article has provided some insight into the current challenges that, not just Christians, but many people, of all beliefs and backgrounds face today regarding the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of words and actions. It cannot be stressed enough that we need to be very cautious about how we engage others. It is no longer good enough just to say that we are speaking from a place of love, that God is loving or that His Word is rooted in love. We need to go a step further and make it very clear that we do not hate people who have views, which are different from our own. We must double down on the fact that we simply disagree and wish to have a conversation about opposing views.