George Bowers Sr.: Disagreement does not equal hatred
With all the banter regarding various issues today, it is important not to swallow the poison we’re being force fed: that disagreement with someone means that we hate them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love my wife dearly, but believe it or not, Nancy doesn’t agree with me on everything. She happens to like limas, which I am convinced are some of the nastiest vegetables God ever created. Just because I disagree with her does not mean that I hate her. In a similar fashion, some of my mixed up friends refuse to recognize the superiority of Jeff Gordon and foolishly root for other drivers. Just because they don’t see it my way, I haven’t disowned them. I even disagree with other pastors over Biblical interpretation, and yet we love each other dearly. Hatred is not the opposite of support and disagreement is not the same as dislike.
So too, in the current national discussion regarding homosexual marriage, just because I disagree with someone’s choices does not mean I hate them and just because I stand up for what I believe (as do they) and share my reasoning does not mean I don’t dearly love them. In fact, it means I do. If I didn’t care, the most unloving thing I could do is not speak up if I was convinced they were doing something harmful. If I see a friend abusing drugs, it’s not hatred to try to get them to stop. Likewise, if I am convinced that someone I care about is doing something morally wrong, I have a spiritual obligation to share my convictions.
This is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution summarized as “Freedom of Speech.” I do not have the right to defame, slander, or denigrate others nor to attack them personally or physically, but I do have every right to speak my convictions regardless of how vehemently someone else disagrees. Others likewise have the right to express theirs. If these rights are ever restricted, as many are seeking to do under the guise of eliminating “hate speech,” we are heading down a very dangerous road that will harm many. No one should have the right to advocate or promote hatred or harm toward another, but simply identifying certain actions as sinful does not do that. Just because we say prostitution is sinful doesn’t mean we hate prostitutes any more than rooting for Gordon means I hate other drivers.
I understand that many disagree with my belief that the Bible is God’s word and must be obeyed and taken seriously by those who follow him. And I must be ready to accept challenges to those beliefs and defend them if I so choose. Such an atmosphere of free speech gives the best opportunity for truth to win out. But muzzling such expression on either side out of concern for people’s tender feelings will eventually harm all.
Speaking out on issues is not intolerance. What happened at Garissa, Kenya, earlier this month when Islamic terrorists brutally murdered 150 Christians for their faith is intolerance. Disagreeing about religious faith is not. ISIS is now giving us a very vivid demonstration of intolerance as they behead all dissenters. I don’t know a single Christian who advocates for such genocide of anyone regardless of their beliefs or actions. If I disagree with you concerning your football team or your lifestyle, it does not mean I hate you. And it does not mean that either of us have to be muzzled by the government because someone’s feelings may get hurt in the discussion.
Let us not buy the lie that verbal and political action regarding moral issues on either side is hatred or intolerance. In fact, refusing to allow such discussion and demanding that everyone think alike is the highest form of intolerance which our founders fought and died to prevent. It sounds eerily reminiscent to the same arguments used in Germany to squelch dissent in the prewar years. If you disagree with those in power, or with the majority opinion, then you have no right to that opinion. Such attitudes led to some of the worst genocides in history and I pray we are not returning. A frightening number refuse to tolerate Christians today because we hold differing beliefs. Even if you disagree with me, I will defend your right to do so. And I hope you will do the same for me, for disagreement does not equal hatred.
George Bowers Sr. is the pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of four books, including his latest book of poetry, “Wit and Wisdom of the Woods.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.