I’m taking an interfaith conflict resolution course at my seminary. Tonight, the professor briefly touched on the difficulties experienced by religious people when attempting to solve problems within their own faiths.
During her lecture, a certain student raised her hand to share that in her opinion, one example of internal religious conflict occurred several months ago when Chick-Fil-A’s CEO expressed that he felt the “institution of marriage” should be “protected” by reserving it for heterosexual relationships. She felt the backlash from the public was wrong– and that in our country, religious people who express their opinions on issues of “morality” are often unfairly targeted, unheard or misunderstood.
The professor (whom I actually interpret to be rather liberal) attempted to move on by inviting another student to speak. An older gentleman raised his hand and said that he believes some conflicts require us to “agree to disagree” because that’s the more peaceful thing to do.
Everyone nodded along, but this bothered me. A lot. So I raised my hand.
I explained that in my opinion, there are times when justice requires us to stop “agreeing to disagree”. Inaction and complacency can in themselves become forms of violence. My comments seemed to make the students uncomfortable… After all, the topic of same-sex relationships is one that has been inflammatory in other classroom settings, and is intentionally avoided by the faculty. I think the professors are instructed to stay away from the topic because they scurry like hell to change the subject when it rears its head. The students often avoid it because they’re worried that their comments might cause division.
The truth is that I’ve grown very weary of the “agree to disagree” policy that is so often applied to issues surrounding same-sex relationships. The phrase “agree-to-disagree” implies that both positions (for and against) have merit– but in the case of civil rights, I don’t believe that’s possible. I simply do not believe that a person’s right to oppress is as valid as the rights of those experiencing the oppression. And I think we become complicit in oppression when we buy into the myth of the oppressor’s rights.
Christianity is a privileged group in this country, and at many times throughout history (including today) its religious leaders have been guilty of oppressing people whose humanity (as found in their religion or lack thereof, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) they haven’t understood. This has happened in nearly every generation in which Christianity has existed– and in every case, there has always been some faction of people who said, “Those who wish to use scripture to marginalize others are entitled to their opinion.”
I can’t say that anymore. Even if it’s popular. Even if it’s politically correct. Even if it’s touted as the “peaceful” thing to do.
Those who use scripture to belittle, marginalize or discriminate against other people are NOT entitled to do so. There is no merit in a position that minimizes a person’s worth based on his or her sexual orientation– even if he or she believes God has given him or her the divine right to carry out such discrimination. “Agreeing to disagree” is not the helpful or peaceful thing to do in a situation where oppression is the problem. The helpful and peaceful thing to do is to call oppression what it is: Bigotry. Socially violent. Absolutely and totally wrong.
So here are the unintended lessons I learned at seminary today: That we all have a limit. And that I’ve finally met mine. And that I don’t want to play the “we-both-have-valid-positions” game when it comes to issues of equality or human dignity. And that I need to start admitting that, at times, I am tired of Christianity’s institutions– for a variety of reasons– but most recently because they often ask us to affirm the oppressor’s rights.
And now I must go to bed. After all… I have class again tomorrow.