If you want to win friends and influence people, don’t throw stones

I generally enjoy reading articles by secularists and atheists in the media.  That might sound like a strange thing for a Christian to say, but if you only ever read things that you agree with, you’re never really going to get challenged and have your thinking stretched.  When you read something by a writer who disagrees with your beliefs, if you’re open, it will give you questions that either you will have worked out an answer to or if you don’t it makes you go away and find out what your response should be.

I do get annoyed sometimes when I read a poorly considered piece that lacks thought and respect.  Last week though, I read something that really riled me.

The Huffington Post article in question was entitled ‘A Two-Faced, US-Style ‘Moral’ Campaign Is Threatening LGBT Progress in the UK’ and was written by Conor Marron who Co-founded the Coalition for Equal Marriage in response to the launch of the Coalition for Marriage in February.

Though I support what the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is doing and the view that the definition of Marriage shouldn’t be changed by politicians on a whim, I don’t have a problem with what the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM)  is doing.  Both sides have just as much of a right to voice their opinions as the other and try to garner as much support as possible.  As it currently stands C4M’s petition has 441,000 signatories compared to C4EM’s 46,000.  This gives a clear picture of the level of support each campaign is receiving and probably goes some way to explain the level of anger that comes across in Conor Marron’s article.

Marron seems incredibly surprised that there has been a backlash against the Government’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage:

‘The proposals received but a smattering of media attention, and a polite welcome from LGBT groups. ‘Separate but equal’ legislation would be a thing of the past. The final, uncontroversial baby-step toward equality was underway.

But since February this year, a well-oiled PR campaign against the proposals [C4m] has been busy giving the false impression of a public backlash to the proposals.’

As he goes on he displays plenty of ignorance of Christian belief assuming that only religious fundamentalists are against gay marriage.  He can be forgiven for his lack of knowledge, after all I don’t know an awful lot about what goes on in gay circles and I don’t expect him to have an in-depth understanding of the finer points of the Christian faith.  He is not a politician or an experienced public leader, just someone who decided to set up a petition in favour of gay marriage.

However, despite needing to do some homework on matters of Christian orthodox belief, he is more than happy to shoot down some Christian organisations:

‘The Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is a network of evangelical Christian groups in the UK (the kind often described as “US-style”, not without reason). The exact composition of this coalition is not advertised on their website. However a bit of digging unearths a few quite extreme organisations (more extreme than any mainstream UK church, anyway).

One of C4M’s members is the Christian Institute…  Another of their members is the fundamentalist group Christian Medical Fellowship, which campaigns against women’s choice over abortion rights, and welcomes good Christian doctors as long as they believe “The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God.”‘

I’ve never thought of the Christian Medical Fellowship in particular as fundamentalist of extremist.  Knowing some of its members I suspect that they would be horrified to be described in these terms.  As the article progresses, Marron continues to snipe at those supporting what C4M is doing.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.  What really saddens me about this article is that Conor Marron feels that the best form of defence for his cause is to throw stones at the other side and hope that a few find their target and cause damage.  Usually this sort of thing happens when someone feels that they are losing the battle and they begin to resort to desperate measures.  This type of action isn’t likely to win him any new friends though.  He’s failing to present his case in a positive light and is doing his cause more harm than good.  It’s not a race to the bottom to find out which side is the most intolerant.  Ironically having claimed that C4M is carrying out a ‘US style’ campaign, it is his comments instead that remind me of American politics where so much time and effort is spent trying to undermine the opposition.

Jesus famously said that we should love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27).  I’m not sure how much love the gay community is feeling from Christians right now.  I hope and pray that those running C4M don’t resort to throwing stones at the other side, even if they are antagonised and provoked.  Jesus showed us a better way to go about our business.  Showing respect rather than intolerance even if you don’t agree with someone is much more likely to win them over than trying to pick a fight.

We are in a moment of time where Christians in this country have the opportunity to engage with gay people and try to begin to heal some old wounds despite the path that the Government is taking.  We shouldn’t be ashamed to stand up for what we believe, but it needs to be carefully presented.  God loves everyone, whether straight or gay despite the fact that we all do things that he doesn’t approve of.

Let’s get that message out as we continue with this marriage debate.

Categories: Church, Homosexuality, Marriage

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9 replies

  1. ” I’m not sure how much love the gay community is feeling from Christians right now”
    Well said. My concern is that although the church as a whole understandably wants to speak on this issue is that we’ve treated people who are gay so horrifically is that however well we ‘present’ on this issue we won’t be heard. We’ve blown it. Instead we should hold our hands up and say ‘we’ve messed up on this’ and lay down our rights to speak on this issue completely for a time. If God chooses us to influence society on this again in the future, great but in the mean time we need to go away and ensure that we don’t treat peoples’ sexual identities as weapons in our theological battles, but act out of love for each person created by God.

    • Jon, I understand where you’re coming from, but if the time is not right for the church to speak out, how long will we have to wait until it is? The church has let people down in the past by not making it’s voice heard when it should have done. If the churches remain silent on this issue would it be to everyone’s advantage?

  2. I like your commentary on this, and it highlights much of the tone of the debate so far.

    Why do some supporters of C4EM get so very angry that others should want to disagree with them in a public way? Even debating the issue is presented as giving airtime to bigots and fanatics. I find myself at a loss as to how to speak about this topic to friends and relatives for fear that I will be labelled some kind of hate-monger – and so the ‘take home’ message appears to be getting through.

    Most Christians I know approach this issue with great care and concern and certainly do not fit the stereotype that’s doing the rounds at the moment. I do agree, though, that the Church needs to speak out about its position boldly, and with love. Indeed it has a right to.

  3. I agree that we should know what secularists and atheists think. I have read all four ”horses of the apocalypse” and visit the British humanist society and National secular society websites on a regular basis. They do make some valid criticisms of Christianity which i think we would do well to take on board. However there is also deliberate misrepresentation and ignorance which i suppose is inevitable if you have a particular axe to grind. Some Christians feel that we should not read such things lest it weakens our faith but it is good to have our viewpoint challenged and essential to have answers to questions even though sometimes we have to hold up our hands and say we just don’t know. At Spring harvest i heard the view that Apologetics and Politics were ineffective and counter productive, that we should instead be doing more mission. For me its all mission, its ”salt and light” and has its place along with everything else. The same sex marriage issue is an incredibly sensitive one, There is a biblical tension here between committed loving relationships and Gods template for marriage sex and the family. How do we show love grace and sensitivity when we deny equal status to what is a loving union. Are we being legalistic like the Pharisee or are we standing for Gods plan. Making an earnest study and knowing the context of scripture helps and avoiding emotive rhetoric is essential.On my first ever visit to this site i expressed concern at the quality and tone of debate i had experienced on some other forums. It is very counter productive when Christians get drawn into those circular arguments,clever one liners and insults because it becomes more about point scoring rather than exploring. It is possible to say what you believe and why without misrepresenting or being rude to others Christianity in any case should stand on its own merits of which there are many.

  4. Gillan. As an atheist Humanist may I say how much I enjoyed reading your blog, which I found via your comment on eChurch. Thank you for your thoughtful and considered posts.

    Graham. I do agree it’s important to try to understand what ‘the other side’ thinks. And I do agree there’s a lot of deliberate misrepresentation and ignorance (but I’ve seen that on both sides). That’s why I think it’s so important to regularly ourselves to other’s points of view. I am frequently amazed by replies to my polite comments on Christaina websites that adopt a ‘You’re not a Christian so what are you doing here rocking the boat’ attitude. And I’d agree that a significant portion of the output by the so called Horses of the Apocalypse does not appropriately represent the views of conscientious, thoughtful atheists. Atheism as a mass movement is very immature and I can only apologise for some of the more outrageous behaviour. Give us time to catch up!

    • Thank you James for your kind comments. I generally get the impression from atheist/secularist websites that athesists are a pretty angry bunch of people. I suspect though that most atheists would say the same about Christians if they only visit some Christian websites. It makes a refreshing change to hear your point of view. I hope you’ll want to contribute your thoughts again in future.

  5. Sadly, it’s C4M and its supporters that started the stone throwing: consider Cardinal O’Brien to start with – antigay sentiment doesn’t get much more toxic. Whether O’Brien is a C4M signatory or on their advisory board or whatever is a moot point: it’s strident voices like his that the media pick up & broadcast…

    And more recently, of course, Anglican so-called ‘Mainstream’ and its bus adverts.

    I think it’s safe to say that the gay community isn’t feeling much love at all from most Christians right now, just more rejection and condemnation as C4M attempts — like the Pharisees of old — to ring-fence its own interests.

    It’s Catch 22: you can’t have sex because you’re not married, says the church; and you can’t get married because you’re gay. Wonderful.

    Here’s how my friend Emma Jayne puts it:

    You say it’s OK to be gay as long as I don’t do gay: that I must remain celibate. You say that sex is for marriage, but you deny me that privilege. You put fences around me — for my protection, you say. But that’s not true, is it? The fences are for your protection, to keep you safe from me, from the threat that I and my friends supposedly present to your nice, clean-cut clearly defined community.

    Notes from a Gay Christian Woman, August 2009.

    It’s as true now as it was when she wrote it back then.

    Compare the voices:


    Profound Consequences:
    If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People’s careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?


    Great Consequences
    If marriage is redefined (again), those who believe in the modern definition of “traditional” marriage will still be married. They will still have the same sexual-orientation. Peoples’ careers will remain intact, the sun will keep shining, and toast will still have a tendency to land butter-side-down. Couples seeking to adopt or foster will still be assessed based on the needs of the child, as they should be. Also, if we’re very lucky, schools might teach kids not to be massive bigots like their parents, and we’ll be one step closer to a cohesive, mature, civilised society.

    Putting it bluntly, C4M are scaremongering. Anyone who has taken the time to read the government’s consultation paper knows full well that the church will retain its exemption from equality legislation, that there is nothing to fear.

    The church has had centuries of having its own way, of trampling gays and others whom it regards as beneath the pale underfoot, and the government has promised it’s not going to take that privileged status away.

    Peter Kirk asks some good questions in his piece How to Ask Churches to Accept Homosexuality as Normal and in his final paragraph he observes:

    Perhaps the gay community, or at least the gay lobby, in fact wants the church to fear them. They make threatening accusations against Christians to frighten them into changing their teaching. But if they looked at church history, or even at the current situation in countries like China and Iran, they would soon realise that such tactics of persecution are usually counter-productive, tending in fact to strengthen the church and reinforce its distinctive doctrines.

    Strange really: if Peter’s right, where did the gay lobby learn that behaviour? From the church, which has spent centuries intimidating its opponents. Perhaps those tactics of persecution the church has used for so long are now coming home to roost…

    • I agree that scaremongering tactics are extremely unhelpful and unfortunately one that Christians have used too often in the past. They distort the picture and also can damage your credibility. I do feel too that C4M are overstating their case here. I guess it comes back to the slippery slope principle. Will churches at some point do the line have to offer gay marriages?

      I wonder how much of this historical persecution of the gay community by the church is a generational thing? I find that the younger Christians that I meet are generally pretty respectful towards their gay friends and aquaintances. Maybe that’s just the people I know and I’m possibly a bit naive.

      • I hope you’re right, Gillan, about the generational thing. It would be well nigh impossible to have a conversation on the subject with my parents, for instance, though my mother’s generally more open minded than my father, for whom homosexuality = sin, period. He’s not homophobic, just can’t/doesn’t understand, if that makes sense. But subsequent generations are evidently more open, more willing to engage.

        As you say re C4M. On the whole it seems to me that most slippery slope arguments are nothing but lazy thinking: I’ve had conversations with fundies in which, for instance, because I read Genesis 1-11 as primordial myth, in their minds that automatically implies that I’m denying the validity of the entire Bible up to and including the resurrection. Move one pebble, they say, and behold an avalanche — but most places in life aren’t like that.

        Perhaps at some point equality legislation will be brought in to cover the church; but this is not that point. It saddens me, though, that the church, the CofE in particular, remains the last bastion of hope for homophobia and other forms of bigotry. As Christ’s disciples we should leading the way in along the path to equality, not being dragged kicking and screaming…

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