Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Model of Reasonable Debate

You may have noticed that there are occasional disagreements in the Comments between Fosco and his good friend The BeeMaster (not pictured at right). Fosco and The BeeMaster go way back--in fact, The BeeMaster is one of the kindest people that Fosco knows. This may surprise you, as Fosco is pretty leftish and The BeeMaster is a fire-breathing conservative. But, stranger things have happened. In all honesty, Fosco likes to think that his ongoing discussion with The BeeMaster is a pretty nice example of Obama's dictum about "disagreeing without being disagreeable."

Most recently, Fosco and The BeeMaster have been sparring over Rick Warren and Obama. The BeeMaster has taken issue with this Fosco post on Warren and has responded in the comments section to that post. As Fosco was in the middle of a very long response to The BeeMaster's response, he realized that he should just make the whole exchange into a post on the front page of Fosco Lives!. And so here is The BeeMaster's original comment, followed by Fosco's reply. And yes, Fosco will happily append any additional response by The BeeMaster into this post.

When watching the Rick Warren interview in question:


it's a stretch to say he likens gay marriage to incest and pedophilia. In the same interview, he says divorce is a greater threat to the family than gay marriage. So following the same logic would bring us to the dubious conclusion that Rick Warren thinks divorce is worse than incest and pedophilia. Since this is nonsense, one of two things must be untrue. Either Warren doesn't think divorce is worse than gay marriage, OR he doesn't consider gay marriage the same as incest and pedophilia. Watching the interview, it's clear the latter and not the former is the case.

So what's the big problem with Rick Warren praying at the inaugeration? That he opposes gay marriage? Big deal - so does Obama.

The largest group opposed to gay marriage is evangelical Christians. Vilifying Rick Warren hurts, not helps, the cause of gay marriage. It casts its supporters as harsh and (ironically) intolerant. It makes evangelicals fear that, should gay marriage become legal, their churches could be forced to perform such ceremonies or that pastors speaking out against the practice would be accused of hate crimes. Rick Warren specifically mentions this fear as the reason he supported proposition 8. Being smeared for his view makes the point more profoundly than he could ever have.

The BeeMaster

It's true that I feel some ambivalence on this topic. For one thing, I don't think Rick Warren is the worst thing ever. For the most part, he seems like a pretty likable and reasonable guy (and strangely enough, Fosco looks a little like him--although Fosco has more hair). I can see why he's built such a large and successful church. Sure, I'm having a little fun with his hair plugs and the title of his book, but I even do that with people that I like.

And yes, I do recognize that Obama is opposed to gay marriage as well (as the numerous robocalls on my answering machine on November 4 reminded me). I'm not thrilled about that either.

As for the Warren interview in question, I recognize that he views divorce as a much greater threat to marriage than gay unions. Good for him! I wish that point were made more frequently.

However, that interview still includes this exchange:

WARREN: The issue to me, I'm not opposed to that as much as I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

BELIEFNET: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

WARREN: Oh , I do.
Now Warren is too savvy to use the normally-accepted words for his three examples, but he is clearly talking about
1. incest
2. pedophilia
3. polygamy
And then he explicitly agrees that these three examples are "equivalent to gay getting married." Now none of these may be as threatening to marriage as divorce (presumably because they are all much rarer), but he still makes this comparison (and has had ample opportunity to retract/clarify--especially in this transcript which includes several retrospective Warren clarifications.

So, while Warren's rhetoric may not be as inflammatory as some of the opponents of Prop 8, it's pretty clear that he wants to equate gay marriage with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy.

As for the question of whether Prop 8 would require churches to marry gay couples, I just can't understand how this keeps getting cited. As far as I can tell, every church can determine who they want to marry. Churches can set rules about marriage that go beyond (or even contradict) civil laws about marriage. The one I know best is the Catholic Church, which reserves the right to set all kinds of conditions on marriage. You can't just walk into a Catholic Church and get married. I believe the Mormons are the same. In fact, I suspect that there of plenty of churches in the South that would refuse an interracial marriage (and could legally do so).

Of course, civil authorities are not amused when rogue Mormons try to marry young girls to old men, but that's more of a case of certain child protection laws trumping religious freedom (something that, btw, pretty much all Americans agree on). And besides, that's a case of the State invalidating a religious marriage, not of the State requiring a religion to perform a specific type of marriage.

This is different, I also want to note, from recent cases in Connecticut where justices of the peace are required to conform to the law and marry gay couples. In those cases, justices of the peace are civil, not religious, authorities (although they may also have their personal religious beliefs). Civil marriage is an entirely different thing from religious marriage, and civil officials are required by law to perform any marriage that is legal. Religious officials are NOT required to perform any legal marriage, nor will they ever be.

I think Rick Warren is a smart guy and I just don't believe he is worried that his Saddleback Church will be forced to marry gay couples. He knows the difference between civil marriage laws and religious discretion in the case of marriage. I think he is bringing this up purely as a scare tactic.

As for hate speech argument, I still think Rick Warren is smart enough to know better. He's being cynical here. He knows the difference between hate speech and "politically incorrect" speech. I'm going to use race to make this point. When an old school Southern-fried racist says that Black people are inferior (or that they shouldn't marry white people), that's bigotry but it's not hate speech. Hate speech is speech that is intended to incite violence. So if Warren says that gay people shouldn't get married, he may be wrong (and he may be bigoted), but there is no court in this country that would call that hate speech. Now, if he were to say that his churchmembers should get a baseball bat and "teach gays a lesson," then we'd be in the realm of hate speech.

Now I'll be the first to agree that some gay activists (and, strangely enough, some evangelical conservatives like Huckabee) are trying to elide the distinction between bigotry and hate speech. But even liberal courts know better than to let this distinction slide. For all of the supposed liberal or conservative biases in the federal judiciary in the last twenty years, federal judges are still surprisingly protective of First Amendment rights (for which we can thank the ACLU?). All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, unless Rick Warren plans to call for gay-bashing, he doesn't need to worry about being prosecuted for hate speech. And this is the part that pisses me off: he knows this. He's a smart and sophisticated guy. Or at least, he should know this. Which leads me to the conclusion that Rick Warren is arguing in bad faith.

When it comes down to it, if Rick Warren were just to say "I oppose gay marriage because it goes against my religion," I would have to accept that. I might disagree with him. And I may try to question whether Rick Warren is interpreting the Bible correctly. But I would have to be civil about it. Because, when it comes down to it, Rick Warren would be telling the truth and trying to communicate with me in good faith. And I recognize that Rick Warren does this most of the time. But when he resorts to using scare words and prophesying legal problems that will never materialize, I have to question his honesty.

All that being said, I definitely agree with The BeeMaster's assertion that gay-marriage activists have to deal with evangelical Christians in a constructive way (and Fosco hasn't always done this, I recognize). And I hope this exchange is a step in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

The Beemaster's wife would like to say the following:

I love you.

And I love with all my heart The BeeMaster.

And for me, those two thoughts are not incongruous.

I miss the times when we would see Grace Lorraine in all of her fierceness. And I wish you and Ben every happiness in the world.

And in an even weirder context, I work for one of the top "innovative" protestant churches in america (which I don't think old Ricky Boy even hits). I don't think any of it matters except for I love you, I miss our time together...
and I absolutely love my BeeMaster.

I wish we were all hanging out playing D&D right now. Wjere is the spell of vaginal dryness when we need it?

FOSCO said...

I believe in love, too! And I love the whole darn Bee family. :)

I hear that D&D may be on again... You'll have to come up with some good spells in my absence. How about jizz in your pants? That would be suitably embarrassing and distracting.