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Disagreement equals hate?

The false assumption sweeping the nation

The “Love-Hate” sculpture on display in Washington, D.C. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

Disagreement equals hate?
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C.S. Lewis once said, “The most dangerous ideas of any society are not the ones that are argued, but the ones that are assumed.” One particular assumption is sweeping the nation right now, shaping the thinking in both pulpits and pews throughout the United States. It is the assumption that disagreement equals bigotry, phobia, or hate. The flip side of this assumption is that love requires unquestioning agreement and even celebration of someone else’s lifestyle and beliefs. Let us call this “The Assumption.”

Like a DNA strand, the Assumption, once embedded, will determine the shape and substance of our beliefs on everything from sexuality, marriage, and religious liberty to raising children, church polity, and evangelism.

To see the Assumption at work we may ask: Why has the Southern Poverty Law Center affixed the label of “hate group” to such organizations as Alliance Defending Freedom, the Pacific Justice Institute, and even the American College of Pediatrics? It is because such groups disagree with the sexual orthodoxies of the SPLC. It is inconceivable that conservative and Christian organizations may disagree with the LGBTQ agenda, for example, because they have reasonable counterpoints or good faith objections. No. Given the Assumption, hate must be declared to be their motivation.

The Assumption has made its way into the church. Almost half of Christian millennials “agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Millennials are also two times more likely than Gen X and three times more likely than boomers and elders to believe that “disagreement means judgment.” Ponder the implications. If it is wrong to work toward the conversion of those who do not know Jesus, if disagreeing with their current rejection of the gospel is too judgmental, then the Great Commission is reduced to the Not-So-Great Suggestion.

The Assumption also lies behind the “canceling” of many celebrities, litigation against the Little Sisters of the Poor, legislation like the Equality Act, and much more.

Like a DNA strand, the Assumption, once embedded, will determine the shape and substance of our beliefs on everything from sexuality, marriage, and religious liberty to raising children, church polity, and evangelism.

How then might we debunk the Assumption? The same we would debunk any assumption—take away its privileged status as an assumption by subjecting it to the same standards of evidence and questioning as any other belief.

A first question we may ask is: Does the Assumption make true tolerance impossible? Tolerance means treating people with respect even when you disagree. A Los Angeles Rams fan and a Cincinnati Bengals fan disagree on which team is superior. Therefore, they can be truly tolerant of one another. Two Rams fans, however, cannot be tolerant of one another’s viewpoint on the superior team because they agree, and agreement is different than tolerance.

Second: Is the Assumption applied by a double standard? Disagreeing with Christian beliefs and mocking a Christian lifestyle are commonplace for many who champion the Assumption. If it were consistently applied, we must conclude that this failure to agree with and celebrate Christian identity is nothing but bigotry, opposition to Christian expression, and hate. But the Assumption is not consistently applied.

Third: Can the Assumption be used as a form of bullying? Christians believe that we are adopted as children of God. This is a sincere belief at the core of Christian identity. Imagine that Christians demanded that non-Christians address them as “Adopted Children of the Only True God.” Anyone who failed to do so could be accused of hatefully seeking to erase our existence. The problem is that addressing someone as a child of God only makes sense within a Christian worldview. Demanding that Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists address us as such would be a form of worldview bullying. A non-Christian might respond to the demand, “Respectfully, no. You may believe those things to be true about yourself. But I don’t share your worldview.” They would be right to say so, no matter how offended we may feel that they refuse to accept our core identity as we understand it.

Such coercion is incompatible with a Christian view of how to treat others. But it is precisely this form of coercion that lies behind much of the legislation and litigation facing Christian schools, businesses, and churches in our day. The core claims about human nature embedded in such legislation are only coherent within current non-Christian worldviews. Given the Assumption, it is inconceivable to so many that Christians who do not embrace today’s trending sexual orthodoxies may truly love their LGBTQ neighbors. It is impossible that Christians have a sincere, defensible belief that gender distinctions are something more profound than an arbitrary social construct and that we cannot erase male-female distinctions without losing something precious, beautiful, and life-giving. “No,” demands the Assumption, “it must be bigotry, phobia, or hatred.”

It’s high time that Americans learn that the Assumption is simply a lie.

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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