Are they attacking you or stereotyping you? It’s important to keep sight of the difference.
Last week Kevin M. Orth entered a comment — I won’t call it a book review, since it wasn’t about the book — in the Amazon.com review section for my book Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens. He wrote,
The author has perverted fantasies about what sincere, true, honest God-centered love is really about. In reference to “Sodomites” it would serve the author and reader to read Ezekiel 16:49 “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” For truly radical, right, religious fundamentalists sincerely and accurately embody the sin of Sodom.
It would have been easy to fall into arguing my book with him — but it would have been pointless: his comment didn’t appear to be about the book. Even worse would have been to tell him he had my character all wrong. “I’m not a hater!” isn’t exactly the strongest defense. There’s no way to make that point without it backfiring — no way other than connecting relationally with someone we supposedly hate, and building a friendship instead. That’s pretty much a one- to three-person-at-a-time answer at best, though, and not an option in this case.
Returning a Fair Question
No, what was needed wasn’t a defense, as if he had seen my behavior and judged me wrong for it. He hadn’t seen my behavior. But I had seen his. I wrote back,
I’d like to say thanks for reading the book, Kevin, in spite of your negative review. Have you?
If you had, you would know that I made no reference to Sodom or Sodomites. Still apparently you consider me one of those “radical, right, religious fundamentalists” who “sincerely and accurately embody the sin of Sodom” because we are proud, stuffed, lazy and unwilling to help others.
I wonder how you could know that’s true of me, if it is. You don’t know me personally. You seem to be assuming it because I’m a member of a group you don’t like. That’s called stereotyping. Do you believe in stereotyping?
(Your review wasn’t about the book, so let’s not pretend we’re starting a conversation about the book here, okay? And it’s okay with me if you don’t answer the question I’ve just asked you here. Please think about it, though.)
I think it was a fair question I asked. I’m sure there are claims of hatred that don’t involve stereotyping. I’m sure there are cases of Christians acting hatefully. I’m also sure that Kevin hadn’t seen me acting that way. How could he? He hadn’t seen me doing anything! All he knew was that I was a member of a group he didn’t get along with. He knew we had a reputation for being haters. So for no other apparent reason, he pinned that label on me.
That’s stereotyping. It’s wrong. He probably knows it’s wrong. He probably doesn’t see himself as committing it, but biases are often blind spots.
And I’m sure that many claims of Christian “hatred” are instances of stereotyping, just like that one. In reality it’s rare. Maybe somewhere you could find lots of hateful people going by the name “Christian,” I don’t know of any among the hundreds of laymen and leaders I interact with.
Our negative reputation lives on anyway. One reason is because some people misinterpret the real difference between themselves and us. One reason is because it serves LGBT activists’ rhetorical purposes to hang that label on us. (I’ve got their own documents to demonstrate they see it that way.)
Responding With Grace and Truth
And another reason is because we’ve carelessly let that become the point at issue. My advice instead:
- Be a genuine friend to LGBT people as you have opportunity. It might be a slow process, and you can’t usually make friends more than one to three people at a time, but it’s still the best way to show that charges of hatred are wrong.
- Recognize what they’re really attacking. Kevin wasn’t attacking either me or my book. He was attacking his biased preconception of both.
- If they’re not really attacking you or your work, don’t defend yourself or your work. It’s a waste of energy.
- And if they’re stereotyping you, as is so often the case, point it out, and ask them if they believe in stereotyping.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a fairly gracious, truthful response.
“Hatred” isn’t the only charge Christians face. We’re also “homophobic,” “intolerant,” “on the wrong side of history,” “contributing to the deaths of gays” (Kevin hit that one in a follow-up comment there on Amazon), and on and on. All of these have reasonable answers, just like the one I’ve covered here. You can find them in Critical Conversations — which isn’t just for parents of teens. It isn’t even applicable only to parents. If you’ve got these issues to answer, Critical Conversations will help you answer them.
Image Credit(s): Thomas Hawk.