An editorial in today's New York Times remarks that people who are
politically correct in certain areas should be consistent and extend
this respect to the Christian right as well.
Hug an Evangelical
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: April 24, 2004
I've argued often that gay marriage should be legal and that
conservative Christians should show a tad more divine love for
But there's a corollary. If liberals demand that the Christian right
show more tolerance for gays and lesbians, then liberals need to be more
respectful of conservative Christians.
One of the most ferocious divides today is that between evangelical and
secular America. Some conservative Christians are all too quick to
sentence outsiders to hell. And liberals denounce stereotypes of Muslims
but not of "Christian nuts."
It's encouraging that the right is less hostile to gays and lesbians
than it used to be. President Bush argued in his 1994 run for governor
that gay sex should be illegal, while now he feels comfortable hitting
up gays for campaign contributions.
On the other hand, the left seems more contemptuous than ever of
evangelicals. Sensitive liberals who avoid expressions like "ghetto
blaster," because that might be racially offensive, blithely dismiss
conservative Christians as "Jesus freaks" or "fanatics."
Take Ted Turner. He has called Christianity a "religion for losers" and
once ridiculed CNN employees observing Ash Wednesday as "Jesus freaks."
Later, he apologized.
Then there are the T-shirts: "So Many Right-Wing Christians . . . So Few
Of course, it's fair to criticize the Christian right's policies.
Regular readers know I do so all the time, for religion is much too
important an influence on policy to be a taboo. For example, while we're
on the subject of gay marriage, one question for fundamentalist
Christians is this: What's your basis for opposing lesbianism?
Granted, the Bible denounces male homosexuality, although it strikes me
as inconsistent not to execute people who work on the Sabbath (Exodus
35:2) and not to crack down on those who get haircuts (Leviticus 19:27)
or wear clothes with more than one kind of thread (Leviticus 19:19).
But there's no clear objection in the Bible to lesbianism at all. And
since some fundamentalists have argued that AIDS is God's punishment for
gay men, it's worth noting that lesbians are at less risk of AIDS than
straight women. So if God is smiting gay men for their sin, is he
rewarding lesbians for their holiness?
Those kinds of pointed questions are fair, but sneering is not. And in
polite society, conservative Christians — especially Mormons and
Jehovah's Witnesses — are among the last groups it's still acceptable to
That scorn is deeply resented. A poll this month found that
three-quarters of evangelicals believe "the mass media is hostile," and
nearly half agreed that "evangelical Christians are looked down upon by
This resentment is global. In a Tyndale Lecture in England last year,
Cristina Odone complained: "The chattering classes . . . pride
themselves on being tolerant. . . . Yet they share one prejudice that
turns them into rabid persecutors: Christians."
There's also an odd lack of intellectual curiosity within the secular
left about the Christian right. After 9/11, intellectuals rushed out to
buy books about Islam. But on many campuses, it's easier to find people
who can discuss the Upanishads than the "Left Behind" books about Jesus'
Second Coming — which, with more than 40 million copies, are the
best-selling American novels of our age. To be worldly, one should
understand not only Tibetan Buddhism but also red-state Pentecostalism.
Liberals often protest that they would have nothing against conservative
Christians if they were not led by hypocritical blowhards who try to
impose their Ten Commandments plaques, sexual mores and creationism on
society. But that's a crude stereotype, and it ignores the Christian
right's accomplishments. Polls show that evangelical Christians are more
likely to contribute to charities that help the needy, and in horror
spots in Africa Catholics and other Christians are the bulwark of the
health care system.
Moreover, saying that one will tolerate evangelicals who do not
evangelize — well, that's like Christians saying they have nothing
against gays who remain celibate.
It's always easy to point out the intolerance of others. What's harder
is to practice inclusiveness oneself. And bigotry toward people based on
their faith is just as repugnant as bigotry toward people based on their
Received on Sat Apr 24 19:18:39 2004
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