A Finnish MP is being accused of hate speech (inciting hatred) towards LGBTQI+ people (LGBs, anyway) by tweeting a Bible verse that expresses disapproval of same-sex physical intimacy. The police are involved, so it appears to be a criminal offence.
This is relevant because hate speech is being discussed in New Zealand.
Some Christians have been concerned for some time that “hate speech” might be given a meaning that has the effect of banning Bible passages that some people consider hateful. Usually, these Christians are reassured, “No, that will not happen. It won’t come to that”. Actually, it looks as though it will: it’s happening in Finland and I understand the Finns are just about as nice as we are.
Many passages of the Bible express disapproval (God’s disapproval, we Christians would say) of some actions or behaviours, including same-sex physical intimacy. The same is true of the Q’ran and many moral codes.
Leaving homosexuality aside, it would be difficult to find a system of morality (God or no God) that doesn’t express disapproval of some behaviour or other.
How much does it matter when someone disapproves of my behaviour?
We would all prefer that everyone approve of all our behaviour, but it isn’t realistic. There will always be someone “out there” who disapproves of some of my behaviour. For example, Hindus object to me eating beef, Muslims to me eating pork and drinking alcohol, vegetarians to me eating any meat, vegans to me consuming any animal products, zealous greenies to my half-hearted recycling. Atheists object to my “deluded” belief in God: I suppose this isn’t strictly a moral objection, although I think some of them are offended by my stupidity.
Some of these people are quite vocal about their disapproval, some not. I suppose some of them might hate me, I don’t know, but their disapproval of my behaviour doesn’t on its own mean that they do.
What Christian disapproval means
When mainstream Christians endorse God’s disapproval of some behaviour or other, they (we) do so out of love for God and in the interests of integrity and reason: we see God as sovereign as we believe our moral views hold together reasonably well. It has nothing to do with loving or hating people who do things we disapprove of (which is everyone, after all, including ourselves). On the contrary, the very same God instructs us in no uncertain terms to love “sinners” – not according to how they behave, but merely because they are among our human neighbours. Where is the hate? Nowhere at all.
Disapproval of same-sex physical intimacy is just an example.
This is why Israel Folau, when he was posting, went further that quoting Scriptural disapproval and offered a solution: Jesus Christ. This is my take on Folau’s perspective: LGBs (and adulterers, drunkards and a number of others) are on a bus that he believes is speeding towards a cliff they can’t see; he says “Stop, you’re heading towards a cliff!”; if he hated them, he’d say nothing and just enjoy the show.
The difference between action and actor is critical here. It isn’t news to distinguish between the two. For example, evangelical Christians “hate the sin, not the sinner”; atheists “attack ideas, not people”; sportspeople “play the ball, not the player”. At the end of a criminal trial, the court might know the defendant did the deed but must still judge the defendant more broadly and personally in order to determine an appropriate outcome (punishment etc).
This distinction is between action and actor is rudimentary as a matter of logic; and, in the West, it’s common sense. Although glaringly obvious, it’s amazing how easy it is to overlook this: we too easily, for example, describe a person who tells a lie as a liar. However, although it is common enough to not notice the distinction or simply fail to apply it, I have never known anyone to consciously deny its existence and importance. Until recently.
Not getting the obvious
Unfortunately, there are some people who just can’t seem to grasp this common sense. At least, they speak as though they don’t get it. To be honest, I think they do get it. And I believe that to deliberately misunderstand someone (the way some people appear to misunderstand Christians and basic Western thought) is actually a kind of dishonesty.
If I’m mistaken, and they really don’t see or understand the fundamental distinction between judging an action and judging a person, then I must conclude that something very awful has happened to their minds.