|Those of others are at least as dangerous as our own.|
For the sake of clarity and brevity, please understand that I am focusing on the details of a blog post, “Saying Goodbye to Tolerance” by a Unitarian Universalist minister and writer, Marilyn Sewell. My reasons for doing so, as well as links to her post and Paul Louis Metzger’s response to it are discussed in Part One, found here: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2014/11/sewell-v-metzger-tolerance-of_55.html
Specifically, Dr. Sewell’s conclusions are based on specific assumptions and stereotypes. The resulting beliefs about her subject (conservative Evangelical Christianity) lead her to behavior she admits as being inconsistent with one of her most deeply held beliefs: to “respect all religious beliefs.” In hopes that those behaviors may become more consistent as a result of greater clarity in her beliefs, I hope to point out, as graciously and humbly as possible, what I see as being some assumptions, stereotypes, and logical inconsistencies.
Dr. Sewell notes that she has been a guest-lecturer in seminary courses. Therefore, her perceptions of certain failures to meet her expectations of the institution as well as its students are based on personal observation. But while there are graduate schools in which “students open themselves to new ideas (and) question received beliefs,” many, if not most, are considered to be professional schools. In these, the goal is to develop students’ skills in applying their beliefs and knowledge to practical applications, usually in ministerial careers. To the extent that students’ beliefs are broadened, the professional orientation of many seminaries is designed so that their convictions are simultaneously deepened.
|Better a leap of faith than a leap of logic.|
Dr. Sewell objects that the students she encountered “were not confrontative in the least,” much less fulfilling her desire for “passionate discussion, even a reasoned rejection.” Their polite assimilation of the information she presented left her, she writes, to presume of one student’s comment that it belied being “concerned even for my soul, which she no doubt thought would be burning in hell upon my demise.” The doubt that arises, then, is how little compassion it would show if that were the position a seminary student held, and yet could not bring themselves to articulate that concern. Might there be some other explanation? Is the clarity with which Dr. Sewell understands her position necessarily the same clarity she was able to convey to the particular student she quotes? Does this episode represent a conflict between the student’s belief and behavior, or between Dr. Sewell’s assumptions and expectations?
Dr. Sewell also describes a conflict between her two nephews. She identifies both as handsome and talented, with one who is also funny and warm, “who happens to be gay.” His brother “is a jock sports star and business man – and…a conservative Christian who lives in the Deep South.” The “alienation” she describes occurs, in part, “presumably because (the jock’s children) might be adversely influenced.” Her source of information is “my sister, the boys’ mother,” and the attitudes portrayed, she admits, “are culturally influenced” regionally as well as religiously. Is it possible, though that there are other factors at work here? Even if the representations of the conflict being presented to Dr. Sewell are accurately understood, are the representations themselves accurate? (To be more direct about it: Are the boys telling Mom the whole story? And is Mom getting all the details clear for Aunt Marilyn?)
Having expressed her personal concerns, Dr. Sewell turns to the alarming prevalence of “hate crimes.” She asks, “Is it fair to blame these crimes on conservative Christianity?” Her answer, “Not directly” leads her to presume again that there is “No doubt” that not even the majority of hate crimes are committed by Christians. And yet, despite clearly representing the objections most Christians would have to violently assaulting any group or individual, she states as though it were unquestionable fact: “They contribute immensely to the cultural ground out of which prejudice grows and flourishes,” because they “support and perpetuate the milieu in which hate crimes take place.” How is it that those she quotes as claiming to “‘hate the sin and love the sinner,’” especially since they consider themselves “‘sinners saved by grace,’” are culpable for behavior contradicting those beliefs? If it is not (and it is not) inconsistency of which Dr. Sewell is accusing conservative Christians, then what is the logical link through which Christians who condemn hate crimes are simultaneously culpable for hate crimes?
Dr. Sewell addresses those whose “faith in Jesus as your personal savior” results in “doing great harm,” and with whom “(she) in no way wish(es) to be an ally.” Having noted their overt condemnation of hate, not to mention hate crimes, she condemns Christians for the “covert permission…being given to those inclined to act violently on their prejudices.” My inability to follow her logic may stem from my limited perspective. I frequently work among those who welcome “a more inclusive society” promoting the overt permission to construct their own beliefs and behaviors. As I understand her, Dr. Sewell would support those beliefs (so long as they are outside of conservative Christian doctrine). But there are also profound consequences to accepting all other beliefs, especially when those beliefs result in behaviors that, I would presume, Dr. Sewell would find as unacceptable as conservative Christians’ “singularity.” In my experience, however, the general pattern seems to begin with a determination to engage in particular behaviors, and only subsequently involve the construction whatever beliefs are necessary to justify them.
The logical link of Christians’ culpability that Dr. Sewell offers, which I will address in part three, is not found in the hypocrisy of practicing hate crimes while condemning hate crimes. It is, instead, found in the integrity of holding “their theology of singularity.” She claims it is that “conservative evangelicals believe there is but one way to salvation” which is at the root of the “milieu in which hate crimes take place.” Affected though it may be by my limited perspective in proximity to such crimes, you will find that my conclusions differ from hers.
|Be sure to tune in next time.|