Hate Speech and Obama’s Inauguration

hate_speech_signLast week Pastor Louie Giglio declined the White House invitation to give the Benediction at President Obama’s inauguration because critics said one of his sermons from the 1990’s (which is available online) was anti-gay and included “hate-speech.”  But does this mean all faithful Christians are guilty of espousing “hate-speech?”

What is hate speech?

Unfortunately, this term is so vague that I’ve had to resort to using Wikipedia to find a definition of it. According to the site, hate speech is “communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of one or more characteristics. Examples include but are not limited to: color, disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, and sexual orientation.”

But even with this vague definition, as Justice Potter Stewart once said, “I know it when I see it.”  Calling an African-American the “n-word” is certainly hate speech because that action usually communicates the attitude that the person is hated or has no intrinsic value.  To put it frankly, the n-word says more about the person using the word than the person the word is directed towards.  That is why African-Americans can use the term amongst themselves but object if non-African Americans use it.

What is sin?

I’ll focus on one part of what pastor Giglio said that is very puzzling to call “hate-speech.”  According to Think Progress, one reason pastor Giglio is “anti-gay” is because he said homosexuality is a sin. But is calling a particular sexual behavior a sin an act of “hate speech?” Well, it depends on what the word sin means.

St. Augustine said that sin was “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law” (CCC 1849).  So if God’s eternal law forbids homosexual acts, then homosexual acts would be sins. Saying homosexuality is a sin would be on par with saying, “homosexuality violates the eternal law.”

I don’t see how this can be hate-speech. It is simply a descriptive truth about a real thing (God’s eternal law) that is either true or false.  Unlike the n-word example, saying something is a sin communicates a factual claim while using a slur (like the n-word or “f-word” for self-described gays) communicates a hateful attitude.

The following dialogue between Bruce (a defender of same-sex attraction) and Lucy (a traditional Christian) should help people understand how to navigate this particular objection and attitude.

Bruce:  I’m glad pastor Giglio declined to give the benediction. He preaches hate-speech anyways.

Lucy:  What do you mean?

Bruce:  He said that homosexuality is a sin.

Lucy:  Why is that hate speech?

Bruce:  Because he’s basically saying gays and lesbians are evil people who deserve to be stoned to death.

Lucy:  Is that how you define sin?

Bruce:  Isn’t that how Christians define it?

Lucy:  Well, sin is a Hebrew word that means to miss the mark. Sin breaks God’s eternal laws and shows we’ve failed to act as God wants us to act.  Why is it hate-speech to say homosexuality breaks God’s eternal laws?

Bruce:  Well, it’s hate speech because people get inspired by those words to hurt gay people or to kill them

Lucy:  I agree that is wrong. In fact, it’s a sin to hurt or kill people for that reason!  But just because words can inspire violence doesn’t mean the words themselves are bad. Even the words of a non-violent person like Martin Luther King Jr. inspired some people in the civil rights movement to promote violence towards White people.

Bruce:  But saying homosexuality is a sin is judgmental and wrong. God is love, he just wants us to love each other and saying gays are sinning when they love each other is wrong.

Lucy:  What about two adult siblings who engage in incest without coercion or manipulation? The Bible says that is a sin. Is it hate speech or “judgmental” to say “incest is a sin” even though that is an example of two people loving each other?

Bruce:  But that’s wrong because their kids will be messed up genetically.

Lucy:  Let’s say it’s two brothers.  Are you going to judge their particular gay behavior?

Bruce:  Okay, some sexual acts are wrong. But that’s way different than a non-related loving gay couple.

Lucy:  All right, if some sex acts are wrong, then we need an objective standard in order to separate moral sex acts from immoral ones.  That would presuppose that sex has some meaning though, which would count in favor of the claim that God made sex and has laid down certain rules for it . . .

Three resources I recommend for this sensitive topic  are the website of the Catholic organization Courage, which compassionately helps people live chaste lives who struggle with their sexual orientation, Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice which puts forward an elaborate case that the Bible does consider homosexuality a sin , and J. Budziszewski’s On The Meaning of Sex, which presents an argument that sex has intrinsic meaning that can be rationally discovered.