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Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Politics | 3 comments

A Gay Student at Liberty University Develops Stockholm Syndrome

The Atlantic recently published an article written by a gay man named Brandon Ambrosino who went to school at Liberty and believes the university is unfairly pilloried. Having gone to a rather conservative university myself, I found much of his essay familiar. He writes that:

For every few really cool students on campus, there’s always that one jerk who regularly posts statuses on Facebook about how great Chick-Fil-A is, and how that Muslim Obama wants to turn everyone into a Sodomite. But that student isn’t the majority at Liberty, and he certainly didn’t feature much into my career there.

It’s true. Most Christians are reasonable, loving people. But not all of them. One student wrote an essay in World Net Daily arguing that homosexuality should be illegal. Another responded (anonymously) to a post in which I argued for female equality (I know, radical):

You present a highly cogent, convincing, and well-reasoned case for your position. Still, you are a dirty rat bastard, and if I met you socially, I would ask you to step outside, sucker-punch you, and kick you in the junk while you were down. Because your thoughts, however noble in the abstract, are indefensible in reality.

It may well be that being moderately left at a Christian college is even harder than being gay (at least you choose to be a lefty). But where I really diverge from Mr. Ambrosino is the last few paragraphs.

When I think of Jerry Falwell, I don’t think about him the way Bill Maher does. I think about the man who would wear a huge Blue Afro wig to our school games, or the man who slid down a waterslide in his suit, or the man who would allow himself to be mocked during our coffeehouse shows. I think about the man who reminded us every time he addressed our student body that God loved us, that he loved us, and that he was always available if ever we needed him.

True. And Milosevic was a great dinner companion. These people were active in their community church. A friend of mine’s grandmother swears Africans are descended from the line of Cain, but she’s a delightful for a game of bridge. The fact that Jerry Falwell often enjoys a self-deprecating joke doesn’t change the fact that he spent his life working to deny other human beings basic human rights and founded an organization that continues to that to this day.

But I am fine with loving the sinner, hate the sin (and, yes, homophobia is a sin). The problem is that Ambrisino oversteps:

Not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance. I learned from my time at Liberty that this bigotry happens on both sides: not only were there some Christians who wanted to stone some gays, but there were even some gays who wanted to stone a few Christians. Just the other day, I saw a man driving a car with two bumper stickers. One was a rainbow. The other showed a picture of a lion, and contained the caption “The Romans had it right.” Just another open-minded gay man, I suppose.

Here Ambrisino equivocates the word “tolerate.” In the classical liberal, pluralistic tradition, “tolerance” means that no matter how much you despise someone’s views you respect their right to hold them. Phyllis Schlafly makes my blood boil. I think she’s hypocritical and misogynistic, I think she’s partially responsible for setting back women’s rights in America and across the world and I think that the world would be a better place if she shut the hell up. But I wouldn’t in a million years try to shut her up. Or try to take away any other of her constitutional rights. That’s tolerance. As far as I can tell, while the gay man’s bumper sticker (it’s a joke Brandon!) may be distasteful, it’s not intolerant. Gays as a group have never fought to take rights away from evangelicals. They’re not intolerant. They’re just pretty damn angry. And they have the right to be. I’ve written before about the conservative rejection of pluralism in favor of the “politics of disgust.” In his book, Gay Marriage, Jonathan Rauch limns some of the suffering that real intolerance (using the political system to infringe on other’s rights) has imposed on gays:

Bill and Robert considered themselves “soulmates.” When Robert fell fatally ill, the admitting Maryland hospital knew through his accompanying medical records- and Bill’s statement to the hospital staff- that Bill was Robert’s family and legal agent for health care decisions. But the hospital blocked communication between them, saying only “family” were allowed access to patients. Bill was forced to watch with mounting anguish and humiliation as families of other patients arrived and quickly were escorted in to see their loved ones. Robert slipped into unconsciousness, alone and without comfort, support, and solace during his final hours. He never saw or spoke with Bill before his death.

If that happened to me, I might well put up a pretty nasty bumper sticker. When Falwell died Christopher Hitchens said, “If they had given him an enema they could have buried him in a matchbox.” Humorous. Boorish. But not intolerant. Because had anyone threatened Falwell’s right to speak his vitriol freely, Hitchens would have publicly defended him. If he had been silenced, Hitchens would have given him a voice. I know because Hitchens defended David Irving’s right to free speech and interviewed John Metzger on live TV. That’s tolerance. And I wish Falwell had stood for tolerance. But even toward the end of his life when he proclaimed his “love” for gays, he never stopped fighting to ensure they never had basic human rights. But the truth is, I don’t think gays really care if Falwell or other Christians “love” them, they don’t need or want condescending paternalism. Just tolerate them.