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What is between tolerance and affirmation?9 min read

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pulseA recent Open Letter To Straight People On The Pulse Massacre (Huffington Post) suggests that those of us who are merely tolerant of the LGBT+ community are part of perpetuating the cycle of hatred and violence against them. This desperate plea for our help in preventing violence feels poignant in light of the recent Muslim massacre at the Pulse nightclub. But is such an accusation the simple truth, or is there more complexity to address here?

Must we affirm the LGBT identity choice to be moral?

According to the Huffpost, YES:

If you are a person who believes “tolerance” is enough, you are contributing to the problem. You don’t need to beat up an LGBTQ+ person to commit a hate crime or encourage another person to do so.

If you misgender Caitlyn Jenner, say problematic and incorrect things about bathroom equality, cringe at the thought of gay affection, or use phrases like “no homo” or “that’s so gay” you are contributing to the culture that fostered this crime.

The command is clear – if you do not affirm the goodness and naturalness of alternate gender choices, you are essentially encouraging hate. But rather than a full scale affirmation, can caring people who morally disapprove of homosexuality or other sexual and gender deviations do more than merely tolerate?

Human rights v. public affirmation

We must first say that no matter what your religion or moral stance, people have basic human rights even if they are criminals. Sure, they may forfeit some rights if they commit crimes, but they are still humans deserving fair treatment and respect as humans.

But what do we do if someone commits a crime, or adultery, or sex outside of marriage? How do we encourage fair treatment of them without affirming their behaviors?

Morals v. Ethics

The problem here is that we are dealing with two competing value systems – human rights under the law, and social and legal approval of morally questionable behaviors. Some secularists think that if something is unethical and harms society, that’s all we need to consider. Any more than that, like religious or personal morality, are immaterial, and for the sake of all, should be abandoned.

We can agree that public policy and law should be based on common ethic, not individual convictions about morality. However, as much as possible, we must also preserve the right to individual conscience under the law.1

For example, it might do harm to the country to aLois pacid it’s to refuse service during a war, and there should be limits on what the demand of “the public good” should require. And such a claim may extend to not forcing Jews or Muslims to prepare pork, or pastors to perform gay weddings, or even weddings between non-Christians. But I digress.

A Spectrum of Acceptance

We must establish some justifiable level of support for human rights that also preserves the individual’s right to conscience in these matters. I suggest the following spectrum.

  1. Violence and incitement against
  2. Demonization and name calling
  3. Apathy
  4. Tolerance with support for basic human rights
  5. Public and personal respect
  6. Affirmation of ethical normality
  7. Advocation

I suggest that we must all move to Stage 5 above, and in part, the Huffpost article is suggesting this. However, it seems to suggest that we must move to the later stages, but this is not necessary, and violates the individual right to personal conscience.

Moral Criticism

Our first question is, where does moral criticism fall in the spectrum above? Can we criticize others with respect? Yes. Can we criticize them while affirming the ethical normality of their behavior? No. That doesn’t compute from either side.

So if we morally criticize Islamists, anti-gay advocates, gay advocates, or anti-abortion advocates, are we guilty of hate? No.

The problem with the Huffpost article is that it asks for too much.

Curbing our Disgust

The Huffpost included disgust at gay affection as one of the sins that we must overcome of we are to be ethical and good people. This goes beyond requesting a desired action (like acting with respect) to asking to change someone’s motives and moral stance. Such a request can be made, but it’s beyond public policy to do so.

This would be like a pro-life person asking pro-choice people to not only make the unborn child’s life legally protected, but accept that it is a child with full rights that override the mother’s right to kill it.

Calling someone immoral because they don’t change their opinion is basically moral evangelism. Again, that’s OK, but let’s admit it.

In Defense of Disgust

Disgust, when functioning properly, is like the conscience – it alerts us to actions that are potentially unnatural or even dangerous to life.

Disgust at bad odors, dismembering of living beings, or some sexual behaviors is not a priori a bad thing, it’s a good thing.

Like conscience, however, our disgust is not always an indicator of truth. We may have to overcome disgust to take some awful medicine, or we may overcome our initial disgust for smoking in order to get some other perceived benefit.

The question is, must be overcome our disgust for gay affection to be moral people? Is this a disgust, learned or inherent, which must be overcome as part of our maturation, like how we overcome our childish dislike for the other gender, or sex after we grow into adulthood?

What is natural?

It’s arguable, but if we fall back upon the definition of disgust as revulsion at the unnatural, I think there is a good argument for maintaining disgust for gay affection. Of course, this all hinges on what we mean by “natural,” and I don’t want to get into the discussion of “what exists in nature” (which includes death and murder) and “what the design of nature shows.”

I define natural as that which both (a) leads to physical health, and (b) with regard to sexuality, is within the realm of pleasure that leads to and promotes procreation. By my admittedly a posteriori definition, revulsion at gay affection is justifiable, sex with animals (even if they are willing), or other possible “unnatural”  sex acts.

Yes, I know by my definition, you might also exclude oral or anal sex. But since pleasure among hetero couples can lead to coitus, it is still within my definition, though more loosely. However, there is epidemiological support for the idea that anal sex is unhealthy, and therefore unnatural, even among heteros.2

Who is responsible for the Pulse attack?

In attempting to sling guilt upon all of us for the Pulse attack, the Huffpost entirely misses the truth here – that this murder was directly attributable to Islamic teaching.

We do it so that when things like this horrific shooting happen we can chalk it up to an extremist madman instead of acknowledging that many of us played a role in shaping the culture needed for this type of crime to occur.

My moral criticism of LGBT+ claims and violation of nature do not amount to hate speech, any more than other respectful moral criticism. And blaming everyone who is not cheer leading their cause perpetuates the main progenitor of violence in our age, and in the Pulse case – Islam.

While terrorist front groups like CAIR caution us not to attack Islam for this terrible massacre, neither should we miss the role that Islam proper (not just so-called “militant Islam”) plays in violence in the world today, and in this case in particular.3 4 5

So blame your critics for the violence, but know that, rather than winning us over, your demands for moral conversion will probably not move anyone even towards respect. Because that legitimate demand is overshadowed by the hubris of demanding conversion.


We can all do more to move from tolerance to respect, and to champion the basic human rights of all individuals, and especially persecuted minority groups who are being treated poorly in our society.

Out of human respect, we should even attempt to use alternate pronouns for people who change their gender identity, and we can stop making jokes about those who are different than us, though joking about the moral foibles of others is part of valid satirical dialogue.

And this brings me to my last point. We must not abandon moral criticism of minority groups, be they the KKK, Shariah supporters, or those with gender dysphoria.

Because ultimately, if we care, we will continue to support the truth, in love – that while we are all broken, we must strive towards wholeness and abandon moral turpitude if we want to live successfully. No one said it was easy. Just right. (Ephesians 4:15, John 8:11, 2 Chronicles 7:14)

  1. Four Stage Model for Creating Public Policy from Faith ([]
  2. Anal Sex Safety and Health Concerns (webmd)[]
  3. US group CAIR named terrorist organization by United Arab Emirates (foxnews)[]
  4. FBI: CAIR is a front group, and Holy Land Foundation tapped Hamas clerics for fundraisers (Dallas Morning News)[]
  5. CAIR to Islamic State: “You do not speak for us” ([]