Why Family Research Council was so furious to be called a hate group
January 18th, 2011
In December, the Southern Poverty Law Center updated its list of Anti-gay Hate Groups to include the Family Research Council and gave honorable mention to the National Organization for Marriage and Concerned Women for America. This did not go over well with the nation’s social conservatives.
Not much attention has been paid in the past to SPLC’s gay hate list. Most, like Traditional Values Coalition or MassResistance or any of Scott Lively’s three groups were so extreme and out of the mainstream that there wasn’t much defense that could be raised. And further, some were led by leaders like Lou Sheldon and Brian Camenker that, frankly, come across in public as not quite sane.
And some haters are convenient. Social conservatives can point at the Phelps family and say, “Thank God that I am not like that hater” and suggest that anything this side of a “God hates” sign is moderate and reasonable.
But this time SPLC’s announcement was not greeted with rolled eyes or casual disregard. Instead, social conservatives – from pastors to politicians – took to the media with harsh rhetoric and a desire to discredit SPLC. Family Research Council’s online petition drew a Who’s Who of religious extremists from Lou Engel to Linda Harvey to Brent Bozell. If anyone had every written a newspaper op-ed which railed against “the homosexual agenda” or put the word “gay” in scare quotes or called you a “degenerate” or a “pervert”, then they were there. So too were a couple dozen politicians including congressmen, governors, and a few potential presidential candidates.
The Family Research Council is well connected, and its spokesman, former LA state legislator Tony Perkins, has become the voice of the far right social conservative movement. Accusing him of hate is accusing the entire anti-gay industry of hate. And throwing in such activist groups as Concerned Women or NOM suggests that even mainstream anti-gay activism has hate involved.
But still, the response was so loud and angry. The religious right was furious and their reaction was way out of proportion to SPLC’s rather quiet announcement.
But if you understand Christian theology, you can see why. It’s because, by definition, a Christian group cannot be a hate group.
This is not just a “we good Christians don’t hate” sort of explanation or some “no true Scotsman” logical falacy. It’s not even a distracting platitude like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Rather, the idea that a Christian group cannot be a hate group is definitional. And the authority for this definition can get no higher.
In the Gospel of John, written within the first century, Jesus is credited with setting up an amazing qualifier by which one either was or was not one of his followers. Further, he empowered this with a commandment.
John 13:35 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
By the words of Christ, one can either be his follower or be a hater. But not both. You may call yourself “Christian” and have all sorts of views about theology, but the one indicator that is a non-negotiable criterion is that you love.
And while this is in keeping with the overall theme of Jesus’ message as reported in the four gospels (love your neighbor, etc.), it takes a particular twist that can be quite troubling to those who operate as do FRC. Oddly, here, Jesus put the responsibility – indeed the right – of discerning who were his true disciples not on his followers, but on outsiders. The “everyone” here is not Peter and Andrew but, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center.
So to be told by the SPLC that you engage in hate is to be told that you are not a follower of Christ, that your protestations of morality are, indeed, a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal, and that rather than being the Christian you think you are, you are really working for the Enemy of Christ. It is small wonder that that Family Research Council and their supporters are furious.
[In future commentaries, we will discuss the Christian definitions of love and hate, whether the SPLC got it right, and whether FRC or other conservative religious individuals and organizations can rightly be described and discussed using either word]