In a Facebook post explaining why he wouldn’t vote to confirm Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker cited Pompeo’s past reference to same-sex relationships as perverted, saying he shouldn’t be confirmed because “you can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.”
Booker’s not wrong about love and leadership. To love someone is to seek what is in their best interest. If one isn’t capable or willing to seek that which is in the best interests of the people, then they aren’t fit to lead or represent the nation. But the assumption implicit in Booker’s claim that if you believe homosexuality is a perversion then you can’t love gay people is false.
Many people have experienced loving a family member or a friend whose behavior or views they disapprove of. The father who is an alcoholic. The friend who votes for the wrong candidate. The brother who has the wrong view of abortion. If it were only possible to love those whose views and behavior we approve of, then even self-love would be a fickle thing.
However, there are limits. It would be very difficult to make sense of a virulent racist claiming to love black people, despite their race. The more repugnant a set of behaviors or views become, the harder it is to love the one engaging in that behavior or holding those views. It’s not hard to look past certain offensive features when we can make a clear distinction between them and other features of the person that seem weightier.
When the scales begin to tip in the wrong direction our love is tested. This happens when the offensive feature is more closely related to the core identity of the person or when it would lead us to question what kind of person someone must be, in their core, to hold such a view or behave in such a way. A person can have racist opinions that don’t play any significant role in their daily life. But it’s hard for us to reconcile how such repugnant views could not be reflective of something deeply wrong in the core of their being.
Many people believe that their sexual identity is a core feature of their overall identity. How is it then possible for Pompeo to love someone whose sexual identity he believes is perverse? A simple explanation is that he may not believe that sexual identity is a core feature of a person’s overall identity. We may disagree with that view, but that wouldn’t change the fact that if it were his view then a person’s sexual identity wouldn’t weigh heavily against his love for the person.
Another possibility is that even if we agree that sexual identity is a core part of our overall identity, it doesn’t make up the entirety of our core. Who would claim that there is nothing more to their core being than their heterosexuality or homosexuality? So long as a person recognizes that these other parts of our core being are valuable, beautiful, and worth nurturing then there is no reason to think that love is impossible or implausible, especially if these other features are weightier than that which he thinks is perverse.
Christians, such as Pompeo, have always believed that the most important feature of human identity is found in the image of God. This has traditionally been cashed out in terms of humans being rational, moral, and sovereign creatures (Genesis 1:26ff focuses on dominion). These are concrete targets for our love to cling to despite deep disagreements about other parts of our identity. Furthermore, these foundational goods lay the groundwork for allowing people to choose lifestyles and identities that we disagree with. (Could a racist attempt to give a similar explanation to reconcile his love for other races? No. One thing that makes racism uniquely repugnant is its denial of other races’ rational, moral, and sovereign status.)
It is wrong, therefore, to think that the central role our sexuality plays in our identity would prevent someone like Pompeo from “loving the people.”
Another potential objection might arise from how I defined love above: to love someone is to seek what is in their best interest. But a homosexual and someone who believes that homosexuality is a perversion will obviously disagree about what is in that person’s best interest. True.
This provides us good reasons to think that Pompeo would not be an appropriate candidate for leadership in an organization like GLAAD. But the idea that this would prevent him from being concerned about issues senator Booker mentions (homelessness, bullying, and worse), or issues that will more directly concern a secretary of state, is misguided. There is nothing in the view that homosexuality is a perversion which would lead one to think that they deserve to be homeless, bullied, or tortured.
What’s more, the view that a nations leaders cannot love and, therefore, lead a people if they disagree with some segment of the people’s concept of a right would quickly lead to a state of anarchy. Our country is deeply divided on the rights of the unborn. There are, after all, pro-life advocates in New Jersey and they have a fundamental disagreement with Booker about the human rights of the unborn. If he wants to argue that disagreement with a segment of the population over the existence of certain human rights disqualifies Pompeo from loving and leading the people then he delegitimizes his own leadership.
If that’s the case, when can we expect Booker’s resignation?