What is the line between commentary and cruelty, between disagreement and bigotry, between intolerance and hatred? As conservatives we are constantly challenged to define, explain, justify, and apologize for the social confusion over these questions.
To the left, the answer is simple: if you do not fervently advocate a single, agreed-upon position, you are guilty of the most shameful of the options on this scale of social morality. But to the right the question is more fluid. We value critical disagreement, passionate advocacy, and respectful discord. We know that not everyone will agree with us, and we are not particularly injured by this knowledge.
We know that intolerance, as a concept, is not inherently evil, as we recognize certain social and political actions—such as religious authoritarianism, abortion, the restriction and abuse of human and inalienable rights, bullying and political intimidation, slavery, oppression of women, and so on—simply cannot be tolerated. But we also appreciate a careful distinction in mutual respect for distant and often incompatible worldviews.
Bigotry is defined as intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself. The concept is simple, as it recognizes two distinct groups of thought: you either tolerate and coexist with, or do not tolerate and cannot coexist with, individuals or groups who hold different opinions from what you believe to be morally correct.
The left is intolerant, and the right is manifestly tolerant. This is easy to recognize in the universal outrage and demands to ban “dangerous” ideas so often expressed by those who consider themselves “liberal” and the vast spectrum of social and political thought expressed on the right in friendly company.
In contrast, hatred is a singular and deeply profound obsession with a person, idea, or group of people that consumes a person or a group to such an extent they are incapable of rational consideration for humanity or tolerance. In hatred, the object fixated upon may be totally unaware, but is featured in the internal obsessive thoughts of the person or group lost within it.
This can be readily witnessed by President Trump ruling the thoughts of so many on the left to such an extent they seem incapable of functioning without experiencing rage and profound psychological distress. Many on the right reflected this during President Obama’s tenure in office as well, but political and social hobbyists on the right largely seem to view this type of all-consuming obsession as unhealthy and perplexing. We simply do not value the energy required or the interruption to our regular lives and wellbeing.
A particular feature of humanity stands out beyond these two concepts that is far more personally and socially affecting: cruelty. Cruelty is simply intentionally harming another human being for the amoral joy it provides.
Cruelty is the most difficult of human impulses to understand, and it is the most deeply disturbing to those who value humanity, empathy, and kindness. I can pity bigotry and am saddened and disappointed in the manifestation of hatred, but it is cruelty that personally wounds me even when not directed at me individually. To witness cruelty is to become aware of the depth of human nature our collective faiths and societal enlightenments have desperately, for centuries upon centuries, attempted to restrain and repress.
As a gay person, I am often challenged to justify my alliance with the conservative movement due to then left’s persistent argument that the movement is founded on bigotry, intolerance, and hatred, particularly towards people like me. They cite opposition to LGBT rights, religious opposition to homosexuality, and a more abstract assertion that “hate” motivates the movement on a deep and nearly unconscious level.
When a Christian conservative or a leader in the Republican movement expresses a view, speaks out against a social movement, or promotes or opposes specific legislation related to LGBT people, the left immediately condemns the right as a whole for the social sin of intolerance. Yet, regardless of their baffled outrage and relentless mocking and dismissal, numerous gay and transgender people defend and advocate for the right and its positions.
I have long argued that I simply do not care what a person believes about homosexuality. I only value how they treat me as a person. The line between intolerance and cruelty is found in this distinction.
I follow, engage with, and support many people in the conservative movement who genuinely believe that my marriage is invalid and my lifestyle sinful. If asked honestly, they would state a personal concern for my wellbeing in rejecting what they deeply believe to be the most important of religious and moral behavioral standards. Many people who oppose same-sex marriage in concept and practice do not wish to be exposed to the more liberal expressions of sexuality and identity in their and their children’s daily lives.
But these individuals express their views and beliefs respectfully, as I do my disagreement, and in the end we remain friends and colleagues in our mutual battle against progressivism in our country. Several personally choose to show kindness and happiness for my important life moments and sympathy and friendship in my losses, and I return the kindness.
The left cannot understand why this relationship works, because they believe that consensus defines personal commitment to goodness, whereas we do not require it. It simply does not bother me when someone I respect and value articulates a personal, religious, or moral opposition to homosexuality, just as they do not block me from their view when I share a happy snapshot of my daily life with my husband.
This is what makes the conservative movement such a fulfilling and genuinely purposeful experience, in my opinion. But occasionally an individual crosses a line, and his or her actions are motivated in cruelty rather than disagreement.
I do not view religious opposition to homosexuality as bigotry or hatred. I do not accept that a passionate defense of traditional marriage or of a mother and father household is an expression of homophobic intolerance. I do not demand nor even request that individuals I associate with recognize or validate my marriage so I can feel accepted or included in the political conversation.
I do not deny support or tolerate targeted harassment towards people I follow and respect for expressing socially conservative views on sexuality and identity. The only action that offends me and I find personally distressing is the arrogance of using my sexuality as a weapon to restrict or dismiss my intelligence, integrity, or value as an equal partner in our shared conversation.
If an individual is willing to single out my sexuality or the sexuality of others as a targeted rationale for attempted humiliation, insult, or dismissal, he or she loses my respect and my consideration for their ideas. It is one of the few lines that can be crossed for me to sever connection and personally denounce. I simply do not tolerate it on a personal or public level, towards myself or anyone else.
In my experience, the majority of my friends and co-politicos on the right agree and hold to the same standard of behavior. When a person chooses to cross this line, I have never once witnessed those I interact with daily, who influence the conservative movement, respond with anything less than genuine and swift denunciation and defense of the person targeted.
This has been a consistent and vital foundation that I gratefully stand upon when defending not only my own political views but the movement and the people within it I have adopted now for many years. The right is made of good, honest, kind, and genuine people who often disagree but rarely entertain cruelty. This is the only standard that means anything to me, and it is why those rare moments of cruelty are so aggressively shocking and frustrating.
I am grateful that I stand with people I can effortlessly and confidently call “good” and who value me as an individual they trust enough to disagree with, without fear of retribution or hatred. Thank you all for the countless times you have defended and surrounded me and other gay conservatives with love, kindness and protection. I stand with you too.
I don’t mind political disagreement at all, but for our movement to provide a light to the dark world of politics in any meaningful way it must stand against cruelty. Kindness matters, and more and more it is the most valuable thing we can offer one another.