It is difficult to carry a dialogue with a person who attacks your character. This came to light again last week as my social media feed spiked with memes, tweets, and posts mocking Kim Davis’ appearance, looks, weight, and marriage history.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has stated that she is willing to go to jail for the sake of her religious beliefs, became the punchline of jokes for things that had nothing to do with her stance on gay marriage.
“How could someone this ugly be married three times?” read one meme. “Who gave her a license to eat that much?” read another.
What is it about the social media age that makes us behave so cruelly towards one another?
It is okay to disagree, even vehemently — but it seems our dialogues are often less about substance and more about outright demonization. We’ve all made the mistake, but we also each have the ability to choose otherwise. I don’t share Kim Davis’ faith, but it isn’t necessary to agree with her understanding of God to respect her convictions. And agree with her or not, it is not easy to withstand mass public demonization for her stance against gay marriage.
“But she’s a bigot for opposing gay marriage,” is the theme I constantly hear.
I’m left speechless on how to respond to such a claim. And I don’t mean the legalities of this discussion, as the Supreme Court has ruled. I’m speaking of the idea that someone can be a bigot simply for holding a different view of sexual morality.
And in that respect this conversation is far greater than just Kim Davis. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, a significant number of Americans maintain that the ideal standard of sexual morality is heterosexual, not homosexual. To disregard over a hundred million Americans, Americans throughout history, and religious persons throughout thousands of years of religious history as “bigots” for disagreeing with a 5-4 hotly contended vote on sexual behavior in 2015 — well, that doesn’t exactly add up.
America wasn’t perfect on its founding and isn’t perfect today. It’s why our preamble states that our Founders’ goal was to form a “more perfect Union.” Our nation sees progress because even when we disagree, we maintain our founding pillars of freedom of conscience, respect for diversity of thought, and respect for diversity of opinion. Shouting down an idea by pointing out the messenger has moral flaws robs us of the ability to look at an idea justly and fairly.
If an idea truly is bad, it isn’t necessary to publicly and repeatedly demonize a person’s private life. And if an idea truly is good, then the ones engaging in character assassinations themselves come off as bigots. As America advances its discussion on the role of religious exemption laws, the fact remains that for millions of Americans, how we think and what we believe is significantly shaped by religious law. Arriving at the correct role for religious exemption laws requires honesty, civility, and ongoing dialogue.
And likewise, it requires humility in the acceptance that we all have minor or major flaws. After all, some of our nation’s greatest presidents owned slaves and some of our greatest businessmen were vehemently anti-semitic. Some of our greatest civil rights activists committed adultery, as did some of our greatest Presidents, again. The point isn’t to place Kim Davis with any of them. The point is, however, to implore the importance of addressing the idea at hand — in this case the moral question of sexual behavior.
Kim Davis has her religious convictions, and she has every right to maintain them. Demonizing her for her deeply held religious convictions on sexual morality doesn’t make her a bigot, but it does promote bigotry of the other. Let’s instead find a way to disagree with civility, and maintain an open, honest dialogue on the principles of respect.
That is our path forward to a truly more perfect union.
Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ.