Fairness, Equality, and Love: Understanding Values During Election Season

During Wednesday night's Republican presidential candidate debate, leading candidate Dr. Ben Carson said that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. As we are all well aware, this is a position held by many on the political right and conservative Christians in America. Following Carson's stated stance, he said that his view of marriage does not make him homophobic. Further, Carson adds, "There is no reason that you can't be perfectly fair to the gay community" if you happen to disagree with same-sex marriage.

In the midst of a (unnecessarily) long presidential election season, we as citizens must challenge candidates to further explain their positions regardless of whether or not we disagree with them. Carson's statement is a prime example. A lot of people buy into such a statement because it sounds good. Yet Carson's statements warrant further examination, especially as many evangelicals seem to be supporting Carson and his values.

Can one really be fair to the LGBT community and disagree with their marital relationship? The answer lies in how one defines "fair." Given some of Carson's other problematic statements about homosexuals, such as statements like the penal system making straight prisoners gay, it seems likely that by "fair" Carson is advancing respect or tolerance of the LGBT community. That is to say, gay people can be your neighbors, have basic rights as citizens, and should not be subject to blatant persecution.

Yet this does not seem "fair" does it? When you hear someone say emphatically, "That's not fair!" they are communicating that they are being deprived something that they feel entitled to or are being subjected to unfair treatment compared to the treatment of others. This should make us pause and consider the implications of one being denied basic services simply because of their sexual orientation. While there are philosophical debates over what fairness constitutes, it seems connected to the idea of equality. Equality moves past basic rights; it includes equal advantage to happiness, service, and care as others. Likewise, gay people should not fear losing their jobs solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. For many in the LGBT community, fairness means the equal right to marriage and protection from discrimination. If Dr. Carson really thinks he can be "perfectly fair to the gay community," then his opposing position on same-sex marriage ought to be reexamined.

I've likewise heard many evangelicals utter statements about the gay community that is similar in tone to Dr. Carson's statement at the GOP debate. We evangelicals, like presidential candidates, need to evaluate the language that we use when it comes to the lives and identity of others. I once heard a fellow congregant at a church I formerly attended say, "I love gay people." Curious to what he meant, I asked whether he would be supportive of an openly gay person serving in the church. He said no because a gay person's "lifestyle" was sinful. Considering that many in the LGBT consider themselves religious, this seems very much contrary to "perfectly fair" treatment. Even if one considers homosexuality sinful, why is that "sin" being judged differently than that of other sins that other volunteers certainly commit? That doesn't seem "perfectly fair."

If we are being honest, the evangelical culture is far from perfectly fair to the LGBT community. There is much talk of love, but most act out of fear. I agree with Dr. Carson that we should be perfectly fair to the gay community. That should be our goal. In order to achieve that goal, we need to come to grips with the fact that if we continue to deny basic entry and service in our faith communities, then fairness is not something offered to the LGBT community. Fairness is linked to equality. And equality is inherently connected to love. Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, "To love one's neighbor means equality... He is your neighbor on the basis of equality with you before God; this equality absolutely every man has, and he has it absolutely." When we Christians recite the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, maybe we need to think of each other as equals. That seems perfectly fair.