Note to Kirk Cameron: If you don’t want a fight, then don’t start one

I grew up in the Southern Ohio town of Portsmouth, Ohio (BTW, the same place BTB’s Jim Burroway called home). In my little town in the 1960s and 70s, group identifications were clear and animosity toward minority groups was in style. Name calling toward African-Americans, Catholics, gays and Kentucky natives was common and often vicious. I lived near the river as opposed to the section of town farther from the river and on a higher elevation. I was a river rat, and the others in the more well-to-do side of town were the hill toppers. Sometimes, hill toppers said “river rat” with a sneer as a put down; hill topper could be said with a sneer but it just didn’t sound as sinister. I still don’t know how that was fair.

Anyway, in my neighborhood if you called someone a name, you better either be really fast or be able to defend yourself. I saw many fights (and took part in a few) that started with a racial or religious slur or just plain old school yard name calling. What I learned is that people don’t like to be called names. In fact, they can get downright defensive and ugly over it. So, I learned something early — if you don’t want to start a fight, don’t call people nasty names.

I don’t know where Kirk Cameron grew up but it appears he didn’t learn the same thing I did. On CNN’s Piers Morgan Show recently, Cameron said about homosexuality:

I think that it’s unnatural. I think that it’s — it’s detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.

Predictably, reaction has been negative to Cameron’s words. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s statement about Cameron’s comments was direct but really, pretty tame.

Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.

I know a lot of other people weighed in and some were probably pretty offended. So Cameron came out with a rebuttal, saying

I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand in America. I should be able to express moral views on social issues–especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years–without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach “tolerance” that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.

He is right, of course, about his ability to express his moral views. However, I think other people have the right to express their moral view of his moral views. When those offended by his comments say he is a homophobe, they are expressing a moral view, right?

This seems so elementary to me. If you say a group of people is “destructive to the foundations of civilization,” you might expect members of that group to react. Like if you say, Christianity is destructive to the foundations of civilization, then one might expect a reaction from members of that group.

Back home, if you called someone a slur, then they would probably call you one back. Then another more hateful sounding name would come out, followed by an escalation until fists flew. Happens all the time. Why would anyone be surprised by this?

I admit I called a few people names in my boyhood, but I can’t remember ever saying to an opponent, “you are destructive to the foundations of civilization!” I wasn’t fast enough to say stuff like that. But on the play ground, all manner of one or two syllable words were used to communicate the message that the name caller is better than the one being branded. Essentially, whether one says, “redneck,” “homo,” “river rat,” or “destructive to civilization” about a person because of their membership in a group, the message is clear: you are less than me and I wish you would go away.

One of my mentors often told me that discretion is the better part of valor. I agree. Cameron says he is a Christian. The Bible teaches us that all things are lawful, but not all things edify. Just because you have a right of free speech doesn’t mean you should use it. Sometimes it just confuses things. Like how Cameron now says he loves everybody. I never tried that in my old neighborhood, but I doubt it would have worked — hey you’re a jerk! But I love you! I am trying to figure out how to tell people I say I love that they are destroying the foundations of civilization and make that work.

So I think Mr. Cameron needs to understand that when you use your free speech, people will reciprocate. When you call people names, they often call you some back. The best thing to do is to stop whining about it and stop calling people names. If you can’t help yourself, then don’t feel surprised when the targets of your free speech don’t feel the love.