In January, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed their gay rights anthem “Same Love” at the 56th annual Grammy awards show, staged as the soundtrack for dozens of actual same-sex marriages simultaneously officiated by Queen Latifah. Most of the major news and entertainment networks covered this as a bellwether event, generally positive in tone, and widely regarded as another breakthrough in the march for civil rights for gay couples.
In response, Houston-based rapper Bizzle released “Same Love (A Response),” wherein he criticized the agenda as he perceives it, highlighting what he sees as a double standard in the media of tolerance and celebration of same-sex marriage, but intolerance and judgment toward those Christians who express their view that homosexuality is a sin.
Odds are, if you care much about these occurrences, you’ve probably already made up your mind about the homosexuality debate. (I use that term rather loosely as really it’s more than one debate, there are, rather, a series of interlocking, related debates that involve the various roles of gay people in society…marriage, adoption, health care, employment discrimination, et cetera.)
Where a person lands on these issues is almost always a result of a complex set of beliefs, experiences and principles. This isn’t to say that a column, a song, or a mixtape-style response song, can’t help to change anyone’s perspective, but these things don’t take place in a vacuum. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, where the worlds of sports, politics and entertainment are regularly intermingled, every editorial has the potential to swirl around in an echo chamber that serves more to reinforce people’s existing beliefs than it does to challenge them. I say that not as a point of despair, but only to acknowledge the emperor’s naked elephant in the room (pardon the mixed metaphor): most articles on the internet don’t change anyone’s mind, and if we’re honest, few of them are even meant to.
Which is why, for a moment, I’d like to set the debate aside. Regardless of whether or not you view gay rights as the next round of civil rights, or whether you feel there is a gay agenda that could encroach on your religious liberty, there is one thing people on both sides can agree on:
One of the key issues at hand is respect.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sang Aretha!)
Macklemore wrote “Same Love” as a way to counter what he perceived as a culture of homophobia in hip-hop, a culture which amplified society’s general fear and distrust of people who are gay. Not only in plenty of hip-hop circles is “gay” a synonym for “weak or lame,” but in and out of hip-hop, so many dudes have been so afraid of being labeled as gay that the conversation suffix “no homo” was adopted just to clarify anytime one guy complimented another. This was the environment Macklemore was wading into before The Heist was released in 2012. So even if you ignore the meaning of the words, you can hear it in the “Same Love” track itself. By starting off with just piano and vocals, it’s clear that Macklemore was trying to contrast the normal hip-hop bravado with honesty and humility. He was trying to plead with the hip-hop nation, and by extension, to society at large, for a little respect for the cause of same-sex rights.
Similarly, Bizzle wrote his response to the same track, and attempted to imitate that honesty and humility. Only his plea was for respect for a worldview that he sees as becoming increasingly marginalized in popular culture – the traditional Christian view that says homosexuality is a sin. He responded honestly, trying to show how offensive he feels it is to compare the plight of gay and lesbian people to the systemic oppression and enslavement of African-Americans because, as he put it, “you can play straight, we can never play white.” And in the response track, Bizzle bristles at the irony that many of the people who say they want tolerance for gays and lesbians don’t extend that same tolerance toward him.
Both guys wanted respect to be shown to their side.
Which is why, even though I respect Bizzle for taking an unpopular stand based on his convictions, and even though I think he tried to be as loving as he knew how, I think he shouldn’t have done it this way, and maybe not even at all. Respect is a two-way street, and you have to work twice as hard to give it to get even half as much back. If “Same Love (A Response)” was intended to effectively engage people who are allied with gay and lesbian activists, it was doomed from the beginning. If it was truly done from a place of love, then perhaps, at that point, he just didn’t have enough of it.
Effective outreach vs. partisan cheerleading
First, “Same Love (A Response)” was doomed because the debate surrounding gay rights involves marriage, which is an institution that is simultaneously sacred and secular. This is why, at the end of most weddings that happen in churches, the preacher, pastor or officiant will usually say something like, “by the power invested in me by God and the state of [insert state], I pronounce you husband and wife.”
Before starting a religious debate about what God thinks about marriage and what it says in the Word of God about marriage, Bizzle would have done well to consider the possibility that any gay person listening may either not believe in God, or may be a Christian who has been treated poorly by fellow Christians in the past because of how they identify themselves.
If someone isn’t a believer, none of those arguments are relevant or compelling. If you’re using the same words, you’re still talking a whole different language. You might as well be arguing LeBron-versus-Durant to someone who has no interest in basketball. They may merely be interested in the same rights and respect as any other person choosing marriage.
But if he’s talking to gay and lesbian people who want a more sacred, Christian acknowledgement of their marriage, then he’s potentially talking to gay and lesbian Christians, people who, like any Christians, have given their lives over to Christ and are in the process of being sanctified and changed into the people He’s called us to be. So the way we Christians talk to each other should rise above the level of simply wanting to prove an argument.
This isn’t just a debate; we’re talking about people’s lives here. It’s not just their sex lives, but their everyday domestic lives, their careers, their dreams, their pain, their pasts and futures.
In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he said this:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil 2:1-4, NIV)
Did you see it? He said, “having the same love.” Oh, the irony.
I want to stress one point – I’m not calling Bizzle’s motives into question. He might’ve had the best motives in the world. Based on what I saw in his song, I don’t think he hates gay people, nor do I think he thinks more highly of his own sin than he does of anyone else. I appreciated his attempt at the end, imploring people not to stereotype gay people, and encouraging those who are actively struggling against sexual desires of all stripes. And also, to be honest, I understand being offended at the “new civil rights” comparison. There are definitely plenty of ways where I think proponents of same-sex marriage have, at best insensitively and at worst unjustly, improperly appropriated elements of the African-American struggle.
But still, his response devolved into partisan cheerleading and probably did more harm than good. Sometimes even with the best motives, our flesh and our ignorance gets in the way.
Speaking of marriage…
I’ve seen this happen plenty of times in my own marriage (even as I worked on this column). My wife and I, like any couple that’s been married for a while, sometime get into disagreements. And sometimes during those disagreements, I get angry. And many times, what sets me off is what I perceive at the time to be a particular form of oversensitivity on her part. She gets hurt by things that I say, and I get annoyed when she says that they’re disrespectful, because hey, I didn’t mean it in a disrespectful way.
But I thank God for my wife, because she has learned, through many rounds of frustrated, teary-eyed (for her), ego-bruised (for me) discussion, a really valuable truth – respect is never just about intentions, it’s also about execution. It’s about saying loving things in as loving a way as possible. Rather than blaming the other person for not interpreting your choices as charitably as you would, it’s about swallowing your pride and making the tough choice to alter your behavior so that the other person can receive the message you’re trying to send. For me, in the moment, it’s about lowering my voice, softening my tone, and not being so directly confrontational. It’s about saying, “I love you,” and then backing it up, not just by apologizing each time I offend her in this way, but by and actually changing my approach so that it happens less often. By God’s grace, this allows us to continue to develop a rich and rewarding marriage, even though we sometimes offend one another.
It is in this way, in the turning-the-other-cheek, going-the-extra-mile way, that Bizzle’s approach failed. Some of his points were valid, but his execution was more defiant than it was humble. There were plenty of lyrical instances of Bizzle saying things that he felt needed to be said, but it seemed to me more of a I-need-to-get-this-off-my-chest kind of a thing, rather than a I-thought-long-and-hard-about-what-would-help-you-understand-where-I’m-coming-from-and-this-was-what-I-chose kind of a thing. And that often ends up being the difference between two sides yelling and actual communication taking place. It may seem fair to respond to one rap with another rap, but maybe a rap song isn’t the best vehicle to have a nuanced discussion. All in all, I think Bizzle could’ve done more to understand, and less to be understood. And that’s a posture we all could use more of.
Regardless of where you stand on the homosexuality debate, we all desire to be loved and respected. So if that’s how Bizzle, or Macklemore’s zealous fanbase, ever learn to show their love, then sign me up – I’ll have the same thing they’re having.
Until then, maybe we all have some work to do.