No, Christianmingle Was Definitely in the Wrong: A Response to David Smalley

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Jeremiah Traeger

It’s a noble goal to have consistent principles and ethics such that you can defend people when they are wronged even when they’re not “on your side”. I genuinely think David Smalley is trying to do this in his latest piece, “Pro Gay Atheist Sides With Christian Mingle“. I like that David Smalley is trying to find a reasonable place to draw a good place for the line, as there will have to be a line somewhere. My objection is not that we can never defend Christians when they are wronged. It’s pretty reasonable that they will be legally wronged at least some of the time despite currently being the overwhelming majority of the country. My objection is that this case doesn’t cross the line of the Christians being victims.

For one, the case was an out of court settlement, not a legal ruling. It was voluntary, not court ruled. The legal specifics are things I can’t comment on in-depth, but this had nothing to do with a court forcing Christian Mingle to do something. That’s about as much as I can say about that.

So for now, I’m going to set aside what the law is and focus on what the law should be. Strangely enough, I think both David and I agree that businesses should be able to turn customers away at some point. But we apparently disagree what point that is, and the point of disagreement lies alongside the LGBTQ movement, where both David and I continue to push against discrimination. The fight for LGBTQ equality is far from over. We just hit the first anniversary of marriage equality, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.  Businesses will continue to discriminate against gay couples, and we still need to push against that. I don’t think we are close to being at the point where Christians being truly wronged is a significant problem, but that is still worth discussing.

Non discrimination means you shouldn’t discriminate based on the customers. When you sell product A, then everyone should have access to product A. Strangely, the battle for discrimination against gay couples has been over wedding cakes, but since that’s where the battle is we should discuss it. Multiple Christian bakeries have cried and cried about having to provide wedding cakes for gay weddings, often stating that by providing a cake they are “participating in” or “endorsing” anti-Christian behavior. Contrast this to Azucar Bakery, who refused to provide a cake with an anti-gay message on it to a customer. I am enthusiastically in support of the latter, both legally and morally. Isn’t this a double standard on my part?

No, it is not. Azucar Bakery did everything they should have legally been required to do, because they still provided their service towards the bigoted customer just like they would with any other customer. The product the bakery provided is a cake (apparently a generic one), and they are capable of providing that cake to anyone. Not only did they provide the cake, they provided the customer with icing to write any message he wanted on the cake, because they are not obligated to create a message they don’t stand behind. Azucar makes cakes, and if I want any of the ones they have on display, I should be able to buy the ones they provide, no questions asked. It doesn’t matter if I’m queer, Muslim, disabled, pregnant, or otherwise. But the product they provide does not necessarily include one of their cakes with any message you want. At some point, there’s a degree of personalization for some services and products that a private business should not be forced to accommodate, since forcing someone to promote or state a message that they don’t personally believe essentially amounts to violating someone’s free speech.

David brings up his personal experience turning down voiceover work for famous televangelist Benny Hinn. I thoroughly understand why David does not want to provide services for a man using his voice to exploit and spread falsehoods to the general public. He has brought up this experience many times on his show. The thing is, I agree with him, I think he should have the right to turn Benny Hinn down. I find it far more analogous to Azucar bakery than any of the Christian bakeries that flat-out refused to provide any cake whatsoever.

For those unfamiliar, David Smalley does voice over work for audiobooks. He provides a service for others, and at the time Benny Hinn approached him he was the head of an audiobook company dedicated to spreading secular and educational messages (the company has since been acquired by Pitchstone Publishing). But when he and his company provide a service, it is not the same service every time. When David reads “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Vic Stenger, he is not promoting essentially the same message as “Fear of Physics” by Lawrence Krauss. There is a degree of personal and artistic work involved, all of which boils down to free speech. To state that David should be forced to do work for Benny Hinn is like stating that the bakery should have to write “God Hates Fags” on their cake, or that I should be able to forcefully commission an artist to paint me a swastika on a canvas. This isn’t turning away a customer, this is stating that there are some particular services that won’t be provided. It discriminates on the service, not the customer.

David has brought up this example many times on his podcast. One time that stood out to me was when he had Phil Ferguson live and on stage with him. Phil runs a private financial advising company, and discussed how he turns away clients on occasion. He doesn’t cite “because they’re Christian”, he cites when the client wishes him to do something counter to a philosophy of evidence-based investing, such as when a client wants to invest in gold. This appears to be the same type of action that David would take, and that’s ok! Phil Ferguson does not provide “service A” to every client. Every client is different and requires personalized work to make sure that their investments are in the best state possible, and Phil’s job is not to do whatever his client tells him.

At this point I’ve barely provided any information about the actual case this is over, christianmingle.com. They only provided two options on their site, “men interested in women” and “women interested in men”. There’s a lot of problems with this. Not only does it discriminate against gay people, but it completely erases nonbinary identifying people. Society already has a lot of catching up to do in the latter’s case, so I’ll leave it be. Under the model discussed here of what is proper discrimination and what isn’t, we have to look at the service provided. All they provide is a service for allowing people to meet up, and that’s it. Their “product A”, is a location to meet up with other singles. Whether it is between a gay or a straight couple doesn’t change what the product is. The service that christianmingle.com provided is exactly the same. Under the Christian worldview there may be a difference between a gay and a straight couple, but the Christian worldview is also apparently such that birth control is abortion. Hopefully I don’t need to address why kowtowing to any “sincerely held religious belief” is harmful for us, so I won’t go into why we shouldn’t consider that.

In order to look at ChristianMingle’s discrimination, I actually signed up for an account (my first online dating profile, woot!). I wanted to see who they actually let in and let out, and who they banned, since David brought up other websites that provided specialized online dating. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the FAQ to find this:

Christianmingle

“Do you allow non-Christians to join?

We are a community built to serve the unique needs of the Christian community. As such, our aim is to provide a place for people to connect based on shared faith and values. Anyone can join. We encourage our members to provide an accurate picture of their commitment to the Christian faith in order to create compatible matches. We provide several key ways for our members to communicate their faith online. Once you connect, it’s important to take the time to learn more about your potential match offline and in person to truly confirm that he or she is right for you.

So ChristianMingle actually doesn’t discriminate against non-Christians. And I think this should be the case for any other dating website. What ChristianMingle does is not to ban certain people, but it sets up a space conducive to meeting people of similar worldviews. When signing up, the closest things to “discriminating against atheists” I saw was asking my denomination (other) and how often I went to church (I picked “on special occasions” since I will go for weddings, funerals, and usually mass when I’m at my parents’ for Christmas). This isn’t discrimination, since it provides the same service to everyone. Furthermore, they create their atmosphere of accommodation specifically for Christians, even though other people could hypothetically do it too. They cultivate a setting such that nobody else would really want to be involved. They do this by setting up matching algorithms based on Christian denomination, smearing Bible Verses everywhere, and providing a setting where if you find a match, they are likely to only be Christian.

christianmingle2

*barf* [Description: Question of the week, what is the best gift you ever received? Responses include, “A Bible”, “Holy Spirit”, and “Some one cooking for me and a hug”.

By setting up this atmosphere, they aren’t discriminating, they are providing a service in the way they see fit. Only Christians are likely to join due to the type of service they provide (and LGBTQ folks as well), but discriminating based on orientation doesn’t change the type of service they provide whatsoever. If I have a leftist bookstore, I am not discriminating by having posters of Bernie Sanders all over the place and rainbow flags everywhere. I am also not discriminating by only providing certain books from being available. Right-leaning people aren’t likely to frequent the place, but that doesn’t mean they’re banned. They’ll just get funny looks once they walk in wearing the Confederate Flag. But if I prevent Republicans from coming in the door, then I definitely am discriminating.

Of course, ChristianMingle is allowed to kick people out. They too have a harassment policy, and are able to kick people out based on abusive behavior. Again, this seems consistent towards what progressives appear to be fighting for regarding non-discrimination. Businesses have a right to refuse service to anyone based on behavior (No shirt, no shoes, no service), but refusing service based on identity is discrimination.

One of David’s hypotheticals is one I find completely baffling and  non-analogous.

According to this logic, a judge would be able to rule that “Secular Media Group discriminates based on religion, by not offering podcasts or books for potential Christian, Muslim, or Jewish customers” thereby forcing me, by way of a judge’s ruling, to begin offering religious-based materials so that potential religious customers aren’t offended by what I don’t offer.

I think this thoroughly misses the point by focusing on the products that Secular Media Group (SMG) provides. Of course SMG only provides atheist, secular, and educational material. Nobody is entitled to SMG’s platform. And trying to force SMG to act otherwise would infringe on our free speech and freedom of religion rights. A better analogy would be focusing on the consumers of SMG products. David Smalley doesn’t get to decide who buys books from the group, or who gets to listen to the podcasts (I know it would be impossible to enforce that, but we have to look at this for the sake of example). Similarly, ChristianMingle doesn’t get to decide who uses their website. They do, however, have the freedom to decide the type of service they provide and how they go about doing it.

I really should end this post by stating that David has actually already changed my mind about this since discussing this on Dogma Debate long ago. His example of Benny Hinn made me re-evaluate how I thought about this. Previously, I would have stated that a baker should have had to make a wedding cake with the message “Congratulations Bobby and David”, but I no longer think they should have to provide any message. Now I have a better idea of where I stand, and I credit David for that. That being said, I’m still not on his side entirely. If a bakery provides a cake that they will sell, they shouldn’t be able to decide that it can’t go to a specific person or group. The moment the customer asks for a specific message on that cake or some artistic work, however, the bakery should be fully capable of doing their art and using their skills in a way that spreads a message they are ok with, or else decline that service to the customer. That’s not discrimination, since they are not refusing a “God Hates Fags” cake because of the person, but because of the product that they will not provide. I have no cognitive dissonance about that whatsoever, because I am able to separate who the product is for from the service provided. ChristianMingle attacked the who. Now that has changed, and we should be happy about that.

Hopefully I’ve made my case. Now that that’s over with I’m gonna see how street epistemology works as a first date.

 

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2 thoughts on “No, Christianmingle Was Definitely in the Wrong: A Response to David Smalley

  1. […] lots of people have already engaged with these on a substantive basis, and I would point you to Jeremiah Traeger’s excellent blog post as an example of one of the […]

  2. […] views shows that I spend a considerable amount of time criticizing nonsensical atheist positions, criticizing atheists I disagree with, and criticizing behaviors I find unhelpful in atheist communities. You’d almost think that I […]

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