C. Everett Koop was Surgeon General during the Reagan administration. A social conservative and evangelical Christian, he took exception to the gay lifestyle at a time when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community in the 1980s.

But he fought to change society’s views of the disease and for federal support to find treatment options; gay or not, as Americans they formed part of his constituency and he fought for their good while educating Americans about the disease and its prevention. He remained unapologetic about his personal views, but he gained the respect of AIDS activists around the world.

His actions were consistent with his Christian faith.

Real tolerance is based on love. The civil person can disagree and should be able to say so (Koop certainly did), but must still strive for the good of the person who holds the opposing view, as Koop also did.

But how to define good? To promote acceptance of something you disagree with? That could go against conscience and would amount to tacit agreement with what one consider the other’s poor choice. On my own idea of good? The help will probably be rejected.

I conclude that the good to be shown happens on common ground. Both side agreed on the danger of the disease, and Koop saw that good as managing the AIDS epidemic even as he maintained his view that the best prevention was to be married and straight. In the same way, I won’t give an alcoholic another drink because he asks for it; but perhaps I can feed him or give him a blanket.

Tolerance do not have to mean an acceptance of all lifestyle options. It does mean discussions of differences should be civil (hence the term “civilization”) but in a liberal democracy all differences must be allowed and discussed. In fact, the right to have the discussion must be vigorously defended. The vitriol displayed in debates about alternate lifestyles is breathtaking; dissenting voices are automatically prejudged haters and bigots. There seems to be little sense of irony amongst some progressives, and their attempt to silence dissenters strikes at the heart of liberal democracy.

My love for my son is unconditional; but it does not mean I would support his becoming a crack addict. I’d be very frustrated to have someone tell me I was wrong to disagree with his choice; in fact, to just condone the thing that’s killing him would be a sign of indifference, of non-love.

Advertisements