Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Bigotry, Boycotts, and Chicken Sandwiches

            If anybody was previously unaware that Chick-Fil-A operated on traditional Christian principles, the proverbial cat has now left the bag. Facebook and Twitter have been flooded with traffic on CEO Dan Cathy’s response to an interviewer for the Baptist Press asking about Cathy’s views on marriage. Cathy responded that he was “guilty as charged” for supporting a definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. He went on:

“I think we are inviting God’s judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about...We are very much supportive of the family--the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that...We need to be more faithful to depend on a God who does love us and wants to have a relationship with us, and wants to give us the desires of our hearts...we intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Predictably, gay-rights advocates mobilized to lobby against this bigoted, outdated Bible-thumping fundamentalist. The response has been swift and fierce, sending a clear message that if a person holds a traditional Christian definition of marriage and voices this opinion publicly, there will be hell to pay.
            Governor Mike Huckabee, incensed by vitriolic attacks on Cathy, responded by rallying conservatives to participate in Chick-Fil-A appreciation day--not in the first instance as a defense of traditional marriage, but in defense of free speech. Many Christians, despite mounting social pressure to “not judge” and concede the integrity of homosexual lifestyles, have also reacted by vocalizing support for Chick-Fil-A. Rev. Billy Graham was one such participant. But Christian conservatives are realizing that to stand against the moral zeitgeist of our age does not come without cost. Character defamation is commonplace (being called a “bigot,” a “homophobe,” a “gay-hater,” and unless we get with the program, society and the public square will simply leave us behind.)
            Commentators defending the homosexual community have fired back with a two-pronged approach: they have a) promoted a same-sex kiss-in on August 3rd, and they b) clarify that the free speech protection of the First Amendment is rightly interpreted as a protection from government--not individuals or their respective interest groups. While the left of course grants that conservatives have a right to their own opinion, they say, that opinion is not free from scrutiny. The boycotts of Chick-Fil-A, according to the left, are private individuals and groups voicing disagreement with Cathy’s views, rendering the “free speech” cry of conservatives a moot point. Bottom line: When you take a political stance on a hot-button issue, you’re going to lose some customers.
            And yet, the mayors of Boston and Chicago (Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel, respectively) have rebuked Chick-Fil-A by asking them not to expand the chain in their cities, threatening to block them from obtaining building permits. They justify this action by making a distinction between the liberties enjoyed by churches (nobody in Boston or Chicago is trying to shut churches down yet) and the speech of businesses. Since Chick-Fil-A restaurants are not places of worship, the argument goes, they are not similarly protected by the First Amendment “free exercise” clause. A business owner has the right to her own private beliefs, but government officials, under anti-discrimination laws, have the power to curb how those beliefs are expressed.[1]
In response to critics and countless charges of being an anti-gay bigot, Cathy sought to set the record straight:
“We’re not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”
But it was too late. The damage had been done, and Cathy’s clarification was either unreported, ignored, or fell on deaf ears.

Yikes. I hardly know where to begin... How should we respond?

First, it is helpful to say how we should not respond. We should not overstate our case by crying foul over boycotts against Chick-Fil-A. Even if this particular boycott is counterproductive and rhetorically dangerous (I’ll come back to this), boycotting, too, is a legitimate and important form of free speech. Moreover, we should not patronize liberals who choose not to eat at Chick-Fil-A. If eating there offends your conscience, don’t do it.
Second, we must not respond in kind with hurtful words or stereotypes. Name-calling is a form of bullying, and Christians call Lord the man who willingly suffered his (un)fair share of it. Unless we are engaged in a just war for love’s sake, we must not respond with violence in word or deed. Vengeance is finally the Lord’s alone.
We should remind ourselves of the violence that the homosexual community has endured in the face of real hatred. Bullied homosexual teen suicide rates are startling and tragic; “gay” is still commonly used as a negative epithet (i.e., “That’s gay” / ”He/she’s gay”). And for the last time, God does not “hate fags.” (I cringe to even type the words.) God hates sin. So should we. But some on the right sloppily use the word “fag” in a derogatory manner to refer to the whole of a person--a person made in the image of God for whom Jesus gave His life out of love and in obedience to His Father’s will. God hates homosexuality just as much as He hates heterosexual promiscuity, adultery and divorce. He loves all sinners, and to my deep regret, too many Christians bemoan homosexuality and homosexual marriage as if we ourselves are home and dry. We are not. True, homosexuality is a point of contention that is raised to us more often than we raise it ourselves. True, homosexual marriage has captured the national stage in ways that divorce has not in decades. (Maybe it should again.) True, we are often wrongly slandered as hate-mongerers--a charge that rocks us to our core precisely because we seek to love like Jesus with every ounce of our soul. True, we should stand for the righteousness that exalts a nation. But we must never speak out of a condescension that says we’ve earned our moral high ground. We were comforted by grace--unmerited favor--and in commending this grace to others, we are merely beggars telling other beggars where there’s bread; unprofitable servants at best.
It is not enough to merely consider one’s choice of words. As users of rhetoric, we are also largely responsible for considering how our words will be heard and understood. I understand that many of my Christian conservative counterparts feel squeezed by the constraints of political correctness, but we must understand that careful word choice is not about being PC so much as it’s about being properly understood. Don’t we want to share the Gospel in ways that our culture can understand? So we remind ourselves of Paul’s flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9--it is a flexibility of the messenger--not the message.

On the other hand...

1) The protection of free speech is a legitimate concern.
            Ross Douthat has helpfully pointed out that the words “free exercise” of the First Amendment include but are not limited to “freedom of belief” and “freedom of worship.” Doubtless “belief” and “worship” are in view, but these terms are not interchangeable with “free exercise.” The distinction is not frivolous, since “free exercise” extends beyond privately held beliefs or parish walls. Followers of Christ understand that our trust in Him defines who we are--it is not something squeezed to the periphery of our schedules on weekends.[2] When you object to believers reasoning from their religious traditions in the public square, you are claiming (by whose authority?) that the cost of entry into public discourse is the abandonment of our core identities. Such a cost is too high and, despite secular rejoinders, is finally unnecessary.[3]
            This alleged distinction between freedom of worship and free exercise is the fallacy on which Emanuel and Menino’s argument turns. To their minds, they’re not restricting free exercise of religion, because religious exercise is something that happens exclusively at church,[4] which they concede they must allow. To them, biblically faithful engagement within the public square isn’t worship--it’s unwelcome bigotry. The rights afforded to churches, then, are not similarly afforded to individuals whose faith permeates our public identities; our employment, our politics, our ethics, our discourse. Once we allow the Bible to shape those, we’re intolerant. This is sounding more and more like a strained argument. The irony is that Christians found in hypocrisy are ridiculed for not aligning public and private identities--we say one thing publicly but live another way privately. But now, when we seek public/private alignment, we are ridiculed for that as well.
The ethos of Chick-Fil-A is an expression of biblical Christian principles. To penalize an organization on the basis of its CEO’s religious views but not similarly penalize churches would effectively establish buildings of worship as free speech “safe zones.” Is this really the America we want to live in? I doubt it. The fact that Menino and Emanuel even seek such power is more indicative of a desire to silence and exclude those with whom they disagree then it is to preserve genuine tolerance. Perhaps for once the bigotry is coming from the other side.
            Under current discrimination laws, this is an open-and-shut case. The law would only criminalize Dan Cathy if he a) refused to hire homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation, or b) refused to serve homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Neither case is in sight. Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the ACLU, notes:
“The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is punish someone for their words. When an alderman (a local zoning official) refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.”
            Yet, the shift in America is, I believe, moving in that direction. Today’s moral zeitgeist eventually shapes tomorrow’s Supreme Court precedent, and although it may seem like whining, there seems to be a particular intolerance of historic, confessional Christianity. Quite apart from international martyrdom (such as the persecutions in North India, the 2 million dead in Southern Sudan, the 8,500 killed in the last four years in Indonesia, or the pastors who quietly disappear in Iran almost monthly), the spirit of such outbreaks are subtly blowing on our shores. Lawsuits are brought against Christian organizations daily--the Menino/Emanuel gaff was a drop in the bucket of discrimination complaints brought against Christians (including, but not limited to: Boy Scouts of America, Christian campus groups who don’t allow practicing homosexuals, atheists or Muslims to engage in leadership positions [Vanderbilt is only the most recent in a slew of such cases], Churches ousted from renting public places, Christian adoption agencies forced to close down because they do not condone homosexual parents adopting children, Christian hospitals and schools forced to cover Plan-B and other abortifacients, pastors forced to proceed over homosexual marriages, etc.) And these are merely cases brought on paper. For now, Christians seem to be winning most of these cases, but the frequency with which they are brought points to a shifting trend in how we as a nation understand religious liberty.
And these are just court cases--they’re “on paper” and say nothing of, for example, “artwork” like Pisschrist, the virgin Mary coming out of a vagina, Mary encased in a condom, a portrait of the Archangel Gabriel handing Mary a coat hanger for an abortion, or artwork aside, pop-culture guru Perez Hilton’s astounding remarks about Carrie Prejean, among countless others (I could offer quite a list of examples). Do not misunderstand me--I am not suggesting that such speech be censored. I simply wonder a) At what point will we see anti-discrimination laws trump religious liberties, as more and more people believe they are increasingly in tension, and (I’m going to stick my neck out here) b) What would happen if the left played as loose and fast with Muslim or Jewish figures and symbols? (Recall the Danish cartoon incident depicting the prophet Muhammad, which saw its author receiving multiple death threats.) Provided Christian conservatives are being bashed, few are excited enough to notice, and if they do object, they’re quietly ignored with a dismissive wave.[5]
            Lest my gripe take center stage, suffice it to say that religious expression is being threatened by rhetoric used to bully Christian conservatives out of the public square, even if that rhetoric has not yet filtered down into the interpretation of our laws. The free speech outcry from the right is a reaction against rhetorical bullying. I will address this more below, but it’s terribly difficult for someone in favor of traditional marriage to voice her or his opinion on the matter without being labeled a hate-filled bigot. It used to be that this sort of name-calling was handled by tenured academics or shock-entertainment media pundits. Now, it is simply assumed to be a mark of journalistic integrity, “calling it like it is,” and the name-calling has taken on new life behind the safety of keyboards, illusive screen names, and social media. The left attacks the person while the right is busy attacking the position. I’ll come back to that point--it’s the heart of this piece.
2) Boycotts, though important forms of expression, are trending towards overuse.
            The intentionally unnamed “protester” was dubbed the New York Times’ 2011 Person of the Year for a reason. With the onset of the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, mass demonstrations broadcast from the Middle East, relatively frequent uprisings in Greece and similar youth uprisings in the Eurozone, protesting is back en vogue. This is not by itself a good or bad thing. After all, protests can be hate-filled (KKK rallies in Skokie, IL) or necessary--especially in civil disobedience (i.e., the Civil Rights Movement, protesting colonial imperialism, etc.)
            To be clear, boycotting organizations can be a perfectly legitimate way of having a positive impact on society. But if boycotts or protesters adopt voices where vitriol is normative and civil, thoughtful discourse takes a backseat to rhetorical hostility, then it ought to be for extremely good reason and even rarer in circumstance.
            Jonathan Merritt, in his article on boycotts and Chick-Fil-A, hits the nail on the head:
“On both sides of our latest culture war divide, we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts. As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, ‘businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.’ ”
Certainly boycotts against business can in some instances be warranted. After all, one's politics influence one's practices, and consumers' reactions to this can be a good and healthy thing. And, if Chick-Fil-A were treating homosexual customers differently, or offering different people different products, or acting discriminatory in their transactions, I'd be right there with the boycotters against Chick-Fil-A.
But that's simply not what's happening. Rather than boycotting immoral business practice, we're boycotting the company CEO's political/religious stance. Again I insist, a CEO's stance can affect how their business operates. But with Chick-Fil-A, as far as I am aware, they have an astounding customer service track record and treat all customers equally by offering everyone the same good old chicken sandwich. They are hardly a poster child for discrimination.
People will weigh issues that are important to them differently. For some people, they'll drive the extra mile past Wal-mart to buy a product made in America, or pay the extra dollar for organic produce. Others will drive past Chick-Fil-A and opt for Burger King instead. Everyone must make their own purchasing choices. If a person is terribly offended by the CEO of Chick-Fil-A's stance for a Biblical definition of marriage, that person is perfectly in their rights to boycott the restaurant and not shop there for food.
But what Merritt is getting at is this: the fact that we so constantly feel the need to demonize those with whom we disagree with accusations of hate speech or threats of boycotts is evidence of our impoverishment in moral discourse. We can only use the language of "hate-filled, homophobic bigots" who stand against "our rights"--words so often thrown around without asking tough questions about what those words really mean (Where do they come from? Why do we have them? By whose authority are they secured?). Calling people bigots for their stance on gay marriage has powerful impact in the hearts and minds of the people, and I fear this negativity aimed at persons rather than positions is becoming commonplace. The result is that political division is sharper and harsher--we assume the worst in those with whom we disagree, which in turn undermines civil discourse.
Merritt's point is to underscore this cycle and challenge it.
I insist again--if a business is engaging in immoral practice, there is an important place for boycotts and the language of evil. But that's not what we're dealing with--we're dealing with different religious perspectives and different political views that, as far as I can tell, have not impacted Chick-Fil-A's customer service. Pushed to its logical limit, we would probably have to stop shopping with at least half of the companies where we get our goods if we insist that the CEO's of the companies we buy from share our political/religious views. That's fine if a person wants to research who their local dry cleaners’ CEO supports. But I'm not sure that it's always the most helpful first recourse.
Of course, there are liberal versions of company donations to causes I may not agree with. Starbucks largely supports liberal causes. Microsoft, one of the wealthiest companies in the world, supports the most liberal news station in America. This won't stop me from buying a PC for $200 if the competitor from Apple is $1,000. I may disagree with their political contributions, but I'm not prepared to demonize people or organizations for this. If Starbucks makes good lates, they make good lates. Despite their vocal support for same-sex marriage, I just can’t get around the fact that Oreo simply makes the best cookie in the world.
On the other hand, suppose Microsoft started using slave labor--we would have a very different argument on our hands. But as it stands, I could buy a PC and not boycott Microsoft just because the organization supports pro-choice candidates. I enjoy my Oreo cookie without a guilty conscience (unless I eat more than two).
Pushed to its logical limit, we'd have to investigate the beliefs of every CEO we buy from. I find this mildly silly, as it imposes an intolerable burden on the conscience of consumers.
I suppose what the left is protesting, then, are Chick-Fil-A’s donations to “anti-gay” groups that “promote hatred and bigotry.” Of course, nobody denies that the institutions Chick-Fil-A has donated to have been Christian organizations trying to stand on Biblical principles. This has never been secret, even before Cathy's comments. The question is, isn't that Chick-Fil-A's right? Should we be looking to silence them? You may disagree with who they give funding to, and you may choose not to eat there in disapproval. We choose our battles, of course, and for the left, this is clearly a battle to be chosen (on par with Civil Rights issues). But understand at the same time that good people on both sides can disagree about the ethics of the federal government blessing homosexual unions as "marriage," [6] as well as the prospect of “gay rights” being today’s Civil Rights movement.[7]
More to the point: The groups to whom Chick-Fil-A donates are not "anti-gay hate groups." Some of them are pro traditional family groups, but there are many Christian organizations to which the restaurant donates that, as Merritt's article points out, fund good causes: foster care, high school programs, after school care, kids camps, and scholarships for employees to go to college who otherwise couldn't afford it. Personally, I would include funding pro-traditional family causes in the "good" category, but that's not the point. If we are trying to force Chick into a place where they should not donate freely according to their Christian convictions, understand that these other donations, too, would go out the window. To Cathy, these donations are (all) natural outworkings of Christian faith, and I tend to agree with him. So, when we say Chick-Fil-A funds hate groups that promote bigotry, I find we are painting with far too broad a brush. Nor do I accept that these groups promote "bigotry"--even the pro "traditional Biblical model for family" groups--because that would assume intolerance. These are not intolerant groups just because they disagree with particular lifestyle or behavioral patterns.
I suspect that last statement will be the most contentious. Questioning contemporary notions of tolerance is incredibly taboo--rude--lacking in good taste. So here we go.

3) We must expose faulty premises in contemporary definitions of “tolerance.”
            Dr. D.A. Carson has written eloquently on the subject in his little book The Intolerance of Tolerance. By all means, poke it up on Amazon--this point is by extension.
            What is tolerance? What is a bigot? Christian conservatives are commonly called “intolerant bigots” when we voice our beliefs in favor of biblical marriage, family structures, salvation through Christ alone, etc. Calling someone an “intolerant bigot” is a powerful charge. A bigot is “a person who is intolerant of differing beliefs, creeds or opinions.” In other words, one’s definition of “bigot” is intrinsically tied to one’s definition of tolerance/intolerance.
But tolerance has been so redefined (for reasons that I do not have time to go into here, but that Dr. Carson lays out thoroughly in his earlier work on epistemology) that today it means something like this: “You must not say that someone else is wrong/living wrongly. If you say someone is wrong/living wrongly, you’re intolerant.”
Contrast an older definition of tolerance, best articulated by Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” Notice the subtle but crucial difference between the two definitions--in contemporary tolerance, we are tolerant not of individuals--we are tolerant of all positions. Under Voltaire’s definition, I might object that what you’re saying is wrong, stupid, corrupt, or ignorant, and yet, I insist on your (the individual’s) right to speak. The tolerance is aimed at all persons, while there is ample room remaining for robust disagreement. Under this classical definition of tolerance, you can defend almost anybody saying almost anything in the public square.
But because we so unquestioningly embrace the new tolerance and have only the remnant of a tolerance for the individual, we are comfortable with such powerful language demonizing a man like Cathy with whom we disagree. The attacks are on Cathy’s person--he is “a bigot, an anti-gay fundamentalist, a homophobe, gay-hater, etc.” Recall Cathy’s response to the criticism he received: “We’re not anti-anybody...While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.” Cathy disagrees with the views but respects the individuals.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are typically still functioning with an old definition of tolerance. The majority of us get confused and feel hurt/wrongly slandered when we’re called homophobic gay-haters. We’re busy saying things like, “Wait...but I don’t hate/fear gay people...I love the homosexual community and I don’t wish them any harm. I simply disagree with them on gay marriage and consider premarital sexual expression to be morally suspect.” [8] So both parties feel hurt and both parties wind up talking past one another.
I find it deeply unfortunate that many who read this post will have no other means of processing these points other than to dismiss them as hatred. This is anecdotal, and I certainly can’t prove it, but “hatred” or “fear” are simply not what I feel in my heart towards anyone I disagree with. While I may seek passionately to persuade others, I must never force my beliefs on anyone, or coerce with deception. If I say that “I believe such-and-such an action is morally wrong,” I am, in response, met with character charges--I am “full of hatred” or “homophobic.” Why? Because at the end of the day, we believe so deeply that nobody deserves to be offended, or to have their moral and sexual freedom challenged.
What is a bigot? A bigot is a person who seeks to silence others because they find contrary opinions too objectionable--they are intolerant (old definition) of others’ beliefs, opinions, or creeds. So I ask: Who is trying to silence whom? Who is really a bigot?

Epilogue: Compromise and Ways Forward
This post is not intended to be a forum on the legitimacy of homosexual marriage. I’m happy to discuss it, but my aim here is to question the rhetoric used by the left, especially in light of the most recent Chick-Fil-A mess. But, I suspect that as you’re reading this, if you’re a supporter of same-sex marriage, or if you identify as homosexual, you may be more interested in discussing the case for homosexual marriage than the nuances of rhetoric. Of course, careful, thoughtful, engaging, loving conversation will eventually take the conversation there anyway. If that’s the case, even while I’m not going to address the matter in this post with the time and care it deserves, perhaps we could find some preliminary common ground and compromise, in the name of progressive civil discourse.
Perhaps the libertarian argument (and I'm not a libertarian, by the way) could offer such a compromise. When the founding fathers laid out their plans for how the country would work, they envisioned a multiplicity of state and local governments acting as laboratories of sorts, trying out different paths and allowing people to move freely from state to state according to how they personally believe. I would concede, as compromise, allowing states to vote according to how their people decide the state should define homosexual unions. I would choose to live in a state that did not recognize such unions, but others would be at liberty to live in a state that did.
This is what conservatives mean when you hear them say that same-sex marriage views are being "forced" on them--they are forced to legally recognize unions as marriage in a way that offends the individual's conscience. (And it gets worse--very soon, I do believe we'll see lawsuits against Pastors and Priests who cannot, in accordance with Scripture or in good conscience, wed a homosexual couple. What a terrible breach of liberty!) What two people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is none of the government's business, but I'm not sure it should be in the business of blessing such acts, either. Suppose you reject this proposed compromise on the basis of "universal human rights." Fine, but allow for disagreement. (Again, one might well ask where such rights come from, or on whose authority they are guaranteed.)
Here is another possible "bipartisan" way forward: For whatever couples (homosexual or heterosexual) that the government decides to offer certain tax benefits to, define them all as "civil unions" and leave the institution of "marriage" strictly to the Church. As a private institution, they can define "marriage" as they please--it could count as one form of "civil unions," and the government can maintain "civil unions" outside of the Church. In other words, get the government out of defining "marriage" all together. Now, I'm not totally comfortable with either of these paths, but that's what compromises are, right?

[1] To be fair, not all liberals have taken their Chick-Fil-A boycott so far. In fact, many liberals have rightly come to Chick-Fil-A’s defense and reprimanded Menino and Emanuel for abusing their power. The ACLU--no friend to the evangelical community--has defended Chick’s right to obtain building permits despite its position on gay marriage. After all, if businesses can be blocked because of their objection to gay marriage, they can similarly be blocked for their support as well. We rightly identify a slippery slope in blocking businesses from opening because of the views of business owners. Think of it this way: Supposing the CEO of Wendy’s restaurants had disclosed his donations to pro-choice organizations--should a conservative mayor have the power to deny Wendy’s restaurants building permits on the grounds that she believes her city is predominantly pro-life?
[2] Christian conservatives are often ostracised in the media and academia for claiming that secularization is undermining religious liberties. Liberals typically dismiss this as myth-making, since we are in many ways becoming, they say, more religious--churches are still extant, some are growing in number, and most Americans still believe in some sort of God. The number of Americans who reject evolution yet believe in hell, they say, is staggering. But this is a misunderstanding of what conservatives mean by secularization. We speak of secularization, not as the abolition of religion but as the marginalization of religion; the exclusively privatized religion. That Christians even need to clarify this point is itself indicative of the trend towards privatization.
[3] What did MLK Jr. say? Did he say, “If everybody would only reason from secular places, we’d be a lot better off”? No, he said just the opposite: he exhorted us to get closer to, more in touch with, our commitment to Christ. Was the Jewish community thereby excluded? Hardly. He called on everyone to similarly get in touch with the resources available in their faith communities and bring them into the public square. Helpful in thinking through the pragmatism of merging faith-based rationale with the public square during the Civil Rights movement has been Chappells analysis.
[4] I speak primarily of Christianity because that’s my frame of reference, but I welcome Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and naturalists as comrades in the public square, equally able to reason from their faith (or no faith) communities, provided our legislative conclusions finally sit under the Constitution.
[5] I am not suggesting that other groups are not discriminated against. I can only imagine what loneliness a Muslim must feel when they’re walking through an airport. I can only imagine the struggling conscience of a young Sikh asked to remove his turban at school. For me, here, I’m simply saying that religious minority groups do not have a monopoly on discrimination. Moreover, in the public eye, there is a fundamental difference with respect to how such violence is reported to and read by the public. Violence against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews is easily and commonly lamented--recognizably indefensible, save fringe bloggers and commentators whom almost nobody takes seriously anyway. Hatred and rhetorical violence against Christians, however, is particularly sinister, since, even while it is not as typically coupled with physical violence, nevertheless basks in the glow of public approval.
[6] Whether or not they should be in the business of blessing any union as marriage, or whether this is the exclusive prerogative of the Church, is another can of worms that I'll let pass.
[7] There have been, for example, very vocal African-American Christians who not only support the biblical definition of marriage, but are incensed by the parallels drawn between the gay rights movement and the Civil Rights movement.
[8] The left, of course, argues back by simply saying that if heterosexual couples can get married but homosexual couples are denied the same right, it’s simply not fair and people are not being treated equally. To them, it is quite obviously a form of discrimination. I will not take the time to respond to this point here, since this post is not really about same-sex marriage. But it is important for my conservative counterparts to hear and feel the weight of this objection.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why this Title?

             Equally helpful might be to clarify the title of this blog, “Glory Looks Forward.” There are two angles to the title as I understand it—one political and the other Biblical.
Little has been made of the rhetorical shift by liberals who proudly refer to themselves as “progressive”—they represent “progress”; looking forward rather than backward. To me, the change seemed rather abrupt—I woke up one morning and suddenly, the left was ditching the term “liberal” and opting instead for the term “progressive.” (I was a bit behind the ball on that one.) For some time, the word “liberal” meant freedom and was tied, interestingly, to contemporary libertarian market principles—thus “liberal” markets referred to capitalist, free-market economies. “Liberal” as “freedom,” in some ways, became an all-encompassing category. One thinks of the 1960s and 70s when counter-cultural cries for “freedom” were tied to drug legalization, the removal of social sexual taboos, and other works of the devil that stuffy, religious, hardened, war-torn old fashioned folks didn’t like, including The Beatles and later, Disco. (That was tongue-in-cheek, by the way.)
The word also meant “generous”—thus liberals were those who gave of themselves to help others. It came to be a very happy term for how democrats thought of themselves (and still do), and contrasted nicely with the caricature that was painted of republicans (sometimes deserving, sometimes not), where republicans are those who are greedy and wanting to cut taxes in order to keep money for themselves. Thus the root word of “conservative” is “conserve” or to save. By and large, conservatives represent that which is “traditional” (whatever that means) and are thought by liberals (sometimes rightly, I’m afraid) to be deeply reactionary—the party of “no” that is bigoted, old-fashioned, and out to rain on anybody’s parade who wants any fashion of equality. On the whole, 20thcentury conservatives do not have a history of rhetorical tact.
Yet here I am, as a conservative, finding myself largely in agreement with the principle of progress. Do not misunderstand—I wholeheartedly believe that we have much to learn from the past (“Study history, study history!”). But when we say we miss “old America” or “the way things used to be,” we’re probably talking about either the late 19thcentury or 1950s America (the former for freer markets, the latter for moral social consciousness). But consider how this sounds to, say, a black person, for whom neither time really represents much to get enthusiastic about. I watched an interesting YouTube video of a conservative at an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest, touting how much better off we would be if we would just go back to the late 19thcentury. What he meant was that he wanted less regulation and freer markets. Fair enough. A black man holding a camera in the background, not missing a beat, responded: “Better for who? Not for us!” Some people believe (wrongly, in my view) that capital markets are intrinsically racist, intrinsically favorable to white males, precisely because this, they argue, is what history shows—that white male hegemony cannot be separated from free market capitalism.
So what do conservatives need? We need to look forward, because a 19th century-esque economic policy or a 1950’s-esque moral social consciousness will look very different when laid over the context of 2012’s plausibility structures. We need new ways, forward-looking ways, of articulating truth that is not fundamentally reactionary. Republicans must not be the party of “No, you may not have that abortion,” or “No, you may not take my money and give it to the poor” or “No, you may not marry”—we must be the party of “Yes, we cherish the sanctity of human life,” “Yes, we believe in freedom and prosperity and see businesses as partners in the alleviation of poverty,” “Yes, we treasure marriage,” all the while granting the legitimacy of liberal concerns (that women’s bodies have historically been made subject to the wills of men; that we do love the poor; that we do empathize with and love those in the LGBTQ community and stand against bullying and hurtful stereotypes). These statements are not mutually exclusive to Christianity, capitalism, conservatism, or the rule of law—they’re simply said differently and, truth be told, as far as Christianity is concerned, they are said more consistently.[1]That does not mean that we duck truth, or are ashamed in any way to speak it. Abortion is wrong. Socialism, though well intended, creates moral hazard. The state ought not force churches to wed homosexual couples against the conscience of the pastor/elders, or in any way that is contradictory to scripture. But when we say only these things, to the ears of the public, we’re merely beating the Bible or the Wealth of Nations like war drums. When we say these things first, we come off as cold and not understanding the plight of others.
Thus, with the title of this blog, I hope to create space for some rhetorical redemption, and to encourage all to post on this blog as a safe place to interact with ideas firmly but curiously and lovingly. I believe, in efforts to promote the righteousness and welfare of the state, it is to the glory of God that we take our lessons from the past and look forward to how we will apply those lessons in present and future contexts.
More briefly but of central importance is the Biblical angle to the blog’s title. Throughout redemptive history, God’s people, whether in the locus of a state (Israel) or a transnational body (the Church), have and continue to "look forward" to the coming of our Lord. The original covenant was broken through Adam. Even through continued rampant disobedience, God mercifully saved Noah and gave the Noahic covenant. Then, the Lord blessed Abraham as a “father of many nations” from whose house (dynasty, lineage) the Messiah would come. In Jeremiah and elsewhere, God promises a new covenant in which He would write His law on our hearts. We looked forward to the coming of a Messiah who would be both Davidic King and Suffering Servant. That Messiah came—Jesus the Christ—to save us from our sins and God’s inexorable wrath to come. Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose (bodily and spiritually) from the dead, proving that His sacrifice was acceptable to His Father. What Christians yesterday and today look forward to is a new heaven, a new earth and resurrection existence, much like that which Jesus enjoys, unto eternity. But what is key to see in all of this is the covenantal theology—a redemptive-historical reading of the text, where God’s people look forward to His coming; look forward to His glory, such that the Lord is who we take joy in. It is to God’s glory for us to look forward to Jesus’ coming again and to delight in our Lord’s companionship and friendship, living in the presence of our Savior, God and King forever. And with the saints of old we still say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Soli Deo Gloia.

[1]Some might call this manipulative. But, wouldn't voicing an objection also be manipulative? All discourse is, in some sense, “manipulative” if by "manipulative” we mean it is affirming something that we believe to be true and is thus consciously or subconsciously working to persuade others. Foucault made this point at some length (i.e., All statements are totalizing) and I am inclined to think, at least on this point, that he was right. And yet, that cannot stop us from working to communicate patiently, carefully and accurately with one another. The fact is, some ways of saying things are more loving than others. It is the part of wisdom to know the difference.

Why so Late?

              Some of you may have noticed that I’ve had this blog up for some time now, but haven’t bothered, until today, to create a post for it. Part of the issue was a lack of time. As a Teach For America corps member and a M.Ed. student, time has been sparse.
Partly, it was an issue of negotiating how much time to spend on a blog. You can push a long way in discourse and get absolutely nowhere. It looks like a concession if someone contradicts a point and the author does not take the time to respond. I’ve seen my fair share of internet debates, and one wonders how many folks on any side are willing to be persuaded. I might get a few “likes” from those who already agree with me, but in those rare instances when someone has actually let their guard down, it hasn’t been for linear apologetic—it’s been for relational investment. (Life lesson: Sometimes, it’s not enough to have the higher point.)
But really, in our over-stimulated culture of screens, social media and instant gratification, who has the time for thorough analysis? We live in a “soundbite culture”—not just clips of politicians doctored by news outlets and media pundits for cheap, not-so-nuanced jabs (Twitter maxes out at 140 characters, and that’s where we’re having debates about Obamacare? Really?), but the very manner in which we reflect shifts to a satisfaction with shallow answers that sound loving. (Who is against “healthcare for all Americans,” “a woman’s right to choose” or “equal rights” in marriage, education, or any other domain?) My personal experience at the street level has been that we are not, by and large, conscious consumers of rhetoric.
The democratization of knowledge has been in many respects a fantastic thing (more information at our fingertips faster), but can also reinforce barriers to open-mindedness. After all, if I’m losing an internet debate, couldn’t I just Google the answers that support my point? (I speak as a guy who has shamefully partaken in such behavior!) Additionally, more information online certainly means more faulty information—more junk to sift through.[1] It can be really embarrassing to admit that we have our facts wrong. So, we usually don’t. (Yes, I’ve done that before, too. Pride is an ugly thing—Lord, help my unbelief.)
Undoubtedly, part of my hesitancy was the utter transparency that comes with posting anything online. I have much to learn, and it’s likely I’ll look back on early posts in coming years and ask, “What was I thinking?” There’s that pride thing again.
And yet, as summer unfolds anew, I have the time on my hands to work out my own thoughts in writing on a variety of issues, and hope to be sharpened by the pushback of others. I’ve completed my M.Ed., and though I’ll be pursuing a M.Div. next, I’m willing to bet that a blog will be a fitting tool to compliment the literature I’m sure to be buried in by merciless but devoted professors. I also hope to learn how to strike a balance between which posts I respond to and which I do not; the sooner I learn to choose my battles, the better.
It’d be disingenuous of me if I failed to mention certain key motivators, such as the current landscapes in theology, philosophy and political thought. On the theological front, Reformed Scholasticism is making a comeback in the Western church (praise God) through the popularized works of Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Mark Dever, and even D.A. Carson (who I must confess to be my favorite living NT scholar). This is an exciting time to be a "young person" preparing for the ministry—more pastors earning PhD’s, a resurgence in desire for Biblical faithfulness, greater interaction with rather than withdrawal from culture, etc. Do not misunderstand—these are not by themselves marks of the Western church’s success (still less our faithfulness)—there is much work still to be done. And yet, we must not lose sight of the blessings we enjoy just because we enjoy them against the backdrop of cultural hostility towards Christians. There is much for which we owe thanks to God.
On the philosophical front, I’m finding more and more utilitarian thinkers (whether or not they call themselves that) who want everyone to be as happy as possible without asking tough moral questions.[2] Philosophical naturalism (or atheism, whichever you prefer) is also gaining steam in the public arena thanks, in part, to the “new atheist” movement (headed by Dawkins, Harris and the late Hitchens). Very little about this movement is philosophically new—our contemporary context and cultural location merely add fresh shades of grey to tired arguments. What is new, as Tim Keller has helpfully pointed out, is the tone of the new atheists—more aggressive, “anti-theistic.” There have been many helpful Christian contributions on this front, but few of them gain treading at the popular level.
The political sphere is ripe for fresh debate once again with the SCOTUS’ more-or-less full approval of the Affordable Care Act (ACA; “Obamacare”). When asked why I refuse to get into politics professionally, I give a simple answer: As one who hopes to herald the Gospel, I do not want to tie my flag (publicly) too tightly to either the right or the left, lest the message be rendered mute by those whose political ideology differs from my own. Figure out what to do with Jesus—then, we’ll talk politics. After all, the political perspectives I hold are merely what I believe to be an outworking of my faith in Christ. That doesn’t mean I’m always right or that I have it all sorted out—I have plenty of crafty friends who lovingly, if not cheerfully, point out inconsistencies in my beliefs. It does mean that I would not expect those who do not share my faith in Christ to also share my political viewpoints. If they do, that’s great, but the Christian who holds (what I might call) inconsistent political opinions is a greater ally than a conservative atheist. I would call both the closest of friends, but only one my brother.
I find myself sorely tempted to inject my two cents into political debates, and from a pastoral perspective, do so more often than is probably healthy. And yet, just as the abuse of the Bible (through hypocrisy, legalism or condescending judgmentalism) is more frequently the cause of public disillusionment with Christianity than authenticity in faithfulness, so too is the abuse of conservatism. Many conservatives articulate a certain standard and often fail to meet that standard, or hinge their platforms on unwinnable axioms.[3] I would venture a guess that liberals often feel the same way about their candidates and policies. On both fronts for authenticity’s sake, Biblical and political, I know that I have fallen short countless times and continue to do so daily. But I hope to pray, grow, mature, read, learn, and progress as best I can with what years I have left. Political influence, from a Christian perspective, must never be sought for its own sake, but always as a means to an end, to first allow freedom for the articulation of the Gospel and next to bring justice as faithfully as we can in a fallen world. And so, I will attempt to move forward in political discourse carefully, hopefully without too many red-flag labels, because righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Prov. 14:34).

[1] For my more postmodern friends eagerly waiting to ask “Which knowledge counts as true knowledge and who decides?” I beg your patience—we’ll try to tackle some of those issues later. Although, one does feel that postmodern epistemology is a horse that has been flogged half to death.
[2] Nothing scientific about these observations—they’re merely anecdotal. I’ve been referred to Samuel Harris’ TED talk more times than I can count. I’m guessing that as time goes on, social contract theory will become more popular. Shelly Kagan, for example, defends SCT rigorously.
[3] For example, arguing against the ACA on the grounds that it raises taxes when the majority of the public believes that the act saves the lives of the poor is foolish and terribly frustrating to watch. As relevant and urgent as the objection against higher taxes is (including ACA’s impact on small business owners and skyrocketing healthcare costs), at the popular level, the left has defined the terms of the debate as “money vs. lives,” which makes conservatives sound cold, dispassionate and heartless—exactly what many liberals already believe us to be. You might say, "Yes, but higher taxes bring about the morally reprehensible scenarios we're trying to avoid." I agree. But that's not what the public hears. They hear "Let me keep all of my money because I don't want to pay to save someone's life." Historical amnesia is very real, and as such, we need to make the moral case for free markets for a new generation.