Who's Radical Now?

After lots of push back (at least from some readers) on gay marriage and resistance to it (the Summer of SSM), an attempt to reset the 2k thermostat might be in order.

Once again, a common objection to 2k is that if you don’t oppose same sex marriage or support Kim Davis “the way I do,” then you must really favor same sex marriage and the imprisonment of Kim Davis. It’s the same old problem that J. Gresham Machen faced because he opposed Prohibition. Taking issue with legislation or those who support it is not the same thing as favoring what the legislation opposes. Just because you object to Prohibition (Kim Davis) does not mean you favor drunkenness (political tyranny). The nooks and crannies of politics and legislation don’t allow for such simple calculations. But that doesn’t stop some attorneys from being simplistic (oh the inspirational qualities of Kuyperianism to hyperventilate away complicated matters).

But beyond this besetting problem of Americans (looking beyond the cause to the tactics of pursuing the cause), another obstacle that 2k faces is the charge of cowardice. For some Christians, apparently, serving the Lord and pursuing holiness is insufficient if it is not also creating problems for the wider society. In other words, if Christians try to make accommodations with the new legislative and marital landscape, for instance, they are not being faithful to their Lord. Only if they stand out like a sore thumb can they be counted among the true, the faithful, the holiest.

What needs to be observed about this inclusion of obnoxiousness to the fruit of the Spirit is that it is not the practice we see among some of the heroes of Reformed Protestantism. Did J. Gresham Machen try to be a pain in the neck for the ruling authorities, such as when he objected to the proposed Federal Department of Education? No. He testified before Congress, showed respect and deference in his testimony, and tried to figure out ways for Christians to pass on the faith even in the midst of legal challenges (which is why he supported private Christian schools)?

Or how about Abraham Kuyper? For all of his emphasis on the antithesis and his opposition to political liberalism (read secularization), Kuyper figured out a way to accommodate the diversity of Dutch society such that Calvinists would be able to maintain their faith and associational life even while accepting the presence of Roman Catholics and secular liberals as part of Dutch nation.

The way that previous Reformed leaders have tried to get along in their society — rather than taking the Amish or Islamist option — suggests that the real radicals today are not 2kers but the anti-2kers (RA2K). It is indeed radical to oppose the social and political order. Sometimes it may be necessary. But to make it a badge of Christian faithfulness is not only historically unprecedented but anti-biblical. Peter and Paul preached submission to and honor for the emperor, and Paul said Christians should pray for peace and quiet so they could live out their lives faithfully. But if 2kers employ arguments designed to secure such social stability, we are traitors and deny our Lord.

Funny thing is, we are actually in the majority of Americans:

62 percent of those polled support jailing people for contempt of court; only 15 percent said they opposed it

Of Republicans polled, 64 percent said they supported jailing people for contempt of court

Strong majorities in every demographic category (except for African-Americans) supported jailing people for contempt of court The region where support for jailing them was strongest? The South, Kim Davis’s home region

An overall majority of people (53 percent) believe religious liberty is under threat in America. Four out of five Republicans believe that, and 55 percent of Independents do. The only demographics that didn’t believe that? Democrats, those making over $100K per year, and those living in the Midwest (though in the Midwestern case, it was a plurality).

A slight overall majority (52 percent) believes that elected officials should not be given a religious exemption from doing their job, though the numbers break down along partisan and regional lines. Republicans alone among the political orientations are divided equally.

Majorities in all regions except the South believe elected officials should be required do their jobs regardless of their conscience — and in the
South, the “do your job” faction polled a 47 percent plurality, versus 38 percent of Southerners who believe in the conscience deferment, and 16 percent who aren’t sure.

An overall majority said Kim Davis, in particular, ought to have gone to jail for contempt of court. Interestingly, Republicans, who answered generically that someone in Davis’s position should go to jail, were evenly split when Davis’s name came up.

Big majorities across every demographic category say that Kim Davis ought to resign as a matter of principle. It’s not even close. Only 22 percent of people say she should keep her job and remain defiant

Those numbers may suggest salt that has lost its savor. I actually think it indicates which Christians are on their meds. But it hardly makes us radical.

Move Over Kim Davis, Say Hello to Charee Stanley

Today’s news brings this item:

A Muslim flight attendant said the Atlanta-based airline ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs.

Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week, saying she wants to do her job without serving alcohol, as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.

Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said no one “should have to choose between their career and religion.” Employers, she told CNN, must “provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely.”

Stanley, 40, began working for ExpressJet nearly three years ago. She later converted to Islam and only learned earlier this year that her faith prohibits her both from serving alcohol and consuming it. She approached a supervisor on June 1, Masri said, and was told to work out an arrangement with other flight attendants.

“We know that this arrangement has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline,” Masri said.

But she said a co-worker filed a complaint on August 2, saying Stanley was not fulfilling her duties. The complaint, which Masri characterized as “Islamophobic,” also said Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a head scarf.

On August 25, the airline told Stanley it was revoking its religious accommodation and placing her on administrative leave.

So I wonder if Rick Phillips’ reasons for supporting Kim Davis would apply to Charee Stanley.

Kim Davis is not violating but rather upholding Romans 13:1, which says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

Hard to say that of Stanley since she is not pretending to follow the apostle Paul.

Kim Davis is fulfilling her God-given duty as the lesser magistrate.

Again, some disconnect here since flight attendants work in the private sector, not like county clerks. But since Stanley is an American and in a democracy all citizens are magistrates, Phillips’ reason applies.

Kim Davis is being persecuted for her Christian faith by hypocritical and tyrannical powers.

Chances are that Stanley is the object of more discrimination than Davis, numbers being what they are and Christians forming the demographic majority in the United States (where Islam is still an acquired taste). But Stanley’s case could remind Christians that they don’t need to be paranoid. Everyone experiences some kind of discrimination. The authorities don’t single out Christians.

Kim Davis is demonstrating the power of the grace of God in salvation.

Stanley clearly fails on this one unless you want to find some kind of common plan of salvation among the Abrahamic faiths. On the other hand, can Rick Phillips be so sure about what Davis means? That doesn’t mean that we know what her non-Christian or discomforting meaning is. But why, with all the baggage surrounding her, would you be so confidant?

Consider how Rod Dreher saw Davis’ release from jail:

She comes out of jail with that cheesy 1980s song “Eye of the Tiger” playing, and mounts the stage, holding hands with Huck, and giving God the glory. Now, religious liberty — our most precious freedom — is associated in the mind of the public with ersatz culture-war pageantry orchestrated by a cynical Republican presidential candidate.

I thought Ted Cruz’s turning up at the Middle Eastern bishops meeting and bashing them was the most cynical move I had ever seen by a Christian Right politician, but Huckabee may have bested that. The Family Research Council and other Christian, Inc. lobbyists are already writing the fundraising appeals, you can bet. And you can also bet that they’re bending the ear of clueless House Republicans to get them to propose provocative religious liberty legislation that stands no chance of passing, but every chance of discrediting the cause in the public’s eye. (In fact, I was told last night by someone deeply involved in this issue at the Congressional level that this is exactly what is happening.)

So I’m angry about this. Huckabee and Cruz, but especially Huckabee, are doing wonders to inject juice into their own presidential campaigns, but the political cost to the long-term good of orthodox Christians will be severe. But hey, we’ve Made A Statement, and demonstrating our emotions (and, while we’re at it, raising some money for GOP candidates and Christian advocacy groups) is the most important thing.

For conservative Christians who don’t understand why we should care about the political effect of the Kim Davis debacle, and the optics of yesterday’s release rally, I want you to consider how it would appear to you if Hillary Clinton staged a rally against police brutality around the release from jail of a West Baltimore thug who had been roughed up by the cops as they were arresting him for shooting up a neighborhood. The gangster takes the stage to the sound of gangsta rap, wearing pants hanging off his butt, with cornrowed hair and covered in tattoos.

It could well be that Hillary’s principles were in order, and an important principle was at stake. But think of how the imagery of celebrating this guy like that would make you feel. How sympathetic would you be to the worthy cause of fighting police brutality after that display? If fighting police brutality means having to stand with a victim like that, would most people be more inclined to join the cause?

Look, I’m not comparing Kim Davis to a gangbanger. What I’m telling you is how this situation, especially yesterday’s celebration, looks to a whole lot of people outside our bubble. And it matters. It matters to all of us. Our side has no leadership, only opportunists leading the mob.

If only Christians could lower the stakes. Turn this into a simple case of religious freedom, then you don’t need to baptize Kim Davis as the most devout follower of Jesus Christ. You simply point out the problems of the recent Supreme Court decision for all people who might object to same sex marriage. And if it’s only about religious freedom, maybe you also defend Charee Stanley and gain some street cred with non-Christians.

But when the forces of Christianity, the Constitution, and the GOP line up in one seamless whole of goodness and truth, more than Houston has a problem.

National Cliches

President Obama did it again yesterday. The law professor with the most smarts in the nation’s capital (so some think) appealed to the masses by turning Tom Brady’s victory over the NFL into a case for labor unions. As Boomer Esiason pointed out this morning, the president has it all wrong. It was the NFL players union that got Brady into all the trouble with Roger Goodell by giving the commissioner almost complete power to arbitrate player misconduct.

That reminded me of how lame the president’s praise for the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage was. In another cliche that is unbecoming a man of some intelligence, the president used the all too simple ideal of equality to congratulate the court:

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law. That all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.

So we needed gay marriage to vindicate equality? Why not also use gay marriage to end hunger, poverty, and war? Can’t an intelligent man do better than appeal to an ideal that makes some sense to almost every 3rd-grader, an ideal that also needs serious qualification? What about equality for Caitlyn Jenner? Why can’t she become a full woman without waiting a year and having to consult with psychological and medical professionals before having her private parts changed? Where’s the equality in that? Or what about the inequality of a widower father not being allowed to marry his daughter? No peace, no justice.

In point of fact, gay marriage was not conceived way back when by Andrew Sullivan as a way to break down another barrier of injustice and oppression. It was actually intended to be pro-family and help homosexuals walk on something like a straight and narrow path. First the pro-family part of Sullivan’s original argument:

Society has good reason to extend legal advantages to heterosexuals who choose the formal sanction of marriage over simply living together. They make a deeper commitment to one another and to society; in exchange, society extends certain benefits to them. Marriage provides an anchor, if an arbitrary and weak one, in the chaos of sex and relationships to which we are all prone. It provides a mechanism for emotional stability, economic security, and the healthy rearing of the next generation. We rig the law in its favor not because we disparage all forms of relationship other than the nuclear family, but because we recognize that not to promote marriage would be to ask too much of human virtue. In the context of the weakened family’s effect upon the poor, it might also invite social disintegration. One of the worst products of the New Right’s “family values” campaign is that its extremism and hatred of diversity has disguised this more measured and more convincing case for the importance of the marital bond.

Next, the way that marriage restrains the excesses of gay life:

Gay marriage also places more responsibilities upon gays: It says for the first time that gay relationships are not better or worse than straight relationships, and that the same is expected of them. And it’s clear and dignified. There’s a legal benefit to a clear, common symbol of commitment. There’s also a personal benefit. One of the ironies of domestic partnership is that it’s not only more complicated than marriage, it’s more demanding, requiring an elaborate statement of intent to qualify. It amounts to a substantial invasion of privacy. Why, after all, should gays be required to prove commitment before they get married in a way we would never dream of asking of straights? . . .

If these arguments sound socially conservative, that’s no accident. It’s one of the richest ironies of our society’s blind spot toward gays that essentially conservative social goals should have the appearance of being so radical. But gay marriage is not a radical step. It avoids the mess of domestic partnership; it is humane; it is conservative in the best sense of the word. It’s also practical. Given the fact that we already allow legal gay relationships, what possible social goal is advanced by framing the law to encourage these relationships to be unfaithful, undeveloped, and insecure?

Sure, you may not buy Sullivan’s argument and I do not. But at least he is not using the grade-school rhetoric of equality and freedom. He actually is trying to say something about the value of the institution of marriage while also attempting to find a way that the constraints and responsibilities of marriage might domesticate homosexuals. That is too high a price to pay for Christians intent on preserving marriages and one-man and one-woman.

But at least it’s a heck of a lot more interesting an idea than saying that gay marriage is just one more step in the march of freedom and equality. Does the president actually believe that? Do his speech writers?

Why Does Tom Brady Prevail but not Kim Davis?

I have a few questions about the situation in Kentucky.

If Tom Brady would have received a 4-game suspension for his cheating, why can’t Kim Davis merely be suspended or fired? Joe Carter is the only one that has tried to answer this one (as far as I can see):

Because Davis is an elected official, she can only be removed from office by impeachment. That would require the Kentucky House of Representatives to charge her with an impeachable offense and the Senate would then try her. Impeachment is unlikely since relatively few citizens in Kentucky support same-sex marriage.

A poll taken in August found that 38 percent of the state’s residents said county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses should be removed from office, 36 percent said clerks should be allowed to refuse, and 16 percent said the power to issue marriage licenses should be transferred to a state agency.

So because the legislature won’t act — how about the executive, we have three branches of government, right? — she goes to jail? Seems like something that would harsh Ms. Davis’ buzz.

Is the judge in this case, David L. Bunning, the son of Kentucky’s U.S. Senator, Jim Bunning, one of my boyhood heroes and who pitched a perfect game against the Mets on Father’s Day, 1964? Doh!

A lot of Christians are commenting on Ms. Davis’ situation. Since she is a new believer, why don’t these people talk directly to Ms. Davis and give her seasoned counsel about the nature of a Christian’s duty rather than using her to make a point in the culture wars?

Might the people who see this situation as a frightening infringement of religious freedom also recognize that Ms. Davis is still free (even if compelled to issue the licenses) to practice her faith? The restrictions only apply to her work, not to her worship. And Mark Silk (thanks for the correction) invokes President Kennedy it seems to me in a fitting way:

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.

Last and possibly least, why does Ms. Davis suffer while corporate America flourishes and is now going to run the University of Iowa?

Come November, the University of Iowa will have a businessman with little experience in academe at its helm — and many faculty members and others in Iowa City aren’t happy about it.

The Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously appointed former IBM senior vice president Bruce Harreld as Iowa’s next president, despite outspoken criticism of Harreld as lacking the necessary qualifications to lead a university.

Harreld was one of four publicly announced finalists for the position and the only one without experience in higher education administration. He is a consultant who formerly worked as an executive at IBM, Kraft General Foods and Boston Market Company restaurants. His higher education experience is limited to eight years as an adjunct business professor at Harvard University and Northwestern University.

No peace, no justice, and the Patriots cheat and lie. (They besmirch the good name of the true patriots.)

Telling Fibs about Saving Lives

The Lutheran Satire pastor, Hans Fiene, is the latest to defend David Daleiden’s deceit. Thankfully, he does not mention journalism. Unthankfully, he does mention fascist Germans:

The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.

Actually, not. PP officials were not asking Daleiden where the pregnant women were so they could abort and sell the parts. He was there not about the taking of life but the sale of abortions’ remains. If government agencies defund Planned Parenthood, the lives of unborn babies will still be taken by those providing abortions. Maybe PP’s rates will go up. Maybe they’ll take a hit in public relations. But abortion remains legal and these videos or the lies Daleiden told do nothing to change that.

So I’d like the analogies to be accurate. This is like Daleiden posing as a lampshade maker to meet with Nazi officials about the effects of those slaughtered in the concentration camps. His lies are all after the fact.

Meanwhile, Fiens identifies the basis for the resonance these videos have had:

We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.

So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.

That confirms my sense that these videos are pay back in the culture wars for same-sex marriage. I’m not saying such a desire for retribution is without basis (though I’m not sure it goes with turning the other cheek). But again, it would be helpful to be honest when defending dishonesty. (Is that a Christian haiku? Nah. Wrong w-w.)

Reading Other People's Mail

This communication to the most powerful government in the world inspired me to make public one of mine to the most powerful news reporting agency on the planet:

May 18, 2005

To the editor of the New York Times:

Mark Lilla’s brief for liberal biblical religion in “Church Meets State” is odd for a couple reasons. First, he does not recognize that “liberals” such as Henry Ward Beecher and Woodrow Wilson fit precisely his category of Protestant who spiritualized the Bible and then read liberal democracy back into scripture to justify such campaigns as the Civil War and World War I. Richard F. Gamble’s recent book, The War for Righteousness (ISI Books, 2003), well documents the liberal religious origins of sanctimonious government action. Second, Lilla fails to notice that the old liberal Protestant culture warriors who defended WASP America and today’s Protestant Right both share a utilitarian understanding of religion that evaluates faith by the good it does in this world, as opposed to the world to come. Perhaps a truly conservative Christianity of Augustinian vintage might distinguish church and state better than Lilla’s liberal version.

D. G. Hart
Philadelphia, PA
215-247-7654 (h)
302-652-4600 (o)

I’m betting none of the people to whom these missives were addressed read/reads them. What the on-line readers are supposed to make of these letters is anyone’s guess.

Boys Will Be Boys

Can’t say I’m all that pleased with the new New Republic. When the current subscription runs out, that will bring to an end thirty years of worthwhile magazine reading.

Here’s part of what’s wrong. The new New Republic is so gay-friendly that its editors don’t seem to notice certain inconsistencies.

For instance, in the July/August issue, Naomi Fry reviewed Entourage the movie and gave a thumbs down to the sort of male culture that animates the film (and the show):

It was an era of vulgar, cheerfully exaggerated gender roles, in which the perennially thong-flashing Britney Spears and her backup dancer Kevin Federline’s ill-fated nuptials (celebrated in September 2004, just two months after Entourage’s debut) featured bridesmaids and groomsmen wearing Juicy Couture tracksuits whose backs were emblazoned, respectively, with “maids” and “pimps.” Spears’s mental breakdown was a still-unimaginable three years off, the financial market’s collapse four. Yes, there were a couple of wars, but they were far away. Life was good. . . .

As the years passed, however, Entourage became harder to stomach, and its inclusiveness less convincing. This was partly the fault of context. Post 2008, life turned more difficult for a lot of people, and the happy-go-lucky, Teflon quality of the show’s protagonists, with their effortlessly achieved Maseratis and mansions, began to grate. The “bros before hos” ethos fell out of general vogue, as did the notion that a group of horny white men fucking their way through Hollywood could count as an arrangement in which we’d all end up the victors, no matter our gender, race, or sexual orientation.

This is a lesson that some of the most successful recent navigators of popular culture, too, have grasped. Nowadays, our male celebrities can still have a bro squad in tow, but the carousing has to come with a twist, which is why Drake, for example—the half black, half Jewish rap superstar from Toronto, whose famously hangdog quality complicates an otherwise swaggery persona—is a genius worthy of his moment. Entourage, however, continued virtually unchanged. Years into its run, we could find the boys still metaphorically strutting around The Grove mall in Los Angeles, a somewhat worse-for-wear Horatio Alger with a Yankees cap, Ed Hardy shirt, and Seven for All Mankind jeans. By its 2011 finale, however, everyone seemed to understand that it was time to pack it up and move on.

I’m not sure if this was the reason I never sat through more than four episodes, but Fry’s point is worth making. Hetero boys being boys can be downright vulgar.

But the same issue has an article about gay culture in Louisville and its author, Michael Lindenberger, nostalgically makes the point that even after the legalization of same-sex marriage, readers of the magazine should not let go what was good about gay life in the 1960s and 1970s. Here’s a description of one night out on the town:

Walking south on Fourth Street, toward the Ohio River and Main Street, they spotted a sign up ahead, a block south on Chestnut: THE DOWNTOWNER. COCKTAILS. “We saw this pack of people going straight into the door and we just squeezed right on through,” Stinson said. “There was this small cabaret room in the back, just packed in with people. This beautiful blond-headed lady on a small stage was playing the piano and singing. People were just having the greatest time.” A booth opened up, and the boys crammed into it, three on a side. “So here comes this waitress,” Stinson said. “My cousin George right away was giving me the nudge: ‘Get up, and let her sit down.’”

“‘Wellll,’ she says,” Stinson said, laying on an exaggerated Southern drawl. “‘Is it you boys first time here?’”

“‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’”

“‘Let’s just get this playing field straight. You think I am a boy or a girl?’” The waitress pulled up her sweater, exposing a chest covered in hair.

The boys had unwittingly wandered into what was for many years the only gay bar in Louisville. The Downtowner opened in 1953, after the Beaux Arts, a bar in the hotel of the Henry Clay Hotel at Third and Chestnut, which opened in the 1940s, became what’s widely considered the city’s first gay establishment. But the Beaux Arts and a similar place within the nearby Seelbach Hotel called the Beau Brummel, had been a place where men could meet discreetly and in relative safety. The Downtowner, with its waitstaff in drag and performers onstage, was something else altogether. Louisville also had gay pickup spots, including Cherokee Park in the east end, the oval in front of the Louisville Free Public Library, and Central Park, a half-dozen or so blocks to the south on Fourth Street. “It was either the bars or [the park],” David Williams, one of the editors of the gay newspaper The Letter, told me. “We had little groups—or families. I was the matriarch of one of the families. We’d go to the park and play volleyball and go home and have a potluck dinner. We took care of each other.”

Here boys are being boys but this time the entourage is acceptable even though as testosterone-driven as the characters in Entourage. Why? Because homosexual sex is better than heterosexual sex? Because gay men are more restrained in satisfying their sexual desires than straight men? Because gays hang out with prettier women than straight men? Because gays are less clannish than heteros?

Turns out, the gay culture of the 1960s is more worthy of preservation than the hetero feng shui of 2000s Hollywood because participants in the former were victims of injustice and those part of the latter were simply an aspect of the majority society. This is in fact the great crisis for any minority group who achieves some correction to a former imbalance. If your identity is based on being the minority, then once you enter the mainstream and become part of the majority you lose your identity.

So which is it, do gays want to be normal (Andrew Sullivan’s word) or queer? And in sexy America where promiscuity is normal, can gays really retain a separate identify from straight men?