Thoughts on a Discouraging Weekend

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I was on Fall Break this weekend and probably spent way too much time reading and watching the news, following the Values Voter Summit, and tweeting.  With the exception of the beautiful central Pennsylvania weather, I  leave the weekend pretty discouraged.

First, there was Beto O’Rourke’s remarks about removing the tax exempt status from churches, charities, and institutions that uphold traditional marriage.  Read my posts here and here and here.  I know that O’Rourke has no chance of winning, but his statement at the CNN Equality Forum has fired up pro-Trump conservatives.  I did not watch all of Tony Perkins’s Values Voter Summit this weekend, but in the time I did watch I noticed that Trump, Oliver North, and Todd Starnes all used the remarks to rally the base.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the church?  Not necessarily.  Jesus said that if Christians are persecuted they should consider themselves blessed.  When Christians are persecuted they share in Christ’s sufferings and join “the prophets who were before you.”  We enter into a community of saints whose members followed Jesus in circumstances that were much more difficult than what American Christians are facing today.  This, I might add, is one of the reasons why more Christians should study history.  We need to know more about this communion of saints as it has unfolded over time.

In other words, Christians who believe that God is committed to preserving His church should have nothing to fear.  This does not mean that the church should not make intelligent and civil arguments to defend religious liberty, but, as I wrote in one of the posts above, it should also prepare for suffering.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the United States?   Yes.  On this point I agree with  University of Washington law professor John Inazu.  Read his recent piece at The Atlantic: “Democrats Are Going to Regret Beto’s Stance on Conservative Churches.”  Here is a taste :

First, pollsters should ask voters about O’Rourke’s comments and the issue of tax-exempt status, both now and in the exit polls for the 2020 presidential election. We can be certain this issue will be used in Republican political ads, especially in congressional districts that Obama won in 2012, but that Trump won in 2016. And I suspect this issue and O’Rourke’s framing of it will lead to increased turnout of evangelicals in states that matter to Democrats, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. O’Rourke’s comment may quickly fall out of the national news cycle, but it won’t be forgotten among churches, religious organizations, and religious voters. And if the Democrats lose in 2020, this issue and their handling of it will likely be a contributing factor. That will be true regardless of who the eventual Republican or Democratic candidates are.

Second, journalists should ask O’Rourke and every other Democratic candidate how this policy position would affect conservative black churches, mosques and other Islamic organizations, and orthodox Jewish communities, among others. It is difficult to understand how Democratic candidates can be “for” these communities—advocating tolerance along the way—if they are actively lobbying to put them out of business.

Third, policy analysts should assess the damage O’Rourke’s proposal would cause to the charitable sector. O’Rourke’s stance—if played out to its end—would decimate the charitable sector. It is certainly the case that massive amounts of government funding flow through religious charitable organizations in the form of grants and tax exemptions. But anyone who thinks this is simply a pass-through that can be redirected to government providers or newly established charitable networks that better conform to Democratic orthodoxies is naive to the realities of the charitable sector.

Read the entire piece here.

Second, there is Elizabeth Warren.  Here is what I wrote at the end of this piece:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

If you watch the video, and interpret Warren’s body language, it is hard to see her come across as anything but smug.  But my primary criticism here is political.  Warren has a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.  If she gets the nomination, and hopes to win the general election, she needs to convince middle America that she wants to be the president of all America.  Her response to this question about gay marriage reminds me of something I wrote in Believe Me about the Hillary Clinton campaign against Donald Trump in 2016:

Though Clinton would never come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty.  While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals.   This was especially the case with marriage.  Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”  The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse.  But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle.  Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Here is my point:  If my conversations with evangelicals are any indication, there seem to be some of them who voted for Trump in 2016 and are now looking for a reason–any reason– to vote for another candidate in 2020.  This is obviously not a significant number of evangelical voters, but after the close election in 2016 we should have learned that every vote counts.  If O’Rourke, Warren, and other Democratic candidates keep up their assaults on religious liberty, these voters will vote again for Trump.  The Christian Right will use these assaults to rally the base and perhaps get some pro-Trumpers who did not vote in 2016 to pull a lever in 2020.

Third, as noted above, I watched some of the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” this weekend.  I tweeted a lot about it.  Check out my feed here.  Last night Donald Trump gave a speech at the summit.  You can watch it here.

Trump spent most of his talk lying about the impeachment process.  He demonized his political opponents.  At one point he mocked the physical appearance of Adam Schiff.  He used profanity.  And the evangelicals in the room cheered:

 

A few folks on Twitter this weekend chastised me for attacking the president and his evangelical supporters.  They told me that I was not being “Christ-like” and suggested that I am being just as “uncivil” as Trump.  I will admit that I am still angry about the way my fellow evangelicals have rallied around this president.  Anger is wrong, and I am still wrestling with how to balance “righteous anger” with just pure, sinful, and unhealthy “anger.”

But I keep coming back to the limits of “civility.” Here is what I said to a group of evangelical academics last weekend at Lee University. I said something similar to a group of Christian college provosts, chief academic officers, and student life-leaders in January:

Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility.

I think many in the room today would agree when I say that Christian Colleges must continue doing what we’ve always done, that is stepping into the breach as agents of healing in the places, communities, neighborhoods and regions where we have influence. Sadly, the fact that so many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump means that we may have to go back to square one. We need to keep reminding our constituencies and our students about the work of reconciliation across racial lines, gender lines, political lines, class lines, denominational lines. We must model empathy and civility. This means resisting the historic American propensity for conflict—the usable past that Trump exploits. We much chart another—more countercultural—path.

Our schools must be places of prayerful conversation, not cable news-shouting matches. Conversation is essential on our campuses. We need to be intentional about creating spaces for civil dialogue. We must learn to listen. We must be hospitable. But it is also important to remember that dialogue does not always mean that there must be a moral equivalence between the two parties engaged in the exchange. We come to any conversation from a location, and that is the historic teachings of biblical faith. We can debate whether Trump’s policies are good for America or the church, but when the president of the United States engages in endless lies, petty acts of jealousy and hatred, racist name-calling, and certain policies that undermine the teachings of Jesus Christ—we must reject such behavior and model an alternative way. At Christian colleges we cannot allow those defending such behavior and policies to operate on an equal moral footing. When Trump’s antics are celebrated by MAGA-hat wearing white evangelicals at rallies screaming “Lock Her Up” and then those same Christians inform pollsters that they are “evangelical or born-again” as they leave the voting booth, something is wrong. Something that should concern us deeply.

Maybe I’ll feel better by the end of the week.  I am seeing my daughters next weekend, I get to teach U.S. history to some great students this week, I will hear some Messiah College history alums tell their stories on Thursday at my department’s annual “Career Night,” and I will be speaking to Kansas history teachers on Monday afternoon.  There is much for which to be hopeful!

Beto O’Rourke: Churches and Religious Institutions Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status If They “Oppose Same Sex Marriage”

Here is Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on CNN last night:

Every Democratic candidate for President of the United States should be asked this question.

I have always appreciated Beto’s sense of conviction, but I hope he rethinks this one.  His answer to Don Lemon shows a fundamental misunderstanding of religious liberty.  In fact, this answer throws the First Amendment under the bus.

Beto has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. His campaign has been on life support for a long time and last night he probably killed it.  You better believe that his comment will rally the Trump base and legitimate the fears of millions of evangelical Christians.

Beto says he does not want to run for Senate in 2020.  But if he does decide to run for a Senate seat in Texas he may have just blew his chances.  I am guessing that very few people in Texas embrace Beto’s secularism.

Here are a few responses to Beto’s remarks that I have seen online today:

Here is historian John Haas on  Facebook: “Not that Beto has any chance of becoming the nominee, much less president, but it would be interesting to watch the president ordering the IRS to pull Dr. King’s church’s tax exempt status.  Democrats do know that African-American churches are a big part of their informal infrastructure, right?

 

When I saw Beto’s remarks, I tweeted at Washington University law professor John Inazu:

Inazu is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference.  Some of you know that I have extolled Inazu’s idea of “confident pluralism” many times at this blog.  Here is a summary of the book:

In the three years since Donald Trump first announced his plans to run for president, the United States seems to become more dramatically polarized and divided with each passing month. There are seemingly irresolvable differences in the beliefs, values, and identities of citizens across the country that too often play out in our legal system in clashes on a range of topics such as the tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. How can we possibly argue for civic aspirations like tolerance, humility, and patience in our current moment?

In Confident Pluralism, John D. Inazu analyzes the current state of the country, orients the contemporary United States within its broader history, and explores the ways that Americans can—and must—strive to live together peaceably despite our deeply engrained differences. Pluralism is one of the founding creeds of the United States—yet America’s society and legal system continues to face deep, unsolved structural problems in dealing with differing cultural anxieties and differing viewpoints. Inazu not only argues that it is possible to cohabitate peacefully in this country, but also lays out realistic guidelines for our society and legal system to achieve the new American dream through civic practices that value toleration over protest, humility over defensiveness, and persuasion over coercion.

The paperback edition includes a new preface that addresses the election of Donald Trump, the decline in civic discourse after the election, the Nazi march in Charlottesville, and more, this new edition of Confident Pluralism is an essential clarion call during one of the most troubled times in US history. Inazu argues for institutions that can work to bring people together as well as political institutions that will defend the unprotected.  Confident Pluralism offers a refreshing argument for how the legal system can protect peoples’ personal beliefs and differences and provides a path forward to a healthier future of tolerance, humility, and patience.

Inazu responded to me with this tweet:

Here is a taste of Inazu’s linked piece “Want a vibrant public square? Support religious tax exemptions“:

When it comes to federal taxes, there is a fundamental reason we should protect religious organizations — even those we disagree with. Functionally, the federal tax exemption is akin to a public forum: a government-provided resource that welcomes and encourages a diversity of viewpoints. Tax exemptions for religious organizations and other nonprofits exist in part to allow different groups to make their voices heard. Past the preexisting baseline, groups and ideas wither or thrive not by government decree but by the choices of individual donors. In this setting, government has no business policing which groups are “in” and which ones are “out” based on their ideological beliefs. And there is no plausible risk that granting tax-exempt status to groups such as the Nation of Islam, the Catholic Church or even the American Cheese Education Foundation means that the government embraces or endorses those organizations’ views.

Tax-exempt status is available to a vast range of ideologically diverse groups. The meanings of “charitable” and “educational” under the Internal Revenue Code are deliberately broad, and “religious” organizations are not even defined. Among the organizations that qualify as tax-exempt, each of us could find not only groups we support, but also those we find harmful to society. And our lists of reprehensible groups would differ. The pro-choice group and the pro-life group, religious groups of all stripes (or no stripe), hunting organizations and animal rights groups — the tax exemption benefits them all.

Read the rest here.

Kelsey Dallas has a nice piece on the way other Democratic candidates responded to similar questions in last night’s CNN forum.

Here, for example, is Elizabeth Warren:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

Duke University Rejects Young Life

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Universities like Duke claim to be bastions of free speech, inclusion, and pluralism, but they tend to define these commitments very narrowly.   For example, the student government at Duke recently rejected Young Life‘s official status on campus because the Christian ministry supports traditional views on marriage and sexuality.

Here is an article from the Duke student newspaper:

The Duke Student Government Senate unanimously declined to recognize Young Life as an official Duke student group at its Wednesday meeting. 

Young Life is a national Christian organization that has branches serving middle and high school students in Durham and Chapel Hill. The group had requested official recognition to recruit and support a greater number of students, as it already has a following on campus. But Young Life was rebuffed over concerns about the national organization’s policies concerning LGBTQ+ leaders. 

At last week’s DSG meeting, senators noted that the national organization’s rule barring LGBTQ+ individuals from leadership positions violates the Student Organization Finance Committee’s guideline that every Duke student group include a nondiscrimination statement in its constitution. 

The Senate then tabled the vote to give Young Life members the chance to speak to senators at this week’s meeting. 

Young Life’s sexual misconduct policy states that “we do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ. We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.” 

Senator Tommy Hessel, a junior, suggested that the Duke Young Life chapter amend its rules to comply with Duke’s nondiscrimination policy. However, Jeff Bennett, a master’s candidate at the Duke Divinity School and current Young Life member, argued that the Duke chapter could not break with national standards. 

“We cannot go outside the bounds of national policies,” Bennett said. 

Senior Rachel Baber, another Young Life member, also spoke in front of the Senate in a push for recognition, pointing out that Duke community members involved in the organization currently have to drive to Chapel Hill for official meetings. 

Read the rest here.

At least once a week someone–usually a reporter–asks me why so many evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.  Stories like this are part of the answer.

For a different understanding of free speech, inclusion, and pluralism I would encourage you to read John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving  Through Deep Difference.

What is Going on at the University of Iowa?

The University of Iowa Campus looking west from Old Capitol and the Pentacrest.

The administration of the University of Iowa does not want a Christian student group called Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) on campus because they do not permit LGBT students to hold leadership positions.  After de-registering BLinC as an official student group, a federal judge temporarily re-instated the group.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Eboo Patel writes:

BLinC pointed out that lots of student groups are based around particular identities and affinities, and such associations generally reserve certain privileges for people who share those identities and affinities, thereby excluding people who do not. If the University was going to deregister BLinC, what was it going to do about the Imam Mahdi group, which wants its leaders to be Shia Muslim students? Or the Korean American Student Association? Students For Life? The Feminist Union? Would they all be required to have governing documents that complied with the University of Iowa’s human rights policy?

It turns out that, out of 513 student organizations at the University of Iowa, just 157 were in compliance with the University’s human rights policy. That means a whopping 356 were out of line.

A federal judge, in ordering that BLinC be temporarily restated as an official student organization, wondered why the University had applied its policy so unevenly.

I find this case extremely important and not at all easy.

Patel invokes the work of John Inazu in Confident Pluralism: Surviging and Thriving Through Deep Difference to help make sense of what is happening at the University of Iowa.

Here is a taste:

I belong to a religious community that excludes my wife. I am an Ismaili Muslim and my wife is a Sunni Muslim. Ismailis are defined by their belief in the Imam (a figure broadly similar to the Pope in Catholicism and the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism) who is held by Ismailis to be their leader and spiritual guide, the rightful interpreter of the Qur’an and Islamic tradition.

Only those who have declared formal belief in the Imam are allowed to take part in Ismaili spiritual ceremonies, or to enter certain Ismaili religious spaces. Ismailis are especially sensitive about these matters because we are minorities within the broader Muslim community who have experienced no small amount of life-threatening discrimination, and frankly still do.

This means that when I take our two children for prayers, my wife cannot come. When Prince Karim Aga Khan, the current Imam, made a special spiritual visit to the United States last year to celebrate being in office for 60 years, my wife was left out in the hall as the rest of our family went inside to be in the Imam’s sacred presence.

As you can imagine, I don’t like this very much. My wife likes it even less.

It’s also not something I have a vote in. There are no elections in the Ismaili interpretation of Islam. The Imam of the time is appointed by the previous Imam, has full authority to shape the rituals and practices of the faith, and then appoints representatives (both a priestly class of sorts and administrators) who are empowered to lead the community.

This Ismaili practice is distinctive in its particulars but not so strange in its general approach. Many religious communities have boundaries that include some and exclude others. If you are not Muslim, you cannot go to Mecca. If you are not Catholic, you cannot take communion. If you are not male, you cannot become part of the priesthood in either the Catholic or LDS churches.

Generally, there are not enough Ismailis at a college to form an official Ismaili Students Association. If there were, and if such groups needed to have some kind of recognition from an official Ismaili administrative body, it would surely say that at least the leaders of the group needed to be Ismaili. How could it be any different? How could the leaders of a religiously-oriented group be unable to enter the prayer hall of that group?

Under all-comers policies, a college would have to de-register an Ismaili Students Association. That would obviously negatively impact Ismaili students, who would lose access to college facilities and also lose the ability to advertise widely. It would also negatively impact the wider campus community. Ismailis love running social events and organizing service projects, and those are open to everyone. An organized Ismaili group would likely be involved in broader awareness campaigns around humanitarian issues in Central and South Asia, where a lot of Ismaili-run development projects take place. They would also simply be part of the diverse civil society of the campus, and by their presence educate people about the range of religious and cultural groups on the planet.

Doesn’t a college campus have a stake in the flourishing of identity groups like a hypothetical Ismaili Students Association? Doesn’t a diverse civic fabric require strong individual threads, including religious ones? 

Read the entire piece here.

 

What Does the Trump Administration Mean by “Religious Freedom?”

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At the State Department’s recent “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that there is a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”  This “dangerous movement,” Sessions added, “must be confronted and defeated.”

I am part of the camp that believes people with deeply-held religious beliefs on social issues should be free to uphold those beliefs in a pluralistic society.  In other words, there are times when liberty of conscience in matters of religion should be protected despite the fact that others might see these beliefs as discriminatory.  When it comes to living together with such deeply-held convictions, I hope for what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”

Having said that, I am not a fan of the way the Trump administration uses “religious liberty” to invoke fear.  I wrote about this kind of fear-mongering in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Sessions’s use of words like “dangerous” and “undetected by many” and “confronted and defeated” wreaks of political scare tactics and culture-war rhetoric.  I am surprised he did not roll out the phrase “deep state.”

Sessions claims that “ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit.”  First, I don’t know of any contemporary cases, if any, in which government has threatened ministers from preaching from the Bible.  Fear is often based on false information.  Second, I suspect Sessions is conflating the preaching of “holy writ” from the pulpit with the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit.  This is how many pro-Trump evangelicals understand “religious liberty.” This is why Sessions and Trump get so bent out of shape by the “Johnson Amendment.”  (Frankly, I think Trump could care less about the Johnson Amendment, but if he can promise its repeal he can gain political points with the evangelicals in his base).

Sessions goes on.  He talks about the ways the Pilgrims in Plymouth, the Catholics in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Scots-Presbyterians in the middle colonies (Sessions apparently does not realize that Pennsylvania is a middle colony and most Scots-Irish came to Penn’s colony), and Roger Williams in Rhode Island championed religious freedom.  He adds: “Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against.”  What Sessions fails to note is that the Pilgrims (and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay) did not provide this precious religious freedom to people who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did.  He fails to note that Roger Williams founded Rhode Island because he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay for failing to conform to Puritan orthodoxy (among other things).  He fails to note that Puritans executed Quakers in Boston Commons.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time or inclination right now to exegete Sessions’s entire speech.  It is worth noting, however, that all of Sessions’s examples of religious liberty are Christian examples.  There is no mention of religious liberty for Muslims, Jews, or other people of faith.  Parts of Sessions’s address read like a Trump stump speech.  He lauds Trump for making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Really?  Is this what the Trump administration means when they say they are going to champion religious liberty?  This sounds more like the kind of Christian civilization those “liberty-loving” Puritans and Pilgrims wanted to create back in 17th New England.  (Ironically, these early American Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday).

OK, I am rambling.  But if you want some context on the way Trump and his minions think about religious liberty, I encourage you to check out Jason Lupfer’s recent piece at Religion & Politics.  It is worth your time.

John Inazu Still Believes in Confident Pluralism

Confident PluralismInazu is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law & Religion at Washington University Law School.  He is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.  That book was published two years ago and Inazu continues to believe in his thesis.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Christianity Today:

The premise of confident pluralism is that we can make room for our differences even as we maintain our own beliefs and practices. Doing so requires both legal and personal commitments. When it comes to the law, we must insist that those in power protect our ability to disagree. We must have a shared commitment to allowing for dissent, difference, and divergent beliefs. That means strengthening First Amendment freedoms for everyone.

The personal argument focuses on civic practices rooted in three aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance acknowledges that people should generally be free to pursue their own beliefs and practices. This is not the same as approval; it is much closer to endurance. We can usually respect people even if we don’t respect their ideas. Humility recognizes that we will sometimes be unable to prove to others why we believe we are right and they are wrong. Patience asks us to listen, understand, and empathize with those who see the world differently.

The American experiment in pluralism depends upon legal commitments and civic practices. And we have usually found ways to maintain a modest unity against great odds. We have always done so imperfectly, and too often our political stability has been purchased at the cost of suppressing or silencing those with less power. But in acknowledging our country’s shortcomings, we can also remember some of its successes. The disagreements between white Protestant men at the founding of our country may seem trivial today, but those differences meant widespread killing in other parts of the world. Our debased and dehumanizing political rhetoric leaves much to be desired, but unlike many other societies, we usually stop short of actual violence. In the midst of deep disagreements with our neighbors, we still find creative partnerships in unexpected places. These examples of our modest unity are important reminders that we can live together across deep differences. On the other hand, they do not suggest that we have or will overcome our differences. As I write in the book’s conclusion, confident pluralism will not give us the American dream, but it might help avoid the American nightmare.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happens When a Culture Warrior and a Confident Pluralist Exchange Tweets About Trump’s Border Wall?

Last week I did a post on evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s biblical defense of Donald Trump’s border wall.

Here is what a couple of smart people tweeted about Grudem’s defense of the wall:

As noted in my original post, Trump court evangelical and Christian radio host Eric Metaxas called Grudem’s view “A Sane View of the Border Wall Controversy.”

Washington University law professor John Inazu was not going to let Metaxas get away with this.  Here is his Twitter exchange with Metaxas:

Apparently, Metaxas did not realize that Inazu is the grandchild of Japanese immigrants.  His father was born in the Manzanar Japanese internment camp.

Here is Inazu again:

I can’t read Metaxas’s Twitter feed because I was blocked (and disparaged by Metaxas on more than one occasion) after I wrote a multi-post review exposing the serious historical errors in one of his recent books.  But it appears that he is now claiming that “thin-skinned Jacobins” are oppressing him for his remarks about Inazu.  Katelyn Beaty, a writer and former managing editor of Christianity Today, is having none of it:

There is something much deeper going on here than simply another twitter battle.  Metaxas believes in Donald Trump.  He is a cultural warrior.  He believes that America was founded as a Christian nation and should continue to be one.  He once called down the wrath of God on Christians who did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

Inazu, on the other hand, is a Christian law professor at a prestigious Midwestern university and a member of the Board of Trustees of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  His book Confident Pluralism is a call for Americans, including evangelical Christians, to learn to live together while respecting their deepest differences.  It is, in many ways, the antithesis of Metaxas’s culture-war approach.

The two approaches to culture are quite different and I think we see them playing out, to a degree, in this Twitter exchange.

What Looms on the Horizon for Christian Colleges?

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Over at First Things, church historian Carl Trueman argues that Christian colleges need to prepare financially for a bleak future in a post-Christian age.  He writes:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear. In an era where a close analogy is assumed between civil rights regarding race and civil rights regarding sexual identity, the Bob Jones precedent could easily lead to the revocation of tax-exempt status for schools committed to traditional views of marriage and sexual morality.

Read the entire piece here.

Alan Jacobs offers additional commentary at his blog:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; those that can survive that may not be able to afford their taxes once they lose their traditional exemption; but a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world. And this the secular left cannot and will not tolerate, if it can help it, because it rightly understands that Christianity stands opposed to the secular left’s own gospel, which, popular opinion notwithstanding, is not essentially about sex but rather may be summed up as: “I am my own.”

…What does Christian formation — paideia and catechesis — look like in a world in which many of the institutions that have long supported that formation have been shut down or substantively eviscerated? In relation to these issues, that is the question that Christians need to be asking. Because, I am convinced, that moment is coming: maybe not in the next decade, maybe not even in my lifetime, but certainly within the lifetimes of many reading this blog post.

These are important issues.  This is why I continue advocate and push for something akin to John Inazu’s idea of “confident pluralism.”

The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

Gaylord

It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.

Confident Pluralism, Princeton Seminary, and Tim Keller

PTS

John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Among Deep Differenceshas weighed in on Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind the Kuyper Prize from evangelical Presbyterian minister Tim Keller.  Get some background on this story here.

Inazu raises some interesting questions in his post at the website of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  Here is a taste:

One of the core commitments of confident pluralism is that the First Amendment should permit private associations—including private institutions of higher education—to follow their own norms absent extraordinarily compelling governmental interests. Since interests of such magnitude are not implicated here, Princeton Seminary can do whatever it wants. It could give or not give the award to Keller. It could—as it did—offer and then rescind the award for just about any reason. It could—as it did not—disinvite Keller to deliver his lecture. Still, this whole episode raises questions, not only about the purpose of Princeton Theological Seminary, but whether or not the school has adequately articulated its sense of purpose.

According to its website, the seminary’s mission is to “prepare women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith, integrity, scholarship, competence, compassion, and joy, equipping them for leadership worldwide in congregations and the larger church, in classrooms and the academy, and in the public arena.” Keller’s views on the ordination of women arguably place him at odds with aspects of that mission. But so would the beliefs and affiliations of past recipients of the same award, including a conservative rabbi who does not support the idea of female rabbis (Jonathan Sacks), the then-president of an evangelical seminary that does not recognize same-sex ordination (Richard Mouw), and an Anglican theologian who believes that marriage is limited to heterosexual unions (Oliver O’Donovan). The seminary’s mission statement seems even more in tension with its recent reversal: “In response to Christ’s call for the unity of the church, the Seminary embraces in its life and work a rich racial and ethnic diversity and the breadth of communions represented in the worldwide church.”

Of course, institutions frequently change their missions and identities, and maybe Princeton Seminary has simply evolved in recent years. Maybe a broader ecumenism worked for the seminary in 2010 but not in 2017, on the other side of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision and gender issues foregrounded in the last presidential election. Still, if these observations are accurate, Princeton Seminary’s evolution may have been more unconscious than deliberate, creating an institution that does not entirely understand itself: A better self-understanding might have prevented the school from offering the award to Keller in the first place, and perhaps the same is true for some past awardees.

Read the entire piece here.

Answering “Secular Purism” With “Religious Purism”

benedict-sanctus

Alternative title for this post: “The heroes of Rod’s book are almost all monks.”

David Brooks has reviewed Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option

Here is a taste:

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren’t trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

There is a beautiful cohesion to the monastic vocation. But most people are dragged willy-nilly into life — with all its contradictions and complexities. Many who experience faith experience it most vividly within the web of their rival loves — different communities, jobs, dilemmas. They have faith in their faith. It gives them a way of being within the realities of a messy and impure world.

The right response to the moment is not the Benedict Option, it is Orthodox Pluralism. It is to surrender to some orthodoxy that will overthrow the superficial obsessions of the self and put one’s life in contact with a transcendent ideal. But it is also to reject the notion that that ideal can be easily translated into a pure, homogenized path. It is, on the contrary, to throw oneself more deeply into friendship with complexity, with different believers and atheists, liberals and conservatives, the dissimilar and unalike.

I think Brooks’s “Orthodox Pluralism” and “practical accommodation” is similar to John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism.  See my discussion of Inazu as it relates to the Benedict Option here.

Confident Pluralism

Confident PluralismI am looking forward to reading and possibly reviewing John Inazu‘s new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press, 2016). If Inazu’s argument in the book is anything like his recent piece with Tim Keller at the Christianity Today website, I think I am going to enjoy it.

Here is a taste of Inazu and Keller, “How Christians Can Bear Witness in an Anxious Age.”

…One way that we can engage with the world around us is by attending to the practical needs of our neighbors. When tragedy strikes any community, Christians ought to be among the first to give time, money, and other resources to help those who have been harmed and to mend the social fabric. We can respond with compassion and love for the sake of our neighbors, with actions as well as with words. We can do so in response to tragedies that unfold in seconds, and to those that take shape over the course of decades.

Sometimes, loving our neighbors means engaging in politics. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently observed that the maxim “politics always follows culture” is most often espoused by those who have the luxury of reflecting on culture. For many people, however, politics is not an afterthought but an urgent need. That is particularly true in areas where the social fabric is torn. In these settings, politics—and law, government, and public institutions—can often be a matter of life and death. Christians have a role to play in these settings, not as self-interested rulers but as active participants seeking the good of our neighbors. Of course, politics is messy, and Christians who engage in it will quickly find themselves working with people and institutions whose purposes are not gospel-oriented. But practical partnership does not require endorsing all of the goals or values of those with whom we partner.

Another area where Christians can bear witness in an anxious age is by committing to the work of racial justice. Despite the many failures of white-majority churches to take action in this area, the gospel has tremendous resources for seeking justice and peace across racial divisions. The death and resurrection of Jesus has broken down cultural barriers throughout history—no other major religion has spread as far and across as many cultures as Christianity.

For many people of color, frustration has outpaced hope. Yet Christians, as Thabiti Anyabwile notes, can resist “the temptation to hopelessness,” even in the “thick fog of despair that settles on entire blocks of families mangled and maligned by mass incarceration.” The consequences of mass incarceration are enormous, as are the ongoing realities of neighborhood and school segregation, education inequity, and employment and health care disparities. Christian hope is not blind optimism. But neither is it utter despair.

Christians of all races can learn how longstanding policies and practices around housing, education, and criminal justice disproportionately harm some of their neighbors. We can take the time to listen to the pain of our neighbors without presuming either easy solutions or insurmountable challenges (and sometimes we will need first to learn how to listen). Instead of walking away from challenges that seem “too big,” Christians who confront the barriers of race and class disparities can draw near to their affected neighbors through the power of the gospel. Suburban churches can engage in the hard work of understanding the personal and structural consequences of generational injustice. Through a posture of reconciliation and humility (not merely a vision of “community service”), they can engage urban communities through volunteering with early-stage literacy programs, partnering with ministries in underserved neighborhoods, and investing financial and human capital in local urban businesses.

Finally, Christians might engage in the cause of religious liberty with more hope and less anxiety. Many Christians today feel increasing legal pressures on their institutions and the ways of life they are accustomed to. Some of these challenges are significant: campus ministries experience hurdles to campus access, Christian adoption and social service agencies confront regulations in tension with their missional convictions, and Christian educational institutions face threats to their accreditation and tax-exempt status. We should not be naïve to these challenges, and we should work diligently to find appropriate legal and policy responses. But we must make our case in publicly accessible terms that appeal to people of good will from a variety of religious traditions and those of no religious tradition. In doing so, we cannot ignore the importance of religious liberty for all. There is no principled legal or theological argument that looks only to the good of Christians over the interests of others.

Focusing on others means attending to the challenges and limits that they confront in the practice of their faith. Today’s cultural climate makes it especially essential for Christians to defend the religious liberty of American Muslims. Whatever challenges Christians may feel to their practices pale in comparison to the cultural and often legal challenges that confront American Muslims. As one Muslim leader shared, “Muslims today are afraid to think in this country.” These challenges are exacerbated when some Muslims engage in acts of terror in this country. Even though Christians and atheists also perpetrate acts of terror and violence (in places like movie theatres, elementary schools, and shopping malls), many of our neighbors react with particular fear and judgment when the perpetrator is identified with Islam.

We can be encouraged by the work of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which spends time and money defending people of all faiths, including Muslims. Other prominent Christian leaders, like Russell Moore, have rightly challenged the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has emerged from some segments of religious and political discourse. We can do this on the local level, too. Christians can engage with our Muslim neighbors through acts of friendship, sharing meals, and opening our homes and churches to refugees. And we can resist careless rhetoric that imputes the actions of some onto the beliefs of all. Just as we rightly resist charges that all Christians are bigots or that Christian teachings are responsible for violence against abortion clinics, we should be quick to do the same when the perpetrators of violence are tied to other faiths or identity groups.

Read the entire piece here.