Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Denny Burk's blog includes commentary on theology, politics, and culture.
Last Fall, I wrote about Azusa Pacific University’s (APU) removal of the ban on gay relationships among its students. Days later, the trustees voted to reverse the administration and to reinstate the ban. Today, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that Azusa Pacific University has removed its ban on homosexual relationships yet again. From the report:
Azusa Pacific University again has lifted a ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus.
The university Board of Trustees directed administrators to update the student handbook for undergraduate students, campus spokeswoman Rachel White confirmed. The changes specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing ban on pre-marital sex.
The update, enacted Thursday, demonstrates Azusa Pacific’s commitment to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” according to university Provost Mark Stanton.
“APU is an open-enrollment institution, which does not require students to be Christian to attend, and the handbook conveys our commitment to treating everyone with Christ-like care and civility,” Stanton said in a statement. “Our values are unchanged and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical in our Christian evangelical identity.”
Why is the university claiming that its biblical values haven’t changed even as they announce the removal of the ban on homosexual relationships? This is a little bit confusing, but hang with me here as I try to sort out what this change means.
Notice how the school is now parsing things up. The school’s standards of conduct now simply ban “sexual intimacy outside the context of marriage,” where marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman (10.1 Inappropriate Sexual Behavior). As long as students avoid “sexual intimacy” outside marriage, they are now free to pursue whatever romantic relationships they please—gay, straight, or otherwise. In other words, homosexual romance seems to be permitted so long as no “sexual intimacy” is involved.
Why would the school remove (for the second time!) the ban on homosexual relationships? Provost Mark Stanton says that the change shows that APU is committed to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion” (emphasis mine). Notice the Provost’s concern about discrimination. APU had been under fire from student groups on this very point. These groups not only claimed to identify discriminatory inconsistencies in APU’s student handbook, but they also claimed that these policies put the school out of step with accreditors and licensing agencies.
What was the discriminatory inconsistency? While the handbook banned “homosexual relationships,” it also banned creating a “hostile environment” for any student on the basis of their “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” (“Harassment“). The activists argued that it was inconsistent for APU to allow celibate heterosexual romance while banning celibate homosexual romance. Such a ban resulted in a “hostile environment” for homosexually oriented students, which is a violation of APU’s own community standards, which make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into protected classes.
Last Fall, APU’s student government passed a resolution demanding clarification on this point. Among other things, the resolution says:
Students are currently being held at a double standard where romanticized heterosexual relationships are permitted on campus, but a student who is in a romanticized same-sex relationship can be punished; and,
To hold students to equal standards. the Board of Trustees and the administration must either remove the ban on romanticized same-sex relationships or ban all romanticized relationships at Azusa Pacific University…
As an outsider, I hate to say it, but APU made a huge mistake by making sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes on campus. Because they did that, they made it impossible to ban celibate homosexual relationships while allowing heterosexual ones.
Despite the school’s claim otherwise, there are major problems with this policy, and APU may be stuck with those problems as long as their handbook recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes on campus. To begin with, the Lord Jesus himself teaches us that it is not merely immoral sexual behavior that is sinful but also immoral sexual desires:
Matt. 5:27-30 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus says that it is sin to look at a married woman in order to desire her sexually. There is literally hell to pay if immoral desires are not kept in check. Sexual holiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of deeds committed but of desires felt. Yet Azusa’s new policy seems to be saying that it is okay for romantic homosexual relationships to happen on campus so long as there is no sex. Do they not see how this contradicts what Jesus teaches us about sexual holiness as a matter of the heart?
The fundamental problem here is that Azusa’s student handbook fails to make a moral distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Even when abstinent, they are not morally equivalent. A heterosexual relationship can and may have the covenant of marriage as its aim and goal. A homosexual relationship can never have marriage as its aim and goal. That means that a homosexual relationship can never be holy or pleasing to God. By definition, it is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27).
One more item is problematic. The school’s standards of conduct prohibit students from cohabitating with the opposite sex (9.0 Cohabitation). Yet students of the same-sex are still permitted to cohabitate—presumably including those students who are in homosexual romantic relationships. Does Azusa believe that it is good for same-sex attracted students to be cohabitating while experiencing sexual desires for one another?
The LGBTQ+ activists who agitated for this change are claiming this as a victory:
NEWS ? @AzusaPacific REMOVES ban on LGBTQ+ relationships AGAIN. Provost confirms, student handbook updated.
Who’s win is this? LGBTQ+ Students. Their Spirit-led organizing drives & inspires us.
They celebrate but not for good reason. This new policy may put APU at peace with protesters, accreditors, and licensing agencies, but it puts the school at odds with faithful biblical Christianity. And that is the main problem. Perhaps it is too much to hope that APU will recognize their error and correct it. I will hope and pray nonetheless that they will.
I was really grateful to read a strong and clear statement about human sexuality from the President of Covenant Theological Seminary. You can watch the full statement above. A transcript of the first four minutes of the statement is below.
“Hi, I’m Mark Dalbey, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I’m here today to respond to a number of questions and concerns that we have received about our commitment to biblical sexual ethics in light of a conference that was held in St. Louis last summer called Revoice. Here’s what we believe about biblical sexuality.
Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy is only to be expressed in such a marriage. Homosexual desire is a result of the fall. It’s a sinful desire that is to be mortified and resisted and in no way dignified. Homosexual lust, homosexual intimate behavior is sin and condemned by God.
As to the Revoice conference, Covenant Seminary does not endorse, promote, or have a role in the Revoice conference. We do not agree with all of the views that were shared or taught at the Revoice conference. Dr Sklar, Old Testament professor and Vice President of Academics, who has two commentaries on the book of Leviticus, was asked to speak and did speak on Leviticus 18 and 20 and the continuing relevance in God’s moral law of forbidding homosexual lust and behavior. Covenant Seminary does not advocate for queer theology, Covenant Seminary does not teach that a person should identify as a gay Christian, and Covenant Seminary will not have any of our faculty speaking at the 2019 Revoice conference.
Much of what is being said about Covenant Seminary is [a] sinful, slanderous, violation of the ninth commandment which teaches in the Larger Catechism that we should promote and preserve the good name of our neighbor and ourselves when necessary. Sadly, it is necessary for Covenant Seminary to do this given that we have been under these slanderous attacks.
Here is what we teach our students about how to relate to homosexual people who are unbelievers. We teach them that they are to hold uncompromisingly to the biblical sexual ethics. We also teach them that they are to love unbelievers as those made in the image of God, that they are to recognize that we are fellow sinners ourselves as we seek to communicate the good news of the saving and transforming power of the gospel to people involved in a gay lifestyle. Christians are to build relationships with unbelievers of all kinds, including those who are homosexuals, and we are to live out the gospel call to not only love God but to love our neighbor as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be promoting this. We teach our students to love people well and to communicate the unchanging truth of God’s word in winsome ways that the Holy Spirit might change hearts and bring people to Christ.
We also teach our students as they minister to fellow believers who have all kinds of struggles including struggle with same-sex attraction and temptations that we are to love them and pastorally care for them. We are to disciple them by using the ordinary means of grace that they might grow in Christlikeness and have strength to resist ongoing temptation. We also teach our students that they are all to find their core identity in Christ and not with whatever particular sinful struggle they may have. Our churches should welcome fellow believers who have ongoing temptation and struggle with same-sex attraction to be full members of the body of Christ that will be able to exercise their gifts and that also would benefit from the ministry of others in the church.”
I’ve been enjoying Andrew Roberts recent biography of Winston Churchill titled Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book includes a letter in which he opines about the sinking of the Titanic and about how proud he was that men out women and children on the lifeboats first. Churchill said that the whole event “reflects nothing but honour upon our civilization.” His prose are grandiose but stirring:
I cannot help feeling proud of our race and its traditions as proved by this event. Boatloads of women and children tossing on the sea safe and sound — and the rest — silence. Honour to their memory. In spite of all the inequalities and artificialities of our modern life, at the bottom — tested to its foundations, our civilization is humane, Christian, and absolutely democratic. How differently Imperial Rome or Ancient Greece would have settled the problem. The swells and potentates would have gone off with their concubines and pet slaves and soldier guards, and . . . whoever could bribe the crew would have had the preference and the rest could go to hell. But such ethics could neither build Titanics with science nor lose them with honour.’
I can’t help but wonder if men in 2019 would do what those men did over one hundred years ago. Would they put the women and children into the lifeboats first? Or would the elbow their own way to safety? In any case, what an act of valor on the part of these men. Churchill is right. The whole event reflects honor on that civilization.
I woke up this morning to a troubling Op-Ed in The Washington Post by Cynthia Nixon. The entire article is a call for an end to civility toward anyone who holds Christian convictions about sexuality. In particular, the essay responds to the fact that former Vice-President Joe Biden recently referred to current Vice-President Mike Pence as a “decent man.” Nixon unloads on Biden for this flash of tolerance and civility, arguing that Mike Pence’s Christian convictions about sexuality are worthy of the severest public outrage and opprobrium. She writes,
I think it’s important to explain why calling Pence “a decent guy” is an affront to the real meaning of the word….
These are not the actions of a decent man. The fact that Pence does vile, hateful things while well-coiffed and calm doesn’t make him decent; it makes him insidious and dangerous. Respecting each other’s rights and humanity is what makes us civilized — not keeping a civil tone while doing the opposite.
It’s easy to say nice things about Pence when you’re not personally threatened by his agenda. If Biden were being directly attacked in the same way that our community is, I think he would see Pence from a very different vantage point…
And then she ends with this chilling conclusion:
When you’re fighting for the rights of marginalized communities who are under attack, it’s okay to stop being polite. This is not a time for hollow civility. This is a time to fight. If Democrats are too wedded to the collegiality of the Senate dining room to call out the Republicans who espouse homophobia, how are we ever going to stop them?
It is hard to imagine that The Washington Post would allow this kind of open animus against adherents of any other point of view. Can you imagine an Op-Ed arguing that it’s time to toss civility aside and embrace open animus towards anyone who supports, say, the Green New Deal? And yet, here it appears as a matter of course that it is open season on Christians who dare to affirm what the Bible teaches about sexual ethics.
This is the new reality for Christians who hold the line on biblical sexual ethics, and I don’t see any signs of things letting up. On the contrary, this kind of open animus only seems to be spreading. In light of this, it is good for Christians to remember a few things:
1. The Lord Jesus has prepared us for this.
In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for opposition to their mission. The entire chapter is bracing, not least because Jesus is so forthright about what his disciples should expect: “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). Jesus told us that we would face open animus, and we would do well to prepare ourselves for the kind of lives Jesus told us that his disciples would have. This is what we signed up for. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
2. We must not respond in kind.
Those who oppose the Christian message will increasingly call for an end of civility toward Christian conviction. The rallying will become more brazen. As it does, we must commit ourselves not to respond in kind.
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?” (Matt. 5:44-46)
We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Christians may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions on marriage. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration. Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and we must never return evil for evil (Rom. 12:17).
3. It will be worth it.
Every one of us will be tempted to fudge the message in order to avoid conflict. Don’t do it. Being faithful to Jesus and his word will be worth it no matter what it costs us to do so. We have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Heb. 12:4), and I don’t see that coming any time soon. But even if it were to come to that, it would be worth even losing our lives for the sake of Christ and his word. No matter what we suffer or what we give up for Christ, it will be restored to us and then some in the age to come. “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).
The opposition is increasing. Jesus has prepared us. Let’s be ready.
In 1 Timothy 5:19-21, the apostle Paul explains how to deal with a pastor who is sinning.1 Some readers understand Paul to be setting a higher standard for pastors than for other members of the congregation. I think this is a mistaken reading of Paul’s words, for Paul wishes for everyone to be treated equally and without “partiality” (v. 21). Paul writes:
19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
Paul’s process for dealing with elders accused of a sin lines up with what Jesus says must be done for any brother that is accused of a sin. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus says that if a church member sins against you, you should go to them in private. If they don’t repent, then you take along two or three witnesses to establish the charges made against the sinning brother. If they establish the charges and he still refuses to turn from his sin, then they are supposed to put the matter before the church. If he refuses after it is brought to the church, then he is excommunicated.
That is the same process in play for elders here in 1 Timothy 5, except this text picks up with the second step—establishing the charges in the presence of witnesses. Establishing witnesses is crucial to this process, as George Knight comments,
Paul is, therefore, reminding Timothy to follow the principle of Dt. 19:15 in church discipline. Jesus also applied this principle to church discipline in Mt. 18:16, where witnesses are said to be necessary “so that … every fact [literally “word”] may be confirmed,” the witnesses being invited to sit with two people who are seeking to settle a personal or private sin (cf. Mt. 18:15 [variant reading]; Lk. 17:3, 4) that the witnesses did not themselves see. They become witnesses through this procedure. In effect, Paul is urging Timothy to follow this procedure found in Matthew 18 and the OT before the church accepts or acknowledges as correct an accusation against an elder.2
If the sinning pastor is unresponsive to that confrontation, then the matter goes before the church for a public rebuke and call to repentance just like in Matthew 18.
This process is designed to establish guilt and to prevent false accusations. It is a serious sin to bear false witness against a fellow church member. And it is no less scandalous to bring false accusations against an elder. Unfounded, scurrilous accusations are not to be entertained or spread within the church.
Why do we do it this way? Members of a congregation are sinners (including the pastor), and sometimes they sin against one another. Jesus wants brothers and sisters in Christ to go to each other and to reconcile with one another in private. He does not want them to go to war with one another and divide the body. That would be wicked. Members should love one another enough to deal discreetly so that they can reconcile and move on. This kind of one-on-one confrontation and reconciliation is supposed to be normal in the life of a church.
We don’t need to be quick to take offense at people. We need to forebear with one another and not take every opportunity to point out an offense. But when a real rift occurs because of sin, we need to be able to go to one another with the expectation that we can work it out in private.
It’s only after private confrontation has failed, that witnesses are brought in. If the offense cannot be established before witnesses, then the matter goes no further. But if it is established, it still needs to be kept quiet. No gossip or slandering. If the pastor persists in sin, it will come before the church in due time. Following these instructions helps to ensure that the charges will be established and well-founded, not based in half-truths and gossip.
No one should accept frivolous, unsubstantiated charges against a pastor (or any member for that matter). If the charges cannot be established by witnesses, then it doesn’t go public in any way and must be kept private.
That doesn’t mean that if a pastor sins against you and no one else happens to see it that you just have to live with it. The witnesses are not witnesses to the offense but to the confrontation after the fact. They can help establish whether the charges have merit or not (cf. Deut. 19:15-21).
Why do we do things in this way? Because we need to protect each other from baseless charges and petty gossip. And because we need to make a way for legitimate accusations to be heard and to go forward.
21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
Not “prejudging” means that we do not presume someone is guilty simply because they are accused. We must not predetermine guilt or innocence before the facts are in. Keeping these rules without “partiality” means that we do not go easy on some people because we think they are important. We do everything fairly, consistently, and in order.
By now you have read the news about the United Methodist Church—that conservatives within the denomination beat back an effort by liberals to affirm gay marriage and LGBT clergy. The New York Times reports:
After three days of intense debate at a conference in St. Louis, the vote by church officials and lay members from around the world doubled down on current church policy, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote served as a rejection of a push by progressive members and leaders to open the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Now, a divide of the United Methodist Church, which has 12 million members worldwide, appears imminent. Some pastors and bishops in the United States are already talking about leaving the denomination and possibly creating a new alliance for gay-friendly churches.
This is without question good news. The United Methodists are now the lone hold-out among the mainline denominations which have embraced the sexual revolution and affirmed gay marriage and gay clergy. That alone is a big deal. And a welcome development.
In large part, we have the African Methodists to thank for this result. They form about 30% of United Methodists worldwide, and they are vastly more conservative than their American counterparts. With the help of the African Methodists, the liberal plan to affirm gay marriage and gay clergy was defeated in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. North Africa gave birth to Western Christianity centuries ago. Now Africa is coming to the rescue of a compromised Western Christianity—at least in its Methodist version. Thank God for our African brothers and sisters.
Dr. Jerry Kulah, an African delegate who is a professor at the United Methodist University in Liberia, addressed a group of reform-minded Methodists who were attending the conference in St. Louis. Among other things, Kulah said this:
We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up”…
We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!…
Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.
But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us…
Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.
Amen. Thank God for such clarity of conviction. The Africans understand that there can be no fellowship with those who affirm LGBT immorality. None. The Africans were willing to walk alone rather than continue on with an apostate American Methodist movement. The key word there is “apostate.” To embrace LGBT immorality is to embrace apostasy. The Africans understand that.
What the liberal American Methodists wanted was a “One Church Plan,” which would have treated LGBT as a matter of moral indifference among United Methodists. Although it was pitched as a compromise, the plan’s effect would have been a total capitulation to the liberals.
What the liberals want—more than anything—is for the conservatives to concede that LGBT affirmation is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree. The Africans said no. And they were right. To grant that LGBT affirmation is in any way compatible with Christianity is to lose the essence of Christianity. You can have LGBT affirmation or you can have Christianity, but you can’t have both.
This is the bottom line that I fear many so-called evangelicals have yet to come to grips with. There can be no compromise with LGBT affirmation. The Bible and the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church simply won’t allow it. This is why so many of us signed our names to article ten of The Nashville Statement:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.
And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. And yet, scripture teaches that anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). The stakes are higher than the revisionists want you to believe.
Authentic Christians labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.
Real love—as God defines it—always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). And that is what the Africans did in St. Louis this week. My hope and prayer are that American evangelicals will draw strength and courage from the example of these African brothers and sisters. I know I have.
When I first came to Southern Seminary as a Ph.D candidate in 2001, I went to the Boyce Centennial Library and checked out a 1996 PBS documentary titled “Battle for the Minds.” Back then, it was only available on VHS, and it was not allowed out of the library. You had to watch it right there in the AV lab.
After seeing the documentary, I searched high and low to obtain a copy of this video for myself. When that proved impossible, I began trying to find a copy online and have searched for it at different times over the years. I searched and searched, and it has eluded thus far… until today. Someone shared it on YouTube about five days ago, and a friend sent it to me this afternoon.
The story of Southern Seminary’s recovery from theological liberalism is well-known at this point, but this documentary is not a sympathetic look at that recovery. In fact, the producers would not have viewed it as a “recovery” at all but as a regression. The documentary focuses on the debate over women in ministry, but through the course of the video it becomes clear that the issues were much deeper. At heart, the debate was about biblical authority, which had been shunned by many on the faculty at that time.
When the video was produced, many of the theological “moderates” hoped that there still might be a chance to stop the conservative resurgence at Southern Seminary. We all know now that this was not to be. But things didn’t seem so clear for those in the midst of the struggle in the mid-90’s. This unsympathetic video bears witness to that.
When I first watched this documentary 18 years ago, it was only five years old. Nevertheless, the documentary bore witness to a Southern Seminary far different even from what I experienced in 2001. It is certainly a world away from what Southern Seminary is now.
I want to post a brief note about Noah Rothman’s new book on social justice titled Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America (Regnery, 2019). I just finished it a couple days ago and found much that is helpful in it. Rothman outlines a brief history of social justice movements and argues that its current incarnation has collapsed into identity politics. In short, social justice is not about notions of individual liberty and justice but about righting historical wrongs committed against various identity groups.
Rothman is not denying that certain groups have experienced injustice. On the contrary, he argues that certain classes of people have in fact experienced historic oppression and that their plight demands justice. His contention, however, is that so-called “social justice” has devolved into recriminations between identitarian movements on both the right and the left. He criticizes both sides of this conflict as extreme and poisonous to our common culture.
Nevertheless, Rothman’s focus in this particular book is the identitarian movement of the left called social justice. Here is Rothman in his own words:
The American tradition of political idealism is imperiled by a growing obsession with the demographic categories of race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—the primary categories that are now supposed to constitute “identity.” As groups defined by these various categories have come to command the comprehensive allegiance of their members, identity alone has become a powerful political program. As it turns out, it is not a program that appeals to the better angels of our nature.
Identity has always been a part of our political culture, but lately the practitioners of identity politics have been less interested in continuity and legitimacy than in revenge. This retribution is antithetical to the conciliatory ideals by which injustices perpetrated in the name of identity were once reconciled. The authors of this vengeance reject the kind of blind, objective justice toward which Western civilization has striven since the Enlightenment. They argue, in fact, that blind justice is not justice at all. Objectivity is a utopian goal, a myth clung to by naïve children. We are all products of our experiences and the conditions into which we were born, whether we like it or not. Those traits set us on a course that is in many ways predestined.
The identity-obsessed left believes that Americans who are born into “privileged” demographic categories—male, white, and heterosexual, among others—will have an easier time navigating life than their underprivileged counterparts, among them women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT. Those on the right believe the opposite is true: the historically marginalized have had the scales tipped in their direction. The so-called “privileged” majority not only has lost its privileges but is often stripped of its essential rights.
The paranoia which can ensue from this division is the venomous progeny of identity politics. Its practitioners call it social justice.
This idea of social justice has developed into a way of life. The study of identity long ago ceased to resemble an academic discipline. Its tenets are as inviolable as any religious dogma. [pages xii-xiii]
Rothman contends that social justice practitioners have left behind a liberal ideal of justice for the illiberal ideal of retributive and distributive justice. Retributive justice involves punitive social action against historically privileged groups while distributive justice requires redistribution of goods and capital to historically oppressed groups. This kind of justice foments division and hostility which in turn unravel the social fabric of the nation. In short, Rothman believes that the current incarnation of social justice is going to be the undoing of America unless its illiberal tendencies can be reversed.
I do not intend this to be a full review and have only given the briefest sketch of Rothman’s work. Nevertheless, Rothman has evinced a provocative thesis that I think deserves a wide hearing.
David French - Lecture 1: "Introduction to the Concepts" - YouTube
Yesterday, David French lectured on intersectionality on the campus of Boyce College and Southern Seminary. It was a pleasure to have David on campus, and his lectures were really stimulating. The first lecture is already posted on SBTS’s YouTube channel (see above). I expect the other two lectures to be posted very soon.
David explained that the basic foundation of intersectionality is the commonsense observation that people have traits that can make them members of more than one marginalized or oppressed class of people. He argued that this particular observation about the complex way that people experience discrimination or oppression is fundamentally true.
David also argues that if that was all there was to intersectionality, there wouldn’t be much of a controversy about it. Intersectionality as a description of human experience is not controversial, but intersectionality as a prescription for social action is. And it is the latter that he takes aim at in all three presentations.