First Things Article: The LDS Church and Gay Rights

972 - First Things Article Header

I expanded my thoughts on the LDS Church and gay rights from a blog post into a piece that First Things liked enough to run with. Couple of quick notes. First, that article has even more typos than my usual posts. The “heard of Jesus’s message”? I can only hang my head in shame and try to do better next time. Second, I’ve been talking with a law professor about religious liberty to make sure I’m not too far off-base. The one thing he says I was missing from my analysis was that liberals don’t believe religious liberty is confined to only the liberties that you get via secular civil rights (like freedom of speech or privacy). They also tend to suggest that religion ought to be treated as a suspect classification like race or gender. This means that any law which explicitly targeted a religious group would be subject to strict scrutiny.

Practically speaking, however, that doesn’t change much. Most of the rules that would constitute a real burden on a person’s free expression of religion are not going to be crafted as explicitly anti-religious, so we’re still talking about a huge gulf between what conservatives have in mind when they talk about religious liberty (and also what the First Amendment strongly implies about religious liberty by mentioning it explicitly) and what liberals have in mind when they talk about religious liberty.

My Post on Gamergate at First Things

An example of typical response to my piece from Gamergate supporters on Twitter.
An example of typical response to my piece from Gamergate supporters on Twitter.

I forgot to mention that First Things ran a piece I wrote on Gamergate last Friday: Gamergate at the Beginning of 2015. I was pretty proud of the twin analyses I did for that piece, one explaining the reason for the radicalism of the social justice movement and the other explaining the tensions in the gaming community as it reacts to being mainstreamed. The loudest response to the piece so far, however, has been from Gamergate supporters who really don’t like that I wrote the phrase “Gamergate is dead” in the article.

I can understand their anger and, based on the Topsy charts they provided, they might have a point. It’s possible that I (and the folks I talked to) were premature in writing the movement off entirely. That would not be a bad thing at all in my book. There are times when you hope that you’re wrong. This is one of those times.

First Things: Ruthless Optimism

2014-09-29 First Things

I neglected to mention this a few days ago, but First Things ran a post I wrote about Mormonism’s tendency–historical, cultural, and perhaps theological–towards “ruthless optimism.” It’s a piece that meant a lot to me, and I was really happy to see it find such a great home. I’ve even seen it mentioned a few times from other folks since it came out, including a nod from Dan Peterson on his Patheos blog and a mention at the Cultural Hall podcast. So, if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to give it a read.

Can Christians Rock?

There’s an interesting review over at First Things of Christopher Partridge’s new book, The Lyre of Orpheus. Partridge’s theory, according to First Things’ Stephen Webb is as follows:

Rock is essentially transgressive. Christianity upholds a sacred order that excludes the profane. Therefore, contemporary Christian music cannot be true rock and roll, because it is “unable to establish a credible presence in [rock’s] profane affective space.”

Webb contests this theory, but he does so very weakly, writing: “Satan might or might not be beyond redemption, but everything else, including the devil’s music, isn’t.” That may be true, but it’s not really informative (how does one go about redeeming a genre or music?) nor does it actually address the core point. If rock is intrinsically transgressive, then when you redeem it you don’t really have rock anymore. The question that Partridge begs, and that Webb never spots, is this: transgressive of what?

I know it’s only a short review, but all the musicians noted were born in the 1950s – 1970s. It’s certainly easy to surmise that in the time they were making music (the 1970s and 1980s) traditional family values were still relatively dominant in America. In that context it makes sense to assume that “transgressive” meant contradicting these traditional values of modesty, self-restraint, and fidelity. But that assumption doesn’t make sense any more. No big surprise, by the way, Partridge himself was born in 1961. His cultural reference points were already stale in the last millennium.

By coincidence, I also picked up this story from the Daily Beast today: Watch What You Say, The New Liberal Power Elite Won’t Tolerate Dissent. The article’s first paragraph shows what Partridge and especially Web could have been talking about all along:

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.

When the powers that are in charge change, so does the meaning of the term “transgressive.” Music that is truly subversive now is effectively opposite of what was subversive back then. This makes sense: terms like “subversive” and “transgressive” are value-neutral without context. They are good or bad and useful or damaging entirely dependent on what it is they are attacking and promoting in its stead. It’s entirely possible for Christian rock to be subversive of the dominant culture while authentically embracing Christian tenets. In fact, because it faithfully embraces Christian tenets. You probably won’t get this if by “Christian rock” you are thinking of the kind of praise or worship music that you’ll find on Christian radio stations, because that music is geared towards being played in houses of worship. It doesn’t oppose or subvert anything. It probably can’t be real rock and roll. But it’s only one particular variant of Christian rock. How about my favorite band of all time: Thrice?

Yeah, I’m biased, but pay attention to which way the causality runs. I’m not endorsing Thrice as an example of a counter-cultural Christianity because I like the band. I liked the band in the first place precisely because of its subversive (in relationship to the Clerisy) nature. Nowhere is this more obvious than the official video of their song “Image of the Invisible” (off of their 2005 album Vheissu). The music alone screams beleaguered defiance and the lyrics match it perfectly: So raise the banner, bend back your bows / Remove the cancer, take back your souls and Though all the world may hate us, we are named / The shadow overtake us, we are known. But, in case the subversion theme wasn’t overt enough, the video drills the point home with a distinctly dystopian theme in which Christians are part of a modern underground resistance movement, fighting to get out a message that the world hates, has always hated, and will always hate.

Has Webb forgotten the relationship between the Church and the world depicted so directly in the New Testament, culminating in the crucifixion of God’s Son by the greatest political empire of the time? How about Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Give me a break, Christ’s alleged crimes were basically variants of “subversion.” Subversion of the orthodox religious view and subversion of the Roman political order. We worship someone who was tried and executed for subversion 2,000 years ago, and Partridge thinks some aging rock stars have a damn thing to teach Christians about what it means to be subversive?

I think not.


Are Christians Obsessed with Sex? (First Things)

2014-04-10 Jesus Drawing in the Sand

From time to time a member of the Christian left will admonish the Christian right to stop obsessing about sex. This is a clever move because in addition to undercutting traditional sexual morality it also suggests that those who are concerned with the topic are acting on some secret ulterior motive. Voyeurism? Projection? Repression? Whatever the precise cause, it definitely sounds unhealthy.

Thus begins my post on whether or not traditional Christians are really motivated by sex-obsession in their support of traditional sexual morality. (Spoiler alert: they’re not.)

The folks at First Things thought it was interesting enough for their readers, and so that’s where it’s posted. I’m really humbled to have an outlet that I respect so much publish something I’ve written.