What is it with the evangelical pundit class and its grasping, self-abasing neediness for social acceptance?
What is it with the evangelical pundit class and its grasping, self-abasing neediness for social acceptance? It's almost as if there's some highly contagious variant of Stockholm syndrome making the rounds. I have in mind people like Russell Moore, whose glossy patina of earnestness can't really hide his rather pronounced underbelly of oikophobia. He's not alone among public evangelicals in harboring a disdain for his community of faith. An odd sort of dismissive condescension seems to be growing more prevalent in my own reading of evangelical big shots these days. Honestly, it's to the point that I want to stop hearing from them. They're starting to remind me of that guy who doesn't get the promotion he wanted at work, so he comes home and takes it out on his wife and kids.
I suppose it could be that this is more of an issue for those evangelical big shots who are trying to make an actual living as pundits and public figures. Perhaps the pressures of making a living that way are such that they feel the need to have an approving audience that is larger than their own evangelical community.
Anyway, they're becoming tedious and tiresome and the entire schtick they have going is starting to annoy. Oh, and for the record, if I myself am any kind of evangelical big shot it relates only to the size of my pants. I have zero influence in evangelical circles beyond my own circle of family and friends. I am a software researcher by day, and have never been employed professionally in ministry or by a church. I do not make a living by writing about evangelical issues and have only been provoked to spend time on this kind of activity by the mush that keeps being served up by the popular kids of evangelical punditry.
This past week is a case in point. Michael Gerson is the former chief speech writer and policy advisor to president George W. Bush. He was raised in an evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and eventually graduated from Wheaton college. Gerson has a twice-weekly column that is published by the Washington Post. I came across Gershon's recent article because Rod Dreher was commenting on it in The American Conservative. Gerson's article coincides with Pride Month during which all right-thinking Americans are expected to publicly fawn over those whose sexual appetites are directed toward members of the same sex. Dreher highlighted Gerson's post as an example of the extent to which influential evangelicals have thrown in the towel on biblical fidelity in matters of sexual morality.
(Maybe what I find shocking about these evangelical pundits is not that they are willing to spout inanities - someone somewhere is always anxious to say stupid stuff. What I am really amazed by is that someone who has risen to advise presidents is such a childish and unimaginative thinker. It's either that, or he is so craven and obsequious that he is willing to abandon his principles and abase himself in order to receive the applause of people who despise him and everything invested in his upbringing by his parents.)
Here is the Gerson quote that was highlighted by Dreher:
Among religious young people, certain questions are growing more insistent: Why should we assess homosexuality according to Old Testament law that also advocates the stoning of children who disobey their parents? Isn’t it possible that the Apostle Paul’s views on homosexuality reflected the standards of his own time, rather than the views of Jesus, who never mentioned the topic? There is little wonder that, according to a Pew Research Center poll, over half of White evangelicals 50 and older oppose gay marriage while over half of those under 50 years old in the same group support gay marriage. - Michael Gerson, Washington Post
Dreher doesn't engage the actual substance of Gerson's remarks. He merely highlights Gerson as an example of erstwhile evangelicals who have been domesticated by the ruling class.
Unpacking Gerson's argument was beyond the scope of Dreher's post. But I would like to unpack it for at least two reasons. First, his reasoning is appalling. His statement amounts to what many call a "deepity". A "deepity" is a statement that seems to be profound but on close inspection turns out to be utter nonsense disguised in a shiny layer of ambiguity. (There seems to be a lot of that going around. Twitter seems a lot like a deepity propagation machine. But maybe that's just me.)
Second, I want to engage his argument because similar arguments seem to be growing in prevalence on my social media feed. I don't post on social media much anymore but I do try to read what people are saying from time to time. I don't consume a lot of social media. I think I find it too depressing. A surprising number of my friends have utterly changed over the last decade. Which has led me to the conclusion that social media's affect on personal identity is similar to the way people imagine unfettered immigration ultimately affects a national identity.
I have wondered if social media's ability to change people has a lot to do with what might be called "social velocity" - by which I mean the pace at which a user is approvingly bombarded by ideas that are at odds with his prior understanding of morality. The key to being altered by social media may lie in social media's ability to overwhelm the analytical capacity of one's moral and intellectual filters. Perhaps sustained social media use jams a user's analytical filters so that most of his takeaways are reduced to a vague sense of the cumulative social approval of the latest sexual orientation or gender novelty. But that's for a different post.
Gerson makes two essential arguments in his statement. First, he suggests that prohibitions against homosexual sex under Old Testament law are invalid because there are other things in the law that Gerson finds offensive and yucky. Just so we're clear, if Old Testament moral teaching is to be overthrown on the basis of something unrelated, but which Gerson finds objectionable, then the moral requirements of the law can be safely dispensed with in their entirety. One wonders, on Gerson's own terms, why anyone needs Jesus at all?
Gerson's second argument is that Pauline prohibitions against homosexuality were culturally conditioned and have by now - surely - exceeded their expiration date.
The problem with both of these arguments, apart from the infantile reasoning, is that both arguments presuppose that prohibitions against homosexuality are either cultural or arbitrary and that such prohibitions are accordingly untethered from anything related to how reality itself has been arranged. In other words, his argument rests on the unstated presupposition that it is only culturally conditioned bias that has ever informed Judeo-Christian teaching on sexual morality. Biblical sexual mores, in Gerson-world, reflect nothing more than the arbitrary norms of their time and place. For what it's worth, Gerson's comment about the apostle Paul's views reflecting the standards of his own time suggests a rather underwhelming grasp of sexual mores in the Roman world. So, even on his own terms, he gets it wrong. Geesh.
Gerson's article reflects an extremely childish point of view regarding biblical prohibitions. Chesterton noted that it was unwise to take down a fence before you knew why it had been erected in the first place. But to a man like Gerson, such fences are merely anachronisms that can be disposed of for any reason or no reason at all.
Over time it has become increasingly apparent to me that most of the contentious social issues of our times represent a primal scream of rejection: we do not like the way the God of the bible has arranged the circumstances of our existence. If you read the first few chapters of Genesis, modern controversies are repeatedly touched upon: gender, sexuality, the environment, the value of human life, the family, work and freedom. The themes of fruitfulness, reproduction, and dominion come up repeatedly. The binary nature of both human and animal sexes in those chapters is oriented toward the omnipresent theme of fruitfulness in the creation narrative. If Gerson and his ilk had any imagination at all, it might not be too difficult to consider that one possible understanding of biblical sexual mores is as the establishment of boundaries in service to the overarching goals that God himself put in place for human beings and their role in the created order. In other words, maybe biblical expressions of sexual morality have little to do with the cultural priorities of the moment, and have more to do with furthering the design principles God put in place for creation from the very beginning.