Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Douglas Wilson's Letter From Moscow

Natural Marriage and the Obergefall

Douglas Wilson


I confess myself a bit surprised at the reaction I have gotten from my recent interaction with Russell Moore’s apparent position on the aftermath of Obergefell. But what that reaction confirms to me is that the Christian opposition to secularism really needs to work through some of the foundational issues of political theology. Those foundational issues would have to include basic things like what is law? and what is marriage? And how do we know?

One person on The Twitters denounced me as one who is trying to recycle the discredited nostrums of 80’s Reconstructionism. On that charge I will only say that a central point of the recons—which was that we cannot settle these issues without an appeal to the expressed will of the living God—has hardly been discredited by subsequent events.

That point was made and reinforced when the same gent went on to say this:
“Repeal gay marriage? Might as well go for criminal penalties for adultery. Maybe Prohibition again. Nuts.”
Notice where we now are. The obvious folly of Prohibition, which was a stupid insult delivered at the will of God by the will of impudent man, is now being appealed to as the ground and basis for delivering another stupid insult to the will of God by the will of man. God gave wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15). He did not give grape juice to gladden the heart of the wowsers. And the same God who gave us lively spirits to demonstrate His goodness also gave us the gift of being male and female so that we could manifest His image (Gen. 1:27). Setting aside the Word of God for the sake of your traditions is always a misguided attempt to make the pigs fly (Mark 7:8).


There are two issues going on here. The first is whether I in any way misrepresented Russell Moore. At the conclusion of my previous post on this, I made what I considered to be a generous offer. It certainly was a sincere one. I laid out my reasons for reading Moore as I have, but it was an assembled case from disparate places and so I acknowledge that I may have misunderstood him. If I misjudged him, I would be more than willing to seek his forgiveness publicly for having misread his strategic approach. Not only would I apologize, but I would apologize handsomely, and I would rejoice at the opportunity to set the record straight. I am not proudly clinging to anything here.

As I said before, these are the basic options before Christian leaders:
  1. [Christian leaders] can say that Obergefell must be overturned, period, the sooner the better. Christians must treat Obergefell as we have treated Roe.

  2. [Christian leaders] can say that Obergefell should not have been decided the way it was, but it is settled law now, and we should work to preserve our own religious liberty, and generally for stable marriages within the framework of that legal reality.

  3. [Christian leaders] can refuse to say.
In addition to pointing to these options, I also said this:

“Now having said all this, having explained my reading of him, if Russell Moore is willing to affirm #1 above, I am fully willing to retract my earlier statements and to seek forgiveness for having made them, and for having misread him.”

Thus far Moore has opted for #3. In my interpretation of his previous actions and words, I understood him (and publicly represented him) as urging something in the neighborhood of #2. Now for whatever reason, one of Moore’s techniques when it comes to interacting with critics is that of “not deigning to say.” If he continues adopting that approach here, I think it would be entirely fair for me to say that my interpretation has been confirmed. I will feel free to take it that way.

One additional comment about #1, which is the position I am obviously taking. Saying something like this does not mean that you think it is likely, or even possible. It is not saying that all the resources of your organization would be devoted to trying to make it happen. It is not saying that working for that goal has now become your number one priority. No. It is simply to say that if Obergefell were reversed or reinterpreted away and otherwise overthrown, you would rejoice in that fact as a good and right thing. You would be glad about it. You would thank the Lord.

I do happen to think it is possible, about which more below. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether you think it would be good and right. If Moore would simply be willing to say that a reversal of Obergefell would be a positive thing, a good thing for the nation, then I will apologize fulsomely and promise to try to be better.


The second issue has to do with whether the overturning of Obergefell would in fact be a good thing. If Obergefell, which imposed same sex mirage on a host of unwilling states, were reversed, then those states could once again codify heterosexual monogamy as the norm. Why on earth would this be considered a bad thing by any Christian?

One of the things that the pro-life battle has taught us all is the empty vacuity of public officials saying anything like this: “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I believe we must accept Roe as the settled law of the land.” Given the nature of the objection to abortion (i.e. that is murder), this is frankly incoherent. It is like saying that you are personally opposed to your neighbor selling his daughters to an agent of the sultan’s harem, but that you do not want to make your opposition to this practice a matter of public policy. In the meantime, you do feel very deeply saddened by the practice, and your own daughters are safe for the time being.

At the same time, such a stance (that of being “personally opposed”) does make sense if we are talking about sins or foibles (as opposed to crimes), or to other matters that really are a matter of personal choice. You can be personally opposed to those who pick their teeth with a fork at public dinners without wanting to make it a crime. Covetousness is a sin, but ought not to be a crime. Not every sin should be a crime, and in such areas, it makes sense for an informed Christian to say that, apart from scriptural grounds, he is personally opposed to divorce and remarriage as tantamount to adultery, but that he also thinks—because of hardness of heart—that it ought not to be treated by society as a crime.

So we have areas of law where the “personally opposed” shtick is ludicrous, and other areas of law where it is not.

What category is same sex mirage in? As the Obergefell decision itself recognized, it was flying in the face of universal human custom over centuries. It was flouting natural law, disregarding biblical law, and taunting the remaining Christian ethos of middle America. It was imposed on all of us by an overweening court powered by balloon juice, and the people upon whom it was imposed are currently in the midst of a very interesting uprising.


Keep in mind that the president-elect has at least one Supreme Court appointment coming up. He may well have others. We don’t know yet if he is going to keep his word and appoint men from the list he released earlier. But if he does—in spite of the fact that he himself wants to say that Obergefell is settled law, and he himself is willing to hold an (upside down) rainbow flag—the men he has promised to nominate may quite possibly not feel the same way.

This is because they are intelligent legal scholars, and the legal reasoning of Obergefell looked like something out of one of the appendices of the Kama Sutra in the original Sanskrit. One didn’t know things could bend that far.


One last thing. Mark Twain famously said that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. A similar thing could be said about Russell Moore’s very premature eulogy read over the carcass of the old guard religious right. That carcass in the foyer of the First Things dinner turned out to be a wax statue, and the actual old guard religious right was off electing a yahoo president.

Note to self: keep reminding everybody that I believe that the old guard religious right is not above criticism, and that Russell Moore has been the source of some valid observations concerning them. But also keep in mind that they might have some valid observations in return.

But back to the point. Moore’s observations about their pending demise were being made when they were on the cusp of becoming more powerful and influential than they have ever been. As I have expressed before (most recently in my previous post on this), I am concerned about how that influence will be exercised. Conservatives might walk away from Obergefell too. They might engage in the wrong battles, ask for the wrong things, put forward the wrong people, and prioritize their agenda foolishly. In short, it is possible that the religious right might get Sodom’s budget balanced, its Middle East policy straightened out, and a sturdy wall built on the border of Edom, and so have everything nice and tidy when the angels come down from Abraham’s place.

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