Thursday, 21 December 2017

Beware The Dangers of Hobby-Horsing

Full Disclosure Needed

Now that the dust has settled in the matter of Alabama's election of a US Senator a number of broader issues have bubbled up in the Christian community.  Hopefully, these matters will be confronted faithfully by the saints.  

Firstly, some background.  Roy Moore was put forward as the Republican candidate in a special election for the US Senate.  He was accused by a number of women of immoral, if not illegal sexual activity forty years ago.  Although he had held high public office in Alabama over a number of years, nothing like this had surfaced before.  It turns out he was narrowly defeated.  If he had won Christians would have been involved in sending him to represent them in the US Senate.

Thus a debate began amongst Christians, particularly leaders and mover-and-shakers.  On the one side were those who insisted that whatever breaches of morality occurred forty years ago on the part of candidate Roy Moore it was time to apply some kind of statute of limitations.  Others added that an allegation does not a conviction make nor proven guilt establish.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a group of evangelical Christian leaders who support each other both formally and informally and who work together on issues of mutual and shared interest in the United States.  A lot of their work has to do with promoting Jesus Christ and the Christian faith in the public square.  A number of the known leaders have spoken out strongly and publicly against Roy Moore and excoriated Christian for supporting him.

Let us grant them their case. Roy Moore, alleged sexual pervert, unfit to serve let alone honoured.  Let all Christians remove their hankies from their pockets and hold them firmly over their noses.  Not so fast.  Maybe, but maybe not.  Why?

Well out of the maelstrom of debate and discussion something has arisen which (we hope) will provoke TGC to think more profoundly about such things.  Life in the real world is rarely black or white.  It turns out that TGC is planning to put on a conference celebrating the life and achievements of Martin Luther King (now "monikered" as MLK--which means in the US that one has made it big time, as in "JFK", "LBJ", etc.)

What's wrong with TGC running a conference to celebrate Mr King?  Nothing.  Except that if the TGC worthies had applied the same standards they did in emphatically rejecting Roy Moore for gross immorality, they should be having nothing to do publicly with Martin Luther King.  Why?  Because whatever else MLK was, he was a grossly immoral man, right up until the time of his death.  (No-one presently claims that Roy Moore is living an immoral life now.)  It seems as though there is a significant double-standard operating.  And whenever there are double standards hypocrisy is stalking the halls.

Robert A Gagnon has issued a public "please explain" letter to TGC leaders.  The questions he raises appear acute.
I would actually like this publicly explained by Joe Carter (a senior editor at The Gospel Coalition) and other friends of mine from the TGC who agree with his TGC editorial "The Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem”: How on the one hand it is "a prime example of hypocrisy" and "the opposite of integrity" (Carter) for Christians to vote for Roy Moore (as an effective vote against pro-abortion, pro-transgender, pro-"gay marriage," anti-religious-liberty Doug Jones) but on the other hand perfectly acceptable for TGC to put on a "MKL50" conference in April 2018 celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a man who engaged in incredibly profligate sexual behavior throughout his years as a civil rights leader?

This is a genuine question. If it is a question that I have, I'm sure many others will be puzzled as well.
Joe’s article almost certainly speaks for TGC as a whole. We know that his view is shared by Al Mohler and Russell Moore (Dr. Mohler, though, is more irenic), two major players at TGC, along with many others. TGC has shown no willingness to publish any different perspective on the Alabama race. On this matter at TGC it's apparently OPOVO (one point of view only, not really then a broad “gospel coalition”), as it was in the case of the last presidential election: "Supporters of Moore are hypocrites." This of course is an insulting position to espouse about other brothers and sisters in Christ who dare to think differently. Whatever happened to the call for civility? Have any lessons from the last presidential election been learned?

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that TGC is having the conference. Racial harmony and rooting out racial prejudice is important for the church. Yet it seems like a gross inconsistency with the stance taken against fellow Christians who, while disturbed by the allegations made about Moore's four-decades-old behavior, prefer to cast an effective vote against Jones. Perhaps I'm missing something.

I'm sure the response would be something like: This conference doesn't endorse MLK's immoral sexual life but rather seeks to build on the positive legacy of his civil rights work in promoting racial justice and harmony. Sounds good to me. Now why not apply the same reasoning to voting for Moore? Those who do so are not condoning sexual assault but rather acting out of concern for the immorality of abortion and the "LGBT" agenda as well as concern for protecting religious liberty and solid judicial appointments.

Joe Carter states: "If you claim that character is important for leadership, both in yourself and also in others, then to be a person of integrity requires that you adhere to that standard even when it might conflict with your political preferences. To oppose sexual misconduct in general and yet excuse it when done by politicians is the opposite of integrity—it’s a prime example of hypocrisy." He applies that remark specifically to evangelical Christians who vote for Moore.

Well, if "character is important for leadership" and sexual immorality shows a significant deficiency in the character department, would that make MLK a person of bad moral character around whom a conference should not be centered? Or is the operative word here "politicians"? That is, does MLK get a pass because he was not, strictly speaking, a politician, even though his entire civil rights effort was steeped in lobbying politicians? Does his memory get a special exemption because he was a great moral force for civil rights? Shouldn't a moral figure be subjected to even greater scrutiny than politicians?

Or will the answer be similar to the one offered by David French in his scathing attack of Tully Borland: Roy Moore is no MLK!? (Indeed, David refers to him as “a half-wit, grandstanding constitutional ignoramus.”) The import of that argument, apparently, is that if you have fabulous success in one noble endeavor, it cancels out any egregious immorality you may have repeatedly committed while engaged in said endeavor. Isn’t that a form of consequentialism? The end justifies the means? The same thing that David, Joe, and others accuse Evangelicals of doing when they vote for Moore?

Let's be honest here: Martin Luther King regularly had (paying or free) extramarital sex while he was on long road trips (according even to his closest confidant Ralph Abernathy and other friends, not just the FBI). What's more, he did these things not just in some remote past prior to being the nation's chief civil rights agent but (again, according to Abernathy) committed such immorality right up to the last night of his life (King tragically died at the age of 39) when he had sexual encounters not with one woman or even two but with three women (at different times). The third woman, upset with King's cheating on her with women other than his wife, got into such a heated argument with King that King "lost his temper and knocked her across the bed." So add assault to the immorality.  Distinguished historian of MLK, Taylor Branch, reports on FBI wiretapping of King’s hotel room in January 1964, in which King was recorded as shouting while having adulterous intercourse, “I’m f*****g for God! I’m not a negro tonight!”

There are also credible reports from multiple sources of King on more than one occasion arranging or permitting drunken orgies at his workshops (and using funds donated to the civil rights cause), in which prostitutes were paid to put on a sex show. According to one account, "when one of the females shied away from engaging in an unnatural act [presumably, lesbian sex], King ... discussed how she was to be taught and initiated in this respect.” King may even have fathered an illegitimate child through an adulterous affair with the wife of a prominent Black dentist in Los Angeles.

Given that record of immoral sexual behavior, how can anyone associated with TGC chastise Christians who vote for a man who has had only two serious allegations, one from 38 years ago and the other from 40 years ago, neither of which (though involving two teenagers, one of which is an assault claim) resulted in any actual sexual intercourse and neither of which has been (or likely can be) proven? If it is hypocrisy to vote for Moore, how is it not hypocrisy to celebrate MLK's life? If one should be treated as a public pariah, why not the memory of the other? By Joe Carter's own reasoning, isn't TGC with this conference sending the message that immorality doesn't matter so long as you make a really great contribution to society that the political Left will appreciate too?
Joe says, "Eventually, we may be able to restore the idea that character and moral integrity are minimum requirements to hold political office." Apparently, though, they are not minimum requirements for meriting a conference celebrating that person's achievements.

I'm sure too that no one in TGC, including Joe Carter, is calling for a boycott of MLK Day just because MLK lived a sexually immoral life. Having a national holiday is a lot bigger deal than being elected Senator. It is okay to celebrate MLK's life despite the immorality throughout his career but not okay to vote for Moore despite the allegations of immorality from his very distant past? Is that because Joe and others didn't want Moore to be elected even before the allegations about sexual misconduct came out? We can adopt one policy for people we like and another policy for people we don't like?  I'd really like to know how these two stances, one for Moore, one for MLK, are consistent. 
It seems like some leaders in The Gospel Coalition have a lot of growing up to do.  As our mothers used to say, "What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander."  If TGC leaders are prepared to overlook and ignore MLK's systemic immorality, and celebrate the good things he helped accomplish, why oughtn't the same brush be used to paint Roy Moore?

For our money, we would suggest that if the conference celebrating the accomplishments of MLK were to proceed, the speaking schedule contain an open declaration of MLK's moral failings.  If not, the Gospel Coalition risks crafting a Protestant version of ecclesiastical canonisation, along with all the inevitable inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

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