Transgender Groupthink isn’t the Future, it’s Now

In the aftermath of the Obama administration’s sweeping transgender decree, it’s worth considering just how this will play out in local schools.

One thing that strikes me as particularly unique about this rule is how it is unlike other disagreements about sexuality within the culture war.

For example, while there is debate at the public school level about abstinence education versus comprehensive sex education, there is no policy that requires students to fornicate. There is no policy telling students that they’re wrong to believe that fornication is wrong. While the law allows for a false belief about how to channel sexuality, it doesn’t mandate that every student accept it.

The transgender decree by the Obama administration is altogether different. It is designed to stifle debate. If I may briefly summarize how this ruling is different than other controversial policies, this policy is going to require active suppression of the view that men and women are intrinsically different and complementary. In other words, active obedience on the part of your child is going to be the government’s expectation.

Official government policy is now denying that there’s anything unique or objective about our biological sex because it is superseded by the authority of psychology and self-description. This is a comprehensive claim made about human nature. It is the nature of claims like this that will lead the government to correct any dissenting opinion.

So, for example: When Sarah says to her teacher that she thinks it’s wrong that Margaret (formerly Michael) is using the same restroom and locker room as she is, what is the teacher to do but correct this new bigotry? Sarah is in violation of government policy. To the thinking of the Obama administration, Sarah is committing an act of discrimination by failing to affirm Margaret. But to your average Social Justice Warrior, Sarah’s concern and failure to conform is a crime far worse than just discrimination, it’s a cause for Margaret’s anxiety. Sarah is a thought- criminal.

The reach of this is jaw-dropping. Student speech will necessarily be stifled.

Up is down. Down is up.

Ladies and gentlemen (or however you define yourself), we have entered a world of groupthink.

Logic Reveals the Anti-RFRA Hype

Governor Nathan Deal has pledged to veto his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that was recently passed.

He has pledged to do so, of course, out of the cries and concerns of LGBT activists allied with the business community. Supposedly, supporting religious liberty is now bad for business. Though there isn’t an iota of precedent, apparently supporting innocuous legislation like the one that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 is the equivalent of subjecting Georgians to a regime of state-sanctioned discrimination.

But that simply isn’t accurate on principle, and neither is it true in precedent. Simple logic shows why.

All the hype and fears that RFRA would supposedly accomplish or provoke are in fact already legal in most of Georgia, and no such discrimination has occurred in the past, is occurring in the present, nor is there indiction of it occurring in the future. What do I mean exactly? Because only certain cities in Georgia have non-discrimination ordinances protecting either or both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, it’s technically legal to enact the parade of horribles that activists fear would happen if RFRA was enacted. But guess what? There is no regime of discrimination happening pre-RFRA, and now that RFRA will be vetoed, the law of the land will continue to be the law of the land, which means Georgia is reverting back to how it has always been: A welcoming place where no such evidence of discrimination occurs—despite the fear-mongering by activists. That facts like these are ignored shows how much confusion and deliberate torpedoing goes on among the media, activists, and businesses. Facts don’t matter. All that matters is that the company line is accepted uncritically, and that First Amendment protections are given second class status.

Why I’m Still Hopeful about American Politics

With Senator Sasse and my good friend Joseph Williams at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's "Evangelical for Life" dinner taken in January 2016.
With Senator Sasse and my good friend Joseph Williams at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s “Evangelical for Life” dinner in January 2016.

The Republic we all love—the United States—is in a volatile state right now. On one side of the aisle, we’re flirting with a dynastic political network whose foibles and admitted corruptions are legendary. On the other side of the aisle (and let’s be honest—He Who Must Not Be Named wasn’t on “our side” of the aisle until it became convenient), we have an ill-tempered, unprincipled, and authoritarian demagogue engaging in the greatest political bait-and-switch America has ever seen.

While presidential elections often showcase why America is the most enviable nation of the world, the two likely nominees of America’s respective parties make us not the envy of the world this time around.

As an evangelical Christian and a committed political conservative, the moment looks very bleak. But, amidst the volatility, one man is speaking calm and reason. That man is Ben Sasse, the self-titled “gym rat” and junior senator from Nebraska. If I’m being totally candid, Sasse is one of the few remaining reasons why I’m not throwing in the towel on this political cycle in particular, and politics in general. When trouble looms, great men show up. Enter Sasse. That Americans are still electing men like Sasse, it means that we haven’t entirely caved to the excesses of celibritocracy and cronyism. In Sasse, we see a rational, calm, and hopeful articulator of American conservatism. Frankly, while much of what passes for conservatism embarrasses me and enrages me today, Sasse is the antidote to a clown conservatism that peddles embarrassment. Additionally, I think evangelical Christians should pay attention to Sasse. A conservative Lutheran, Sasse has spoken passionately about religious liberty and is unafraid to stand for socially conservative issues at a time when the GOP has an internecine civil war going on within its ranks on such matters. Sasse represents the anti-hucksterism that so many young evangelicals are clamoring for in seeking out a responsible politics. Elected officials aren’t saviors; but Sasse is carving out a hopeful politics that America needs desperately more of.

I don’t know the Senator personally, but I count several staffers around him as good friends, and the quality of the people around him testifies all the more to the good judgment that Sasse must possess.

Here are a few links I’ve collected from around the internet which may help serve as an introduction to this rising star that I think is really worth paying attention to.

First, a newly published Weekly Standard profile of Sasse written by my friend Mark Hemingway.

Secondly, an older National Review profile of Sasse from the January 27, 2014 issue written by John J. Miller when Sasse was running for Senate.

Third, a video of NBC’s Chuck Todd interviewing Sasse on the definition of conservatism.

Fourth, is Sasse’s CPAC 2016 speech, which I recommend as the best place to start in capturing his vision for constitutional conservatism.

Lastly, here’s a short clip of Senator Sasse appearing in San Bernardino after the awful terrorist attacks on December 2, 2015.

Start following Sasse’s career now. He’s the future of conservatism.

John Kasich Sounds Like Rachel Maddow on Religious Liberty

This week, presidential candidate and Governor of Ohio John Kasich answered with this cynical retort to the question of whether bakers, photographers, and florists with religious objections to same-sex marriage should have their religious liberty trampled upon by the government:

I think frankly, our churches should not be forced to do anything that’s not consistent with them. But if you’re a cupcake maker and somebody wants a cupcake, make them a cupcake. Let’s not have a big lawsuit or argument over all this stuff — move on. The next thing, you know, they might be saying, if you’re divorced you shouldn’t get a cupcake.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow could have given an answer like that.

Kasich’s comments are all the more baffling considering that he identifies himself as a Christian. He pleads empathy on the trail for the downtrodden and dispossessed. But on this, Governor Kasich forsakes his Christian brothers and sisters at a time when every sector of culture is colluding against them.

Now, score one point for protecting what happens inside the four walls of a church (though eerily dispiriting and similar to the Obama administration’s truncated “Freedom of Worship” rendering), but then deduct ten points for completely misunderstanding the nature of how faith guides and instructs every aspect of a person’s life and for obscuring the details of these cases he ignorantly glosses over.

I’ll point you to my friend Denny Burk’s analysis, which is spot-on. As Burk notes, Kasich oversimplifies the whole matter. This isn’t a question of serving gay people (status); it’s a question of whether private citizens must be compelled to use their creative services to participate in a service they find objectionable (conduct). This is a classic status-conduct distinction. None of these businesses object to serving gay people and have gladly done so.

Secondly, Kasich’s comment makes it seem like lawsuits are the faults of the business owners in these dilemmas. The truth of the matter is that the lawsuits aren’t the fault of the business owners. That’s the fault of litigious citizens looking to extract every pound of flesh from citizens who have a sincere, religious, moral, reasonable, and plausible objection to same-sex marriage. Instead of seeking out the multitudes of other companies that have no problem with same-sex marriage, the plaintiffs are making clear the truth that you and everyone else will be made to care. In this scenario, there’s no respect for difference; there’s no pluralism; and there’s no respect for conscience. Instead, Kasich affirms the enemies of conscience by downplaying the stakes involved—fundamental principles like freedom of conscience, and the truth that freedom of speech also means the freedom not to engage in speech that one finds objectionable.

Perhaps most disappointing, Kasich’s bluster betrays a sacramental worldview—on Christian vocation and Christian marriage. His comments suggest that private business is an amoral enterprise; and that citizens engage in commerce merely for financial reward. What a poor understanding of commerce and Christian vocation. He also betrays Christian Scripture and tradition for making marriage a province of the state and unaware that the beauty of marriage first and foremost emanates from the mind and will of God–and not five philosopher-kings on the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: At last night’s GOP debate, Governor Kasich doubled down on his ignorance concerning religious liberty. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I can understand giving Kasich a pass the first time around with his comments that I mentioned above. Perhaps he hadn’t thought the issue through when he went on the media. Perhaps he didn’t understand all that was at stake in forcing people of goodwill and sound beliefs into violating their conscience. But now that he’s on record, again, stating that photographers, florists, and bakers must use their creative talents to service events they believe are immoral or objectionable, John Kasich has declared himself an enemy of conscience and religious liberty. He fundamentally doesn’t get it, and is using the types of tactics one would expect from liberals. Only Kasich’s doomed, irrelevant, and no-hope campaign will overshadow his callous, dumpster-fire comments on religious liberty.

Religion Promotes Better Relationships Between Men and Women

Today, a new study from the Institute of Family Studies was released by two scholars, Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas H. Wolfing. Titled, Better Together: Religious Attendance, Gender, and Relationship Quality, the authors cite data concluding that religious participation plays a dramatic role in promoting healthy relationships.

Among the findings, they conclude that:

  •  The “happiest” relationships are those in which both the man and woman or just the man attends religious services regularly and the least happy are those in which just the woman attends regularly
    • When a man attends church regularly, with or without his female partner, his relationship benefits.
    • 78% of men and women in couples who attend together regularly, or where the only the man attends regularly, report that they are “very happy” or “extremely happy.”
    •  67% of men and women in relationships where neither attend are happy.
    • 59% of those where only she attends regularly report they are very happy.
  • Couples who pray together frequently are happier, on average, than those who do not.
    • Men and women who report praying together frequently (once a week or more) are 17 percentage points more likely to indicate they are very happy together.
    • Shared prayer is a stronger predictor of relationship quality than other religious factors, race, education, age, sex, or region.

Their conclusion?

This research brief offers two conclusions: for American couples, shared religious attendance and a man’s solo attendance are both associated with reporting significantly higher relationship quality; in contrast, men and women are much less likely to be happy in their relationships when the woman attends alone. Our findings suggest that men’s religious attendance is particularly beneficial to their relationships, perhaps because churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are some of the few institutions in American life that devote sustained attention to encouraging men to invest in their families. Joint attendance seems to connect men and women to networks of friends who are living family-centered lives, and is also associated with a spiritually intimate behavior: praying together. Indeed, shared prayer is one of the best predictors of higher relationship quality in our models. If our results regarding relationship quality are any indication, it may well be that the couple that prays together stays together, confirmation of a long-held belief of many religious Americans.

Read the whole thing. While religion is often derided as an antiquated social good of bygone eras, Wilcox and Wolfing’s research confirms that religion plays an enormous role in positively shaping the institutions of civil society.

 

When Compromise Compromises Principle

Throughout many state legislatures, proposals are being floated that attempt to enshrine sexual orientation and gender identity “SOGI” while also supposedly protecting religious liberty.

One such bill called the “Utah Compromise” passed last year, and myself and Russell Moore wrote then to express our opposition to it.

This was hailed as an “historic” effort to ameliorate contentious debates that often flame the culture war, and now that these proposals are becoming routine, it is important to consider the reasons that many within the religious liberty consider such proposals problematic.

Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson and Princeton professor Robert P. George have written your must-read essay of the day at Public Discourse on why liberty and SOGI laws are fundamentally incompatible. Anderson and George write:

Indiana’s proposed sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws, SB 100 and SB 344, would make bad policy. The preamble of each states that it seeks a “balancing of differing religious values and matters of conscience so that individuals of good faith can live and work together without undue litigation or burden.” But in reality the bills favor one side of a cultural debate—the culturally and politically powerful LGBT lobby—at the expense of citizens of goodwill who believe that we are created male and female and that marriage unites a man and a woman. While these bills have some superficially appealing aspects, they would only increase cultural tensions, further empower an already powerful special-interest lobby, and impose unjustly on Hoosiers of many different faiths and all walks of life. All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but SOGI laws are not the way to do that.

[…]

Thus, SB 100 and SB 344 threaten the civil rights of Hoosiers who believe basic truths about the human condition articulated by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, members of the Abrahamic faiths, and secular people who believe in freedom of inquiry. Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, Latter-Day Saints, Muslims, and people of other faiths or none at all will be at risk.

They go on to list nine primary reasons why such bills are problematic:

  1. They Do Not Protect Fairness for All.
  2. They Do Not Establish a Compromise.
  3. They Are Not the Best for Indiana or America.
  4. They Establish a Bad Principle.
  5. They Eliminate the Status-Conduct Distinction.
  6. Their Exemptions Are Too Narrow.
  7. Their Exemptions Are Susceptible to Erosion.
  8.  Their Transgender Policy Is Likely to Be Expanded.
  9. They Will Encourage the Proliferation of SOGI Laws.

I would deeply encourage you to go and read the whole thing. No issue is more fundamentally misunderstood and abused than how our media treats religious liberty. Anderson and George cut through the hype and demonstrate why SOGI laws are bad policy: “SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, none, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.”

Many proposing the compromise solution do so out of legitimate concern that the window of opportunity to safeguard religious liberty may be coming to a close. Our moment is often compared to the mid-1990s where calls for civil unions were being made. Some believe that if civil unions had been granted at that time, the ugliness over battles concerning same-sex marriage would never have materialized. If, as some thinking goes, we act now to compromise, we can spare ourselves future battles and enlist goodwill on both sides of the debate. While I understand this argument, I believe it is historically misguided and naïve for one simple reason: Jurisdictions where civil unions were enacted didn’t end the campaign for same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage was simply one plank in the broader movement to see the principles of the Sexual Revolution mainstreamed throughout all society. In the same way today, if enshrining sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes is an act that justice requires according to LGBT activists, then no amount of goodwill on this issue will prevent them from eventually enacting more invasive protections or rescinding proposed compromises later on.

Compromise is often a good solution. It isn’t a dirty word in my view. But neither is compromise beyond scrutiny. And in my view, the compromise solutions being offered don’t sufficiently protect America’s “First Freedom”—religious liberty.

Confessional Institutions are the New Frontier for Religious Liberty

2015 was an historic year for religious liberty. From Obergefell to Kim Davis, it was a year full of controversy. As 2015 ends and 2016 begins, a new frontier has emerged concerning the debate over religious liberty: Religious institutions.

In December, eight Democratic senators wrote a letter to the Department of Education asking that it implement scrutinizing protocols to increase transparency for any religious school that receives a Title IX exemption based on religious grounds. That same day, the influential Human Rights Campaign released a massive report that echoed the senators’ concerns. Why the concern now? Because these schools hold convictions that conflict with liberal views on matters of sexual ethics. The actions made here are symbolic and show just how vilified religious liberty and religious identity have become.

In the eyes of these senators and the Human Rights Campaign, it is discriminatory for a religiously-affiliated college or university, which receives any federal dollars, to take religious values into consideration concerning admission. Notwithstanding the fact that these values are essential to the character and integrity of the institution. It’s an action they believe runs afoul of the 1972 Educational Amendments, specifically Title IX, that bans any form of discrimination based on sex when federal funds are exchanged.

Anticipating a day where Congress could seek to equate sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class like sex or race, these colleges have acted to secure exemptions. To the frustration of liberal lawmakers and activists, thankfully, many schools have been able to obtain these exemptions. And for good reason: Reading sexual orientation and gender identity into Title IX, as some lawmakers would like to do, creates unnecessary conflict and violates religious freedom. The practice of offering exemptions based on religious conviction shouldn’t be revoked just because LGBT activists think they can hold a college’s legality hostage.

Like any private association animated by religious, moral, or political convictions, it is essential that individuals and groups of people be free to live by their convictions—whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or skeptic. While no right is absolute, the freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment guarantee that religious and nonreligious citizens be given the maximal amount of freedom to live truthfully to their convictions. In the rich tradition of Christian theology, the idea that men and women are complementary sexes uniquely fitted for marriage is paramount. This teaching is central to the Christian understanding in such things as anthropology and family life; and is why Christian colleges, in order to be distinctly Christian, require their students to follow Christian teaching on matters of sexual morality. It is utterly reasonable, whether by observation of our biology or gleaned through the teachings of religious texts, to acknowledge the reason that Christians believe male and female design is necessary for flourishing. It is worth noting that these beliefs on marriage and family are shared by billions of other persons within the Abrahamic faith tradition. You might disagree with a Christian understanding of sex and marriage, but it is unreasonable to deny its longstanding importance to America.

Because laws are blunt instruments that may unwittingly impose upon a faith tradition’s convictions, the government allows faith groups to seek exemptions when a law is in conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. This is the best of the American tradition—taking every measure of accommodation to protect the free flourishing of religion.

That brings us to today. As American culture has grown more accepting of homosexuality, cultural opinion is now on a collision course with religiously-affiliated educational institutions that desire to maintain their beliefs about the purpose of sexuality. In response, dozens of schools have preemptively acted to ensure they can maintain their admissions requirements without violating federal law by seeking exemptions.

Exemptions represent a balancing test between the rights of individuals to live freely and the government’s obligation to treat citizens fairly. Such exemptions aren’t a “license to discriminate” as those opposed to religious liberty glibly caricature.

This is what eight senators and the Human Rights Campaign consider unacceptable and discriminatory. They now desire that schools that receive such exemptions be given a Scarlet Letter—a “B,” for bigotry—all because these colleges and universities wish to remain true to two thousand years of moral teaching. A tradition that our legal system once, too, viewed as telling the truth about marriage.

The motivation behind these actions very clear. Lawmakers and the Human Rights Campaign want to single out, intrude upon, harass, and intimidate communities and institutions that live by these convictions. When did it become acceptable to label long-standing religious values about marriage, values shared by millions, as a catalyst for discrimination?  While stopping short of asking for a full repeal of these exemptions, lawmakers and the Human Rights Campaign presently want an extra layer of scrutiny applied to these institutions. But there’s no assurance that these exemptions will be permanent, especially if such opponents of religious freedom were to have the final word. What we do have assurance of, is that some opponents of religious freedom very much desire to turn those with traditional or religious beliefs about marriage into second class citizens. That is unreasonable and unacceptable.

This need not be; and citizens of goodwill should oppose any measure that makes any person or any group with a traditional view about marriage the recipient of government harassment.

The brazen action against these colleges is particularly troubling because it undermines our shared heritage of valuing and welcoming those with different opinions that are held for sincere reasons. It’s also quite ironic. When citizens or groups supported same-sex marriage before it was legal, no legal attempts were made to target, punish, or withdraw the tax status of organizations in support of redefining marriage. Religious citizens opposed to secular forms of morality espoused at secular universities are not in the business of asking the federal government to withdraw federal funding because of disagreements about morality. Why, then, do this to religious colleges? Freedom, pluralism, and respect are two-way streets that require goodwill by all citizens, not coercive regimes that strip religious citizens of their rights. If students wish not to attend a university with religious expectations, students are free to register their opinion by enrolling elsewhere. But when lawmakers and activists make reasonable religious claims the object of scorn, they harm the common good by making religious motive inherently suspect.

It betrays our national character to penalize citizens or institutions for religious convictions that they believe, with good reason, advance the cause of human flourishing.