Editor’s Note: I am grateful now as always for a guest post from my esteemed friend, Peter Wehner.
In her most recent column, “Ebola’s Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic’”, Ann Coulter mocks Dr. Kent Brantly.
Dr. Brantly is a family practice physician who was serving in Liberia through a Samaritan’s Purse program before joining a medical team responding to the Ebola crisis. A husband and father of two young children, Dr. Brantly tested positive for the Ebola virus while treating patients in Liberia.
This tragic turn of events has made Ms. Coulter agitated and angry, not at the disease but at its victim. Dr. Brantly, you see, is a regrettable instance of “Christian narcissism.” (The irony of Coulter accusing anyone of narcissism seems lost on her.) Of Dr. Brantly and other Christian missionaries, she writes:
Evangelize in Liberia, and the [New York] Times’ Nicholas Kristof will be totally impressed. Which explains why American Christians go on “mission trips” to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.
Helping people in lands other than America, Coulter argues, is not only cowardly and selfish, but unbiblical as well. Your country is like your family, she writes. “We’re supposed to take care of our own first.” Dr. Brantly should have been evangelizing Hollywood power brokers, where he could have made a difference, or stayed in Zavala Country, Texas, “where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless.” And, she adds:
Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan’s Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America’s premier hospitals.
Some people get all the luck.
Even grading on the Coulter curve, the column is cruel, biblically illiterate and morally incoherent. Cruel because she’s mocking a man who has contracted a brutal and often lethal disease, a man whose family is now terrified for his life. It takes an unusually callous and malicious heart to devote an entire column to attacking a husband and father who, while serving others, is stricken with a virulent disease. And as an added grace note, Coulter divines Dr. Brantley’s heart, accusing him – without a shred of evidence — of being both a coward and vainglorious.
Ms. Coulter’s biblical illiteracy is evident in taking a verse from Deuteronomy (15:11) and building a doctrine that argues that serving people outside of your nation is a violation of God’s word and ways. The logic of her column is that until every problem in your nation is solved, no person should serve as a missionary to other lands. This doctrine would surprise St. Paul, whose missionary journeys took him to (among other places) modern-day Syria, Turkey, Greece and Rome. If Ms. Coulter wants to defend her peculiar missiology and hyper-nationalism, she needs to find sources other than the Bible.
As for Ms. Coulter’s moral incoherence: There are of course real needs in America and many millions of Christians (and non-Christians) are doing something to address them. All honor is due them. But people are called to serve in various ways, and there are other nations in the world where the poverty and misery are far worse than what we see in America. For individual Christians to sacrifice their own lives of comfort and ease to help “the least of these,” on whatever continent they are found, is among the higher callings of the faith. It ranks even above writing books like Treason, Slander, Demonic and If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans.
Ms. Coulter seems unaware of the fact that the global medical missions movement is one of the great achievements of Christianity. But then again, there is much about Christianity she seems unaware of. Let’s just say that when one thinks about what St. Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Ann Coulter’s name doesn’t leap immediately to mind.
Elisabeth Elliot, who served as a missionary to the Quichua and Auca Indians in South America and whose husband Jim and four other missionaries were martyred in 1956, wrote a lovely biography about Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die. Ms. Elliot referred to Carmichael – an Irish missionary who spent 53 years in South India – as “my first spiritual mother. She showed me the shape of godliness.”
Near the end of her 1987 book, Ms. Elliot writes this:
If there should appear in the twentieth century one who was truly holy, a missionary who actually believed in the word of the Master and the worth of the assigned task, a Christian who never served Mammon, who, though human and failing, nevertheless kept a sense of the glory and dignity of having been redeemed and called by God – if such a person should appear, would we say, “Away with him! Crucify him!”? Not out loud. There are other ways of banishing those who, because they live out the Truth, make us uncomfortable. We can deny the possibility of purity. We can refuse to tolerate superiority. If we are tempted to recognize them as true heroes, we can bolster our self-esteem by pulling them down to our level.
If Elisabeth Elliot didn’t personally know Ann Coulter, she certainly knew her type.
The poor we shall always have among us. The cruel and heartless, too.
Peter Wehner is former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush. Wehner served also in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, serves now as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and coauthor with Michael Gerson of City of Man and with Arthur Brooks of Wealth and Justice.