I am taking another break from my Anglicanism posts. I can assure you that parts 4, 5, and 6 are all slowly forthcoming. Now that I’ve deconstructed Anglicanism in parts 1, 2, and 3, I’m sure that many readers are wondering what the hell I’m still doing styling myself as an Anglican. I have reasons, I can assure you, almost as good as the reasons that Albus Dumbledore consistently hides from Harry Potter throughout the series.
But with the recent rulings by the Supreme Court on gender-neutral marriage (here’s Windsor and here’s Perry), I am frankly annoyed by the way that the conservative arguments against gender-neutral marriage have been framed. In fact, I am also annoyed by the progressive side of things, but that’s another discussion. But to make my point clear, watch this interview that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer conducts with the Alliance Defense Fund’s Austin Nimocks. Sure, Nimocks gives some (deeply flawed) reasons as to why Proposition 8 is still the law of the land. But basically, his position is: my position is less popular than David Boies’s. So I’m probably right.
Here’s how the argument is framed: we (presumably evangelicals) are taking an ‘unpopular position’ and so we are being vilified.
That’s almost like saying: what makes a position right is that it is unpopular.
Um, no. No, no, no.
But I’d like to point out that this sort of ‘unpopular’ framing is oddly popular in my anecdotal experience with many evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Protestants, whatever political or theological position they hold on the left or the right of the spectrum. It’s almost because something is unpopular that we hold to that view. And this is ironic, precisely because the same evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatics with whom I have interacted will say that truth is not a popularity contest. Because truth is not up to the will of the people–instead, it is objective–then it is often said that truth is about holding tight to a position known to be timelessly true.
And then always comes the punchline: I know that I am arguing for the unpopular position, so I will be persecuted.
Hm. Are we so sure that truth is not about a popularity contest when we say that? It seems like it still might be. It’s just that while everyone else might go for the ‘popular’ position when the contest is over, you’re going for the ‘unpopular’ position.
Note, then, that this ‘unpopular’ position logic is what works its way into so many glib evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic statements about truth. Most of these statements are pretty contradictory. Check this out:
Person A might say: I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I realize that that is an unpopular position to take, and I am wiling to face persecution for that. Of course, as I’m reading my Facebook news feed, I then see right underneath Person A the statement of Person B: I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. I realize that that is an unpopular position to take, and I am willing to face persecution for that. (Of course, what’s really annoying about Person A and Person B is that they actually have a position on ‘homosexuality.’ What exactly are you taking a position on? On whether ‘homosexuals’ actually have a different sexual orientation? On how sexual orientation is constructed? On how modern sexuality owes a lot of debts to medical discourses circulating in the late nineteenth-century? On whether the disruptions to identity proposed by queer theory are a good thing? On what the Catholic Church’s ‘objective disorder’ language means? On whether they should be discriminated against in the workplace? On whether they should be allowed hospital visitation for their partners? On whether they should have to pay estate taxes if one partner dies? On whether they can get married? On whether they can adopt kids? Hm. Kinda complicated to have a ‘blanket position,’ no?)
OK, let’s go to the neo-Reformed debate. Neo-Calvinist says: In today’s evangelical culture, Calvinism is not a popular position among the seeker-sensitive, emergent, and evangelical feminist stuff out there. I realize that my Calvinism is an unpopular position to take, and I am willing to face persecution for that. And then, coming right back at the neo-Calvinist is: In today’s evangelical culture that is totally saturated by the Gospel Coalition and all the cool neo-Reformed guys with so much certainty, my delight in mystery, my evangelical feminism, and my attempts to make the Gospel as relevant to seekers is an unpopular position to take, and I am willing to face persecution for that.
Ditto women’s ordination. Complementarian says: In today’s feminist culture, my belief that men and women have complementary roles where men are the leaders and women are the helpers is not a popular position to take, and I am willing to face persecution for that. Egalitarian comes back and says: In today’s ridiculously patriarchal and sexist culture, especially in the church, I support women’s ordination because men and women are created equally in the image of God and have the same gifts. I realize that that’s an unpopular position, and I am willing to face persecution for that.
Ditto parents trying to control youth groups more tightly because they oppose the youth pastor. Parents say: In today’s culture of disrespect, we want to have more control over our kids than the youth pastor, and I realize that that’s an unpopular position to take, and I am willing to face persecution for that. Youth pastor comes back: In today’s complete cultural disregard for the church, we need to have more tight-knit relations among youth in the church, and I realize that that will be unpopular with our parents, and I am willing to face persecution for that.
WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS GOING ON???
It’s like, if you invoke the ‘I am holding an unpopular position, so I am going to be persecuted’ card, then that’s what’s going to take the cake.
I refuse to believe that this is how our conversation, collegiality, and communion as evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, progressive, liberal, catholic, and orthodox Christians has to work. If there is any point of diseased thinking in our churches that needs to be ruthlessly refuted, it is likely this piece of logic.
If this is how all of us do theology now, it can be fair to say that we are all failures as theologians. (Heh. In today’s anti-intellectual climate, I realize that using the word ‘theology’ is unpopular, and I am willing to face persecution for it. GAH.)
So let me give two suggestions. First, why don’t we stop this ‘unpopular position’ logic, and actually do theology as Christians? This would mean listening to someone like Karl Barth when he says that it’s simply inappropriate for dogmatic theologians to have theological ‘positions,’ as if that’s what theology is about. It is not. Christian theology happens to be about Jesus Christ who reveals God in the form of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Here’s an idea: why don’t we start there when we do theology? After all, that’s the way out of most of these ‘unpopular position’ loops. If we really do claim to believe in an objective reality as Christians, it’s not that what makes something objectively true is its unpopularity. It’s its relation to what Christ has revealed about the Father.
Second, if we really want a negative theology, maybe we should actually read some mystics. Check out Pseudo-Dionysius’s Mystical Theology some time. It’s a lot of this negative theology–God is not this, not that–but he’s not doing it because he’s trying to find the most unpopular position possible and hold to that. Pseudo-Dionysius wants to raise us to the highest point of union with the Triune God, stripping us of our projections and wrapping us into the objective reality who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This, by the way, is why you’ll never find that we on A Christian Thing take ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ positions. It’s because if that’s the way that we do theology, then we will have betrayed our very existence as Christians, which means that it would be illegitimate for us to say that we have a Christian thing. We are Christians, and frankly, we couldn’t care less how popular that is. For all we know, it might be more popular than we’d like to think.