Peter Wehner wrote an excellent response to Ann Coulter’s recent column on Dr. Kent Brantly. Ms. Coulter responded, in turn. So I’m very pleased to present Mr. Wehner’s reply here.
Ann Coulter’s Absurd Defense
Ann Coulter has responded to my criticism of her, as well as to those made by Russell Moore and Alan Cross. I’ll let Messrs. Moore and Cross answer for themselves, if they so choose. I’ll focus my response on what she said about me.
1. Ms. Coulter writes, “He [Wehner] falsely accused me of ‘mocking’ Dr. Brantley.” Falsely? Really, now? I think I can settle this matter fairly quickly. Here’s the title of the column by Ms. Coulter that I objected to and which appears on her website: “Ebola’s Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic.’” The tone of the rest of the column is consistent with the title. For example:
Which explains why American Christians [like Dr. Brantly] 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 … Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest counties in the nation, Zavala County — where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been “heroic.” We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s “unusual drive to help the less fortunate” or his membership in the “Gold Humanism Honor Society.” Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket… There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.
I’ll leave it to discerning readers to decide if this tone strikes them as mocking, or whether Ms. Coulter is the victim of a terrible smear. (It may inspire most of you, if not Ms. Coulter, that this “Christian narcissist,” when he learned while still in Liberia that there was only enough experimental serum to be used on one of the two infected workers, asked that it be used on his colleague rather than on himself.)
2. Ms. Coulter writes
I planned to respond to my critics this week, but, unfortunately, there’s nothing to respond to… Missing from these alleged refutations is what we call a “point.” What is with these Christians? I know God didn’t distribute brains evenly, but can’t they make an argument? Christian websites should start separating columns into “Arguments” and “Anger” sections.
Actually, I made several arguments, including this one: When Ms. Coulter insists that mission trips are unbiblical — she quotes Deuteronomy 15:11 as her evidence and unqualifiedly states that “We’re supposed to take care of our own first” – she has a problem. His name is Paul. He wrote 13 epistles in the New Testament. He is also generally regarded as the most important figure of the Apostolic Age. If Paul had followed the Coulter Doctrine, he would never have traveled to modern-day Syria, Turkey, Greece and Rome. The merit of this argument can be demonstrated by the fact that Ms. Coulter ignores it and therefore never even attempts to answer it. The special Coulter touch is she then complains that there’s no argument for her to respond to.
3. Ms. Coulter writes this:
Among other things, I wrote: “Of course, if Brantly had evangelized in New York City or Los Angeles, The New York Times would get upset and accuse him of anti-Semitism, until he swore – as the pope did — that you don’t have to be a Christian to go to heaven. Evangelize in Liberia, and the Times’ Nicholas Kristof will be totally impressed.” … Thus, I clearly pointed out that one path — missions to Third World hellholes — leads to worldly glory, while another — serving Christ in America — leads to abuse and ridicule.
Let’s examine this assertion. The United States sends out well over 100,000 missionaries each year (not all of them to “Third World hellholes”). Question: How many of them have taken a path that leads to “worldly glory” and positive mentions in the New York Times? Answer: Very, very few. Dr. Brantly may have gotten a favorable mention by Nicholas Kristof after having contracted the Ebola virus, but that surely wasn’t what motivated him to Liberia in the first place. There’s no way he knew he would contract the virus and, if he had, that a New York Times columnist would find out about it and write favorable about him. Ms. Coulter’s mistake is assuming Dr. Brantly is as desperate for attention as she is.
The notion that missions to “Third World hellholes” is the way to achieve worldly glory, which Coulter argues is why most people go on overseas missions, is risible. No one remotely familiar with the work of the vast majority of Christian missionaries would ever make such a claim. And by the way, if you’re a Christian in America who is intent on earning world glory, there are probably better ways to do so than to become a missionary to Liberia.
As for serving God in America: there are countless ways to do so, and some of those who do receive abuse and ridicule. But the vast majority do not. They serve quietly, without attention, in dignified ways. They aren’t after worldly glories nor are they the object of ridicule. Yet Ms. Coulter has created a crude caricature of missionaries in order to support her thesis.
4. Ms. Coulter writes:
True, Dr. Brantly’s mission was my example. I like to give examples in my writing. I find it’s more effective than abstract theorizing about how a hypothetical person might go on a Christian mission to Liberia that would end up being completely counterproductive by costing his Christian charity $2 million if he ended up catching the Ebola virus there.
No one has responded to that argument. It was a major strategic error for my critics to ignore one of my central points, while beating a straw man to death. (He’s a “husband and father”!)
Samaritans Purse’s budget, by the way, is $422 million. That money is raised because people believe in the mission of Samaritans Purse, which includes this statement: “Samaritan’s Purse specializes in meeting critical needs for victims of war, disaster, and famine in the world’s most troubled regions… Each year, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse places hundreds of doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals in voluntary, short-term service with hospitals and clinics in the world’s least-developed countries.”
In other words, Samaritans Purse raises money from individuals precisely to support the work of people like Dr. Brantly. The reason it has a medical evacuation insurance is because the organization and its supporters know situations like Dr. Brantly’s will arise. Samaritans Purse wisely prepares for worse-case scenarios, but neither do they operate on the assumption that they will be normative. If tragedy strikes, the organization responds.
The main point to be made, however, is this: Ms. Coulter is feigning concern for the financial health of an institution whose central mission she finds idiotic. This is a degree of misdirection and cynicism that is unusual even for Ann Coulter.
I’ve chosen to once again focus on Ms. Coulter, a celebrity among some on the right, because her arguments aren’t just weak but also malicious. It seemed to me they warranted a response, and Dr. Brantly merited a defense.
Most people, having written something so uncharitable about someone who has contracted a usually lethal disease in the service of others – having written a column whose words were meant to wound and ridicule — would be embarrassed by it. Ms. Coulter seems intent on wanting to highlight it. I’m happy to assist her in that effort. Let her columns on Dr. Brantly become an enduring testimony to her work, a window into her heart.
It might be worth concluding by drawing attention to someone whose approach to things was rather different than Ms. Coulter’s. In his book Something Beautiful for God, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote this about a person Coulter must surely have considered a “Christian narcissist” for having served in a “Third World hellhole”:
To me, Mother Teresa represents, essentially, love in action, which is surely what Christianity is about. Perhaps, I say to myself, the geneticists and family planners will succeed in constructing a broiler-house set-up where a Mother Teresa would be unneeded and unheeded. Even then, though, there will be some drop-outs with wounds that need healing, wants that need satisfying, souls that need saving. There she and the Sisters will be; just as, however thickening and substantially the concrete is laid down, somewhere, somehow, there is a crack through which a tiny green shoot breaks out to remind us that this life of which we are a part is indestructible, and has its origins and its fulfillment elsewhere.
Mother Teresa went to Calcutta to serve a God whose highest calling includes serving the weak and suffering wherever they are found. That is something that Ann Coulter not only doesn’t understand; it’s something she finds offensive. Which tells you much of what you need to know about her.
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.