N.T. Wright: A Follow-Up

N.T. Wright: A Follow-Up June 27, 2014

I’m still getting interesting responses to the post on N.T. Wright and marriage equality that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. N.T. Wright fans can get vicious, y’all. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten death threats from Nazi sympathizers on here before (and I’ve had my blog linked both to Reddit Men’s Rights, and Douglas Wilson’s blog, so that’s saying something). Skipping over the troll comments, I thought I’d tackle some of the more “serious” responses in this follow-up post.

Fuckin’ Analogies! How Do They Work?

One common criticism that I received–most notably from First Things author Matthew J. Franck–was that I obviously don’t understand analogies. As Franck puts it:

As any intelligent reader will immediately recognize, Wright is arguing from analogy…For Ms. Moon, this is “compar[ing] people who support marriage equality to Nazis and Soviet Communists.” I take it she means likening the one to the others, so that she is accusing Wright of saying that “people who support marriage equality” have a propensity toward using secret police, terror, torture, totalitarian control of society, and concentration camps in order to carry out their ideological objectives. That is simply idiotic.

Gotta love the subtle implication that am not an “intelligent reader,” and the not-so-subtle implication that I am “idiotic.” Wow. Such logic. Much rational debate. Wow.

Petition to add doge to all “rational” debates
[image of Doge, a Shiba Inu dog]

But let’s ignore that for the moment. Let’s also ignore the fact that these folks accusing me of not understanding analogies are defending N.T. Wright–a man who believes that the analogy of male/female marriage to Christ’s relationship with the church should be used to say that all relationships everywhere should be male/female.

Let’s move on to the rest of Franck’s point.

Franck is claiming a difference between “comparison” and “analogy.” He is claiming that N.T. Wright is not comparing Nazis to LGB** marriage advocates. He just just using an analogy, and of course Sarah Moon doesn’t understand this because she’s idiotic.

I’m not typically a fan of citing the dictionary to defend a particular meaning of a word, since–as my pastor, Julian Davies, reminded me recently–dictionaries can only record historic usage and language is fluid. But since this whole N.T. Wright debacle is over the historic meaning of words, I thought I’d post the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of “analogy” here for Franck and his followers to ponder for a bit (emphasis mine):

A comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way

Sorry, Franck. According to the dictionary definition of analogy, yes, Wright did compare LGB marriage supporters to Nazis. He absolutely did, because that’s what an analogy does

Franck then sets up a strawman of my positions, claiming that I was “accusing Wright of saying that ‘people who support marriage equality’ have a propensity toward using secret police, terror, torture, totalitarian control of society, and concentration camps in order to carry out their ideological objectives.”

These accusations were not found anywhere in my original blog post, so despite the number of people accusing me of slandering N.T. Wright, it’s not me who’s trying “to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.” (again with the dictionary definitions that these folks so love)

I know exactly what an analogy is and opposition to N.T. Wright’s comparison of LGB people to Nazis stems from that awareness, not from a lack of it.

When you compare two things via analogy, you are trying to make a point. You are trying to evoke certain feelings in your readers. If I were to compare my lover to a sunset, I obviously would not be saying that my lover is “a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace.” But I would be trying to evoke certain feelings. Beauty and awe perhaps?

Now, what feelings is Wright trying to evoke when he makes an analogy to Nazis in the context of LGB marriage? Certainly not beauty or awe. Fear, perhaps. Maybe disgust or hatred. Whatever his aim is, he’s certainly not evoking feelings of positivity, care, inclusion, or love. 

If Wright simply wanted to say that marriage equality advocates change the definition of words, he could have compared them to scientists, dictionary editors, or famous authors. Nazis certainly aren’t the only group constantly reworking or redefining language.

Wright chose to use Nazis. He used that particular analogy intentionally and he did that for a reason. And it’s not because he thinks LGB people are swell.

Which brings me to another criticism that I got a lot of…

“Predisposed to Bigotry…”*

Probably the biggest problem people seemed to have with my post is that I supposedly called N.T. Wright a “bigot.” People took offense to that calling me “silly,” accusing me of ad hominem attacks, and even posting the dictionary definition of “bigot” on my Facebook wall to attempt to shut me down.

First of all, I did not call Wright a bigot. I called his views on LGB marriage “bigotry.” You can disagree (because I don’t really care that much), but I think there is a difference here.

We are all, as Five Iron Frenzy* would put it, “predisposed to bigotry.” It’s, to use Dr. Beverly Tatum’s analogy, like a moving walkway at the airport that carries us all along. We might not be running toward bigotry along this walkway, but unless we’re intentionally turning around and running the other way, we’re going to keep going in that direction anyway.

This is the context in which I describe Wright’s views (though not Wright himself) as “bigotry.”

Second, some of the very people who were upset that I’d used the word “bigotry” to talk about the great N.T. Wright were people who would not hesitate to throw around this same word regarding Duck Dynasty members. It’s interesting.

There are some classist implications here–N.T. Wright is intelligent and educated, as some people were quick to point out to me. Therefore he cannot hold bigoted views, apparently. While Duck Dynasty members (some of whom are also quite educated but strongly reject the stereotyped image of the intellectual), speaking in their southern drawls rather than their plummy British accents, who believe the same thing as Wright does about LGB marriage, are called all sorts of names in liberal/progressive Christian circles.

I also see in this a tendency of liberal/progressive Christian circles to separate the world into Us vs. Them categories. Since Wright has rejected the traditional evangelical ideas about hell and the rapture, liberals want to claim him as One Of Us, therefore he is off limits for critique.

This is pretty ridiculous, as I’m sure Wright himself would reject these attempts to put him on one side or the other. Also, this is a dangerous mindset to have–any group that doesn’t have space for critique of it’s own heroes and leaders quickly becomes toxic.

By the way, the dictionary definition of “bigot” that critics sent to me is this: “a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group.” Is anyone here going to argue that Wright loves and accepts LGB (and TQ) people? If so, let’s move on to my third point…

Yes, I do know how to read. Yes, I have a brain. Yes, N.T. Wright is Anti-LGB.

The final criticism I want to respond to is the accusation–from both right and left–that I have poor reading comprehension, and do not understand N.T. Wright.

Franck and other opponents of marriage equality were quick to accuse me of lacking a brain (Franck said, of me, “as the moon orbits the earth, so the mind of Ms. Moon orbits an empty space devoid of logic.” Such brilliant, rational discourse, from this man!), and eagerly informed me that Wright has always been anti-gay.

On the other hand, proponents of marriage equality insisted that I must be reading Wright incorrectly if I came to the conclusion that he held bigoted views toward LGB people, because Wright’s one of the “good ones.”

I have to say that the anti-LGB crowd’s criticisms are actually more accurate here, although, contrary to what they seem to think, I never claimed Wright as a warrior for queer theology. In fact, I stated in my original post that I was not shocked at all by Wright’s positions on marriage equality.

My original post was not an attempt to claim that Wright has always held a theologically progressive stance when it comes to equal marriage. It was, rather, a reflection on the impact his theology had on my own life, and some ideas about where his theology could go were it not held back by his own prejudice.

Still, I’m sorry, liberal N.T. Wright fans, but the anti-LGB folk are right. N.T. Wright has never been on “our side” when it comes to the full affirmation of LGB people.

Let’s quickly (this blog post is too long as it is) go through some of the things Wright has said about LGB people in the past:

  • In a 2002 paper, Wright says that the Bible teaches that LGB relationships are “self-destruct mode,” that LGB sex is “dehumanized and dehumanizing,” and “a form of human deconstruction.” This is especially disturbing and offensive when combined with his views on the afterlife found in Surprised By Hope, where he states that those who define themselves by their sexuality dehumanize themselves, and will pass, after death, into an “ex-human” state where they will be “beyond hope but also beyond pity.” (pg. 182, First Edition)
  • When asked in a 2004 interview, “So a Christian morality faithful to scripture cannot approve of homosexual conduct?” he answered “Correct,” and suggests that this may be an issue where “If people go a different route, then they are excluding themselves from the fellowship of the church and the church should ratify that.
  • He implies in a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt that LGB relationships do not belong in God’s new creation. When asked for his thoughts on LGB relationships, he replied, “All human beings some of the time, and some human beings most of the time, have deep heartfelt longings for kinds of sexual intimacy or gratification (multiple partners, pornography, whatever) which do not reflect the creator’s best intentions for his human creatures, intentions through which new wisdom and flourishing will come to birth…God is gracious and merciful but this never means ‘so his creational standards don’t really matter after all.'”

 N.T. Wright has been very clear about his position toward LGB people for years, and his position is one that excludes and dehumanizes us. Though his theology, as I stated in my original post, has led me and many others to a more affirming and inclusive faith, Wright himself is still clearly held back by prejudice and bigotry. 


*this is actually a line from one of my least favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, because it promotes a “love the sinner, hate the sinner” mindset which is messed up for all sorts of reasons. But one line in this song has always stood out to me–“Predisposed to bigotry, the regular run of the mill American story”–because it takes down the idea that bigotry is territory of a small fringe group. No–bigotry against groups that are oppressed in ways we are not is the norm. We are all guilty of it, and we must all work every day to reject it in our lives.

**Update 6/28/14: I changed a few instances of the use of the phrase “anti-gay” to “anti-LGB”

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  • AndyT

    While everyone is entitled to his/her opinion about such sensitive issues, I think at least some of the comments have gone too far: Sarah, you have supported your view with quotes and facts, while some opponents of yours have done nothing but relying on “ad hominem” arguments, which I find quite dishonest of them; also, I do not understand while Mr. Wright’s “liberal fans” are so afraid of recognising he does not share their beliefs about LGBT rights: what’s the matter? They can surely keep respecting most of his views, while respectfully disagreeing on this particular issue, can’t they?

  • this is good. i might have cheered at the bit about claiming folks for Our Team! and then insulating them from all honest disagreement and critique. and i think your comparison of this handling to folks’ derision of the duck dynasty guys is pretty telling. it’s frustrating and ridiculous how much packaging, power, and teams matter more than substance, praxis, or liberation. such progress. very radical. wow.

  • C. Quinn-Jones

    Hi Sarah,
    We do not know each other – I became aware of your blog via a re-tweet, or maybe even a re-tweet of a re-tweet.
    I am not a theologian and do not wish to take part in a theological debate on this site.
    However, I am a linguist and I did specialise in German. My oldest German dictionary (Cassel’s) is similar to the dictionaries mentioned by N.T.Wright in his talk. His focus was on the fact that some words were changed by law under the Nazi regime. One of the changes made at that time, the change of the words for (vehicle) driver from Fuehrer/Fuehrerin to Fahrer/Fahrerin remains in standardised usage today.
    As we know, the secular usage of the word ‘marriage’ has now been changed by law in the UK.
    it does not follow that, in commenting on the implications of these legal changes, he was comparing gay people with Nazis.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      “If Wright simply wanted to say that marriage equality advocates change the definition of words, he could have compared them to scientists, dictionary editors, or famous authors. Nazis certainly aren’t the only group constantly reworking or redefining language.

      Wright chose to use Nazis. He used that particular analogy intentionally and he did that for a reason. And it’s not because he thinks LGB people are swell.”

      I stand by this point ^

    • He specifically talked about how changing word meanings was dangerous, and used the analogy of how both Nazis and Stalinists had changed word meanings. There was no disclaimer, no “I realize there are other reasons why word meanings get changed.” No, “I’m not saying people who support gay marriage are like the Nazis and the Stalinists.” I really find it impossible not to read his own words according to their clearest meaning.

    • Sara

      I agree with what Kristen and Sarah have to say. And I also think it’s worth mentioning that there might be some context that C. Quinn-Jones is missing. Wright isn’t the first person to use the gay/Nazi comparison. It’s kind of the m.o. of a whole bunch of the anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Scott Lively, who has helped push draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda and parts of Eastern Europe, wrote a book called “The Pink Swastika” in which he attempts to link gay people to Nazis (and reveals his utter inability to recognize irony). Earlier this month Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, compared anti-discrimination laws to Nazi persecution. And those of just two examples of an unfortunately common trope. This is the sort of language that gives conservative Christians the false impression that LGBTQ rights will somehow restrict their own religious freedom, and those beliefs have real consequences for LGBTQ people, as marriage equality, hate crime protections, and workplace protections are voted down based on those unfounded fears.

      Whether he meant to or not, N.T. Wright took a page from that book in making his statements. I’ve enjoyed some of Wright’s books, and have tremendous respect for his brilliance, so I was very disappointed to see him stoop to the level on Perkins and Lively in that interview.

  • Well said, Sarah.