Punishing Others Versus Holding to Our Values

Punishing Others Versus Holding to Our Values August 15, 2018

I had a much needed paternal break from the blog. But all good things must come to an end and once again it is time to engage. In my return blog, I want to discuss a current intellectual, and perhaps even moral, dilemma of mine. While I have generally had one answer to this dilemma, I find myself challenged to rethink that answer. This blog is my attempt to flesh out some of my thinking.

But first an update on the University of Iowa situation I blogged about a few months ago. Evidently the officials at the University of Iowa decided to apply their all-comers policy to everyone, after having been caught only wanting to apply it to Christians. I say splendid because we are about to find out just how untenable an all-comers policy is when it is applied to everyone. For those who do not know, an all-comers policy is one where a campus student organization must allow anyone in membership or leadership regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion and other protected cases. Yes it is as stupid as it sounds. The Muslim student group would have to be open to allowing an atheist to lead it and a Greek fraternity would have to be open to allowing women to join. I am sure it sounded great to the University of Iowa officials when they saw it as a way to get rid of Christian groups, but the courts are forcing them to apply it to everyone.

One argument for the all-comers rule is that it will increase the cultural diversity of student groups. Ironically, the opposite will occur. Groups that do not accept the humanist, progressive ideology of the diversity officials will be driven off campus. Conformity, instead of diversity, will be the order of the day. For example, religious groups, such as pagans and Unitarians, promoting a relativist notion of religious truth will be allowed. Those, such as conservative Christians and Muslims, which believe that their religion is the one way to heaven will be forced off campus. One does one have to accept an exclusivist view of religion to be horrified at the idea of having university officials decide what is, and what is not, an acceptable religion to be allowed in student organizations.

There is supposed to be a trial next March to see if this rule is constitutional. But I think there is a good chance that the rule does not survive until this trial. Two groups can emerge and either one of them, or both of them together, may pressure the university to drop this dumb rule. First, I anticipate that alumni from some of these student organizations, particularly those from fraternities and sororities who are de-registered, will threaten to stop financially supporting the university. I do not know how much money this will cost the university, but it will be more than zero. It is one thing to piss off a few Christians who then refuse to support the university. It is quite another to piss off alumni who were part of fraternities and sororities, and thus more likely to be quite wealthy than conservative Christians. I suspect that those individuals can produce a lot more financial pressure.

Second, if state universities in Iowa are like those in Texas, then a great deal of their financial support comes from the state. You better believe that some of those state politicians are hearing from the parents of the kids having their organizations de-registered. Trust me that the president of the University of Iowa will take the calls of those politicians who are not likely to be shy about threatening the budget of the university.

If one or both of these circumstances occur then do not be surprise if the head of diversity is called into the president’s office and the all-comers policy hits the ash heap where it belongs. Money definitely talks in academia and financial pressure can do what moral argument fails to do in producing a more honestly multicultural campus. The case may go forward but only as a formality if the policy has already been removed by the University of Iowa.

This University of Iowa situation reflects my intellectual dilemma. I have made it clear the contempt I have for all-comers policies. Until these court cases, these policies were almost exclusively applied to conservative Christian groups. This made it easy for non-Christians and progressives to promote these policies since they would not suffer from them. I suspect that fewer will support these policies if Muslim groups also have to comply or BLM student groups cannot limit its leadership to black students. Goose, gander and all of that.

For this reason, I have been a proponent of making sure that rules applied to conservative Christians are applied to others, even though the application of those rules is wrong in and of itself. The recent Masterpiece Supreme court case was decided largely because of the anti-Christian animosity of the Colorado Civil Rights commissioners and the uneven way they applied their rules. If the Colorado Civil Rights Commission wants to take away rights of conscience from conservative Christians then it is appropriate that they take away the rights of conscience of everyone else. I have asserted this even though I believe in the right of conscience for everyone. But removing the right to freedom of conscience from non-Christians creates an incentive for them to care about the rights of Christians.

I know that some will claim that those hostile to Christians do not have a double standard. Such claims fly in the face of the hypocrisy regularly demonstrated by current events. For example, why should progressives be so angry that Colin Kaepernick cannot get a job on a NFL roster but not concerned when a USA soccer player seems to be cut because she did not, in the past, want to wear an LGBT pride jersey? She refused to do so because of her Christian beliefs even though there is no evidence that she mistreated her LBGT teammates. If athletes should be free to express their political ideals on the field of play then certainly they should not be forced to express political ideals with which they disagree. And as noted above, the Supreme Court itself revealed the double standard of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in applying it rules to Masterpiece Cakeshop when they failed to do so to other bakeries. Other such hypocrisies are not that difficult to find.

Some anti-Christian progressives are quite comfortable providing groups they like with rights they would deny to others. They promote a society where some individuals have more rights than others. Thus, we have to decide whether we should hold to larger universal principles or force those progressives to live by the rules that want applied to others.

I am not always been comfortable with the ways in which others work towards taking away the rights of non-Christians. For example, I have no doubt that the cases that went before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission accusing bakeries of not making what could be considered “anti-gay” cakes were sting operations. (I am also cynical enough to believe that the original Masterpiece case was also a sting operation). There is something immoral about asking for a cake for the purpose of making a point. The sting operations did illustrate the discriminatory nature of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission but did so in a dishonest manner.

For that matter, one of the way to expose all-comers policies is for Christian students to take over a smaller Wiccan student group and start a bible study on how wives must submit to their husbands. In an honest all-comers policy Christians cannot be stopped from being voted into leadership. I suspect that if Christians did that then university officials would find some way to save the Wiccan student organization and reveal their hypocrisy. But such an action by Christians would place an undue burden on students who want to celebrate being Wiccans. Furthermore, Christians would be doing the very thing that they are rightly concerned about happening to them in that they would rob a religious or ideological group of the ability to express itself.

One of the costs of being willing to impose the unfair rules on non-Christians that some with Christianophobia are trying to impose on Christians is that it will create more unfairness. In theory creating this unfairness will lead to less unfairness as those, and their allies, who push these rules will suffer the consequences of the rules. But still I am left with the moral dilemma in approving the imposition of rules that I think are unfair.

I have been challenged by a recent blog by Rod Dreher, to live by our own convictions. If we believe in freedom of conscience then I should be fighting for the right of bakers to refuse what they see as “anti-gay” cakes. This is true even if allowing them that right makes it harder to provide that same rights to a Christian baker who decided not to produce a cake for a same-sex wedding. Sometimes the practical must give way to living out our principles.

I resonate with this argument. In fact I used it with many of my Christian friends before the 2016 election. They commented, with legitimate concerns, that a Clinton presidency would threaten them. They argued that Trump may be an immoral rogue but at least he would leave them alone, which they feel was not likely the case as it concerned Clinton. I acknowledged their fears, but also talked about the costs of abandoning our principles. If we say that we want moral leadership then how could we support Trump?

I caught a lot of flak from my evangelical friends for my NeverTrump stance (which is one of the reasons why I have little respect for progressives who come to this blog and argue that I do not criticize Trump enough). But my concerns about the implications of their support of Trump have come true. Even as he coarsens our society with tweets and affairs with porn stars, these evangelicals have thrown away their traditional values to defend him. They defend what would have been indefensible to them in a political leader only a few years ago. Yes they will get a Supreme Court Justice or two out of him, but is that worth the price of their loss of moral authority?

We must hold to our principles if we are going to be justified in fighting for values we say we believe. If I believe in freedom of conscience and freedom of religion then I must fight for it for everyone. That is the counter-pressure to my position that all groups must abide by the same rules. I face a situation where I know that imposing the same unfair rules those would like to impose on Christians to non-Christians can help create momentum to get rid of the rule. So am I giving in to the practical concerns rather than holding to my ideological principles? Maybe. That is why I am not sure I am right to assert fair play for all since it may produce unjust rules that are universally applied.

That is my intellectual dilemma. As of right now I still believe in spreading the pain to everyone. But I must admit I have been thinking about this approach and considering whether I have been wrong. I suspect I will continue to consider this question for some time. My sabbatical is over so I am opening up comments on this and all of my blogs. I welcome constructive comments some of you may have on this subject. They can help me engage in my reconsideration of my previous beliefs.

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6 responses to “Punishing Others Versus Holding to Our Values”

  1. Congratulations on the birth of your new baby! And welcome back to blogging. I’m glad to see that you are using Disqus now.

    I have read that during the Roman Empire, the Romans exempted Jews from worshiping the emperor–at least partially and at least at certain times. Imagine that you were living back then as a Gentile who believed in and followed Jesus, and you had Jewish friends and relatives who did not believe in and follow Him. Imagine you were arrested because everyone, except for Jews, had been ordered to offer incense in worship to the emperor, and you were among the Christians who refused to do so. Would you argue that if you were forced to worship the emperor, then Jews should be forced to worship him too? You could not argue that the Romans should force the Jews to worship the emperor if you yourself refused to worship him, could you?

    What about loving your neighbor as yourself? Is demanding that an unjust law be applied to your neighbor compatible with that command?

    If you were known to be demanding that an unjust law be applied to your neighbors, e.g. the members of a Muslim student group, and you tried to tell those neighbors the Gospel, how do you think they would react to you?

    Consider too: The Apostle Paul was usually a law-abiding citizen of the Roman Empire, but he was willing to disobey Roman law if this was necessary in order to obey God. He was also willing to use Roman law to the advantage of him and his ministry (Acts 22:25 and 25:11). Thus there is a time to comply with law, there is a time to disobey law, and there is a time to use law.

    Regarding “Yes they will get a Supreme Court Justice or two out of him, but is that worth the price of their loss of moral authority?”: I think that they are unconcerned about their moral authority. They think that their support for Trump doesn’t compromise them in any way. They think that if unbelievers call them hypocrites for ignoring, excusing, and justifying Trump’s sins, it is because the unbelievers are anti-Christian, and not because they are indeed hypocrites.

  2. Your point is well taken and one of the reasons why I am rethinking my stance. However, is it right to allow an injustice to go unanswered and is it so wrong to force those engaging in that injustice to face their own rules. Paul confronted the injustice done to him using his rights as a Roman citizen to the best of his ability. I think we have to consider whether we should do the same. But once again your point is well made and I continue to consider this issue.

  3. There is another example set by my father.

    The University of Alabama policy was that every student group had to have a faculty sponsor. No obstacle to the Chess Club or even the Spelunking Club. But an obstacle for the initial Black Students Association at the University of Alabama. No AA faculty yet (of course) and a VERY sensitive political topic (Gov Wallace in schoolhouse door a few years before), even for tenured faculty.

    After a period when no one else volunteered, my father agreed to be the faculty sponsor for for the start-up of the Black Student Association. When, some years later, the first AA faculty member was hired at UA, my father approached him about taking over faculty sponsorship. He demurred, saying he had enough on his plate already. But the second AA faculty member did take over.

    If my father had not stepped forward, would there have been a Black Student Association at the University of Alabama ? My guess is not for almost a decade. And an already hostile environment (Tuscaloosa was HQ for United Klans of America then – I got some flack because of my father’s position) would have been less supportive without the BSA.

    Time had already passed for any enthusiastic faculty member to step forward when my father did. I suspect that there was no one behind him.

    So an apparently benign pre-existing requirement – faculty sponsorship – almost made an already hostile environment even more hostile.

    PS: Only at his funeral did I learn that my father kept the first UA graduate student from quitting. She was was discouraged and intimidated. He offered and gave her an hour of tutoring after office hours every day. She broke down in tears when meeting my sister at an Alumni event.

  4. I think I’d take a middle road: ask the other religious, spiritual, atheist, agnostic, and humanist groups; racial and ethnic minority groups, and gender-specific groups (a capella, anyone?) how they feel about it. Ask if they’d join in fighting the policy at your side. I’d be surprised if Christian groups had to go it alone. I’m a Unitarian Universalist and a progressive, and I’m appalled by these rules. If I belonged to a UU campus group that refused to join with Christian groups in fighting this or, worse, supported the rule’s use to try to force Christian orgs off campus, I would appeal to our local ministers, regional leaders, and the UUA. Such action would violate not just the Constitution of the United States, but also our most sacred UU principles. (If you have come across any Unitarian Universalists espousing such things, please point me in their direction so I can push a copy of the seven principles under their nose.)

    I think once historically marginalized groups got involved, the administration would budge really quickly.

    In the unlikely event you’d have to go it alone, then it feels reasonable to try to apply the rule universally to make the point. I think I’d start with something that is less personal than religion, race, or politics, and that might come off as absurd: have a woman run for leadership of a men’s a Capella group, or vice versa. It would call attention to the issue without pushing into things people hold sacred.

  5. Is there evidence these rules were originally created to persecute conservative Christian groups? I thought it started out as a good-faith attempt to bring diversity to and protect the rights of marginalized individuals in the leadership of more generalist groups—Spelunking Club (thank you for that chuckle, Alan), student newspapers, or Debate Club—and ended up being overapplied, sometimes nefariously, to groups that are reasonably divided along those lines.

  6. So I think a perspective from what might be considered “the other side” could be helpful. As a gaytheist (gay atheist), I actually think your approach is perfectly valid. At a minimum, it forces groups that are making a distinction (baking a gay wedding cake vs. baking an anti-gay wedding cake as a case study) to fully explain both their reasoning and to come up with a convincing secular rationale for why that reasoning should be law or policy, at least in the case of public institutions. Where there is, in fact, anti-Christian bias, making it apparent allows for the society at large to see what’s going on and take corrective action. Ultimately, making people live up to their own moral codes, standards, and rules is an excellent way to highlight hypocrisy and force change.

    In the wedding cake case I mentioned, I do see valid distinctions in place; but for those cases to be prosecuted, that reasoning must be brought to light and made crystal clear so that it can be adjudicated by not only the justice system but by the voters. Likewise for the campus groups (especially since I agree that religious groups should be able to discriminate by religion). The only place where I would differ would be that Christians should not take advantage of the law to overwhelm the Wiccan group in this case. Take the high ground; if no one abuses the policy, then it’s not a huge issue. On the other hand, pointed retaliation if the policy is abused would be both entirely justified and an incentive for the campus to change the rules back to something more realistic.

    I also agree with Alan that supposedly neutral policies can actually be de-facto discriminatory against certain groups. That’s how a lot of voter disenfranchisement is currently being put into place in this country, and the campus policy definitely seems to fit that bill in regards to religious groups.