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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