Mugabe, Putin and The Gospel Coalition?

Mugabe, Putin and The Gospel Coalition? August 27, 2013

Let’s just start by stipulating that just because a despot or dictator with a horrendous record of human-rights abuses says something, that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong.

The late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, for instance, believed that Elvis Presley was a musical genius and that Japanese monster movies are awesome. Both of those things are true! Japanese monster movies don’t cease to be awesome just because one of the most oppressive tyrants in the world also recognized their awesomeness. Osama bin Laden was a lethally wicked human being, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong about the glories of Whitney Houston’s voice.

And if tyrants, terrorists and totalitarians are not necessarily wrong about everything, then it follows that others are not necessarily wrong if they happen to share identical opinions with those tyrants, terrorists and totalitarians.

So, then, let’s accept up front that just because the bloggers of the Gospel Coalition happen to be in agreement with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and authoritarian Russian boss Vladimir Putin it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all wrong.

Sure, Putin is a vindictive thug and Mugabe is responsible for massive death, suffering and injustice, but perhaps on this one issue they’re both right. That’s theoretically possible, isn’t it? They’re both cruel, oppressive, self-serving men, but maybe in this one exceptional case their views are actually an expression of the deepest moral wisdom. We have to allow that such a circumstance, while highly implausible, is still possible.

And let’s also stipulate that we must always be very cautious about attributing guilt by association. Do you know who else attributed guilt by association? (Well, OK, yes. I was going to say Nixon, but him too.)

So it would be wrong and unfair for us to make a facile leap to the conclusion that just because the Gospel Coalition’s views on legal equality for LGBT people are identical to the views of Mugabe and Putin automatically means that they are in the wrong.

But as long as we’re thoughtfully considering all of the possibilities and potential implications of this agreement, we should note that it is quite possible, theoretically and actually, that Mugabe and Putin are as horrendously wrong in their views on this issue as they tend to be horrendously wrong about everything else. And if that’s the case — if this view is of a piece with the immoral, abusive, unjust and oppressive immorality that shapes everything else these strongmen believe — then it would seem to be a Very Bad Thing to find oneself agreeing with them.

Given that this Very Bad Thing is at least one possibility, I have to wonder if it gives the folks at the Gospel Coalition pause. I have to wonder if they ever wonder about this, or worry about this.

Put yourself in their shoes. You’re operating a nice high-traffic Calvinist blog-cluster, posting all sorts of authoritative declarations about sexual morality and public order and the like. And then one day Vladimir Putin announces a new law in Russia embodying everything you’ve been saying for years about LGBT people. Vladimir freakin’ Putin — a former KGB honcho who acts like he’s still a Soviet boss. And all those policies you’ve been advocating for what sounded like high-minded reasons of fidelity to biblical authority are being implemented by Putin’s regime in a transparent effort to scapegoat vulnerable minorities and to distract the public from his ongoing kleptocratic looting of his country’s treasury.

Wouldn’t that make you at least a little bit uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it make you at least question your conclusions a little bit and start to wonder about the theological and ethical and hermeneutical reasoning that somehow led you to the exact same place as an ex-KGB strongman?

Sure, if you’re a complete wingnut whackaloon, like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, you might start praising Vladimir Putin as a moral role model for the world, and saying that America ought to be more like Putin’s Russia. But the Gospel Coalition is supposed to be a reasonable, mainstream church site — not a hotbed of frothing lunacy like Fischer’s AFA. Fischer doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a shameless partisan hack painting a thin veneer of religiosity onto the latest right-wing talking points. But the Gospel Coalition likes to pretend it’s much more than that.

The Gospel Coalition folks do sometimes seem to have a hard time remembering the difference between mainstream religious ethics and frothing lunacy — as in the case of Thabiti Anyabwile’s infamous “gag reflex” post last week. That post prompted widespread condemnation from many corners of the church, but it wasn’t those condemnations that had to be most disturbing for TGC. Far more disturbing was the affirmation and repetition of Anyabwile’s precise argument just a few days later by Mugabe in his seventh “inaugural” speech as president-for-life of the country he has slowly destroyed over the past 33 years. Just like Anyabwile, Mugabe cited his personal disgust as evidence of the wickedness of what he called the “filthy, filthy disease” of homosexuality.

Mugabe’s endorsement is particularly troublesome given the nature of Anyabwile’s argument. Anyabwile’s case against LGBT people is based entirely on moral intuition and visceral sentiment. He offers his own sanctified gut feelings as all the ethical principle anyone will need. That assertion was troubling even before Mugabe weighed in. But given the dictator’s identical sentiment, we’re now being asked to believe that a violent, repressive tyrant also possesses a sanctified moral intuition offering a perfect reflection of the will of God.

That’s a bit hard to swallow.

Anyabwile and his companions at the Gospel Coalition are arguing the very same things that Vladimir Putin and Robert Mugabe are arguing. That does not automatically prove that they are wrong. Nor does it make them the moral equivalent of those wicked leaders through some imagined guilt by association.

But, for Christ’s sake, it ought to at least make them stop, step back and reflect a bit. Because even if it doesn’t automatically prove that they’ve completely lost the map, they ought to realize that when your most notable moral allies are a couple of infamous thugs, then it’s very, very likely that you’re very, very wrong.


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  • xulon

    And – all the pro-lifers I know cheered the Zimmerman verdict as loudly as all the white supremacists I know. And both groups waited just as excitedly for those riots they just knew were coming.

    Strange bedfellows indeed.

  • But, for Christ’s sake, it ought to at least make them stop, step back
    and reflect a bit. Because even if it doesn’t automatically prove
    that they’ve completely lost the map, they ought to realize that when
    your most notable moral allies are a couple of infamous thugs, then it’s
    very, very likely that you’re very, very wrong.

    Sadly, no. It just means that, if they think about it at all, they’re undoubtedly saying to themselves, “Hey, these guys are thuggish jackasses, but even stopped clocks and all…”

    That’s actually one of the things that kind of frightens me about much of the right-wing mindset and the prevailing “both sides do it” attitude that permeates society and the media right now. There is no objective reality from which both sides are drawing their observations and lessons. There’s simply a collection of “sides” to take.

    Let’s say you have someone who is looking at an objective reality (say, killing and oppressing gays) and trying to figure out the underlying reasons why those things are happening and trying to explain why it’s bad and why everyone should agree. That person can draw out a logical string of causes and effects and then go to other people who should, in principle, agree and then lay them out. If those other people are drawing their conclusions from a completely different reality, though, they’ll look at all the evidence and say, “But that’s not how the world works,” and go on their merry way.

    There is absolutely nothing that can be done about it that I can tell. If you have one side saying that homosexuality is natural and shouldn’t be the source of oppression and the other side saying that homosexuality is an abomination to be wiped out there can be no fruitful discussion. It also doesn’t matter if objective reality supports one side, because in this case the side that is not supported by objective reality believes that they are the ones who really know what’s going on and their opponents are deluded, deranged, or in denial. So for them Putin and Mugabe just happen to be right this one time and Fred remains completely in the wrong. They’ll then accept an alliance with Putin or Mugabe on this issue because enemy of my enemy etc.

  • Jim Roberts

    A number of people at my church have asked why I haven’t responded to some of their Facebook threads that would typically attract my interest. I’ve had to tell at least a couple of them exactly why, and mostly it had to do with crowing about the Zimmerman verdict or forwarding that screed (Buchanan, I think, wrote it) about how we’ve spent 6 billion dollars on black people since we stopped lynching them, so isn’t enough enough?

  • Abby Normal

    Agreed. Sadly enough, self-reflection is never a strong suit with these guys. I keep wishing someone would prove me wrong, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Sadly, I assume the thought process goes like, “The natural revulsion to gay sex is so strong that even brutal dictators and despots like Mugabe and Putin know we’re right! That tells you how bad the gays are: they have worse moral intuition than Mugabe and Putin!” That’s if they think about it at all, which I find unlikely.

  • AnonaMiss

    Especially since the pro-lifers are so concerned with how abortion is killing off black babies.

  • J_Enigma32

    You’re giving too much credit to the “amygdala —> mouth” process they practice instead of thinking. And when they’re not doing that, they’re cocooning themselves in projection.

    Here’s a good example. There’s a right-wing meme going around that shows Dorthy and Scarecrow sitting together, and Dorthy is asking “how can you think without a brain?” to which Scarecrow responds, “Easy, I’m a democrat.”

    I’d comment that this “argument” is a strawman, but if I have to point that out, I fee like every step of your education has failed you. The picture itself is saying as much.

    But that’s the type of projection and obliviousness to reality that we’re dealing with. You can’t reason people out of a position they weren’t reasoned into; all you can do is make arguments and hopefully sway the hearts and minds of people not trapped lock and step. And we’re winning as far as gay marriage is concerned here in the states. We’re winning and they know.

  • J_Enigma32

    I live in a city that’s at least 49% African American. I see those fucking ads up all over the stupid city; on billboards, on bus stops, on whatever: sponsored by the local area “Right to Life” Coalition. It’s poison, and you can’t get away from it.

    These are also the same people who have no problems with the death penalty executing an innocent man or woman (especially if they’re black). Their views on African Americans are the same as their views on Jewish people: a political bargaining chip to get what they want. I swear, their views are amoral and positively inhuman, even if they themselves are just amoral but all too human.

  • AnonaMiss

    The semantic overloading of the word ‘right’ doesn’t help.

    ‘Right’ can mean true (“that can’t be right”), ‘right’ can mean good (right versus wrong), and ‘right’ can mean correct (“that’s the right pencil”).

    We’ve all gotten in arguments with people who confuse these sorts of homonyms. Hell, creationist arguments against evolution are mostly based in this kind of homonym/metaphorical usage misunderstanding of what the word ‘evolve’ means.

    But the different senses of ‘right’ underpin their entire worldview. They are of the [i]right[/i] (correct) religion (and how dare you tell them otherwise, everyone is free to choose their own religion), so clearly their opinions on religion are [i]right[/i] (true) and anyone who disagrees with them is [i]just not right[/i] (morally wrong)! And by telling them that their opinions are [i]not right[/i] (false), you are therefore stepping on their freedom to worship the [i]right[/i] (correct) religion.

  • LL

    Sorry, I’m unfamiliar with this particular variety of crazy. So “right to life” people think Zimmerman is some kind of modern-day hero because he shot a black teenager? WTF?

  • My coworkers were surprised by my “quiet” response to the Zimmerman verdict. I responded “Well, I was raised, that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing, and right now, I have nothing nice to say”

  • Omnicrom

    In this case I don’t think one leads to the other but that both come from the same place: Both the Racist Zimmerman supporters and the forced birthers hold strongly to reactionary worldview and a wistful pining for non-existent “Good old days” when Women and Blacks were less uppity and knew their place.

    Most destructive conservative worldviews feed into each other, the Blacks, Gays, Women, and etc. are an amorphous “Other” and any victory against them is worthy of celebration. Even if that victory is a racist gunning down an unarmed teen and getting away with it.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Speaking of, did you heard that Zimmerman is planning on demanding that Florida reimburse him for all the money “he” paid for his defense?

  • Baby_Raptor

    But they’re free to tell you you’re not of the right (correct) religion, because freedom of speech. They have a right (of the legal variety) to that hypocrisy.

  • Jim Roberts

    I wouldn’t make any statement that blanket – I think there’s a strong trend that supporters of gun rights and vigorous self defense will also tend to support ideals that limit female reproductive control, though. I can’t pretend to understand all the reasons why.

  • Baby_Raptor

    He’s a hero because gun rights. Also, because he shot an uppity black person. And he “wasn’t afraid to protect himself like the liberals want us to be.”

    The fact that he stalked an unarmed teenager and provoked the attack? They don’t even remember that. I’ve actually been called a liar for mentioning this.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’m reminded of that one Republican from Texas who made his campaign slogan “If babies had guns, there would be no abortion.”

    I mean, I don’t even know where to start in taking apart all the ways the guy’s full of shit, but still.

  • Jim Roberts

    Which will make Trayvon’s death murder for profit. Lovely.
    Thankfully, those of my friends who are in the legal profession say that for all its flaws, Florida’s a tough state to do this in.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Really? I mean, I hope so, because the idea that he’s getting a windfall off this is enough to make me want to donate my lunch to the nearest trashcan.

    But the article I read it in said that it was a law that Florida had to reimburse him because he was acquitted.

  • Jim Roberts

    He has the right to petition for reimbursement, but the judge has latitude on the actual amount. And, since the purse strings of the Florida court system are as tight as they are anywhere else, they look for every chance to keep money back.

  • Cathy W

    And hopefully the first thing the court will ask is “Weren’t people on the interwebs falling over themselves to donate money for your defense?”

  • P J Evans

    I can see the state reimbursing the lawyers for a case that was wrongfully brought, but this ain’t it. And, as Cathy says, what happened to the money that they were collecting for his defense?

  • AnonaMiss

    I take exception to this:

    Someone once said, “Not all conservatives are stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.” If you cannot place yourself in a state of mind where this statement, true or false, seems completely irrelevant as a critique of conservatism, you are not ready to think rationally about politics.

    The author of that piece has taken a bit of human language and pretended it was expressed by a logician, when the exact formal-logic meaning of the phrase was not the common meaning of the phrase. The common meaning of the phrase is that stupid people are overrepresented among conservatives.

    ‘Conservatism’ as popularly used isn’t strictly defined; it shifts according to the whims/wants/beliefs of those who declare themselves conservative. When the ‘conservatism’ you’re criticizing is ‘the stances of the conservative party’, and the stances of the conservative party are created/set by the collective/majority stances of the people within it, the relative stupidity of the people within the conservative movement is relevant. It means that any given policy created by the conservative party is statistically more likely to be irrational than any given policy created by a group of non-‘conservatives.’

    If the statement were true, would that mean any given, or even all, conservative stances are wrong? No. All it would mean is that, sight unseen, conservative party stances are more likely to be irrational than stances held by other parties. But that’s not irrelevant in the way that the author implies.

  • christopher_y

    Also it would imply that John Stuart Mill, of all people, was too stupid to know what he wanted to say and say what he meant.

  • Eric Boersma

    It’s the tribe. They cling to both ideals despite their mutually contradictory nature because that’s what people in the tribe doe.

  • On a lighter note, has anyone else seen this?

  • Jim Roberts

    I don’t think it’s that reductive. It’s a kind of siege mentality, like after a military coup, where there’s a search for an Other to be blamed, and freedom of the downpressed is supressed for their own protection.

  • Jen K

    He spent it on hotel bills, remember?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    If babies had guns, they couldn’t use them. They’re babies. Also, I’m pretty sure both mother and fetus would be seriously poisoned if you put a gun in a woman’s womb…

  • HyperSpiral

    Look, we all know Obama is so utterly evil that thoughts become evil if he has them. Since Obama is an evil, divisive race-baiter, being dismayed at the death of a kid is evil race baiting. Therefore, it is a principled, conservative thing to celebrate the death of a kid if it spites Obama.

    People, including some of the Republican primary candidates, were content to agree that Trayvon Marin’s death was a tragedy until Obama divisively agreed with them. People didn’t want to start having twisted fantasies about shooting Obama’s hypothetical kids, but big mean Obama forced them too!

  • Matri

    We’ll have ground colonies on a fucking star before that happens.

  • Antigone10

    Actually, I remember somebody saying that, Michael, a fictional and brutal gangster, still had the moral reflex to know that abortion was wrong. That was a level of wtf-ery that I still do a double take over thinking about.

  • Antigone10

    I’m liberal. I’m liberal because it seems like their version of an ideal society is the society I would prefer to live in.

    I’m liberal for other reasons too: the scientific method seems like the best way I know of to tell if something is true because it has matched up with what has happened in mine, and other people’s, lives. (Carbon dioxide makes things heat up, I’ve seen the experiments. Living things have evolved- I’ve evolved mold from ammonia resistant to bleach resistant. I can look at the data and extrapolate outward from there). Treating each other well seems like a good recipe for a happier life for everyone.

    But, I have to wonder: am I any less tribal than the conservatives? Lots of people on this thread have talked about how dehumanizing, cruel, and sometimes just plain stupid conservative beliefs are, and I agree. But go to their sites, and they’ll say the same about liberals. They’ll say we have beliefs in common with dictators too, and whether or not that should give us pause. They’ll say that we’re either naive or too intellectual to see what happens in the real world. We’ll get called children who don’t understand how the world really works, or that we’re just all lazy and don’t feel like we should work. And I know that’s wrong because that’s not how the people I am are. But, my mother-in-law is a conservative, who votes against Obamacare or any other sort of government-like healthcare system and every year she goes and works, for free, in South America as an x-ray tech for free clinic. My mom is as anti-abortion as they come, but I really think that if she could she would adopt every child on the planet who didn’t have parents and she volunteers at what could be called a temporary orphanage. My friend from college literally feels like the world would be better if we had a strict hierarchy that everyone knew their place graduated summa cum laude with an Honors History degree. These people advocate for hurtful, harmful policies but are not, any more than anyone else I know, hurtful harmful people.

    What if I picked which Utopia I liked and everything else is just an ad-hoc rationalization for them, the same as theirs? I worry about this because there doesn’t seem to be a way to examine this from any outsider perspective. I can’t have an outside view about politics that I live under.

    Does anyone else worry about this? How do you figure something out like that? At the end of the day, I can’t articulate why something is wrong, like there being people starving in a same country that has such horrible opulence, other than it makes me sick to my gut either.

  • I bet they’ll figure out a way to make an exception in his case because he’s become practically a right-wing folk hero.

    (That said, has anyone noticed that Joe the Plumber has been conspicuously absent since the tax increases went through and it was proven that his caterwauling about taxes was more than a little overblown?)

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Zimmerman had sticky fingers when it came to that money. He’s probably got 50 grand stashed under the floorboards in a gym bag.

  • Do you agree with the basic thrust of FDR’s quote?

    “A conservative is a man who has never learned how to walk forwards”

    It is an obvious metaphorical turn of phrase, of course.

  • It’s like how I see Americans. (I’m a Canadian)

    On an individual level, many of them are charming, pleasant to be with, and would do you a good turn.

    But as a collective nation they are astonishingly insular, proudly ignorant of the world beyond the US’s borders, and unwilling to countenance anything (even internal evidence from their own country’s past) that contradicts the narrative of “the best nation on Earth”.

  • Simonzee

    This is a pathetic website with bigoted frauds that use the name Christian when they don’t even know what a bible looks like. Love the use of the word progressive. What word will you use next, intelligent. Go and get a real life. I stumbled across this site because you often want to find out the source of much of the crap that is on the internet.

  • phantomreader42

    And would you, by any chance, have anything that even vaguely looks like the slightest speck of evidence that the post you’re whining about is factually incorrect? No, of course you don’t. You don’t care about facts, your ilk never do. All you care about is finding excuses to use your precious book of myths to bludgeon anyone who doesn’t worship you and your sociopathic imainary friend.
    As hard as it may be for you to believe, it IS possible for one to be a christian without being an arrogant, narcissistic, sociopathic bigot. It’s a pity I have to remind christians of that fact so often.

  • Go to bed. The grown-ups are talking.

  • Bigoted? Would you elaborate on that?

  • AnonaMiss

    I wasn’t talking about what conservatives are or are not. I was not talking about whether the statement was true, but simply arguing that it is not irrelevant to a discussion of ‘conservatism’ as it was meant by the writer.

    FWIW, I do not agree with FDR’s statement. Simply because one does not walk forward does not mean that one has never learned how, or has no desire to: it may simply be caution, or a desire to re-check the map to avoid costly mis-steps.

    Unfortunately, prudence is difficult to market, and so conservative political movements seem to coalesce not around cautious realism but instead around reactionary impulses.

  • AnonaMiss

    Actually, Fred is labeled a ‘progressive Christian’ here against his own identification. He would prefer to be classified as an evangelical, but the owners of the site call him a ‘progressive Christian’ instead.

  • Huh. I just read through the archives for the past few years, but I seem to have missed that one. I know Fred is both an evangelical and a progressive, but I don’t recall him ever saying that he doesn’t consider himself a progressive christian, or that he doesn’t want to be identified as such. Do you have a link to where Fred says that he doesn’t consider himself a progressive christian, or that he would prefer to be categorized as “evangelical” over ‘progressive’?

  • AnonaMiss

    I don’t think he objects to ‘progressive Christian’, but he has mentioned a few times how he is excluded from the ‘evangelical’ section of Patheos because his positions on political issues don’t line up with the Republican party’s. I took that to mean that he would have preferred to be categorized as evangelical, but I may have been mistaken.

  • AnonaMiss

    Here we are:

    But those of us who aren’t [“politically rabid” right-wingers obsessed with anti-feminist and anti-gay activism] are, at best, treated as “controversial” and only semi-legitimate members of the tribe. We aren’t usually even allowed to say that we’re part of us.

    Just look at the lines drawn here at Patheos. Owen Strachan — a
    rabidly anti-feminist and anti-gay, politicized culture-warrior — is
    comfortably welcomed into the evangelical channel. So are David and Nancy French and that poor kid who blogs for the Manhattan Declaration. But John Shore isn’t allowed in that club. Tony Jones keeps getting kicked out and fighting to be reinstated. And even St. Francis Schaeffer’s own kid doesn’t make the cut.

    From .

    Fred says he isn’t allowed to identify as evangelical, and points to the relegation of a number of evangelical liberals to the ‘progressive’ portal of Patheos as an example. I interpreted this to mean that he does not recognize the distinction as valid and would prefer to be part of a unified evangelical portal. But he doesn’t actually express a preference, you’re right.

  • Alix

    I don’t worry about it, precisely, but I definitely think about it. I sort of consider it another part of self-examination – how much of what I think is really based on reason, is based on my own emotions, likes, and other irrational things, and how much is based on what my group(s) think?

    We rationalize. That’s part of what we do, as humans. And I’m pretty firmly in the camp of “there’s not really objectivity anyway” where most things are concerned. I advocate for the principles and ideas I think work best, same as other people.

    This is one reason I dislike the way people often call conservatives stupid or evil, just because they’re conservative. I … don’t think either’s true, in the sense that I think they’re just as rational and just as “right” as we think we are, just starting from some majorly different foundational principles.

    But I will say, one thing that sets you apart from a lot of people is that you entertain the notion you might be wrong. It seems to me the worst people in the world are, more often than not, those who are convinced they are perfectly, obviously right.

    (Late reply is late, sorry. >.>)