The American Principles Project, brainchild of the estimable and invaluable Robert P. George, has posted an open letter to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) citing their refusal to attend this year’s February conference. The reason? CPAC, for the second year in a row, has given booth space (and implicit endorsement) to GOProud, the gay, conservative group trying so blissfully to gain a seat at the conservative table.

I, for one, am thankful that APP has the courage and clarity to distill the serious and deleterious effects of GOProud’s invitation at the preeminent conservative conference in America.

The note contains several sobering critiques of allowing such an organization into the conservative fold:

An organization committed to the ultimate abandonment of the legal and social meaning of marriage by definition disqualifies itself from recognition as a partner in the conservative cause.

Having now examined closely GOProud’s mission and its behavior since its inception, we can only conclude that the organization’s purposes are fundamentally incompatible with a movement that has long embraced the ideals of family and faith in a thriving civil society.

The issue is not that GOProud works on only four of the five traditional items on the conservative agenda – rather, it omits – because it actively opposes – one part of the core. It is no more acceptable as a participant at CPAC than a group that said it embraced the “traditional conservative agenda” but actively worked for higher taxes and greater governmental control of the economy.

The truth is that conservatism has placed so much emphasis on, and trust in, the institutions of civil society because it is inconceivable that the public conditions of economic freedom and national strength can subsist when the institutions of marriage and family are subverted.

Bravo. The letter to CPAC, which was composed by Frank Cannon, is articulate and respectful. Nothing within the letter is disagreeable. In fact, it’s dead on.

And yet, as much as I want to agree with their decision not to attend this year’s conference, I’m not convinced that this is the correct path to take. Social conservatives have taken a beating of late, especially in light of the raucous tea party movement’s dominance. By APP forfeiting their presence, they may be sacrificing needed capital and conveying a sense of entitlement. It’s the entitlement, though, that we deserve. Without the Kirkian strand of conservative thought, the tripartite identity of conservatism would collapse.

By simply refusing to attend the convention, APP is missing an important opportunity to engage the apparent conflict now arising between social conservatives and an ever-softening moderate Right. I would suggest that, in addition to penning a different and similarly strong worded letter, APP project themselves as the standard bearer for an upset, silent majority.

Perhaps we grew lazy with eight years of a social conservative in the presidency. Now, though, it may be time for social conservatives and APP to wield their authority and flex their muscles; casting this protest as an impending collapse of historic conservatism and force CPAC’s hand.

As is the tendency, the aggressive encroachment of the homosexual agenda (now, sadly adopted by many high profile conservatives) presents itself as a third-rail politic. It’s befuddling to social conservatives how such a small minority can garner enough support to make CPAC and the American Conservative Union kowtow to their demands. From my perspective, CPAC’s inability to voice opposition to GOProud is a massive failure not only for their own organization, but for conservatism at large.

I love the American Princples Project. In many ways, their letter is a tribute to my own concerns. Moreover, I respect them for eschewing any form of compromise. I just wish alternative, and more drastic paths were considered.

What say you?

Update on 11.19.10 @ 11:50 AM: APP is reporting that CPAC is voting on whether to revoke its invitation to GOProud at this year’s conference.

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Posted by Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

15 Comments

  1. I’m opposed in principle to boycotts so I won’t say that social conservatives should “boycott” CPAC. But I do wonder why any conservative would bother to attend. Despite the name, CPCAC is mainly a libertarian event—and one that shows open disdain for traditional conservatism.

    Besides, what is the point of going? Nothing important ever happens there. The speakers are always some mix of lame politicians and talk radio-esque bomb-throwers. Robby George and his ilk should stay as far away from that circus as possible.

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    1. Joe,

      That’s an interesting thought. In truth, I’ve not been exposed in depth to what occurs at CPAC. I’ll leave this up to your past experience.

      Do you think there should be a division between populist conservatism (perhaps this represents CPAC) and more “high-culture conservatism?”

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      1. I don’t think there should be a inseparable division between populist conservatism and high-culture conservatism. But I do think we should exclude “kitsch conservatism”—the type that doesn’t really care about the issues within the movement but exists merely to mock the Left.

        CPAC is primarily interested in making money so they fully embrace the kitsch conservatives.

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  2. I agree APP was right to protest GoProud’s effective endorsement at CPAC. Though I consider myself a Christian conservative in many respects I have never cared to attend CPAC. To anyone with even a faint understanding of the Christian Faith we are not to be “Proud” of behavior God says is serious sin! However, APP could have conceivably engaged the folks at CPAC by its attendence. The goings on at CPAC as far as I can see are evidence of the serious breakdown of the whole Conservative/Liberal, right-left political model, a good thing since it is a legacy of the French Revolution!

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  3. Andrew – I know I’ll probably get lit up here for saying this (and maybe this audience isn’t the right one to have this conversation with anyway), but I do wonder how this single-minded focus on the politics of sexuality squares with our obvious need to have a better relationship as evangelicals with the gay community. I realize it’s easy to say “Well, this is a political decision that doesn’t impact my relationship with the gay dude living next door.” But I don’t think that neighbor would feel that way.

    On a very basic level we’re saying, “I refuse to, in any way, identify with the gay community.” I mean, we won’t even attend a conference where a gay group has a booth? Wow. And I know the reasoning – their presence shows that conference is not truly committed to the same conservative ideals you are. But at what point does our calling as Christians (and, therefore, our calling to love everyone) supersede our calling as political conservatives?

    Or, to put it another way, how do you love your gay and lesbian neighbors while making these sorts of causes your primary calling card in the public square?

    Example: I have a friend in a conservative denomination who just finished a process in which it was determined whether or not his beliefs were acceptable within our denomination. The entire trial was a charade and those antagonistic to him were absolutely beastly toward him – questioning his motives, accusing him of serious sin, and generally making his life absolutely miserable. And yet when one of my friend’s defenders asked his prosecutors how they could reconcile their behavior toward my friend with their command to love him, they said “I do love him. I’m showing him his error, that’s love.” My response: Such behavior is only loving if it happens within the context of an already-established relationship of trust, acceptance, and mutual affection. My friend’s antagonist didn’t have that with him so to my friend it looked more like an enemy whose sole goal was to attack him. Love was nowhere to be found. If we say we love the gay community and show it by behavior like what you’re affirming above, I think we’re no better than my friend’s antagonist, blindly insisting “we love the gay community!” all the while doing everything in our power to wound them and insult their dignity as human beings.

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  4. Jake,

    Good thoughts and an even better question.

    You stated: “On a very basic level we’re saying, “I refuse to, in any way, identify with the gay community.” I mean, we won’t even attend a conference where a gay group has a booth? Wow. And I know the reasoning – their presence shows that conference is not truly committed to the same conservative ideals you are. But at what point does our calling as Christians (and, therefore, our calling to love everyone) supersede our calling as political conservatives?”

    This is THE question. I completely agree. I, for one, would not skip the event out of protest (as my post hopefully made clear). I think APP is missing the point by protesting by absence.

    We are called to love our neighbor, which is why I would attend this event under the pretenses you stated. I cannot speak for APP on whether their refusal to attend this event arises out of Christian conviction or political conviction. If its for the former, not good. If its for the latter, I’m okay with that. Did you get a chance to read the letter they wrote? They did not argue as Christians, but as conservatives. There’s a distinction to be made here, though they certainly bleed together.

    Does that make sense? I really think I’m in agreement with you.

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  5. >> I’m showing him his error, that’s love.” My response: Such behavior is only loving if it happens within the context of an already-established relationship of trust, acceptance, and mutual affection.

    This is not a correct definition of love, but rather a feel-good tv variety. You can love someone that hates you, and love doesn’t always feel good to receive. Love is something different than mutual reciprocity. C. S. Lewis (according to Gilbert Meilender’s PhD thesis on him) held that love of a person was wishing his good, and involves self-sacrifice. I think that is right.

    It is sad that your friend was treated so poorly, but it remains true itself that pointing out error is not unloving -rather thinking and acting unloving is unloving. They could accept his views and himself in many other ways and still act unloving. Dallas Willard gave the best expression to this I have ever heard in a Q and A after his lecture on “The Loss of Moral Knowledge”. In other words, the unloving problem is one of application. Redefining love to suit or wants isn’t a good idea.

    Likewise a group could boycott out of love, and they could go out of love. Politics can’t be reduced entirely to personal relationships. Politics has goals that are at least partly independent of personal relationship. That was the great innovation of the 70’s expression “the personal is political”. It broke down the necessarily impersonal aspects of politics, which signified the politicization of everything. We are living with the mess of this now. So arguing that the boycott was wrong is perfectly fine, but arguing that we “wound them and insult their dignity as human beings” ipso facto by discriminating for church membership (certainly not church attendance), marriage, or political organizations isn’t helpful. Because it is the same error that equates “discriminating” in this way against homosexuals with things such as racism. For example the sin of racism *is* ipso facto to insult human dignity. There are things that contradict love ipso facto, quite obviously. Is discriminating against them by political exclusion one of them? No, it isn’t. It is just the “gay discrimination is morally equivalent to racism” argument.

    Sometimes loving someone involves being willing to incur their disapproval, and in these cases the impulse to do what they think will help them but will in fact harm them has to be resisted. Love is not approval. Love often involves unpleasant feelings as those we love resent us. Even when giving to the poor they often resent us for it. Willing someone’s good and them having warm fuzzy feelings don’t always coincide.

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  6. BTW, I forgot to say I was not taking a position on the CPAC boycott. I just don’t know enough about it to say.

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  7. By simply refusing to attend the convention, APP is missing an important opportunity to engage the apparent conflict now arising between social conservatives and an ever-softening moderate Right. I would suggest that, in addition to penning a different and similarly strong worded letter, APP project themselves as the standard bearer for an upset, silent majority.

    Perhaps we grew lazy with eight years of a social conservative in the presidency…

    To be honest, I am ambivalent about GOProud’s involvement at CPAC. I agree with all the points made above but it is one of those situations where I don’t know that I have to have an opinion.

    That said, I like your quote I put in this comment because I think this is where the culture war has gotten out of hand: demonizing and stigmatizing the opposition, hit them with a billy club or strong arm them out of the debate and then run for the hills to preach to the choir.

    Could I use another metaphor? ::: laugh :::

    I actually had a 3 hour dinner with a GOProud member and it was one of the most intellectually stretching conversations I have had. I was very surprised at some of his answers and views. And I think he was surprised that I didn’t throw holy water on him before sitting down to dinner :).

    To be clear, I am not knocking the letter mentioned in this post or any viewpoints against GOProud’s participation. My focus, which is no better or worse than others, is on the person and not policy.

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  8. Stengthening the institutions of marriage and family in civil society by allowing more people to enter into stable, legally-recognized relationships is clearly at odds with conservative values.

    In the APP letter, the magic word ‘conjugal’ is used to denote an essential characteristic of the union required for two people to be married but it’s really a circular definition because conjugal is legally defined as ‘relating to marriage.’ Maintaining George’s innuendo, people get conjugal in different ways and the definition does not require that procreation result from these other forms of coupling.

    @Mark
    You mention racism as a sin but many of those good Christians who upheld a racist system of apartheid in America were ‘willing someone’s good’, namely Black Americans. It was against the natural order to consider Blacks and Whites equally human so it was thought best to keep the two groups separate. I’m guessing you believe that people are not born LGBT, which is why you discount the equivalence of racial and LGBT discrimination. So we’re at a dead end in our discussion of how discrimination against LGBT individuals and groups should be treated.

    @Andrew
    Out of curiosity, what ‘more drastic paths’ did you have in mind for them to consider? Or how would you have made the content of their letter more forceful?

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  9. >> In the APP letter, the magic word ‘conjugal’ is used to denote an essential characteristic of the union required for two people to be married but it’s really a circular definition because conjugal is legally defined as ‘relating to marriage.’ Maintaining George’s innuendo, people get conjugal in different ways and the definition does not require that procreation result from these other forms of coupling.

    If you think you can tossing out “circularity” is a good counterargument, then you don’t understand George.

    >> You mention racism as a sin but many of those good Christians who upheld a racist system of apartheid in America were ‘willing someone’s good’, namely Black Americans. It was against the natural order to consider Blacks and Whites equally human so it was thought best to keep the two groups separate.

    I know all about what some Christians said about slavery, I also know that the ones that said it was indeed a sin were always loudly present and annoying, and eventually put down “the slave power” with the force of arms. If I, as a “good Christian”, interpret the Bible as allowing bank-robbing does that mean others can consider this true, or should they consider me wrong? Do you really want to judge something by its misuse? You shouldn’t.

    >> I’m guessing you believe that people are not born LGBT, which is why you discount the equivalence of racial and LGBT discrimination. So we’re at a dead end in our discussion of how discrimination against LGBT individuals and groups should be treated.

    Correct. It isn’t genetic, and neither is alcoholism for that matter despite what the AMA may say. Which isn’t to say there are no environmental factors outside of one’s control that can contribute -I’m sure there are. I’m baffled that you say “we’re at a dead end in our discussion” if I don’t believe it is genetic. Can you not discuss the justification for your view that it genetic? Or do you think you are justified in assuming the truth of this without giving reasons?

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  10. I did have an earlier discussion with Mr. Anderson and others about Robert George’s thoughts on the subject in the comment thread of What Marriage is For: Robert George’s Latest in the Ongoing Conversation but, no, you are correct in your guess that I am not that familiar with George. Show me the way out of the circularity of his use of the term ‘conjugal’ in that quote, I would honestly appreciate that.

    Slavery is allowed in the Bible (and never repudiated, that I know of) so it would not be misuse to use the Bible to defend that horrible institution. But I was referring to discrimination against Blacks after slavery was formally abolished in exploring the parallel between racial and LGBT discrimination that Mark dismissed. But, if it is simply a choice (it’s not), I cannot see how we might discuss the issue, unless I convince you that it is genetic, which you believe it is not.

    To that point, I do have enough LGBT friends whose lives would be much easier if they could just decide they were not LGBT. Are they not as God made them? There is an interplay between nature and nurture so genes do play a role. If not, how do so many straight parents raise LGBT kids?

    I apologize for my apparent trollishness and, to be honest, I almost didn’t comment as I could tell we didn’t really share enough common ground for a discussion. But I would love for you to engage with my attempts to clarify our areas of disagreement. That’s probably as close as we can get to a reasonable discussion.

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  11. @ prufrock:

    First, I don’t think you were being trollish at all. I have to say I’m sorry for the tone in response to your “dead end” comment. You may be right that we don’t have too much common ground, at any rate that often happens in discussions of this sort and there is no harm in simply saying so.

    But as regards the circularity, circularities can’t rest on words. Anyone using the word “conjugal” also has some view or another on what marriage is. His view does not rest on the word “conjugal” in doing so or make his argument circular. Other things might, but you’d need to say what they are. Sorry, I don’t have time to hunt up your previous comments, and I’m may not be the one to defend George. Not because I don’t think Natural Law is true or anything, it’s just that I haven’t had as much interest in that to this point as other things, and if Matthew didn’t persuade you on this issue I doubt I’d be able to either.

    >> Slavery is allowed in the Bible (and never repudiated, that I know of) so it would not be misuse to use the Bible to defend that horrible institution. But I was referring to discrimination against Blacks after slavery was formally abolished in exploring the parallel between racial and LGBT discrimination that Mark dismissed. But, if it is simply a choice (it’s not), I cannot see how we might discuss the issue, unless I convince you that it is genetic, which you believe it is not.

    It is a misuse to use the Bible to defend slavery, and it is also a misuse to use that misuse to argue as you are. I disagree that the Bible affirms slavery, if it doesn’t repudiate it. The Bible does not repudiate many things because it isn’t a list of things to repudiate. There is an infinite list of things to repudiate. Earnest American Abolitionists who hated the institution, who advocated immediate abolition, and were in the process of giving their and their family members lives to destroy it told the slaves to “obey their masters” much in the terms that Paul did. Why? Because to fight against it as individuals was suicide. Saying “obey your masters (for now) is no evidence that slavery is right. It means one thinks it is the most prudent step at a given moment. This is in no way an endorsement.

    >> To that point, I do have enough LGBT friends whose lives would be much easier if they could just decide they were not LGBT. Are they not as God made them? There is an interplay between nature and nurture so genes do play a role.

    You can believe what you want, but there is simply no evidence it is genetic. If you are convinced that genes “play a role” can you tell me if there is any behavior that genes don’t play a role in? The culture is such that many would also find their lives much more difficult by declaring themselves straight. Why is surgery for deafness opposed so strenuously by the deaf? Because it has its own language, social infrastructure, and own way of living. There are costs in the LGBT declaring themselves straight today that you don’t acknowledge.

    >> If not, how do so many straight parents raise LGBT kids?

    Now this is question begging -circular in your terms. You assume the truth of your argument that it is genetic by “LGBT kids”. Other points:

    a) Wouldn’t the fact that straight parents raise people who later declare themselves LGBT be more plausible on the view that it is not genetic?

    b) If it were genetic, wouldn’t the delivery doctor be able to declare them LGBT? Wouldn’t there be a test even before birth, or a gene isolated in the parents? No disrespect, but I’m sure you’ll say the link just hasn’t been discovered yet but soon will be. If that is the assumption then I guess the question is what other behaviors have genetic basis? Or is homosexuality unique?

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  12. Based on my understanding of George’s thoughts on marriage, I understand that ‘conjugal’ is a deliberate word choice that encapsulates his entire argument about the nature and function of marriage, which is based on his definition of the term. As a question of definition, I don’t see that the legal definition necessarily excludes other than heterosexual marriages so, if I were to use the term, I would mean something else.

    So, I’ll take a stab at how I’m understanding George’s use of the term as circular: It’s only marriage if it’s conjugal; it’s only conjugal if it’s heterosexual; only heterosexuals can ‘get conjugal’ (have potentially procreative sex); so, only heterosexuals can be married. Maybe that makes no sense.

    On slavery, I can see how the Bible is descriptive but, on related ethical questions, it is prescriptive. Given the prescriptions it gives for slaves and slave owners, I would say that the Bible offers a tacit endorsement of it in that it is treated as a legitimate institution. But I was talking about the ‘separate but equal’ days of Jim Crow and how well-meaning people (many of whom were Christians) thought the races should be separate for their own good. And you are using a similar rationale to the denial of certain rights to LGBT individuals and claiming it is for their good that they are not allowed to be treated equally.

    Think of a kid who is facing the difficult choice of ‘coming out’ to his/her family. Assuming they were raised by heterosexual parents, they are acculturated to heterosexuality yet they feel that they do not belong to it. The kid wouldn’t have to declare their ‘straightness’ as that is assumed. For this kid, the influence of culture would be the opposite of what you stated but I understand your point as it relates to someone who is openly gay but then ‘decides’ (as you would say) to “not be gay.”

    Interesting, I was thinking that would demonstrate the stronger effect of nature (genes) over nurture (environment) when LGBT kids are raised in heterosexual families. The influence of genetics is expressed in probabilities so a doctor can’t really declare that someone is LGBT.

    Scientific research has identified biological, neurological, and physiological differences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals so there is something more fundamental than ‘behavior’ that could be linked to genetics.

    I think our areas of disagreement are sufficiently clarified and, to your main point, I agree that engagement is preferable to boycott. But only if both sides can act in good faith.

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  13. Actually, George’s use of the term ‘conjugal marriage’ is more redundant than circular, given his views on marriage.

    A more apt parallel can be drawn between religious discrimination and LGBT discrimination. Individuals’ religious beliefs are based on their understanding of themselves and the world. One’s choice of religion should not entail different treatment under law. The same goes for LGBT individuals whom you would assert choose to be the way they are.

    Reply

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