We have heard much recently about the negative effects of partisanship on Christianity’s public witness.  And for good reason:  the partisan mind, the peculiar disposition to distrust another person’s arguments simply because of their source, is genuinely inhibitive of effective public discourse.

Yet political partisanship is only one form of a broader and more pervasive team mentality, a mentality that can creates genuine social pressure to publicly conform to the party line.  Regardless of the issue or area that brings people together, the team mentality often raises the cost for public disagreement by tacitly associating it with disloyalty.  Private dissension may be fine, but as divided movements are necessarily impotent, there is a premium on maintaining the appearance of unity.

Even if teams could be avoided—and I’m not sure they can—I understand well why people sign on. After all, they provide real benefits to those who play nicely, particularly for people in the early stages of their careers.  It’s alluring precisely because it seems so obvious:  most people these days don’t link to their critics and they don’t invite them to speak at their conferences.  And if you’re young and want to gain a little influence, the best way to do it is to find your team and then start playing along.

The real hidden cost, though, of the team mentality is the possibility of genuine friendship, friendship that isn’t oriented toward the advancement of another’s career or the selling of another’s books, but rather toward the pursuit of truth and the formation of goodness and beauty in the others’ soul.  By making public disagreement a sign of disloyalty, friendship is neutered by restricting genuine inquiry to only the private sphere—even if a meaningful distinction between the two can ultimately be maintained.  Within a world dominated by team play, friends won’t publicly criticize friends unless the situation is desperate.

This is the world that I now live in, and I will confess that I am not comfortable in it, as it goes against my intellectual training.  “Opposition is true friendship,” William Blake said, and whatever we make of him, on that he had something right.  The joy of learning to discuss well is that you eventually realize that the disagreements, public within the classroom as they are, are conducive to genuine friendship.  The notion that critique, private or public, is a threat to genuine friendship is a sign that friendship is diseased, not that it’s healthy.

The best public model of this in the past 100 years is probably G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, who maintained what a genuine friendship despite spirited disagreements in print and in person.  (In fact, it was the exhaustion of their public disagreements that led to less frequent contact, a development that seemed to sadden them both.)  One gets the sense that their mutual respect was rooted in the acknowledgment that the truth mattered too much to allow their friendship to get in the way.  It’s speculative, but I sometimes wonder whether our diminished optimism about knowing the truth has eroded our ability to have vibrant public disagreements as well.

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All that is, I’m afraid, setup for this:  the Family Research Council has given an award to a North Carolina pastor, Ron Baity, for his work on North Carolina’s Amendment One.  The problem?  Baity has described gays and lesbians in ways that go beyond distasteful to the repugnant.  (Kirsten Powers has the sordid details, and see also my friend Randy Thomas’ blog).

I suspect I know how something like this happens:  the folks at FRC know Baity from his past involvement with their efforts, but don’t bother listening to his sermons or following closely how he speaks about such things.  On the whole, he does their sort of work well—so they hand out the award, only to have all this come out sometime after the fact.

 

Logo of the Family Research Council.

Logo of the Family Research Council. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And yet there’s no reason not to rescind the reward—unless, of course, they’re worried about publicly discrediting someone who has otherwise been a good role player on the team (to which I say, he has already discredited himself).  I don’t know whether that’s their reasoning, but I do know what I’ve seen of this world.  It’s difficult to say that you were wrong, especially when it entails that you think someone else on the team was as well.  And it’s even harder when it was your intellectual foes who brought the matter to your attention in the first place.

 

Either way, the team mentality stands in the way of the earnest and sincere desire to be faithful to the truth.  Regardless of what sort of good work Baity has done, the sort of statements that he made undermine his credibility as a representative not simply of marriage and family values, but also as a witness to the gospel.  It is one thing to object to homosexuality:  it is another to do so while shifting the tone of our voice away from the good news.  Baity not merely shifted his tone:  he began singing in an entirely different register.

In short, we need organizations like the Family Research Council to lead, rather than re-trench to defend their constituency, regardless of the cost.  They can’t police what all of the pastors will say:  but they can decide not to incentivize problematic approaches by more judiciously handing out awards and, in this case, by taking one back.

I have friends at the Family Research Council.  Friends, that is, which means the sort of people who I would rather publicly and spiritedly disagree with about matters of fundamental importance than remain silent and stay on the team.  My hope is to see the good formed within the Family Research Council, to see its credibility as ambassador for marriages and families enhanced and not diminished.  Which is why I hope, as a friend and not a teammate, that they will rescind Ron Baity’s award.

Update:  The Family Research Council has responded to The Daily Beast in an email to their network, an email which I post in its entirety below.  The short version is that they place three of the claims in broader context–though I don’t see what the broader context has to do with the claim that gays and lesbians are worse than maggots.

But here’s the part that I think is interesting:

It is important that as pastors and Christian leaders be very careful and thoughtful about the words we use, especially when it comes to emotionally charged issues like homosexuality. We must speak out of a redemptive heart, meaning we speak the truth desiring the hearers come to the truth. But we can never back away from the truth simply because there might be those who reject, mock and ridicule the message and/or the messenger.

Dr. Baity, like the Watchmen before him, was not recognized with the Watchmen Award based upon his misstatements. He was given the award for his example of standing for the truth and for his 42 years in the ministry that has seen hundreds come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, including those who had been a part of the homosexual lifestyle. I don’t agree with Dr. Baity’s choice of words or analogies in some cases….

I can’t speak for other Christian ministries, but I can speak for this one. As long as I am at FRC, no pastor in America who stands for biblical truth, and attempts to do so in a Christ like manner, will stand alone, or be abandoned when they are attacked.

As I said in my post, I understand the rationale.  And I understand the imperative to not back away from the truth.  In fact, my entire critique is built on that premise.  But framing FRC’s friendly critics strikes me as genuinely problematic.  I’ve not stood for truth for 42 years, but I have eight years of arguing for and supporting traditional marriages in various ways here at Mere-O, not to mention my efforts in my local church.  I’ve published a book that examines the question of the body more broadly, in which I attempted a careful and constructive defense of a traditional reading of Scripture on the question of homosexuality.  I’m not backing away from anything in suggesting that the award should be rescinded:  if anything, I’m making my case because I care for the truth and want it to be heard and heard effectively.

And because Pastor Baity’s remarks (most of which are uncommented on by FRC) are simply wrong:  it is true that we once criminalized homosexuality.  I don’t know, however, of a single traditional marriage advocate who views that period nostalgically, like Pastor Baity seems to.

That said, Perkins is right that pastors who serve faithfully should not be abandoned.  But I can’t see how rescinding an award is in any case “abandonment.”  It would simply be the acknowledgment that how Pastor Baity spoke was wrong, and that in this world people who speak wrongly in that sort of way should not be handed awards.

There is something to the idea that stating the truth about homosexuality will inevitably offend some people, though.  I’ve encountered this myself.  It is very difficult to state the Christian position in such a way that communicates a tone that it is the good news.  But that is the standard to which we are called, that and no other.  The fact of offense can never become, must never become, a justification for the failure of our “No” to the sinfulness of the world to be dominated by the more beautiful, enduring, and powerful “yes and amen” of the gospel.

I will also say this:  there is something to maintaining a good reputation with outsiders, and if you choose to broadcast your sermons to the world, the range of “outsiders” might just include the whole world.  Pastors these days must preach to be taken out of context, which should not induce fear, but rather remind them of the weighty burden and joyous opportunity to ensure that every word of truth is accompanied by the sounds of grace.

Had Pastor Baity said that he was wrong, I might feel differently about the whole thing.  Indeed, it would be a candid admission, of the sort that we hear far too few of among our evangelical leadership.  I’m not for wallowing, generally, but when someone’s wrongs go public I’m all for acknowledgment.  And this seems like one of those times.  But he did not.

And so I still think that FRC should rescind the award, with the added qualification that if such a move is tantamount to abandonment, then social conservatives are in more trouble than we realize.  These are not matters for defending players on the team:  an award treats someone as exemplary, as a model to be followed.  And the argument that Baity has been mischaracterized and unfairly attacked (as well as engaging in a little “poisoning the well” against the sources that reported it) is simply corrosive to FRC’s credibility.  Not to mention that the strategy deepens the sense of aggrievement among those who share Baity’s position, only without cause.  That makes it more likely in the future that when such statements come out and are fairly interpreted that the case will be that much hard to make.

So there you have it.  I’ll have done.  The full statement is below:

Dear [name],

In the last eight years, voters in 30 states have passed constitutional amendments defending the natural and biblical definition of marriage. In every one of those states, including left-leaning states like California, Wisconsin and Michigan, the efforts were facilitated, if not lead by pastors and their churches. There is nothing more troubling to those who are pushing radical secularism on America than pastors who refuse to be silent because these pastors are the key to transforming America.

This is the very reason FRC is championing pastors. With almost 16,000 active pastors and churches in our Watchmen on the Wall network we are seeing the impact in community after community where pastors are standing for biblical truth and showing Christian love. We are also seeing an increase in the attacks on pastors and churches by homosexual activists and others seeking to silence those who dare say there is still right and there is still wrong, and as a nation, we should choose what is right. Their method of silencing is through intimidation and marginalization.

This effort to marginalize has unfortunately been aided by a few misguided pastors who intentionally make outlandish and foolish comments in the pursuit of attention. Their self-serving comments are then used for cover to twist and misrepresent other pastors who are speaking the truth and seeking to speak it in love.

For the last 8 years at our annual Watchmen on the Wall briefing we have recognized one pastor for displaying the self-sacrifice and courage required to be a true Watchmen. Past recipients have included Dr. Alec Rolland, Dr. Lawrence White, Pastor Bob Emrich, Pastor Jack Hibbs, Dr. Jim Garlow, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Dr. Henry Blackaby. This year the award was given to Dr. Ron Baity.

Dr. Baity is a pastor in North Carolina who has rallied Christians in his state to defend public prayers in the name of Jesus and for nearly a decade worked tirelessly with other pastors and conservative policy makers to get a marriage amendment through the state legislature and onto the ballot. The tenacity of Dr. Baity and the other leaders paid off when North Carolina became the 30th state to amend their constitution protecting marriage (Additionally, Hawaii allows their legislature to decide). That’s not the end of the story.

Dr. Baity, like many of the other pastors, has been attacked, threatened and maligned for his stand. The latest attack is a Daily Beast article, which cites comments of Dr. Baity’s, some of which were embellished and lifted out of context, from a pro-homosexual blog. I should note the same site does the same with statements that I have made.

The weekend after presenting Dr. Baity with the Watchmen Award I received an email from a ministry leader quoting one of the homosexual blogs posts and demanding that FRC rescind the award to Dr. Baity. The statements, as they appeared, were concerning, but realizing the source and knowing Dr. Baity, we sought more information, including the text of his sermons from which the quotes/statements were lifted. Before our offices reopened this self-described Christian ministry sent out a press release publicly attacking FRC and Dr. Baity.

Here are examples of how Dr. Baity’s statements were cast into the worst possible light in the blog:

Blog: Claims gay people are not “normal”

Dr. Baity actually said: “God says that two men that come together in a so-called Civil Union, or domestic partnership, or so-called ‘marriage,’ God said that is strange flesh. It is not normal. I want you to understand something, it’s not normal for two men to want to spend all their time together, that’s not normal. The normal thing is what the Bible says, that a man shall leave his parents, and be joined unto his wife.”

Blog: Claims accepting gay people would make society “more filthy”

Dr. Baity actually said:”…Spiritual drought, not only in our state, but there’s a spiritual drought in this country, and uh, it’s disturbing. But allowing something that God calls an abomination to come on board, and utterly confound the marriage concept as established by God is totally unacceptable, and we must come along and hold up a standard and say ‘look, our house is not as clean as it ought to be, but we don’t want to make it more filthy by accepting something that God says is wrong.'”

Blog: Implies that gay people are worse than maggots

After describing a litany of sex acts promoted in The Little Black Book – Queer in the 21st Century, Dr. Baity commented: “I can’t believe the perverseness of two men or two women wanting to slobber over each other in that kind of relationship. That’s worse than sick. I don’t even think maggots would do that.”

It is important that as pastors and Christian leaders be very careful and thoughtful about the words we use, especially when it comes to emotionally charged issues like homosexuality. We must speak out of a redemptive heart, meaning we speak the truth desiring the hearers come to the truth. But we can never back away from the truth simply because there might be those who reject, mock and ridicule the message and/or the messenger.

Dr. Baity, like the Watchmen before him, was not recognized with the Watchmen Award based upon his misstatements. He was given the award for his example of standing for the truth and for his 42 years in the ministry that has seen hundreds come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, including those who had been a part of the homosexual lifestyle. I don’t agree with Dr. Baity’s choice of words or analogies in some cases. I would have chosen my words more carefully, and Dr. Baity has indicated as such:

“I find it a sad thing that my words against homosexuality have been taken out of context and so terribly misrepresented. I cannot apologize for preaching what the Word of God clearly teaches (i.e., homosexual behavior is a sin).

“If it were possible for me to rephrase my words to be in a manner in which the truth would not have been so easily misconstrued, I would do so. I apologize for any of my words that might have distracted from God’s Word. However, truth in any format often causes offense.

“Going forward, I will continue to stand for Biblical truth and will continue to strive to communicate these truths with His love.”

I can’t speak for other Christian ministries, but I can speak for this one. As long as I am at FRC, no pastor in America who stands for biblical truth, and attempts to do so in a Christ like manner, will stand alone, or be abandoned when they are attacked.

Standing (Eph. 6:13),

 

Tony Perkins
President
Family Research Council

 

 

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.