Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


Leave a comment

Like Honey for Flies: A Lesson from Derek Black

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” ―1 Corinthians 13: 1, 11-13

a-softer-world_hammerhead-733-rousseau

There was something intimately familiar to me in the story, as conveyed by reporter Eli Saslow in The Washington Post, of reconstructed white nationalist Derek Black. To start with the low-hanging fruit: we share a name, were both born in the same year to Southern parents, have familial ties to the same region of the same state, and we’ve both spent a significant chunk of our childhoods there. As luck would have it, I even briefly considered applying to the New College of Florida, and had I done so, I might have actually met him or his friends. We have also, though at very different times in our lives and for very different reasons, admired and opposed Barack Obama.

You might be wondering why I’m going through the exercise of comparing bits of my backstory to that of a young former star of white nationalism—the cancerous parasitism in the Republican polity that fed the rise of Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, I can’t relate to the vicious racism of Black’s past and find the white nationalist community he renounced to be nigh unspeakably repugnant. But in that other Floridian expat’s story of redemption, I do find something that hits close to him—and it might well be the root of the answers to the late affliction that is this election cycle.

When the students of New College discovered Black’s identity as a David Duke acolyte, many understandably wanted nothing to do with him. But where others saw the toxic instantiation of a wicked concept to shun, some inspired souls saw an opportunity to win a convert from racism to reconciliation.

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”[…]

Matthew Stevenson had started hosting weekly Shabbat dinners at his campus apartment shortly after enrolling in New College in 2010. He was the only Orthodox Jew at a school with little Jewish infrastructure, so he began cooking for a small group of students at his apartment each Friday night. Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew. Now, in the fall of 2011, Matthew invited Derek to join them.[…]

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

Thus began an unlikely friendship between a young white nationalist and a young Orthodox Jew and his multi-ethnic, interfaith Gentile friends over a weekly Jewish dinner. In the course of ongoing conversations that spanned months of dinners, emails, and meetups at local bars, Black’s white nationalism gradually softened and then succumbed completely to the patience, empathy, and charity of this diverse set of friends. Less than two years after Stevenson launched his defeat-racism-over-Shabbat campaign, Black wrote to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group he once considered an “enemy,” to renounce and apologize for the entire worldview he was born and bred into and had championed publicly for half his life.

Score one for the angels.

As a black man (and black conservative), I’ve encountered my share of racists and racism. As a gay man (and gay conservative), my share of homophobia and anti-LGBT bigotry. As a middle-class kid in the Ivy League, my share of classism. As a Southerner in the Northeast, my share of toxic parochialism. Sometimes, I handled these situations rather poorly (as in the umpteenth time a white progressive resorted to violent hysterics over a substantive disagreement about racism), not that most would begrudge me that intemperance. Often, though, I try for something like the Matthew Stevenson approach.

One December, some years back, I was home from Yale for winter break and went to a backyard house party on a mild Virginia night. A good chunk of the crowd were rednecks or had a similar middle-American vibe, as was normal in my youth but had become remarkable, in an anthropological way, after years of Ivy League immersion. The handful of attendees who were friends from my high school knew (and didn’t care) that I was gay, but my code-switching “mannerisms” are such that for the majority of partygoers the thought that I was queerer than a $3 bill seemed never to occur to them.

As often happens (to me) in such situations, more than a few spoke easily and naturally to and around me in a way most probably would not in “mixed company.” In the beginning, this meant an endless flow of casual homophobia.

“They were hanging with some queer.”

“He drinks like a fag.”

“That’s so gay, nigga.”

“If some faggot were to touch me, I’d…”

It took me aback. Not because it was unfamiliar—I had grown up with such people and such language—but because I had somehow, without realizing, forgotten how pervasive this kind of thinking was and how much I must have once been naturally part of it.

As I don’t have the luxury of coming from a world where there’s much to be gained by overt indignation over bigotry, I rarely start direct confrontations over these incidents. Such an approach, in my experience, has the tendency to produce more heat than light, to the detriment of progress or a good time. And life is too short to be an empty, eristic symbol of perpetual grievance.

So instead of conveying offense at the partygoers’ offensiveness, I bracketed it and guided the conversations elsewhere. I got to know these ostensible bigots and let them get to know me. It is one of the great blessings of a military upbringing that one learns well how to make friends often and quickly. It wasn’t long before the fact of my sexuality meandered through these easygoing chats, but by then my new friends took it in stride. Most were surprised, some guys were curious, several girls were excited, but nobody was any longer hostile. What had been threateningly queer and ignominious had become thoroughly friendly and unremarkable.

I have lived through more of this genre of scenes than I could ever hope to recall. Some involved homophobia, others racism or parochialism. Some take weeks, if not years, to reach harvestable fruition. In the most uplifting of them, things even come full circle and some erstwhile purveyor of casual ugliness will call out a friend for the kind of misbehavior that would make somebody like me feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. Not every story has such a happy ending through all the pain, but a lot of them do, and the world is thus made a little better. And some of these people are still dear friends of mine.

I don’t think I’ve ever had substantive dealings with anybody quite as dramatically and publicly odious as Derek Black, but I would like to think that if I were friends with Matthew Stevenson in Sarasota between 2011 and 2013, I would have gone to those Shabbat dinners and contributed to the transformative power of empathy and charity. Whether a Christian, a Jew, or a secular humanist, this would seem a humanitarian duty to a brother in desperate need of healing. I’m glad Black was so helped, and I hope his friends were likewise ennobled by the painstaking project of redeeming him.

It’s something of a truism to say that much of bigotry is ignorance, but it tends to be true. The people backing anti-LGBT legislation, rambling about “white genocide,” fretting about black criminality, reading hatred into anything conservative, or trafficking in all manner of caricatures and stereotypes often would think differently, if only a little at first, if they had sufficient opportunity to do so. Many wouldn’t necessarily seek out such opportunities (or see the need to) but would—as my, Stevenson’s, and Black’s experiences show—be receptive to new ideas if they came with empathy and the charity it yields.

If we would want somebody to rescue us when we needed saving, it is a cruel hypocrisy to dismiss or condemn the curiosity and frustration of a lost soul who is willing to hear us out. This reality will apply even to Trump supporters, from the sociopolitical abyss of the white working class to the well-meaning despair of Republicans who yearned for better, when this election is over. If the American project is to survive this election, the antagonists of Clinton, Trump, and the protest-voters will have to find at least half the charity for their political opponents that Stevenson’s Shabbat group managed for an avowed white nationalist.

It all gets easier, of course, when we remember that the people around us, no matter how broken or misaligned, are still people we can recognize and relate to. I’ve written about my own sympathy for the rightly routed skeptics of LGBT equality, and, ironically, Derek Black’s early post-apostasy encounter with his father highlighted something that every LGBT person or straight ally ought to recognize on some visceral level:

Derek still had his dry sense of humor. He still made smart observations about politics and history. “Same old Derek,” Don concluded, after a few hours, and that fact surprised him. His grief had been so profound that he’d expected some physical manifestation of the loss. Instead, he found himself forgetting for several minutes at a time that Derek was now “living on the other side.”

The people we think we don’t understand—or couldn’t understand us—because of differences in sexuality, politics, race, class, heritage, “lifestyle choices,” or other distinctions, are almost always people we could know quite well if we remembered that we’ve known and loved them or people like them all along. That kind of authentic realization and sincere engagement with the humanity of difficult, troubled people is in many ways antithetical to the toxic cultural trends behind “safe spaces” or navel-gazing protests that trigger hostility and reinforce outrage rather than build foundations for constructive reckoning with the variety of flaws in how we all approach the world.

Matthew Stevenson showed his peers that Derek Black isn’t a strange, foreign animal; he’s the quiet kid in class, or the guy who smiles when you pass him in the hallway. He’s the boy next door, and just like our other neighbors, he can be influenced, for good and ill, by how people choose to engage or repel him. If the dutiful love of his friends can so thoroughly disabuse him of the foundational views he was reared to champion, imagine what all could be possible if more of us were willing to meet people where and as they are, as though we actually gave a damn.

About a decade or so ago, when I was a junior in high school, my IB English teacher assigned the class the English translation of Mexican writer Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chococlate. That magical realist tale of star-crossed lovers and tragic misunderstandings held a few gems, among them a metaphor the protagonist heard from her grandmother:

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us, but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”

There are, perhaps, amazing truths we could get others to see—or clarifying enlightenment we could learn from those around us—if we believed, in some genuine sense, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and our neighbors are more like us—and more valuable to us—than we sometimes care to admit.

 


1 Comment

Pride and Terrorism: Reflections on Orlando

“People like me are constantly subjected to immense violence. I expect violence walking alone late at night… I expect random acts of hate violence on the street. [But] I do not expect violence when I am dancing at an LGBTQ club…” –Jacob Tobia

Sunday morning, after news of the Orlando terrorist attack broke, I received a text message from an old friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. A Jewish UChicago Law graduate (and passionate Duke alumnus) from suburban New York, he is a stalwart #NeverTrump conservative who interned for Utah Senator Mike Lee and campaigned mightily for the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from start to finish. Like both senators, this friend is socially conservative to a fault, and we have sparred often and bitterly through the years over gay rights, from the Obergefell decision to the various iterations of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the circumstances in which my future husband and I should be able to adopt kids.

Some might wonder how I would have the patience for such a friendship, and I don’t have an easy answer to that question for the truly incredulous. But some people are worth the long project of winning their hearts bit by bit, even through the inexorable pain of the many potholes and snares along the way.

His text read: “Just want you to know that as I wake up to this terrible news in the midst of Pride week, that I am thinking of you. That is all. Hope you are well, otherwise.”

It was a welcome surprise, considering.

As the unexpected thoughtfulness of that gesture has lingered, it’s been surreal to see the furious amalgam of LGBT allies—from the ACLU to a vast network on social media—blaming Christian opponents of gay rights, among others, for the murderous evil of a radicalized adherent to the superlative homophobia of Islamism. Most social conservatives, like just about everyone else, recoiled in horror and sadness from the undisputed evil of anti-gay terrorism. Accordingly, many of them, like my Jewish UChicago Law friend, were dumbfounded and insulted to be public targets of blame for villains they revile engaging in conduct they abhor.

I can understand—or at least maybe grasp—the underlying sentiments that animate some of this antagonism that seems as unintelligible to its recipients as it is painfully obvious to its progenitors. The simplest but perhaps most important thing to say to baffled social conservatives to explain the invective against them in the wake of Orlando is that religious terrorism against LGBT Americans did not begin in Orlando.

The more consistent LGBT critics of social conservatives perceive a culture that produced the attack on Pulse in the homophobic fanaticism of both conservative Christianity and Islam. A friend of a friend on Facebook, for example, sees the roots of the potentially closeted terrorist’s violently internalized homophobia as much grounded in the toxic Islamism of Afghanistan as in the decades of anti-gay cultural hostility inflicted by American Christians.

This awareness of Christian mistreatment of gays is hardly relegated to the fringes of society—where you’ll find its unrepentant celebrants in the likes of Pastor Roger “they deserve what they got” Jimenez of California’s Verity Baptist Church (who no more represents the Christian mainstream than the shooter represented American Muslims)—but extends all the way to the leaders of the American Body of Christ. In the recent words of Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Before we go any further, I want to state clearly, lest there be any confusion, that I do not blame Christians for the horror in Orlando. Rather, I admire the staff of Chick-fil-a who went out of their way, as though in a modern-day parable, to support the victims of the tragedy at Pulse and their families. What I hope to accomplish in writing all this is something of a bridge between wholly different perspectives, so that social conservatives and LGBT allies can better understand one another—pain, grievances, and all.

Having said that, now I’ll be blunt: queers have a long, nasty history with political and cultural Christianity that far too many Christian conservatives seem unwilling or unable to appreciate. There are the kids kicked out of their own homes, expelled from institutions, inveighed against from the pulpit (don’t even get me started), bullied relentlessly into depression or even suicide; there are the adults who were tormented at workfired from jobs, kicked out of hospitals, kicked out of mallsslandered across continents, denied basic services, and scapegoated for every manner of misfortune—and were fought tooth and nail by Christian conservatives at nearly every turn for every iota of dignity and respect they managed to accrue from society or the law.

There are the people who know too well what Storm meant when she answered Senator Kelly’s question in the first X-Men movie about “normal people”: she hates them, sometimes, “because I’m afraid of them.” And they have good reason to be afraid—to hold hands in public, come out at work, or put an arm on a significant other’s shoulder during a transit ride. It’s no surprise to the LGBT community that the second-most common type of hate crime in America by far, according to the most recent FBI data, is anti-LGBT violence. (For comparison, anti-Muslim violence was less than 3 percent, and anti-Christian attacks were among the lowest of any demographic.)

And the truth is, we never really know when we go out somewhere in the world which of you will suddenly attack us for being who we are, or who you assume we are. But the thought occurs to us more often than you might think. Among other things, this is why my boyfriend and I, who were nearly victims of hate crimes in supposedly tolerant places, have concealed carry licenses and the means to defend ourselves, if it ever came to that. It’s almost why I used to feel a mercurial combination of gratitude and shame at having grown up in (and exaggerating this aspect of) a culture that discourages PDA, which in turn excused my once indomitable aversion to holding my boyfriend’s hand in public.

This is why Orlando hurts so much for gays hundreds of miles away who knew nobody inside, living or casualty.

Granted, many Christian conservatives today would not favor any of that pain, but the (ongoing) history is there. It does not help that breathtakingly few prominent Republicans even bothered to mention the LGBT nature of the Pulse massacre, even though that aspect was integral to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. Moreover, some, like The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, went so far as to dismiss vital questions about gay rights issues in wake of a transparently anti-gay attack as “an unnecessary dividing line.”

At best, this excessive discomfort with even talking about gays is appallingly ignorant and insensitive. At worst, it is emblematic of the kind of malign indifference or deep-seated hostility to the peculiar struggles of LGBT Americans that underlies (and some would say justifies) LGBT supporters’ open revulsion at and rejection of what they interpret as the crocodile tears of their enemies. As conservative journalist and LGBT ally Betsy Woodruff put it rather poignantly:

After years of supporting some of the most discriminatory and hateful legislation aimed at the LGBT community, some top Republicans finally found a way to exploit the community as it grieved the Orlando shootings.

In this vein, well-intentioned overtures to gays from some on the Right—from The Resurgent’s Dave Scharoun to evangelical darling Ted Cruz—rooted primarily in conservative opposition to violence against gay people come off as patronizing and disingenuous. It is a supremely low bar to say, in effect, “We may have viciously opposed just about every social, cultural, and political initiative that would have empowered you to pursue happiness as productive citizens—and in so doing actively worked to make your lives more miserable than they needed to be—but at least we don’t want to kill you like those people we hate over there. Why won’t you support us?”

That is not a compelling message. Especially not when aggressively LGBT-friendly candidate Hillary Clinton is laying out plans (whatever you think of their substance) to destroy the Islamic State while calling out America’s Muslim “allies” for being insufficiently committed to extirpating Islamic radicalism.

It is certainly a noteworthy point that even some of the worst anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council, which most gay rights advocates consider an anti-gay hate group, offered explicit support to the LGBT victims of Orlando (and in so doing managed somehow to convey a greater degree of sympathy than the bulk of elected Republican officials), while the worst anti-gay jurisdictions in the Middle East would make the Pulse terrorist seem tame and merciful by comparison. But we’re not in the Middle East.

Whether or not social conservatives find that interpretation of their sympathy and culture war history fair (and those honest or sufficiently self-aware will concede at least much of it is), this is how the situation looks to a great host of LGBT people and their allies for many good reasons.

In response to much of this, some social conservatives and their political allies will incline understandably toward incredulity or exasperation. They maintain sincere, principled objections to same-sex marriage and various gender identity mandates. To be sure, there are some on the Left for whom such opposition is a non-negotiable personal failure over which no social or political bridge is possible. For most others, though, there is a navigable world of fertile seeds for common ground and mutual understanding. The paths that lead to and through it are all accessible by a deceptively simple code of conduct derivative from the Golden Rule:

Act like you give a damn.

What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, if you notice a radical Islamic terrorist attacked an LGBT space to kill LGBT people, acknowledge the primacy of LGBT suffering in that tragedy. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk about the manifold ways in which America has been—and in some ways continues to be—a hostile place for gay people. See: the aforementioned point about hate crimes. If the Family Research Council and Ted Cruz can pull off a passable effort, so can you.

A real-life instance of this was a speech Marco Rubio—one of the few GOP officeholders to acknowledge the anti-gay nature of the Orlando attack—gave at Catholic University in summer 2014. Even as he reaffirmed his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, he acknowledged the monstrous but little-known history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays, and the legitimate grievances gay people have today because of such ills. There’s certainly more the Florida senator could do to better represent his LGBT constituents, but his comments represent a helpful show of what I hope is genuine good will.

If you want to get more advanced, you could spend a fraction of the resources you use to oppose same-sex marriage or other gay rights issues to, say, engage gay parents, taxpayers, and community members about particular challenges facing their families, which will exist whatever your opinions of them. You could explore—and dare I say champion—policies that might help alleviate such challenges without compromising your values.

Real-life examples of this would be then-Sen.-elect Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) announcement of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even though he would never get a chance to vote on it, or Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) surprising decision to vote for that repeal bill, with no evident political gain, because it was “the right thing to do.” There’s also the case of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who posted a lengthy and detailed explanation of his vote for an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) that reaffirmed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. The explanation even went so far as to call out Amash’s conservative allies for woefully misrepresenting the amendment’s text and effects. Etc.

But even for those social conservatives who remain skeptical of such policy reforms, the mere exercise of continually engaging LGBT people to hash out such things would almost certainly lead to a learning by osmosis of some concerns, struggles, frustrations, and hopes that go beyond politics and underlie true compassion. It’s the kind of empathetic approach that, if scaled well, would go a long way to resolving the GOP and conservative movement’s enduring difficulty with young and minority voters.

You can find a gold standard of empathy and a way forward in the cogent remarks of Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims:

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.

I cannot recommend his entire speech enough. Seriously, go read it right now. I can wait.

But if nothing else, the next time you have an occasion to ponder the fury or frustrations of LGBT people in your midst, however baffling or seemingly inscrutable, reflect on this timeless insight from Carlos Maza in the Washington Post:

Many LGBT people have spent years keeping problems — especially problems related to being LGBT — to ourselves. We have become masters of seeming fine, of convincing ourselves that we are fine, when we are not fine. Because we badly want to be fine.

There is a good chance your charming, confident, smiling gay friend feels deeply scared and unwelcome in the world.

Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now.

As it stands, too many LGBT people believe that conservative Republicans don’t care or actively despise them, and so much about the response to the Orlando attacks will reinforce that perception, to everybody’s detriment. That, in the end, is the tragedy that keeps on stealing from all of us.

We can and must do better.


3 Comments

A Ballad of Fallen Choices

“O thou man of God, there is death in the pot.” –2 Kings 4:40

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” –Genesis 50:20

"Whether they're a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?"

“Whether they’re a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?”

Long ago, in another era of acrimonious government, there was something of a moral (or at least political) consensus in America that held the willful destruction of a human life, whether developing in the womb or already bequeathed into the world, to be a terrible act. Among conservatives and a great many liberals and independents, this conviction manifested in the pro-life movement. For Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, the homage that abortion advocacy paid to life, even as the once and would-be future First Family barred a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat from that party’s convention for his pro-life views, was the now tatterdemalion campaign facade of, “Safe, Legal, and Rare.” Even Barack Obama echoed that throwback mantra as recently as 2010.

Whether 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will maintain the old formulation or condemn it with the extreme prejudice she has shown so many of her husband’s political stances remains unclear. After all, it has been absent from the Democratic Party platform since the Obama era, to the bemusement even of Democrats who consider themselves “pro-choice but not pro-abortion.” Yet it seems that pro-choice and pro-abortion activists are marching “forward” and taking public offense at the once quotidian supposition that abortions should be rare.

Whether the formerly bipartisan moral consensus among the officeholders, activists, and Very Serious People of those antediluvian, “fewer abortions, please” days was genuine or an instrumental facsimile maintained and then terminated for political expediency is anybody’s guess. But in any case, though public opinion on abortion has not changed much in decades, the ancient consensus has gone the way of the nephilim.

Nowadays, the strident champions of unfettered abortion access cannot even, as my home-state lawmakers discovered recently in Tallahassee, acknowledge that a child who survives a botched abortion should receive medical care rather than be killed should either mother or doctor wish it. The Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee even went so far as to fein insult at the contention that a fully-formed, almost-born baby should not be dismembered. Somehow, it seems that defending the notion that unborn children who could survive outside the womb should not be summarily killed is enough to trigger liberals to cry havoc and beckon the dogs of the so-called “war on women.”

This all brings us to my friend Josh Hammer, who is a law student and Federalist Society member at the University of Chicago. We do not agree on everything (well, actually, we agree on most things, but all that philosophical concordance is less interesting to talk about), but I have always found his impressively bookish legerity to be rivaled only by his assertive passion for conservative values. As any self-respecting citizen (and academic) ought to be, Josh is intellectually curious and eager to engage with people who disagree with him. So he went to a campus event featuring a late-term abortion provider to discuss that provider’s contention that his Christianity inspired his peculiar line of work.

To summarize what transpired: Josh refused to shake the man’s hand before engaging in respectful if heated conversation, was chastised by pro-choice activists, and then found that a heated argument he had with another attendee over his presence had been publicly broadcast in a naked attempt to shame him and potentially assault his employability. Because, apparently, it is a newsworthy horror that a Jewish law student would argue the case of the majority of Americans who oppose late-term abortion (likely out of a general opposition to killing innocent children) to a late-term abortionist speaking on campus.

It is understandable that some would tut-tut Josh’s refusal to shake the hand of the late-term abortionist—after all, Winston Churchill (one of Josh and my heroes) famously said of his decision to employ full diplomatic courtesies in conveying a declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador in December 1941, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” Of course, Josh is not the killer in this situation, and it is far more impolite to attempt to professionally ruin a disagreeing interlocutor than it is to spite a hand that exalts in the abolition of the unborn with claims of divine inspiration.

It is likewise rather indecent to prestidigitate away the gruesomely rational line from late-term abortion to “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide) when pro-choice extremists and their Democrat enablers (like Barack Obama) are, as mentioned earlier, assailing laws that would protect infant survivors of abortion. One almost wonders how long it will be until these enlightened advocates of “reproductive freedom” push to reclassify Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as “after-birth miscarriage.”

But since we are being polite, it costs little to charitably posit that Josh may have done something or other worse in more than a quarter century of life than refuse to shake the hand of man he believes, not unreasonably, to be a murderous religious fanatic—and many of those worse things would probably still not merit public spectacle or professional ruin. To be certain, any opponent of religious extremists killing with impunity because “God said so” should give pause before condoning, let alone celebrating, the work of a man convinced that his God of Life has called him to the grotesqueries of destroying any unwanted human children right up until—or even after—emergence from a uterus.

What skeptics and opponents of unfettered abortion should take from Josh’s ordeal is that where extreme pro-choice activists cannot avail their fanaticism against public opinion, the federal Capitol, or in most state houses, they will endeavor to overwhelm their opposition through the sociocultural cache of the Democratic Party and the elite forces—from major media outlets to law offices—that can be cowed into obeisance.

They cannot be allowed to succeed. The lives, rights, and integrity of future generations may well depend on it.


3 Comments

When God Passed Over

“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope…” –Romans 8:20-24

“And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” –John 19:30

One reason I choose to commemorate Passover is the enlightenment that comes with grasping at a key tradition in which Christ was raised. The ritual itself bequeaths a certain continuity of revelation and understanding that stretches back to the wisdom of Eden. Namely, there is no such thing as a free lunch—neither for God, whom men murdered, nor the murderous creatures he created. Everything we have gained—from the structures of civil society to the recognition of civil rights to the comfortable peace of Americana—was bought at a price. And that price for evolution is owed, whether or not we understand the reason for the cost or nature of the value.

By celestial design, Good Friday and the start of Passover concur on this first weekend of April. Among other things, this presents a perhaps edifying opportunity for modern Christians to reconnect with the Jewish roots of Christianity (and for Jews to explore familiar Passover themes in Easter) by participating in the ritual that was the last supper in which Christ gave us Communion. In attending such a ceremony with a mix of Jewish and Christian friends last year, I found a new appreciation for the transcendental history that ties people of faith to the Eternal through the progression of miracles that saved the faithful who came before us.

Christ’s last supper with his disciples occurred, of course, on Holy Thursday. On Friday night, he succumbed, with eleemosynary grace, to the torture of the unyielding government of men and died in the contemptuous bovarism of those trapped in vainglorious laws.

In taking that innocent life as a sacrifice bartered for those who would otherwise die in darkness, God the Father passed over the debt of the sinners of his fallen Creation while cursing the wickedness that tugs at every soul. On Golgotha, as in Egypt, the firstborn son of the powerful died that the wretched people around him might find new life with a new Law.

That was the gift and cost of love—and of pain.

Once upon a time in Egypt, innumerable sons died as casualties of a dispute of which many were not even conscious. Whether or not you believe the historicity of that account and whatever you think of the innocence of the slain Egyptians, you can appreciate the lesson of God extracting deliverance and eventual renaissance from a confounding level of suffering. Adam and Eve suffered to know morality. Cain suffered to found the first city mentioned in Scripture. The Egyptians suffered to be rid of an institution of slavery. The Israelites suffered to found a kingdom. Christ suffered to establish the foundation of an eternal kingdom in the souls and works of mortal men.

Nearly every great miracle mentioned in Scripture, from the burning bush to the parted sea to the birth of Isaac to the strength of Samson to the Scriptural wisdom of David and Solomon to the virgin birth to the conversion of Saul to the Resurrection of Christ and the redeemed fallen, brought with it a tale of suffering—that virtue might effloresce from the toils of winnowing away or overcoming the flaws in our hearts and understanding.

I know many of you readers are not (yet?) believers, but there are Truths in the Word that are accessible to anyone. When you break bread tonight—whether in Seder, Holy Communion, or simply in nourishing your body to keep it running—reflect on what has been sacrificed and that which was lost that you might enjoy what joys you have, even as you doubtlessly yearn for more. And you should yearn for more, as there is always more we could do to embody the transcendent love of God in this world for the brothers and sisters we keep.

For those who do believe:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” –Matthew 16:24-27

May you all have a blessed Good Friday. Happy Easter and Pesach Sameach.


Leave a comment

A Faith in Rainbows

“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.” –Homer

Said Hector to Achilles—& a lot of Greeks and Trojans to a lot of other Greeks and Trojans (c.f. The Oresteia).

In a way, the culture war (or what’s left of it) over recent state permutations of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) is the latest instantiation of America’s ever rising sociopolitical polarization. A cursory look at the divergent media coverage shows the predictable degree to which some partisans of either side dismiss the rhetoric of their opponents as symptoms of debilitating paramnesia. Liberals think the most recent incarnation of RFRA in several red states is carefully tailored to allow discrimination. RFRA’s defenders counter that the altered provisions in Indiana would not trump anti-discrimination laws, as such a thing has never happened.

As in many things, it seems people of different views are increasingly living in different worlds.

Yet it seems we are crashing upon the last shores of the tide of gay rights in America. After all, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited his son’s opposition in deciding to renounce support for an Indiana-style RFRA bill in Mike Huckabee’s old stomping grounds—and the red-state Republican even went so far as to openly ponder signing an anti-discrimination order for state workers.

Among Republican presidential hopefuls’ varying levels of support for the new RFRA’s stated intentions, I was most encouraged to see my home-state Senator Marco Rubio explicitly affirming the mainstream view in favor of anti-discrimination laws for gay people while supporting religious liberty. Refreshingly, Rubio’s statement follows naturally from his prior acknowledgement, in a speech at Catholic University, that federal and local governments once required anti-gay discrimination under color of law of. In this way, his statements are probably the closest to the truth of things of any candidate on either side of the aisle.

As the Indianapolis Star (which endorsed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s 2012 election) prominently argued, our laws can protect both LGBT and religious people (an overlapping set) with versions of RFRA that explicitly complement anti-discrimination laws. Such harmony exists already in several states, including the bastion of cultural conservatism that is Utah—a state so dominated by Mormonism that it mandates beer be watered down and cocktails be prepared behind “curtains” of modesty lest righteous teetotalers be tempted through sinful spirits.

Like many gay rights proponents from left to far right, my friend Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans (and a Christian), expressed skepticism that Pence and the Indiana legislature will avoid substantive gay rights measures and aggravate all sides with half-measures. Other friends, like guest poster Lyman Stone, share an opposite concern with several other religious conservatives and sympathetic voices: that the Left’s abnegation of the original federal RFRA indicates gay rights activists will never allow, as Ross Douthat puts it, religious opponents of same-sex marriage to negotiate amicable terms of surrender in the late unpleasantness.

Said Achilles before vengeance: There can be no covenants between men and lions.

So let’s be blunt: the culture war is, on some level, about sociopolitical annihilation—that is, there are views that some folks earnestly believe ought to be expelled from the aegis of civil society.

For those familiar with the history of anti-gay discrimination, including the government-mandated homophobia of the 1950s Lavender Scare and the later ballot-box malignance of Anita Bryant and the Family Research Council, modern protests aimed at the cultural extirpation of the old adversary—homophobia—that was intolerable when it was powerful and is now deemed pitiful—but not pitiable—when it is weak, may seem just, perhaps divinely so.

But today’s religious dissidents to same-sex marriage are not the crusading bigots of yesteryear—as exemplified by the contemplative nuance of Rubio—and it seems unlikely that such entrenched bigotry will ever reign again.

Whatever one thinks of neo-RFRA proponents’ true intentions, Gov. Pence is manifestly on point in arguing that religious freedom laws have provided substantial legal protections to people, often of religious minorities, facing impositions on their faith that have nothing to do with gay rights. Repealing federal and state versions of RFRA outright, as many liberals have advocated since Hobby Lobby, would undercut those laws’ substantive protections for imprisoned Muslims, Amerindian kindergarteners in Texas, Indiana’s newly state-approved Church of Cannabis (because politics makes strange bong-fellows), and so many others.

RFRA opponents content to dismiss, while high on schadenfreude, religious freedom concerns in order to ruin perceived bigots should reckon with the collateral damage of that Shermanesque march to the fiery shores of “progress.” This may not be the intention—funny how word keeps coming up—of most anti-RFRA activists, but it is the reality all the same. As even Matt Yglesias of Vox, of all people in all media, pointedly acknowledged (backhandedly, of course), there is more validity than many liberals would rather admit to social conservative fears of a slippery slope beyond their disintegrating trenches in the culture wars. This is especially true when one considers the breathless hypocrisy of “pro-gay” liberals who, say, boycott Indiana and then jet off to Cuba.

None of this is to say that conservatives shouldn’t perhaps be more empathetic to RFRA skeptics who are unwilling to trust the rhetoric and legislative priorities of people they believe to harbor what could be most charitably described as sanguine indifference (and less charitably as outright hostility) to LGBT rights, especially given the aforementioned history of anti-gay vitriol from the government to the pulpit. After all, this sort of skepticism—which extrapolates likely consequences of ambiguous laws from perceived motivations of the most zealous supporters—inclines RFRA skeptics to infer anti-gay maneuvering from people opposed to gay rights for the same genre of reasons that gun rights advocates recognize (correctly) a Trojan horse in many a liberal proposal for “common sense” gun control.

In such cases, opponents of controversial reform (gun control, RFRA, etc.) do not trust that the reformers are dealing honestly when claiming a new law would not do (erode gun rights, allow/foment discrimination against gay couples, etc.) what opponents strongly suspect the reformers wish to do (ban guns, undercut gay rights, etc.).

To some extent in some quarters, this divide will not be bridged. For other situations, pairing robust RFRA protections with LGBT anti-discrimination provisions will be a vital way to convey good will where none is currently inferred. Such a harmony will not satisfy everybody. If that means gay rights opponents will have to withstand liberal opprobrium or religious freedom advocates will have to overcome some religious hostility to gays, so be it. An enduring union of those who seek tolerance and comity it should rally the better angels of the majority of Americans who want to do right by their neighbors.

Or so we can hope.


1 Comment

Guest Post: How Will Life Go On After RFRA?

The following is guest post from my friend Lyman Stone. The views expressed are solely Lyman’s own, and do not reflect his employer, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. If you, dear reader, are interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.” –Ross Douthat

By Lyman Stone

But can the "straight" fountain donate blood to the Red Cross if it's been used in the last year?

The “gay” fountain loves show tunes and can’t donate water to the Red Cross.

As I know Rek’s usual readership keeps up with the news, I’ll skip the summary of events surrounding Indiana’s RFRA (and now potentially Arkansas’ as well) as well as any argument as to what the RFRA actually implies for life in Indiana. These may be interesting questions, but the reader is doubtless as well equipped to answer those questions as I. Rather, Rek asked me to write a guest post in response to a line of speculation I advanced: What happens next? So we’ve got some RFRAs with allegedly new, unique, and uncertain provisions that LGBT activists believe are intended to enable discriminatory treatment. There’s a boycott movement against Indiana with, apparently, some real teeth to it. Governor Pence of Indiana has promised to offer “clarification,” while Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has suggested he wants the bill before him revised to look more like the Federal RFRA. On face value, it looks like LGBT activists may be able to chalk up a win. But there are some unresolved questions here.

Let’s say that the Indiana RFRA is clarified in such a way as to offer protections of LGBT individuals. Indiana does not currently afford such protections, thus such a change would be momentous. Would LGBT activists then go on to other “red” states, crusading for the passage of gay-friendly RFRAs?

The key argument against Indiana’s RFRA is not that it will actually create discrimination, or even legalize discrimination: it’s already legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay people. The argument is that Indiana’s RFRA shows bad intentions; that Hoosier legislators are haters, and haters should be punished by society on the whole. The argument isn’t about policy details, which is why all the explanations about past RFRA usage and compelling interests, etc, aren’t going to change any minds. If you press those most vocally for or against Indiana’s RFRA, it becomes clear that neither side even knows what effect the RFRA will have. Those shouting loudest on this issue tend to support or oppose RFRA primarily as a way of showing solidarity as allies and striking a blow for, respectively, religious liberty or gay rights.

I say striking a blow for a reason: the fight isn’t about what either side is for, but about what, and especially who, they are against. Or, at least, from the perspective of a liberty-minded social conservative like myself, that’s what it looks like.

It does not have to be this way. Either side could outflank the other handily enough. If RFRA advocates paired Indiana-style RFRA bills with non-discrimination provisions and beefed-up free speech and expression rules, they might not win the LGBT activist base, but they could neuter the most effective criticisms, address the areas that create the biggest concern for conservatives, and provide enough “wins” for supporters of civil liberties to credibly show that “No Gays Allowed” signs are neither the goal or consequence of religious freedom advocacy. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates get non-discrimination laws making LGBT-identifying individuals a protected class attached to a similarly robust RFRA (perhaps in a blue or purple state), they could capture much of the base of support for RFRAs among moderate social conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, worry about religious liberty issues.

If neither side tries such tactics (yes, LGBT advocates have tried to attach non-discrimination laws to RFRAs in red states, but mainly by using language that amounted to poison pills, because the goal was to kill RFRA—discrimination protections or not), then, paradoxically, both sides will probably prove their worst impressions of each other. If conservatives won’t introduce any kind of “clarification” or “fix” aimed at preventing a future of segregation by sexuality, the LGBT community will have ample cause to view conservative-backed RFRAs as Trojan horses, within which lies the promise of entrenched discrimination. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates persistently degrade and demean efforts to protect religious liberty—and respond to such proposals with concerted efforts to drive up unemployment with boycotts that broadly hurt even those with no connection to the laws in question—then conservatives will be entirely justified in calling for more, and more robust, RFRAs. Spitefulness begets spitefulness.

The RFRA in Arkansas did not move through the legislature despite the Indiana boycott, but because of it. LGBT advocates should not be shocked if other states respond to “boycott Indiana” by adopting new RFRAs as well. Watching Indiana be pilloried, punished, and shamed for providing what, to many conservatives, seem like pretty anodyne protections for religious liberty might dissuade other conservatives from taking up the cause, as LGBT advocates hope. Or, and I find this rather more likely, it may lead to religious folk having a deepened sense of isolation and a heightened concern for their own apparently-besieged liberty, and thus pressing harder for RFRAs.

I see this even in my own experience: when the Arizona RFRA was debated, I was extremely skeptical of the idea, and argued against many of my fellow conservatives who believed it was a necessary and good law. But watching the treatment of religiously motivated conservatives in Indiana has altered my frame of reference. The LGBT community seems far more vindictive and far less open to compromise on this issue than I would have expected. Innocent Hoosiers, whose state has languished through Rust Belt decline for decades, are going to suffer so that activists nationwide can make a statement about a law that nobody actually understands and will probably have very little effect anyway.

My goal here is not to try to convince others to adopt a given policy position. Rather, I hope to offer an insight, however speculative, into the worsening future that social conservative activists and gay activists are creating together with alarming speed.

So for me, a pretty deep-red and quite religious social conservative with far too many gay friends and loved ones to write off their experiences, the question is: will either side actually show an interest in governing a diverse society?

I hope so.


Leave a comment

A (Borrowed) Time to Build

“Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” –The Eleventh Doctor

"Don't you know? The sun's setting fast!"

“Don’t you know? The sun’s setting fast!”

I was happy on Election Day. I’ve been positively elated all week, in fact, as it’s been a good time to be a Florida Republican. After all, the Gators devoured the playoff hopes of Georgia in a cathartically stunning upset on Saturday, and then our governor rallied to defeat Alcibiades Charlie Crist in a race that many suggested was lost. As a Republican in general, our candidates won the “War on Women” from Texas to Colorado, and we’ve grown and diversified our bench so enormously in the blue and purple states as to allow, as several have put it, for the GOP to essentially be America’s governing party (in the literal sense that Republicans will be doing most of the governing).

But amid all the anguish and mythomane ire arising from the emaciated dreaming of the other side, a progressive friend demanded perspective via a Yahoo article posted on Facebook. To be sure, the author’s liberal 2016 analysis is rather bullish on Democratic chances; it’s not particularly likely, for example, that a depleted Florida Democratic bench will knock off a popular GOP incumbent in a state Obama barely won. And his point about minorities skipping the midterm is belied by the evidence that 2014 featured the second-most diverse electorate in American history (ahead of 2008), and Republicans from Virginia to Nevada simply did better among various segments of minority voters.

Still, the author’s basic point, that Republicans will face daunting odds in 2016, is well taken. Indeed, I have been talking about that very concern with my tea-partying boyfriend and our conservative cohorts since Heidi Heitkamp kept the Big Sky blue in 2012. It was a reason why it was so essential for Republicans to run up the Senate score this cycle, so as to allow for as much cushion as possible ahead of the next one. (For this reason, the collapse of Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and ultimate failure of Scott Brown and Ed Gillespie to add a 55th seat makes already for bitter reflection.) Yet, oddly enough, acknowledging and contemplating the presidential-year challenges in the offing can and should afford us a curious sense of peace.

We are living on borrowed time. Every Christian—and probably many a Jew or Muslim—hears permutations of this truth from the pulpit with urgent frequency. Such grounding Solomonic perspective—that none of this will last—is an essential understanding for seeking proper order in life, and it is likewise vital a perspective for seeking proper order in politics. As former Indiana congressman and current Club for Growth president Chris Chocola noted, Democrats have poignantly demonstrated a capacity for this perspective. They made the conscientious decision that healthcare reform, among other things, was worth sacrificing their majority to the cleansing tsunami of public indignation, and we are all suffering the consequences of that fanatical conviction today.

If there is anything Republicans should learn from progressives like Nancy Pelosi (and there isn’t much), it’s that at some point you have to stop running for the next election and resolve to actually enact an agenda. Obviously, the Democratic Party will retain the White House through the duration of this Congress, and the number of moderate Democrats who can be relied upon to seek compromise has taken a hit. But for the governing party, those ought to be challenges to be met, not excuses to be doled out ahead of a perpetual chase for the next election.

That 2016 is a probable no-win game for Republican candidates is all the more reason to change the game. Conservatives have two years to develop and refine a robust governing agenda that we can take to voters for consideration. We have promising goals we can seek with President Obama on broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform, trade negotiations, and mitigating the worst excesses of Obamacare. We also have places where Democrats will refuse to support better policy proposals that might enrage the far Left; some will be useful to enact in the many states we control, ahead of a national referendum on our functional ideas.

Over at National Review, Yuval Levin puts it this way:

“To do that well, Republicans will need to understand and to describe their efforts in these terms—to be clear that they are working to set the right agenda rather than that they are trying either to ‘prove they can govern’ from Congress alone or to ‘sketch clear contrasts’ with a president who will never be on the ballot again. Understanding their role as putting forward an agenda and pursuing it would help Republicans do both of those things while helping them avoid unrealistic expectations about either.

The key difference between the divided congress we have had and the divided government we will now have is that Republicans can now set the agenda, require Democrats to vote on the best of their ideas, and see which of them Democrats might agree with enough (or find painful enough to oppose) to actually bring them to fruition. That doesn’t mean that lots of Republican ideas get enacted, or even reach the president. The filibuster will prevent that. It means, rather, that those ideas get killed in Senate votes instead of getting killed by the Senate’s unwillingness to vote. And that’s a significant difference, because it puts both Republicans and (for the first time) Democrats on the record in a meaningful way.”

Ed Gillespie took this mindset to heart when he combined aggressive organizing and campaign discipline with the critical decision to present voters an intelligible vision of better leadership. Facing a daunting challenge that many in his own party (me included, though I did make sure to vote for him) considered essentially stillborn, the Virginia Republican was one of the few candidates on either side to present a detailed healthcare proposal that would offer better outcomes than Obamacare, along with a five-point economic plan for growth. For all this, the grossly underfunded challenger came within a point of slaying a Goliath in a race he was supposed to lose by a double-digit margin.

Whether or not we’re able to hold the Senate in 2016, our focus should be highlighting, selling, and, achieving the conservative victories that we can while we can. The conservative movement has no use for majorities that exist in perpetual obeisance to the continual, pusillanimous pursuit of electoral power for its own sake. Even if we do everything right, we might well encounter a measure of defeat in two years, because the map is simply not in our favor. But rather than fretting over what we cannot change, we should thoroughly embrace the challenge before us for the opportunity that it is. It is with such a spirit that conservative leaders like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Rick Snyder fought the odds for worthwhile reforms that would endure even if their tenures in office were cut short. That such leaders survived to fight another day should not undercut the key lesson of their examples—fight for conservative governance, and leave something valuable that will politically outlive you.

For the next two years, we can either play to win big or fade into the reclining opposition-party battles of the Obama years. I, for one, am happy now because we may again know frustration, disappointment and presidential petulance later. But if this cycle has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is inevitable or settled until all the votes are cast.