Saturday 11/19/16

      1. IVCF
      2. From adjective to noun
      3. The Mouth Man
      4. Strassel’s Spin
      5. Trump’s undoing?
      6. The More Option
      7. Dems: Listen to Mark Lilla
      8. Let’s not repeat our mistakes


First Things

1

As I no longer inhabit the Protestant world, the travails of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (which was once quite important to both me and my wife) had already slipped off my radar after just a few months. An update by Ryan Hamill, published at the Federalist, brought my attention back to it.

In case it had slipped your mind (or never came to your attention at all), I’m referring to a whirlwind firestorm of media coverage a few months ago when IVCF published a “Document on Human Sexuality” coupled with a request that staff who disagree step down.

Mr. Hamill:

One of the earliest to write about this, Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic acknowledges that believing in traditional marriage is not bigoted, but calls InterVarsity’s step “extreme,” saying “punishing those who support it [LGBT marriage] can hardly be called loving.” After all, the issue of same-sex relationships doesn’t seem especially central to the gospel narrative. So why does InterVarsity need to elevate the issue? Why wade into the culture war now, when it’s basically over?

Merritt notes that “the organization has not codified a position on marriage into its purpose, core values, or doctrinal statements in nearly 80 years of operation. To do so now is to fundamentally alter its organizational identity.” “The good ones” no longer.

InterVarsity has never published an explicit position on same-sex marriage, but this is not because the answer doesn’t matter—it’s because the answer had been assumed for so long. Merritt fails to see that people clarify doctrine in times of challenge. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t form a central part of the gospel narrative, either. Yet early church history contains a drawn-out saga of argument over the Trinity, which the creeds reflect. In the same way, since Jesus preached almost exclusively to Jews, he never had to clarify whom people could have sex with, since within his community that was a settled question. Only once Paul went to the Greeks did this issue come up.

Today, Christians are faced with the same question Paul was. After a four-year process, InterVarsity has stuck with the traditional position, attested to in Old and New Testaments: Sex belongs within marriage, and marriage is between a man and a woman.

There is a legal maxim, perhaps obscure but long a favorite of mine, that “the law is not made until it first is broken.”

As Mr. Hamill competently observes, so it has ever been in the battle between orthodoxy and heresy in the church. As long as everyone is implicitly on the same page, there is no need for an explicit Creed — not because the matters affirmed in the Nicene Creed, for instance, are unimportant, but because the church is not an ideology to which one can subscribe, even if the document subscribed is that Creed.

Indeed, in the Orthodox Church, the preferred term for the Nicene Creed is “the Symbol of Faith.” The Symbol is not itself the faith, nor does it comprehensively describe the faith. But it did lay to rest, among the orthodox, the errant Christology of Protoheretic Arius.

Similarly, IVCF needed a Statement on Sexuality not because sexuality is what it’s all about, but because neo-heretics needed to be corrected on their departure from moral truths that “had been assumed for so long.” And if they will not repent of their error, they need to leave, as Arius did as some IVCF staff have.

The Atlantic’s Jonathan Merritt totally missed that point — or disingenuously elided it.

“Why now?/Jesus never talked about it that much” is a very common and disconcertingly effective rhetorical strategy in the current culture war skirmishes over sexuality. It is disconcertingly effective, I submit, because Christians who explicitly or tacitly take a “Bible only” approach — disregarding the Church as tutor and 2,000 years of Christian history as models — can be baffled if they cannot find a prooftext (and beguiled if they do).

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that IVCF, a parachurch organization, had to do the heavy moral lifting at which its staffers’ respective ecclesial assemblies had failed. Kudos to IVCF.

Secondary Things

2

Being an evangelical used to mean practicing a certain form of faith. But “evangelical” has gone from being an adjective to a noun, a simplistic tribal identity that commands Republican affiliation.

(David Brooks, The Danger of a Dominant Identity)

Tertiary Things

3

Eight points and two anecdotes as we continue to digest this astounding election.

You don’t know a tree is hollow until you push hard against it and it falls. The establishments of both parties did not know, a year ago, that they were hollow trees. They thought themselves strong because they always had been, and people think what has been true will continue. Then suddenly the tree is pushed and falls. To me that is the symbol, the image of 2016: the hollowed trees and how easily they fell …

This is my fear: The question we ask after every national election is, “Can we come together?” The question this year is more, “Do we even want to come together?” …

Mr. Trump himself scared the children of America for a solid year with his loud ways and rough manner—“the mouth man.”

What a great thing it would be if Donald Trump would take a day off from the presidential transition, go to a series of schools, bring the press, and speak to children, telling them that he has nothing in his heart but the desire to do good and help people. “I have children and even grandchildren,” he might say. “I love them. I will do my best, and I love you.”

[I]t’s not sissy-ish to respect peoples’ anxieties. It doesn’t legitimize your foes’ criticisms to show sensitivity. All presidents since Washington, “the father of our country,” have been seen as a national father figure. It grates on conservatives to think like that. It grates on me. But that’s inevitable for kids who see the president on TV all the time in an un-parented country.

They need to see a little gentleness and good intent. Their parents would appreciate it. And it’s needed before the inauguration. Impressions will have hardened by then.

Where there’s life, there’s hope. He’s lively. Let’s hope.

(Peggy Noonan, What to Tell Your Children About Trump) In the unquoted anecdotes of this column, I heard echoes of Ronald Reagan, for whom Noonan was a speechwriter. I really liked it and recommend it.

4

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the leading voice now calling on the party to recognize it has erred and needs change. She is telling the masses, however, that Democrats lost because they didn’t go big enough. They didn’t spend enough. Didn’t regulate enough. Didn’t socialize health care enough. Her prescription: Double down.

That is precisely what Democrats are doing. The party is falling in line to install a Minnesota radical, Rep. Keith Ellison, as head of the Democratic National Committee. No one seems concerned that Mr. Ellison is a progressive to make even Mrs. Warren blush, utterly out of tune with the concerns of average Americans.

The party’s only real interest? Mr. Ellison is black and Muslim, which checks the diversity boxes …

Democrats right now look a lot like the House Republicans of the early 2000s, who became ever more desperate to hold on to power in the face of scandal, laziness and a loss of principle. As more voters abandoned them, the GOP became ever more interested in culturally catering to a shrinking circle of supporters, in particular the religious right. Remember the explosion over Terri Schiavo? That was the GOP version of executive orders on transgender bathrooms.

(Kimberly A. Strassel, The Democrats Double Down)

The Strassel column is a mixed bag, attributing GOP victories last week to America’s disgust with [insert litany of economic and regulatory policies the Wall Street Journal always opposes]. I strongly suspect the GOP victories were based far more on a populist message at the top of the ticket — I message I personally understand far less than I understand WSJ’s preferred policies. But I understand reaction against identity politics, and the emergence of counter-identity politics.

But everybody gets her chance to spin things.

5

Donald Trump’s real estate holdings and branding deals bode to become a big problem.

One reason 60 million voters elected Donald Trump is because he promised to change Washington’s culture of self-dealing, and if he wants to succeed he’s going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example. Mr. Trump has so far indicated that he will keep his business empire but turn over management to his children, and therein lies political danger.

[A blind trust] involves liquid assets like bonds and stocks, not buildings or a branding empire. Mr. Trump will know how any given decision will affect, say, the old post office property in Washington, D.C. that he’s leasing from the federal government (another conflict). By law blind trusts are overseen by an independent manager, not family members.

Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company.Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, ethics lawyers for George W. Bush and President Obama, respectively, have laid out a plan, which involves a leveraged buyout or an initial public offering.

Mr. Trump could put the cash proceeds in a true blind trust. The Trump children can keep the assets in their name, and he can transfer more to them as long as he pays a hefty gift tax. Finally, Mr. Trump should stipulate that he and his children will have no communication about family business matters.

The alternatives are fraught, perhaps even for the Trump Organization’s bottom line: Thanks to a Clinton Administration precedent, Presidents can face litigation in private matters—so the company will become a supermagnet for lawsuits. Rudy Giuliani lamented on television that divestment would put the Trump children “out of work,” but reorganizing the company may be better for business than unending scrutiny from the press. Progressive groups will soon be out of power and they are already shouting that the Trump family wants to profit from the Presidency ….

Be careful what you ask for, Mr. Trump. Oops! Too late! Will blatant conflicts of interest and profiteering provide the basis for impeachment?

6

The Mere Orthodoxy blog (an Evangelical Protestant blog — it’s sooo confusing), lays out How to Deal With Erratic Corpulent Ginger Authoritarian Much-Married Rulers: Options for Christians in Public Life. My favorite, predictably, is

The More Option
If, in the context of your work, it is conceivable that you might receive a 3 a.m. order to… oh, hit this button, say; deploy that weapons system… and that refusing such an order could potentially trigger a court martial, rehearse saying the following phrase: “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

7

It’s a maxim in politics, if only because I say so, that you don’t take advice from those who wish you ill. Well, believe it or not, I don’t wish the Democrat party ill.

Since the early 80s, when I was actively involved on the political side of the Right to Life movement, I have thought the Democrats’ abortion stance a bit surprising and illiberal. I tried not to give unnecessary offense, just in case we could win a few “D” votes.

Since then, I’ve soured for reasons that I can summarize in two words: Bart Stupak. When the going got tough on Obamacare, the Democrats turned up the heat under this pro-lifer from the U.P. of Michigan, President Obama made some empty and dishonest promises, and he folded. My objection is not Obamacare per se, but the anti-abortion provisions he was mau-maued into abandoning. So I’m now — let’s say much more cynical. Party identity matters, for good and for ill.

But single party rule isn’t healthy. My recollection is that the GOP Congressional class of ’94 engaged in some exuberant and unbecoming legislative hijinks. So I’d like to see the Democrats strong enough to keep My Former Party honest.

That said, here’s my advice: listen to Mark Lilla very carefully and do what he says so nobody gets hurt. Understand?

8

Longer-term, this may be the most important of my last six items today.

I have followed Aaron Renn, the Urbanophile, laconically for years. I’m following him more intently now. It seems to me that he has become more focused on the aspects that most interest me:

[C]ars were an amazing invention that dramatically improved life in the world. But we did go too far in over-designing our world around the automobile, something we are now trying to change.

But it strikes me that we’re poised to make the same mistake with driverless cars.

It seems likely to me that cities, desperate to seem cool and on the cutting edge, will aggressively compete to design infrastructure and regulatory requirements to favor driverless cars – and their manufacturers. No city wants to seem like it’s behind the times on the latest tech.

Toyota gave an overview of their future urban vision at MotM. It had all kinds of amazing stuff. But one thing it didn’t include was public transit. Epcot style they talked about underground highways to free up the surface for pedestrians and bicycles. But there were no subways.

Now Toyota is a car company … But the broader public needs to think about how to engage on this  …


Much like the original car, I think there’s a lot of good in the driverless one. But if we’re not careful, we’ll repeat the original sin of overreach in redesigning our world around them.

(As another example, consider the potential for pressure to create fully barrier protected travel lanes in order to keep people from “bullying” driverless carsby walking in front of them, knowing that algorithms won’t let them run down a pedestrian).

We run the risk of this because none of us, and none of our cities, want to be seen as behind the times or unfriendly to the tech industry. (“No startup will ever want to locate here again if we don’t kowtow to driverless cars, don’t you know.”)

This is definitely one we should all keep on our radar as this technology starts to come online. We should take advantage of what it offers while being very cautious about the potential downsides too.

Lots more good stuff, and some Orwellian stuff, lies where I put ellipses.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.