Fish-y Business at the Presidential Inauguration

Carlton Wynne

Over the Christmas holiday with my extended family, amid a full-blown but lovable circus of three to seven-year-olds that was rivaled only by the even louder football bowl game commentary emanating from the TV, the name of Stanley Fish came up in an unexpected burst of worldview conversation. Fish is a professor of humanities and occasionally writes opinion pieces for the New York Times. I like him not because I agree with all of his conclusions, but because he has exposed some of the dubious aspects of contemporary notions of fairness, neutrality, and procedure--over against truth claims, convictions, and honesty--espoused by certain streams of the Enlightenment political philosophy known as classical liberalism. (As it is used in the Fish school, "liberalism" generally operates according to a principle of "live and let live" and is not to be taken as a point on the political spectrum opposite "conservatism" or the like). 

Fish has long argued that contemporary forms of classical liberalism have transformed the current marketplace of ideas in the West into an arena of competing agendas and presuppositions rather than one of inclusivism and fair play. This has resulted, he claims, in a public square that touts virtues like openness, freedom, and tolerance while masking basic determinations to exclude all views that may threaten the accepted liberal ideology. [George Will has found a similar idea at work in the Vanderbilt "all-comers" policy here]. Unfortunately, because Fish's own worldview is not shaped by Scriptural revelation as the absolute norm, he chooses instead to swim the open waters of moral relativism, resting content to watch the world fight out its competing agendas (see his controversial essay, "Two Cheers for Double Standards" here [Caution: some strong language]). 

If you're still reading, and to spell this out a bit more, one primary tenet of classical liberalism is the idea that religious convictions about absolute truth have no place in public discourse. Play by the secular rules of debate or go home.  Bow to the limits we impose upon your religiosity or walk the tolerance plank. To put it bluntly, classical liberalism says, "For the purposes of public life, it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth, and you must speak and act accordingly or be dismissed out of hand or worse." The obvious hypocrisy is that while purporting to be tolerant of all views, this line of thinking is terribly intolerant of all views that are grounded in absolute and universal norms it abhors. 

Then just yesterday, a family member sent me the news of evangelical mega-machine Louie Giglio's dis-invitation by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Apparently, Giglio is suddenly a no-go to give the benediction at President Obama's second inauguration because in the 1990's he preached a sermon in which (by many counts, graciously and faithfully) he extended a gospel call in the face of sin in general, and the sin of homosexuality in particular (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; cf. Matt 19:5). It is plain that classical liberalism has just told Louie Giglio that he can be accepted as "affirming and fair-minded" only at the price of his theological convictions. It's a strange way to promote inclusion--excluding all who hold to orthodox Christian sexual norms--until you realize that what counts as "inclusive" has already been absolutely defined as excluding views grounded in those norms. 

An important point for readers of this blog is that in the coming years (and, of course, even now in the present), Bible-believing Christians will be more and more pressed to hide or revise their biblical convictions on a host of matters or else face being labeled "intolerant," "backward," "bigots" or even "evil."  My point today is that the very philosophy that stands behind such a threat is both hypocritical (because it makes universal claims as to what is acceptable while excluding yours, politely denying any inconsistency in doing so) and empty (because it has no ground upon which to assert the existence of the human rights it claims to identify and uphold).  

Of course, pointing this out doesn't mean that you will avoid being labeled an "unrepentant bigot"  if you remain true to the Christian faith, but it does mean that you will be standing in the only place that provides the kind of human dignity and purpose that, deep down (cf. Rom 1:18), all people know exists (but, sadly, many of whom refuse to acknowledge in their Creator and his saving purpose in Christ).  To put it another way, we should remember that to be truly loving, we sometimes have to say what is right, not merely what is nice (think of loving the alcoholic, for example), though we should pray we do so with humility and kindness. 

The apostle Paul knew how to remain faithful and gracious to the end despite all opposition and disenfranchisement, dismissal and mockery. He did so because his aims were decidedly other-worldly. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:8-10).

Of course, the suffering Paul endured was merely a sharing in the humiliation of the Man we claim is Savior (Col 1:24). And the apostle feared disloyalty to Him far beyond any revilement he might receive on earth. Should we in the coming days endure unprecedented dismissals, name calling, and worse--and we inevitably will--we will be in good company. Our vindication and reward, like Christ's, is not found on a national stage with a microphone but on the far side of the grave. Such a vision of the Christian life takes faith, to be sure.  Not a blind, backwards faith, not even a leap into the dark--rather, a faith founded upon the only reality in which life has meaning. So, friends, rejoice (Matt 5:11; Acts 5:41), endure (2 Tim 2:3), pray (Luke 6:28), remember (1 Pet 5:9), persevere (Acts 14:22), and welcome the painful privilege of fellowship with Christ (Phil 1:29).