The Daily Beast says SBC resolution is “harmful to the idea of democracy itself”

At The Daily Beast, Jay Michaelson excoriates the resolution on transgender passed by Southern Baptists earlier this week. His article is riddled with factual errors, not the least of which is the fact that he seems not to have read the actual resolution. Instead, he quotes from an early draft containing elements that did not end up in the final resolution. To wit, there’s nothing in the resolution about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but Michaelson criticizes it as if there were.

Michaelson titles his article “Southern Baptist Convention: Trans People Don’t Exist.” He then alleges in the article that Southern Baptists deny the existence of transgendered persons. Yet no draft of the resolution ever says any such thing. In fact, the resolution acknowledges that “about 700,000 Americans perceive their gender identity to be at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex.” That is not a denial of their existence. On the contrary, it affirms their existence as a given.

But the worst part of Michaelson’s analysis is not his numerous errors of fact. The worst part is his inflammatory suggestion that Southern Baptists are motivated by animus rather than by conviction. He writes:

By taking positions on public, secular law that are based on non-rational misreadings of sacred text, the Baptist Convention’s resolution is harmful to the idea of democracy itself.

Not as harmful, of course, as it is to transgender people who find themselves trapped in communities ruled by this cruelty and ignorance.

This kind of rhetoric mischaracterizes the actual spirit of the resolution. Again, here are some actual lines from the resolution:

RESOLVED, That we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:15–16); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership (2 Corinthians 5:18–20; Galatians 5:14); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them…

There’s no question that the Christian conviction on display in the resolution is counter-cultural and perhaps even a minority view. But it can hardly be fairly described as “non-rational,” “cruel,” “ignorant,” and “harmful.”

I understand that Michaelson and many others will be offended by biblical teaching. But their offense should not be used as a pretext for mischaracterizing the resolution and demonizing Christians as “harmful to the idea of democracy itself.” We do not owe our ideological opponents agreement, but we do owe them the respect of faithfully representing their views. We also owe them the benefit of the doubt, the possibility that their views may not be flowing from animus but from deeply held conviction. Michaelson’s article fails both of those obligations. We can do better.

12 Responses to The Daily Beast says SBC resolution is “harmful to the idea of democracy itself”

  1. Jason Owens June 12, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    Was going to read the linked article but only got a couple sentences in when I realized I could not do it. No qualifications needed these days to work for a”news site”. And they have the gall to talk about hate. Sad.

  2. Michael Hutton June 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    I suggest (as disappointing and hurtful as the misrepresentation and animosity is) that the basic premise is true.
    The church is a theocracy, always has been, always will be.

    At a fundamental level we are not looking to the will of the people but the will of God.

    Issues like this will make it more and more clear. As the people turn away from God’s grace and create their own idols the gulf between democracy and theocracy will only become more obvious.

  3. Ryan Davidson June 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Conviction and animus are not mutually exclusive. One can be simultaneous motivated by both conviction and animus. That’s not to suggest that everyone who voted for the resolution was motivated by animus. Even so, some of the language in earlier drafts suggests that at least some of the resolution’s proponents likely were.

    Michaelson did make an insightful reference to Judith Butler. Butler’s work (and that of other queer theorists) provides a compelling critique of the culture’s dominant narrative for discussing sexuality. It’s far more compelling than the specious natural-law arguments that get bandied around a lot in evangelical circles. To be honest, I’m not sure how anyone can say anything meaningful on this topic without engaging with Butler’s work. Yet I don’t see a lot of evidence that the drafters of this resolution have engaged in any such undertaking.

    I’ve spent my whole life in evangelical circles. But I’m nevertheless amazed by the perceived need to issue decrees of this sort in the absence of much meaningful discussion. Our understanding of gender dysphoria is relatively inchoate. It’s not clear to me why this statement couldn’t have waited a decade or so. It seems like more of an effort to squelch discussion than to foster it.

    I often wonder what percentage of evangelical leaders are high Js on the MBI J-P index. In contrast, most people in my profession (lawyer for a high-tech company) are off-the-chart Ps. In that sense, I often wonder whether the church’s inability to speak persuasively to the culture doesn’t reside in the church’s perceived need to make definitive pronouncements in a culture whose thought leaders want more time to let the data roll in.

    • Denny Burk June 12, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      Ryan, I wrote the initial draft of the resolution, and I can assure you it wasn’t motivated by animus. Also, I interact with Judith Butler’s work in my book “What Is the Meaning of Sex?” The book is linked in the sidebar. In particular, see the chapter on gender.

      • Ryan Davidson June 13, 2014 at 8:54 am #

        I haven’t read the book. I did read an earlier blog post where you stated: “The normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism has ideological roots in the gender theory of third wave feminists such as Butler.”

        I can’t see how anyone could seriously engage with Butler’s work and arrive at that conclusion. The main thrust of her work is debunking orientation essentialism. Notions of “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” are entirely dependent on assuming orientation essentialism. So, I can’t see how Butler’s work does anything to normalize homosexuality. If anything, her work properly castigates it as an irrelevant concept.

        Much the same could be said of gender dysphoria. Contrary to what the SBC may think, the data seem to suggest that gender dysphoria is far more than a subjective perception. Still, there’s no reason to conclude that it’s essential to the formation of a social identity.

        Still, it’s not clear to me why the SBC feels the need to issue proclamations of this sort, especially on issues that are rather poorly understood. You’d think that we evangelicals would have learned something from our disastrous mishandling of issues related to gay rights. As a dog returneth to his vomit…

  4. buddyglass June 12, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    “To wit, there’s nothing in the resolution about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but Michaelson criticizes it as if there were.”

    Do these two resolutions imply opposition to ENDA?

    RESOLVED, That we continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isaiah 5:20); and be it further

    RESOLVED, That we oppose all cultural efforts to validate claims to transgender identity

    I can imagine some arguing that to make “transgender” a protected class w.r.t. anti-discrimination would be to to “validate it as morally praiseworthy”.

    • Denny Burk June 12, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      Buddy, yes, I think that language would preclude ENDA. The final draft doesn’t explicitly mention any legislation, though certainly it’s principles have implications for measures like ENDA. My point was not to say that it doesn’t apply to ENDA, just that ENDA wasnt mentioned, which reveals that the author had not even engaged the final draft.

      • buddyglass June 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

        So if you admit the resolution contains implicit opposition to ENDA, how can you then conclude that the Daily Beast guy didn’t read the final version? He writes:

        And for good measure, the resolution goes on to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, oppose affirming psychological counseling for trans folk, …

        Could he have been referencing the implicit opposition instead of suggesting that the final version contained explicit language w.r.t. ENDA?

        • Denny Burk June 12, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

          Because the version he links to is the earlier draft.

          • buddyglass June 13, 2014 at 9:07 am #

            Hah! Point taken. I didn’t click through on all the links he embedded.

  5. Jane Dunn June 13, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    Denny — Your post seems to me to assume a copy of the resolution **as passed** was readily available to Michaelson, which I don’t think is correct. None of the press reports I saw, including from Baptist Press, ABP, RNS, and Christian Today linked to the final version or even mentioned that the explicitly anti-ENDA language had been replaced with implicitly anti-ENDA language or even that any noteworthy changes had been made.

    Later I saw your post on the resolution’s passage, which has the only link to the final version I’ve seen, but even your post doesn’t mention the changes to the ENDA language. Effectively, then, the news reports made it seem the resolution was passed as drafted and that’s what Michaelson based his commentary on. Did the SBC not put out a press release with the final version as passed?

    The replacement of the explicitly anti-ENDA language with implicitly anti-ENDA language demonstrates the committee understood it would be hard to square the explicit language with the resolution’s other words about “love” and “seek[ing] their good always.” Given the implicitly anti-ENDA language in the final version, I think it’s disingenuous for you to say “there’s nothing in the resolution about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” If you and the SBC are going to support a resolution even implicitly opposing ENDA, you should own up to it and have some real answer to the seeming incongruity between the “love” language and the anti-anti-discrimination language.

    You also claim Michaelson was wrong to allege Southern Baptists deny the existence of transgendered persons. You assert that “no draft of the resolution ever says any such thing” and then note the resolution acknowledges that “about 700,000 Americans perceive their gender identity to be at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex.” You say “[t]hat is not a denial of their existence. On the contrary, it affirms their existence as a given.”

    I think you don’t see the offense involved in the word “perceive.” The resolution doesn’t affirm the existence of transgender people. It only affirms the existence of people who **perceive themselves** to be transgender, much in the same way one might affirm there are people who “perceive themselves” to have been abducted by space aliens without affirming any actual abduction.

    I don’t think you meant to be cruel or harmful but I think Michaelson mostly got it right (except for the silly harmful to democracy part).

  6. Ian Shaw June 13, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    “But their offense should not be used as a pretext for mischaracterizing the resolution and demonizing Christians as “harmful to the idea of democracy itself.”

    I would appear that Justice Scalia had some forethought when he said that those who oppose secular opinion have no other reason but animus and would be ‘hostes humani generis’.

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