Bad Nationalism

I wrote an article for Arc Digital about white nationalism.

The gist of the article is that “white” people are not and cannot be a nation, because they do not have the right sorts of things in common. We think of white people as a group solely because of their roughly similar skin color, and not because they actually share any meaningful characteristics.

You can potentially get around this by saying that, by “white” people/culture, the white nationalists are referring to something more specific, like the culture of the antebellum South. Perhaps “Southern whites” constitute a nation by virtue of their shared commitment to preserving antebellum southern values, including chivalry, their particular form of the Christian religion, and white supremacy. This more specific grouping might constitute a nation in some sense, as they do share the right sorts of cultural and religious commitments.

So then the question becomes, not whether a group of people constitute a nation, but whether their nation ought to exist. And it should be easy to see that the nation described above ought not to exist, as one of its core commitments is white supremacy.

Nationalism is supposed to be a shield for a people to protect itself and its culture from harm. That’s why Israel exists: to protect Jews and Jewish culture from harm. Likewise, America exists to secure the liberties of Americans and to preserve our core ideals. This is right and good. We should encourage it.

But some cultures (and by extension some nations) are predicated upon vicious evils. Such is the case with white nationalist movements. They want a white supremacist nation, because their “culture” is white supremacy. If this were not the case, then white nationalists would be content to live in a racially diverse society as long as white people are treated justly. “White culture” is only under attack if you define “white culture” as white supremacy.

My focus in the Arc Digital piece is on what “nationhood” means. But it might be more useful to develop an account of what distinguishes good nations from bad nations. To put it shortly, bad nations are predicated on the oppression of those who do not belong to the nation.


When Good People Hold Abhorrent Views

First this happened:

Then this:

Duplass might have made an error in saying that Ben Shapiro is a good person for left-leaning folks to follow. He should probably have started with some less provocative commentators, preferably ones who haven’t built a career on triggering snowflakes and drinking leftist tears. That said, Ben Shapiro has a lot to say that’s worth listening to. He also says a lot of stuff that’s wrong, even abhorrent, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth engaging.

The attacks on Duplass following his endorsement of Shapiro were based mostly on overblown claims that Shapiro is unashamedly hateful. Shapiro is not hateful. He is a provocateur, which is generally not a particularly helpful thing to be (at least insofar as you’re interested in “reaching across the aisle”). He has also said extremely insensitive things, which he (to my knowledge) has not apologized for. These (and others) are valid reasons to criticize Shapiro as a pundit. But when left-leaning people flip out at the suggestion that Shapiro might be a decent person who is worth listening to on at least some points, they reinforce the increasingly popular perception that the left writ large cannot abide any departures from leftist orthodoxy whatsoever. It is this perception that fuels Shapiro’s career as a pundit.

Much more useful is the approach of Eric Weinstein, below:

I’m not sure how willing Shapiro actually is to “cross the aisle.” Perhaps there are some clips out there of him entertaining the possibility that socialized medicine doesn’t entail enslaving doctors. Or maybe he, at some point, expressed openness to the possibility that black people are more likely than white people to be mistreated by the police. I don’t know. But Weinstein actually knows Shapiro, so there’s probably at least something to his claim in this tweet.

What I appreciate most about Weinstein’s tweets is that they show how you can criticize someone without denouncing him. There is an important difference between criticism and denunciation. Criticism is directed at a person’s ideas, arguments, behavior, etc., while denunciation is directed at the person himself. There just aren’t many situations in which denunciation serves the common good. People denounce primarily because it helps them to demonstrate their ideological steadfastness and moral purity to sympathetic onlookers, not because it actually advances their ideology by persuading the undecided. Whereas criticism can encourage a person to refine his ideas or change his behavior, denunciation encourages people to double down on whatever it is they got denounced for in the first place.

An example of this going the other way: advocates for abortion rights hold beliefs about the unborn that I find positively repulsive. I believe that there are compelling reasons to regard unborn persons as persons and to respect their right to live, and that a refusal to acknowledge the personhood of the unborn for the sake of convenience is just as morally evil as denying the personhood of any other class of persons for the sake of convenience. But denouncing people who are in serious error about the evil of abortion does nothing except demonstrate the purity of my commitment to the pro-life cause. If I actually want to persuade people that abortion is evil, I need to engage them, not denounce them.

The fact is that decent people believe and do abhorrent things. This is the norm, and it always has been. If you want to get rid of abhorrent beliefs and prevent people from committing abhorrent acts, then you can’t settle for denunciation. You have to do what Weinstein is doing and make a good-faith effort to persuade people that their ideas and actions are wrong. Of course, some people know perfectly well that what they’re doing is wrong. Right knowledge does not lead to right action. But even in such cases, a virtuous friend is more likely to correct that person’s behavior than mass denunciation from strangers on Twitter.

Sometimes I like hearing Ben Shapiro’s takes on current events. He’s smart, and he can articulate conservative ideas pretty well. But the “own the libs” persona he has cultivated, plus his bad takes and insensitivity on issues like race and gender dysphoria, makes him really hard to listen to, at times. If Weinstein’s criticism is effective in improving some of Shapiro’s ideas (and making him less of a flamethrower), then we all win.

Ownage and that RBG Trailer

“[Insert activity here] to own the libs” is one of my favorite internet memes, mostly because it’s just so true to the times. People disregard their own interests, their own beliefs, and basic facts as long as doing so allows them to triumph over people whom they consider to be enemies, whether that’s liberals, conservatives, the swamp, etc.

This type of behavior is especially common on Twitter, where character limits make any kind of deep discussion more difficult. People generally aren’t looking to say something interesting and insightful; they usually just want to “dunk on” people, which is another way of saying to “own” them. However, the phenomenon is not limited to Twitter. Sometimes it makes it into movies (or at least, movie trailers).

Here’s an illustration of attempted ownage and its costs to society (relevant clip begins at 2:14 and ends at 2:24):

In this clip, we have RBG “own”ing a judge by saying that the word “freedom” doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Of course, this simply isn’t true (see the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech”), and people have been criticizing the trailer for the line:

Basically, in an effort to have RBG “own” some white male judge, the screenwriters have her making a false claim about the content of the Constitution. This is not a good move. I echo Adler’s hope that the producers fix that line.

(n.b. Some people have tried to defend the line, saying that “the Constitution” in this context should be interpreted to mean “the unamended Constitution” or “the original Constitution.” But there is no reason that a lawyer arguing a constitutional case before a court would mean “the unamended Constitution” when referring to “the Constitution,” because the unamended Constitution is NOT the Constitution. Not anymore, at least.

You might make the case that the RBG character in the film is making the point that the Constitution need not explicitly mention a thing to protect it, which is all well and good. The problem is that she could easily make that argument without making the false claim that “freedom” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and even if the unamended Constitution didn’t include “freedom,” it did include “liberty,” which kind of undermines the argument above, and also the analogy between “woman” and “freedom” has limited utility, since “woman” is a class of persons and “freedom” is not, etc. Basically there’s no reasonable way to interpret this line that doesn’t make the screenwriters look silly. That’s because the screenwriters specifically chose to sacrifice clarity, and perhaps also truth, so that the line would deliver more ownage to RBG fans.)

The RBG Movie Was Good

Tonight I saw RBG, a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am not what you would call a fan of Ginsburg, but I am a fan of the film. It showed me what Ginsburg was like as a person and portrayed her career (especially her career as an advocate, prior to her appointment to the bench) in a way that even conservatives like me should be able to appreciate. Much about her story is inspiring, from her relationship with her husband to her admirable performance in law school (which she did while taking care of a young child and her sick husband) to her career of legal advocacy with the ACLU. While I don’t care for Ginsburg as a judge, there is a lot about her as a person that I think people should try to imitate.

My favorite parts of the film related to Ginsburg’s marriage and family. Her husband, Martin, whom she met when she was 17, played a significant role in supporting her as she pursued her judicial career. Despite being one of the best tax lawyers in New York, he moved down to D.C. when she received an appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In spite of his own brilliance, he had no trouble taking a backseat to his wife. I find his commitment to her admirable, and hope that I will be similarly supportive of my future wife.

When Ginsburg was in law school, her husband became ill with cancer. She had to take care of him and their young daughter while completing her coursework… and helping him with his own. Despite these complications with her family, Ginsburg made law review at Harvard solely on the basis of her academic performance. Whatever disagreements you have with Ginsburg philosophically, and I have many, you must acknowledge that she was brilliant and indomitable.

What strikes me about Ginsburg is that, in many ways, she breaks the feminist mold. She had a child before attending law school. We are often told that women need to postpone having children in order to pursue education and advance in their career, but Ginsburg appears to prove that wrong. Moreover, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law so that she could be with her husband when he graduated and got a job in New York. The difference in reputation between Columbia Law and Harvard Law was not as significant then as it is now, but that was still a sacrifice that she chose to make for the sake of her marriage.

Besides her family life, I enjoyed learning about Ginsburg’s career as an advocate for women’s rights. Ginsburg argued six cases before the Supreme Court and won five; all had to do with sex discrimination. Her arguments generally had to do with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. I’m not super familiar with the cases she argued, and I’m generally skeptical of trying to effectuate political change through litigation, but I appreciate the work she did to ensure that women and men receive equal treatment under the law. Generally speaking, I think that a straightforward reading of the Fourteenth Amendment requires our laws to treat men and women alike (with some exceptions that might apply only in contentious cases).

I will never be convinced that Ginsburg deserves the worship that she receives from progressives. Nevertheless, I believe that she is a model citizen who played a significant role in the development of the women’s rights movement, and that there is much to emulate in her life. Films like RBG help us in these hyper-partisan times, as they show us how much there is to admire in political figures (which Ginsburg certainly is a political figure) that has nothing to do with politics. Ultimately, I think that may do our republic more good than anything Supreme Court Justices do. When Americans who hold varied beliefs have virtuous role models, everyone wins.

Private Wealth and Politics

Disclaimer: I am not a socialist.

Elizabeth Bruenig writes, “As more left-flank challengers face off with center-left incumbents and more democratic socialists begin looking toward public office, beware: You will all be called champagne socialists or yacht communists, the ritzier and more radical counterparts of limousine liberals.”

This is probably true. A substantial number of conservatives have an adolescent fixation on “owning the libs.” One of the best ways to “own” people is to “expose” their “hypocrisy.” And what is more hypocritical than a socialist with a yacht?

But Bruenig’s bigger point in her article is that the moderate affluence of some socialists shouldn’t count against them. To a degree, I think she’s right. You can be a person of means and still sincerely believe that inequality is a serious problem that can best be solved by socialistic policies. Politicians are always partially motivated by self-interest, but they’re also motivated by their respective visions of the common good. If you’re trying to criticize a candidate as young as Ocasio-Cortez (who is just 28), then you should presume that her platform is more a result of youthful idealism than of hypocrisy and cynicism. Criticize her because her proposed policies won’t work, not because she’s putting on a show to get votes.

At the same time, though, I do think that we should expect socialists to live modestly. Indeed, I think we should expect everyone who cares about the common good to live modestly. Individual persons have a specific obligation to the poor that is distinct from our society’s collective obligation to the poor. You can’t blame people for questioning someone’s commitment to the latter if they don’t demonstrate a similar commitment to the former.

It’s just as important, however, to make sure that advocates of small government demonstrate this commitment. In fact, for a proponent of small government to neglect his personal duties to his less fortunate neighbors is even more of a problem than for a democratic socialist to do so. The socialist (mistakenly) thinks that the only sufficient solution to poverty is government action, so it makes sense for him to push for government policies instead of giving to charity. The fiscal conservative, on the other hand, is skeptical of the capacity of government to fix things, and points to private charity as a better alternative. If, then, he doesn’t give, how are we supposed to trust him when he says 1) that he cares about the poor and 2) that private charity is better at alleviating poverty than the government?

I instinctively favor small government, mostly because I think that governmental bureaucracies tend to be poorly run and wasteful. I also don’t want the state to wield too much influence over the lives of everyday Americans. But small government only works if the people are willing to pick up the state’s slack. If we’re not going to have a gigantic welfare state, then we’re going to need people to actively care for one another.

TL;DR Everyone should be less focused on themselves and more focused on the common good. If you want the state to decrease inequality, then get a head start by giving your own resources to help the poor. If you want the state to remain as small as possible, then prove that we don’t need a larger welfare state to care for the poorest among us by caring for them yourself.

Hypocritical Pro-Lifers

You see claims like the one above pretty often. My first problem with such claims is that they’re not necessarily true. There are obviously “pro-life” people who aren’t actually all that pro-life. At the same time, many pro-life people do care for the poor, the fatherless, the abused, etc. And they do so for the same reason that they advocate for the unborn: they respect the dignity of every human person. If comments like this are aimed at the pro-life movement in general, then they are just wrong. If they are aimed at hypocritical pro-lifers who aren’t willing to fully affirm the dignity of all persons, then they should make that clearer.

My second problem is that these statements often come from pro-choice people who are trying to delegitimize the pro-life position by attacking the character of the people who hold it. This is what is called an ad hominem. The character of the people who hold a particular view has no bearing on whether the view is true. Even if most pro-lifers are hypocrites who don’t really respect human dignity, it’s still evil that our law treats fetuses as non-persons who can be killed at will.

I occasionally see pro-lifers say similar things in a way that I find much more helpful:

This appears to be true. Moreover, rather than calling pro-lifers hypocrites, the tweet says that they have failed to love their neighbors in a specific way that has undermined their credibility as advocates for the unborn.

I don’t agree with everything in the thread that follows Pyle’s first tweet. People tend to assume that if you’re against a particular government policy that’s supposed to reduce poverty, then you don’t care about reducing poverty. But it’s not unreasonable to think that a large welfare state crowds out civil society, and that the church and charities should be leading the charge to alleviate suffering, rather than the state. Nevertheless, I do agree that pro-lifers sometimes fail to grasp what it might mean to affirm the dignity of every human person, and that this failure makes it harder for outsiders to see why we care so much about the unborn.

The pro-life agenda is not just to make abortion illegal, but to make it unthinkable. And the only way to do that is to show people what a comprehensive ethic of human dignity looks like. This means that being pro-life needs to mean more than just wanting to criminalize abortion. All people are made in the image of God. Let’s act like it.

Zero Tolerance

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this topic, but I’m going to lay out what appears to me to be true about the fiasco at the border.

First, illegal entry into the United States is a crime. If you enter the U.S. illegally, you can be prosecuted. If you are charged with illegal entry, you will be detained, and our law requires that adult criminal detainees be kept separate from children, which isn’t generally unreasonable.

(Note: not all people who enter the U.S. without authorization are entering illegally. Illegal entry requires that one either “(1) enter[] or attempt[] to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) elude[] examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempt[] to enter or obtain[] entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact.” In theory, one can show up at a designated port of entry at the right time and present oneself to immigration officials to request asylum. My understanding, however, is that CBP has been blocking asylum seekers from entering legally. So they’re entering illegally instead. It’s worth noting that the aforementioned CBP practice appears to violate immigration law.)

Second, not all crimes need to be prosecuted. Prosecutorial discretion, for better or for worse, is part of our system. This means that, in certain circumstances, prosecutors can decline to charge people who may have committed crimes. One of the ways that the executive branch of our government effects policy changes is by laying out enforcement priorities. Of course, it’s possible to go too far with this, to the point at which the executive is no longer faithfully executing the laws. But faithfully executing the laws can’t mean a 100% prosecution rate for all crimes, in part because that’s impossible to achieve.

Third, there are some really good reasons not to charge at least some illegal entrants with illegal entry. For example, it is presumably more expensive to conduct criminal proceedings (which must be before an actual Court) than to conduct civil deportation proceedings (which are held before Article II immigration judges). Moreover, it is presumably undesirable (unless you’re Jeff Sessions) to separate children from their families, especially when doing so makes the whole immigration process more chaotic and costly for everyone involved. What’s more, at least some of these entrants will attempt to claim asylum, and at least some of these claims will be meritorious, and prosecutions against them will fail. The economic and moral cost of charging every illegal entrant is sufficiently high that you can make a strong case against charging every illegal entrant.

Now, Sessions implemented this zero-tolerance policy because he has deemed it expedient to separate parents from children, as this will deter illegal entry. He has made the judgment that, in spite of the cost of prosecuting every illegal entrant, which includes the cost of figuring out how to hold parents and children in separate detainment facilities without losing track of where people are, is outweighed by the good of deterring illegal entry. And this deterrence is supposed to be achieved by separating families. You may have heard the moral principle that we ought not to do evil that good may follow. But that’s exactly what the government is doing. They are separating families in order to deter people from entering the country illegally.

Our immigration system is a mess. It’s way overloaded with pending asylum applications, and we don’t have sufficient facilities to hold everyone who has crossed the border while we process their claims. There isn’t a simple and humane solution for the overload our system is dealing with. Nevertheless, the existence of a serious problem does not justify the Trump administration’s use of the suffering of children as a deterrent and/or political bargaining chip. This policy is evil and it should be changed.


Trump’s DOJ and the ACA

You may have heard that the Trump DOJ is not going to defend Obamacare in court, and the administration lawyers have adopted the position that the law is unconstitutional. You may also have heard that this is an egregious breach of longstanding norms. The government is supposed to defend its laws, after all! Just remember that the Obama administration declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, so it’s not like the Trump administration’s decision is without precedent.

Indeed, it’s sometimes a good thing when presidential administrations take the requirements of the Constitution seriously enough to defy Congress. Not all laws passed by Congress accord with the Constitution, and having an independent executive is a useful check on Congress’s power in much the same way that having an independent judiciary is. We have three co-equal branches of government, and the Constitution is supreme above each of them.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s argument is bad. It’s not bad because they believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional and aren’t defending it, however, but because they are arguing that the individual mandate’s legal invalidity requires the judiciary to “strike down” other provisions of Obamacare, namely, the Guaranteed-Issue and Community-Rating requirements. These two requirements ensure that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage or charged more than people without such conditions, all else equal.

The argument is based on the idea that the aforementioned requirements just don’t work without the individual mandate. This very well may be true. Insurance companies just can’t afford to insure sick people at a low price if healthy people don’t also buy insurance. That’s how insurance works. Get rid of the individual mandate and there just won’t be enough people paying for insurance without using it for insurance companies to make money.

The problem with this is that the way we think about courts and how they “strike down” laws is wrong. Courts don’t just decide whether laws are unconstitutional. They provide legal remedies for concrete injuries according to law, and this sometimes requires them to determine the constitutionality of statutes. For example, the individual mandate as originally written would injure me by requiring me to pay a penalty if I chose not to buy insurance. This is an injury that I can sue the government over. If the law is valid, then the government can use that as a defense against my lawsuit and prevent me from obtaining a remedy. But if it turns out that the law is unconstitutional, then the Court can command the government not to enforce the law against me, thus protecting me from injury.

However, this only applies to the part of the law that would actually injure me. In fact, it doesn’t technically apply to the law at all, but to the executive’s actions. Even if the Court tells the government not to enforce the law at all, the law remains law and stays on the books until Congress repeals it. The Court does not have the power to modify the law; it can only protect individuals from injury by enjoining the law’s enforcement. Because the Guaranteed-Issue and Community-Rating requirements do not unlawfully injure any parties before the Court, the judiciary does not have the power to do what the Trump administration is asking, i.e., invalidate the provisions.

The strangest thing about the whole situation is that Congress has already repealed the “tax”/penalty associated with the individual mandate, meaning that no one is injured by that particular provision anymore. The states that are suing are basically saying that they are being injured because the law doesn’t work and it is nevertheless being imposed on them. But just because a law doesn’t work very well doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional, and the injury alleged is not exactly concrete and particularized. You can tell the injury isn’t particularized because there doesn’t seem to be a narrowly tailored remedy available (the plaintiffs request an injunction that basically forbids any enforcement of any provision of the ACA).

When you have a huge, complex law like the ACA, and one of the key provisions is unconstitutional, the proper course for the courts is not to sweep away the whole thing (or even to enjoin enforcement of the whole thing). They simply don’t have that power. All they can do is enjoin the enforcement of the unconstitutional provision as to the parties before the court. Then, if that provision is truly central to the functioning of the law, then the law will fall apart, and Congress will have to repeal it or modify it if they have any sense in them. Of course, that’s a big “if.” We’ll probably be stuck with this hacked-together healthcare disaster for a while.

Women’s Healthcare

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the morality of contraception, which led me to a podcast called The Catholic Feminist. I am not a Roman Catholic, nor do I consider myself a feminist, but so far I have found the podcast helpful. In particular, an episode titled “Women’s Healthcare and Natural Family Planning” has provoked some reflection.

The episode’s host, Claire, and her guest, Leah, both agree that it is a shame that “women’s healthcare” has become so thoroughly identified with the prescription of contraception and the availability of abortion. In essence, our current understanding of women’s healthcare is primarily concerned with inhibiting the one of the primary natural functions of women’s bodiesbearing children.

What is the source of this belief? Why on earth would we consider self-induced infertility to be an essential form of healthcare?

I trace it back to the liberal redefinition of the person as an autonomous utility-maximizer. Persons exist to pursue their own pleasure, which will result in the attainment of the greatest good for the greatest number, or so it goes. If this is the fundamental nature of what human beings are, then everything else should yield, even if that includes our bodies.

Men’s bodies don’t put up a fight to this redefinition in the same way that women’s bodies do.  We don’t bear children, nor do our bodies have to regularly prepare themselves to bear children. This makes it easier for us to think of ourselves as autonomous utility-maximizers instead of persons embedded in networks of duties and obligations oriented toward the common good. In order to make the same transition for women, however, we have had to suppress their bodies’ natural functions.

In the podcast, Leah goes so far as to call this misogyny, which sounds right. We now believe that women need to artificially inhibit the natural function of their bodies in order to achieve their fullest potential. In other words, women must effectively deny a part of who they are in order to be persons (e.g. autonomous utility-maximizers). If we’re serious about affirming the dignity of women (and men, for that matter), then we have to reject this faulty understanding of what it means to be a person.

Owen Strachan and Gay Identity

When you hear “Gay Christianity,” you might assume that the phrase refers to Christians who reject the church’s historic teaching on sexuality, in particular the part about sex being reserved for opposite-sex unions. However, there are many Christians who, while affirming the church’s historic teaching on sex, want to work harder to accommodate members of the LGBT community. Revoice is a conference for Christians seeking ways to help the church to better love LGBT people while also maintaining its teaching on sexual ethics.

Owen Strachan has written an article that mischaracterizes both the Revoice conference and the general move towards affirming LGBT people that some Christians are making. Some of his concerns are understandable, particularly if “affirming LGBT identities” means claiming that same-sex attraction is part of God’s design or that sexual orientation is a fundamental feature of one’s identity. But I don’t think that’s what the folks at Revoice are up to.

Strachan refers to just a few items from the Revoice website to make his point that the conference is “biblically unfaithful and fundamentally unsound”:

One presenter will speak on how “queer treasure, honor, and glory” will be brought into the New Jerusalem; another presenter identifies as “bisexual” and is “actively involved” in the Chicago “LGBTQ community”; a third key participant argues that “Simply experiencing attraction to the same sex (or being gay) is not in itself a morally culpable sin.”

The first example is a simple mischaracterization that I hope is the result of careless reading. Here is the summary of the session that Strachan quotes from:


Presenter: Grant Hartley

For the sexual minority seeking to submit his or her life fully to Christ and to the historic Christian sexual ethic, queer culture presents a bit of a dilemma; rather than combing through and analyzing to find which parts are to be rejected, to be redeemed, or to be received with joy (Acts 17:16-34), Christians have often discarded the virtues of queer culture along with the vices, which leaves culturally connected Christian sexual minorities torn between two cultures, two histories, and two communities. So questions that have until now been largely unanswered remain: what does queer culture (and specifically, queer literature and theory) have to offer us who follow Christ? What queer treasure, honor, and glory will be brought into the New Jerusalem at the end of time (Revelation 21:24-26)?

Strachan writes: “There will be nothing unholy in the celestial city, nothing sinful that will be brought to the worship of the crucified and resurrected Lord of the church.” Need this claim from Strachan contradict what is written in the above summary? Only if you make an unwarranted assumption about what exactly “queer culture” is. Strachan seems to think that “queer culture” must be characterized by an acceptance of homosexual activity or something similar. But “queer culture” is just the culture that is born from the experience of LGBT people (or people who experience same-sex attraction/gender dysphoria). The boundaries aren’t rigidly fixed, but any cultural artifact that either was created by an LGBT person or portrays LGBT people sympathetically would probably fall under the “queer culture” umbrella. Are we to believe that all of this is “sinful” and “unholy”?

The second example demonstrates that Strachan holds some assumptions about what it means to identify as LGBT. He seems to think that saying, “I am gay,” is equivalent to saying, “experiencing homosexual desire is fundamental to who I am as a person.” It’s certainly possible that many people mean that, even self-identified LGBT Christians. However, it’s also reasonable to interpret “I am gay” as shorthand for “same-sex attraction is a significant component of my lived experience that has shaped my view of the world.” Likewise, people with anorexia might say “I’m anorexic” without implying that anorexia is somehow fundamental to who they are as people.

LGBT Christians need some way to communicate their experience and how it has shaped them, and the alternatives to saying “I’m gay” or “I’m transgender” are clunky enough that I find it entirely understandable if people don’t want to use them. “I experience same-sex attraction,” or “As a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction…” vs. “I’m gay,” or “As a gay Christian…” etc. Identifying as gay is not the same as saying “being gay is who I am.”

With the third example, Strachan is making a point that has only tangential relevance to whether Revoice is “fundamentally unsound.” He writes: “I can note that a fellow man is good-looking, but if I am attracted to him (even for an instant), I am sinning, and I should instantaneously confess my sin to God, repent of it, and seek in the fullest possible extent to build in ways of preventing said sin in the future.” I am inclined to think it would be more precise to say that the hypothetical attraction would be sinful. But would he really be sinning?

I don’t know. Maybe. But in any case this disagreement about whether experiencing a sinful desire is a way of sinning isn’t limited to situations that involve same-sex attraction. And if the conference speaker is wrong, it would be wrong to blame this belief on “gay Christianity.” The belief that experiencing a desire to sin is not a form of sin itself is not the result of wanting to affirm LGBT identities, but of trying to deal with the fact that we do not always choose to experience sinful desires. Obviously, we’re culpable for giving into them, but for experiencing them? Something about that seems intuitively wrong. Perhaps my intuition is incorrect, but that’s not because it’s trying to justify homosexuality.

I think Strachan’s whole article stems from a misunderstanding about what Revoice is up to. He seems to think they’re highly concerned with affirming LGBT identities, when in fact they’re concerned with the understanding the experience out of which such identities are born. Whereas Strachan writes repeatedly about LGBT identity, sinful identity, etc., the word “identity” doesn’t even show up on Revoice’s page. You can go check for yourself.

Perhaps we need better language to distinguish between identity and experience. There are things about me that have heavily shaped my experience that are not fundamental to who I am as a person, even though the experiences that have resulted from them are foundational to how I view the world. For instance, I struggle with depression. The experience of depression has helped to make me who I am, but it is not who I am. Likewise, the experience of being LGBT undoubtedly shapes people at the deepest level, even though LGBT-ness itself isn’t fundamental to their identity. Revoice is not affirming LGBT-ness as an identity; rather, they are affirming the identities of people who are united by the common experience of living as LGBT persons. If the church cannot recognize that distinction, then it will fail to adequately care for LGBT people.