About That posts feature responses to current events in 280 characters or fewer.
Last week’s religious advertising flap
- Evangelicals for Marriage Equality: The Full-Page Advertisement That Wasn’t [via Hemant Mehta] (9/8)
- Religious News Service: Was Christianity Today Justified in Rejecting This Controversial Ad? (9/12)
- 9/18 Update: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality: A Response To Our Critics (9/18)
It’s facile to argue that a “right” is always the right thing to do: “All things are allowed but not all are beneficial.”
At times one’s rights will take 2nd ribbon, and care for the Other will take 1st. Organizational rights shouldn’t diminish human care.
In this latest case, and in similar editorial-choice cases (e.g. Sojourners vs Believe Out Loud, 2011; North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists vs. Carrol Grady, 2012; and CVM, TVJ, and JIS vs. J-FLAG and Maurice Tomlinson, 2011-2013), advocates for the status quo have consistently conflated justifiability with validity.
Justifiability is about whether a position could be argued in print or in court. Validity is about whether a position is logical, consistent with its own premises, or true regardless of argument. A heterogeneous community is best off determining validity by looking at ethics, values, and premises that members hold in common. Disputed premises don’t resolve debates; a debate is only resolved when parties come to agree on the premises and are then willing to trace those premises to their logical conclusions. The Christian community is nowhere near resolution on human sexuality yet, and this is where the editor comes in.
Editing is an inherently selective art. So it’s no surprise to anyone when editors select in some content, and select other content out. That’s not where the impasse is. The impasse is not about whether editors have the right and responsibility to edit. Of course we do. That’s why we’re editors.
The impasse is about editors taking on or being given a community gatekeeping function in addition to our content-editing role: our power in communities like these lies in our ability to judge one community perspective legitimate and thus amplify it but deem another community perspective illegitimate and so repress it.
Amplifying and repressing aren’t passive choices for an editor. They’re active choices re. language, research, arguments, and people, and they have especially significant consequences for publications that claim to serve an entire faith or nation. Hence Christianity Today and not Non-Affirming Evangelical Christianity Today. And Jamaica Information Service rather than Opposed to Bare-Bones Tolerance of Difference Information Service.
Every perceived threat to one’s group will prompt a justifiable fight-or-flight response: few positions can’t be argued at all, and the status quo may always appeal to its right to guard group borders. But not every perceived threat actually involves danger or strangers, and not every threat perception is valid.
What’s worse than our fear of outsiders is our habit of freezing minority opinions—and marginalized people—out of heterogenous communities and communication spaces. The only way that habit could be called valid is if we were to agree that minority opinions and marginalized people should not be in our communities or communication spaces at all and our gatekeepers do good in pushing them out.
Spoiler: That’s not gonna happen.
Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? … No less than woe to us, while thinking thus to defend the Gospel, we are found the persecutors. —John Milton, Areopagitica