Wherein I make a good faith effort to explain the hostility to David French.
No individual exemplifies the gulf between élite conservative opinion and the grass roots than David French. The grass roots despise him, while the cognoscenti literally cannot comprehend the revulsion. I doubt that I will make headway because they are used to telling, not listening, but here goes.
David French is infuriating because his premises are excellent, his ability to identify the problem is good, his analysis is poor, and his conclusions are atrocious. Reading a David French essay is like watching the subject of a horror movie make cascadingly poor choices. I usually succumb to shouting at my screen, ”Gaah! No! You idiot!” What I mean is, “No David, not that way, that’s the doorway to death. Turn around, walk out of the house of demons into the light of life.” Inevitably, David continues blindly on the path he started on, unwilling or unable to turn around and go back the way he came. The Christian term for what David needs to do is repent. To those unversed in Christian doctrine, repentance may seem mystical or superstitious. It simply means to recognize that you are on the wrong path and you need to turn around. To quote CS Lewis:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
When Seth Dillon keeps tweeting “repent” to you; when Albert Mohler writes an entire essay about how you are on the wrong road, it might be time to reevaluate. Maybe they are seeing something you aren’t. Unfortunately, David takes Godly exhortation as an excuse to feel sorry for himself, interprets good men’s pleading as an attack, and plows on toward perdition.
In his latest missive, David attempts to explain to Christian conservatives why they and everyone whom they trust is wrong, why the ironically named “Respect for Marriage Act” is ackchually something they should support. He starts off by making a distinction between Christian “Covenant” Marriage, and Civil Marriage. So far so good. He is completely correct. Again, his premises are excellent.
He goes on to say he affirms the idea of Covenant Marriage as described in the Nashville Statement, which he labels “controversial”. This is the first step in the wrong direction. There is no controversy over the Nashville Statement. There are people who reject it, as there are people who reject Christianity. There are people who deny the tenets affirmed in the statement as there are people who deny the reality of biological sex. No true Christian denies the truths stated. This may strike some as the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. However, a person is born a Scotsman and his genetics are not determinative of his behavior. In contrast, the word Christian means “little Christ”, it means a follower of Jesus. If Jesus is on the right path, and you are on the wrong one, you aren’t following Him. The Nashville Statement is in harmony with Biblical teaching, if you disagree with it, you are on the wrong path and need to repent.
This may seem harsh or “judgmental”. The Bible does caution against judging the motives and salvation of other men, but it is quite clear that Christians are to exercise good judgment. Judgment is not wrong per se but rather prejudgment. Prejudice is a sin, wisdom is not. In any case, it is impossible to live life without judgment. Is there enough room before that oncoming car for me to safely turn left? What should I major in? Whom should I marry? It is certainly odd that a LAWYER would be hesitant to judge. The entire legal profession is built around judgment. Speaking the truth in love with gentleness and kindness is one thing. Pretending there is some wiggle room on the issue of what Covenantal Marriage looks like is quite another. Tolerance for clear cut heresy is a sin.
That does not mean Christians should tolerate violence against LGBT people. We can and should love them. But loving someone means being honest with them. My father was a lifelong smoker. Smoking is harmful. I accepted my father for who he was and loved him more than life, but I never stopped encouraging him to stop smoking, BECAUSE I loved him. Lung cancer is more awful than you can imagine. Dad died a horrible death too soon. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t fervently wish he had never smoked. You might think I would support anti-smoking legislation, but you would be wrong. Respect for his freedom means that although I constantly pressured him to stop smoking, I vigorously defended his right to choose poorly. David understands that we mustn’t try to impose our values on others, but is wrong in thinking that means we should ever accept their wrongness. Purely from a public health perspective, those of us who have friends and family who are engaged in a homosexual lifestyle should encourage them to stop, even as we fight to defend their right to continue. The life expectancy penalty for engaging in that lifestyle is double that of smoking. While attempting to outlaw sexual immorality is tyranny, affirmation is collusion with death.
This brings us to the next point. Roughly it is the distinction between morality, ethics, and law. For my purposes, I will define morality as right living, aka righteousness. Living in such a manner as to be pleasing to God. Ethics is living in such a way as to minimize interpersonal conflict. Jesus taught that morality boils down to “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). Ethics is approximately the second half of that, and thus is a subset of morality. Law is essentially a codification of ethics. David has a law degree from Harvard, so I’ll excuse his grotesque misunderstanding of law, but there are basically two theories of law in the world. Justinian or Napoleonic Code states that the law is the dictate of the emperor. The legality and thus the ethics of any action is determined by the ruler. Whether murder or slavery or homosexuality is good or bad depends on what the warlord or president or majority decides. Might makes right; survival of the fittest. This is the philosophy of the world, and it is evil.
In contradistinction, Common Law, particularly as promulgated by people who hold a Reformed Theological world view (like the American Founders) rejects authority other than God. Law is not created, it is discovered. The founders often discussed the government as an experiment. We are all legal scientists trying to discover ethical law in the same way physicists are trying to discover physical law. Legislators write statues, which are the hypotheses, the executive branch runs the procedure, and the judicial writes the conclusions which are case law.
When a conservative says that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are not granted by the government, but by God, this is what they mean. The Bill of Rights is a correct understanding of reality. It is nice that the federal government acknowledges those rights, but it is not necessary any more than it was necessary for Newton to formulate the law of universal gravitation for it to be true. This is intolerable to the would-be dictators on the left. They are desperate to rebel against God, to force reality to conform with their wishes. American legal education went astray when it asserted that the law is defined by case law, rather than understanding that it is merely an approximation of true law. When the dictates of man and God conflict, it is man’s that must yield. Roe was bad precedent because it was immoral, i.e. it was incorrect—not in conformity to fact. Likewise, Obergefell is destined for the ash heap of history because it is fundamentally at odds with reality. Nothing can be done about that. It will ultimately fall because it cannot be made to conform with truth. It did not matter that the Ptolemaic “concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe” was held sincerely, or that it was held by an overwhelming majority, it was not reflective of the truth, and had to fall. He who would be most progressive is he who is most anxious to reverse this wrong decision. Repentance is the order of the day.
When David points out that civil marriage diverged from covenantal marriage when no-fault divorce was allowed, his error is in plain view. Civil marriage is our best attempt to codify the truth of covenantal marriage. When it diverged, it ceased to be good law. Even from a secular standpoint, this is obvious. As David states, marriage with no-fault divorce isn’t even a real contract. David has properly identified the problem. Civil marriage with no-fault divorce is incompatible with covenantal marriage, that is to say, it is incompatible with reality.
Covenantal marriage cannot conform to the broken, hubristic civil marriage, because the truth cannot conform to a lie. Yet that is absolutely the goal of leftist ideologues. Covenantal marriage must be destroyed because it reveals the scam that passes for current civil marriage. Despite his protestations, David cannot have it the way he wants. These two conceptions of marriage cannot co-exist. The state does not recognize the validity or even the existence of covenantal marriage as distinct from civil marriage. The statute makes gesticulations toward allowing an exception from statute for conscience, while claiming civil marriage as the standard, but this is untenable. Inevitably, the two will come into conflict, and the powers of this earth will attack the truth of God. Having given up the bedrock of eternal, objective truth as the basis for defining marriage, David wants the sandcastle of recent Supreme Court decisions to be his bulwark.
Rather, the error of man must be corrected by hewing once again to God’s decree. This is not a call for theocracy. As the evangelical saying goes, all truth is God’s truth. There are methods for discovering truth other than Bible study. Any rational, objective analysis of the societal impact of no-fault divorce must conclude that it has been a catastrophe, with women and children being the most harmed. It is bad law because it is not real. A true progressive must see that and repent, go back and undo that wrong turn. However, David, blinded by his own brilliance and that of his liberal friends cannot see. Pride prevents repentance because it takes humility to acknowledge error, which is particularly hard when those pointing it out are your intellectual and stylistic inferiors. I have no doubt that the rubes and hicks that David attends church with are less sophisticated and erudite than his Harvard classmates, but truth does not depend on the messenger, and “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Finally, David descends into madness. Unable to repent without humiliation, he forges onward. No-fault divorce must never be questioned. It has been decided by judges and codified by legislatures. Their will be done. It has been allowed for half a century. Stare decisis! Any policy enacted by Democrats must be eternally preserved, while those pushed by Republicans shall be overturned the next time they lose the plebiscite. The rachet effect must continue forever. David says, “If I exchange vows with my wife, I’m married in the eyes of God even if the state never receives my marriage license.” However, he also says, “Can you imagine waking up one morning and hearing the state no longer recognizes your marriage and that suddenly everything from medical decisions to child custody to basic inheritance and ownership rules were up for grabs?” Which is it David? Is civil marriage essential or irrelevant? Imagine the pain that gay couples would feel if we stopped pretending they were married! Why, they might have to write a will to ensure their property conveyed according to their wishes. They might have to sign a Medical Power of Attorney to allow their loved ones to make medical decisions on their behalf. The fight over “gay marriage” is not about the legal edge cases which are easily dealt with by actual, legally enforceable contracts or other instruments specificaly designed to address the problem, it is an attempt to force Christians to lie. To deny marriage as defined by God, discoverable through legal scientific inquiry, and embrace the fiction that physical desire, the lust of the flesh, is supreme.
David, my brother, in love I beseech you, I beg of you, humble yourself and repent. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).