The Beautiful Story

The Church of England Evangelical Council has produced a 30 minute video titled The Beautiful Story. I came across it when a friend sent me this post from Ian Paul about it. Ian does a nice job explaining what he likes about it, which is pretty much what I like about it. Here is the video:

In short, The Church of England Evangelical Council attempts to make the case for what is often referred to as a biblical sexual ethic or a traditional sexual ethic. That is, that genital sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, which is defined as a covenant between a man and a woman. The video not only makes that case but it also addresses what it means to hold a high view of singleness, which includes a high view of singles who are gay and abide by this same sexual ethic.

I thought it was a well-produced video. I found it engaging and a clear articulation of a traditional sexual ethic. It has a kind of “convicted civility” (Richard Mouw) quality to it that I think many people will be drawn to. Others who disagree with the sexual ethic itself will not be won over, but that is not often the purpose of these kinds of offerings.

In any case, I thought some readers might find it of interest.

A World Safe for Diversity

In our weekly time of study and discussion followed by prayer, we reflected on the following video by Os Guinness. The title of the talk is, “A World Safe for Diversity.” It is an argument for the importance of religious liberty. It’s going to take you a little while, so pour yourself a good cup of coffee and give it a listen.

Early on in the talk he makes the point about how the different revolutions (French and American) had different relationships with religion. This was a point I was making in a previous post, citing Doug Laycock, a religious liberty attorney at UVA. In that context I stated:

In part because religion does not have a positive cultural association in French history (as contrasted with the positive cultural associations in the U.S.), we see a very different contemporary relationship with organized religion in France. If Christians continue to engage in the culture wars as they presently do, will we be at risk of losing positive cultural associations and good will that have long been a part of our history?

I see this as an important consideration for how religious people engage what they see as an erosion of religious liberty.

As I understand Guinness, the argument that needs to be made is that religious liberty is not the freedom to discriminate (as it is often perceived) but as fundamentally the freedom of conscience–to live your life consistent with your conscience. I will come back to this in a moment.

“Civility is not niceness,” says Guinness. (I talk about “convicted civility” all of the time–drawing from Richard Mouw–so this got my attention.) Civility refers to the “virtue and duty that allows citizens in the same society to negotiate differences with others peacefully.” Civility is also not unity–that our niceness will get us to a “human unity” if we just talk it out long enough. Our differences are “ultimate and irreducible,” and Guinness provides examples from different religions. We don’t believe the same things.

When we treat civility as unity we then frequently move to exclude from the public square the dissenting voices. This amounts to essentially the use of coercion to silence speech.

As one person in our discussion group shared, the alternative is that different groups defend each others freedom to exist. “Neither tries to annihilate the other. Neither tries to disenfranchise the other.”

Should those interested in religious liberty make legal battles? Guinness is not against that, as I understand him, but there may be benefits to being more selective about those battles while recognizing that legal battles are not sufficient moving forward. Persuasion and education are critical.

Interestingly, cultural debates regarding the gay rights movement have taken center stage. There is some irony to be found here, as the freedom to make your case and to live your life consistent with your conscience made it possible to even have such a movement. What would be a true loss is if that freedom were eroded. The freedom that made such a movement possible. What is more important than legal battles around photography and cake baking is (for Guinness) engaging in persuasion and civics training as to why religious liberty matters–why freedom of conscience matters. Toward that end, those interested in freedom of conscience will defend the smallest minority groups and their right to exist while fundamentally disagreeing with them where there are genuine differences.

Liberal Democracy & The Christian Citizen

We are up to Chapter 2 of the book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft by Francis J. Beckwith. I thought I had missed a couple of chapters due to my travel schedule; however, it turns out we did some other readings and held discussions of various presentations in the interim.

politicsChristiansChapter 2 is titled, “Liberal Democracy and the Christian Citizen.” Beckwith wants to answer the opening question: “What does it mean to be a Christian citizen in a liberal democracy in the early twenty-first century?” He begins by explaining a liberal democracy. The liberal aspect is with reference to “the liberties or freedoms” guaranteed by government, including the freedom of speech, assembly, press, religion, and the right to own property (p. 59). The democracy part is about self-governance (representative government) and equality before the law (treating citizens similarly).

Beckwith goes into some background about the importance of a civil society, the U.S. as a constitutional republic, separation of powers, and other way in which liberal democracies can function (as in the case of our friends across the pond).

Now we get to the Christian citizen. Beckwith draws from and discusses principles he sees in Scripture: (1) Caesar’s coin, (2) doing justice, (3) knowing government, and (4) voting for/supporting non-Christian candidates.

The Caesar’s coin part is interesting, as Beckwith observes that most teaching on this is about the different spheres of authority: the church and the government. The church is to be concerned with the things of God, the things God cares about, especially those things (i.e., people) who bear the image of God. The question is not whether we should care for the poor, clothe the naked, etc., but “What is the best way to achieve success in these endeavors?” (p. 64) In his conclusion to this section, he writes: “So Christians in a liberal democracy, because they have the means to effect change, should be concerned about whether the wider culture and/or their government agencies and institutions (such as public schools) are properly shaping, or at least not corrupting, the character of its young people” (p. 67).

In the section on doing justice, Beckwith discusses how liberal democracies afford Christians an opportunity to elect leaders who will do justice on a larger scale–just as we are to do justice as individuals. There is a fascinating discussion over the range of opinions in our society and among Christians in how “doing justice” is applied to debates on gay rights, including how defending one set of rights may foster a kind of hostility toward another group (e.g., members of religious communities whose moral theology may be intruded upon by the state), citing the example of Catholic Charities not offering children for adoption in Massachusetts because they excluded same-sex couples.

The section on knowing your government reflects on the apostle Paul’s use of his own status as a Roman citizen to “ensure that the gospel could be preached freely” (p. 74). It ends with another fascinating discussion–this time of debates about stem-cell research and philosophical anthropology.

The last section has to do with supporting non-Christian candidates. Part of the discussion here is that “non-Christian candidates may have at their disposal theological resources that, although not shared by Chrstians, may help Christians and other non-Christian citizens see that the principles of liberal democracy are integral to the candidate’s worldview and undersatnding of a just society” (p. 86). The other part of the discussion was about whether Christian or non-Christian candidates view their own theology as knowledge (see The Kennedy Mistake on pages 84-86). Is the religion believed and lived by a candidate really to be made private such that worldview considerations shaped by meaningful theological commitments are held at bay? Or do they inform substantive public dialogue and related policies? Great discussion.

We are reading this book to take us outside of our discipline (psychology and counseling) and to look at how integration is done in another discipline (political science). I think Beckwith does a nice job modeling a balanced perspective in his work here. He wants to avoid the two extremes of (1) arguing for and with reference to any one political group (e.g., Republican or Democratic platforms), and (2) arguing for any kind of theocratic state. He is looking for thoughtful, Christian engagement with politics.

In the end, he wants the Christian to think about which policies best support the common good. He draws on biblical principles to facilitate that kind of reflection–considers what it means to love one’s neighbor; to help those who are on the margins; to pursue justice and condemn injustice; and to foster a “rightly-ordered social fabric” (p. 88). He believes both special and general revelation speak to these kinds of concerns–that there is natural reason for caring about these common goods that can be discussed apart from simply citing Scripture.

I don’t have the time to unpack all of the points of discussion and implications, but I will say this: It is interesting to think about current and future debates about religious liberty. There are a number of arguments being made today that threaten or appear to threaten religious liberty. As one person pointed out, it is ironic that some of the very groups behind these arguments owe their movement to the kind of social context that protected the freedom to express dissenting points of view in the first place. Will those groups likewise protect religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and the right to hold dissenting views? There is a broader need here that has to do with accommodating freedom of conscience, that recognizes that thoughtful people will disagree on matters of conscience, and that society is better when it recognizes and protects the right to do so.

Politics for Christians

politicsChristiansI mentioned previously that our faculty and staff meet regularly for a time of reflection, Bible study, and prayer, and that this year we are reading Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft by Francis Beckwith. This week we are discussing Chapter 1: The Study of Politics.

My travel schedule will keep me from participating this week, but I just read the chapter. It is an overview of politics, and it covers the subfields of political theory, comparative politics, American politics, international relations, political economy, and public law.

My favorite part of the chapter was actually the opening story in which the reader is asked to imagine sitting in church while the pastor uses the sermon to get members to vote on a particular issue in a specific way. I was raised in a way that would not appreciate that use of the pulpit; from my upbringing, it would rub me the wrong way and I would feel it would ultimately detract from the more central and abiding message of the gospel.

As some readers know,I attend a large, multiethnic church where it has been interesting to watch the pastoral staff navigate political issues as they arise from time to time. More than multiethnic, our church focuses on being a transethnic community in which ethnic/cultural differences are recognized and celebrated but also transcended in order to foster a Kingdom identity.

I was also struck by the intro in which the author raises the issue of using proof texts to support political approaches one is already committed to, as when conservatives find the free market in the Bible, while liberals find social services (welfare, etc.).

In any case, given that this is an overview chapter, this was a good way to hook the reader into seeing the relevance of politics for the Christian.

Integration Discussions

Each year our faculty and staff meet regularly for a time of integration reflection, study of Scripture, and discussion. This year as part of that time we are reading together Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft by Francis Beckwith. Here is part of the book description:

politicsChristiansPolitics is concerned with citizenship and the administration of justice–how communities are formed and governed. The role of Christians in the political process is hotly contested, but as citizens, Francis Beckwith argues, Christians have a rich heritage of sophisticated thought, as well as a genuine responsibility, to contribute to the shaping of public policy.

In particular, Beckwith addresses the contention that Christians, or indeed religious citizens of any faith, should set aside their beliefs before they enter the public square. What role should religious citizens take in a liberal democracy? What is the proper separation of church and state? What place should be made for natural rights and the moral law within a secular state?

I’m intrigued by where this might take us. People who know me know that I rarely comment on political issues. I’m not saying that is the best way to respond to the topic (to not speak to it), but I have found that the political reflections I’ve heard have often concerned me. I won’t get into that today, but I’m just putting that out there. It will be interesting to read and discuss the book.

We read the introduction this week (this is the preface to the series on integration – not just to this book), and the series editors discuss seven reasons why integration matters. I highlight a few points that either resonated with me or drew my attention.

  1. The Bible’s teachings are true. I liked this: “If we claim that our Christian views are true, we need to back that up by interacting with the various ideas that come from different academic disciplines. In short, we must integrate Christianity with our major or vocation” (p. 11).
  2. Our vocation and the holistic characteristic of discipleship demand integration. Nice: “Further, as disciples of Jesus we do not merely have a job. We have a vocation as a Christian teacher” (p. 11).
  3. Biblical teaching about the role of the mind in the Christian life and the value of extrabiblical knowledge requires integration. This is important in the field of psychology: “God has revealed himself and various truths on a number of topics outside the Bible. As Christians have known throughout our history, common sense, logic and mathematics, along with the arts, humanities, science and other areas of study, contain important truths relevant to life in general and to the development of a careful, life-related Christian worldview” (p. 13).
  4. Neglect of integration results in a costly division between secular and sacred. I liked this: “…faith is now understood as a blind act of the will…. By contrast, the Bible presents faith as a power or skill to act in accordance with the nature of the kingdom of God, a trust in what we have reason to believe is true. Understood this way, we see that faith is built on reason and knowledge” (p. 15).
  5. The nature of spiritual warfare necessitates integration. Intriguing: “Spiritual warfare is largely, though not entirely, a war of ideas, and we fight bad, false ideas with better ones. That means that truth, reason, argumentation and so forth, from both Scripture and general revelation, are central weapons in the fight. Since the centers of education are the centers for dealing with ideas, they become the main location for spiritual warfare. Solid, intelligent integration, then, is part of our mandate to engage in spiritual conflict” (p. 17).
  6. Spiritual formation calls for integration. “Among other things, integration is a spiritual activity…. integration has as its spiritual aim the intellectual goal of structuring the mind so we can see things as they really are and strengthening the belief structure that ought to inform the individual and corporate life of discipleship to Jesus” (p. 18).
  7. Integration is crucial to the current worldview struggle and the contemporary crisis of knowledge. Love this question: “Do the ideas of Christianity do any serious intellectual work in my field such that those who fail to take them into consideration simply will not be able to understand adequately the realities involved in my field” (p. 20)?

On Warranting Equal Scientific Standing

A recent commentary in USA Today discusses the frustration felt by some folks in the social and behavioral sciences that their disciplines are not treated as though they were as scientifically rigorous as the hard sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry). The author points out two issues that drive the debate: money and politics. First, the money given to one study is funding taken away from another study. So there is a vested interest in limiting who is a viable candidate for limited funds.

Second, research can be political, and academics in the softer sciences are decidedly left of center:

A recent survey by economics professor Daniel Klein revealed that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a whopping 30-to-1 ratio in anthropology; 28-to-1 in sociology; nearly 10-to-1 in history; and nearly 7-to-1 in political science. In economics, which is widely considered “conservative” by other social fields, Republicans are merely outnumbered 3-to-1.

These ratios should get your attention.

A similar discussion takes place in several chapters in the book, Psychology’s War on Religion, edited by three folks, one of whom is Nicholas Cummings, past president of the American Psychological Association. I contributed the chapter on the battle over sexuality, which is on the front lines of the question of bias. I’ll come back to this in a moment. But first let’s discuss philosophy of science.

Several scholars have pointed out that research is value-laden – this is fairly well-established in the philosophy of science literature for the past fifty years or so. From the selection of the topic to the choice and operationalization of variables to the interpretation of data – make no mistake, science is value-laden. It is just clearer to see in the behavioral and social sciences. But that science if value-laden is true across the sciences. Perhaps the potential misuse of science is of greater concern in the behavioral and social sciences in light of the tendency to skew left of center which could keep researchers from holding one another accountable.  “Group think” about entire lines of research (let alone specific findings) can become a problem that translates into policy recommendations under the weight and auspices of “What science says…”

My experience has been that when other perspectives are brought up that go against the prevailing view (what is quickly defended as the “scientific consensus”), that other perspective (the counter-narrative, if you will) is ridiculed outright or simply left die a slow death by exclusion (from the broader “scientific” discourse).

There are plenty of examples to illustrate this point, and I offer several of them in the chapter I referenced above (in the book, Psychology’s War on Religion). One such area is the question: Can sexual orientation change? The answer “Yes” has become acceptable if it means through natural fluidity (among females) as reported by Lisa Diamond in her longitudinal work. If similar data (with more rigorous methodology) suggests “Yes” through involvement in Christian ministries, that line of research is dismissed outright as an outrageous consideration that does not even warrant discussion. It was interesting at the time of the original publication that the initial criticisms centered on who authored it, our institutional affiliations, and that it was published in book form (never mind that several studies have been published in book form and none of the early criticisms were scientific criticisms as such). Now that the study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal (in 2011, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy), it is now facing that counter-narrative of exclusion (i.e., let’s ignore it) I mentioned earlier.

Of course, one study does not prove that change occurs, and we have offered several possible explanations for the findings in an attempt to be fair that multiple interpretations of the data are viable. But the findings themselves open a line of research that could warrant further investigation. I recognize that the question of change is not of interest to the mainstream GLB community, and that it is actually a threatening consideration, but the mainstream GLB community are not the only stakeholders in these discussions, and others are (and have been) asking what the can expect from involvement in Christian ministries. Rather than rely upon competing anecdotal accounts, empirical study can shed light on a question of personal relevance to conventionally religious people. (Now such purported “scientific consensus” is being used to advance legislation about clinical practice. The behavioral and social science community that recognizes that such a bill overreaches beyond the science stands silent or “neutral” on the matter.)

So, to return to the question of whether the behavioral and social sciences warrant equal scientific standing: I am unlikely to shed a tear for my colleagues who lament that the behavioral and social sciences are not seen as equal to the hard sciences. As a psychologist, part of me would like to see behavioral science findings valued, and in many (if not most) cases, this would not be an issue. But I see first-hand how the field functions within political space that warrants the criticisms we have received.

When we get our house in order, we will be able to have a legitimate complaint. Until then, the devaluing of the behavioral and social sciences can function as a corrective if we are open to constructive criticism.

The Dinner Table Debate

The Dinner Table Debate between Dan Savage and Brian Brown has now been posted. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the context for the debate, it refers back to a talk Savage gave to a high school journalism group. I blogged on it here. It is interesting how civil people can be when the discussion is set up to facilitate actual engagement.

As we consider the exchange, we can recognize that there are folks on both sides of the cultural discussion who would likely not pick either person to be the sole representative of their take on the subject. However, both participants perhaps surprise the viewer with how they are able to share from their perspective.

I was surprised how much attention was given to the Regnerus study, as so much of the initial diatribe (in front of the high school students) was about Scripture. Savage does initially mention his concerns about how Scripture is interpreted and possible points of conflict, but then he moves into a discussion of “bearing false witness,” which I also see as an important point of discussion. Brown focuses, too, on how his organization (and he extends this to other Christians) is talked about by some activists in the gay community.

At about 27 minutes in, Brown does come back to Scripture to discuss the issue of slavery and interpretation. Although Brown may not be the most articulate spokesperson for a Christian view of the topic (of slavery, homosexuality), he is able to point out a few things about Christians playing a role in the abolitionist movement.

Although Savage comes across to the viewer as probably the more passionate, compelling speaker, he seems to struggle to understand a traditional Christian view of marriage. Or perhaps he understands and rejects it in part because of his prior experiences with some Christians, various organizations, or what he sees as logical gaps in the argument. I think there could be more of a discussion of the transcendent meaning and purposes of sexuality, which is a hallmark of a Christian view, although that is arguably one of the more difficult concepts to convey in this setting.

Savage’s point about the “malleable” aspect of the Bible is worth responding to, and I don’t know that Brown is able to say all that other Christian scholars have said. The idea that rules are “set aside” is talked about by both Savage and the moderator as though it were akin to a person picking a style of music. Whether a person agrees or disagrees, not understanding the Christian rationale and process by which Old Testament rules are distinguished (e.g., ceremonial versus civil versus moral) and in some cases maintained is interesting. That has been addressed by Christian theologians and may be important for Christians to understand and be able to articulate.

So it is an interesting dialogue. There are topics toward the end (e.g., adoption, science/reason, discrimination, etc.) that could use more time, attention, and care. Unfortunately, the time runs short. In any case, the exchange does provide an opportunity for Christians to reflect on how their views are understood by those who do not start from the same worldview.

On Being a Christian Scholar

With the start of a new academic year, it seems fitting to reflect a little more on integration. The Emerging Scholar’s Blog recently posted a talk Nicholas Wolterstorff gave titled “Advice to Those Who Would Be Christian Scholars.” He gave the original address at the Veritas Forum in 2009. It is worth reading in its entirety, so check it out here.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to take the last  class Wolterstorff taught at Calvin College before he accepted the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Chair at Yale. A funny memory: he described our class as “pesky.” Until that moment, I had not considered “pesky” a compliment; now I do. (Actually, I tried to describe a cohort in our program this way a few years ago, and they did not take it as a compliment – must be the difference between philosophy and psychology students!)

Wolterstorff has good words that can be applied to Christian scholars in the field of psychology. We certainly see many fads come and go, and we do well to avoid a bandwagon approach, as well as the additive approach (to the exclusion of other considerations). Navigating the various pulls toward these approaches is a challenge in and of itself and worthy of an extended discussion, but let’s press on.

This is what it means to be a Christian scholar, according to Wolterstorff:

To put it in a nutshell, I think the project of being a Christian scholar is the project of thinking with a Christian mind and speaking with a Christian voice within your chosen discipline and within the academy more generally.

I want to come back to the issue of “voice” in one’s discipline, but first let me note that Wolterstorff briefly reflects on the nature of the disciplines. It is interesting to think of a discipline as not having an essence but rather being a social practice that has traditions. I think this is more readily apparent in some fields, and I suspect most folks in psychology (at least applied psychology) can see it right away.

Ok, back to voice. Let me swap out “sociology” for “psychology” in his explanation:

the mode of the Christian’s participation in these on-going, ever-changing, social practices is to think with a Christian mind and to speak with a Christian voice. When engaging in, say, [psychology] with a Christian mind, one will sometimes find oneself critical of what is going on in some part of [psychology]: one will find the assumptions being made about human nature mistaken, one will find the emphasis skewed, one will find the issues discussed unimportant, and so forth. One will then find oneself launching a critique of this part of [psychology], and beyond that, trying to do it differently and better. At other times, when thinking with a Christian mind one will find what is going on in some part of one’s discipline quite OK. Being a Christian scholar requires this sort of discernment.

Wolterstorff identifies a Christian voice as a voice of charity. I agree with this and wish more Christian scholars were able and willing to demonstrate charity in how they engage with others around controversial topics.

Also, he suggests we demonstrate patience, know our discipline, cultivate a Christian mind (through an understanding of Scripture, Christian tradition, and Christian thought reflected in your field), and “nourish” our learning through corporate worship. I love that Wolterstorff would add this last consideration. So often scholarship is thought of as removed from the experience of worship, let alone corporate worship. We do well to heed his advice lest our learning “becomes dry and brittle, easily susceptible to skepticism.”

These are good words for Christian scholars heading into the start of another academic year. Let’s think with a Christian mind and speak with a Christian voice.

Wheaton College Adds Name to Lawsuit: An Issue Related to Integration

Wheaton College is widely considered a flagship evangelical academic institution. It is significant that Wheaton has joined other Christian organizations and institutions in a lawsuit against the contraception mandate in President Obama’s healthcare plan. Christianity Today has a report on the breaking news.

The key sentence is as follows:

The issue at stake for many evangelicals related to the health care mandate, however, has less to do with providing contraception than how religious institutions are defined by the government. While churches are exempt from the mandate, insurers of parachurch organizations still will be required to provide contraception, raising questions about religious exemptions.

So you might assume that evangelicals are primarily concerned with the contraception mandate as such. Not so.

Private Christian colleges and universities have a stake in how broadly the government defines religious institutions. Is Christianity simply relegated to the local church, or are various parachurch institutions and organizations recognized as viable groups that warrant exemption status?

This discussion extends far into a number of realms, including education, which is why so many Christian academic institutions appear ready to sign on to the lawsuit. This will be an important one — something to keep an eye on.

Integrative Approaches – 5

Integrative ApproachesWe met as a faculty recently to discuss Chapter 5 of Integrative Approaches. This chapter is titled “The Pursuit of Truth: (Epistemology: Ways of Knowing).” It opens with a compelling example of Entwistle discussing his take as a psychologist on someone suffering from a delusion, while others (the patient) see that experience as truth, and still others experience it as demon possession. He uses this to get the reader into a discussion of epistemology or ways of knowing.

Entwistle espouses the view of “tentative certainty.” This is critical realism as contrasted with naive realism (my perceptions all correspond to reality) and anti-realism (my perceptions do not necessarily correspond to reality but are shaped by biases, assumptions, and so on).  

According to Entwistle:

Critical realists take a middle ground, believing that, while assumptions and biases color perception, reality imposes some limitation on interpretation. The critical realist thus recognizes that assumptions and biases affect data interpretation, but also believes that assumptions and biases can be evalued (at least to some degree), and that interpretations can be judged by their fitness with the data. (p. 87)

I have also described myself as a critical realist – at least in contrast to other approaches to the relationship between science and religion that undermine integration, such as perspectivalism. In any case, we had a good discussion that contrasted critical realism with common sense realism, which comes out of the tradition of Thomas Reid and others. Current proponents of common sense realism include Alvin Plantinga, one of the foremost epistemologist of our day, who developed what he refers to as Reformed epistemology.