Zero Sum Game: What Is An Apology?

An apology by a theological conservative to the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando massacre creates waves and makes interesting reading.

I suspect this piece by Rhodes is not so much an apology intended for the LGBTQ community as it is a sermon addressed to his own Christian constituency. That is OK – but if you are going to preach, then do it directly, clarify your terms, offer arguments rather than aesthetics, and do not engage in zero sum games that unnecessarily trivialize other ethical issues and generate false dichotomies.

 

A recent blog post by Sammy Rhodes, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) chaplain, has caused something of a storm. Pitched as an apology by a theological conservative to the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando massacre, it makes interesting reading.

Rhodes is, he says, speaking mainly for himself. That is good. I find a lot of open letter internet apologies are often ways of surreptitiously and piously distancing oneself from one’s chosen constituency rather than expressing any kind of solidarity (even in repentance) with it.

There is much to commend. It is good that he is apparently abandoning his habit of telling anti-gay jokes and of quietly using pornography – at least, that seems to be the only fair reading of an apology offered ‘mainly for myself.’ Most of us, I hope, did not need Orlando to help us stop doing those things. I would suggest it is also appropriate to confess such things to his congregation, elders, and presbytery too. If he is really speaking mainly for himself, that is.

The problems with the post, though, run deep. An implicit and simplistic connection between the massacre and Christian belief is assumed. There is a series of false dichotomies. Clichés abound. ‘Love’ and ‘care’ are not defined and seem little more than sentimental constructs. ‘Injustice’ and ‘inequality’ are trotted out without qualification or content. Like poverty, everybody is against such things. But there is little consensus today on what ‘injustice’ and ‘inequality’ mean and thus to use them in this way is mere incantatory rhetoric.

Rhodes’ claim about the lack of Christian defense of the LGBTQ community compared to concern about ‘defending chicken sandwiches,’ ‘speaking out more about cakes’ and ‘caring more about bathrooms’ is problematic in many ways. He leaves undefined, in both quality and degree, what he believes would constitute an appropriate defense of the LGBTQ community. This renders his argument to be a non-argument, a mere appeal to aesthetics and sentiment. Taste and emotions carry the day. And yet the nature of what Rhodes believes this appropriate defense should look like is surely critical to what he is trying to say. There is a gaping, yet very suggestive, hole right at the very center of his complaint.

Further, he chooses words which trivialize the issues of personal and religious liberty which these other cases embody and he thereby ignores the serious issues of privacy, parental rights and safety which they involve. Is a bloody massacre worse than someone losing their livelihood for their religious beliefs? Yes, of course. I doubt that anybody would argue that point. But this is rhetoric, not argument. In fact, Rhodes is using the Orlando massacre to belittle these other matters. Logically and ethically unnecessary but also very revealing.

In conclusion, two things come to mind. First, Rhodes does not really give the LGBTQs what they actually want. Today, sexuality is a major component of personal identity and as such is driven by the ethics of personal authenticity, thus requiring social recognition. This means that society at large has to recognize the complete legitimacy of that identity. Merely to come close to this but yet to fail to do so completely (as I read Rhodes doing) is thus still to engage in oppression and to facilitate the kind of culture which the LGBTQ lobby (and it would seem Rhodes himself) sees as leading to such as the Orlando killings. Rhodes does not explicitly repent for the conservative Christian denial the legitimacy of the paradigm of identity underlying LGBTQism. He therefore remains as guilty as the rest of us of maintaining an ideology which the LGBTQers regard as oppressive. Strange to tell, he seems remarkably unaware of this. I would suggest that he needs to make a clear choice on that if his apology is to carry the weight he wants with the LGBTQ community.

Second, I suspect this piece by Rhodes is not so much an apology intended for the LGBTQ community as it is a sermon addressed to his own Christian constituency. That is OK – but if you are going to preach, then do it directly, clarify your terms, offer arguments rather than aesthetics, and do not engage in zero sum games that unnecessarily trivialize other ethical issues and generate false dichotomies.

In the meantime, we should feel horror at Orlando because human beings have been slaughtered – just as we should feel horror at the slaughter of human beings on the streets of American cities every day of the year.

Carl Trueman is professor of historical theology and Paul Woolley chair of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This article is used with permission.