Let’s just start by stipulating that just because a despot or dictator with a horrendous record of human-rights abuses says something, that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong.
The late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, for instance, believed that Elvis Presley was a musical genius and that Japanese monster movies are awesome. Both of those things are true! Japanese monster movies don’t cease to be awesome just because one of the most oppressive tyrants in the world also recognized their awesomeness. Osama bin Laden was a lethally wicked human being, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong about the glories of Whitney Houston’s voice.
And if tyrants, terrorists and totalitarians are not necessarily wrong about everything, then it follows that others are not necessarily wrong if they happen to share identical opinions with those tyrants, terrorists and totalitarians.
Sure, Putin is a vindictive thug and Mugabe is responsible for massive death, suffering and injustice, but perhaps on this one issue they’re both right. That’s theoretically possible, isn’t it? They’re both cruel, oppressive, self-serving men, but maybe in this one exceptional case their views are actually an expression of the deepest moral wisdom. We have to allow that such a circumstance, while highly implausible, is still possible.
And let’s also stipulate that we must always be very cautious about attributing guilt by association. Do you know who else attributed guilt by association? (Well, OK, yes. I was going to say Nixon, but him too.)
So it would be wrong and unfair for us to make a facile leap to the conclusion that just because the Gospel Coalition’s views on legal equality for LGBT people are identical to the views of Mugabe and Putin automatically means that they are in the wrong.
But as long as we’re thoughtfully considering all of the possibilities and potential implications of this agreement, we should note that it is quite possible, theoretically and actually, that Mugabe and Putin are as horrendously wrong in their views on this issue as they tend to be horrendously wrong about everything else. And if that’s the case — if this view is of a piece with the immoral, abusive, unjust and oppressive immorality that shapes everything else these strongmen believe — then it would seem to be a Very Bad Thing to find oneself agreeing with them.
Given that this Very Bad Thing is at least one possibility, I have to wonder if it gives the folks at the Gospel Coalition pause. I have to wonder if they ever wonder about this, or worry about this.
Put yourself in their shoes. You’re operating a nice high-traffic Calvinist blog-cluster, posting all sorts of authoritative declarations about sexual morality and public order and the like. And then one day Vladimir Putin announces a new law in Russia embodying everything you’ve been saying for years about LGBT people. Vladimir freakin’ Putin – a former KGB honcho who acts like he’s still a Soviet boss. And all those policies you’ve been advocating for what sounded like high-minded reasons of fidelity to biblical authority are being implemented by Putin’s regime in a transparent effort to scapegoat vulnerable minorities and to distract the public from his ongoing kleptocratic looting of his country’s treasury.
Wouldn’t that make you at least a little bit uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it make you at least question your conclusions a little bit and start to wonder about the theological and ethical and hermeneutical reasoning that somehow led you to the exact same place as an ex-KGB strongman?
Sure, if you’re a complete wingnut whackaloon, like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, you might start praising Vladimir Putin as a moral role model for the world, and saying that America ought to be more like Putin’s Russia. But the Gospel Coalition is supposed to be a reasonable, mainstream church site — not a hotbed of frothing lunacy like Fischer’s AFA. Fischer doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a shameless partisan hack painting a thin veneer of religiosity onto the latest right-wing talking points. But the Gospel Coalition likes to pretend it’s much more than that.
The Gospel Coalition folks do sometimes seem to have a hard time remembering the difference between mainstream religious ethics and frothing lunacy — as in the case of Thabiti Anyabwile’s infamous “gag reflex” post last week. That post prompted widespread condemnation from many corners of the church, but it wasn’t those condemnations that had to be most disturbing for TGC. Far more disturbing was the affirmation and repetition of Anyabwile’s precise argument just a few days later by Mugabe in his seventh “inaugural” speech as president-for-life of the country he has slowly destroyed over the past 33 years. Just like Anyabwile, Mugabe cited his personal disgust as evidence of the wickedness of what he called the “filthy, filthy disease” of homosexuality.
Mugabe’s endorsement is particularly troublesome given the nature of Anyabwile’s argument. Anyabwile’s case against LGBT people is based entirely on moral intuition and visceral sentiment. He offers his own sanctified gut feelings as all the ethical principle anyone will need. That assertion was troubling even before Mugabe weighed in. But given the dictator’s identical sentiment, we’re now being asked to believe that a violent, repressive tyrant also possesses a sanctified moral intuition offering a perfect reflection of the will of God.
That’s a bit hard to swallow.
Anyabwile and his companions at the Gospel Coalition are arguing the very same things that Vladimir Putin and Robert Mugabe are arguing. That does not automatically prove that they are wrong. Nor does it make them the moral equivalent of those wicked leaders through some imagined guilt by association.
But, for Christ’s sake, it ought to at least make them stop, step back and reflect a bit. Because even if it doesn’t automatically prove that they’ve completely lost the map, they ought to realize that when your most notable moral allies are a couple of infamous thugs, then it’s very, very likely that you’re very, very wrong.