Sex and violence: David French’s odd moral choices

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At least it’s not gay marriage?

I think I’m on record as being a fan, of sorts, of David French. I don’t agree with him on much, but I think he’s one of the better conservative writers out there — willing to characterize his opponents honestly, able to call out his own side when deserved. I even rooted for him to get the gig writing for The Atlantic when that publication fired Kevin Williamson.

Still: He’s conservative. I’m liberal. And on some things, we’re not going to get to a real understanding.

Take his latest column, which considers the morality of torture during wartime.

“War is hell,” Sherman famously declared, and life in that hell involves making the most challenging of moral decisions with the highest possible stakes. At a minimum, the consequences of failure can mean death and dismemberment. At most, they can mean the end of a civilization. In that circumstance, lines can and must be drawn, but they must often be drawn with pencils, not pens. Our enemies must know that when they violate the laws of war that they cannot rely on the straitjacket we stitch to save them from the fate they so richly deserve.

It’s not that I mind moral nuance, but contrast French’s position iffy-maybe stance on torture with, say, his stance on sex. You’ll recall he was one of the signers of the so-called “Nashville Resolution,” which didn’t leave much room at all for nuance.

Over the weekend, I was honored to sign a document called the Nashville Statement. It’s a basic declaration of Christian orthodoxy on sexuality, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. Its 14 articles can be boiled down to a simple statement: We believe the Bible is the word of God, and the word of God declares that sexual intimacy is reserved for the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage. It acknowledges the reality of same-sex attraction as well as the reality of transgender self-conceptions, but denies that God sanctions same-sex sexual activity or a transgendered self-conception that is at odds with biological reality. In other words, it’s basic Christianity.

It strikes me odd that a Christian can be ready to declare some kinds of love off-limits, yet leave the door open to committing deadly and abusive violence.

I understand that French makes his argument in the service of saving innocent life, yet the thing he argues for also involves the the taking of innocent life: Their civilians should be killed so that ours aren’t. We use nuclear weapons to kill their children so our soldiers won’t die. That’s justifiable, according to French … but it sure makes a lot of assumptions about God’s rooting interests in the world.

Meanwhile, there’s no question in French’s mind that gay marriage is wrong.

Me? I can more easily accept the mutual moral choices of consenting adults than I can the massacre of people who have no real choice to be targets. “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” seems pretty definitive to me, but we have thousands of years of theological rationalizing giving us reasons to think otherwise.

I’m not saying any of this is easy. I believe David French’s sincerity. But it’s easy to condemn sex and uphold military prerogatives when (like French) you’re a straight former Army officer. Our readings of Scripture — both mine and French’s — might come from motivated reasoning.


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