Matthew Franck is surprised by the reaction he is receiving to his defense of traditional marriage:

After publishing articles recently in the Washington Post and First Things , both arguing that the defenders of conjugal marriage between a man and a woman should not be tarred as irrational bigots, “haters,” or “theocrats” by the advocates of same-sex marriage, I received e-mail messages from likeminded friends hailing me for my “courage.” I was grateful for their appreciation, but a little mystified at what I took to be overstatement. I find little reason to hail the “courage” of someone who defends the consensus view of the whole history of human civilization—that marriage is a bedrock social institution that unites a man and a woman in order to make a family—as rational and well intended. But one of the kind notes came from a friend who was about to leave for Cuba to help beleaguered Christians there, persons of whom the word “courage” can be used without embarrassment. So what was going on?

It was simple: my correspondents were academics, writing from within the establishment of American higher education, where it can be very uncomfortable to speak out against the idea of same-sex marriage. Are people’s jobs on the line if they dissent? This is harder to say with certainty, and the circumstances will not be the same everywhere. The deadly combination of unchallenged liberal presumptions and casual intimidation of dissenters is probably at its worst in the most prestigious universities, which set the tone for the rest of the country, on this issue as on many others. But in all except the most resolutely religious colleges, there is no doubting that the default position of the American academy is to dismantle the institution of marriage and remake it on a new basis. The result is a good deal of self-silencing—self-exile into the “new closet” on issues involving sexuality—not just by students but by faculty, too. The path of least resistance turns out to be the path of no resistance. For institutions that claim to be homes of diverse views and free inquiry in the pursuit of truth, this creeping orthodoxy is a sign of wounded institutional integrity and failed leadership.

The rest of Franck’s excellent article addresses a concern within law schools and the legal system. But I think the reaction by his colleagues is worth noting for what it says about conservative academics, particularly orthodox Christians in secular institutions. The sad fact is that the reason they find it “courageous” to defend, as Frank notes, “the consensus view of the whole history of human civilization”, is that they are cowards.

I don’t use that term lightly and am hesitant to apply it broadly. But I believe the term is justified in this context: If you’re afraid to defend your core convictions because of what your peers might think, then you’re a moral coward.

Although I’ve never put it in quite those terms, I’ve touched on this subject before. In January I offered some ” unsolicited advice to young conservatives ” which included the admonition “Don’t hide who you are”:

If you are conservative, don’t be afraid to be a conservative. There is nothing inherently immoral, shameful, or unsophisticated about being culturally or politically conservative—so don’t give the impression there is hiding what you really believe. Fooling yourself into thinking there is an advantage in keeping quiet until you have job security is a frequent failing of ambitious but inwardly tepid young conservatives. For thirty years they have entered the academy with the idea that if they manage to hide their true selves until they gain tenure, they will then be able to speak boldly for the cause of conservatism. It never happens. If you are too sheepish as an adjunct to be honest about who you are, you won’t become leonine speaker of truth when you become the department chair.

While I think young non-tenured academics who refuse to say what they really believe are also cowards, I can at least understand their reasoning. Choosing not to be honest about your convictions when it could cost your career has the illusory appeal of being pragmatic. But I cannot fathom the justification of the tenured professors. Why are those who are secure in their positions so weak-kneed and chicken-hearted that they will not even speak out in defense of the most ancient of God-ordained human institutions?

Obviously, there are some exceptions to the rule for not everyone who holds their tongue is timorous. For instance, there are some singular-minded academics who make it a point of never publicly expressing an opinion on any matter outside their field. But that is a rare breed of scholastic bird. Most professors are more than eager to opine on any number of issues—from the idiocy of George W. Bush to the wisdom of cap-and-trade laws—provided that their views don’t shock the sensibilities of their liberal colleagues.

It is this group who deserves our attention and censure. Indeed, something needs to be done to stiffen the spines of these scaredy cats. As an advocate of shame-based behavioral conditioning, I propose that we ask these closeted conservatives in academia why we shouldn’t be ashamed of them when they they lack the courage to defend their own convictions. We should look them in the eye and ask them to give an account of their spinelessness.

We should be selective in our approach, so for now let’s give the non-tenured a pass. Although they are not off the hook, they have so few tenured exemplars to show them how to defend their convictions with integrity and courage that they they may simply not know how to be brave.

Who’s with me? Who agrees that it is time for submissive conservative academics to grow some spines? Who will join me in calling out the craven conservatives cowering in our colleges?

Articles by Joe Carter


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