• The Harvard Crimson conducts a survey of graduating seniors. This year’s results are, in many respects, unexceptional. Half the class plans to take a job in consulting, finance, or engineering/technology. More than a quarter reports that their parents’ annual income exceeds $250,000. The mean GPA was 3.64. The women are more likely than the men to describe themselves as liberal or very liberal (69 percent compared to 51 percent). And the seniors are overwhelmingly proud to be graduating from Harvard—95 percent say they would choose Harvard again.
There are some surprises, though. Thirteen percent describe themselves as gay, bisexual, or something else, which is interesting given that the best estimates are that 3 percent of the general population falls into that category. Fourteen percent of women say they were sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years. How to square this with the overwhelming affirmation of Harvard? Apparently, being sexually assaulted wouldn’t deter most of these women from choosing Harvard again.
The self-reported sexual activity is also remarkable. Twenty-four percent of students say they did not have sexual intercourse while undergraduates. Can you guess the median number of sexual partners over the course of four years at Harvard? One. Yes, one. It seems that a significant minority of Harvard students are opting out of today’s sexual culture altogether, while a majority are keeping their distance. Which I suppose is not surprising. These are smart kids. The results of the sexual revolution aren’t hard to weigh, and to a great degree these students are steering clear of its excesses.
• Abortion is declining in America. A recent report puts the drop at 12 percent nationwide since 2010. Part of the decline undoubtedly stems from pro-life legislation in a number of states. But a broad cultural change also plays a role. We’ve succeeded in convincing the public that abortion is bad. That’s true even among people who think it’s a “tragic necessity.” This success has been hard won. It’s been a long struggle, and it continues. But as we face bad news about marriage, let’s keep this success in mind. In our permissive, nonjudgmental culture, it’s possible to move people toward sanity. In spite of all the damage done to marriage, it’s possible to rebuild a social consensus that, however imperfect (and what consensus for 300 million people won’t be?), encourages people to do the right thing, which is to restore the link between male-female sexual union, children, and lifelong marriage.
• On June 8, Arthur Brooks published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for less hate in political life. The next day, the editors chose to publish this letter in response by Lawrence Kaplan of Ardsley, New York:
“Those on the political right are understandably unable to mount a serious defense of many of their policy positions. One can’t really make a convincing case favoring tax breaks for the very wealthy, or voter suppression efforts, or opposition to modest minimum-wage increases or the denial of climate change. And so they will often focus instead on the outrage expressed by those who rail against such unfair and damaging policy positions, characterizing the deservedly harsh criticism as divisiveness or class warfare or out-and-out hatred.
“But in a democracy, citizens have not only the right but also the duty to express outrage when it is warranted. Contemptible policies should be treated with contempt.”
I’m tempted to think this a clever editorial fabrication, a little moment when the liberal magisterium chuckles at its often smug attitude of superiority. But I’m afraid it’s earnest.
• From the no-news-like-old-news department: Tony Campolo announces support for gay marriage. In an open letter on June 8, he writes: “It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” That’s been the obvious implication of Campolo’s many calls for “inclusive ministry.”
Inclusion. It’s one of the god terms of our age. What does it mean? Should the Church include unbelievers? By what pharisaical right do we criticize the proverbial “honest atheist”? Isn’t he more of a true Christian than those legalistic people who believe because of the authority of revelation? (How very Jewish of us to think otherwise.) Jesus accepts me “just as I am,” as Campolo puts it, channeling Paul Tillich. Judgment? Repentance? Amendment of life? New creation in Christ? Beware using these merely biblical notions as an excuse for “exclusion.”
• MOBIA is the nickname for the Museum of Biblical Art. They’ve hosted some fine exhibitions in recent years, but the museum knocked the ball out of the park with an exhibition of twenty-three Florentine Renaissance sculptures, including some stunning, larger-than-life statues by Donatello. Called “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello,” the exhibition featured, among many fine pieces, Donatello’s statue of Habakkuk, mouth open in the act of prophecy. I saw the exhibition with MOBIA director Richard Townsend—a superb guide. As he told me, Donatello’s contemporaries were stunned by the statue’s realism, and legend has it that Donatello himself once demanded of the image, “Speak!” Kudos to Howard and Roberta Ahmanson for supporting this show—and MOBIA for many years.
The exhibition ended on June 14. With it, MOBIA ceased to exist. Housed for many years on the second floor of the American Bible Society building on 61st Street and Broadway, the museum was losing its exhibition space. The Bible Society recently sold the building and is relocating to Philadelphia. Homeless, MOBIA was unable to find the financial support needed to rent new space.
MOBIA’s demise is a sad loss. But “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello” was a final, glorious triumph.
• There are times when I feel very proud to be an American. Reading about the responses of the families of those killed in Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was one such moment. It was a testimony of how Christian faith binds wounds, repairs society, and triumphs over evil.
After sitting in a Bible study at the church on a Wednesday evening, Roof took out a handgun and coldly, methodically, killed nine people. Two days later at the bail bond hearing, Chief Magistrate James Gosnell Jr. allowed relatives of the nine victims to address the killer. Five accepted. Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, who was killed by Roof, said, “We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.” Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, also murdered, said, “I just want everybody to know . . . I forgive you.” The relative of another victim said, “Hate won’t win.” Anthony Thompson, son of still another victim, said that he and his family forgave Roof, urging him to repent and accept Jesus as savior.
Those words, spoken so soon after Roof’s vicious, deadly acts, were not a therapeutic expression of “understanding.” Nor was there talk of Roof somehow “working through his hatred.” In the face of injustice, death, and loss, those are pale, bloodless words in comparison to the powerful words of forgiveness. What was spoken by the daughters, granddaughters, and grandsons of those killed by Roof was a sharp-edged sword, cutting to the tendons and bones of our existence. The seventy times seven words of forgiveness Christ commands us to speak to those who sin against us do not “heal.” They destroy sin and death’s power to control the future. They testify to the truth of St. Paul’s words: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As I said, it made me proud to be an American, proud to live in a country where words so full of the power of life are spoken in the public square.
• In the week after the Charleston murders, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from its place on the state capitol grounds in Columbia. The political establishment in South Carolina lined up behind the governor, a significant change from recent years when calls for its removal were met with resistance or indifference.
The Confederate flag has long been a bone of contention in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South. For obvious reasons, it’s seen as a symbol of racial oppression. This stems from more than Civil War days. It returned to prominence in the South during the twentieth century and was given prominence during the civil rights era, often symbolizing white Southern resistance.
Growing up in Maryland in the 1960s, a time of racial conflict, I understood the Confederate flag differently. For me, it evoked the underdog who maintained his dignity in defeat. It symbolized Robert E. Lee and the superiority of nobility, courage, and cultivated intelligence over firepower and overwhelming material advantages. In the flag, I saw the sorts of things that fire the imaginations of young boys—knights, cavaliers, and daring, dashing men on horseback. Although I couldn’t ever have articulated it as an eight-year-old, the battle flag and the Confederacy and the few things I knew about the Civil War constellated into a quasi-religious image of a bitter defeat and suffering justly required as penance for terrible sins. As Lincoln put it, quoting Matthew 18:7, “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to the man by whom the offense cometh.” That was daunting, but attractive because it was rich with meaning. The Stars and Stripes? For a young boy, that was proud and monochrome: victory and triumph unsullied by guilt.
My family was pro–civil rights. A distant relative was a Union general, killed in a minor battle in the run-up to Antietam. We were culturally Northern. My mother wouldn’t buy me the Confederate flag I longed for. She knew its public meaning in 1960s Baltimore. It stood against everything she believed in and wanted to hand down to her children. And so, when we were nine or so, a friend and I devoted a good deal of time to creating a large Confederate flag with colored markers and a bed sheet.
My mom was right, and she succeeded in passing down what she believed. Were I a South Carolina resident, I would support Nikki Haley’s call to take down the Confederate flag. But I’d resist the assumption that it’s merely a symbol of racism. For I still remember the mock battles and heroic deeds of the imagination that were fought and done under that hand-painted Rebel banner. Our nation’s original sin stains its stars and bars set against a blood-red background. But there’s romance in that flag.
• “I identify as black.” So said Rachel Dolezal, the child of two Caucasian parents. Outcry ensued—though, given the warm welcome Jenner received, I’m rather perplexed. Once we let males identify as females and the other way around, what’s the big deal about race, a human feature far less fundamental than our sex?
• A New Yorker cartoon offered a more cogent response to the Dolezal/Jenner phenomenon. It pictures two people at a cocktail party sipping wine. One says to the other, “I’m from New Jersey but I identify as New York.”
• Our beloved dog, Lucy, is a miniature dachshund who identifies as a doberman pinscher.
• I’ve written about Natural Cycles, a birth-control app created by physicist Elina Berglund and her scientist husband, Raoul Scherwitzl. It’s a high-tech version of natural family planning that seems to be catching on with women who are concerned about the side effects of the Pill rather than the morality of artificial contraception. Claire Cohen, deputy editor of the Telegraph Wonder Women, a section of the English newspaper, went off the Pill and started using Natural Cycles. She’s happy with the approach, which involves taking her temperature daily and putting the results into the app. “Somehow I also feel liberated,” she reports, “as though I’m finally in control of my body.”
• On May 19, we held our twenty-fifth anniversary dinner. More than a hundred people attended. The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion with First Things stalwarts George Weigel, Midge Decter, and Timothy George, along with RJN biographer Randy Boyagoda. The discussion ranged from remembrances of our founding and founder to pungent, forceful observations about what we’re facing today and how we should meet those challenges. You can see a video recording of the discussion in the media section of firstthings.com.
• The anniversary dinner raised nearly $100,000 for the 25 Fund, our growing war chest to fund new initiatives. This is not the season to retreat! Many thanks to dinner attendees and other donors who are making it possible for us to advance. If you’d like to know more about the 25 Fund, please write and I’ll send you a summary of our plans.
• I would also like to thank the many people who contributed to our spring fundraising campaign. We exceeded our goal of $500,000.
• ROFTERs are Readers of First Things who gather monthly to discuss each issue. Ben Hames would like to start a ROFTERs group in Atlanta. If you want to be an inaugural member, contact him by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
While We’re at It Sources: Harvard by the numbers: thecrimson.com, June 2015. Defending outrage: nytimes.com, June 9, 2015. Campolo’s inclusion:tonycampolo.org, June 8, 2015. Trans-state: newyorker.com, June 16, 2015. NFP app: telegraph.co.uk, June 20, 2015.