Lately, I have been meditating on our relationship with the truth. I was reminded this week of a story from my time in undergrad. I was taking a course in political sociology and the subject of political socialization came up. The Open Library at the University of Minnesota defines political socialization as “the process by which people learn about their government and acquire the beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors associated with good citizenship.” The conversation continued and as a class, we outlined the ways American society teaches and indoctrinates the citizenry to believe in concepts like American exceptionalism. One of the students asked: “Why does America need to socialize anyone? Why can’t we all as citizens observe America as a polity and a society and just know that it’s good, or the best? Why put our finger on the scale?”
I remembered this story as I thought about the expulsion of two of the three state legislators, now known as “The Tennessee Three,” who sought to turn the legislative body’s attention toward solutions for ending gun violence in the wake of another school shooting. I was reminded again when the news reported on the barring of a Montana state legislator who spoke to the harm that would be caused by a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for children. Beyond the racism that seemed to be at play in the expulsion of the legislators in Tennessee, or the red herring of tone policing present in both instances, the analogous questions continue to ring in my head. If The Tennessee Three are so wrong about how to address gun violence, why can’t the counter-argument be enough? If Representative Zephyr is wrong about the effects of a ban on gender-affirming care, debate her on the House floor. Why can’t we observe that argument to know if the other position is correct and this type of care should be banned? Why does she have to be barred from the legislature? Why do opposing legislators have to put their fingers on the scale?
Unfortunately, I saw parallels to these situations in the recent election of a new president at Andrews University, which Spectrum reported on. Understand that I make no assumptions about anyone actually involved in the process. However, what seems clear is that comparing the two candidates on their merits was not enough for some. Instead, those people felt that, in order for their preferential candidate to be favored, it was necessary to smear the other one. Let us be clear about the reasoning behind this, as they have been. Those who opposed the candidacy of the provost were concerned about “a growing influence in Adventist higher education that includes ‘environmentalism, socialism, gender interchangeability, gender fluidity, war on men, critical race theory, LGBTQIAS+.’” If this is the concern (and I don’t doubt it), then the discussion should be on those terms. If those who supported the candidacy of the president-elect believe in the rightness and righteousness of their position, then the truth of that position should be able to stand on its own.
The unwillingness (or inability) to defend the truth on its own merits harms the truth and harms our community. First, it sows doubt, and people begin to wonder why we refuse to defend our position. It makes it look like we don’t trust that the truth can survive the debate. Second, what does it say about God and his truth if we have to resort to such tactics to make sure our opinions win? Then our refusal to stand up for truth on its own infers something about God as well. Is the Spirit not powerful enough to convict people of the truth without gamesmanship? We potentially shake people’s faith when we do not allow the truth to stand on its own. I believe that every time truth is challenged, in whatever way, there should be a fair hearing. The counsel of Ellen G. White is appropriate here: “The truth has nothing to lose by a careful and close investigation” (Review and Herald, December 20, 1892).
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.