Intransigence as the Key to Reform

One of the features of modern life together, one that requires some explanation, is our apparent limitless capacity to adapt to absurdity. Examples surround us on every hand, but let’s take the fact of tranny boys running in girls’ track meets. And lo! It turns out that boys are better at being girl runners than the girls are. I don’t know what the girls thought they were doing all this time.

Taking a detached and scientific approach to this, we see that it is nuts. Not only is it nuts, but virtually everyone in the world knows that it is nuts. And when I say nuts, I mean bonkers, crazy, deranged, demented, around the bend, unzipped, barmy, psycho, and just plain stupid. I trust I have made my meaning clear? Entering bio-boys in bio-girls events is bat-guano daft.

Not only so, but virtually everybody knows how messed up it is, and everybody still defers to the decisions of the lunatics staging their sit-in in the main offices of the asylum. Why is this?

One clue to how this works can be found in Taleb’s recent book Skin in the Game. He notes how the intransigence of small minorities tends to have an out-sized impact on larger societies. An excerpted chapter from that book is here. This can be driven by religious conviction, resulting in widespread availability of kosher hot dogs. It can be driven by fads, resulting in the manufacturers of beef jerky printing “gluten-free” on their packages. And it can be driven by small minorities in the process of losing their minds, with their failures to grasp reality becoming increasingly evident by the week. And in the early days, the crazy ones are accommodated just like everyone else is accommodated. Knock yourself out, pal.

But at some point, somebody is going to do the bridge too far thing, and a reaction will set in. We are not there yet, but not for lack of diligent trying.

But my point here is not to encourage Christians to join in the inevitable reaction against this craziness. That’s as may be, and there will be widespread relief when it happens. Christians will no doubt be part of the reaction, and I have no complaints about that.

What we evangelicals need to learn in this is how to take a page from this particular playbook. To the broader culture, the culture which will bend itself to accommodate all kinds of things, there is little difference to them between absurdity and apparent absurdity. Up to a point, they will accommodate both.

Someone will object, and say “no, our culture is not being accommodating to us at all when it comes to evangelical cake bakers, florists, etc. The persecution is coming . . .” But actually, we need to be careful not to misread this. This is not an example of the broader culture refusing to accommodate evangelicals, but is rather the last stages of their attempted accommodation of the loons.

So back to the point. The thing that evangelicals have done poorly is that they have been numbered among the accommodators, and not among those who must needs be accommodated. What we have been missing is intransigence. What we need to learn is intransigence. What we need to display, far more clearly, is our intransigence.

Now this intransigence of ours will initially seem to the unbelieving world just as odd and out there as the “boys are just fast girls” line of thought. Unusual sanity and unusual insanity will both seem initially—well, unusual. But the unusual things we propose have the advantage of being grounded in God’s word, and so they will not land us in absurdities. Anything can be made to seem absurd, as Howard the Duck has helpfully noted off in the graphic there. But if it really is absurd, Green New Deal levels absurd, then at some point realities will start kicking you in the teeth.

Socialist economics are absurd, and will get you Venezuela. Heavier than air flight is absurd, and gets you the Wright brothers. Sex leading to pregnancy leading to new people is absurd, and yet it has happened billions of times. Or so I am told.    

So studied intransigence is necessary. We should practice this. And we should practice it in every place that calls for reform—which is to say, everywhere. For evangelicals, most of whom attend churches that are busy trying to accommodate, this means we must start by providing our churches with lessons in what it looks like when godly and unbendable people expect to be accommodated instead.

Now in order for this to work (and by “work,” I mean work under the blessing of God), your principled stand has to be scriptural and scripturally balanced. You could get these same tactics to “work” inside a church by being as unbalanced as the barbarians at the city gates, but that is simply importing the revolution—as opposed to exporting reformation. Revolutionaries and reformers are both intransigent. That is not what distinguishes them. Those in the middle who are not intransigent, those who trying out for the role of Pliable in a remake of Pilgrim’s Progress, are going to be affected, acted upon, either by the crazed revolutionaries or by the sane reformers. One or the other. Thus far the revolutionaries have been driving the church, and also the culture. That needs to flip, and it will not flip until reformers drive the church, and also the culture.

The apostle Paul saw that the compromised seating arrangements at the Antioch potluck were a direct threat to the gospel of grace, and so he threw down (Gal. 2:11). He confronted Peter to his face, and he wasn’t going to budge. If an angel from Heaven appeared and told him to budge, he made it clear that he would not (Gal. 1:8). And it looks like he was drawing the line in an absurd place, but he was not.

This same Paul, when no essential principle was at stake, was more than flexible. He was willing to accommodate the weaker brother in almost limitless ways.  “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:13). But if the presenting problem was the legalist, even if it had to do with the same territory, this same question of eating and drinking, Paul requires us to be unbending and immoveable. “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Col. 2:20–22). Legalists can be pretty intransigent, but we must be more so.

But we, in a spirit of solemn and cowardly compromise, have let the intransigent revolutionaries have it all their way. Up to this point they have handed our heads to us, so that we might hold them in our laps, playing quietly with our ears.

Intransigence is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to life, as a handful of hard cases seem to believe. But this is not the evangelical temptation. The evangelical temptation is to think that accommodation is the “one-size-fits-all” approach to life. So as I am commending this approach, as I am urging conservative believers to grow a backbone, as I am saying that we have a moral duty before God to be difficult to work with—no, more than that—impossible to work with, I am not talking about becoming the kind of guy who gives a great deal of unnecessary grief to every waitress in town. The wisdom that is from above really is “easily entreated” (Jas. 3:17). When it comes to all your personal dealings, you should not be an irascible hardshell.

But neither does the higher calling of love mean that we are to be a mound of quivering and sentimental goo. Let me paraphrase the apostle Paul on this point. If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, then may God damn that guy (1 Cor. 16:22). Clearly the call to love does not mean what everybody appears to think. We need to become a lot more difficult than we have been. Love is NOT what your sainted Aunt Millie thought it was. Love is NOT what the sob sisters on your elder board think. Paul tells us that he thinks the Judaizers were underachieving when it came to circumcision (Gal. 5:12), and he desired that they might go whole hog and emasculate themselves. But then in the next breath he tells the Galatians how important it is for them to walk in the way of love. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”” (Gal. 5:13–14, ESV).

Love, in short, knows how to be intransigent. Let me connect some more dots for you. New Testament love knows how to desire that certain others might mutilate themselves. And if it does not know how to do that, then it isn’t New Testament love.

So if your church, or your denomination, or your company, or your school, or your department, is drifting in ungodly ways—as pretty much all of them are—what do you do? If they are accommodating a lie, if they are perpetuating the lie, then what do you do? There are two essential elements to this. You pray that God will let you make it be known to all and sundry that:

  • You aren’t going anywhere.
  • And you aren’t going to change.

That is godly intransigence. That is the need of the hour. And it is the need of the hour pretty much everywhere.