Should Christina Van Dyke Resign? We Report, You Decide

UPDATE: Edward Feser calls for Christina van Dyke’s resignation.

We are, to be honest, bored of the Swinburne controversy. This, however, seems worth drawing attention to, but will (hopefully) be our last post on it.

Our previous post, Did Swinburne get Swindled?, has received a lot of attention. Among other things, our post was the first to bring attention to Jason Stanley’s appallingly unprofessional comment—“Fuck those assholes”—about Richard Swinburne and conservative Christians. Several outlets have since picked up the story.

In response, the philosopher of language wrote a public Facebook post in which he offered an “apology” purposely misusing the term ‘apology’, since what he wrote was not intended to repair a rift in any interpersonal relationships he may have had with those offended; on the contrary, it was meant to deepen the rift. Here is a snippet of what Stanley wrote:

… I PROFOUNDLY regret not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their religion to promote homophobia, … This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards homophobic religious proponents of evil like Richard Swinburne, who use their status as professional philosophers to oppress others with less power. I am SO SORRY for using such mild language.

Where to begin? Note Stanley’s use of propaganda when he characterizes Swinburne’s views as “homophobic.” This is manipulative rhetoric with absolutely no basis in fact. That and other epithets aside, more important is the fact that something deeply disconcerting has gone unnoticed here—something that every honest member of the Society of Christian Philosophers should be concerned about. But before noting just what that is, visit a nearby possible world with us.

In this world, head of the Good’ol Values Club (GVC) are President Faux Neuter and Executive Director Janus Face. After their latest meeting, Faux Neuter issues a public apology on his Facebook page for the hurt caused by Dr. Progressive’s lecture celebrating homosexual unions as on par with heterosexual ones. Janus Face follows suit, issuing her own apology, setting social media ablaze with two warring factions arguing over the propriety of the apology issued by President Faux Neuter. They are, after all, a club founded to promote good’ol values like traditional marriage. Of those supporting Dr. Progressive’s view that homosexual marriages are just as good as heterosexual ones, Prestigious University professor Donson Trumpley says “Fuck those assholes.” After his comment is picked up by several media outlets, he “apologizes,” saying that he “PROFOUNDLY regrets not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their values to promote the gay agenda.” Members of the GVC sympathetic to gay marriage are horrified by Trumpley’s crass comments. Meanwhile, Faux Neuter and Janus Face announce that their public apology was meant to neither shame Dr. Progressive nor take sides in the debate on gay marriage, and that they welcome diversity and inclusiveness. Members on both sides of the debate, they say, should not feel like the GVC administration is against them. And most importantly, the GVC administration does not endorse but repudiates crass comments, like Donson Trumpley’s, against gays.

But then a juicy fact comes to light: in an unguarded moment, Janus Face “liked” Trumpley’s comment; indeed, she had a hearty laugh about it!

What is your reaction to Janus Face’s actions? It seems clear to us that members of the GVC, especially those on Dr. Progressive’s side, should find her actions deeply problematic. They might even justifiably demand that she step down as the Executive Director. Clearly her actions do great damage to the narrative that both sides are equally welcome in the GVC, pro-gay ones especially. Minimally, such actions indicate that there’s something wrong in the culture of the GVS. And they prove that we ought not take at face value the administrator’s explanations that no ill will is intended to the pro-gay members.

If you haven’t guessed, something very similar happened in the actual world. When Jason Stanley made his crass comments, comments we were assured the SCP administrators have not endorsed but repudiated, SCP Executive Director Christina Van Dyke reacted to Stanley’s post with a “Haha.” She laughed at the fact that he “profoundly regretted not using harsher language” toward conservative Christians. She said “haha” to the fact that he “apologized” for “wildly understating” his true contempt for conservative Christians:

insert

Things get even more interesting. If you were to search Stanley’s post now, you would not see Christina Van Dyke’s “haha” reaction:

2

She apparently realized that it undermined the entire narrative that the administrators of the SCP were neutral toward the views of Richard Swinburne and conservative Christians. It undermines the narrative that she has no skin in the game. It calls into question the claim that the SCP hierarchy is “welcoming” to conservative Christian views. It completely destroys the administration’s apologists’ argument that they do not endorse Stanley’s crass comments.

What to do? As we noted, if the situation were reversed and an SCP Executive Director had joined in a backslapping fest mocking members of the LGTBQ community, it is obvious that this would be cause for much uproar. Would the President of the SCP apologize for the Executive Director’s actions? Probably. But if not, why apologize for Swinburne’s actions? Would members of the SCP, especially progressive ones, call for the Executive Director to resign? Probably. So what will happen in the actual world?

Touchstone

Former feminist turned conservative. PhD. Proud helpmeet. Teaches at a liberal arts school somewhere in the Midwest. Enjoys hunting and eating animals. Favorite musician: Hank Williams Jr.

View All Posts

16 Comments

  1. I’ll bet the answer to this quandary is similar to the answer to the age old question – “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

  2. Bad language should be kept out of polite discourse, even in a quotation. Our society is already too coarse.

    • When B. Obama used the word “nigger” he was within his rights to do so and was not using course language. He was mentioning the word. Mention words or providing quotations is not using course language, it is mentioning or providing quotations of someone else using course language. And there are times when that is worth mentioning.

  3. Hi y’all; glad to see this point of view represented in philosophical cyberspace. I have strong sympathies with conservatism on a number of (perhaps most?) issues, so I’m rooting for this blog to take the high road, and not to descend into the snarkiness and incivility that characterize many of our colleagues’ blogs.
    This is why I’m troubled by the above post. It seems like there’s an important, but fairly straightforward, distinction missing here: one’s speech acts qua representative of an institution or organization, and one’s speech acts qua private individual. When speaking on behalf of the SCP, it seems that both Rea and Van Dyke typically either preface their comments with, “As president of the SCP” or “As executive director of the SCP”, or make an equivalent reference somewhere in their statement. Everything that I’ve seen them post under those auspices seems to be consistent with the stance of the SCP not to take a position on anything other than requiring its members to self-identify as Christian.
    Now surely, both Rea and Van Dyke have reflective opinions on Swinburne’s arguments. Does the very fact of their holding those SCP roles preclude them from voicing those opinions qua private individuals? I’m open to arguments that it might; I can think of somewhat-analogous situations where it does. Potential example: A lieutenant commander in the Navy is charged with enforcing a captain’s orders that they consider unwise. I take it that most people recognize that, in virtue of the LC’s role, they have agreed to execute orders specifically even in cases where they disagree with the captain’s decision.
    It’s this latter bit that makes the case disanalogous to the SCP case: I take it that there’s nothing in the “fine print” of agreeing to take on a leadership role in SCP that prevents one from articulating (or expressing support for) positions about which there’s a diversity of opinion among SCP membership. The default position — particularly among those of a conservative bent! — ought to be that, unless a person specifically prefaces their remarks with a reference to their institutional role, they are speaking for themselves only.
    If the above seems reasonable, then Van Dyke’s “haha” at a controversial view (particularly such a weak and vague expression — thanks for nothing, Facebook!) should be read charitably as a *potential* expression of her support, qua private individual, for *some* aspect of a fairly complicated comment.
    If this is right, then calling for her resignation is uncharitable at best, and a corrosive overreaction at worst. (I’ve tried to model by example, and give a charitable read to the “we report, you decide” format, though its typical usage is much more fig leaf — e.g., “Trump sniffs like a cocaine addict! We report, you decide!”)

    • Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

      //If the above seems reasonable, then Van Dyke’s “haha” at a controversial view (particularly such a weak and vague expression — thanks for nothing, Facebook!) should be read charitably as a *potential* expression of her support, qua private individual, for *some* aspect of a fairly complicated comment.//

      Let’s dissect Stanley’s comment to see which parts or aspect of it she may have supported:

      “I PROFOUNDLY regret not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their religion to promote homophobia, you know that sickness that has led people for thousands of years to kill my fellow human beings for their sexual preferences. Like you know, pink triangles and the Holocaust.”

      She supports this sentiment? That’s objectionable. Or is the following what she found funny?

      “I am really, truly, embarrassed by the fact that my mild comment “Fuck those assholes” is being spread. This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards proponents of homophobic and therefore evil positions such as Richard Swinburne, who thereby use their status as professional philosophers oppressively.”

      I don’t know which aspect of the comment she found funny or whether she found it all funny. What I do know is that it’s probably wrong to react to a status in that way for an unobjectionable aspect of it (if there is one, I’m unaware of it) given the utterly hateful comments in it. For example, if someone wrote ‘Hillary Clinton should not be elected. F*ck that b*tch,’ I wouldn’t click ‘Haha’ on it despite the fact that I agree with some aspect of it (i.e. that she shouldn’t be elected). It would be *wrong* for me to click the ‘Haha’ button because the status includes hate and bigotry even if some of it is true. If I did click ‘Haha,’ that would be pretty good evidence that I approved of that sentiment. It seems to me, then, that this reaction is pretty good evidence that she’s sympathetic with Stanley’s sentiments (and what she probably found funny about it was his apologising *for not being *more* grotesque in his attack on people with Swinburne’s views*).

      Of course, she wasn’t expressing support as the Executive Director of the SCP. That isn’t the point the author of this post was making and you’ve failed to respond to the *argument.* The point is that someone who endorses those views probably shouldn’t be in a leadership position of an organization that is supposed to be a friendly home to the kind of people that status attacks. And that’s the point of the parody as I see it. If another Executive Director had endorsed sexist or bigoted comments on Facebook (e.g. ‘f*ck those women’ or ‘f*ck liberal Christians’) ‘qua private individual,’ there probably would be public calls for his resignation. But because the target in this case is traditional, orthodox Christians, we’re supposed to give her a free pass? The administration shouldn’t include people who have such contempt for a substantial portion of the membership. This should be obvious.

    • SCC,

      It is far from clear how Van Dyke’s *expressed* view qua private individual can be distanced/separated from her views qua Executive Director of the organisation. Seems to me we have a clear overlap in play. Is her private view left at the door when she ‘enters’ her professional role?

  4. I agree with Conservatrian’s comment. I’ll add one further remark about this: “If this is right, then calling for her resignation is uncharitable at best, and a corrosive overreaction at worst.” I don’t recall Touchstone calling for anyone’s resignation. She simply raised the question. Feser called for the resignation, so that part of the comment seems more appropriate over at his blog. But, personally, I don’t think someone from the Society of CHRISTIAN Philosophers should have a leadership role who expresses favorable sentiment towards remarks such as Stanley’s. And even if not expressing favorable sentiment towards such remarks, at the very least, it’s evidence of a lack of the virtue of wisdom (not that “professional” philosophy stresses either virtues or wisdom these days).

  5. As the editor, there was some discussion over how exactly we should frame this post, given that the predictable reaction from the other side would probably be something like “Really? They’re calling for a resignation over a Facebook like?”

    Note first that nobody here called for a resignation. We left it as an open question for our readers to consider. But Touchstone’s real point is this: it is important to show what those in leadership positions in the SCP actually think about orthodox Christian beliefs, *especially* given the fact that Rea’s apologists have said that no one in the administration is sympathetic to the hateful comments. The Facebook like, however subtle it was, is evidence of a mindset that is deeply hostile to certain Christian beliefs. And that is surely something that will impact one’s thinking when they’re in a position of leadership, whether they are speaking from that position or not.

    Sometimes the only way to detect a significant problem is by looking at symptoms that might look trivial. van Dyke may be good at concealing what she thinks, but she slipped up.

    • Thanks for the substantive interaction, y’all; I don’t take respectful dialogue on the Internet for granted, and I’m grateful for it, especially here, and especially on this issue!
      Speaking of respectful dialogue, let’s just all agree that Stanley’s comment was wildly inappropriate for a public context. (Whether a Facebook status set for a limited audience is a public context, I take to be a separate question. I think it’s not, but let’s grant that it is, for these purposes.) Can we also agree that we often laugh at inappropriate things? I don’t particularly like this aspect of my character, but I certainly laugh when comedians make an especially funny “burn” against folks who shouldn’t be made fun of (say, rape victims). It’s usually only after the fact, upon reflection, when I think, “Oh man, that was actually a pretty horrible thing to laugh at. Ugh, I really shouldn’t have. Original sin strikes again.”
      So perhaps this does reflect a “significant problem” in my character by me “slipping up” what I usually “conceal”: my immature sense of humor, and in particular, my inability to foresee the harms that might be suffered by those who are in the group that’s the butt of the joke. I would hope, though, that it wouldn’t disqualify me from serving in a leadership position in organizations that advocate for rape victims — **particularly if I am one myself**. Not laughing at such jokes in the future would also be a kind of evidence that I’ve reflected on the issue & recognized the harms. Seen in that way, the removal of the “haha” represents not a “slipping of the mask”, but rather a recognition that if you laugh at an inappropriate joke, and then realize, “This is not who I am or aspire to be”, you should stop laughing and take stock of yourself.
      One further thought about the private individual/role distinction: I can speak only for myself here, but if I’m in a leadership role of an organization (whether religious, political, or otherwise), I’m typically far less quick to speak or act than I am when I do so as a private individual. I’m cognizant of the representational duties that I accepted when I took on the position, and I put my own views and opinions on hold while I deliberate and weigh the views and opinions of those I represent. Of course, a complete separation is purely fictional, but in my view, a good leader will consider their own views and opinions as those of one member in a much larger group — and then act in accordance with the wishes of the group as a whole.
      Perhaps this isn’t how others see the role of a leader, though. And I’m open to the claim that I am hopelessly naive for (1) thinking that people make moral mistakes in public that are maybe just moral mistakes, and not necessarily revelatory of secret motives or opinions; and (2) thinking that people in leadership positions can discharge their duties to represent a group well while treating their own views as one set among many such sets. I suppose I’ll have to own up to those charges.

      • Apologies, also, that my paragraph breaks aren’t as definitive as I’d hoped — that above comment really is a pain to read! Sorry!

      • I think you make a lot of good points, SCC. I am really happy to see, as you are, a right-of-center philosophy blog. But I too share the sentiment that I hope it takes the “high road” as you’ve called it.

        As far as the woman’s resignation… I’m queasy about calling for such things. (I know this blog only reported Feser’s call, and didn’t make its own call, but I’m just answering the question.) I do understand that as a Christian group, SCP could justify that. I don’t think the optics of it would be very positive though.

        How often do these leadership positions get voted on, and by whom? Maybe the “ballot box” is a better way, I’m not sure.

      • SCC,

        With respect, you are failing to take into account the relevant fact that Van Dyke ‘played her hand’ at a time when the SCP leadership’s *very ability* to be impartial on this matter is in question. We have been ‘assured’ of the leadership’s neutrality on the issue. Yet here we have the Executive Director seemingly showing her support for a left-leaning detractor’s vile comments aimed at Swinburne and other conservative philosophers. This is in *direct* and *immediate* conflict with the current situation and the SCP’s statement of neutrality. In a responsible society where accountability is paramount, Van Dyke’s position would be untenable.

      • SCC,

        And Yes, I would hope your being identified laughing at a ‘joke’ about rape victims *would* disqualify you from continuing in a leadership role within an organisation that advocates for rape victims. This is simply a matter of responsibility and accountability and acknowledging (at best) an error of judgement.

        Now let’s tighten up the analogy somewhat. Let’s say the leadership of the organisation [for rape victims] is under scrutiny concerning its ability to remain sensitive to those for whom it advocates. *Now* let’s say you are seen laughing at a joke about rape victims. Seems to me that, as with the Van Dyke episode, this would be utterly appalling, and would require that you immediately step down from your leadership role of the organisation advocating for rape victims.

  6. The irony of a philosopher of language throwing out the terms ‘homophobia’ and homophobic’ without any regard for (understanding of?) the meaning of the term. The leftist cult mindset cannot let pesky things like rightfully applying terms get in the way of their swivel-eyed prejudices.

  7. For Leonidas,

    Pardon me for pounding the table, but the Swinburne controversy strikes me as Exhibit A as to why we need a new Syllabus of Errors as outlined in my September 6 post found under “About Rightly Considered.” The cultural war will not be won playing defense and responding to the latest leftist outrage. We have to find a way of taking the battle to the enemy.

    Let me add an additional thought to the concept in my September 6 post. The project as I outlined it should be done in short form and long form. The short form would be 95 theses, grouped topically. The long form would be an annotated bibliography keyed to the propositions. The short form would be polemic and confrontational, an indictment of what’s wrong with the leftist world outlook. The long form would give the reader directions to key source materials, where to go to get right reason. It would the kind of stuff that comes after “But I say that…” It would be positive and instructive in tone.

    Regards, Jim

Comments are closed.