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Modes of Enquiry and the Gender, Sexuality, and Marriage Debate: From Teacher to Lecturer to Dialogue Partner to Tribal Warrior

Martin Davie’s response to the manifesto ‘Christians United in Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church’ (issued on 30 August, 2017) is excellent.[1]  Davie takes each point and shows its inconsistencies, particularly with Scripture and the Christian tradition.  In light of the ongoing pressure through dialogue to come to an affirming view of multiple instead of binary sexualities and of sexual desires, acts, and relationships contrary to Scripture and Church teaching, Davie’s patient explanation of the manifesto’s errors is most welcome.

My point in this blog post is much more specific.  It is that the nature of the dissemination of knowledge and the approach to enquiry have shifted radically in the past few decades, and this has led to changing convictions.  With this manifesto (and the likes of it), we appear to be moving on from the era of dialogue befitting postmodernity to a new era of liberal fundamentalism characteristic of Western tribalism.  If the Christian teacher was replaced by the university lecturer as the Church battled a shift to Modernity in the Enlightenment and afterwards, and the university lecturer gave way to the dialogue partners of postmodernity, the latest development is that dialogue is giving way to the warriors of Western tribalism, in which a particular (politically ‘correct’) tribe dominates others.

In making this point, I would refer the reader to Alisdair MacIntyre’s Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry.[2]  MacIntyre argues that there are three, incommensurable versions of moral enquiry.  The first is to be associated with Modernity.  He calls it ‘encyclopaedia’ because the encyclopaedia well describes the manner in which this enquiry proceeds.  It assumes a Cartesian method of doubt, followed by establishing foundational absolutes, followed by study that finds a unity in all truth.  The sciences offer good examples of how this process of enquiry unfolds.

MacIntyre terms his second version of enquiry ‘genealogy.’  It challenges the encyclopaedic version in that it rejects foundationalism and absolute truth, and therefore the notion that truth is unified.  Friedrich Nietzsche argued in his On Genealogy of Morals that morality is the expression of power: persons in power use their situation to create a morality to keep others in check.  Morality is not absolute but is conditional, contextual, constructed, and local for the postmodern ‘genealogist’ and, for Nietzsche, is also a matter of power and suppression.  Indeed, in the dialogues and conversations set up in Western mainline denominations around the issues of gender, sexuality, and marriage, the dynamics of power and suppression have always been lurking in the shadows.

MacIntyre’s third version of enquiry is termed ‘tradition.’  Unlike encyclopedia, it does not begin with doubt that removes all beliefs before embarking on a programme to establish foundational truths.  Instead, it begins with faith and seeks understanding.  The convictions of faith are studied in terms of their fidelity to authorities—such as Scripture and the Church’s teaching.  A community’s faith becomes a starting point for enquiry, not to be erased in order to find universal, scientific, foundational truths apart from faith.

In his Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, MacIntyre observes that different approaches to study are involved.  He notes that the lecture fits very well with the encyclopaedic version of enquiry.  A lecturer assumes that the audience lacks knowledge, and the audience does well to remain in a passive posture to receive the knowledge of the expert lecturer.  This has been, and in many departments still is, the model of instruction in the universities.  In the genealogy version of enquiry, the lecture is most inappropriate.  What is needed is a process of dialogue that values diversity and inclusiveness.  (Think literature department instead of physics department in the university.)  For this to ‘work,’ everyone needs to buy into the idea that there is no discovery of truth, only an endless process of engagement. 

The reductio ad absurdum of such a view of enquiry is that, despite all the talk about diversity and inclusion, those who believe that there is a truth, a moral standard, a created order, a revealed word of God are, necessarily, rejected.  Diversity and inclusion cannot be extended to everyone and are, in the end, actually a sham.  Unity around a politically correct conviction, not diversity, and exclusion of those who hold anything otherwise, are in fact the values of this post-postmodern, tribal community.  That is, the genealogy position is, as Nietzsche observed and embraced, not a position of diversity and inclusiveness but a position of power.  Thus, the genealogy—or postmodern—view of enquiry inevitably evolves quickly into a form of tribalism in which one tribe excludes another on the basis of shared particulars of one sort or another.

In the case of the ‘Christians United’ manifesto, we no longer have the view that diversity and inclusiveness are valued in themselves but the view that the articles of conviction affirming LGBT+ identities and practices offer particulars that define a particular, politically correct tribe and exclude all dissenters.  In the ‘Christians United’ manifesto, the tribe is declared to be ‘Christian,’ yet it roundly attacks the Scriptures and historic, Christian tradition on the issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality.  While championing ‘diversity and inclusion’ in dialogue in a culture that still accepts a postmodern approach to enquiry, the tribal chiefs (or archbishops) pressing the LGBT+ agenda are set on defining a politically correct community that rejects traditional Christianity and natural law.

MacIntyre’s third version of enquiry, tradition, is easily recognisable to all familiar with Christian tradition, yet it shares features in common with other traditions as well.  The tradition approach to enquiry disseminates information through a trusted teacher, one who is faithful to the authorities of the tradition.  He or she might offer lectures, as the encyclopaedist does, yet the monastic robe replaces the laboratory coat, as it were.  Unlike the postmodern dialogue, people gather to learn the traditional teachings and to investigate them according to the canons of faith.

One reason, surely, that the LGBT+ agenda has advanced in Western, mainline denominations is that, at the same time, Western culture has transitioned from an encyclopaedic Modernity to a genealogical Postmodernity.  Not only the convictions but the mode of engagement and enquiry has changed.  The method of enquiry has led the change in convictions themselves.  Audiences no longer submitted themselves to lectures about such basic absolutes as sexuality and gender, and the denominational leaders submitted their constituents to years of dialogue that did not seek truth but simply mutual understanding, inclusion, and acceptance.  Lost in all this was the proper role of the teacher in communities of faith.  Instead, these leaders mandated that laity, clergy, and scholars had an equal role to play in listening to one another, without anyone teaching anyone else.  In a word, the tradition of faith was silenced in the circle of emotional ‘sharing’ of experiences.  Indeed, the tradition of faith became the outsider of the new tribe that, among its various tricks, insisted on calling itself ‘Christian’ when, in fact, it rejected Christian authorities and history.

Yet the Christian tradition lives on, despite these onslaughts in the West.  In fact, in many areas it thrives and is not self-destructing and crumbling in numbers, as are the mainline denominations outside the majority world.



[1] See Martin Davie, ‘Christians United, An Analysis and Response’; online at https://mbarrattdavie.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/christians-united-an-analysis-and-response/ (accessed 12 September, 2017).
[2] Alisdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 7th ed. (Univ. of Notre Dame, 1991).