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Facebook’s a funny thing; or, at least it’s full of things that are funny. Like the puritan Valentines day cards, which were perfect for this year’s Ash Wednesday / Valentines day mashup. I really like this one:

Messing around on Facebook the other day I found something strange. The Facebook page for the Sioux County Conservatives is promoting a petition calling for LGBTQ books to be removed from a local public library. Here’s what I don’t understand: Everything I know about political conservatives suggests that removing or banning books from a public library strikes at the heart of the freedom they value. On every other issue conservatives claim to be on the side of freedom: freedom to bear arms, freedom from regulations, freedom from overtaxation, etc. Furthermore, the constitution has built in protections so the majority cannot simply run over the minority. On the one hand, conservatives believe the government shouldn’t be able to force a baker to make cakes for a gay wedding. Why, then, would these same conservatives call for the removal of LGBTQ books from a public library? Doesn’t the same principle apply? If someone won’t bake a cake, find a different baker who will. Or, if you find certain books offensive, don’t check them out.

I don’t consider myself politically conservative, but I admit there’s a form of principled conservatism I find appealing. The type that pushes back against unnecessary government intrusion into the public square. The type that wants to create opportunity for people regardless of culture, race, and yes, even sexual identity, to seek a good life. The type that takes seriously the free expression of religion so people are free to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution. In this case, however, there seems to be an obvious transgression of religious freedom. Clearly, one group  is trying to impose their moral beliefs, which are clearly grounded in religious beliefs, on another group. I don’t care where you stand on the issue of homosexuality, this is wrong.

The reason I’m not politically conservative is because the human condition is such that we always seem to be afraid of people who are different. Our tendency is to demonize the “other” with labels and stereotypes; unfortunately, religion tends to make this worse. We take a gospel message of God’s love for the world and turn it into the hateful justification of our own agendas, our own issues, and our own fearful attempts at self preservation. I’d like to believe the freedom political conservatives value is possible, but I’m not optimistic. If we’re unable to let people read the books they want at a public library—we have a long way to go.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

23 Comments

  • Jim Kortman says:

    Something to consider: Is a religious conservative a political conservative? Often they are joined, but when investigated deeper, often they are not one in the same.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Out of curiousity, I have read the petition from the Sioux County Conservatives. It doesn’t appear as if “removing and banning” LGBTQ books is what they are attempting. Is there more to the story? Clarity and truthfulness are important.

    • Jason Lief says:

      (3) halt new acquisition of any additional materials that primarily deal with LGBTQ materials before a public discussion can be held about the acquisition so valuable feedback can be given by important stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and faith communities.
      This is the third part of the petition. Also – if you read the comments that are posted by those who were willing to give their names you can see a theme of getting them out of the library.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    So… no “removing” is going on (except for the desire of some Facebook commenters), and no “banning” unless, I suppose, there is widespread taxpayer opposition to the purchase of potentiallly offensive books. Does a local community have any say as to how a local library is run?

    • Jason Lief says:

      The comments are made in the petition. If you look at the signatures on the petition, people have left comments. It’s clear that while, yes, the first part of the petition is asking to label books, the 3rd part suggests that these types of books should not be in the library. Some of the comments that people leave suggest as such. My purpose is not to tell people what they should think about homosexuality—that’s a personal and often religious belief. I’m merely suggesting that a principled conservative approach to this issue would defend the presence of these books in a public library, even if they disagreed with their content.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    “The Facebook page for the Sioux County Conservatives is promoting a petition calling for LGBTQ books to be removed from a local public library.”
    That’s untrue, but what’s a little lie in service to what you believe to be a broader truth. It’s not like you would want to “guard and advance your neighbor’s good name.” Much more fun to spread falsehood and call them names like “puritans”. After all, they’re on the other team. Very high-minded of you, Jason.

    • Jason Lief says:

      I don’t recall calling anyone a puritan… that’s a reference to the funny puritan Valentine cards. There’s a bunch of them and they are very funny, especially since Valentines Day fell on Ash Wednesday. I’m sorry, is the Facebook page not promoting the petition? Or are you arguing that the petition is not doing the following: 3) halt new acquisition of any additional materials that primarily deal with LGBTQ materials before a public discussion can be held about the acquisition so valuable feedback can be given by important stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and faith communities.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Ok, I’ll back off my assertion that you called them the name “puritan” and yet you clearly wanted people to conclude that their actions were puritanical, otherwise you would not have chosen the title you did and started out with a totally unrelated anecdote. No reasonable person thinks you mean the “puritans” in the title to refer to anyone other than the Sioux County Conservatives. The effect is the same.

        Meanwhile, you are not grappling the with actual words you said. You do know what it means for “books to be removed”, correct? “Halting new acquisition” while feedback is received concerning further acquisition is not tantamount to removing books. The petition simply does not call for what you say it does. For your to simply double-down on the assertion does not change the fact that you are not being truthful. And you wonder below how Christians can have “meaningful conversations”. Perhaps start by not mischaracterizing others.

        It is also not clear at all that expressing concern about materials in the public library and seeking a level of community input into what the community offers in the library constitutes a suppression of religious freedom. No one’s right to engage in religious activity of their choice in the manner they chose is restricted by having less than complete arrangement of every sort and manner of literature offered in the library. Would you suggest that there would/should be no limits whatsoever as to what a library offers in a community and how it offers that material? Is any limit, then, an impingement on religious freedom? Does not any person have the right and ability to seek out, where it is offered, such material as suits there desires? Would you react the same to communities that expressed concern about public libraries offering pornography? Would you have libraries offer pornography? If not, are you not by your standard clearly trying to impose your moral values on others?

        • Jason Lief says:

          Honestly, I wasn’t trying to connect the puritan thing to anyone. I just thought it was funny. Blogs are supposed to have a “hook” to get people interested, mine was things I read on facebook. The puritans get a bad rep on the issue of sexuality anyway – they preached on the Song of Songs more than anyone.
          We’ll have to disagree on whether the spirit of the petition is to remove these books from the library. I can’t read #3 and think that the discussion wouldn’t focus on getting the books out of the library. But, maybe I’m wrong. Labeling is just as problematic— where do you stop? Who gets to decide what gets labeled and what doesn’t? Again, my point is simply to suggest that there is a very good conservative argument for not censoring material in a public library. As a parent, isn’t it my responsibility to know what my kids are reading? To know what they check out of the library? Whether it’s homosexuality, pornography, or dogs playing poker, I usually check up on what my kids are doing. That, it seems to me, is a conservative principle. Which is why I find it interesting that the SCC facebook page is promoting the petition. Look, they have every right to do so. I’ll defend their right to do so. People have every right to start a petition. I’m simply wondering about a possible conflict of principles.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            I’ll take you at your word that you did not intend such, but I think that you would be extremely naïve to think people would not relate the two.
            I think you did more than “simply to suggest that there is a very good conservative argument for not censoring material in a public library”. If this was your only point, I would agree wholeheartedly, and that as one who leans conservative. I personally do not have any interest in pursuing changes in how/what the public library offers. There is so much more availability of information today that the library is somewhat anachronistic anyway. Plus, I would rather interact with ideas than avoid them.
            You did go further than that simple observation, though. You accused the conservatives of violating religious freedom, and I don’t think you have made a substantial argument to support that assertion. You also stated things about the petition that are not true. You also equated the compulsory economic offering against religious conviction with concern about the content and manner of material offered in a library. One is an act by the government that compels action by an individual in violation of conscience. The other compels no action whatsoever. To suggest that the same principle as at stake is fallacious. If you would have stuck to the simple argument that you make in the preceding comment, you would have found a much different reaction.

  • George E says:

    In fairness to Jason, he did acknowledge why he could not be one of “them:” “…we always seem to be afraid of people who are different. Our tendency is to demonize the “other” with labels and stereotypes; unfortunately, religion tends to make this worse. We take a gospel message of God’s love for the world and turn it into the hateful justification of our own agendas, our own issues, and our own fearful attempts at self preservation.” Perhaps, with God’s grace, he will be able to see the folks of SCC as not so different at all.

    • Jason Lief says:

      I was trying to acknowledge that there’s something right about a principled conservative position. I’m not attacking the Sioux County Conservatives, I was just surprised to find them promoting the petition for the reasons I describe in the blog post. The reason I’m not politically conservative is because the human condition tends toward selfishness and not a concern for others (In religious terms we call this “total depravity”). I appreciate the principled conservatives because their voice needs to be heard as a corrective to those who hold more liberal political perspectives. I’m wondering if there’s a way for Christians who hold liberal and conservative perspectives to have meaningful conversations on these difficult issues.

  • Eric E says:

    This is clearly an attempt to ban books so I don’t know why people are suggesting otherwise. Instead of just outright asking the library to ban the LGBTQ books, they are saying don’t buy these books until we can have a discussion about it and then we can continue not buying these books. This is as good as a ban but this particular group knows they can’t call for an outright ban.

    Anyway, I appreciate the attempt at finding common ground. But I think the interesting conversation that would maybe lead to more common ground is not “should we ban books?” but “which books should we ban?” Somebody else mentioned pornography but, as a different example, I’d point to books that show racist caricatures (e.g., Dr. Seuss, Huck Finn), which some on the left have wanted to ban from libraries. In our society, people like to talk about “freedom” as the most basic political principle but in reality almost everybody has exceptions. Almost everybody is going to have some book or magazine or something that would cross the line for them on what is acceptable in a public library. The exceptions and the reasons for those exceptions seems like where the conversation needs to be.

  • Tom says:

    OK, moving beyond the banning books or not argument, a comment about conservatism and your understanding of it. You “admit there’s a form of principled conservatism” you find appealing. The “form” of conservatism that you then describe is not just a “form” of conservatism, it’s pretty close to an exact definition of conservatism in the tradition of William F Buckley and many others. Like anything, whether it’s progressivism or conservatism, the analysts tend to split the country down the middle when we all know it’s not that clean any more than saying every churchgoer is a “Christian” and every non-church goer is not. So, for example, it should be absolutely clear to anyone paying attention that Donald Trump is not a conservative, which explains why Buckley’s National Review has been one of his harshest critics. Honestly, it sounds to me like conservatism, correctly defined, pretty well lines up with what you believe, so maybe you should move into that camp.

    Instead, you say you’re not conservative because we (maybe I read you wrong, but it appears the “we” here refers more to ‘conservatives’ than to progressives – I apologize ahead of time if that’s not the case) “seem to be afraid of people who are different” and we “demonize the ‘other’ with labels and stereotypes”.

    Well, it seems to me that the progressivism is much more prone to labelling and stereotyping than conservativism – the modern democrat party appears to be a coalition of disparate groups, each with their own axe to grind but often having little in common with each other and no real ideology of what is right and true other than each advancing their own interest. Again, to be fair, I happily acknowledge that is not true of many folks left of the political center, but I do think it’s a fair critique of the left in general. Certainly on many a college campus (probably not Dordt 😊), where the left is most dominant, the last few years have seen more hostility to the free exchange of ideas than what the Sioux County Conservatives are doing.

    So, maybe that’s just a long way of saying that maybe you really are a conservative after all. True conservativism is, after all, fundamentally based on that very Calvinist idea of total depravity – humanity is fallen; people will seek to dominate other people; limited government with limited power is meant primarily to limit the amount of havoc those people can wreak on the others.

    And remember: God is a small government conservative – is that blasphemous? – maybe, but I believe it. It’s hard to read the Tower of Babel story and think otherwise. Look at the government he initially set up for his chosen people Israel. Just like many of us, though, turns out they didn’t much like it and wanted a king – that didn’t work out so well for them.

    Blessings!

    • Jason Lief says:

      Thanks for your post. The “we” meant all of us. I will be the first to admit that progressives or liberals fall into the same trap. In fact, my last blog post addressed this. Personally, while we’re stuck with these labels and they have some use to differentiate, I wish the Christian community could move beyond them. Honestly, I’m both and neither all at the same time, as I’m sure most people truly are.

  • Henk says:

    It’s good to know that, among The Twelve readership, there are conservative voices who challenge with questions and speak out with undaunted conviction.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    This isn’t a free speech issue (there’s no right to have your lousy book purchased/maintained with someone else’s money); this is a who/how do we decide things issue (we’re not going to buy EVERY book). There’s more than one side trying to “impose their moral beliefs” here.

    So kids need to learn how to play in the sandbox together: in Sioux County they’re figuring out how to do it with a petition; in Berkeley with a mob. No two sandboxes are the same, and so we call the variety of results federalism (another conservative principle).

    • jaded on sioux thinkers says:

      Exactly right. Every library in history has consciously excluded some books & sought others. Library directors will–by the very fact of their occupational choice–assume to themselves the role of intellectual gatekeeper of the community. Protestors risk automatic derision. Big-city libraries must handle the homeless & addicted camping inside during hours, but prosperous small-town facilities can indulge in heroic daring purchases unencumbered by such woes. Newspaper editorial boards will surely take note & cheer. Meantime, I must preserve my own copy of “Case Closed”–a fine book on the JFK assassination–which our library disposed of since it’s much more vital to stay trendy & topical with your finger to the buzz-driven breeze.

  • Rebecca Koerselman says:

    Loved the Puritan valentines. Agreed, though, that the Puritans are quite misconstrued in many respects, including their views on sexuality. For a different kind of laugh, might I suggest the anti-Islamaphobia inspired Valentines? https://www.etsy.com/listing/571050256/so-fly-list-muslimvday-cards-series-6

  • Bet says:

    As a practicing public librarian for the past 28 years, the fastest way to get books to circulate more is to have someone try to ban or “special sticker” them.

  • Ross Hoekstra says:

    Jason, thanks for the thought provoking post. One particular quote that I find compelling is when you say “Our tendency is to demonize the “other” with labels and stereotypes; unfortunately, religion tends to make this worse. We take a gospel message of God’s love for the world and turn it into the hateful justification of our own agendas.” This quote reminds me of a parable by Arthur Schopenhauer that I came across this weekend. He talks about we as Christians are like porcupines on a cold winters day. “When the need for warmth brought them closer together…their quills forced them apart.” The closer we get the more we stick each other with our quills. And the heart of Christianity is moving beyond this tendency to demonize the other and move towards intimacy with God and others. For me that is the heart of the gospel and the deeper reality that you are getting at in this post. Thanks!

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