The Mozilla Brouhaha and the World Vision Reversal—Clear Parallel, or Not?

Bill Evans head shot

One of the biggest stories this week has been Mozilla’s “firing” of newly named CEO Brendan Eich because of his modest financial support of California’s Proposition 8 (which sought to ban same-sex marriage) some years back. To be sure, the episode is a clear demonstration of the clout of the homosexual lobby, and cultural conservatives have understandably reacted with outrage. They rightly sense that it is now open season on cultural conservatives and that depriving such of their livelihood is a goal of many on the Left. Over at First Things, Princeton University social ethicist Robert George has framed the implications of this well:

You can bet it’s not just Mozilla. Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.

Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, observant Jews, Muslims, and others had better stand together and face down the bullies, and they had better do it now, or else they will be resigning themselves and their families to a very unhappy status in this society. A very unhappy status indeed. When tactics of intimidation succeed, their success ensures that they will be used more and more often in more and more contexts to serve more and more causes. And standing up to intimidation will become more and more difficult. And more and more costly. And more and more dangerous.

Even some on the other side of the homosexual question responded with outrage at Mozilla’s decision. For example, Andrew Sullivan, no friend of traditional views on sexuality, posted a number of blog installments on “the hounding of a heretic” (here and here and here).

On the face of it, Brendan Eich seems to be a thoroughly competent, indeed brilliant, computer expert who has done great things for the company that just dumped him.  As software developer and hip-hop artist Yitz Jordan notes, he’s the guy who invented JavaScript. Furthermore, he helped to shape Mozilla’s “open-source” philosophy of software development. But all that professional expertise and commitment to institutional mission is apparently for naught since Eich holds a politically incorrect viewpoint on same-sex marriage. It now seems that Eich’s benighted views, which were more or less the law of the land until the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year, must be extirpated and their proponents hounded out of town.

Of course there have been defenses by the Left of Mozilla’s removal of Eich—some arguing, for example, that Eich’s social views are totally out of step with the pervasive social liberalism of Silicon Valley, or that LGBTQ employees of Mozilla should not be saddled with the anguish of knowing that that their boss just might have some private reservations about their lifestyle choices.   Such arguments should be seen as what they are—as rationalizations of intolerance and psychobabble.

Quite different, but in some ways even more curious, is the argument of Carl Trueman on the Reformation21 website. Trueman contends that there is a parallel between Mozilla case and World Vision’s backtracking on their decision to hire Christians in same-sex-marriages. If conservative Christians rejoice that World Vision backed down in response to lobbying and economic pressure, they should not complain when their cultural opponents use similar tactics successfully. And so, Trueman maintains, the “Mozilla situation is similar.”

But is it? To be sure, there is a bit more to Trueman’s argument. World Vision, he says, is a “parachurch” organization that took a stand on “something not directly germane to its self-appointed task” of humanitarian aid, and Trueman takes this as similar to Mozilla’s removal of Eich for personal views that likewise were not central to Mozilla’s mission. But this is not quite the case, for World Vision is an explicitly Christian organization that requires a Christian profession of faith and some minimal creedal affirmation as a condition of employment. That is, they are seeking to do good things in an explicitly Christian way and from a distinctively Christian perspective. Thus Christian identity and Christian standards of behavior are indeed “germane to its self-appointed task,” and Trueman’s attempt to put World Vision on the same level as Mozilla is misguided.

Of course, long-time British Lib-Dem Trueman has been tut-tutting about those colonial evangelicals with their parachurch organizations and their conservative economics and politics for some time now, and we are not entirely surprised when Trueman (or a Tom Wright) takes it upon himself to lecture American evangelicals on social issues. And we will not comment further on the irony that Trueman’s main gig is working for a parachurch organization, and, incidentally, one that recently filed suit on religious-liberty grounds against the Department of Health and Human Services over the contraception mandate of Obamacare.

The deeper question is why Trueman seems to think that Christians in America should just suck it up when it comes to overt discrimination against cultural conservatives and people of faith. Informing his position may be the so-called Two Kingdoms (2K) doctrine for which Trueman has expressed some sympathy in the past. According to this point of view, there are two kingdoms—the church and the world. The church’s mission is exclusively spiritual in nature, while the kingdom of the world, or the common realm, operates in accordance with generally accessible rational criteria. Thus there is no distinctive Christian worldview, and efforts to influence the world for the better with a distinctively Christian program are both misguided and certain to fail.

While the parallel Trueman draws between World Vision and Mozilla probably makes sense from a 2K perspective, such thinking is dangerous in a number of ways. First, it meshes well with the pervasive privatization of religion in this country. But whether Trueman likes it or not, religion is also about how we live our daily lives and organize ourselves in seeking to help others, and not just about the ministry of word and sacrament on Sunday, and the “first freedom” that many Americans hold dear has to do with both. Second, such thinking can undercut the distinctive role of religiously based organizations that work for the common good. Such “mediating structures” have long been crucially important, as Tocqueville noted long ago, to the success and persistence of American democracy. Finally, such thinking can work to silence Christians at precisely the time they need to be speaking out against an increasingly intolerant Progressive establishment that grows more and more hostile to religious freedom.