David French and the Future of Orthodox Protestantism, 11.25.22

In two recent articles on the Respect for Marriage Act, David French both argues that the legislation contains provisions sufficient to protect religious dissenters and apparently accepts the legitimacy of same-sex unions as civil marriages. These essays have caused much consternation in the Protestant evangelical world. I, by way of contrast, welcome them. At last, the future for Protestant Christians, and the choices we will have to make, are becoming clearer.

Now, I have never met French and only written about him once that I can recall. Ironically, that was when I defended his strategy of politeness in civil engagement over against Sohrab Ahmari’s criticism of “David Frenchism.” In the tradition of good deeds never going unpunished, French’s one engagement with my work (of which I am aware) was a blunt response to my 2021 article “The Failure of Evangelical Elites.” In his reply, French defended himself, criticized me, and deftly avoided my central contention: that evangelical elites will prove unreliable and compromised as the cultural revolution rolls on. In fact, I had not even mentioned French in my essay, but apparently he saw himself indicted. That he responded just days before speaking as a guest at my own college put the dear colleagues who invited him in an embarrassing position. I chose to remain politely silent for their sake, but the incident left me wondering about exactly where the politeness I had earlier defended was now to be found.

Well, life once again mimics art, and it is now clear that French was right to see himself indicted in my essay. Elite evangelicalism is clearly making its peace with the sexual revolution and those of us who will not follow suit are destined for the margins.

The story is bigger than David French, though, and the question “whither French?” is of comparatively little interest compared to that of “whither orthodox Protestantism?” Any answer at this point is purely speculative, of course, but here are my thoughts…

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