Sometimes the most mundane things can expose the vast and yawning gulf between the cultural and religious Right and the secular Left. Take, for example, this simple tweet from Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker:
Mike Pence never dines alone w a woman not his wife, nor does he attends events w alcohol, w/o her by his side. https://t.co/BxfS0JzbAc
— Ashley Parker (@AshleyRParker) March 29, 2017
She was noting one detail from a long and interesting profile of Karen Pence, and it struck me as a completely conventional and wise practice. In fact, I would have been surprised if he had any other policy, at least on dining alone. I don’t know a single prominent Evangelical leader or pastor who doesn’t govern their lives similarly — perhaps not with the identical policies, but still taking great care in their relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Others, mainly on the left, reacted as if Pence was a curiosity at best, and a misogynist at worst. I won’t round up all the tweets (Mollie Hemingway and Jason Howerton have numerous examples if you’d like to see them), but the New York Times’ Nate Cohn spoke for many when he tweeted: “The response to Pence’s unwillingness to be alone with women is, from my POV, the most surprising and eye-opening cultural divide in a while.”
Yes indeed, it should be eye-opening. Even in polarized times we often underestimate the difference in world view between many (certainly not all) Christians and many (certainly not all) secular progressives. Let me break this down as clearly as possible.
It’s too simple to say that orthodox Christians believe that man is fallen, that we’re all subject to temptation, and that precautions like the Pence family’s mainly represent prudence in action. The spiritual reality goes even deeper. Men and women were created to be together. The attraction between man and woman can’t be reduced to mere lust (though that certainly exists) but is instead rooted in their fundamental complementarity. In other words, when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he wasn’t speaking of hanging with the guys at the gym.
Because of this powerful reality, when you put men and women together in intimate or intense situations, sexual relationships are inevitable. To be clear, it’s not inevitable that any given individual will have a relationship, but in the aggregate it will happen, and it will happen even in the face of rules, regulations, and social taboos.
Thus, Christians who refuse to recognize this reality and refuse to adjust their own behavior and family practices accordingly are foolish, naïve, or possibly arrogant. I’ve lived long enough already (I’m only 48) to see Christians live the entire cycle of bitterly earned experience — scoffing at their parents’ rules, living lives similar to their secular peers, and either falling themselves or seeing so many others fall that they return to their parents’ wisdom.
Many folks on the left, by contrast, find this entire line of thinking absurd. They don’t see men and women as “men and women” (what is gender anyway?) but as “people.” So it’s strange and sexist to say that two people can’t have dinner together on the same basis as any two other people — especially if that policy is perceived to place women at a professional disadvantage. (I’d contest the notion that Pence’s rules place anyone at a disadvantage. Indeed, placing proper boundaries around opposite-sex relationships can help cleanse the workplace of the sexual scandals that do more to inhibit professional women than any limitations on private dinners.)
Extending the Left’s argument further, it’s thus strange and sexist to argue that men and women can’t live and work side-by-side in any number of close and intense circumstances without causing sexual tension and drama. And if sexual tension and drama happen anyway, then that’s merely evidence of the persistent sexism that pervades the American workplace. Why can’t “people” just work together as professionals?
At the end of the day, two irreconcilable world views collide. Think of the extreme example — women in combat. Countless Christians and other cultural conservatives look at the Left’s argument and think, “Why do you want to infect infantry platoons with sexual tension?” In response, countless progressives think, “Why do those misogynists believe sexual tension is inevitable?” Or, perhaps, “If sexual tension occurs, we can stamp it out through better training and education” — rejecting the idea that they’re hopelessly pushing against human nature itself.
During the brief few days when I contemplated an independent run for president (did that really happen?), I was roundly mocked on Twitter after a Politico reporter found and tweeted an incomplete summary of the “rules” my wife and I jointly agreed upon during my deployment to Iraq. To put them simply, she agreed not to drink while I was away (I couldn’t drink while in Iraq, by military policy), we both agreed to be extremely careful about forming new friendships with people of the opposite sex, and we set boundaries on non-professional interactions with people on the Internet.
It was easier for me to comply than for her — I was part of an all-male unit at a remote Forward Operating Base — but I still stand by our rules not just as the best choice for our family but as a prudent consideration for other military families facing long deployments. I’ve seen too many good Army families break up to believe that the problem is simply lust or lack of self-control. There is extraordinary, natural power in emotional intimacy between men and women, and that intimacy is only enhanced in stressful times.
Now that I’ve returned home, my wife and I don’t live by the same rules we used when I was deployed, and we don’t govern our household the same way as the Pences, but we do still have our own guidelines. And they exist not just because they “work for us” but because they reflect deeper truth.
God made men and women for each other. People can and do reject that notion and emerge unscathed. People can understand that truth and still fall. Life can’t be reduced to formulas. But what do you do when you understand that truth? The Pences know. Most Christians know. To defy reality is to needlessly and arrogantly risk ruin. To understand reality is to embrace humility and prudence. The Pence family has made the right choice.
— David French is a staff writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.