Profile in courage: Isabella Chow
A Berkeley student leader’s pro-traditional marriage stance provoked a huge backlash
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You may have read in newspapers or heard on The World and Everything in It what happened to Isabella Chow, one of the 20 members of the student senate at the University of California, Berkeley.
The backstory starts in 1972, when Title IX of that year’s U.S. Education Amendments prohibited “discrimination on the basis of sex” in educational programs that receive federal dollars. Everyone knew then what “sex” means, but the Obama administration redefined it into anything a person wants to be, and the Trump administration recently proposed to restore the scientific and original legal meaning of the word.
The Cal-Berkeley student senate three weeks ago was bowing once again to political correctness by passing a resolution opposing that move. Completely expected: All in favor, of course, say aye. Unanimous, right? But wait: Chow took a stand. She abstained from voting yes, and then explained why, as follows:
“I have said, and will always say, that discrimination against or harassment of any person or people group is never, ever okay. I certainly acknowledge any pain and experiences of individuals in this room who have gone through what no human being should ever go through. My heart breaks for you, even more so if your pain has come at the hands of bullies and bigots who purport to be Christians but show no ounce of the love and understanding that Christ came to give. These shameful individuals only perpetuate the toxic stereotypes that my community and I vehemently abhor and even fight tooth and nail to strike from our identity in Christ.
“My God is one who assigns immeasurable value to and desires to love each and every human being. In God’s eyes and therefore my own, every one of you here today and in the LGBTQ+ community as a whole is significant, valid, wanted, and loved—even if and when our views differ. Jesus only had the deepest love and compassion for all who came to him. I hope that my actions and words, in addition to the relationships you and I have cultivated together, over the past couple years have only demonstrated the same depth of love and compassion.
“That said, I cannot vote for this bill without compromising my values and my responsibility to the community that elected me to represent them. As a Christian, I personally do believe that certain acts and lifestyles conflict with what is good, right, and true. I believe that God created male and female at the beginning of time, and designed sex for marriage between one man and one woman. For me, to love another person does not mean that I silently concur when, at the bottom of my heart, I do not believe that your choices are right or the best for you as an individual.
“Where this bill crosses the line for me is that I am asked to promote a choice of identities that I do not agree to be right or best for an individual, and to promote certain organizations that uphold values contrary to those of my community. After lengthy conversations with many of my community leaders and advisors, I have chosen to abstain from voting on these bills tonight.
“In closing, I again affirm with all my heart that each one of you in this room deserves nothing less than respect, acknowledgement, legal protection, and love, no matter your beliefs. I humbly ask that you extend this same respect and acknowledgement to my community as we continue this dialogue together. The Christian community is here to love and serve this campus in the way that we best know how. Thank you for your understanding, and please feel free to reach out to me at any time if you want to discuss this or anything else.”
Chow thanked listeners for their understanding, but in the past three weeks she hasn’t received much at Berkeley. Her student political party ousted her. Several campus groups condemned her. The student newspaper, The Daily Californian, attacked her, called for her resignation, and refused to publish any response from her. More than 1,000 students signed a petition accusing her of hatred. Many denounced her at a big campus meeting. Etc., etc.
Based on what the Bible says, we can be sure that an Audience of One sees it differently. Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Andrew Walker, writing for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, drew a sad but important conclusion: “Chow is the very definition of class, dignity and civility. She’s a model for what faithful Christian discipleship looks like in the public square. There is no foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for anyone. She loves everyone; she just did not want to violate her conscience. … This story is a reminder that no amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot.”
He continued, “There’s an evangelical temptation that believes that if we can just communicate orthodox beliefs in the right way, if we can appear as nuanced as possible, then those on the other side of the aisle will see us as goodwill, reasonable actors. We’re tempted to think that finding the right aesthetic or tone will resolve the underlying tensions that exist when Christianity confronts the world with an ethic that the world does not want to hear. We think we can have our cake and our popularity, too.”
That doesn’t work. Walker writes, “Be gracious. Be winsome. Be civil. Be polite. Of course, never be less than these things, but at the same time, realize that to be a Christian, more may be required of you, like sharing what’s on your conscience and being willing to pay the price for it. Your kindness will still get you in trouble. No amount of niceness, civility, or winsomeness will pacify those voices who will hate you and your Christian values.”
We report Chow’s story briefly in the issue of WORLD that goes to press today, but WORLD reporter Sophia Lee interviewed Chow yesterday and will post a longer story tomorrow.
Chow and I exchanged emails on Saturday, and here’s what I’m a little abashed to report, but I’ll do so because it will hearten our faithful WORLD subscribers: When Chow gave us permission to publish her full statement, she also wrote, “My family has read WORLD for as long as I can remember (even at Berkeley, I still regularly read WORLD’s emails and Globe Trot).”
The ERLC’s Andrew Walker predicted, “There are going to be more Chows, not less.” May that be so. He concluded, “Her example is an example for all of us, as Christians prepare to stay faithful.” Amen.
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