Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Applying the App Apple Denied

Technology is changing a lot of things. Turns out, our access to free speech may be one of them.

After complaints by the Huffington Post, Apple has revoked the "app" for Chuck Colson's Manhattan Declaration. Not that Apple doesn't have every right to have done that, since the iPhone is a private product. Yet the Declaration folks, understandably, are not pleased.

You see, the Huffington Post, online voice of former-conservative-turned-liberal-pontificator Arianna Huffington, advocates for radical liberal causes such as marriage between same-gender couples.

Apple, the uber-hip personal communications company owned by liberal tech guru Steve Jobs, prides itself on it's elite, leftist social justice pedigree.

The Manhattan Declaration, Chuck Colson's latest foray into conservative political advocacy, calls for the preservation of three specific traditional values: the sanctity of life, the continued exercise of religious liberty, and marriage as being exclusively heterosexual. An array of conservative theologians and practitioners from various Judeo-Christian religious persuasions have endorsed the Declaration in the hopes of establishing a political legitimacy for these issues.

Which is where Apple's revocation of the Manhattan Declaration's iPhone app comes in. Colson's Declaration, with its endorsement of marriage as the union between one man and one woman, flies in the face of the radical left which has been writing same-gender marriage legislation across the country. After liberal activists incited by the Huffington Post complained to Apple that the Declaration's language constitutes hate speech and foments "divisive" attitudes, Steve Jobs' corporate censors quietly withdrew the app over this past Thanksgiving holiday.

Censorship or Business?

Censorship is a strong word, but that appears to be what Colson and the folks at the Manhattan Declaration have insinuated of Apple. They created an app - at no expense to Apple - for their website, like hundreds of organizations have already done, and Apple's automatic certification systems green-lit the Declaration's app since it met all of their basic technical requirements. It wasn't until the folks at the Huffington Post got agitated after seeing it there, on what they've apparently claimed as their leftist turf, that Apple over-ruled itself, claiming they don't want to support opinions and dogma which undermine their own corporate worldview.

Which, as I've said, is Apple's right. Whether Colson and his team at the Declaration understand Apple's prerogative in this matter, however, isn't clear. What is clear is that they're upset and "perplexed" about Apple's decision.

Well, I'm not perplexed, and Colson shouldn't be, either. After all, the whole reason he came up with the Manhattan Declaration to begin with involved his concern that America's traditional family values were eroding before our very eyes. Indeed, no evangelical should be surprised when those of a different viewpoint fail to understand us. Frankly, we should be surprised - and even embarrassed - that we don't experience more of it. If we're really all about Christ and His Gospel, we probably should be a lot more different from - and much less accepted by - the culture around us.

Who's the Real Hater?

What Colson and the Declaration team have a right to be perplexed about, however, is the vehemence with which the radical left appears to be attacking. It's almost as if those fiercely opposed to the Declaration haven't even read it. I've posted before about my tepid endorsement of the Declaration, which by way of full disclosure, I have signed, but I can't deny that Colson and his co-writers have taken great pains to graciously explain their case. The only way somebody could vilify their writings is if you refuse to consider respectful dialog as part of a civilized society.

Here, for example, is the conclusion to their treatise on heterosexual marriage:

"And so it is out of love (not 'animus') and prudent concern for the common good (not 'prejudice'), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise? The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God's creation covenant."

If that's your definition of hate speech, then I have to wonder who has the more hateful attitude; Colson, or you?

Brave New World?

We all - both conservatives and liberals - have become so used to automatically having access to and input for public media that it's easy to stumble over the new reality technology has created for us. Apple's iPhone runs on proprietary software, which means the government - you and I - have no say in who can use it. If Apple doesn't want an app, it doesn't need to allow it, and there's no legal recourse for the creators of that app to force Apple to change its mind. That's their right, and I'm not sure it's in anybody's best interest to change it.

Apple may be upsetting some of their customers, but their decision has been based on a variety of factors they're free to consider. If this proves to be a bad business decision, the market may lead them to make further changes. But if, as I suspect, this has less to do with cold, hard business than it does the personal belief systems of Jobs and his executives, they probably have little incentive to flip-flop. After all, would an evangelical if the tables were turned? Thanks to our free democracy, they're entitled to their beliefs, just as I'm entitled to mine.

The relevance of this story to the future of communication in our country remains to be seen, but as technology frees us from government-controlled airwaves, all of us risk being segmented by beliefs, or income, or education. Might this segmentation by private media prove deleterious to our national unity? Might diverse opinions be marginalized by powerful private communications titans with opposing viewpoints? Might the days when government control of the airwaves eventually become nostalgia to conservatives who today curse at almost anything regulated by the state?

Blessing in Disguise?

In the meantime, how might Colson and his team turn this current snub by Apple to their advantage? By their sheer hubris of whitewashing the Manhattan Declaration as hateful, the Huffington Post and its admirers actually help prove why the Declaration has merit. If one of the most profitable and innovative companies in America doesn't want their innocent little app, what does that say about the values espoused in the Declaration?

If I were Colson, I'd be torn between jumping up and down in glee over the big fat endorsement Apple has given him, or falling to my knees in despair for our country; that the Christian underpinnings of our society may be rotting faster than we've realized.

As rotten as the fruit which caught Eve's eye.

I wonder if it was some sort of apple?

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