Steve Deace on the Mark Driscoll Controversies: Ingroup Bias Illustrated

Steve Deace is a right wing, religiously conservative radio show host in Iowa. He appears to have a sizable tea party following and weekly gives League of the South member and Anne Arundel County Council candidate Michael Peroutka a platform on his broadcast. Yesterday on his Facebook page, he discussed recent controversies surrounding Mark Driscoll, but ranted more about Rachel Held Evans (calling her “Rob Bell in drag”) and me than he did about Driscoll. He seems upset that Evans and I have been bringing facts to the public while people he likes more are being silent.
About Evans and me, Deace writes:

If Driscoll’s sins are so great, then surely we can find those within Christendom who actually have solid theological credentials as the means by which to hold him accountable for them. But I consistently see two names quoted regarding Driscoll’s misdeeds and malfeasance. And these are people that shouldn’t be taken seriously as a source on anything regarding the integrity of the faith until they publicly repent themselves.

One of them is Warren Throckmorton. Throckmorton is a moral heretic. A proponent of homosexuality. He also once claimed Michael Anthony Peroutka, a man I have known for years who has even been a guest in my home, is a racist all because he actually believes what the Founders believed. The other is a flat-out heretic/pretend evangelical named Rachel Held Evans. She’s basically Rob Bell in drag.

Deace says he doesn’t mind holding Driscoll accountable but then pines away for someone who thinks like him to do it for him. He illustrates his position in the comments section of his article by saying:

Many of the devil’s accusations against us are true, but that doesn’t make him a source worth citing.

In an earlier comment he chastises a reader who defends getting truth from “known heretics” because “we are legitimizing heretics in front of the sheep.”

Deace appears to be worried that those who get accurate information from me on Mars Hill Church might read other things I write and then be persuaded to believe ideas he opposes. I don’t know Mr. Deace but he seems to have a low view of his audience. I suppose it is possible that some Mars Hill readers will consider other materials on my blog and in my other writings. In fact, I hope they do. However, I hope they will consider them with the same critical thinking skills they use with the material on Driscoll. Deace seems to be afraid that our ideas (whatever he thinks they are) will be so compelling that they will be swept away into heresy via the truth presented about Mars Hill. It is a lame argument as many of the commenters on his post declare.

In his Facebook attack, Deace displays classic ingroup bias defined by social psychologist David Myers as “the tendency to favor one’s own group.” The ingroup is good and the outgroup is bad. Most, if not all people, have engaged in this kind of bias at one time or another. However, along with a frequent fellow traveler, confirmation bias, ingroup bias can have negative consequences. Often ingroup bias fosters stereotyping and prejudice against outgroups. In his social psychology text*, Myers explains:

We also ascribe uniquely human emotions (love, hope contempt, resentment) to ingroup members, and are more reluctant to see such human emotions in outgroup members…There is a long history of denying human attributes to outgroups — a process called “infrahumanization.” European explorers  pictured many of the peoples they encountered as savages ruled by animal instinct. (p. 328-9)*

To a lesser degree, Deace exhibits this negative side-effect. He repeatedly labels Held and me as “heretics” and calls Evans “Rob Bell in drag.” He calls into question the facts we present because we are not part of the ingroup as he has drawn the boundaries. As a matter of intellectual hygiene, I think it is desirable to become aware of and avoid ingroup bias. Such bias can lead to an avoidance of truth (as in this case) and harmful stereotyping.
I can’t speak for Evans, but in my case, his biases have led him to call me a heretic for two basic reasons: he says I am a proponent of homosexuality and he says I oppose Michael Peroutka. That’s it. For Deace, I am not credible for these reasons. Let’s examine them.
I don’t know what he means by “proponent of homosexuality.” Indeed, I am a proponent of equal treatment under the law for every citizen. I oppose stereotyping and prejudice against GLBT people. I believe Christians should be honest about research relating to sexual orientation. For instance, it is clear that sexual reorientation therapy doesn’t work and should be avoided. However, I also support the right of anyone to abstain from any sexual activity if their religion forbids it. Deace uses the phrase “proponent of homosexuality” as if one can create more of it by being in favor of it. This, of course, is inconsistent with any research on the subject and as a Christian I feel it is my duty to tell the truth about that. However, I learned years ago that being an ingroup member meant shading the truth or lying about it in order to preserve the prevailing beliefs of ingroup leaders.
On Peroutka, Deace says I oppose Peroutka because Peroutka believes what the founders believed. That is a bizarre and selective reading of my writing about Peroutka, the Institute on the Constitution and the League of the South. In fact, Peroutka believes some of what the founders believed but he distorts the founders to make them into Christian reconstructionists.
I have pointed out that Institute on the Constitution founder and Anne Arundel County Council candidate Michael Peroutka was once a board member of the League of the South, has been a frequent speaker at their conferences, pledged his resources to the League, and refused to distance himself from the League in response to criticism from current Republican leaders in MD. I have pointed out that the League of the South is working to generate support for Southern secession, and wants to establish a white homeland in the South apart from the rest of the nation. League president Michael Hill denigrates Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln, while lauding Nathan Bedford Forrest (first grand wizard of the KKK). On Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution website, articles justify slavery and racial discrimination. Peroutka thinks the South was fighting for freedom and the right cause. He laments the fact that the South lost at Gettysburg. To the League of the South conference in 2012, he favored secession and led them in singing “I Wish I Was in Dixie” as their national anthem.  Peroutka says he is not a racist, but then he says he doesn’t know racists in the League of the South. The League of the South wants a white Southern homeland. What should we call that?
It is beyond me how Steve Deace can embrace Michael Peroutka and call me a heretic. I do not understand that way of thinking. However, if Steve Deace said the sky is blue or that Jesus rose from the dead, I would believe him.
On the other hand, I won’t believe him when he tells me that Michael Peroutka is promoting an honorable cause. I don’t reject Deace’s views about Peroutka and the League because Deace is not in my ingroup, but rather because I have evaluated the evidence with my own mind. And that is what Deace should do about Mark Driscoll, and Rachel Held Evans, and me. If he did, he might find truth in surprising places.
*Myers, D. (2010). Social psychology, (10th Ed.). New York:McGraw-Hill.