An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Trevin Wax
Trevin Wax

Hi Steve,

I hope this email finds you well and enjoying the new year.

Until recently, aside from iTunes on my PC, I haven't been much of an Apple-product user.  A couple months ago, however, I was given an iPad as a gift. At the same time, I entered a new avenue of service and switched to a Mac desktop computer. The switch from PC to Mac has been great. Both the iPad and my desktop computer are designed to give me the best online experience possible. Thank you for your leadership of Apple and your desire to serve your customers.

Though I am a satisfied Apple customer, I must admit that I am perplexed by a recent decision of your company. Please know that I am not one to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to special causes, boycotts and protests. I'm so new to this kind of email that I'm not even sure what the standard protocol is for registering this sort of complaint.

But I feel compelled to respond to Apple's recent decision to remove the Manhattan Declaration app from the iPad and iPhone. As you know, the Manhattan Declaration is a carefully articulated statement from a large group of Christian leaders who publicly affirm the historic Christian perspective on three hotly debated issues of our time, including the definition of marriage. I've joined the almost 500,000 other signers who have found this document to be a clear and compelling representation of Christianity's witness concerning these issues.

Knowing that these topics are debated in the public square, I was not surprised to see that some groups protested the inclusion of the Manhattan Declaration app on the iPad. The Christian perspective on sexuality has long been controversial, just as it was in the Roman era two thousand years ago. I was also not surprised to see that Apple responded to the initial complaints by pulling the app. One of the things I admire about your company is that your leaders truly listen and respond to customer comments.

What did surprise me, however, is that Apple did not reinstate the Manhattan Declaration app after giving it a second look. My surprise turned to shock when I read the rationale:

Apple cannot post this version to the App Store because it contains content that is likely to expose a group to harm.

I know that Apple has a policy prohibiting apps that contain "references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence."

But I am shocked that Apple would consider the Manhattan Declaration "defamatory" or "mean-spirited." Even a cursory reading of the declaration reveals numerous references to the fact that all people - including those adopt behaviors Christians consider immoral - are made in the image of God and deserve respect and care. For example:

We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God's intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God's patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts.

I doubt that the decision-makers at Apple saw this statement as "mean-spirited." Instead, it appears they pulled the app because they believe this point of view to be mean-spirited and hateful, no matter how compassionately framed. That is what concerns me. It doesn't bother me that people disagree with the Christian conviction that the only legitimate sexual expression is reserved for husbands and wives within the covenant of marriage. That conviction has often been contested. What concerns me is that Apple has implicitly labeled this perspective as "mean-spirited" and 'hateful," and has chosen to exclude from the public conversation a large number of Christians who have biblically-informed convictions on this matter.

By taking this action, Apple muzzles Christians and labels our convictions "harmful." Society says one thing about sexuality. Christians beg to differ. But apparently, according to Apple, to differ is to hate. Please consider the ramifications of adopting this kind of policy. Consider what it means for religious people of all faiths.

Christians believe that all sexual expression outside of the marriage covenant to be immoral. Yes, this means that we consider adultery to be immoral, as well as sex before marriage. If I live next door to an unmarried heterosexual couple, I will not condone their living arrangements. But the fact that I disagree with their sexual behavior does not mean I hate them. It doesn't mean I won't be there for them in their time of crisis. How could I fulfill Christ's command to love my neighbor if I were to ignore or neglect people who believe differently than me? As a Christian, I am commanded to love my neighbor. I am also commanded to follow Christ, whose moral pronunciations in the Sermon on the Mount are so zealous that all of us are shown to be what we are - sexual sinners needing salvation. And that salvation comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, in whom we are to put our trust.

In the case of homosexuality, it appears that some people in our society have chosen to base their identity upon their sexual desires and behaviors. Then, whenever their desires are questioned or behaviors are condemned, they perceive the disagreement to be a direct attack upon their very identity.

Christians approach this issue differently. We believe people are more than their sexual urges. Though sexuality is important, it does not define us. In fact, we believe that human dignity is diminished whenever we define ourselves by sexual urges and behaviors. Consider this: married men are sometimes attracted to multiple women who are not their wives. Does this mean they should self-identify as polygamists? Not at all. And surely you wouldn't consider it hateful for Christians to encourage married men tonot act on their desires in an effort to remain faithful to their spouses. It is the Christian way, after all.

Christianity provides a distinct, even if minority, position on sexuality. It upholds a vision of sexual flourishing within the context of marriage between a man and woman. Apple has chosen to muzzle the Christian perspective on sexuality by removing the Manhattan Declaration app. I understand the concern to protect minority groups from harm, including those who identify themselves as homosexuals. But surely you can distinguish between hateful "gay-bashing" and principled, civil dissent regarding the legal definition of marriage.

Steve, I know that Apple is your company and you can do what you want. I've admired the way you've sought to keep people "free from porn," even when it has cost you customers. I only ask that you will reconsider your decision to ban the Manhattan Declaration from your app store. Please consider the implications for civil discourse, debate, and free speech.


Trevin Wax

(Emailed to [email protected] on January 7, 2011)

Originally published January 10, 2011.