Political Timidity & Clerical Cowardice

When an attempt was made to railroad George Zimmerman into prison for defending himself when assaulted, most conservatives fell silent, and some joined the lynch mob — and, to the best of my knowledge, not a single public official stood up to denounce what was going on.

More recently, when A&E suspended Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty for having the effrontery to repeat age-old Christian doctrine in an interview with GQ, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz let A&E have it. But the Republican establishment was present and accounted for only in its absence from the scene.

Moreover, when Mark Steyn blasted GLAAD in his inimitable way for trying to shut down public discourse, his editor at National Review Online took offense and went after him. Mark, being Mark, knew how to respond, and others at NRO have since rallied to his support. But I am nonetheless struck by the timidity on the right.

Even more to the point, however, I am really struck by the silence of the clergy. We can debate whether what Phil Robertson said was right or wrong, but the priests and ministers of the various Christian sects profess precisely what he said, and they have been ostentatiously silent. Did a single Catholic bishop speak up? If so, I missed it. Did the presiding officer of the Southern Baptist Convention speak up? If so, I missed it. Did any other clergyman speak up? If so, I missed it, and I tried hard—via Google—to find an example.

What bothers me about this is that it is tantamount to surrender. Christianity is being driven from the public square. Over the last half century, there has been one court case after another aimed at requiring that the federal government and the governments of the states and localities treat religion as a form of leprosy that one must never have any contact with—and that is part of a larger pattern.

When was the last time that you heard a religious Christmas carol at a shopping center? It has been a long time in my experience. Have you tried recently to purchase religious Christmas cards? We did, and we could not find any on offer from Hallmark or similar outlets. We ended up turning to a museum.

If someone like Phil Robertson cannot repeat standard Christian doctrine in the public square, if he cannot express disapproval for fornication, it means that prelates and preachers will soon find themselves harried for doing so as well. If they will not defend their right to preach the Gospel, then why should anyone else bother? It all suggests on their part a decided unwillingness to confront the zeitgeist and to stand up and be counted.

But perhaps I have been wrong. Perhaps, somewhere, there has been, on the part of a clergyman, an eloquent defense of Robertson. I hope so. But I fear that, to an ever increasing degree, men of the cloth in the United States are cowards. We live in an era in which, as William Butler Yeats once put it, “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

  1. Charles C. Johnson
    C

    I should say proudly that Alan Dershowitz, my old boss, stood up for George Zimmerman and due process when few others would. 

    But you are correct Professor Rahe that the spineless on the right is disturbing, especially among certain of its organs of alleged repute. 

    The only hope for this country I have is that old left-wing saw that if the people lead, the leaders will follow. 

  2. MMPadre

    The notion that the US Roman Catholic bishops squandered an important opportunity to exercise their prophetic authority by failing specifically to wade into the A&E/Duck Dynasty controversy is simply too silly to respond to. 

  3. Skyler

    My experience is that it is difficult to find Christmas cards that aren’t religious.

  4. Mark Stewart

    Actually, I did see the president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission write about this and go on CNN to discuss it.

    Comments by Russell Moore, President of ERLC here

    ERLC.com has an essay on this here 

    And, the CNN discussion here

  5. Rightfromthestart

    In the middle of the election campaign, with Dan Cathay under attack for much less than Robertson, Romney was too timid to go and buy a chicken sandwich, advised by professional campaign consultants, I’m sure.

  6. Brandon Zaffini

    Here, at least, is an example of a Christian minister, a man of the cloth, standing in defense of Robertson. Notice, though, that this Christian minister makes much the same critique of other Christian leaders as does Professor Rahe.  

  7. Black Prince
    MMPadre: The notion that the US Roman Catholic bishops squandered an important opportunity to exercise their prophetic authority by failing specifically to wade into the A&E/Duck Dynasty controversy is simply too silly to respond to.

    Well, you just did.

  8. She
    MMPadre: The notion that the US Roman Catholic bishops squandered an important opportunity to exercise their prophetic authority by failing specifically to wade into the A&E/Duck Dynasty controversy is simply too silly to respond to.  

    I think the more general point is being made along the lines of “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” or, more specifically in this instance, “silence gives consent.”

    Note in reference to the first quotation, I am NOT equating homosexuality with evil.  Like Phil Robertson, I have a starting point, and am extrapolating from there.  Note that in reference to the second, I don’t know for sure whether the Catholic martyr in question actually spoke this phrase to his interlocutors in an effort to stop himself being topped, but that it is part of one of the finest scripts ever written.  If he didn’t say it, he should have.

    And I think it’s absurd to suggest that Phil Robertson, by merely asserting his beliefs and paraphrasing the Bible, somehow entered the realms of political discourse and precluded the Catholic hierarchy at any level from opining on the issue.

  9. The King Prawn

    I believe he was asked to define sin and was castigated for his answer. This is a matter of religion, not politics. If this was not a matter for the church and its leaders to weigh in on then what is?

  10. Big John

    Dr. Rahe raises a good point about the challenges for churches (leaders and laity) who wish to hold fast to doctrines that are unpopular in the pop culture.  Many churches and denominations have been wrestling with the question of sin and sinner in what they say and do about gays in their churches, and it is tough and disruptive.

    The bigger question I see for the church is how to stand firm against a federal government that is fighting to limit religious freedom to a small sliver of time/space in observance and quash religious freedom in what we say, who we hire, and what institutions we support can do with our money.  Ben Domenech has written extensively and warily about the perilous future of religious liberty.  We will soon have to confront and speak out against our own civic institutions’ open hostility to the exercise of our faith.

  11. Tom Meyer

    Paul Rahe:

    The priests and ministers of the various Christian sects profess precisely what he said, and they have been ostentatiously silent…If someone like Phil Robertson cannot repeat standard Christian doctrine in the public square, if he cannot express disapproval for fornication, it means that prelates and preachers will soon find themselves harried for doing so as well.

    Stipulating that homosexuality is condemned as a sin both in the Bible and throughout serious Christian doctrine, I don’t see how Robertson’s comment that sin “start[s] with homosexual behavior and just morph it out from there” can be defended as “Standard Christian Doctrine.” At best, it’s highly idiosyncratic; at worst, it’s heretical.

    To return to the Zimmerman analogy, most 2nd Amendment folks were quick both to defend Zimmerman from the not-so-figurative lynch mob and to point out that some of his decisions leading up to his confrontation Martin were irresponsible. It would be nice to see a similar balance from Robertson’s defenders in this matter.

  12. Al Sparks

    I notice that Franklin Graham did speak out on one of the Sunday shows.  I don’t know the context.

  13. Capt. Spaulding

    I was never an admirer of Yeats and never grasped the meaning of the line at the end your post, Dr. Rahe, but now you have rendered it all too clear after these many years. Prophetic Yeats.

  14. The Mugwump

    We have known since the days of Robert Bork what the left does to conservative leaders.  You can add to the list the likes of Clarence Thomas, Sarah Palin and most recently Ted Cruz.  Not to mention the entire Tea party movement.  “Extremist” has become the new scarlet letter in the culture war.  So if you’re wondering where the leadership is, be aware that the left has mastered the art of the political smear. 

    I suppose the odd part about the current situation is that rank and file conservatives are ready to fight.  You will remember that prior to Duck Dynasty we had similar grass roots movements in support of Florida Orange Juice (an attempted Rush boycott) and Chick Fil-A.  Yet the Republican leadership wonders why the base won’t show up on election day?  I hope somebody from the RNC is reading this.  Guys, if you won’t support conservative values, don’t expect conservative support on election day. 

    Where is the courage in our leadership?  I don’t know, but I do believe that a courageous base will respond when a man of courage finally makes the case for conservative values.        

  15. Foxfier

    It’s standard leftists tactics– conflate two separate areas, then complain if either side gets involved.  Go on the daily show, and if you object to an attack it was “just a joke;” let it stand, and it’s a brag-about truth.  Take a TV star paraphrasing the Bible and make it political; either side objects, they get slammed for “injecting” their aspects into it.  

    Heck, it was even a marketing thing for The Da Vinci Code.  Make up a bunch of stuff, steal some made up stuff, and put a note saying “This is fiction, but all the research is true!”– then when historians and theologians object, mock them for arguing with a fiction book.

  16. Black Prince
    The Mugwump: 

    Where is the courage in our leadership?  I don’t know, but I do believe that a courageous base will respond when a man of courage finally makes the case for conservative values.

    A certain “courageous base” will respond, but will it be enough to reverse the psychological subversion of America?  I don’t believe so.  Besides, waiting for some mythical white knight in shining armour to swoop down from the heavens and save us is just a lame excuse to do nothing.  Our laziness and stupidity have doomed us.

  17. Nick Stuart
    Mollie Hemingway: 

    But also, as a pastor’s kid here, I always wonder why people want to offload all work to the pastors. Pastors are to administer the sacraments and preach the Gospel. They also do other things but if you think Christians should be talking more about this topic, why can’t we all do our part? · 8 hours ago

    Pastors are the people up front with the microphone. Congregants, consciously or unconsciously can think “if this were important, pastor would say something”

    At some point, when it really hits the fan, parishioners are going to ask “why didn’t anyone say anything?”

  18. Nick Stuart

    The leadership at my church recently effected renovation of the facilities. New logo, refurbished stage, reconfigured lobby (don’t have a narthex anymore), new sound system that can be turned up to 11 so we can be really loud and drown out the sounds of the trains.

    I emailed a great many fellow congregants pre the 2011 elections. Focussed on the threats to religious liberty posed by the Obama administration and Obama’s extreme position on abortion. Got spanked for being political (in retrospect I’m vindicated and it was worth it). But that is one reason why non-pastoral church members don’t speak up, they get slapped down when they do.

    Our state just legalized same sex marriage and there was no mention whatever of that anywhere. Don’t want to frighten the seekers I suppose.

    Discussion of persecution of the church in other parts of the world:  zero (except for my daughter who hands out literature and buttonholes anyone who’ll listen).

    “We’re here to preach the Gospel” is, IMHO, a cop-out when it is used as a wall to hide behind to avoid grappling with the moral issues of our day.

  19. Adrian

    Did you guys see the pic of the totally awesome Ukrainian priest leading the people in the recent protests against Putin? I don’t think the image of the church in America would suffer from having someone like that around.

    What about the leading role played by so many religious leaders in the past, like in the anti-slavery movement in Britain, civil rights in America, anti-Communism during the Cold War? 

    This isn’t to excuse the rest of us from doing our part, but it’s hardly unprecedented for religious leaders to engage in important public debates.

    In fact, one case I can think of in recent memory when the Church kept its head down and stuck to preaching and little else was something that the leaders would very much come to regret. How many books, how much debate, how much acrimony has there been over the absence of Church leaders denouncing the Nazis? Don’t want to restart that debate, but I think it’s fair to say in retrospect that the Church wishes it would have been much, much more obvious in its opposition those days.

  20. raycon and lindacon

    Phil Robertson said the wrong word.  It wasn’t “gays”, it was fornication.  The “F” word that the culture embraces and the church avoids.  The “F” word is an indictment not of men loving men, but of any combination of sexual expression outside of marriage.  It is the sin that is endemic and encouraged by our culture.

    Gays have no sexual outlet other than homosexual sex.  Unmarried men and women are actually in the exact same place, biblically, as are gays.  

    Perhaps that is why the church is so quiet.  We condemn ourselves when we condemn gays.

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