Today at The Federalist, Dan McLaughlin has a very fine essay on the future of Christianity in America in light of the LGBT agenda. It’s the first of a five-part series, and I’m looking forward to the other installments. He prefaces it all by presenting in very clear terms the situation that confronts Christians in the United States today. Without a vigorous defense, McLaughlin says:
[B]elieving Christians in this country face a genuine existential threat: that our culture and legal systems will declare the adherence to core Christian doctrines—unchanged for millennia, directly derived from the words of Jesus and the letters of St. Paul, and in the heartland of the legitimacy of Christ’s teachings—to be outside the bounds of civilized society in the way that the Ku Klux Klan is today.
Should faithful followers of the nation’s largest religious denomination, the world’s oldest and largest church, be run out of public life? Should those of us who still believe in the words of Jesus of Nazareth be afraid or ashamed to say so in public?
Make no mistake: these are the stakes, and trying to quietly keep our heads down and stay out of trouble will not long put off the day of reckoning. They are embedded in the legal argument that there is no possible rational basis for ever finding that any distinction at all exists or ever could exist between traditional opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage.
I think this is just the plain and sober truth. If progressives continue to succeed in establishing their ideals as publicly accepted norms, orthodox Christians will become an underclass that is regularly subject to legally and socially approved discrimination. (Other religious groups will no doubt suffer somewhat by association, though Christians are clearly the most central target.) It’s hard to know exactly what this will mean, but there are quite a lot of historical (and, indeed, contemporary) precedents. Likely possibilities include: constrained educational and career choices, limitations on speech and worship, mandatory “tribute” to the dominant social class, and pressure to offer token support for social orthodoxies with various penalties for those who refuse. (I doubt it will come to genocide. But one never knows for certain of course, and exterminating people for their faith is by no means historically unprecedented. Not even such an aberration, sadly.)
In today’s essay, McLaughlin makes two other excellent points. First, Christian teachings about homosexuality and marriage are deeply embedded within the faith. They cannot be changed, and only very, very bad faith arguments have persuaded anyone that it is remotely possible to change them. Second, there is no reason at all to think that Christianity is out of date. Clearly, it is out of fashion. But nothing discovered by the hard or social sciences renders the Christian perspective in any way untenable. We should not allow progressives the comfort of thinking they are merely hastening the inevitable death of an obviously-outdated point of view. They are demanding the death of a perfectly tenable position, because it offends them.
I won’t rehash his arguments on this points, though I would encourage you to read them. But I did want to pull out a further point, which I myself have pressed more than once here at Ricochet. If you are opposed to this sort of oppression, it is not enough to oppose it on purely formal grounds (like “freedom of religion”), particularly if, in pressing that position, you de facto concede that Christianity is backwards, embarrassing and offensive. That argument is going to lose. If Christian teachings on sex and marriage are socially agreed to be a form of bigotry, the progressives will win, and Christianity will in various ways be suppressed. You may not per se approve, but you are helping hasten the goal if you make public arguments for the offensiveness of Christian teachings.
Now, suppose you just sincerely believe that homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, are fine and good, and that the Christians have this one wrong. Would I ask you to pretend otherwise? No. That wouldn’t be reasonable. What I would ask is that you reflect a bit on where the cultural battle really is, and on what its implications might be.
You don’t have to change your view in order to recognize that it’s not the argument that most requires attention at this time. I mean, consider: it’s historically accurate, is it not, that “the Jews killed Jesus”? (All right, technically the Romans did, but at the demand of the Jews. Still.) But there’s a reason why it would be wildly inappropriate to make that observation in certain times and places. Many people have drawn deeply misguided social and theological conclusions from that (accurate) historical fact, which have motivated heinous injustices. So a just and conscientious person in, say, Western Europe in the earlier twentieth century, would avoid mentioning it even if he believes it to be (in the most obvious historical sense) true.
Similarly here, I think a person who genuinely values freedom should be far more concerned to support Christians (and other religious groups) against the coming onslaught than to promote more intraconservative debate about marriage. As an academic exercise, fighting about marriage can be fun, but the question of whether Christians can persuade you to share their view on marriage is kind of a sideshow to the question of whether Christianity should be suppressed. The latter is the one that is actually being decided in our society today.
This is why I’ve lately grown more inclined to avoid debating same-sex marriage in open discussion forums. I haven’t declared an unbreakable personal moratorium. I’ll happily explain the Christian position to a good-faith questioner over coffee. But I don’t want to act as though the marriage issue is just another open question that we’re all free to consider. I’m not willing to pretend anymore that rational debate has anything to do with what is happening in America today (and indeed, throughout the Western world). Christians are not losing the cultural battle because they’ve lost the argument. Their arguments are as compelling as ever, but in most “decent company” they are no longer permitted to explain them, and are often subject to censure and other penalties if they try.
If you don’t agree with the orthodox Christian position on marriage, I would ask: what would it take to persuade you to table the marriage issue itself, in the interests of supporting Judeo-Christian believers? How many Christians would need to be fired, fined or otherwise persecuted for you to decide that the marriage issue itself is really fairly secondary?