The Box They’re Putting Christians In

Over the fifteen years, or so, that I’ve been engaged in the same-sex marriage debate, the most frustrating thing has probably been the seeming disinclination of people who, trying to find a reasonable middle stance, simply fail to address the world as it is.

When progressive activists began going after small businesses here and there across the country, some of the middle-grounders noticed the warning sign, but not many.  The vitriol over Indiana’s proposed religious freedom law, on the other hand, was too stunning not to notice, especially since the law was relatively mild.

That awareness came too late, and anyway, those who began reconsidering the issue remained limited mainly to principled, objective libertarians.  Then, as if by design, the Supreme Court acted too quickly for any sort of push-back to form.

For a sense of where the “reasonable middle” stands, right now, here’s the New York Times’s David Brooks, writing after the Supreme Court dispensed with the Constitution and redefined marriage for the country:

I am to the left of the people I have been describing on almost all of these social issues. But I hope they regard me as a friend and admirer. And from that vantage point, I would just ask them to consider a change in course.

Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution. …

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life. …

This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.

What world is Brooks living in?  The Left isn’t going to let us social conservatives do this.  The box they’re pushing us in is obvious.  Same-sex marriage — especially imposed in the florid terms of the court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision — sits at a pivot point between law and worldview/religion.  The quality that made marriage such an effective institution for encouraging men and women to unite for the creation and raising of children will now make it an effective weapon against religious people who uphold traditional values.

If we organize ourselves as something other than non-profits, we’ll be seen as offering “public accommodations,” which will invite regulations about how we can offer services, to whom, in what settings, and with what restrictions on those with whom we work.  For one particularly stark example, consider the Christian ministers in Idaho who are fighting a legal battle after the city in which they operate told them that a “non-discrimination” ordinance requires them to perform same-sex weddings.

It’s going to be all too easy for the activists to insist that religion “has no place in the workplace,” or something like that.  They’ll present the image of some big employer oppressing its employees, but look at the Obama administration’s assault even on the non-profit Little Sisters of the Poor.  For a sampling that touches on clients or beneficiaries rather than employees, look at Catholic Charities’ adoption services in Massachusetts, which ended in 2006 when the state insisted that the organization place children with same-sex parents.

In some respects, the law does make more mission-driven allowances for non-profits, given that it’s easier for progressives to demagogue against the idea that the way a person makes money, in a for-profit venture, is not separate from what he or she believes.  But if those of us who would take Brooks’s advice organize as non-profits, we’ll face the opposite wall, through which the Left will proclaim that we’re bringing politics into our charity.  If we do that, they’ll say, we’re not really offering charity and shouldn’t gain the gloss of non-profits.

The upshot will be that, however we organize, activists will use the government and any other means they can find to force us:

  • To hide our motivation, installing a wall of separation between our activities and the beliefs that motivate them
  • To offer services in a way that undermines the underlying principle that we believe to be critical for long-term advancement, in the way that requiring Catholic Charities to follow the government’s rules would have made its practice inconsistent with the foundational belief that adoptive families should mirror natural families which mirror God’s relationship with the Church
  • To erase our organizational identity, by requiring us to hire and associate with people without regard to their willingness to uphold our principles

This is an early observation, of course; the box isn’t fully built, yet.  One of the urgent objectives of social conservatives, post-Obergefell, must be to ensure that our freedoms of expression and association expand from their current condition.

Our odds of success are not encouraging, though, with the likes of Brooks turning immediately to lecture us about what we should do, without a word to the Left about what they shouldn’t do.

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