Our readers are no doubt aware of the pending Supreme Court case regarding same-sex “marriage.” Because of the timeliness and significance of the issue, we are publishing a series of daily posts this week only, from Scott Allen, the president of Disciple Nations Alliance.
In his final installment in the series “Can Gays and Christians Co-Exist in America,” Dan McLaughlin looks at the historical roots of religious liberty, and ends by asking the question, “What now?” What can we do to contribute to peaceful co-existence and the preservation of religious liberty?
… we do not live in a live-and-let-live society; we live, increasingly, in one in which organized pressure campaigns and administrative and legal proceedings are brought to bear on people who take a traditional religious approach to same-sex relationships … the root cause of that conflict is the insistence on modeling the ‘gay rights’ battles after the litigation strategy used against Jim Crow. You could cite examples all day of how this leads to aggressive efforts to force religious believers to renounce their own consciences …
This is to say nothing of more radical efforts on the Left to seek more fundamental changes to the institution of marriage, by severing its link to children and redefining its rules about monogamy, or viewing marriage itself as a form of inequality that privileges the married over the unmarried.
Outside the United States … the situation is even grimmer, ranging from a U.K. lawsuit to force churches to perform same-sex weddings to a Canadian ‘hate speech’ case against a Christian pamphleteer, which ended with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling against the pamphleteer … But while powerful forces already in motion lead us further into conflict, it does not need to be our inevitable and permanent condition.
At this point, it is useful to step back and review the historical roots of the Western ideas of Christian liberty and religious tolerance …
Jesus, unlike the earthly founders of some other world religions, never sought civil or military authority, and was ultimately put to death by the government. He insisted at all times that his kingdom was of heaven, and not of this world. He essentially invented the concept of separation of church and state by the injunction … that his followers pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. His only direct teachings on government were against corruption and abuse of power by tax collectors and soldiers who used their positions to extort money from subjects under their thumb.
Following the Protestant Reformation in the early sixteenth century, Europe erupted in religious wars … Christians, by then ensconced in civil authority and accustomed to civil power … sought by the sword to stamp out what Catholics regarded as heresy and Protestants regarded as fundamental corruption within the Catholic Church. The carnage reached its apogee in the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48.
[Following the Thirty Years’ war] … The Christian nation-states of Europe … agreed amongst themselves to accept different religious doctrines and to cease going to war in order to change them. Issues of sectarian tolerance would be localized to within states, rather than being the main driving force in cross-border wars among them.
It would take time for that principle to trickle down to pluralism within a nation’s population. The next few decades would see nations like England and France turn the screws on their religious minorities … But the core principle—we are willing to live with the reality that some of our neighbors do not share our view of the deepest truths—led in the fullness of time to a better, more stable accommodation of sectarian differences …
Eventually, the idea of religious freedom … would find its greatest flowering in our own country, which was originally colonized by people far more urgently concerned with religious liberty than with, say, democracy, free speech, or free markets … The Pilgrims … came to America mainly so they could establish their own community with their own religion as its organizing principle. At the time the First Amendment was written, several states still had their own established state churches, and the Establishment Clause [of the U.S. Constitution] was written as much as anything to protect them from being supplanted by a federal established church.
But [the principle of religious freedom], as refined by American practice, always demanded that every religious group accept … the existence of the others. Vibrant religious communities could exist in a pluralistic society so long as they did not see one another’s insistence on practicing their own faith as an affront to themselves.
We are in danger of losing [this principle] in America today, as illustrated … by the rhetoric deployed in fights over religious liberty in the LGBT-rights context, to the point where the liberal and progressive writers rarely mention religious liberty without scare quotes …
Given the tendency in some corners to regard the existence of traditional, orthodox Christianity as an affront that must be stamped out via boycotts and public and legal pressure … [the principle of religious freedom] is more endangered now than it has ever been. The activists who relish the prospect of this conflict are certain they can win, but as the Thirty Years War illustrated, such conflicts often produce no winners … Where does it all stop?
It is, by now, inevitable that same-sex marriage will be the law of most if not all states in the United States, and recognized nationally by the federal government. The political opposition to same-sex marriage has been collapsing in the past three to five years, and is now sustained primarily by fear that Christian opponents have not been offered any way in which to protect their own competing interests …
McClaughlin points out, as others have, the concern about where the current trajectory will likely take us, i.e. to further erosion of the freedom of conscience.
… today’s concession of the legal legitimacy of same-sex marriage will be taken as an invitation for tomorrow’s invasion of any remaining preserve of conscience in which people can reserve their own dissent. The florid rage of … liberal-progressives over the Supreme Court’s comparatively modest and narrow Hobby Lobby decision just drives home how emboldened the opposition has become to any safe haven for Christian conscience in any walk of life. It also reminds us how little regard [the proponents of same-sex marriage have for] the notion that Christian beliefs are worthy of being treated by the government and society as legitimate and real, as opposed to superstitious [and] backwards …
… weariness with this topic is everywhere among Christians … One of the iron laws of political gravity is that, if you’re not on offense, you will just keep losing ground until you have nothing remaining to lose … Defenders of religious liberty have allowed themselves to be divided, isolated, and defeated in detail by smaller but more cohesive, angrier adversaries who have consistently dictated the time and terms of engagement …
… the end goal must be [the preservation religious liberty]. If there is a way forward, if it is possible for Christians to be tolerated in twenty-first-century America rather than treated like bitter-ender opponents of desegregation, it will only be found if supporters of same-sex marriage decide at some point that things have gone far enough, should not go much further, and that the time for conciliation and compromise has come.
The impetus for this will never come from the zealots, but it is possible that it will emerge from the broader mass of [people] who have followed them in recent years … The fact that the outcome is mostly out of Christian hands does not mean there is nothing we can do. An affirmative agenda for compromise means demanding respect and protection for religious liberty, but it also requires offering something in return.
What would that something look like? One element, of course, is for Christians … to demonstrate a greater personal ease with gay Americans, as people. As frustrated as we may get with the flagrantly one-sided nature of the public, media debate, we need to [keep] our calm and our cool and showing with deeds, not just words, that our disagreements on matters of deep principle do not prevent us from treating others with the love and respect that the Gospel demands of us.
… there are many situations in which gay people, especially refugees and gay youths, are in need of charitable assistance … Christians have long experience with interfaith relief efforts … and can be creative … in meeting immediate needs for shelter and a welcome embrace.
I would add much to this last point, and in the weeks ahead, Darrow Miller and Friends will reflect further on ways that Christians can respond to this present situation biblically and proactively. One of the most important ways we must respond is by seeking out those who have been broken as a result of the further deterioration of marriage and family, and by taking the initiative to demonstrate Christ-like compassion.
Whenever marriage has been redefined from its biblical ideal there is a tragic harvest of human pain and suffering, particularly among children. We can expect this to be largely ignored by the media, making the painful isolation and loneliness even more acute. Think of the countless children profoundly wounded in the wake of the passage of no-fault divorce laws. We can expect an even greater harvest of suffering as marriage and family are further deconstructed. Yet this provides an opportunity for Christians to shine the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness. We must proactively bring the hope and light of the Gospel, and a demonstration of Christ-like love to those left in the wake of this cultural revolution.
The biggest-ticket question of all—marriage—is a horse that may have left the barn by the end of this month. The goal for Christians and other faithful now must be to drain the momentum of the activists by picking more defensible terrain [without conceding the moral ground on marriage, I would add] and winning over their less-committed allies—a time-tested defensive strategy…
[We can also seek issues where we can stand together on common ground.] Working together … is [vital for the two sides in this debate], humanizing each other and [learning] the habits of compromise. But [if there is to be genuine] armistice and coexistence, [Christians need to engage] … the institutions that have been engaged in LGBT causes: Hollywood, the universities, media and entertainment companies like Disney/ESPN, and other big corporations. So long as those various entities are run and staffed by people who see Christians only in caricature and see LGBT causes through the prism of Jim Crow, conflict will never end.
It will be hard for Christians working in big companies to speak up in favor of religious liberty and against one-sided cultural and ideological activism; one of the leading lights of my profession [the legal profession] was essentially driven out of his firm for representing the House of Representatives in defense of a federal law on this topic. That will take courage, but at some point, the Long March of progressive culture warriors can’t simply be conceded if we are ever to have a stable peace and broader cultural respect for the values of free expression and independent conscience.
Another obstacle is [political activists who use this issue to enflame the] … culture war as a tool for motivating … voters … [This], too, is an obstacle not easily removed, but … it will last only so long as it is seen as electorally successful.
Many Christians today would doubtless rather live in less turbulent and trying times for the faith. For the moment, the number of young American atheists and agnostics is growing, and they are aggressive with the zeal of the new convert in preaching their creed and seeking to establish it in the law and the culture. It is unsurprising, though still deeply sad, that gay people disproportionately belong to their ranks, exacerbating our cultural divide in ways that even America’s epic battles over race never had to bridge. This is particularly difficult for gay Christians (especially those who choose a celibate life), who may find themselves doubly isolated.
But Christians have faced, and continue to face to this day around the world, far worse fates for their faith than yet exist in America. If we are to keep this country that way for our children, we can best do so by standing openly and forthrightly for our faith; by treating all our neighbors with individual love and respect; by seeking common ground; and by having hope, even in the face of rational counsels of despair. We can only do our best to see to it that the lights of faith, hope, charity, reason, family, and liberty will endure.
- Scott Allen