Last week, I talked here about how the Pew Center’s political typology quiz placed me on the “Faith And Family Left.” That was startling, because I don’t consider myself a leftist at all, but I could see that my Christian commitments make me a difficult fit on the contemporary American right. Here’s how Pew defines the Faith And Family Left:
The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are highly diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. They oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. Religion and family are at the center of their lives.
They have more blacks, Hispanics, and immigrants than any of Pew’s groups. And they’re pretty solidly Democratic in their voting, despite their social and religious conservatism. I don’t think I’m nearly as far to the left as your average F&F leftist, certainly not in my voting, but in general, I’m closer to them than to any other group.
In the wake of Hobby Lobby, a group of Faith & Family Left leaders are appealing to the president for religious exemptions in his forthcoming executive order banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal contracting. From The Atlantic‘s report:
The Hobby Lobby decision has been welcomed by religious-right groups who accuse Obama of waging a war on religion. But Tuesday’s letter is different: It comes from a group of faith leaders who are generally friendly to the administration, many of whom have closely advised the White House on issues like immigration reform. The letter was organized by Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House and directed faith outreach for the president’s 2012 campaign. Signers include two members of Catholics for Obama and three former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“This is not an antagonistic letter by any means,” Wear told me. But in the wake of Hobby Lobby, he said, “the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues.”
“It would be nice if we had just a little bit more leverage,” said Schneck, a onetime cochair of Catholics for Obama. “I am a very strong supporter of LGBT rights, and I am really excited about the prospect of extending provisions against discrimination in federal contracts. But I am also aware that this is an issue that provokes real differences among some of the most important religious organization on the front lines of providing care for the poorest and most vulnerable.” Those groups, he said, need to be allowed to work with the government while following the dictates of their faith.
The letter to Obama, which you can read in the Atlantic article, makes a case based on tolerance and religious diversity. The question here is if the administration cares so much about gay rights that it’s willing to push to the side religious organizations that serve the poor. As the authors of the letter say:
Our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations. While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability. There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy.
We will see very soon whether the president has any regard for religious Democrats, or whether he’s in the pocket of his gay-rights supporters.
I wonder how Jonathan Rauch, who has been one of the wiser and more generous people on the gay rights side, would advise Obama to respond. Six days ago, he wrote about the hard battle lines between secularists and religionists. Excerpt:
Finally, a new generation brought changed attitudes. Ed Whelan, the president of the culturally conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a Catholic, told me, “Those of us growing up in the 1960s and 1970s grew up with an assimilationist ethic: there was assumed to be little or no tension in being a Catholic in the broader American culture. Today, those of us who are parents see conflict all over the place. And we strive to be Catholics throughout our lives. As the culture has become less hospitable to religious beliefs, there is a greater need to be more vigilant. We’ve got to figure out where to draw the lines.”
So a lot of line-drawing is going on. Even dog-walkers are drawing lines.
I must sadly acknowledge that there is an absolutist streak among some secular civil-rights advocates. They think, justifiably, that discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated, but they are too quick to overlook the unique role religion plays in American life and the unique protections it enjoys under the First Amendment. As a matter of both political wisdom and constitutional doctrine, the faithful have every right to seek reasonable accommodations for religious conscience.
The problem is that what the social secessionists are asking for does not seem all that reasonable, especially to young Americans. When Christian businesses boycott gay weddings and pride celebrations, and when they lobby and sue for the right to do so, they may think they are sending the message “Just leave us alone.” But the message that mainstream Americans, especially young Americans, receive is very different. They hear: “What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear. Heck, against your dog.”
I wonder whether religious advocates of these opt-outs have thought through the implications. Associating Christianity with a desire—no, a determination—to discriminate puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred. They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment.
If that’s how it has to be, that’s how it has to be. Fidelity to what one believes to be religious and moral truth is more important than popularity. We live in a post-Christian society. It’s going to get much worse for non-conforming Christians before it gets better. How Obama responds to this letter will be a critical bellwether.
UPDATE: E.J. Dionne, a liberal Catholic, writes about this kind of thing in his latest column. Excerpt:
It’s unfortunate that the Obama administration’s initial, parsimonious exemption for religious groups helped ignite the firestorm that led to Hobby Lobby. It might consider this lesson as it moves, rightly, to issue an executive order to ban discrimination against LGBT people by government contractors. I’ve long believed that anti-gay behavior is both illiberal and, if I may, un-Christian.
It would be better still if the House passed the more comprehensive Employment Nondiscrimination Act that cleared the Senate last year on a bipartisan vote and includes a religious exemption. But before it issues its executive order, I hope the administration convenes a broad public consultation with religious groups to explore if there are ways to ban LGBT discrimination that they can live with.
Perhaps key religious groups will refuse to give ground. LGBT organizations may well see any accommodations as selling out fundamental principles. I get this. But the effort is worth making because we don’t need more distracting religious wars that give the right the sorts of openings the court used this week to push us backward.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it ought to be easy to recognize how often religion has been a progressive force in our national life. Liberals should embrace religious liberty as their own cause. It should not be put to the service of reaction.