A European reader writes:
A small thing, but in the update on how one is now forced to align in culture wars:
My wife, working in a small [foreign] government office yesterday was handed a new lanyard that everyone now has to wear together with their ID: Rainbow-striped lanyards. This is also in a customer-facing role, where they deal with customers from all sorts of backgrounds. So my wife is effectively forced to front a political message to others. As it was her boss, a previously married gay man, who handed these out, we haven’t figured out to react yet.
But that I’ll be picking up my copy of The Benedict Option and read it, that’s for sure…
This is how it’s going to be. You must conform — or else. I’m a subscriber to The New York Times in part for the same reason Sovietologists read Pravda. I swear, the articles almost daily that cheerlead for every form of LGBT culture — well, let’s just say it’s going to provide future historians and cultural anthropologists with a lot to analyze. In context of this post, though, reading the way the Times and other major media approach LGBT (last week, Desmond, the 10 year old drag queen, was celebrated on NBC’s Today show) is to receive an education in how sacred — the word is not too strong — the LGBT cause is to opinion leaders in this culture. To object to it, or even to refuse to cooperate, puts you in roughly the position of a red in Joe McCarthy’s America. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there very fast.
The thing social and religious conservatives simply must understand: this is not primarily a political problem, so it cannot be solved primarily through politics. Masterpiece Cakeshop was a political victory — political in the sense that it happened at the level of government. I am grateful for that victory, and for the two subsequent ones in SCOTUS — that is, the Court sending the Baronnelle Stutzman case back to the Washington court in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, and today’s free speech ruling for California crisis pregnancy centers. I am grateful for the hard work of Alliance Defending Freedom’s lawyers, and cognizant of the fact that those were 5-4 rulings that might have gone otherwise had a Democrat been in the White House.
But let’s not let our eyes be clouded by it. We social and religious conservatives are about to face an enormous reaction in the private sphere — what we used to call “civil society” — as Americans who hate us use their liberties to exile us. It won’t happen everywhere at once, but it’s going to happen. A far-seeing Evangelical pastor told me years ago that he tells congregations to which he speaks that they should prepare themselves to be viewed by the dominant culture as akin to the Ku Klux Klan over their stance on sexuality.
A reader named “Maddux” — so courageous he used a pseudonym — posted a comment in which he said that if he found out that I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he would take pleasure in it:
I used to be happy to go to events that were physically located in a church, as many weddings are. But we will no longer participate in any events with any overtly Christian overtones. I used to be happy to hire Christians or Republicans, and now as a small business owner, as is my right (as I understand from Masterpiece Bakery) I will not hire conservatives or Christians.
It’s reached a point for me where I am actually HAPPY when someone who is Christian or Republican SUFFERS. I didn’t use to be like that. But in the age of Trump, it is what it is. I really can no longer empathize. I just realized that if Rod got cancer tomorrow and passed, the dominant emotion I would feel would be happiness. Is this healthy? Probably not. But it is what it is, in the age of Trump. I wish you guys nothing but ill-will and when the Democrats control the levers of power again, I don’t want balance restored. I want vengeance for all the things you guys did while in power.
I asked him why someone like me — a Christian, but neither a Republican nor a 2016 Trump voter — shouldn’t vote for Trump in 2020 simply as a matter of self-protection from people like him? He added, in a follow-up comment:
You should do exactly as you want to, Rod. I’m not trying to persuade you, just explaining that I think lots of people on the Left feel a rage that they have never felt before. The immigration debate unleashed a level of vitriol among my peer circle that I’ve never seen before in my life. I used to think that Republicans were just wrong, and now I think they are evil.
You don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings? That’s FINE! But don’t blame me for kicking Christians out of my establishment because I don’t want to be morally complicit in their policies. I don’t buy for a second that your religiously-grounded moral convictions should have greater constitutional protections than my non-religious moral convictions. From now on, I will zealously claim EVERY exemption that Republicans claim for themselves and assert them to hurt the other side.
I’m organizing with four other local business council members now to see if we can arrange a partial blockade so that local conservative churches do not get served. I’ve been told by the Supreme Court, staffed with a STOLEN court seat no less, just recently that this is my right. The churches can bake their own bread and buy groceries from 20 miles away instead of the one next door. We’ve also convinced one farm to cancel all the Christian weddings they’ve booked that are more than 3 months out in advance. This is only the beginning. You guys got everything you wished for, and you are about to discover the true cost of Masterpiece CakeShop. This is what you wanted, wasn’t it?
For the record, no Christians to my knowledge have been out trying to convince other Christian businesses to refuse service to gay people. It simply hasn’t happened. But leftists like this lunatic — assuming that he’s serious here, and not making it all up — finally feel free to cut loose on the anti-Christian bigotry they’ve harbored all these years. It doesn’t matter that the churches — Catholic and Protestant both — have been outspoken against the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. What these woke leftists are doing is the same thing that this wicked white woman is doing, calling all Mexicans “drug dealers, rapists, and animals.”
Maddox won’t be posting here in the future. Normally I wouldn’t post any comments from readers personally attacking me or others, much less wishing any of us dead. I wanted to give you all a glimpse of the kind of hatred that’s out there, though.
Earlier today, a different reader posted this comment:
Last week our tenure committee, which I sit on, declined to promote a conservative assistant professor to associate professorship, effectively forcing him to leave the school. During commitee deliberations, his known conservative views on gay marriage were brought up. Interestingly enough, the initial consensus was that he should NOT be penalized for his views. But then one faculty member raised the point that Christian colleges regularly ask professors who publicly agitate FOR gay marriage to leave their schools and she asked the committee why we were not in a position to do the same thing. Why should “we” – she asked – show grace or generosity to them, when “they” (in the abstract) don’t show any to their liberal colleagues who simply want to teach in their schools? Why can’t we try to create the type of community we want, the same way Christian colleges get to create the type of moral community they want? It was a good point, and one that changed my mind.
Now, there may not be a cause and effect, but two weeks later when we re-convened, the vote changed, and he was denied professorship. I voted to deny as well. Since the proceedings are secret, he will never know (nor actually do I) the actual reasons people voted the way they did. But did I feel a little better voting him out knowing that somewhere out there some professor in a gay marriage has been unjustly booted out of a Christian college? Sure, I did.
My son-in-law told a similar story. He used to service some local church vans (which were on their last legs) for free, and saw it as charity work. When he realized the local pastor was preaching “freedom of speech” in refusing to serve gay weddings for Masterpiece, he quietly told the church he no longer had the time to do their maintenance for free.
I think this is very natural. Rod, you don’t get to draw the line where the only denials of services that are to be applauded are the ones that you approve of. I think I posted a long time ago asking you why you thought it was a good idea to ask for exemptions to public accommodation laws when it was more likely to be used against conservatives than liberals or LGBT folks. That comment seems prescient now.
It is important for more people to deny social conservatives/Republicans services, so that they can better understand what it means to be denied service, since they are the ones pushing for exemptions to public accommodation laws. I read in the local news that a couple of top New York photographers have agreed to an informal compact that they will not do Christian weddings in the aftermath of Masterpiece CakeShop.
The irony is that as conservatives, you will agree with everything that’s happening. In the sense that you think we have the “right” to do these things. So, well, congratulations. You got the society you wanted.
I suppose this reader, whose name I don’t know, may be making it all up, but it sounds real. We aren’t told by the reader whether or not his was a public or a private university. If private, then yes, they have the right to do what they want. But look what they have done: deeply damaged a conservative professor’s career, and upended his life (because he will have to find another place to work), solely because they hate his views on same-sex marriage. This reader even thought the quality of the man’s scholarship made him worthy of tenure, but the allure of retribution towards conservative Christian schools that have allegedly booted out professors who support gay marriage was too much.
How many Christian schools have done this, by the way? I’m not aware of any, but I’m probably wrong. I am pretty sure the number is negligible, though, as a percentage of all the Christian colleges and universities in America. In any case, let it never be said that liberalism is not a religion. The professors on this faculty — assuming this reader is telling the truth — destroyed the career at that college of a professor only because he refused to sign their declaration of faith.
And nobody will ever know what happened. All this poor professor knows is that having become known publicly as someone who doesn’t support same-sex marriage has wrecked his career. Or maybe he doesn’t even know that. Maybe all he knows is that he was denied tenure.
It’s getting real now, people, and it’s not going to stop. Even though Christians — including prominent conservative ones — spoke out against the Trump administration’s family separation policy, we are moving into a cultural period in which to be known as a Christian is going to cost you something serious.
Unless, of course, you are in one of the progressive churches; traditional, orthodox Christians should be expecting the fiercest denouncements of themselves to come from progressive Christians like David Gushee. If you didn’t read his extraordinarily important 2016 column both predicting and endorsing heretic hunting for orthodox Christians, you are being foolish. He’s right to say this is coming. These two readers above are examples of it.
I warn about this in The Benedict Option. Do not believe the people who tell you that I argue for retreat from these battles. We have to fight them as we can, but the day will come when people in this country will use their liberty to drive conservative Christians out of the public square. You cannot force people to shop at Christian businesses. You cannot prevent private schools (and probably not many public ones either) from destroying the careers of conservative Christian professors.
What you can do — what you must do — is to prepare yourself and your children for the world that’s coming at us fast. Stop the denial. Just stop it. Stop lying to yourself that this is a political problem that can be solved through politics. It’s far beyond that. The virtues and the disciplines that are going to be required to hold onto the faith, and to pass it on intact to future generations, are difficult to acquire and to maintain. There are no safe places to which we can escape. We are going to have to build the Resistance where we are, starting in our own hearts and minds, expanding out to our families, and to our small communities. Because the challenge is total, so too must the Resistance be. The Evangelical writer Mike Cosper understands what’s going on, in his column titled “The Esther Option.” Excerpts:
Dreher had been writing about the Benedict Option for several years. His blog—at times alarmist (though to be fair, the times can be quite alarming)—left many readers with the impression that the Benedict Option was a panicked cry of “head for the hills.” As Dreher describes it, we’re living in a time akin to the last days of Rome. Our culture’s institutions and sources of authority and tradition are eroding, being replaced with progressivism and secularism, and those who object to these values (like conservatives in general and conservative Christians in particular) are going to become the targets of increasing persecution and ostracism.
Dreher’s actual response is more sophisticated than “Run for it!” Instead, he argues Christians need to intentionally work to strengthen their own communal bonds, to renew or build new institutions, and to revitalize their programs of spiritual formation so they have stability to endure the coming times. Rather than run away, it’s a call to root down.
I’m sympathetic to Dreher’s view. My own church, a conservative evangelical congregation in a progressive neighborhood of a progressive city, has experienced firsthand the pressures that come from angry leftists. I think we’re in for quite a storm.
To sum it up, the cultural situation—which looked bad prior to the 2016 election—looks even worse now. While progressives have faced losses, they remain fiercely committed to their agenda of sexual liberation and religious intolerance. Conservatives, on the other hand, have revealed their own moral bankruptcy, adopting a political strongman who promises them power in exchange for their discernment.
In this new, tormented climate, some of Dreher’s ideas—Christians banding together to strengthen their institutions and prepare for the storm—seem almost quaint. Not naïve; just not quite foreseeing how bad things were going to get.
It seems to me that more fundamental groundwork must be established before we can talk about surviving the coming storms. We need to return to the question of what it means to be a Christian in the midst of our cities, states, and nations, and what the shape of our public witness should be. We’re most assuredly a people in exile. The secular left of progressivism is now being confronted by the secular right of populism and nationalism. Both scramble for power. Both fill the air with toxic polemics. And people of faith and good conscience are sure to get caught in the crossfire.
I’m not sure why Mike (who’s a friend) sees The Benedict Option as naive about how bad things were going to get. I’ve not been surprised by anything that has happened, and indeed I foresee much worse, and did when I was writing the book. Anyway, he takes Esther as an example of how Christians should act in these times. Here he quotes Yoram Hazony about what Babylonian exile did to — and for — the Jews as a people:
The fact is that in Persia, being a Jew became—for the first time in history—a matter of choice, and a choice that had to be faced by every individual. . . . In the thousand years since Sinai, the Jews had strayed from observance of the law of Moses time and time again, but their identity as Jews had never been subject to their own volition. It was only after the dispersal throughout Babylonia and Persia that an individual born as a Jew found himself in immediate, constant, and personal contact with other possible identities—and had to choose for himself whether Jewishness would be something he would maintain, or something he would hide.
This explains why the great talmudist Rava argued that the Jews had actually accepted the law of Moses twice: under duress at Sinai, and voluntarily “in the days of Ahashverosh.” Sinai was the founding of a Jewish people whose members have no real alternative but to be Jews, and to take part in the unique history of their people. The Persian empire, however, represented the refounding of the Jewish people on an entirely different basis: Since each Jew was from birth exposed to other options, his entry into the history of his people would be voluntary.
We Christians are right here, right now, learning what it means to be a Christian in a post-Christian civilization. These days, years, and decades in front of us will determine whether or not we will survive as a Christian people, or be assimilated into the post-Christian — indeed anti-Christian — empire. There is no choice.
Read the whole thing. It’s really good. The only place I would significantly deviate from Mike’s diagnosis is here:
Instead, in spite of pressures to conform our doctrine to the new moral norms, in spite of a climate that increasingly scoffs at any notion of the supernatural, in spite of the outright hostility from those who think Christianity is a religion of bigoted, patriarchal homophobes, in spite of whatever challenges may come, we resist the temptation to fight power with power, and we resist the temptation to run away. We stay in our cities, in our world, in public view, faithfully present.
Well, it depends. Again, I don’t think there are any places that are totally safe from these challenges. But there are definitely places that are more amenable to faithful Christian life than others. For example, if you can afford it, and it’s available to you, you’re better off with your children in a classical Christian school than in a public school, or even in a private school, or a Christian school that doesn’t take the faith seriously. Or with homeschooling. Churches and Christians with means need to find ways to make this available to Christians who can’t afford it. This is part of our long-term challenge. The point with the schooling is that as much as is possible, we need to create social spaces within which what we believe is normative.
An aside: when I was a professional film critic, I was also a practicing Christian. I knew that my job required me to see a lot of movies that for moral reasons I would have normally avoided. I thought that I would have the strength of mind and of character to watch these films without being undermined. In those days, I would take my wife to see certain films with me. Sometimes she would come out shaken by what she had seen. I thought that she was overly sensitive.
Then I switched jobs, and stopped seeing movies professionally. I went from seeing eight movies a week to seeing maybe two or three a month. Before long, I found myself developing greater sensitivity to what was onscreen. I came to understand that I was like a heavy smoker who quit cold turkey, and was regaining his ability to taste and smell food. That was a strong lesson to me about the power of our ambient culture to affect our moral perception, even when we tell ourselves that it’s not happening.
The point in context of this post is this: the Resistance — the Benedict Option — requires us to be separatists to a much greater extent than we realize, or desire. This is going to be difficult, and we’re going to screw it up one way or the other. In The Benedict Option, I write about a young woman who lost her faith because her parents became fanatical in their separatism, and taught her and her siblings to fear and loathe anything in the outside world. That’s something to be vigilant against. On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves in the world uncritically, or even if we think we are being properly distanced from it, we run the real risk of allowing Babylon’s standards to form our understanding of reality. When Babylon condemns us for not bowing down before its gods, we, having absorbed Babylon unawares, will abandon the faith out of fear of being marginalized.
Here is another risk: Jesus Christ commands his followers to love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them. If Christians return hatred for hatred, we will have lost, no matter what political victories we may win.
There is no formula for how to do this right. I don’t have all the answers. But we small-o orthodox Christians have to come together to work them out now, while there is time. Things are not going to get an easier; in fact, exactly the opposite. In the Azores late last week, I spoke to a professor of geopolitics, a philosophical conservative, about the general political and cultural situation in the West. He told me that we are living through a massive turning point for our civilization, and there is no guarantee of how it’s going to turn out. He had not read my book, nor had he read Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, nor did I get the impression that his own critique was religiously informed. But he said, like an Azorean Alasdair MacIntyre, that the only hope for those who seek to live according to the tradition of the virtues is through commitment to small communities. I’ll be writing more about him, and our meeting, later today. I include him here, though, because I want you to know that it’s not only committed religious believers who are thinking about these things.
Let me end by saying that you, reader, should not wait on your bishop or your pastor to take the lead here. Many, many of them are invested in the status quo. In the Catholic case, a hierarchy that cannot bring itself to deal like men of God with the Cardinal McCarricks in its ranks are, in general, not men who are going to lead their people courageously and effectively in the Babylonian captivity. I can think of a couple of honorable exceptions, but they are just that: exceptions.
As for Evangelicals, I am informed by my sources in that tradition that leaving aside the ordained Trump lackeys, many, even most, Evangelical pastors, like Evangelicals in the pews, are simply not (yet) capable of grasping the nature and severity of the crisis. They still believe that there is no fundamental opposition between being a good middle-class American and being a faithful Christian. I am reminded of what an Evangelical leader told me from his experience in the fight a couple of years ago to save California’s Christian colleges in the face of a proposed law that would have removed state financial grants from those colleges that held to Biblical tradition on LGBT issues. He said that so many of the white conservative suburban Evangelical churches refused to get involved in the battle, because they were terrified of being thought ill of by their neighbors. They didn’t want to be seen as retrograde and homophobic, or transphobic.
An Evangelical woman active in a similar campaign in Washington state had the same experience trying to engage white conservative Evangelical churches there, and told me her story last summer. If your pastor, your bishop, and your congregation is concerned with conforming to the bourgeois order, they are going to collapse, spiritually and morally, in the face of what’s coming. Go back to the top of this post and re-read what those two anonymous readers said.
We American Christians — Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox — have built a church geared towards success. We have not built one for suffering. We have built a church that knows how to be a chaplaincy to consumerism — that is, to the ideology that extols the choosing individual — in both its liberal and conservative iterations. We don’t know how to be shepherds and sheep when the fences have been torn down, and the hungry wolves are circling the fields.
We are going to learn this, or we will perish as a Christian people. All you who think I’m alarmist in The Benedict Option are going to learn sooner or later that I am realistic — or maybe even naively optimistic. Believe me, I don’t take any satisfaction from this. All I hope for is that my fellow small-o orthodox Christians will get busy now building the metaphorical arks. This is not a drill.
UPDATE: Reader George:
The idea that only now liberals are willing to discriminate against conservative Christians because of Trump is insane. I hate Trump and am dismayed by the support he has received from evangelicals. But this animosity towards conservative Christians predates him.
How do I know this? In 2011, during the Obama administration, I published Compromising Scholarship, which documented that about half of the academics are less willing to hire a professor if they find out that he or she is a conservative Christian. So the actions of Maddux’s committee is must more out in the open type of bigotry rather than the quite bigotry that was occurring before.
Human nature is that we like to try to find justification for things that we know are wrong. And we are very good in doing that. But progressives are lying to themselves if they think that conservative Christians would be treated fairly if not for the Masterpiece decision or Trump. Those progressives would merely find another reason to act in a Christianophobic way. That does not excuse the support of Trump by Christians but neither should we think that our support is the source of Christianophobia.
By the way as a university professor Maddux and his committee had really better hope that the candidate gets no wind of this decision. I know of Christians who have successfully sued decisions like this. Once you get to the discovery phase, administrative measures of secrecy are not going to matter and they will be revealed for the bigotry that they have used to make this heinous decision.