Jonathan Rauch:

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.

To which Rod Dreher:

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.

But that “if” is really just changing the subject. Does Dreher believe that’s how it has to be? That is to say, does he believe that “fidelity to . . . religious and moral truth” requires Christians to, say, refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings, or any of the other “secessions” that Rauch is talking about?

I think the answer is, mostly, “no.” That is to say, I think Dreher’s belief is that traditional teachings about homosexuality are non-negotiable, but that this doesn’t imply that Christians are obliged in any way to “secede” from a society that rejects those teachings. Christians may be obliged to believe that physical love outside of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is sinful; they may even be obliged to believe that the determination to pursue such a love and to deny its sinfulness is even more sinful. Does that mean Christians are obliged not to take pictures of their sinful unions? That they are obliged not to hire them to teach their children?

I’m not a Christian, but if I understand correctly, the traditional view would be that “writing off” generations of people would literally be consigning them to hellfire. I’m pretty sure that, for a traditional Christian, that’s an abhorrent choice to make. So how can Dreher blithely accept that as merely a regrettable necessity if the culture at large becomes “post-Christian”?

Rauch, it seems to me, is much more correct in the way he formulates the question. The question traditional Christians are faced with is a pragmatic one, a question about which course will lead to better results, not a question of fundamental principle. The question is whether they should bend over backwards as far as they, without violating their essential teachings, to welcome gay Christians and non-Christians, and meet them wherever they are, or whether they should “build a fence around the law” to make sure that they themselves are not contaminated by a too-close relationship with a certain category of (from a traditional Christian perspective) obstinate sinners.

I don’t mean to suggest that the latter approach is obviously false. I’m Jewish, and though I am very critical of this aspect of my religion, “build a fence around the law” is a venerable Jewish concept. A traditionally Orthodox Jew not only would not attend a gay wedding – he wouldn’t attend a Christian wedding, because that would (from his perspective) be participating in an idolatrous ceremony. But traditional Orthodox Jews also do not live under a religious obligation to spread their teachings to the ends of the earth.

My point is that the question itself is one of consequences. If the former approach is correct, then the folks who are looking for broad exemptions to allow discrimination against sexual minorities are actively harming their own cause. That’s not something to champion.

Dreher could be right that how the Obama Administration deals with these kinds of requests will be bellwether for how the Democratic Party, or even the government more generally, is perceived by traditional Christians. But it’s equally true that these choices to opt for secession are bellwethers for how traditional Christians are perceived by liberals, and even by the general society. That’s not a point to be brushed aside by saying, “that’s how it has to be.”