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Christians Scared Away From California

Fearing persecution by the state, a prominent conservative ministry cancels its conference
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This is news: Summit Ministries has relocated a summer program from Biola University to another state. Why? From the press release:

For more than 55 years, Summit Ministries has held conferences at its headquarters in Manitou Springs, Colo., and across the nation, training nearly a half-million young Christians to become leaders in their schools, communities, churches, families, and country. But the group has had to cancel its June 10-23 and June 24-July 7 sessions at Biola University near Los Angeles due to concerns that California will forbid some of what it teaches.

At issue is AB2943, a bill recently passed by the state Assembly and likely to be passed by the Senate, that seeks to insert provisions into the state’s Business and Professions Code to the effect that goods and services “offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” constitute deceptive business practices, and are subject to fines and penalties.

The proposed law includes a prohibition of “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

“Summit’s program helps students develop an intelligent, defensible Christian worldview before they go to college,” Summit President Jeff Myers explained. “Our speakers are leading Christian experts who base their presentations on theology as well as sociology, psychology and science. But the wording of AB2943 is a dog whistle to the left that intelligent Christians holding traditional views are fair game for discrimination, smears and frivolous lawsuits.”

Summit’s program would fall under the proposed law because its lineup includes defenders of traditional man/woman marriage and people who advocate pursuing only those sexual activities approved in the Bible. Myers said it has also been common during prior trainings for students to ask questions of Summit staff about how to address confusion over gender identity and sexual attraction in the context of their faith.

By prohibiting such conversations, AB2943 would cripple Summit’s ability to care for and equip its students, Myers said.

I once spoke at the Summit summer conference in the past. It is a conservative Protestant organization, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything they teach — I’m not entirely on board with “worldview” theory — but they were welcoming to me. It was a good experience on my part, just as my friend Francis Beckwith, the Catholic philosopher and frequent Summit speaker, told me it would be. Whatever you think of Summit in particular, it is well within the mainstream of conservative Christianity.

And now its leadership is afraid that presenting its student training on the California campus of a Christian university could land it in legal trouble. I think they are right to be cautious. Though the bill is not yet law, there is little prospect that it won’t pass the Democratically-controlled legislature, and make its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk before this summer. Though some conservative Christians went too far in estimating what this bill stands to do (there won’t be any banned Bibles, for example), it’s not hard to see how Summit’s conference could fall under the aegis of the law, if applied by a zealous prosecutor. And the LGBT + Allies activist community is definitely zealous.

Again, the bill is not yet law, but it likely will be by summer. Summit’s leadership had to make a decision about whether or not to risk a lengthy court battle if local officials decided to charge them with violating the law. Summit is a not-for-profit ministry. Who could blame them for not wanting to take that risk, especially when its fate would be in the hands of a California judge?

Look, orthodox Christian readers, this is another canary in the coal mine. I’m quite sure progressives in California — including progressive Christians — rejoice in Summit’s decision. They shouldn’t. I would be appalled if a pro-LGBT organization decided to cancel a conference in my conservative state because they legitimately feared that local prosecutors would charge them over what they intended to say at the conference. That’s not America, or at least not the kind of America I want to live in. But this is California.

If you think this is going to stop at the California border, you’re lying to yourself.

Recently, the Society for Political Methodology apologized for choosing to have its annual meeting on the Brigham Young University campus. BYU is a major university, but as a Mormon institution, is insufficiently woke for the SPM:

The society’s leaders said they’d given “insufficient forethought to matters of diversity” in allowing Brigham Young to host the meeting, chilling the participation of LGBTQ scholars and alarming the American Political Science Association’s Status Committee for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender Individuals in the Profession (a group not affiliated with the society).

Yet recent weeks have seen a series of “constructive, good-faith conversations” among the political science association’s LGBT Status Committee, Brigham Young and the society, the political methodology group said, yielding “what all parties believe is a positive outcome for 2018 and beyond.” The university has reaffirmed its commitment to welcoming visiting scholars in a spirit of inclusion and moved all events to an off-site location, for example, while the society is adopting a new diversity statement and formal code of conduct endorsed by the political science association’s status committee. Host institutions of future conferences will be required to affirm these statements and conference participants will be required to sign the code of conduct. A plenary roundtable at the upcoming meeting also will discuss how to make the society more diverse and inclusive.

The society “apologizes for the way its host selection negatively affected professional opportunities for LGBTQ scholars,” its leaders said in a statement. “This was never intended and [the society] promises to be more attuned to diversity and inclusion in the future.”

This is stunning. BYU has agreed to move all meetings off campus so liberals won’t be exposed to Mormon cooties. No serious person could possibly believe that LGBT scholars would have been mistreated at this BYU conference. This is about rendering scholars and scholarly institutions like BYU radioactive. And not a single law had to be passed to do it. 

Attendees at the Summit event at Biola might not have found a particularly welcoming environment had the ventured beyond campus into southern California, but does anybody believe they would have been harassed or “chilled” by the fact that they were at a conference in a more secular, liberal culture than what they may be used to back home? Please. Summit knew that California’s is a secular liberal culture; that did not stop them. What stopped them is the fear that the state will soon have a law that could make criminals of them, and that if so, would cost them a lot of money to defend against in court.

Don’t think that it will SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) laws are being used, and will continue to be used, to punish orthodox Christians and push us out of the public square. There are powerful forces behind these moves. Look at what’s happening not in California, but in Kansas:

A network of companies including Apple, Google and Amazon are fighting a proposal before Kansas lawmakers that would allow adoption and foster care organizations to refuse placements to gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs.

TechNet — a coalition of more than 80 technology companies — has sent a letter to legislative leaders outlining the corporations’ opposition to the bill.

“Discriminatory legislation would hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain business and top talent, drive declines in the state’s travel & tourism industry, weaken the states to attract next-generation entrepreneurs and innovators, and make Kansas less competitive for the relocation or expansion of both large and small businesses,” the letter says.

Debate over the bill has hinged on whether it discriminates against gay and lesbian individuals and couples seeking to adopt or act as foster parents.

What would the Kansas bill do? Protect the status quo, which allows religiously affiliated adoption agencies (like the one affiliated with Catholic Charities) continue to do their work, even though they do not adopt out kids to same-sex couples. It would not ban anybody from adopting out kids to same-sex couples. It would only protect those agencies that do not wish to do that. Now you have these big tech companies saying that protecting the status quo — that is, respecting religious liberty in the area of adoption — would hurt Kansas’s economy.

See what’s happening here? Big Business is saying that passing a law allowing religious charities to stay involved with adoption is active discrimination. What this logically implies is that Kansas has to prove that it’s not a Bigot State by banning Catholic Charities and others from the adoption business. This is how Big Business is putting the squeeze on religious and social conservatives with lawmakers. If they succeed here, the next step is to push Catholic Charities out of the adoption field, as the state of Massachusetts was the first to do over a decade ago.

California may be a lost cause, but Kansas isn’t, and many other states aren’t. But orthodox Christians and others who believe in defending religious liberty had better let lawmakers know when these kinds of cases come up. This is the kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote the following passage of The Benedict Option:

Plus, companies that don’t abide by state and federal antidiscrimination statutes covering LGBTs will be not be able to receive government contracts. In fact, according to one religious liberty litigator who has had to defend clients against an exasperating array of antidiscrimination lawsuits, the only thing standing between an employer or employee and a court action is the imagination of LGBT plaintiffs and their lawyers. “We are all vulnerable to such targeting,” he said.

Says a religious liberty lawyer, “There is no looming resolution to these conflicts; no plateau that we’re about to reach. Only intensification. It’s a train that won’t stop so long as there is momentum and track.”

Fight what can be fought, while we have the time and the resources to do so. But you, your family, and your congregation had also better be preparing for the long run. Neither the state, nor big business, nor private associations, will come after you because you are faithful to traditional Christian teaching on charity towards the poor, for example. It’s all going to be over LGBT issues — for now. The rest will come later, probably around euthanasia and bioethics. The freedom of religious institutions to teach what they believe is the truth about sexuality really is in the crucible now. What is it going to take to wake up orthodox Christians and social conservatives?

The Democratic Party is reliable on these issues: it is always against protecting religious liberty when it conflicts with what LGBT activists want. The Republican Party, by contrast, is not a reliable defender of religious liberty interests. Why aren’t more Christian pastors and others talking about this? When I talk to conservative Christian audiences, I often encounter real skepticism about religious liberty, as if they can’t quite grasp the nature of the conflict we face. I tend to run up against conservative Christian skeptics who believe some mixture of the following:

1. Nothing matters more than abortion. Republicans are pretty good on abortion. Therefore, we don’t have anything serious to worry about.

2. Religious freedom is freedom to worship. As long as that’s okay, we don’t have anything serious to worry about.

3. Christianity is entirely about accepting Jesus as your personal savior. As long as you have done that, any other concerns you have might concern you, but aren’t really worth worrying about in the grand scheme of things. In fact, why can’t we quit talking about this divisive stuff and get back to talking about accepting Jesus into our hearts?

4. I’m a conservative, but my [friend or family member] is gay, and I can’t believe that a God of love would want him to be discriminated against. If religious liberty means defending the right to profess and advance that kind of bigotry, count me out.

While we dither, and while the mainstream media cocks a skeptical eye at “the evangelical fantasy of persecution,” a major Christian youth education ministry has cancelled its conference in California because it fears punitive and persecutorial action by the state. It’s happening right now. In America.

UPDATE: Reader MichaelGC:

We’ve seen this same scenario play out now in Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and, most recently, Anchorage, Alaska. As soon as a state begins to discuss the protection of gender roles from the assault of transgender ideology the state business associations, the leftist-dominated media, and the Silicon Valley syndicate work in concert to shut it down. The media hysterically trashes and smears (example from The Boston Globe, where there is a ballot initiative this fall to repeal the transgender bill: “Transgender question puts bigotry and fear on the ballot”), and activist CEOs such as Marc Benioff issue threats of economic blackmail.

On the other hand, when states adopt laws that impose draconian punishments for such things as not using “preferred pronouns” (California, New York, Massachusetts) then there is not a peep from either the legacy media or big business, even though such laws forcing speech are flagrant violations of the Constitution, as well as being antithetical and repugnant to the American tradition.

State governments are being socially engineered, herded like cattle that are driven and prodded to make sure they go only in the direction the progressive left wants them to go, regardless of what constituents may desire. Representative government is being undermined by a clique of corporate elites. I guess this is what they call a plutocracy or an oligarchy.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Bermuda, population about 60,000, just repealed SSM after a court imposed it. While the repeal bill was being discussed, Bermuda Tourism Authority chief Kevin Dallas sent the senators a sniveling letter to warn them that ending gay marriage would adversely impact their tourist economy and called on them to reject the legislation for that reason.

Tourism minister Jamahl Simmons and the BTA’s board of directors responded and told Dallas to butt out with his unauthorized lobbying, and added “We have full trust in Bermuda’s elected and appointed officials to effectively carry out the democratic process on behalf of Bermuda’s citizens.”

So tiny Bermuda, with much of its economy based on tourism, stands tall and upholds its citizen’s right to govern themselves regardless of the boycott threats from Big Gay and its well-heeled allies. If our own politicians had guts like that, as well as respect for their constituents and the representative process, we should be able to enjoy a democracy here, too.

UPDATE.2: This. This is what we’re facing now as a country: