One of my Twitter followers asked today if I thought orthodox Christians ought to fight for our rights in court, or retreat. This is a common question from people who haven’t read The Benedict Option, but think they understand its argument. It has come up again after the unexpected victory for religious liberty in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Let me make this as clear as I can:
BOTH! THE ANSWER IS BOTH!
As I say in the book, Christians have to stay engaged in politics, if only to fight for religious liberty. If you don’t think the Supreme Court is massively important, you aren’t paying attention. I strongly encourage Christians and others concerned about religious liberty to donate to Alliance Defending Freedom (whose legal team won for Jack Phillips at SCOTUS this week) and Becket, for example. The work those lawyers are doing is of utmost importance. ADF works on Christian cases exclusively, while Becket (formerly known as The Becket Fund) works on religious liberty cases for all.
It has been pointed out to me that religious liberty litigators are a lot more excited about the meaning of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision than political scientists are. John C. Eastman, one of those litigators, explains why. Excerpt:
Conservative cynicism toward Masterpiece Cakeshop suggests a deep—although somewhat appreciable—misunderstanding of Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence. As I explained when writing about this case at The Federalist before oral argument, despite the popular media and the primary argument made in favor of the baker making this case about free speech, in reality this case “is, fundamentally, about religious liberty.”
The Supreme Court agreed. Despite almost 30 years of Supreme Court case law emptying the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause of almost all substantive content (thanks largely to a 1990 decision by Justice Scalia called Employment Division v. Smith), the Supreme Court has now confirmed that the Free Exercise Clause does not let the government apply laws in a discriminatory way against religious believers, even if the laws were not designed to discriminate against those believers, simply because the government finds the religious belief “offensive.”
Eastman goes on to say that “the practical significance of this result cannot be overstated.” I hope and pray that he is correct. For the sake of argument here, let’s assume he is, and be grateful for what brave plaintiffs like Jack Phillips and tireless litigators have accomplished. We cannot stop fighting for our First Amendment rights.
You have read, I hope, my piece about “The Greengrocers of CrossFit Gym,” in which I discuss how employees and clients of an Indianapolis gym caused the business to collapse virtually overnight when they withdrew from it to protest its Christian owner cancelling a “Pride workout” set for the place. The employees had every right to quit, of course, and the clients had every right to express their disgust with the owner by withdrawing their membership. Result: the owner’s business has been destroyed.
It wasn’t destroyed by a court decision. It was destroyed by a decision in the court of public opinion. Like it or not, this is the new reality. Nothing that the Supreme Court says can stop that. We live in a free country. In decades past, religious and social conservatives could have done that to a gym that chose to host a gay Pride event. Times have changed.
This came in the mail from a reader in Deep Blue America today:
A friend of mine from Tulsa, OK just called to tell me that they’ve renamed four blocks of a street in the city “Pride Street” in honor of the LGBTQ community there.
If Pride™ has that much cultural/political power in Tulsa, I might as well give up my fantasy of moving my young family to somewhere “safer.” It is literally everywhere. Don’t let them tell you the sky isn’t falling. A big chunk of rainbow sky just hit the ground in the buckle of the Bible belt.
On Thursday, I had the chance to speak to an old liberal friend who works in a small-town school in the Deep South. It had been a long time since we’d spoken. I asked her about work. She talked about the social progress they’ve seen in her school (a public school, by the way). Gay couples are now going to prom together. There are more kids coming out as trans. She genuinely believes this is all to the good. She mentioned to me, though, that the parents and the grandparents within the town are really out of touch with the youth culture there. They don’t have the faintest idea how radically different the young think.
Later, I looked up my pal’s county on her state’s election map. It went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. I looked up the population of that town. It’s tiny — and it’s not wealthy, either. Don’t know how many churches they have there, but it’s the South, so there have to be more than a few. This is heartland America. Tulsa would be the big city for them. In fact, you have to drive for hours from that pinprick to hit a city as big as Tulsa.
And yet … gay kids are going to prom together. More and more trans kids are coming out. The normalization of it all, even as older people in that particular Mayberry have no clue what’s happening.
I don’t say that in a “clutch the pearls” way. Freaking out about it is not going to do any religious or social conservative a bit of good. I point this out within the Both! context to tell you conservative Christians readers that the world in which our kids are growing up is very, very different — different in ways you might not wish to recognize, because it’s too unsettling to accept that people like me and thee are minorities now. And we are going to be despised minorities in not too many more years. We may retain the right to run our businesses and our institutions as we see fit, but that does not mean that we will have the customers to keep them going, or be able to hire people to work for us — not if we are stigmatized as anti-LGBT.
It could come for something as minor as declining to host a Pride event.
The Benedict Option is about getting ready for what is here now, and what is yet to come. If you’re only retreating, and not fighting, then you are wasting one of the few chances we likely have left. But if you’re only fighting, and not also retreating (in the sense I mean: to within a defensible perimeter), then you are leaving yourself, your family, your church and your community vulnerable.
I bet there are plenty of older folks in my liberal friend’s town who believe that they’re striking strong blows against cultural liberalism by voting Republican. They don’t see what’s happening right under their own nose: a cultural revolution that no conservative politician or judge can stop.
Questions to readers living in Red America: how certain are you that you see what’s happening right under your nose, among the young people in your kids’ school?