Home/Rod Dreher/Karen Pence As Condensed Symbol

Karen Pence As Condensed Symbol

Karen Pence (NBC News screenshot)

I read the stories below yesterday, on a train to Valencia (a beautiful city — more on which shortly). I couldn’t get a wifi connection in my hotel, so I couldn’t post this last night. That’s probably for the best; I’ve had more time to think about it. Which, in this case, has not moderated my opinion one bit, but if anything has made me angrier and more concerned.

Here, from the Washington Post, is a prime example of religious ignorance and cultural philistinism in the US media elite. This is what counts as a scandal among these people:

The school where Vice President Pence’s wife, Karen, has accepted a part-time job teaching art requires potential employees to affirm certain religious beliefs that seek to exclude homosexual and transgender applicants, including that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Immanuel Christian School, a private K-8 school in Springfield, Va., outside of Washington, sets forth the position in its employment application for teachers and support staff in a section that requires applicants to initial a set of standards that begins with a promise that they are born-again Christians.

One of the items is a pledge to “live a personal life of moral purity.”

“I understand that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture,” the section says, saying that God intended sexual acts to occur only between “a man and a woman who are married to each other.”

“Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”

Let me explain something to Washington Post writer Eli Rosenberg and his editors: This. Is. Normal. Within. Conservative. Christianity. You might well think it is weird, but it is perfectly normal, and — stay with me here, Eli Rosenberg, Millennial native of southern California, graduate of UCLA, and 10-year resident of New York City — this point of view was common throughout America practically the day before yesterday. Christian schools having moral codes is not news.

A George Washington University law professor explains this in the piece, and says that the school hiring Karen Pence is well within its rights. But it’s still horrible, horrible!:

“They have staked out a certain set of positions on issues that are confrontational,” he said of the Trump White House. “The administration seems to live on wedges, so paying attention to this just feeds their interest in driving one more wedge. And this confirms their bona fides with religious conservatives and they sort of seem to do that, because Donald Trump, whatever he might say, is not that.”

Matthew Haag of The New York Times wrote the same story, pretty much. It even has a quote from an Academic Expert who says that this is normal, but still horrible, horrible!:

She said that Mrs. Pence’s choice of employment was not surprising because the school’s values appeared to mirror those of the Trump administration.

“Given the exclusionary nationalism in this administration and sorts of politics taken on various things, it would not be at all surprising for the second lady to associate herself with some prominent fashion with an institution like this,” Professor Hurd said. “It raises important issues about education and diversity, and what kind of forward-facing public officials we want representing our country at home and abroad.”

Haag is a Brooklyn-based Millennial, but he’s from Texas, and should know that the story is a lot more culturally nuanced than this. Why no quote from someone like David French?

David French explains why this is no scandal at all, but the sort of thing media (including CNN) are ginning up for purposes of advancing hatred of Americans who believe standard Christianity. Excerpt:

Is the Democratic party wrong if it excludes Republicans? Is a Muslim mosque wrong if it wants to be led by an imam and not a rabbi?

Not only is this not scandalous, but it’s also the exercise of a fundamental First Amendment right. If Lois Romano [of the WaPo] or [CNN reporter] Kate Bennett or any other Karen Pence critic wants to argue against Christian theology, then have at it. Most Christians I know welcome the dialogue. But if they want to condemn a woman for the free exercise of her Christian faith? If they want to argue that there’s something inherently wrong with orthodox Christians’ associating, worshipping together, and teaching their children? Well, then they’re exhibiting a deep intolerance that’s at odds with pluralism itself.

They don’t care. “Diversity,” “tolerance,” and “pluralism” for these people means something very different from what it means for the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett explains the meaning of this “outrage”:

Two things (at least) are worth noting about this:  First, this story (and others like it) are tactical moves in an effort to “condition the environment” for situations when nominees to federal courts are revealed to have been involved with/sent their children to schools that have policies in place that reflect the abovementioned norms.  Second, this story (and others like it) are tactical moves in an effort by opponents of school choice to — having largely lost the battle over the “statist monopoly or parental choice?” debate — cripple voucher and other school-choice programs by pushing legislatures (and enlisting business boycotts and pressure to push legislatures) to exclude from voucher programs those schools that “discriminate.”

Yep. Similarly, the recent outrage over esteemed natural law scholar John Finnis (see here) was not really about Finnis, who will survive the SJW strike, but about laying the groundwork for the exclusion from the academy of younger scholars who share his views.

Here’s what I think: this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me know who I am, and who — and what — my enemies are.

It never would have occurred to me that Karen Pence going to work teaching art to children in a Christian school was a political act meant to signal to the right-wing base. But that’s how this GW law prof sees it: Pence’s decision to teach art part-time to little Christian schoolchildren is an attack on LGBT people, and part of the Trump administration’s war on decency. My guess is that the Post sees this non-story as a big deal, because LGBT rights are the most important thing that have ever existed in the history of America.

This is how they think: everything is political. Everything. 

What do I mean when I say my “enemies”? My “enemies” are not people who believe in LGBT rights. My enemies — politically — are those in the establishment (media, academia, law, politics, etc.) who insist on portraying people of traditional faith as moral monsters who ought to be hounded out of public life as indecent. To many on the left today, Karen Pence going to teach in an ordinary conservative Christian school under ordinary conservative Christian circumstances is the equivalent of going to teach at a segregation academy that bans black people.

I get that. I get that they see no difference between race and sexuality in terms of identity. What I don’t get is how they refuse to see that theirs is an extremely recent view, one that is rejected by many religious and even some non-religious people. Leaving religion out of it entirely, I truly do not understand why race and sexual desire are equivalent things, much less the same kind of things. This may come as a shock to Lois Romano and Kate Bennett, but I have lived in a variety of places around the US, and I have traveled to a fair number of foreign countries. You know what? People are different. Significantly different. There are some beliefs and customs that I do not like, or really understand. But I don’t have to like or understand them to accept them as tolerably human.

I know, it’s hard. Because everything that is immoral should not also be illegal, and because we often can’t agree on what’s immoral, living in a pluralist culture requires constantly negotiating between what we should tolerate, both in law and custom, and what should not be tolerated. This idea that Karen Pence teaching art to little-bitties at a private conservative Evangelical school is another sign of Trump’s Assault On America™ is in truth a signal of the kind of secular fundamentalist jihad that the left is gearing up to wage, and in fact is waging.

For Christians, this is a teachable moment. The law protects the right of this Christian school to do what it does, but it does not protect individual Christians from a backlash via media (and social media) shaming. Sorry to be a salesman here, but if you aren’t preparing your kids via The Benedict Option for holding on to their faith despite this kind of thing, they’re going to crack under the pressure.

I’ll be a salesman because I have been in Spain being one for the past week. Spanish Christians are under immense pressure from the government and from the media, the academy, and other institutions of secular society. Spain has a history of ferocious anti-clericalism, so this is nothing new. But I have heard from a number of Catholic laity that they are fed up with their bishops trying so hard to be politically agreeable, and not standing up and leading. Also, more than a few Catholics have complained to me bitterly about Catholic schools. One polite and respectful 14 year old boy told me the other day that in his Catholic school, he said out loud that he did not believe in the gender ideology presented to the students (that is, he stood for orthodox Catholic teaching), and he found himself waylaid by other students, who called him a macho bigot. He told me he only found one other kid in the entire school who agrees with him, and this boy isn’t even a Christian.

Mainstream Spanish society is in many ways strongly anti-Christian, and seeks to punish and to stigmatize believers. One man told me today that Christians don’t have much power at all, but the dominant Left here constantly comes up with new outrages to justify punishing the Church even more.

This afternoon and evening I walked around the old part of Barcelona, and saw churches that had been burned during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). In fact, one of my hosts said that every church in the city had been burned, leaving only the shell standing. An academic historian at dinner one day this past week told me about interviewing someone who fought on the leftist side in the war, and how this man recalled with cold lucidity how he had convinced himself to murder priests (or some other enemies of the revolution) back during the conflict. The historian said that in the end, he had been quite impressed with the icy rationality of the killer: from an ideological point of view, it made perfect sense. Priests, nuns, and those who supported them stood in the way of the Revolution. Therefore, they were evil, and had to die.

Anticlericalism (by which I mean anti-Christianity) has been a mainstay of continental European countries since the 18th century. European liberalism has been unlike Anglo-American liberalism in that it has been fiercely anticlerical. We have been historically unafflicted with this in the US — but now that the American left is so thoroughly and militantly secularized, American Christians are going to have to learn how to live with anticlericalism, as continental European Christians have done for many decades.

It’s an ugly thing, a demoralizing thing. I get the idea that Spanish Catholics would love to be left alone to practice their faith as minorities in a vehemently post-Christian society. But the Left won’t let them. Catholics have to always be looking over their shoulders, waiting for the next thing, and enduring further demonization in the public square.

Here’s a preview of what’s coming after Trump. In the Spanish Civil War, whether or not individual Catholics loved Gen. Francisco Franco, most of them supported his cause because at least the Nationalists weren’t burning down churches and killing clergy, nuns, and lay believers. After Franco’s victory, the Church was given a place of privilege in Franquist Spain. The post-Franco order, which began in 1978, saw a fierce backlash against the Church for having collaborated with the dictator.

Franco has been dead for 45 years or so, but it’s still happening.

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is not Francisco Franco, and America is not 1930s Spain. But it’s not hard to see that the political and cultural dynamic could be similar. Lots of Christians voted for Trump not because they loved or admired him, but out of self-defense from a secularist Democratic Party that is increasingly hostile to social and religious conservatives, and the things we care for.

After Trump and his shambling, punch-drunk administration passes into history, the Left in power is going to double down on punishing conservative Christians for having collaborated with Trump. Trump critics like Russell Moore will be treated no better than Trump lovers like Robert Jeffress. It’s coming.

We just have to hope that we can avoid violence. Don’t think for a second that Americans aren’t capable of it. I was listening today to a Catalan man in Barcelona tell me that he sent his son out of the city not long ago, fearing outbreaks of nationalist violence by pro-independence Catalans, and thinking, “Aren’t we lucky that we don’t have to be afraid of that kind of violence in America.” Then I thought about the 1960s and 1970s, with the KKK violence in the South, and the left-wing radical violence elsewhere. We are probably a hell of a lot closer to it than we’d like to think.

I’ll leave you with Alan Jacobs’s reflection on what the writers, editors, and broadcasters in our national media are setting themselves, and all of us, up for. He begins by quoting an interview with French thinker Christophe Guilluy, who observes this about the conditions creating populist movements:

We have a new bourgeoisie, but because they are very cool and progressive, it creates the impression that there is no class conflict anymore. It is really difficult to oppose the hipsters when they say they care about the poor and about minorities.

But actually, they are very much complicit in relegating the working classes to the sidelines. Not only do they benefit enormously from the globalised economy, but they have also produced a dominant cultural discourse which ostracises working-class people. Think of the ‘deplorables’ evoked by Hillary Clinton. There is a similar view of the working class in France and Britain. They are looked upon as if they are some kind of Amazonian tribe. The problem for the elites is that it is a very big tribe.

Jacobs agrees with this assessment, and adds, in part:

And that’s because nowhere has a leader emerged who possesses the combination of charisma and shrewdness to channel the frustrations of the economically marginalized into a meaningful program of reform — or revolution.

Such leaders also take different forms: Nelson Mandela was one, and so was César Chávez, and so was Lenin. It is possible that the union of the global neoliberal order and the big media companies — which serve as the Ministry of Amnesia for that order — will be able to prevent the emergence of such a leader. But I don’t think so. I believe that eventually and somewhere such a leader will arise. And when that happens the cool and progressive Left will be so, so screwed.

However, I suspect that if it happens here so will I.

Yep, me too. And it may end up with me participating in my own self-sabotage, because this Karen Pence thing is, like the Kavanaugh hearings, a reminder of the complete contempt the cultural elite has for people like me, and that it really is necessary to side with politicians I don’t like at all, but who at least don’t want to burn my church and school down, to speak metaphorically (I think).

You go read Thomas Edsall’s analysis of how the conflict over sex and gender norms is generating political conflict. Especially this part:

The current era has been marked by a continuous series of challenges to once indisputable truths about sex and gender. Ubiquitous contraception, for one thing, has altered the fundamentals of reproductive roles. The alteration of these fundamentals has been followed by a series of transformations and dislocations — women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, transgender rights, new forms of family formation and dissolution, and vastly altered patterns of fertility. Challenges to core understandings of masculinity — and femininity — are inescapable.

The immensity of these upheavals should not be underestimated. That people are seeking political solutions to rapid societal changes is no surprise. That these solutions erupt in political conflict is also inevitable. For some, new horizons in matters of sexuality and sexual identity offer opportunity; for others, discomfort and fear predominate. These responses are increasingly sorting themselves into partisan affiliation, sometimes uncomfortably. And as I said at the outset, they have become an integral element of contemporary political conflict, which means that an ultimate resolution is light years away.

The attempted shaming of Karen Pence is a condensed symbol for the elite secular left’s hatred of conservative Christians and our morals and mores. I don’t actually give a rip what a Post, Times, or CNN reporter thinks of Karen Pence and evangelical Christians. What I care about is that their uncomprehending contempt, broadcast nationwide, and magnified massively on social media, is preparing the country for something extremely ugly.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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