The Prophetic Eric Moutsos
In Salt Lake City, police officer Eric Moutsos lost his job because he declined to march in a gay pride parade. Note well: he did not refuse to provide police security for the parade; he declined to march in it. From the Deseret News:
“These issues need to be addressed. There are so many good people, no matter what it is you believe,” [Moutsos] said. “I think what’s happened here is that we’re just getting more divisive on this issue. (Some might say) just because you may disagree with somebody means that you hate them. And that’s just not true. Because I love people. I’ll take a bullet for you. I’ll protect you. But I will not advocate certain things in people’s lives.”
In June of 2014, the Salt Lake City Motor Squad Unit was asked to participate in the Utah Pride Parade in Salt Lake City, which included performing choreographed maneuvers on motorcycles.
Moutsos, a member of the unit, was told to participate. But because of his personal beliefs, he said he felt uncomfortable doing so.
Moutsos said he had no problem performing his duty to protect and serve. The officer had previously provided security as same-sex couples flocked to the Salt Lake City-County Building to be married following a federal court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
But in this case, Moutsos felt that what he was being asked to do was more for entertainment.
“I felt that by being an actual participant in the parade, I would be perceived to be supporting certain messages that were contrary to who I am,” he said. “I will protect their parade. But I just don’t want to be in the parade.”
Moutsos said he sent an internal email asking to swap assignments with another officer. He said he was not opposed to providing traffic control for the parade and blocking streets for pedestrians.
But his request was denied.
“That’s when I knew there was going to be a problem,” he said.
Moutsos told his supervisor he was still willing to be part of the parade and sent an email saying he’d be ready for practice and to participate in the parade itself.
“Two days later I was brought into one of the commander’s offices. They took my badge and my gun for discrimination. My sergeant then drove me home and took all of my equipment, said I could not perform as a police officer. I thought I was in a dream. I was devastated,” he said.
Now Moutsos wants the public to know that reports saying he refused to work the parade were inaccurate.
“I have protected free speech events several times that I disagreed with. But I will protect them. I believe in the First Amendment — so much that even if I disagree with a particular message, I will still be there to protect it. Because without them being able to say what they want to say, I wouldn’t be able to say what I want to say.
“It wasn’t about protection or security. What I felt was that, ‘You are going to be a participant and look like you advocate this particular cause. And I don’t,'” he said. “We should be there to protect everybody’s rights. But I felt the participation was a little much.”
The SLC police chief tells the newspaper that he will not tolerate “bias, bigotry, or hatred” in his ranks. So refusing to march in a Pride parade constitutes bias, bigotry, and hatred, according to the chief of police not in San Francisco, not in Boston, but in Salt Lake City.
Moutsos has a message to the LGBT community: “I say to them that I love you. I probably agree with 95 percent of your life or more. And I wish we could find the things that we do agree with and build from there. But there are just certain messages that I will never advocate.”
What Moutsos is learning — what all traditional Christians will soon learn — is that there is no accommodation to be made. You are the Enemy, and must be crushed. You will be forced to advocate for things that violate your conscience, and if you refuse, it doesn’t matter how far you are willing to go to be accommodating: you will be branded a hater, and forced out of your job.
This is quickly going to become a serious problem for many Christians (and Orthodox Jews and Muslims). On the current edition of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, host Ken Myers mentions in his introduction observations by the British moral philosopher Oliver O’Donovan, from his book The Desire of the Nations, in which he says, “There is plenty to show that those who do not make an effort to read their times in a disciplined way read them all the same, but with narrow and parochial prejudice.”
Myers goes on quoting O’Donovan” “What makes life in the late modern period different … can all be traced back to seed thoughts that were present at the beginning of the modern era, and are aspects of a necessitating web of mutual implications.” And: “The flowering of an idea comes when it assumes a structural role that determines what else may be thought.”
That’s where we are now, and where we are headed. We are fast reaching — and in many places have reached — a point where what traditional Christianity teaches about homosexuality may not be said or thought in the public square, no matter how irenically expressed. One of the goals of the Benedict Option, as I see it, is for Christians to come together to learn how to endure what’s coming, to do so with grace, not spite, and to support each other through these times.
And we need to learn how to resist the state and its agents, like the Chief of Police of Salt Lake City. Christian public schoolteachers are now on the front lines. Oliver O’Donovan writes:
Civil religion is a corruption to which the church is liable when it enjoys a close co-operation with the state. It is not a matter of serving the interests of government solely — civil religion can flourish in opposition, too — but the interests of the state at large, bolstering its legitimacy, supporting its political philosophy, inculcating virtues, both active and passive, which are useful to the political constitution of society. And not everything that the church may say or do along these lines is to be disapproved of. It is when this line of thought has become autonomous, cut loose from its evangelical authority, that it distorts the witness of the Gospel. ‘Never mind how you vote, just make sure you go to the poll!’ Messages like that delivered from the pulpit are the archetypal civil religion of modern democracy. They maintain the appearance of political neutrality, while actually suppressing important possibilities for Christian criticism: that the Gospel may raise serious difficulties for an order that conceives itself as democratic, that the Christian population may need to send a message of disapproval not to the governing party but to the political classes at large, and so on. Jacques Ellul waged periodic campaigns against voting; they deserve at lease a respectful mention in the annals of Christian political witness.
However, civil religion is only one manifestation of a more general temptation: that of accommodating the demands of the Gospel to the expectations of society. Any successful mission will leave the church inculturated; any inculturated church is liable to lose its critical distance on society. Forms of prophetic criticism may persist, but they become increasingly intra-mural, taking up those causes which were controversial anyway rather than finding deeper grounds for evangelical challenge. Echoing political controversy, rather than calling its grounds in question, is the sign of a Babylonian captivity which cannot be avoided by purely constitutional precautions. The end of Christendom has not, in fact, resulted in a freer and more independent-minded church. Much Christian enthusiasm for ‘pluralism’ has less to do with a relation to the state than with the church’s yearning to sound in harmony with the commonplaces of the stock exchange, the law-courts and the public schools. . . . And the only precautions we can take are theological. To the extent that the Christian community is possessed by its Gospel, it will be be protected against social conformity.
The most important aspect of the Benedict Option is creating the communities, institutions, and structures that make it possible to remember what it means to be a Christian in an era of mass conformity and mass forgetfulness. If we are not possessed by our orthodox religion — this is true of Orthodox Jews and Muslims too — we will be possessed by our culture. We, the church, have allowed ourselves to be possessed by a spirit of mammon, of nationalism, and of a desire for comfort above truth.
This is not a time for freaking out. This is a time for patient, deliberate preparation. This is a time for repentance, and this is a time for choosing. Eric Moutsos’s is not the first who will be compelled to make a choice, and he certainly will not be the last.