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The Rout of Conservative Christians

To no one’s surprise, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Walmart) caved on the state’s RFRA. Excerpt:

Facing a backlash from businesses and gay rights advocates, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to either recall or amend legislation billed as a religious freedom measure so that it mirrored a federal law approved in 1993.

Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said he understood the divide in Arkansas and across the nation over the question ofsame-sex marriage and its impact on people’s religious beliefs. His own son, Seth, he said, had asked him to veto the bill, which critics say could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.

To ensure that the state is “a place of tolerance,” Mr. Hutchinson said, he was considering using an executive order that would seek to balance the “competing constitutional obligations” if the legislature declined to make changes to the bill.

“What is important from an Arkansas standpoint is one, we get the right balance,” he said, “and secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future.”

“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “But these are not ordinary times.”

He’s right. We live in a time in which standard, bread-and-butter orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality is tantamount to a hate crime. If even the Republican governor of Arkansas — Arkansas! — folds, we are in a new world. From a piece I have up today in Time.com:

What is so alarming about the opposition’s moral panic over the law is its inability to accept that there could possibly be a legitimate religious defense of discrimination at all. To progressives, we are all Bull Connors.

I understand that most liberals view homosexuality as entirely analogous to race. Abrahamic religion does not see it that way. Sexual expression has moral meaning that race does not. You don’t have to agree with Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and traditional Christians, but this goes down to the foundational beliefs of our religions.

We may be wrong. But the Constitution gives us the right to be wrong. It is a right so precious it was guaranteed in the First Amendment, alongside free speech.

Religious liberty, like free speech, is not an absolute right, but it is at the core of what it means to be an American. And like free speech, it matters more when the religious expression is unpopular.

On the Wendell Berry thread earlier today, a reader wrote this morning:

I work with the public so I get a lot of interesting interactions and often to get in our place of business that you have to walk right by my truck to get in the door. I say that only to explain how this conversation can come up.
Today about 45 minutes ago (around 9:00 a.m.) a younger man came in and asked whose truck that was parked out front with all the wood in it. Of course it was my truck. As we were loading the truck he asked where I got the wood. i told him it came from a widow lady in my church who was tight on money so some of the younger people in her church have taken over doing her yard work because in the Bible we are taught that we need to look after the elderly, especially since this lady only child has already died and so has her husband. She has no family for hours around. He was mightily impressed by that and said that is what churches should be doing. I of course asked him what he meant by that. His response verbatim was that the church should be helping people no matter what not judging people like they are in Indiana. I then responded love without truth is no love at all. He looked at me and said I was wrong. I finished loading the wood shook his hand and wished him a good day. But I can’t help but think this is what we are up against. No matter what good work I do, how kind I am, and how I do not discriminate in any of my actions my thoughts as a traditional Christian on marriage between remarried people and gays are unacceptable.

As this very short 2004 Margaret Talbot item in the New Yorker, in which she reports on a pro traditional marriage rally in DC, there was a time not too long ago in which the media understood that to oppose same-sex marriage did not mean one was a hater. She couldn’t find any nasty bigots:

All this careful sympathy for the sinner raised the question of how much appetite Americans—even Americans who oppose same-sex marriage—really have for a long fight against it. According to Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in Washington, there is “a kind of ambivalence just beneath the surface of opposition to same-sex marriage, even among people of strong religious convictions,” an ambivalence that may mean it will not become the long-lasting social crusade that the anti-abortion issue is. Cromartie believes that there is a “strand of evangelism that is not exactly libertarian, but is unwilling to beat up on anyone else for their sins; it might be rooted in a theological understanding that we’re broken people in a broken world.”

Mike Cromartie was right, and so, today, eleven years later, is Rusty Reno: this is a “time of testing” for orthodox Christians in all churches and confessions. Excerpt:

In this climate, can anyone doubt that efforts will be made to deny accreditation to Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) institutions that don’t conform to the “anti-homophobia” consensus? Will a traditional view of marriage be permitted any public space in the new gay rights regime? The furor against Indiana’s RFRA suggest that if the gay rights activists have their way, no, there won’t be.

Christian leaders in America need to be clear-minded. It’s very foolish to think we can settle into amodus vivendi with the coming gay rights regime. This regime is the political form of the sexual revolution, and like all revolutions, it’s committed to the destruction of the past.

In this moment, we must exercise responsible leadership. This means two things. The first is obvious. We need to work for laws like the Indiana RFRA to provide some protection, however modest, to our communities from the coming onslaught of “anti-bigotry” laws.

The second is less obvious but perhaps even more important. We need to stand up and speak clearly about the biblical teaching on sex, marriage, and family. It’s the leaders of the Church who should be attacked in public as “homophobic,” not politicians like Mike Pence who are trying to do the right thing. Few things are more demoralizing than an officer who cowers in the trenches.

We certainly don’t need leaders of the Church who throw their own imperfect allies to the mob, in hope of appeasing them.

One thing needs to be kept clear, no matter how tough times become: if any Christian succumbs to hating gay people or those who denounce, punish, and, if it should come to it, persecute us, then we will have lost more than anything that can be taken from us in the public square. Hatred does not beat hatred, not in any form of victory that can be properly called Christian. Keep your eyes on the real battle. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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