The latest religious freedom dust-up involves the suspension of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, after A&E discovered to its shock that one of the conservative Evangelicals they’d been profiling wasn’t in favor of homosexuality (quelle horreur!). In one regard, it’s reasonable to be upset: we now live in an age in which it’s frequently illegal to fire someone for living a homosexual lifestyle, but perfectly legal to fire someone for criticizing homosexual lifestyles.
At the same time, let’s acknowledge three things. First, the First Amendment protects you from governmental persecution, not private-sector job termination. There’s no First Amendment right to have your own reality TV show, thank God. Second, businesses should have a right to fire people publicly advocating beliefs contrary to that organization’s principles. Even secular businesses should be allowed to have moral viewpoints, and act accordingly (including in hiring and firing): that’s one of the points at the heart of much of this HHS litigation. Businesses should be allowed to be conscientious. The problem here isn’t that A&E has values, but that we dislike their values. Third, and most importantly, this isn’t Christian persecution, at least not when it’s compared to the more egregious stuff, like church lootings and burnings, priests being murdered, and the rest.
But even though the push against Christianity isn’t a particularly-violent one in the United States, it’s no less effective for that reason. On the contrary, I would suggest that there are ten steps that are being taken, or will soon be taken, to ensure that Christianity is isolated and alienated, and Christians are non-violently coerced to abandon their beliefs:
Step 1: Find the Worst Representatives Possible for Orthodox Beliefs.
There are smart, erudite advocates for traditional marriage, like Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson. And then there are hateful lunatics like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Obviously, focus the spotlight on the latter group. The same thing is true across the board: when you present the pro-life side, the religious side, the anti-HHS side, etc., don’t choose anyone actually credible: choose someone who is a widely-rejected fringe figure. Barring that, choose random people off the street to interview.
Make sure that when people think of the pro-life movement or traditional marriage movement, they associate it with people who are well outside the mainstream: if you can find hypocrites (like pro-marriage advocates in revolving door marriages), all the better.
Step 2: Declare Your Own Victory Inevitable.
The mainstream media does a lot of work to make it seem that it is only a matter of time before gay marriage and secularism are the norms. In a piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriage Legalization Seen as ‘Inevitable’ to Most Americans,” Time worked to reinforce the inevitability narrative on gay marriage: “It looks like Americans are finally accepting gay marriage, even if nearly half still don’t approve of the same-sex unions.” Did you get that? Finally.
There are three purposes to declaring your victory inevitable: (1) motivate your supports; (2) demoralize your opponents, and (3) claim the moral high ground. The first two are obvious, but the third reason is odd. Why should “we’re going to win” translate into “and therefore, we’re right”?
Because for many, including the president and his media, change is good, in and of itself, because history always marches onwards and upwards. This is why President Obama famously described his views on gay marriage as “evolving,” a descriptor that caught on to describe the American public’s views, as well. And it’s why the gay rights group HRC has shirts declaring the wearer “On the Right Side of History,” a phrase that the president uses incessantly, on almost every topic.
In this view, which owes a large philosophical debt to G.W.F. Hegel, history keeps getting better and better. It’s the whole basis of the “progressive” movement, and is reflected in MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” slogan, as well as the president’s own “Change” campaign slogan. But it’s a tragically naïve view of history, particularly for anyone surviving the twentieth century, the bloodiest century in history.
Modern developments, whether that be the Holocaust, the massive death toll from abortion, AIDS, international sex slavery, widespread environmental destruction, growing rich-poor gaps, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and any number of other phenomena debunk the myth of progressivism. As the old German proverb says, “To change and to change for the better are two different things.” Worse, this myth serves to justify a might makes right mentality: if you have the power to alter history, you can declare yourself the righteous victor, simply for being on the “right side of history.”
So the inevitability claim isn’t really true, and even if it were true, it wouldn’t actually prove that its advocates were right, only powerful. But nevertheless, it is an effective strategy to demoralize and undermine traditional views (which by definition, are old, and therefore inferior to newer views).
Step 3: Shout Us Down with Name Calling.
Instead of winning the debate, simply declare the debate over. Call anyone who disagrees with you names: misogynist, homophobe, bigot, etc. Declare our views “hate.” The advantage of this rhetorical strategy is that it frees you from any need for you to rationally approach the topic.
If someone, say, points out that embryology proves that the fertilized egg is a living being distinct from his mother, call them a sexist. It might be science, but it’s sexist science. Or if someone points out that virtually all cultures in history (regardless of religion) shared a similar understanding of marriage (an understanding of marriage being jettisoned, without serious debate or introspection, by the gay marriage movement), call them homophobic. Their points about history don’t need to be answered, because they arise out of some psychological “phobia.”
To say that a person’s views are misogynistic, homophobic and bigoted is to say that they are beneath debate. These views are ungoodthink, and anyone holding them isn’t just wrong: they’re evil. If you do this loudly enough for a long enough time, you can force your opponents into submission. They won’t agree with you, but they’ll be too afraid to speak up and say otherwise.
Step 4: Declare Our Beliefs Unspeakable.
This step is simple: declare a position too political for church, and too religious for politics. For example, when pro-life politicians try to stem the tide of abortion (which results in the death of millions of unborn children), they’re accused of trying to create a theocracy. So it’s too religious for politics! But there are perennial lawsuits to strip the Catholic Church of her tax-exempt status for speaking out too loudly about abortion. It’s too political for religion! In other words, there is no acceptable sphere to present these beliefs. Nobody is allowed to challenge the New Orthodoxy.
This trick is even cleverer than it seems, because it only works in one direction. When President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, he claimed he was influenced by Christ to do so, and that’s fine. And Michelle Obama used Jesus as an example of the model American citizen at a religious-political rally in African Methodist Episcopal church. That’s fine, too. But when a politician cites Christ in his opposition to gay marriage, or uses Jesus to mobilize conservative believers, that’s theocracy.
The rationale works something like this: if a religious believer holds a political position consistent with his religious views, he must be “imposing his religion,” and that’s bad. But if a religious believer holds a political position inconsistent with his religious views, that’s fine. He’s being publicly-minded. And of courses, nonbelievers can impose whatever views they happen to have, since they’re not coming from religion. So everyone can push for their own positions, unless they’re a believer who actually believes his religion.
Step 5: Abandon Any Pretense of Media Neutrality.
In August, there was the case of ABC News editor Don Ennis, who acknowledged that he was a man, after spending 14 years living as a transvestite and insisting people call him Dawn. Ennis promised: “Even though I will not wear the wig or the makeup or the skirts again, I promise to remain a strong straight ally, a supporter of diversity and an advocate for equal rights and other LGBT issues including same-sex marriage.” Again, this is a news editor for one of the largest news organizations in the country, promising to serve as an advocate, rather than (say) a neutral reporter or something. That’s not unusual: news outlets are increasingly embracing the so-called LGBT agenda explicitly, leaving no question as to their sympathies.
For most things, the media at least gives the pretense of trying to present both sides. But on a handful of issues, where one side is morally odious, they don’t bother. You’ll be hard pressed to find a mainstream piece presenting al Qaeda or the KKK in a positive (or neutral) light. And that’s where the opponents of Christianity want to push any who believes in traditional marriage: so far outside of the mainstream that their views don’t even need to be taken seriously (or presented fairly).
Step 6: Come After Our Tax-Exemption.
Although the origins of tax-exemption for religious organizations are murky, it appears to be a recognition by the government that they needed to take their hands off the Church: and implicitly, a recognition that the State wasn’t greater than God or the Church. That’s a recognition that many people refuse to make now. As a result, tax exemption has become a tool for easy extortion: get in line, or it’s gonna cost you, Christians!
The ACLU is already doing this: suing the Catholic Church, in order to force them to either provide abortions at our hospitals, or lose our tax-exempt status. I already alluded to a similar lawsuit brought back in the 1980s trying to force us to stop talking about abortion, or lose our tax-exempt status.
Step 7: Come After Our State and Federal Funding.
If Christians won’t participate in abortion, gay marriage, and gay adoption, strip them of their ability to receive state and federal funding.
First, present such funding as if it is a gift from the government to Christian organizations, rather than what it really is (a collaboration between the two for a common goal, like poverty reduction, or adoption, or care of migrants, etc.). Then insist that any organizations receiving even a cent of federal funding actively advance principles that they find anathema: order adoption agencies to give kids to gay couples, order Catholic charitable agencies to provide abortions, etc. If you’re lucky, you might even coerce some of them to abandon their Christians principles. More likely, you’ll just push them out of the pool of organizations that the government can work with.
The downside to this, of course, is that religious groups typically get these contracts because they’re the most efficient. By removing them from the pool of candidates, you’re removing the cream from the crop, and resigning your social services to suboptimal standards. So some immigrants, orphans, and battered and sex-trafficked women might suffer. But I suppose that’s a small price to pay to push religious organizations out of the public square.
Step 8: Come After Christian Social Programs.
Steps 5 and 6 do a good job of knee-capping religious organizations financially, and hindering their missions. But if you feel particularly ambitious, you can go even further, as the District of Columbia recently did. It ordered all adoption agencies to place kids with gay couples. It didn’t matter if you took a dime of governmental funding or not. Anyone who insists on placing foster kids with a mother and a father is legally barred from working in D.C. The result was as intended: Catholic Charities had to close its adoption agency.
This gives you an opportunity to make religious groups look bad: surely, if they really cared about the poor, or kids, or whoever is the served population, they would have abandoned those pesky religious principles, and given in to the government’s demands. If you do this often enough, legally barring churches from serving others, you can then accuse them of hypocrisy, for not practicing what they preach (because you’ve made it illegal to practice in a way consistent with the preaching).
Step 9: Close Employment off to Professing Christians.
To go a step yet further, force individual believers to act contrary to their beliefs, or lose their jobs. When they complain, glibly suggest that they shouldn’t have been in that line of business in the first place.
Those who support Robertson’s firing from Duck Dynasty should be asked: if a person holding (and vocalizing) his views on homosexuality shouldn’t be employed in entertainment, are there any sectors in which he should be allowed to be employed? Or should such people be barred from all employment?
That’s where this road leads. Don’t want to have to work for gay weddings? Shouldn’t be in the wedding industry. Don’t want to assist in abortions? Shouldn’t work in an emergeceny room. Don’t want to distribute contraception or abortificants? Shouldn’t be a pharmacist (or work in medicine at all). Don’t want to pay for insurance coverage for your employees’ contraception and abortificants? Shouldn’t own a business. Don’t want to give Planned Parenthood access to indoctrinate the kids you’re teaching? Shouldn’t be a teacher. You get the point: one profession after another is closed off. At the end of this, maybe we’ll be allowed to make furniture along with the Amish. But other than that, we’ll be barred from nearly everything.
Step 10: Remove All Vestiges of Christianity from the Public Square.
Throughout all of this, leave the private square alone. Let people say and believe (just about) whatever they want at church, and in the privacy of their own home. As long as you do this, it’ll look like there’s no persecution. You avoid anything messy, like martyrs.
But make sure that these religious views have no acceptable place in the public square. If believers want to participate in public – by holding political office, or a job, or just voicing an opinion publicly – demand that it be strictly secular, devoid of any religious influence at all. In this way, you can ensure that ordinary people are rarely exposed to religious views (and when they are, these views seem irrelevant, because they’re not allowed to influence the public square), and that the culture actively cultivates something contrary to Christianity.
The whole point of persecuting Christianity is to render it irrelevant. And that, it would seem, can be accomplished more effectively using bloodless means. We need look no further than the Muslim domination of southern Spain, beginning in 709. When the Islamic invaders first conquered southern Spain, they spread their faith by the sword, and were relatively unsuccessful. When they did meet success, it was through a less violent means of coercion, and over several years (even generations). They imposed a system of dhimmitude, in which Catholics could practice their faith if they paid a tax and were subject to a wide series of restrictions.
On paper, there was no persecution: just a series of restrictions that isolated Catholics from public office and much of secular society. Over time, the populace simply grew cold towards Christianity, and tens of thousands of Catholics abandoned the faith. It was simply easier to abandon the faith. That example still seems to me to be more extreme than what we’re currently seeing in our country, but it remains instructive. It shows that it’s altogether possible to push Christianity into the fringes of society without any sort of violent oppression of the religion.
In the case of Muslim Spaniards, this was more or less an overt thing. In the case of American secularists, it’s often less overt. Indeed, I have no doubt that many of the people engaged in pushing Christianity to the margins would deny that they are doing any such thing. Equally, I have no doubt that some of them really do have this as an endgoal. But can we at least have an honest conversation, and admit that this is what it is going on, and what will continue to go on unless Christians do more to resist it?
[Editor’s note: this article first appeared at Shameless Popery.]