Leftists love the self-flagellation game, a fun little exercise where you gather in a circle with people of your tribe, say you’re going to punish yourself for causing some problem in the world, and then whip the tar out of the guy standing next to you. Technically, of course, this is not self-flagellation. But that’s the fun part. As long as you act like you’re tearing up your own flesh, you can give as many lashes as you want to the guy that you think is really guilty of the transgression.
Leftists are masters of this game. They’re quite skilled at wincing and saying, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, deserve pain for refusing to check my cisgender privilege,” while unleashing all nine tails o’ the cat on the real culprits, those awful conservatives who cause a transgender suicide every time they assume that a person with an Adam’s apple, a five o’clock shadow, and a Y chromosome is a male.
But when losses in the culture war frustrate conservatives, they can occasionally be persuaded to try their hand at a round of the game liberals invented. In March of 2014, Ross Douthat grabbed the whip and repented of the sins other Christians have committed against the LGBT community, essentially arguing “we made our bed of having to bake gay wedding cakes by treating our gay neighbors with intolerance instead of charity, now it’s time to lie in it.” Recently, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry joined the self-flagellation circle, arguing that Christians only have themselves to blame for the recent Irish referendum in support of gay marriage.
Focusing on Gobry’s fresher words, I suppose it’s possible that he meant to unleash the lash on himself. But considering how clearly and consistently he has articulated Christian sexual ethics in the past, it’s difficult to believe he’s having an Oscar Schindler moment, thinking, “I could have written one more column detailing the connection between marriage and procreation in Christian thought.” Rather, it seems far more likely that, in frustration at Ireland’s vote, he’s pulled the leftist trick of criticizing his own group so he can unleash the lash on his fellow Christians for undermining his efforts.
Christians Did Object to the Sexual Revolution
Gobry begins his argument by noting that Christians are sinners whose hypocrisy sours people to the faith. This is, of course, true in an overarching sense. Christians have been bad at letting people come to Christ since Christ was right in the middle of blessing those people. But Gobry’s argument falls apart when he implies that Christians managed to hinder gay-marriage supporters from coming to Christ by ignoring every unholy advancement of the sexual revolution, only to start pelting gay couples with chunks of the Ten Commandments after they asked for the right to marry.
“After the Sexual Revolution,” Gobry asks, “did they preach against heterosexual contraceptivism, adultery, and divorce?” Did Christians preach against contraception? Yes. Popes preached against it. Duggars preached against it. And many Christians who don’t believe that birth control is inherently immoral still preached against using it to enable premarital sex or to lord material possessions over children.
Did Christians preach against adultery? Yes, which is why Christians spent most of the ’80s being mad at televangelists who got caught committing adultery. Divorce? Just because the Episcopalians didn’t defrock Gene Robinson after either one of his divorces doesn’t mean that most other Christian churches haven’t disciplined members who put asunder what God joined together.
While we’re talking about Episcopalians, it’s also worth noting that the religious bodies most guilty of accommodating the sexual revolution are also the ones that are most vocally advocating for gay marriage. So put down the whip, Mr. Gobry. I know you’re upset, but it’s not fair to visit the sins of Katharine Jefferts Schori on Billy Graham. Just because some of us were unfaithful doesn’t mean all of us were. And just because the culture ignored the church’s words about sexuality and marriage doesn’t mean the church didn’t actually speak them.
The World Has Always Considered Christians Squares
When Christians play the self-flagellation game and insist that all of Jesus’ disciples need to spend some time reflecting on their own sins, they tend to forget that the secular world is made up of sinners, too—sinners who enjoy fornication and cruelty and selfishness and who will gladly enact laws that allow them to feast on these transgressions the second the church doesn’t frighten them anymore.
In great part, Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage for the same reason it voted to repeal or loosen its prohibitions against divorce, birth control, and pornography–not because it perceived the church as inconsistent, but because it perceived the church as impotent, a group of powerless, “old, male, celibate men” no longer able to dictate “how people should live their lives,” in the words of suspended Irish priest and self-flagellation game grand master Tony Flattery.
As Gobry himself has noted, on the issue of sexuality, Christians have been insufferable squares in the eyes of the world since the first century. A couple thousand years before Christians were forcing their morals on the hook-up culture, they were blathering on about how it’s bad to get divorced or take part in orgies or marry your stepmother or consort with temple prostitutes.
Historically speaking, whenever the church-state relationship has enabled sinners to legislatively ignore the church’s voice, sinners have done so. Christians, however, should be content with this. I presume more first-century Jews would have followed Christ if the government had forced them to. But Jesus didn’t want state-appointed disciples, and he still built his kingdom perfectly with no help from Herod. Paul would have had fewer problems with the Judaizers had Caesar threatened cut off the heads of those who insisted that Christians had to cut off their foreskins.
Forcing Morality Is Forcing Hypocrisy
But imposed faithfulness is just pious-looking faithlessness, and being convinced by Paul’s words gave the church a far greater blessing than being coerced by centurions’ swords would have. And while Ireland certainly would have voted against gay marriage were it still afraid of the church, the only way Irish support for procreative marriage could have given Christians true peace was if the Irish knew they were perfectly free to ignore God’s word and, yet, didn’t.
I understand the frustration Gobry feels when the world stares at us in our pews and pulpits, rolls its eyes, and walks away. But the solution to this problem is not for Christians to pick up the whip and start taking out our frustrations on the backs of our brothers. We shouldn’t condemn our fellow Christians for being unloving and un-Christ-like when the real problem is that, as Jesus predicted, the world doesn’t love Christ and therefore doesn’t love his Christians.
We shouldn’t throw our clergy under the bus for insufficiently teaching their sheep, when the real problem is that they shepherded in an era where there were no cultural expectations or legal requirements pressuring the sheep to obey a command they didn’t particularly like obeying. We shouldn’t say, “We Christians only have ourselves to blame” as a ruse to flog the believers standing next to us that we’re convinced didn’t pull their weight in the battle. Doing so only convinces the leftists who invented the self-flagellation game that they have God’s approval to lash out at Christians who share Pope Francis’s beliefs on gay marriage but dare to articulate them without his trademark hippie doublespeak.
Rather, the solution to the problem of a culture that won’t heed the church’s words is simply to keep speaking them, trusting that the same Holy Spirit who created faith in the hearts of tax collectors, prostitutes, and Christ-hating-Pharisees will continue to do so today. God will always preserve the 7,000 who haven’t bowed to Baal. He will always restore life and salvation to those in cultures that have devoured themselves in sin.
We may not fully see His deliverance in our lifetime, and our days as the faithful few may involve more hostility than most Western Christians have ever experienced. If the lashes come, praise God that we have been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for his name. Let’s be sure, however, that we’re not the ones cracking the whip.