The left wants to penalize Christians for their faith. The most recent example is the freakout over the vice president’s wife, Karen Pence, teaching part-time at a Christian school that holds students and staff to traditional Christian standards of doctrine and conduct, including sexual conduct.
These requirements are not exceptional among Christian schools (and those of other religions often have similar restrictions), but they have been treated as the vilest bigotry, deserving censure and punishment. CNN’s John King even suggested that teaching at this school should mean forfeiting Pence’s government-provided security.
As a practical pastoral matter, the school is almost certainly more focused on fornication and adultery than on denouncing sodomy. But the media is obsessed over the aspects of traditional Christian sexual ethics that relate to LGBT identity and actions.
The Washington Post, for example, flatly asserts that Pence has been hired by an “anti-LGBT Christian school” that “seeks to exclude homosexual and transgender students and staff members”—as an aside, note how LGBT ideology sexualizes children and defines them by their still-developing sense of sexuality—but that is not how traditional Christians view these matters.
Christian Perspectives On Sexual Morality
The Christian perspective distinguishes between, on one hand, same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria as psychological states experienced by individuals, and, on the other, behavior, identity, and ideology. Thus, the reality of same-sex attraction is acknowledged, but considered a temptation to be resisted, not an identity to be embraced. Gender dysphoria, like other sorts of dysphoria, is viewed as an affliction that should be treated with compassion in accord with biological reality, rather than a metaphysical truth to which physical bodies must be molded.
This separation between desire, act, and identity does not necessitate rejecting LGBT identities or actions, just as collapsing the distinctions does not necessarily mean accepting those who identify as LGBT. They are not moral arguments, but only the conceptual framework in which Christian moral arguments are made.
Even if they are mistaken, these basic distinctions between desire, action, and identity are conceptually simple. They have been explained by conservative Christians such as David French, and by those who identify as LGBT, such as fellow Federalist Senior Contributor Chad Felix Greene. Why, then, are they so baffling (even incomprehensible) to many today?
This blindness results from our culture teaching us to identify with our desires and view their fulfillment as the greatest good alongside autonomous self-creation. Saying no to sexual desire, which is among the most powerful of human urges, is therefore seen as repression of an essential aspect of a person’s humanity. The separation of identity and desire makes little sense in this outlook, which sees telling someone not to act on his sexual desires as a rejection of that person’s essence.
This is why there has been such a ferocious response to a Christian school enforcing traditional Christian standards of sexual morality. Prohibiting LGBT identities, actions, and ideologies is seen as either prohibiting an entire class of persons or forcing them to deny their essential selves. This perspective is protected from criticism by both the dominant cultural perspective and the imperatives of being an “ally,” which preclude questioning the claims of those who identify as LGBT. The Christian philosophy of sex, gender, and sexual morality is now culturally alien and even considering it as a possibility is often treated as an act of oppression.
Modern Penal Laws for Dissenters
This is why the left is attempting to establish a modern American version of the penal laws that England used to oppress Irish Catholics and other dissenters. The great Edmund Burke noted that in his time, “If a man is satisfied to be a slave, he may be a Papist with perfect impunity…but he must consider himself as an outlaw from the British Constitution.”
Religious liberty was technically allowed, but those who exercised it in nonconforming ways found their other freedoms curtailed. In Burke’s words, a man’s conscience was made “a trap to catch his liberty.”
This is the strategy being developed by much of the left against many traditional Christians today. The First Amendment protects (for now) our right to believe what we will in our homes and churches, but we will be penalized for our beliefs in the professions, the marketplace, and in government. The horror of many on the left at learning that Christians are still allowed to run their own schools with standards of behavior drawn from traditional Christian teaching—and that the wife of a prominent public official works at such a school—is only the latest example of this campaign.
The litany of assaults on religious liberty has become familiar. Catholic judicial nominees are being cross-examined over membership in the Knights of Columbus. The Obama administration was fixated on forcing nuns to fund and facilitate the distribution of birth control, and blue states took up the cause when Trump was elected. Punishing Christians who predictably decline to participate in celebrating same-sex weddings or “gender transition” events is another obsession.
While they claim to want equality, the left is deliberately establishing a system that will reduce traditional Christians and other religious dissenters to second-class citizenship. Observe how in conflicts between religious liberty and the sexual revolution, leftists seek not to accommodate and tolerate religious nonconformists, but to delegitimize and punish them.
Punishing Orthodox Christians For Obeying God
They are quite clear about their goals for orthodox Christians. They believe we are bigots, and that bigots should not be allowed to run schools, work in government, or hold good jobs. If we will not recant and bend the knee to the sexual revolution, they want to close our schools, hospitals, and charities, drive us out of our professions, shutter our businesses, and get us fired from any job they deem above our station. Although they are willing to use private means and social pressure, their ultimate goal is a legal regime that will treat us very much like the English treated the Irish Catholics.
The Democratic Party, especially its activist base, is eager to “punish the wicked,” by which they often mean conservative Christians. We’ve noticed, which helps explain President Trump. In the primaries, Trump struggled among churchgoing voters, but he cleaned up with them (especially white evangelicals) in the general election. Christian satire site The Babylon Bee hit close to home with a recent article titled, “Christian Just Voting For Whichever Political Party Less Likely To Make His Faith Illegal One Day.”
It may not come to that, but the left is determined to make being an orthodox Christian debilitating and difficult in many ways. In fact, if they have their way, the government will extend its protections and benefits only to those who are willing to subordinate their freedoms of religion, speech, and association to ideologically leftist notions of what is acceptable.
We should, like the Apostle Paul, invoke our legal rights in response. He appealed to the emperor; we should appeal to the government to protect our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. But constitutional rights will not hold out forever against a culture that sees them as obstacles to self-indulgence and shields for bigotry. A culture that considers sexual desire the essence of a person will not tolerate a rival Christian viewpoint, but stigmatize and punish it.
We must prepare ourselves for entry into many professions and important positions to be contingent on acquiescence to LGBT ideology, and for nonconformists to be targeted for harassment and destruction. For example, despite losing in the Supreme Court, Colorado is still targeting Christian baker Jack Phillips and encouraging harassment against him. The state of Washington not only went after florist Barronelle Stutzman’s business when she declined to help celebrate a same-sex wedding, but attacked her personally.
It won’t work. The punishers will always be unhappy, no matter how many Christian individuals, institutions, and businesses they ruin. Identities built around appetite are intrinsically dissatisfied, and silencing dissenters will not change that.
Socrates taught that it is not worth becoming an unjust and tyrannical person for even the greatest earthly rewards. But for a cake or a bouquet? That is nothing but joyless malice.