It is a basic Christian teaching that good works are insufficient for spiritual salvation. We should also remember they are unlikely to suffice for cultural and political salvation either.
Chick-fil-A’s abandonment of The Salvation Army is yesterday’s news, but its lessons should be remembered, for they explain our cultural and political trajectory. That the chicken chain capitulated even though everyone was “eating mor chikin” is instructive regarding the power of the LBGT lobby and its allies. That they directed this power against a Christian organization dedicated to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless — including those who identify as LGBT — is even more instructive.
It exemplifies how hard-liners are driving the cultural left. It is not clear that a majority even of those who identity as LGBT hate The Salvation Army. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg volunteered for the organization (albeit for a photo op) a couple of years back. Now he is facing criticism from LGBT activists, as those running the movement want total victory, not coexistence. And they are winning.
The campaign included government officials from Buffalo, New York, to San Antonio, Texas, retaliating against Chick-fil-A for its support of The Salvation Army. Even without full control over the government, the left has been aggressive in its use of government power against Christians who believe traditional teachings on human sexuality. The left seems to target particularly those engaged in charitable work, rather than protecting them on account of their good works.
The left’s legal wing is trying to compel Christian hospitals to perform abortions and sex-change surgeries, Christian schools to affirm same-sex relationships, and Christian charities such as women’s shelters to pretend men can be women. A purportedly serious Democratic presidential candidate wanted to tax dissenting Christian organizations, including churches, into oblivion.
The left won’t even spare elderly nuns. When the Trump administration ended Barack Obama’s legal campaign against the Little Sisters of the Poor, various Democratic attorneys general made a point of continuing that unholy effort.
The Rise of Post-Liberal Christianity
This should not surprise us. Jesus promised that the powers of this world would hate his followers, not that they would love us if we were virtuous. While we Christians should always strive to be more like Christ, we should not succumb to a quasi-Pelagianism that presumes our winsomeness determines how others receive the gospel. Christ himself was crucified, and the grace and charity many martyrs exemplified did not save them from persecution unto death.
But that we should expect trouble in this world does not mean we should be disinterested regarding politics, nor does it excuse governments that oppose the church and oppress its people. That our nation seems to be starting down this path has intensified Christian reconsiderations of liberal political theory. Although our government ostensibly protects the freedoms of religion, association, and speech, procedural liberalism increasingly appears insufficient to protect our rights or to ensure a culture of tolerance and pluralism that includes Christians who maintain the traditional teachings of our faith.
The supposedly neutral principles of the legal left consistently restrict the rights and opportunities of orthodox Christians, and the left always pushes the envelope. Christian litigators should, of course, do their best to defend our rights, and thank God for their efforts, but it should be no surprise that more and more Christians are intrigued by varieties of post-liberal thinking, including previously marginalized ideas such as Catholic integralism. It is understandable that Christians are turning against the system of liberal democratic capitalism as it turns against them.
Post-liberal Christians are unlikely to find their minority status daunting, for they see that minorities can win if they are determined and the institutions they face are weak and full of cowards. After all, a minority of hard-line leftists control cultural, economic, and political pressure points that grant them power far beyond their numbers.
For example, the 2020 Democratic field is so radically pro-abortion that even The New York Times has noticed. The Democratic Party stands for abortion today, abortion tomorrow, and abortion forever, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren illustrated in promising that at her inauguration — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — she will wear swag to rep the nation’s largest abortion chain.
Christian post-liberals on the right have seen how readily the liberal center-left and the Chamber-of-Commerce right surrender to the extreme and illiberal left and wonder: Why not us? A decadent and despairing culture with weak institutions and degraded elites is precisely the sort that a determined minority might govern.
Thus, they see an opportunity as our culture disintegrates despite its wealth and technological prowess. Liberal individualism seems to be devouring itself: Fertility is down, loneliness and depression have increased, and deaths of despair from suicide, drugs, and alcohol are way up.
Should Liberalism Be Preserved?
Perhaps it is time to be bold and reorder society toward the highest good, rather than accepting liberalism’s dishonest promises of “live and let live” neutrality. As some post-liberal thinkers note, we increasingly live in a non-Christian integralist society that mandates belief in sectarian dogmas, such as the mystical belief that a man may become — indeed, may already be — a woman. Therefore, they see the alternative to post-liberal Christian politics not as liberalism, but as some sort of post-Christian illiberal politics.
I am sympathetic to some of the post-liberal thought developing on the right. I see the appeal, especially as liberalism’s promise of legal neutrality is exposed as so much fiction. I share many of the critiques of liberal political theory and find its discourse far more interesting than the stale talking points of neoliberals and neoconservatives.
But I am neither Catholic nor Calvinist enough to be much of an integralist, and I remain more skeptical of the likelihood of governmental efficacy and rectitude than many post-liberals seem to be. I also remain attached to many liberal practices, such as the right to trial by jury.
I am, in short, still thinking over these matters and am not entirely in either camp. From this in-between, I would recommend post-liberal thinkers reflect on the frailty and fallibility of human institutions. I also suggest that the defenders of liberal democratic capitalism take the critiques of post-liberals seriously. A liberal order that seeks to shut down Christian charities for nonconformist views on human sexuality does not deserve to survive.