The Personalist Project

I'll confess up front that I haven't looked carefully into the controversy surrounding Indiana's new law protecting the religious liberty of business owners who are committed to traditional marriage. My general sense of it from a distance lines up with David French's take at the Corner. The hysterical reaction to a modest legal rear guard action against a pro-same-sex juggernaut exposes a "toxic combination of anti-Christian bigotry and sexual revolution radicalism." I also agree with Maggie Gallagher, when she says:

Pay attention: The Democrats are attempting to use their power in the mainstream media to get Republicans to retreat and mute the GOP on religious liberty or face being labelled anti-gay.

Even so, I can't seem to get too worked up about it. I don't feel like answering Gallagher's impassioned call: 

join me in whatever venue you have - your Facebook page, your radio show, a candidate forum, a letter to the editor, an Op Ed - to ask Republican candidates for president this key question: Why is Mike Pence the only Republican defending Indiana's new religious liberty bill?

Why? Am I lazy? Am I apathetic? Am I cowed by peer pressure? I don't think so. At least, not in this case. I have real reasons for my non-engagement.

1) It seems to me that the political battle to protect marriage is already largely lost. Legal efforts like this one in Indiana are small and marginal and perhaps not worth too much time and attention. Losing them won't make things much worse than they are already. Winning them won't hold back the fascist tide; nor will it establish any great principle. At best, it will provide a little temporary relief from violence. At worst, it will provoke more violence, sooner.

2) While I sympathize very much with Christian wedding vendors who don't want to be legally coerced into participation in the moral travesty that is same-sex marriage, I don't think laws establishing their right to refuse services are all that great. 

A) They do nothing to establish the truth about marriage in law.

B) The right to deny services is a strange thing for Christians to be fighting for, since we're supposed to be all about providing service. 

C) They give the anti-Christian left a cause to rally around. (The analogy with Jim Crow is bogus, but all too plausible to those who don't think carefully, which is to say, the great majority.)

D) They sap energy and drain resources for more effective efforts on the political and cultural fronts.

E) They depress the spirits of Christians, who need to live in hope and joy to be convincing witnesses of the Truth.

F) They seem to me somewhat out of step with the spiritual approach Pope Francis is calling for. 

That last point raises the question: What should we do in these circumstances?

To that, at the most basic level, I have a three-part answer:

1) We should live more deeply and witness more compellingly to the truth about marriage as a permanent, life-giving union and communion of love between a man and a woman. Let that light shine.

2) We should find ways to make the love and care we profess for homosexuals concrete and practical in the world. I have in mind things like Mother Teresa's houses for those dying of AIDS, and Courage.

3) On the political and cultural fronts, we should be prudent and discerning. For instance, we should support politicians who can be relied on to judge wisely above those who pay lip service to our causes, but who lack deep conviction. We should put more effort into laws that protect us from direct participation in intrinsic evil than those that protect us from indirect participation. We should draw more attention to the plight of children who are suffering from the collapse of marriage and the rise of consumer/owner approach to fertility and parenthood. We should find ways of helping true stories be told: stories of women who regret their abortion; stories of homosexuals who have found peace and healing in the Church; stories of adoption; stories of children raised by gay parents or born through IVF.

Above all, we should realize peacefully that we are living in a post-Christian society that we can't expect to think well of us or do right by us. We will have to learn to live more by faith in God, less by confidence in the American experiment. The best hope for the restoration of our nation's greatness lies in cultivating a religious revival. And the most effective measure toward that end is our personal witness of love and fidelity, not our political activism or moral outrage.

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Comments (9)

Ian Skemp

#1, Apr 8, 2015 2:33pm

Not a perfect parrallel, but the whole thing reminds me of the controversies regarding the opinions of CEOs. 

Starbuck's CEO comes out in favor of gay marriage. Supporters of traditional marriage boycott Starbucks because drinking a cup of coffee is somehow lending support to the gay marriage agenda.

Chick fil A's founder comes out supporting a traditional definition of marriage. Pro-gay marriage advocates cry foul, and refuse to dine there because it would betray their commitment to gay rights.

What do these actions accomplish? Is it anything concrete, or does it simply stroke one's ego? While I do respect the right to refuse service, I wonder if baking a cake makes any difference in the matter. It doesn't seem to help promote traditional marriage to me. 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Apr 11, 2015 10:52am

I'm with you, Ian. I think this is the sort of thing the Pope has in mind when he keeps urging a shift away from politics. We have to get out of the mode of polemics and pressure and opposition, into the mode of evangelization.

Jules and I went to a talk by the Christian modern artist Makoto Fujimura a few months back. He talks about shifting gears from "culture war" to "culture care." It struck me as like the Pope, and important.

There is a time for warring. But not all times and occasions are for warring.

Don

#3, Apr 15, 2015 9:12am

Katie,

I could not agree more. I understand the political/liberty argument but these actions make Christians look small. What if Christian vendors were to say " I will provide these services to you but I want you to know I believe gay marriage is immoral and I will provide these services as a vendor and not as a participant. Your choice to hire me or not. And I also want you to know I will do all I can to provide the best service possible same as with any other client. This puts the ball in their court although at some point I think the political problem is going to become critical with laws not allowing the statement " I believe gay marriage is immoral" and with boycotts and such. 

Wendy

#4, Apr 16, 2015 6:28am

JRM adds an additional angle to this discussion, which complements Katie's:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/religious-liberty-arguments-arent-working

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Apr 16, 2015 8:15am

Thanks for that link, Wendy. I love Jennifer Roback Morse, and am glad to see she sees this issue as I do. 

I honestly think further appeals to religious liberty are not helping our cause. These arguments are not helping the immediate particular cause, such as defending man/woman marriage. Nor are religious liberty arguments helping the general cause of the church itself. Appeals to religious liberty once made sense, but no longer.

We need a different strategy: argue against the Sexual Revolution because it has hurt people.

I agree with her entirely that we have to try to show more effectively the link between marriage and the wellbeing of persons and society. 

I'd want to dispute a little with her about the sexual revolution. I don't think it's been all bad. I don't think we should be fighting it as much as interpreting it—separating the wheat from the chaff.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Apr 16, 2015 8:19am

Don, I agree with you that these actions make Christians look small. I'm not so sure about announcing our opposition to SSM. We don't do that with other sinful events, like second marriages without the benefit of annulment.

Ian Skemp

#7, Apr 16, 2015 9:09am

That being said, I'm frustrated that people aren't looking beyond the gay marriage issue of religious liberty. Sec. 9 of the law states

"Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding."

Hypothetically, the baker's claim to "substantial burden" may not hold up. There are countless beneficial applications of this law, but our society is too hung up on the gay marriage battle to notice, which is everyone's fault. If Indiana passed a law that said all teachers must support abortion rights in their class, this law could protect them. I wish more people would assert this benefit, rather than using this as a rallying cry against gay marriage.

Don

#8, Apr 16, 2015 9:19am

Katie,

I am all in with putting the focus on real charity and I also agree that we place a lot of emphasis on SSM.  However the real and aggressive  threat is not coming from divorced and remarried Catholics. Im really not sure how much push back is productive. Its an open question   I very much enjoy your site. Very well done and thoughtful.  JP II is my guy 

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Apr 16, 2015 9:34am

Mine too. :)

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