The American Church Needs to Get Serious about Religious Liberty, Now
From David French:
If Evangelicals don’t act now, they will lose their freedoms. America’s Evangelicals are passive, timid, and afraid to defend their own liberties. Doubt me?
Let’s consider a counterfactual. Imagine for a moment that a racist state legislature passed a bill designed to financially cripple historically black colleges. Claiming the need to protect the public from “racial discrimination,” state senators proposed a bill that could deny any and all state funds (including student financial aid) to any university that deviated excessively from the demographic makeup of the state.
Compounding the crisis, the racist legislature believed a racist judiciary would uphold the law, giving black colleges a choice — get whiter or close their doors. Does any rational person believe that the black community or the Left more broadly would simply acquiesce?
That they’d delegate the fight to outside law firms and a few sympathetic politicians, or that they’d wring their hands over the decline of the culture rather than taking direct action? No, they would shut down the state capital with protests. They would stage sit-ins. They would bus in protesters from elsewhere in the state and around the country. They would picket legislators’ homes. They would picket the governor’s mansion. And they would not stop until they won.
I thought of this as I read the scant news coverage of California’s intentionally anti-Christian SB-1146, a bill that requires Christian schools to disclose if they are seeking traditional religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, and strips public funding from any school that imposes traditional Christian rules of morality and conduct on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Only schools that train pastors are exempt. The message is clear: Conform or close.
The traditional response to odious bills such as this is to call or write your legislator, and, if that fails, file a lawsuit. In the meantime, while the lawsuit proceeds, only a minority of church-going Evangelicals will be aware of the controversy, and a small minority of that minority will fervently believe that Christians had it coming, because the church is just as bigoted and nasty as its worst critics say it is.
Given the inherent weaknesses of this model, it’s a miracle that it’s worked at all. But thanks to the First Amendment, a bipartisan judicial consensus that outright viewpoint discrimination was unlawful, and extraordinarily diligent legal efforts from a relatively small cohort of dedicated lawyers, a fractious and squabbling church has generally sailed through the culture war with its fundamental freedoms intact. It has lost on the margins, but its core liberties have survived. It can no longer take this reality for granted.
The sexual revolution marches on, and the courts have broadcast their intentions. When First Amendment freedoms conflict with “sexual liberty,” sex now tends to win. And when it loses, the margin is razor-thin.
This is exactly the time when the Evangelical church needs to lay down a marker, to signal that it will not go quietly. But to do that it needs to do something that it rarely does: ask its members to take a stand. Oh, the church is good at asking them to do things that the world likes, such as volunteering at homeless shelters or digging wells in poor villages overseas. It’s good at helping repair broken homes and broken lives. It’s decent at transmitting the truths of the faith to the next generation. It’s terrible, however, at defending its own essential liberties.