By Jonathon Van Maren
Two deeply disappointing decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court—one a dramatic expansion of LGBT rights, the other a dramatic curtailing of pro-life legislation—have sparked another round of discussion in social conservative circles about the way forward for Christian communities. Donald Trump won the presidency because of a Supreme Court vacancy, and the “But Gorsuch” argument took a real thrashing when said Gorsuch wrote the majority decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, dealing religious liberty the worst blow since Obergefell. Many voted for Trump solely because he would build up the judicial dykes needed to (at least temporarily) hold back the surging cultural revolution. Most did not expect the dykes to spring leaks so soon.
Over at the Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung suggested that it is time for Christians to take a second look at Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, which he summarizes as a two-step process: Have more children, and raise them in the Christian faith. Much of his analysis is good (although I suspect that I would disagree with him on birth control), but I think DeYoung—and many other commentators examining the near-total success of the Sexual Revolution—may still be too optimistic. It may well be that Christian enclaves will be systematically and relentlessly targeted by those who believe that Christian beliefs are abusive in and of themselves, especially with regard to perceived rigidity on sexual matters.
Predictably, DeYoung has come under a lot of fire from evangelicals who appear to have intentionally misread his column. Douglas Wilson of Moscow, Idaho then penned a rejoinder, and I want to highlight a few excerpts that get to the heart of the problem with the idea of total political disengagement (as tempting as that seems most days.) From Wilson:
The choice before us is not whether we shall engage in the public square, on the one hand, or go home and bring up our children in the Lord on the other. The conflict in the public square today is over whether or not there is such a thing as “our children.” If the conflict in the public square goes the wrong way, as it looks like it wants to, and the way it is threatening to go, there will be no space remaining for DeYoung’s strategy, or Dreher’s Benedict option. One of the principles of war is pursuit, and you can be assured that our enemies will not neglect that principle. Do you honestly think these people are going to let us quietly withdraw and regroup so that we will be able to breed in the backwoods and bring up more “haters?”
That is a very important point. The fact is that the progressive Left does not believe that children belong to their parents, especially not when those parents believe their children belong to God. In Canada, Alberta’s provincial government attempted to shut down Christian schools that refused to teach their sexual ideology to children from Christian families and would have succeeded had they not lost the next election. LGBT activists openly refer to Christian teaching as “abusive,” and it is a small step from redefining abuse to removing children from “abusive” homes based on the new definition. (Even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was told she “can’t be trusted around children” simply for disputing one of the more recent manifestations of gender ideology.) And homeschooling isn’t necessarily a failsafe option—one Harvard academic has been advocating for a ban on the practice lately, and explicitly states that children should be exposed to other views.
I don’t think homeschooling is at risk in the short-term, but these test-balloons are about setting the stage and shifting the Overton Window. Ten years from now, it might not seem so crazy. If terms like abuse and bigotry and hatred are redefined to include basic fundamentals of the Christian worldview—and that is absolutely the intent—then we could see dystopian scenarios unfold more quickly than we think possible. Consider, by way of example, the agony of parents in Norway who have had their children taken from them by their activist government. I interviewed one of these mothers recently, and the stories are simply gut-wrenching. But they are happening, here in the West, in the 21st century.
Wilson also makes the point that Sohrab Ahmari and others have been making in the ongoing civil war over the future of conservatism in America: that classical liberalism will not protect us, because our enemies do not play by the same rules as we do:
Religious liberty is not a secular value. Religious liberty is a Christian value, and you cannot, as C.S. Lewis so wisely observed more than half a century ago, remove the organ and continue to demand the function. You cannot chainsaw the orchard and continue to harvest the apples…Imagine that we are all standing around in an American boulevard that is the equivalent of Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Those Christians who think they might have a stable refuge in their sound arguments for religious liberty are watching statue after statue toppled by angry mobs. Over on the other side of the street are cops and various other SWAT teams, who are watching the spectacle also. These were the same cops who were required by their bosses to shut down churches and barbershops during the COVID lock downs, but who are required to not intervene when an unruly mob pulls over a statue of George Washington. Visit Mount Rushmore, everybody, while you still can.
Thinking that a religious liberty argument will carve out space for us is like thinking you can beat a safe retreat down to the other end of the boulevard, where the statues of William Penn and Roger Williams are, from which place you will be able to look at the dismay on the rioters’ faces. “Oh, no. We weren’t expecting them to take refuge here! Curses! These are the religious liberty statues, guys!”
Are you kidding? These totalitarian ignoramuses have to date toppled and/or defaced statues of George Washington, Cervantes, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, Columbus, Francis Scott Key, St. Serra, not to mention a statue of Matthias Badwin, a lifelong abolitionist, and a memorial to black soldiers who fought for the Union. They want it all to burn, and if you don’t think that your precious religious liberty is flammable then you might have some surprises coming. They don’t value what you value. They don’t care what you care about. They belong to another religion. They worship other gods. This makes a difference, as it turns out.
That is exactly right. I often wonder, when I read the more optimistic analyses of the direction our culture is heading in, how many of them have actually seen these mobs in action. Once you do, you are swiftly disabused of the notion that those seeking to silence, smash, and supress anyone who disagrees with them can be reasoned with. Christians are hopeful that they can achieve a “live and let live” consensus. The difficulty is that progressives have no desire to “live and let live.” As Tucker Carlson once put it, these are the sorts of folks that are sitting up in the middle of the night terrified and furious that somewhere, someone in Alabama isn’t on board with the full program. It isn’t enough for you to just ignore what’s going on, because they demand affirmation and celebration and, when they get the power to do so, submission. Kevin DeYoung rightly pointed out that it profits a man nothing “if he gets textualists on the Supreme Court but loses his own children.” But as Wilson notes, the problem is a bit more complicated than that:
Here’s the problem. What if a man loses his children because of the shenanigans of so-called textualists? What if the people at CPS come and take your children away because it was credibly reported that you were instilling bigotry into them? What do you mean, bigotry? Why that notorious Bostock Bigotry of course. Were you or were you not teaching your children that sodomy is a very grievous sin?… So the issue is not whether he is proposing a good thing. The issue is whether the good thing he is proposing is even going to be legal in five years. And if we have had trouble getting Christian parents to pull their kids from government schools when it was perfectly legal and safe to do so, but it would mean selling the lake cabin, how do you think we are going to do persuading them to do it when pulling your kids out of the government “hate-free schools” is a felony?
Now, it is important to point out here that this is by no means inevitable. We could see a backlash against progressivism as the broken children of the trans experiment discover that castrations and mastectomies were not the path to happiness. While Bostock was a significant loss for religious liberty, it is hard to imagine the Supreme Court rubber-stamping courts going after people’s kids. (Then again, it was hard to imagine all sorts of things fifteen minutes ago, but here we are.) There is no guarantee that the cultural revolutionaries will win, except for the fact that they are radical, growing in number, and have successfully colonized higher education, the public-school system, the entertainment industry, and the Democratic Party. Which, all things considered, is quite a lot.
What is certain is that Christians and social conservatives must now operate with a mindset of resistance. The culture’s default now is one of poisonous entertainment that is consciously corrupting, pervasive pornography, and education designed to produce people with an anti-Christian worldview. At the present moment, politics is no longer aspirational or even ideological, but a matter of self-defence. Ignoring politics is no longer a possibility because politics will not ignore us. If we do not engage, we guarantee that those who seek the suppression and destruction of our way of life will control all of the levers of power, and anyone who has been paying attention knows what they wish to do with them.
Abandoning politics is a real temptation, because politics is an incessant grind and social conservatives are increasingly spending most of their time defending shrinking territory rather than promoting their own values. But that is precisely why politics is an unfortunate necessity and perhaps, if you like, a necessary evil. If politics becomes an idol, then it will destroy us. Politicians are not saviours. But retreating to the Shire only works if evil is kept at bay. Otherwise, the Shire burns, too. We engage in defence so that we can do everything proposed by Kevin DeYoung, and Rod Dreher, and the other cultural commentators noting, quite rightly, that cultivating virtue and inculcating our families with Christian values are the first and foremost concern. Politics is often exhausting and dispiriting work. Large victories, I suspect, will be elusive in the coming years. But it must be done nonetheless.