Speaking at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia last week, the next Republican nominee (if they have any sense) for President of the United States spoke of the increasing intolerance being expressed toward Christians by the erstwhile liberal democratic states, simply for believers’ adherence to centuries-old moral orthodoxy and theological wisdom in an age of relativism and aggressive assertions of equality and human rights. Yes, he was courting the ‘Evangelical vote’ (aka ‘Religious Right’), but quite why an appeal to that constituency should be deemed cynical when a presidential candidate must impress across a broad church (quite literally) is perplexing. The fact that much of the media, however, deemed his speech to be a depthless flash of detested pretence rather goes to prove Bush’s point: Christians are the new lepers.
He didn’t quite point it like that, but the inference is clear:
How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force. Outside these seven thousand acres of shared conviction, it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow, and outdated. We can take this as unfair criticism, as it typically is, or we can take it as further challenge to show in our lives the most dynamic, inclusive, and joyful message that ever came into the world.
And he quoted Chesterton’s observation that we live in a time when “Christians are expected to praise every faith but their own”. He denounced “fashionable opinion”, which these days, he says, “can be a religion all by itself”. and it has an ideological sibling in political correctness:
It can be a touchy subject, and I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith. Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, ‘No. Never. Of course not.’ If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he refuses even to impose them on himself.
He repudiates the use of “coercive federal power” and the “false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone”.
The stories vary, year after year, but the storyline is getting familiar: The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way. Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.
There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas. And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with. So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons. Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution. Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.
His zeal is for religious freedom, which, under President Obama, has been made a little lower than Gomorrah: “What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it.”
It strikes me that most of the criticism directed at believers in our day is drawn from hostile caricature. That’s just the easy way of avoiding honest discussion. It is a posture that only deepens distrust, instead of inviting understanding.
The truth, of course, is that the censorious liberals and intolerant democrats don’t want an honest discussion. By deepening distrust of Christians, they stifle debate in order to suppress truth. Leviticus introduced us to the scapegoat; the Athenians gave us ostracism; Matthew and Luke tell us about lepers. Now, of course, we send people to Coventry. Every age and culture has its heretics, untouchables and outcasts. Christians aren’t quite criminals, but if ‘hate speech’ continues to suck in Scripture, it won’t be too long before the priestly persona non grata is thrown into prison by the enlightened establishment simply for refusing to join two men in holy matrimony.
It is astonishing that the very fons et origo of our notions of decency, integrity, justice and morality are now routinely demonised by the ‘progressives’ on the left (not to mention coercive social liberals on the right) to the extent that the inculcation of Christian belief is now considered harmful to children and detrimental to the mental, emotional and psychological health of adults. When did faith in Jesus become abuse? How did upholding the sanctity of marriage become a heinous offence? Why is the belief that a mother and a father are best placed to nurture children deemed otiose? Who appointed these infallible priests of secular orthodoxy and immutable human rights dogma?
Jeb Bush told us that “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action”:
No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.
And yet that conscience has become warped, dangerous and damaging. Christianity has become a perverted practice and phobic offence. Christians who were called to a revolutionary mission of love have become the haters, bigots and social deviants. Our words are deemed destructive; our beliefs archaic; our opinions obsolete. We cling to free speech but know that our mere thoughts are scorned by the illiberal anti-democrats who demand unqualified subjection to what we are told is the new mainstream of reason and factual authority. To criticise is social suicide. To utter a word in defence of the Faith is shrill and shallow. To tweet truth is to invite Stephen Fry’s horde of devotees to screech ‘homophobe’ and heckle until an apology is extracted – with threats, if necessary.
There can be no opposition, no resistance and no petition for appeal. Every jarring dissonance must be muzzled before it is uttered. Those who demur are stamped upon and snuffed out. The land must be purged of ugly scars and cleansed of infectious scabs. Christians were once scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, and then we became heretics and outcasts. Now we are the lepers of omniscient secular enlightenment. Blessed are those who conform.