Sorry to Disappoint the Social-Justice Warriors, but the Faithful Won’t Yield on Religious Liberty

by David French

The conventional wisdom is that moral opposition to same-sex marriage will eventually evaporate — that even orthodox religious communities will learn to accommodate new cultural realities, and those few who don’t will ultimately be irrelevant, living on the margins of society. Evangelical churches will cave. The Catholic Church will cave. Jews will cave. In just a few, short years the Christian churches in America will look back at opposition to same-sex marriage with the same kind of shame that Southern Baptists view their segregationist past.

That conventional wisdom is garbage. It’s based largely on a bigoted, ignorant view of the Christian faith, and it ignores recent history. The Left has drunk its own Kool-Aid for so long that it actually believes its rhetoric about church history and teachings.

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We’ve been through this before. When Roe was decided, the major American Protestant denominations were in a transition process, with the mainline moving steadily out of orthodox Christianity. Their ultimate embrace of abortion wasn’t part of a considered, scriptural decision-making process but rather a product of spiritualized surrender to elite, progressive culture. The PCUSA, UCC, Episcopal Church, and others steadily liberalized — bending to the prevailing intellectual winds. For a time even the Southern Baptist Convention capitulated. Here’s Al Mohler:

Two years before Roe, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such circumstances as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal abnormality, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

But while the mainline tacked left and kept tacking left, the SBC moved right, and decisively so. It’s now firmly and unequivocally pro-life. This move was part of a broader desire to follow scripture, as the SBC embraced the Bible, doubled down on orthodox Christianity, and defied the sexual revolution. 

What happened? Did the SBC whither away — becoming a church full of blue-haired holdouts, clinging to their guns and old-time religion as the mainline galloped away with the hearts and minds of the next generation? 

Hardly. It turns out that Christians generally want to be Christian, not spiritualized political liberals, so the mainline continued its slow-motion collapse while the SBC became bigger than all the major mainline churches combined. The churches that maintained orthodoxy did more than just survive, they thrived — and as one consequence, the pro-life movement has only gained political and cultural strength.

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Given that same-sex marriage has the same level of scriptural support as abortion (none), we’ll see the same phenomenon at work in the contemporary churches. Christians who are already on their way out of orthodoxy will embrace same-sex marriage largely to the same extent that they’ve already embraced porn, abortion, and sex outside of marriage. In fact, churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage are eight times more likely than churchgoing Christians who oppose same-sex marriage to think viewing porn is acceptable, almost four times more likely to believe cohabitation is acceptable, almost six times more likely to think adultery is ok, and almost six times more likely to support abortion rights. The churchgoing supporter of same-sex marriage is much more like the average American than the average churchgoing American.

The cultural and legal forces demanding acceptance of same-sex marriage are every bit as strong as those demanding acceptance of abortion, yet orthodox churches have held firm. In fact, the legal forces supporting abortion have in some ways been much stronger than those demanding acceptance of same-sex marriage. For years, pro-life lawyers have known of the “abortion distortion” in constitutional law, where expressive activity that would be perfectly legal in virtually every other context can be criminally punished when turned against abortion (see, for example Hill v. Colorado). The Left is transparently trying to create the same kinds of legal double standards for same-sex marriage. And while they may temporarily change the law, they won’t change the culture of the church.

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Earlier this year, Time carried a story about a Nashville Evangelical “megachurch” that announced its support for same-sex marriage. I’m quite familiar with that church. It’s down the street from my office, and one of my closest friends attended for years. It’s by no measure a “megachurch.” A few hundred people attend, making it tiny by the standards of the enormous churches that sprawl all over the greater Nashville area. And while it’s newsworthy that this church “came out,” Time buried the lede. Here’s what happened next:

GracePointe’s move is not without concrete consequences. January giving usually is about $100,000–so far this month the church has brought in an estimated $52,000. When GracePointe began the listening process in 2012, Sunday attendance averaged 800-1000. The Sunday he preached the inclusion sermon, attendance was 673, and two weeks later, it was down to 482. “It’s a gut punch,” Mitchell says. “I know a year from now, I’m going to feel a whole lot better, but right now it is just hard.”

Yes, it is “hard” to abandon orthodox Christianity while still trying to draw orthodox Christians. And I have little doubt that Evangelical churches that try to go the way of the mainline will largely suffer the same fate. With isolated exceptions (for example, Barack Obama’s church in Chicago), they’ll whither away — losing members, buildings, and property but gaining the love and respect of MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post.

So, no. This fight is not ending anytime soon, and if the Left tries to snatch liberty from tens of millions of Americans, it can expect prolonged and vigorous resistance. In short, the Left has a choice: Respect liberty or fight forever. I suspect they’ll choose the fight.

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