Politics & Policy

The ‘Party of CEOs’ and Religious Liberty

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff
Social conservatives need to get serious.

Since Indiana, the need for a new, well-funded political arm for Christians and other traditional believers has never been more obvious.

In so many ways, the days of cheap grace are over. It is going to get increasingly costly and risky to publicly adhere to traditional Christian teachings on sex and marriage, as Professor Robert George warned us.

RELATED: Religious Freedom Is Not ‘So Called’

Frank Bruni approvingly notes in the New York Times that a major gay philanthropist told him, “Church leaders must be made ‘to take homosexuality off the sin list.’” A Talking Points Memo columnist followed up with the Orwellian idea that unless cops are pointing a gun at your head, you, as a Christian, aren’t being “forced” to do anything — never mind that you’ll be fined and punished if you don’t. Meanwhile, the EEOC has just opened up a case against Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic high school in Georgia, for firing its band director when he said he was entering a gay marriage. A Wyoming Equality activist said churches should either marry gay couples or lose their tax deduction, before quickly deleting his own Facebook post.

Many churches, and even whole small denominations, will fold to the moral and political power of the gay-rights community (which, obviously, includes many people who are not gay).

The Catholic Church is riven, with many liberal Catholics misinterpreting Pope Francis’s recent statements as calls to spread secular liberal pieties instead of comforting the marginalized. Instead of speaking truth to power, Emmanuel College, a small Catholic college in Massachusetts, has decided to join the dominant powers in shaming and humiliating the small number of evangelical Christians in its vicinity by refusing to let its athletes compete against Gordon College students. 

And now, in a startling display of the power of crony capitalism, major corporations in Indiana and elsewhere are weighing in on the side of using government power to oppress small Christian businesses — and against whatever other religious-liberty protections the gay-rights community dubs anti-gay. Years ago, back when I was running the National Organization for Marriage and scouring the gay press daily for hints of what to expect in the future, I noticed a stray comment — I believe it was from the then-chairman of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese. I can’t find the quote now but I what I recall him saying is: “Our secret weapon is going to be our corporate network.”

Secret out of the bag. One of the big points to emerge from Indiana is that big business has decided to weigh in in favor of “equality” and against moral “liberty” in a big way.

RELATED: Religious Liberty and the Left’s End Game

“Big business has been at the forefront of the backlash against the Indiana law, and similar legislation pending in states around the U.S.,” reports CNN’s Money channel. Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced he would cancel a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff pledged to reduce investments in Indiana and help employees relocate (to one of the other 20 states with RFRAs?), pronouncing Indiana’s rather innocuous RFRA to be “brutal” and “unjust.” Most eloquently and helpfully, Benioff explained the social phenomena we are now witnessing: “This is a really important point that, you know, CEOs have a lot of power and control on investment in states and we want to invest in states where there is equality,” he said. “One thing that you’re seeing is that there is a third [political] party emerging in this country, which is the party of CEOs.”

I am sure much of this reflects the sincere if misguided sentiments of the Party of CEOs, but there is another force at work here as well.

When I say that traditional believers lack institutions, I mean that over the last ten years, the stage for the moment that has just emerged has been set, piece by piece, with very little effective, creative, or well-funded response by the so-called Religious Right.

RELATED: RFRA: Now More Than Ever

Can a president endorse gay marriage without facing any significant, organized, and well-funded blowback? Check. Can the Left drive Catholic adoption agencies out of business? Check; been there, done that in Massachusetts, Illinois, and D.C. Can they get a beauty queen canned for saying she opposes same-sex marriage? Check. Can they attack a whole corporation because a CEO gives personal money to Prop 8 in California? Check. Can they force a blue-chip Atlanta law firm to dump the House of Representatives as a client over gay marriage? Check. Can they suspend and discipline the first deaf diversity officer at a federally chartered university because she signed a petition urging that gay marriage be put to her state’s voters? Check. Can they get a Washington State judge disciplined for an ethics violation merely for saying in his private chambers that he won’t perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons? Check. Can they get a Catholic high-school teacher suspended for criticizing the motivations of the gay political lobby? Check. Can they get thousands of high profile Christian donors to embrace and participate in a truce strategy, as if once we elect a silent pro-lifer to office he will magically transform himself into a fighter for the unborn, let alone for millions of loving, hardworking, decent people across America getting fired, demoted, or at least slandered as bigots and haters? If you are on my Facebook page, you know that the answer is yes, there are many.

How did we get to the point where, unbeknownst to millions of decent, hardworking Americans who want nothing more than to live and let live, “religious liberty” is now a code word for a “license to discriminate”?

How did we get to the point where Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle not only wades into the debate to oppose Indiana’s RFRA, he proudly announced what Apple CEO Tim Cook would consider “brave” plans to punish the state by deciding not to expand his company’s headquarters in Indianapolis?

The largest answer is: Because traditional believers have not invested in the kind of political and information networks we need to be taken seriously.

RELATED: Liberals Against Religious in Indiana

#related#To understand that, you have to go back and look at what happened to Target in Minnesota, which gave substantial amounts of money to a political organization that supported Governor Tom Emmer, purely for business-related reasons. (For Gawker’s subtle take, see: “Meet Tom Emmer, Target’s Favorite Right-Wing Nutjob.”)

Target was disciplined for donating, for business reasons, to a GOP politician who also supported letting Minnesotans vote on the question of gay marriage. The actual protesters and boycotters were creative but tiny in number. It was their access to the mainstream media that gave the corporation heebie-jeebies, led to an immediate apology, and eventually to Target TV’s ads featuring two gay dads.

So when Mike Pence signed the RFRA into law, and the media firestorm ensued, I am guessing Oesterle knew he had a problem. For supporting Pence, his company would be fair game, under the LGBT rules, unless he figured out a way out of the fire. Global and national corporations apparently do not have to show respect for religious people, but they must not attract the well-organized ire of the impressive and powerful LGBT community.

This happened when they decided that the cultural, the financial, and the political power are all in the hands of the gay-rights movement. Nobody is afraid of what a Republican might to do his or her corporation. It is better to be feared than loved, or at least certainly more lucrative.

In the aftermath of Indiana, I compiled this report card, on which GOP candidates responded publicly to the open hatred expressed toward traditional believers in Indiana. It is not an attempt to grade the candidates on their overall positions, or even on their religious-liberty positions. (Who does that? What is the smart, effective political organization that views its mission as keeping track of what legislation GOP candidates say they are willing to support, and grading them on it? Then directing money, ads, and boots on the ground to candidates who support the rights of traditional believers to make a living in America? Oh, that organization doesn’t exist yet.) It is a snapshot of one moment in time: When they came for Indiana Christians, who ran toward the lions and who prudently ran away? I do not say that, if your candidate did not take this moment to shine, you cannot support him or her. I do say you should be pushing the candidate to do more and show more courage instead of accepting your own dhimmitude.

When it comes to the GOP presidential nomination, I’ll say this: I will enthusiastically support whomever the party nominates if he or she is better on the life issue than the Democratic nominee (most of whom have embraced, as Rand Paul just said, aborting seven-pound unborn babies). But I am tired of those who keep telling me that their candidate is secretly and silently solid on the issues I care about most. We have not one instance of a candidate who, having secretly supported us, became brave once in power. It never happens. Vote for whom you will, but do not fool yourself that you are holding some secret Messiah trump.

Because we have not built powerful and effective political institutions, social conservatives sit under the table, feeding on the crumbs from the libertarians (who have made these investments), hoping our silent and secret political Messiah will save us from the Democratic wolves.

This is a recipe for failure and loss. The loss, alas, will not just be ours. It will be the loss of much that America holds dear.

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