Religion

This Is How Religious Liberty Really Dies

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Cultural pressures are a much greater threat to the faithful than the government.

So, this is what passes for national news:

Suddenly, the school can face a threat to its very identity without a single government official lifting a finger. Most religious schools operate on small margins, so the loss of even a few families can plunge them into a financial crisis. Capitulate to the angry parents and the traditionalist families may leave. Stand firm in the face of media pressure and the progressive families may start to bail. It takes moral courage and deft diplomacy to emerge intact.

There is a persistent belief among church-goers that a person should be able to get all the benefits of Christian community without any of the doctrines that make religion unpalatable to modern moral fashion. That’s in essence the mission statement of Mainline Protestantism.

And it simply doesn’t work. The Christian community and Christian service that people love are ultimately inseparable from the entirety of the Christian faith that spawned them. Carve out the doctrines that conflict with modern morals and you gut the faith. When you gut the faith, you ultimately gut the church.

It makes sense then that mainline denominations aren’t thriving. They’re dying. Without the eternal truths of the Christian faith, the church becomes just another social club. Why sacrifice your time and money for the same wisdom you can hear at your leisure on NPR?

Here’s the interesting thing: Some of the casual Christians who’ve fled the unsatisfying Mainline are joining more traditionalist churches and schools without changing their beliefs. They don’t become more theologically orthodox, they just crave the benefits of the more orthodox communities. Once in their new religious home, they exert the same kind of pressure for cultural conformity that helped kill the churches they fled. It’s the religious analog of the well-known phenomenon of blue-state Americans leaving their high-tax, heavily-regulated states for red America and promptly working to make it more like the place they left.

Legal victories preserving our fundamental freedoms are ultimately meaningless if cultural pressures create a dreary intellectual conformity. You can win all the Supreme Court cases you want, but if the faithful don’t maintain the moral courage and strength of conviction to tack into the cultural headwinds, it will all be for naught.

I don’t know what will happen at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School. The Catholic Church won’t change its teaching in the face of this controversy, of course, and some institutions do in fact emerge from such tests stronger and more vital. But others fail. Others compromise. And with each compromise, the forces of conformity win, religious “freedom” is further circumscribed, and we learn once again that politics is far downstream from culture.

READ MORE:

Five Major Actions of Trump’s First Year Defending Religious Liberty

ACLU Distorts the Purpose of a Federal Effort to Protect Religious Liberty

The Dangerous Supreme Court Case Nobody Is Talking About

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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