Earlier today I wrote about Brian Hagedorn’s surprise victory in his race for the Wisconsin supreme court. Hagedorn was attacked for founding a Christian school that enforced traditional Christian views of sexual morality and for giving paid speeches to my former colleagues at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has (absurdly) labeled a “hate group.” Traditionally Republican business groups abandoned him (one even demanded its donation back), and Wisconsin has been trending blue since last year.
Hagedorn won anyway, and — according to local activists — his victory was fueled by citizens fed up with religious intolerance. Thousands of Wisconsin voters viewed his race as a referendum on whether Bible-believing citizens were eligible for public office.
When I tweeted my piece, I got a number of hostile responses, but one in particular is worth responding to — in part because the mistaken belief it advances is the source of much public bitterness and confusion. Here’s the tweet:
Christianity is incompatible with public service when said Christianity is opposed to the civil rights of gay people, AKA members of the public. pic.twitter.com/119kO835hA
— Cody Johnston (@drmistercody) April 3, 2019
When a Christian school imposes faith-based litmus tests on students, teachers, and parents, it does not violate their civil rights. No one has the “civil right” to join a faith group. As a Christian I don’t have a civil right to join a mosque. Instead, the mosque has a constitutional right to kick me out, if it so chooses. The mosque enjoys the First Amendment–protected rights of free exercise of religion, free speech, and freedom of association.
This is such a matter of common sense that one never sees protests against Christian schools for not hiring Muslim teachers. Rarely will you see a voter or trade group question whether a Christian candidate can fairly judge a Jewish or atheist litigant. Our nation (thankfully) has grown comfortable with religious diversity in spite of the profound differences of belief between different faiths. The analysis should be no different when applied to people who dissent from orthodox Christianity on other grounds.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that all too many people presume that when Christians disagree with another person’s moral choices or world view that they are necessarily hostile to that person, or incapable of treating them fairly. This is a curious idea. After all, secular Americans disagree with basically every key tenet of the Christian faith, yet they would rightly and strongly object to the notion that they can’t fairly adjudicate cases involving Baptists or Presbyterians. Why do so many secular or progressive Americans believe that Christians are somehow less capable of following the law than atheists?
In reality, as I’ve argued before, the Christian sexual ethic is grounded in love, not hate:
While there are certainly individual Christians who are bigots, the theology itself is founded in and based on love — love for the God who created us, and love for the people we want to see enter into relationship with their Savior. The biblical sexual ethic is based on a sincere conviction that it is best for human flourishing and is even symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.
The bottom line is that evidence of orthodox Christianity — including of creating and leading traditional Christian institutions — is no more evidence of hostility against gay Americans than LGBT–affirming beliefs are evidence of hostility against traditional Christians. In fact, evidence of devout faith is frequently evidence of a sincere commitment to fairness, compassion, and the faithful discharge of one’s constitutional duties in public office. Quite simply, traditional Christianity is not bigoted, and its free exercise should not be grounds for exclusion from public office.