Alarmists have been warning about coming American persecution of Christians—or exaggerating existing persecution—for a long time. It’s a staple of those (supposedly type-written) fundraising letters sent out by parachurch groups. I’ve always been impatient and incredulous while reading these stories. They seem, if not fabricated, at least isolated. I’ve never been persecuted in America.
But even Christians who are not given to paranoia are now beginning to warn of possible violent persecution of conservative American Christians. The reason for this is simple: the cultural triumph of homosexuality. As Carl Trueman wrote during the controversy over Rick Warren’s prayer at Obama’s first inauguration,
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the day is probably not far off when those who regard homosexual practice as wrong will be consistently presented as the moral, cultural and intellectual equivalents of white supremacists. Al Mohler (who seems to have spent the whole week writing or speaking on the issues of Lisa Miller and Rick Warren) has pointed out that this issue is set to shatter any possibility of traditional, biblical Christians being considered cool. You can have the hippest soul patch in town, and quote Coldplay lyrics till the cows come home; but oppose homosexuality and the only television program interested in having you appear will soon be The Jerry Springer Show when the audience has become bored of baiting the Klan crazies. Indeed, evangelicals will be the new freaks.
But a writer on the opposite side of our culture’s main (?) divide, writing in the liberal online magazine Slate, thinks Christian fear of violent persecution is overblown. Her title and subtitle say it all: “Will Churches Be Forced To Conduct Gay Weddings? Not a chance. That’s just the scare tactic conservative groups use to frighten voters.”
No one but God knows the future, so she may be right. The current rise in cultural acceptance of homosexuality may actually presage a massive move of God in American hearts like the Great Awakening in Jonathan Edwards’ day.
But jailing conservative Christian pastors is not so outlandish that the Slate writer cannot even imagine how it might occur. She knows just what it would take for American culture to shift that far. Listen to how she ends her piece:
It’s just wrong to spook voters about gay rights by arguing that gay people are coming for their churches. It’s not gonna happen. Not just as a tactical matter, but also as a legal one. If that ever changes, it will be because we’re as united about the pernicious nature of anti-gay discrimination as we are about racial discrimination. Or until no one wants to belong to a church that doesn’t perform same-sex weddings, any more than they’d want to be in a church that forbids interracial ceremonies. Maybe we should be there. But I don’t need to tell you we’re not.
All of the sudden it sounds like there’s a big crack in the doorway slammed shut by her “not a chance” line. That’s because cultural unity against “anti-gay discrimination” doesn’t seem anywhere near as far-fetched as it did just a few decades ago.
And I’m going to take this where you might not expect me to go: Christians bear some of the blame for our current situation. American Christian conservatives failed to unify against the evils of race-based (and “man-stealing” based [Exod. 21:16]), chattel slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and we paid for it with a bloody war. Then American Christian conservatives well into the 20th century failed to unify against slavery’s step-child, institutionalized racism. The bloody price for the latter failure has not yet been paid; perhaps it will be paid when the pro-homosexual forces fully and finally cement the link between racism and homophobia—when every job denied a black man is paid for with a job lost by a persecuted Christian, when every slur uttered against a black woman is repurposed for conservative Christian stay-at-home moms.
If white Christians had paid the cultural price, despite persecution, in 1870—or even 1950… If they had stood united against the denigration of God’s black and brown image-bearers, we would have a strong platform to stand on today. Every “we don’t serve your kind,” every “you can’t sit here” (Jas 2:1–7) was a sledgehammer blow to our own future soapbox.*
I won’t even (fully) deny the link between racism and homophobia. I think it demeans the Civil Rights movement by equating skin color, something that no one can choose, with immoral and degrading sexual behavior, which is an act and a choice that can be resisted. But I will admit that some professing Christians appear to me to object to homosexual marriage for the same basic reason their parents objected to miscegenation: the ick factor. Bigotry. Prejudice. Racist “heterophobia” (fear of other races marrying mine) may sometimes be a branch from the same root that grows homophobia.
The Christian position on homosexuality must not stem ultimately from our personal, existential distaste for “homosex,” as scholar Robert Gagnon calls homosexual acts (in order to distinguish them from the inclination to perform them). That distaste is a factor; it’s evidence of God’s law written on our hearts (Rom 2:14–15). But without God to tell me homosexuality is immoral, and without a Creator God standing behind natural law arguments—I have no authoritative reason to believe that my dislike of a practice is any clue to its morality level. The admittedly few homosexuals I know are not even icky people; they’re very nice to me. I insist that they’re doing wrong only because God says they are, and because I love them enough to warn them not to do things God dislikes.
Christians must humbly and lovingly rebuild our cultural platform, and we must do it with rock hewn from God’s own word. Only then will we be able to stand when the rains descend and the polls come, and beat upon our house. Great may be the fall of it if we do not.
May God help us all.
*I didn’t even raise the issue of divorce and/or serial marriage among America’s professing Christians. As Newt Gingrich’s second wife told him when he proposed that they keep up appearances despite his ongoing affair, “This is not a marriage!”