The brilliant commentator, George Weigel, has written a probing, almost wistful column on the difficulty of putting together a broad coalition on religious liberty. Using as context the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he argues that at one time, an encompassing religious freedom consortium was possible. He says that it is no longer.
He quotes religious leaders as suggesting that homosexual "rights" and sexual promiscuity have vitiated the broad, liberal-centrist-conservative consensus. Why? Because homosexuality - jammed into cultural prominence by a dedicated minority of activists, aided by friends in the media, the entertainment world, and politics - has become, as one rabbi said, "an irresistible force against an immovable object."
In other words, there is no middle ground around which a diverse coalition coalesces. While there can be compromise on a host of issues grounded in principle, honorable compromise, and prudence, there can be no compromise on whether two same-sex partners should receive legal recognition of their "marriage." In public judgment and also at the polls, one side wins and the other loses.
This battle must never engender hate or a desire to win that surmounts Christian ethics. Rather, supporters of traditional marriage should enter the contest with compassionate tenacity and kind-hearted truth-telling. But with that said, to deny the strife over homosexual "marriage" is a battle is to ignore social and political reality.
Weigel also notes the comments of a Catholic Bishop that "the protection of believers rights and consciences ... is in direct conflict with the ideology of the sexual revolution. Thats why the flashpoints in the current religious freedom battles have been abortion, contraception, sterilization and marriage." Put another way, when liberal religious leaders support President Obama's decision to require Christian hospitals and colleges, as well as businesses operated by persons of Christian conviction, to provide abortion services and abortion-inducing drugs in insurance plans they offer, they are making a profound moral statement: That one's sexual conduct, however irresponsible or dangerous or contrary to biblical teaching, merits higher legal consideration than the exercise of the conscience and of one's deeply-held convictions.
Again, there is no common ground between one side and the other. In the absence of such ground, constructing a framework for common agreement and mutual effort becomes impossible.
Finally, Weigel says there is a third reason why a broad coalition for religious liberty cannot be formed: the willingness of religious intellectuals, including the Catholic Theological Society of America, to sacrifice a robust understanding of religious freedom on the altar of what they believe to be other social goods, including the expansion of the welfare state. In other words, so what if you have an Administration that wants Uncle Sam to subsidize abortion? Thats part of the price you have to pay to more widely redistribute income.
He ends his piece with some haunting questions:
America began with the assertion of deep truths written into the human condition by Nature, and Natures God (as the Declaration of Independence put it). In an election season likely to be dominated by very practical (and important) questions about the economy, it will be well to keep a deeper, more searching set of questions in mind: Are we still a nation dedicated to certain moral truths? If so, how do we recover an ability to talk about those truths together? And if not, what have we become?
Some well-meaning souls are calling for Christians to stand-down in the battle for our culture and simply be nice to everybody. In practical terms, this means abandoning the unborn, their mothers, marriage and the family, and religious liberty to those who would harm them.
Weigel asks the right questions. At least part of the answer to them is that Christians must assert that understandable and definitive truth exists and should be applied in public policy, truth that is accessible to Christian believers and non-believers alike. We must serve humbly, persuade graciously, and contend ethically.
Yet not to work for both good legislative and political ends and also not to turn the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens from one worldview to another would be unloving. If truth is what it is, it merits application to public policy. To make that application requires effort, and that means contention and potentially persecution.
Is this to say that no common ground exists between Right and Left, to use Whittaker Chambers clear dichotomy? No; but it is to say that the size of that ground is shrinking by the day.
We can make inroads through quiet, unassuming, authentic displays of Christian love, dispelling stereotypes and surprising those who believe conservatives are rigid, harsh, and simplistic. We can appeal to the law written on the heart (Romans 2:15), touching the conscience within each person to sway opinions and encourage sound action.
Yet we must always bear in mind that Paul, Peter, and many of the early Christians were thoughtful, articulate, gracious - and martyred. Are we ready to follow in their stead?