Not Yet Made to Care
The Wages of Politicizing Sin
Nine months ago, I wrote a diary that received a lot more attention than I anticipated. Erick’s response to my post has since become something of a catch-phrase here on RedState, and has since made its way into the broader conservative blogosphere.
“You will be made to care.”
Thanks to a photographer named Elaine Huguenin, a cake maker named Jack Phillips, and a duck-call manufacturer named Phil Robertson (do I really need a link to this one?), we have become more and more acquainted with that phrase in the months since I first chimed in on the subject.That catch-phrase is, as it was then, a distortion of what I originally wrote, which was this:
What, then, are my personal beliefs? As a Bible-believing Christian, don’t I believe that Homosexuality is wrong?
Here is my personal belief on the issue, in a nutshell:
Is Homosexuality a Sin?
I. Do. Not. Care.
Nine months and many news cycles later, that is still very, very true.
Do I care about one’s ability to express his beliefs openly in the public square? Absolutely! Do I care about one’s ability to freely contract to do business with another (or not)? Without question! Do I care about my own relationship with God, and my own quest to live a moral life? More than anything else.
Will I take a stand in the fight to maintain those things? I already have. This post – and my original one nine months ago, are part of that stand.
Phil Robertson, Jack Phillips, and Elaine Huguenin are being bullied, hounded, and punished because they believe things the institutional Left has decided are outside the limits of “acceptable opinion” . . . specifically, they believe the words of Scripture ought to be interpreted literally as binding commands upon humanity for all eternity, regardless of context or culture.
I don’t have to agree or disagree with them to defend their right to believe as they do. The problem – on both sides – is not that people can arrive at different interpretations of what it means to live a moral life. The problem is not that, in a world where I believe absolute truth exists, one side of such disagreements must necessarily be right and the other wrong.
The problem is with either side when it attempts to coerce, rather than persuade, others to live by its own views. The problem is that, with the relentless expansion of the government into every area of our lives, we have utterly politicized sin, and have decided that those who commit it deserve political, legal, and economic consequences alongside the natural consequences that will inevitably result from trying to live apart from God – whatever our view of Him.
The problem is the right’s favorable attitude toward regulating of private, consensual sexual activity as in the cases of Lawrence v. Texas and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as well as its insistence on a federal definition of marriage. The problem is also A&E’s shameful treatment of Phil Robertson for the thought-crime of publicly expressing what millions of Americans believe, along with the government’s persecution of Jack Phillips and John and Elaine Huguenin for refusing to participate in events they believe to be wrong.
The problem is not, and has never been, the question of whether homosexuality is a sin. The answer to that question doesn’t affect my own relationship with God, and as Robertson himself noted in his GQ interview, shouldn’t affect my relationship with anybody else either! And it certainly doesn’t affect my stance on broader issues such as the freedom of expression. That question is a valid one for each of us to ask ourselves when deciding how we choose to live individually, but when it comes to how we ought to craft a functioning political society it’s entirely the wrong question. The question should not be, “Is this particular activity a sin?” but, “How do we best defend our rights to live, think, believe, and raise our families as we see fit?” This of course includes the rights of those who believe and act differently than we do, and the gay couple down the street is just as deserving of that protection as are Phil and Kay Robertson or John and Elaine Huguenin.
As I argued nine months ago, we on the right are fighting the wrong war. We’ve forgotten the late Andrew Breitbart’s admonition that “culture is upstream from politics.” We’re defending political levers like the federal government’s definition of what is and is not a “marriage” or its prohibition of openly gay military service, while the left is busily moving the window of what constitutes “acceptable opinion” and delegitimizing anything that falls outside it. While we fight to define “marriage,” they’re fighting to define “morality.”
And on that front, we’re doing half their work for them! By advocating for the “defense of marriage,” and other political codifications of the right’s moral standards, we are sowing the seeds of our own defeat. We’re delegitimizing ourselves by calling for government-enforced morality, so that once the left has successfully redefined morality, they don’t have to work very hard at all to force it upon us because we’ve already laid the groundwork for their argument that government-sanctioned morality – by whatever definition the government is using this week – can and should be compulsory.
Those of us who Do. Not. Care. about using questions of sin as a political football are accused of sitting on the sidelines, or are called “conscientious objectors in the culture wars” (when we’re not being called other, less pleasant, things). But I’d argue that we’re the ones concerned with fighting the REAL war. I care far less about whether Heather Has Two Mommies than I do about whether Heather has the freedom to grow up in a country where she may believe as she chooses without suffering legal or financial sanctions for it.
To his great credit, Phil Robertson didn’t go political. He took a stand for what he believes, without the baggage of political prescriptions to go along with it. By being savaged for his beliefs, rather than for his politics, Robertson revealed where the true front lies in this culture war. As the right is slowly losing its war over what we are or are not allowed to do, the left is slowly winning its war over what we are or are not allowed to think. Critics of my original post said I was sliding down a slippery slope: That if we “give in” on the marriage issue, we’re opening the door to permitting all kinds of other activities. But I’d argue the reverse: That in the battle over whether the government may compel morality, we “gave in” a long time ago and are now standing at the bottom of the hill wondering what happened. In the contest over the scope of government, the right scored a series of own-goals and is now fighting amongst itself over the choice between going deeper in the hole or walking off the field. Between those two alternatives, I’ll gladly take the sidelines any day, but I’d much rather take the field and actually try to score some points for our side in the fight against expanded government power instead!
Here’s the problem: In our quest to hand over to the government the power to enforce our version of morality, we ourselves have doomed people like Elaine Huguenin and Jack Phillips who stand up for their beliefs, once the government deems those beliefs “immoral.” Those on the left aren’t the ones who opened the door to government-mandated morality. We did that. We did it when our political forbears founded the Republican Party with the notion of eradicating, “those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery,” placing government regulation of the marriage bed with the goal of suppressing an unpopular religious sect on the same level of importance as protecting one person from being owned by another as property, and we continued to do it – often with the eager complicity of the other party – throughout the intervening century and a half.
That the sexual norms advocated by the original leaders of the “Grand Old Party” were far more widely shared across a more homogeneous culture than the one we face today does not change the fact that we did it. That the other major party has been complicit does not change that fact either. They are the party that is supposed to trust the government to handle such things. We – the party that in virtually every other area views government intrusion in private affairs with suspicion and distrust – have repeatedly and eagerly surrendered to the government the ability to force our moral standards on others at the point of a gun. And now that our culture is less homogeneous and more hostile to our moral ideals – now that the left has successfully shifted cultural notions of “morality” – Huguenin, Phillips, and others are paying for our shortsightedness in surrendering that power to the government. We’ve gotten the “culture war” all wrong. At its root, it’s not about whether homosexuality is a sin at all . . . it’s about whether you want to hand over to the government the ability to define (and enforce the definition of) “sin” in the first place! While we’re fighting over whether a judge can call two dudes “married,” the left is fighting for a country in which Nazis marching in Skokie, IL, are expressing a legitimate belief system, but a photographer who declines to shoot a particular ceremony is not.
Erick is certainly right that the left wants to make us care, but he’s framing the issue around the wrong word in that sentence. The trouble is not with the caring, but with the making.
As I said nine months ago in my original post, fight them there!