Over the past decade, especially in the struggle over same-sex marriage, some of my friends and allies among social and religious conservatives have called me a defeatist for my culture-war pessimism. I believe that pessimism today is simply realism, and that it is better for us to retreat strategically to a position that we are capable of defending. The cultural battlefield has changed far more than many of us realize.
I live in a small town in rural south Louisiana. Most people go to church, and most people vote Republican; the conservatism is so gentle that even liberals feel at home. The parish council—that is to say, the county government—begins each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Our Father.
My town is the kind of place that conservatives, especially religious conservatives, think of as a haven from secular liberalism, the kind of place where, if Cardinal George’s persecution prophecy ever came true, Christians could take their stand. But here’s the thing: Culturally speaking, its conservatism is pretty much hollow. That fact has profound implications for the future of the Christian civic project.