Are you now or have you ever been a Southern Baptist?
Here in the flood zone of south Louisiana, you would be hard-pressed to find a single church or Christian organization (like the school community of which I’m a part) that isn’t in some way helping flood victims. I’m not talking about simply giving money. I’m talking about doing sacrificial work to help those who are helpless. I watched a report on NBC News last night about what we’re going through here, and was struck by the enormous distance between what they showed on that short clip, and the reality that people here see every day. It is much, much worse than most Americans know (see this for one glimpse, and imagine this multiplied by tens of thousands). The need is so great that there is no way this or any government could respond effectively to it on their own.
It’s also true that civil society couldn’t handle it on its own either. We need both — and that’s what we’re getting here. Istrouma Baptist Church, for example, is one of the biggest churches in the city, and has opened its campus as a staging area for relief operations (if you want to help, click here to find out what you can do). The work of the local churches, both big and small, in bringing desperately needed relief to the suffering is irreplaceable.
I was thinking about this yesterday, and thinking about how to many Americans, the thing most important to them about churches like those in this conservative part of America is that they (the churches) hold “bigoted” attitudes about LGBTs. In the years to come, those churches will be forced to pay a significant penalty for holding those views. Some people say that loss of tax-exempt status, which is what many progressives would like to see happen to dissident churches, will be no big deal. Why should their tax dollars go to subsidize bigotry? they reason.
It will be a very big deal. All contributions to churches and Christian organizations doing relief work are tax-deductible at the present time. This will likely go away, dramatically hampering the resources available to conservative churches like Istrouma to help the suffering in instances like this. Far as I know, nobody has seen crews from the Human Rights Campaign mucking out houses or feeding refugees.
Of course if they lose their tax exemption, churches will still do these things. But they will have many fewer resources with which to do so. Progressives either have not thought about this, or, as I suspect, they just don’t care. Purity on LGBT issues is all that matters.
Last year, the Baptist ethicist David Gushee was quoted by gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni as saying that “Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people.” Gushee has fully embraced gay rights, and doesn’t simply tolerate gay relationships, but affirms their goodness. Now he has written an extraordinarily important column laying out the future for Christians who reject the Sexual Revolution in its latest form. Excerpts:
It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.
Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.
By “the issue” he means those who will ferret out suspected thought criminals, interrogate them, and force them to come clean about their bigotry. Gushee lists all the kinds of people and institutions of American life that embrace homosexuality and transgenderism and, crucially, stigmatize those who do not. It is a sobering list for those who are not on it. And he’s right. He also says that the Republican Party might still be officially on the side of moral traditionalists, but it’s plain that that stance is fast eroding (he’s right about that too). More:
On the Democratic side, not only is LGBT equality now doctrine, sympathy for religious liberty exceptions is drying up quickly. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, making for twelve to sixteen straight years of Democratic control of the White House, it is quite possible that by Supreme Court ruling and federal regulation any kind of discrimination against gay people will have the same legal rights and social acceptance as any kind of racial discrimination. Which is, none.
Openly discriminatory religious schools and parachurch organizations will feel the pinch first. Any entity that requires government accreditation or touches government dollars will be in the immediate line of fire. Some organizations will face the choice either to abandon discriminatory policies or risk potential closure. Others will simply face increasing social marginalization.
A vast host of neutralist, avoidist, or de facto discriminatory institutions and individuals will also find that they can no longer finesse the LGBT issue. Space for neutrality or “mild” discrimination will close up as well.
The way he concludes the column makes it plain that Gushee believes this marginalization and demonization of traditional Christians to be a positive development. Read the whole thing.
He is absolutely right in his read on the situation in American society. There is no intention on the cultural left of being tolerant in victory, and never was. They are going to bounce the rubble and tell themselves that they are virtuous for doing so. This past week, I saw a Facebook comment in which a liberal said that Livingston Parish, where nearly everyone lost their home to the flood, was once the headquarters of the Louisiana KKK, so to hell with them, they deserve what they get. This is how it’s going to be with us.
I find that even at this late date, it is difficult to get ordinary Christians, including pastors, to understand the reality of what’s coming. You should believe David Gushee. He has done us all a favor here. He and his allies — that is, the entire American establishment — are going to do everything they possibly can to eliminate any place of retreat. When people say that if the Left has its way, there will be no Benedict Option places left to retreat to, I agree. That does not mean they will succeed, at least not at first, but it’s just a matter of time. This means that we will need the Benedict Option more than ever. The Ben Op is not about escapism; it’s about building the institutions and adopting the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions. The church will be under unprecedented pressure, legally and socially, to capitulate. But it will be possible to resist, though not without paying a high cost. I talk about how to do this in my forthcoming book.
We also know that the conflicts ahead will be a proving ground for the faithful. There are many who call themselves Christian now but who will fall away when the conflicts come. When it becomes costly to follow what Jesus says about sexual immorality, some people will deny Jesus’ word in order to avoid the conflict. And that denial will not lead them to Jesus but away from Jesus. The settled conviction to deny Christ’s word is what the Bible calls apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1). Their going out from us to join the opposition will show what they are:
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” –1 John 2:19
We are preparing ourselves for the heartbreak of these departures. But as they go out, the faithful are going to count the cost of staying in. That is what we are doing right now. And we are praying for the strength and resolve to stand when heat is on. It is not even on our radar screen to consider turning back, as Gushee would have us to do. We are on the narrow way with Jesus, and by the grace of God there will be no going back.
At my church, my fellow pastors and I are trying to prepare our congregation for the days ahead.
This is a time of testing. It will cost you to remain faithful. If you are not preparing for this now (or, if you’re a pastor, preparing your congregation for this), you are behaving foolishly. As Gushee says, “The issue will come and find you.” One of the hardest things that dissidents will face is that when the Thought Police show up at the door, church people like David Gushee will proudly say, “They’re in the basement, officer.”
There are good liberals out there that don’t think in such harsh binaries as Gushee. I know many. The question is what type of liberal is going to prevail on this debate.
I have several questions for Dr. Gushee that follow from his column. While I doubt he’ll answer them, they are questions that would offer clarity and understanding on what lies ahead for the future.
Are Christians who hold to the historical position on sexual ethics engaging in invidious discrimination?
Are Christians who hold to the historic position on sexual ethics holding the same type of beliefs and engaging in the same types of actions as avowed racists?
Can there be actual disagreement on this issue that doesn’t impute to the other side the worst possible motivations?
Can there be a state of mutual respect that allows for different people to reach different conclusions about the purposes of human embodiment?