The PJ Tatler

Are We 'Pharisees' Now?

I won’t presume that this tweet is about me or today’s earlier piece on Kirsten Powers’ selective use of Scripture and Jim Crow as weapons against her fellow Christians. I’m not prominent enough to merit a direct response.


She says in another tweet that she isn’t quitting the church, and I say that it would be an awful thing if she did. She is where she is for a reason, though at times like these it’s not obvious what that reason is. It’s not always obvious to me why I’m still breathing and writing, for whatever that’s worth. We all have our off-pitch verse to sing in humanity’s song.

It would be an awful thing if Powers’ politics end up pushing the church into the corner in which it is now being forced, by Powers’ political allies, to retreat. Powers has deployed serious rhetorical weapons against the church. This is no small thing. If her side wins and Christians get no legal protection on matters of conscience, Powers’ own rhetorical devices and tactics will have contributed some measure to the marginalization of Christianity in America. That will have grave consequences far beyond the First Amendment and the debate about who can marry whom.

To highlight but one, Powers rightly speaks out on the persecution of Christians around the world. This truth cannot be told enough. I am glad to see that it concerns her. She blames some of the wrong people, as I noted earlier. She blamed Christian leaders for a good bill on persecution dying in the Senate — which the Democrats control. Republicans, given control of the House by evangelicals and others, had passed that bill. How is the Senate scuttling that bill the fault of anyone but the Democrats who control the Senate? How is it the fault of the evangelical church leaders Powers calls out? The Democrats don’t listen to evangelicals and haven’t for about 30 years or more. They accuse us of being horrible people, waging “war on women” and the like. That’s why most of us vote the other way. We haven’t been pushed out of the GOP, yet. Some moderates would like to change that. My cynical side expects that they’ll succeed at some point, which will hand the Democrats unchallenged power for a while.

I’ve brought up Powers’ take on persecution twice now, for a reason. Her take is not fair to the Christians she criticizes. It absolves the wrong people and blames the wrong people, in both cases revealing that politics trump the truth. This suggests that she is doing the same in the marriage debate. My cynical side wonders whether she isn’t pushing things so hard now because her party is poised to lose big this fall.

A fair take on speaking out against persecution would highlight the fact that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and CBN’s courageous terrorism reporter Erick Stakelbeck, speak out on persecution all the time. So does Catholic EWTN. They don’t belong to a politically correct news outlet, though, and Pat Robertson often earns criticism, which might account for the lack of any mention of them by Powers (and many others), and the lack of Pulitzers on Stakelbeck’s wall. It’s fair to doubt whether an article praising CBN would ever get published at the Daily Beast.

Setting that aside, if Powers and her allies succeed in knocking the church into a defensive crouch here in the United States, how effective will the church be in helping those facing much more serious persecution abroad? How many missions will go unstaffed, and souls unreached (setting Calvin aside for now)? The simple fact of the matter is that for probably 150 years or so, Christians from the United States have done more to evangelize the world than Christians from other countries. I’m not being rah-rah ‘Murica jingoistic here, but it’s simply a fact that religious freedom here strengthens the church and allows it to project people and resources abroad. Christianity in America, I believe, is stronger because it is not part of the state and is also not subject to the state. It’s a fact that our economic dominance creates more disposable wealth, some of which will be used to advance missions and assist the persecuted. It’s also a fact that with prosperity come temptation and decadence. If the church is under assault and facing expensive, time-wasting litigation here, though — as a few of its members are and churches themselves soon will be over the issue of same-sex marriage — how likely is it to continue projecting people and resources abroad? The missionary call will not go away, but if the funding dries up, fewer will be sent into the fields to harvest. If our politics and culture further marginalize the church, this will not end well. Fewer will have the time and resources to fight persecution of our brothers and sisters overseas. Some will be stuck in court, and/or under attack in the culture and from politicians and pundits, and their faith might crack in ways that Powers and Rice probably haven’t taken into account. Once Christians get the message that the First Amendment no longer protects us, and the culture actively despises us, how many will go underground or leave faith altogether? How many already have?

I suppose one response to that would be, why not just go ahead and give in then? If only it were that easy. The political cause of the day tends to crack up against the Gospel. As it should.

Was the title of my first post on this inflammatory? Was it cutting? You bet. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t true or that it’s unfair. It’s unfair to caricature the difficult decisions that Christians are facing now in a debate over an issue that was not even on the radar a few years ago, and on which the culture has been pushed so swiftly. It’s unfair to demand surrender on a serious, fundamental issue without even bothering to give people an idea where this will all end up. We’re not talking here about lunch counters and buses, the iconic moments of the civil rights era and the deserved justice of overturning Jim Crow. We are talking about fundamentally redefining marriage and the family.

Taking a wider view, I’m not endorsing either the Kansas or Arizona proposals. For one thing, I don’t think either will defend Christians’ right of conscience. If any state passes a law on this that the administration does not like, that state can expect to be sued and demonized and turned into a campaign issue. The federal government in its current guise will not pass a federal law, President Obama won’t sign one, and even if he did, he would simply choose to ignore it. No law matters much to a lawless government.

Having already politicized life, we are now politicizing the definition of the family. Those who demand tolerance most loudly are not practicing it and have no intention of practicing it. It’s clearly dividing Christians. This won’t end well.