A friend asked me, after reading my last interview with HuffPo, “So are you really stepping down from the marriage and religious liberty fight?”
No, I told him. Sorry if it sounded like that. What I am advocating doing is three very big, and very hard things: a) accepting where we are and b) learning from what we did not succeed in so that we can get to c) how do we build anew?
Right now most people who believe in the classic understanding of marriage are in shock, they are awed by the powers now shutting down the debate and by our ineffectualness at responding to these developments.
The temptation to shout and yell and stamp our feet in ineffectual ridiculousness is understandable, but it is to be resisted.
The version of America we were born into is no more. For the first time in American history being a faithful Christian (or Jew or Muslim) now calls into question in the public square in a new way one’s good citizenship.
Well, yes. Now what?
I headlined this essay “Cooper, Mozilla, and Arizona” because each of these recent public news events highlights one feature of the challenge before us, and what we need to build to respond.
The rapid collapse of opposition to gay marriage we are witnessing did not just happen, and it was not inevitable. But it is.
The question now on the table is: will orthodox Christianity (and other traditional faiths), be stigmatized and marginalized as the equivalent of racism in the American public square? Will Biblical morality be wiped out as an acceptable public position in America?
Or will we regroup, rebuild as a subculture, and survive to become the possibility of a new foundation in the future?
Hiding or pretending is not going to help us, now. We have to face the truth. And we have to find the Love at its heart.
And we will have to do new things, not simply do what failed, over and over again, harder.
Let me begin with Charles Cooper. Cooper gave an interview to Jo Becker, a New York Times reporter who authored a new book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality. The book is basically an insider account of Ted Olson’s and David Boies’s legal battle to dismantle Prop 8, and in the course of it naturally Jo Becker interviewed Chuck Cooper.
Unbeknownst to any of us, Cooper was at the time in the middle of the turmoil of the political becoming the personal. In 2013, before he attempted to argue the Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, he learned his wife’s daughter (his stepdaughter) was gay and would be married to a woman in Massachusetts. He and his wife are co-hosting the same-sex wedding ceremony.
Cooper said two things that upset many people on our side: “My views evolve on issues of this kind the same way as other people’s do, and how I view this down the road may not be the way I view it now, or how I viewed it ten years ago,” he said to Jo Becker some months ago. And when the book became public and the news of his stepdaughter’s wedding came out he told AP: ““My daughter Ashley’s path in life has led her to happiness with a lovely young woman named Casey, and our family and Casey’s family are looking forward to celebrating their marriage in just a few weeks.”
I received many emails from people who were angry and upset by his comments, but if he were here in front of me (and I hope he reads this) this is what I would say to Charles Cooper:
“Thank you for your hard work, and your service. I had no idea you were working this hard, for so little benefit to yourself and your career, while simultaneously managing a family crisis like this. Thank you for being faithful to the end to your client and our cause. And I wish God’s blessings on you and your family.”
I would say this, even though I do not see how someone faithful to the Biblical or the natural law underlying it, can host a gay wedding. (More on this in another letter).
Nonetheless, we cannot let the “system” overwhelm the human person.
Not just Charles Cooper, we are all struggling with how to respond to the new moral order implied and reified by gay marriage.
And here is the thing I take away, and what I want you to take away, from the Charles Cooper story: Whatever we do, and whatever we say, we have to be willing to say it, as if to a beloved child of our own family, coming to us with a loving gay marriage.
There is no line we can draw that pushes gay people “outside” and leaves us free “inside” to be angry, foot-stomping, and morally “pure.”
We are all tangled up in Love with sin, our own and that of those we love.
I faced this personally, in the sense I was often asked “What if my child was gay?” I was asked it by people who believed I probably had a gay child and didn’t know it.
But I accepted that the facts are irrelevant. I could have a gay child. Anyone could have a gay child. Other people I know have gay children. Our children are beloved and yet do not necessarily put together the world the way we would have them. We have to love them anyway, across all the gaps.
A movement able to withstand what is coming will have to face the Love problem first. Anything we say, anything we believe, we are going to have to be willing to say it not only with a generic gay person in the room, but as if to a beloved gay child.
Try it before you judge Charles Cooper.
There is a lot of hard cultural, intellectual, moral, and spiritual work to be done on how to combine Love and Truth.
Let’s get to it.
Next, Brendan Eich and Mozilla. Here we face the fist within the velvet glove—one of the few public instances of what is happening all over America. People are afraid to say this: “marriage is the union of husband and wife, because kids need a mother and a father.” They are afraid and they are falling silent.
Brendan Eich is a brilliant and rich man and he will personally be okay, no matter what happens. But if he, the Mozart of Mozilla, cannot survive opposing gay marriage, who can?
A week after Brendan Eich resigned we learned from Angela McGaskill’s case, that Gaulladet University, a university for the deaf chartered by the federal government, can in fact demote her for nothing more than putting her name to a petition putting the gay marriage question before the voters of Maryland.
This is not news to me. I know many cases public and private of people facing job loss for opposing gay marriage and I know the threat of this is shutting down even more good people. This is not because they are cowards.
Think hard about these alternatives: the good that will be done by writing a letter opposing gay marriage—versus losing your family’s income. What sane person says “yes I will take that risk?”
We learn from the reaction to Brendan Eich that this kind of strong-arm public punishment makes the regnant liberal class nervous. They don’t like it. Andrew Sullivan bless him, took enormous heat for recognizing what this case means, what it stands for: punishing by the threat of unemployment, divergent views. He rebelled. Bless him.
But none of the negative objections moved Mozilla, or the power structures that be. At least not yet.
I just learned of a public statement by gay marriage advocates opposing in the name of liberal and humane values this kind of threat to people’s employment. The signatories including Jonathan Rauch, Will Saletan, David Blankenhorn and James Kirchick, all of whom emphatically support gay marriage but say: “the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.”
We live in the middle of a contest. We can predict, but we do not know how it will come out.
We live in an America in which standing up for Biblical morality (or its common sense moral analog) puts your employment in jeopardy. How will we respond to the fear this inspires?
Will we recognize we are a subculture now facing a dominant culture and build subculture strategies? These include building networks to get our story out, to get the “face of the victim” in front of power? For without a community that appears to care, very few individuals will find the courage to stand.
Or will we look the other way, keep denying to ourselves what is happening right in front of our nose?
It is an open question. Fear no longer motivates, it shuts us down. We need to find new ways to come around the people under attack to build community, to give them (and us) a reason to suffer, if necessary, in the hope that someone cares.
And we need to negotiate with the new powers that be, from the position of our relative newfound weakness.
Not to surrender or beg, not to, as Ross Douthat put it, “negotiate the terms of our surrender” but to use the weapons of the weak, to force the reigning power to recognize what they are doing, the power to oppress they are marshalling against us.
Let me put it this way: the first struggle we now face is internal and spiritual: Will we accept the newly dominant culture’s view of our views—of ourselves—as hateful and bigoted and stand down?
Or will we, first of all in our heart and minds, refuse to accept this external view of ourselves. Will we stigmatize ourselves or will we force the powerful to do that to us?
It is the first question, from which a great deal else flows. If they can get us to silence ourselves, they do not have to accept moral responsibility for silencing us. The outer battle is important, but the first and most important battle is internal: Will we accept living in an America where we have to be afraid to say “marriage is the union of husband and wife because children need a mother and a father”? Or will they have to force us, through raw and ugly power, to live in that America?
That is the contest that the Mozilla episode asks of us.
To stand we are going to need new cultural resources: storytellers and social scientists. We are going to have to craft our own picture of who we are and why we stand—for the dominant culture creators’ view of who are is not pretty. That is part of the challenge Mozilla poses before us. Can we invest the resources to become culture creators and not just consumers?
Gov. Jan Brewer’s collapse in Arizona is very important and I don’t mean this as a criticism of her. Here is what happened. Christian conservatives tried to use their “back strategy” of quietly passing legislation through a very conservative legislature. The legislation in question was not particularly new or radical, many other states have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts with similar language.
Gay rights advocates decided to prove they could stop legislation like this deep in the heart of the reddest of all red states. And they won.
First they defined the bill as an antigay pro-discrimination measure. Then they got credible GOP leaders to validate this framing—John McCain and Mitt Romney.
They did this in a matter of hours. I doubt either McCain or Romney got a thoughtful analysis of the legislation and its meaning. They got they did not want to be “antigay” and they got props for being on the right side of history. And it was enough.
Let us not turn our eyes from what this means: by their capacity to use the mainstream media to define what an issue “means”—progressives got the conservative movement to fold with credible and major GOP figures.
They can do this.
They can do this in part because Christian conservatives have been doing politics stupidly and on the cheap.
If we keep doing politics this way we will soon not have to do politics at all.
To win a space for us at the American table, we are going to need to invest large amounts of money in new and directly political institution—organizations capable of unelecting those who would shut us out, and those capable of rewarding the courage of those who agree with us.
It cannot be all c3 messaging and pastor organizing from here on out. We get serious or we get rolled.
Which will it be?
I cannot tell you, but I can tell you this: It’s not all about numbers. It’s about intensity and intelligence.
Pew recently released a poll that could be discouraging, but I find it enormously encouraging. One of the questions they asked is about contraception. I know most Jews and Christians have no problem with contraception and I am not asking you to have a problem with it. I am asking you to appreciate a modern poll result that shows 7 percent of the American people believe contraception—while legally acceptable—is not morally acceptable.
This is the mostly Catholic base. And it represent twice the manpower of the LGBT movement. It represents 20 million people or more.
If we add to that people who believe seriously enough in Biblical morality to limit their own sexual behavior—those who think sex outside of marriage is wrong—it’s a huge base of potential support.
And we do have this: In the middle of all the decline, just 6 percent of American believe adultery is morally acceptable.
Here’s the truth: Two percent of the American population, worked a cultural revolution. Hats off to them.
We have the resources to survive, and if we survive, to eventually flourish.
Will we face the truth, act in love, and do new things?
Let’s get over the shock and awe and get to the task God has given us: to build among the ruins of the old America, something new.
In truth, with love,