The Reign of Gay and the RFRA: Round-up and Reflections

A dizzying but rewarding "Carl’s Cuts" tour through the madness of the past couple of weeks

• A year ago today, I posted what was probably my most controversial editorial: “Welcome to the Reign of ‘Gay'”. With that in mind, it seems fitting that my first “Carl’s Cuts” in several months takes a look at recent controversies over the spreading Reign.

• I first read about Indiana’s Senate Bill 101—aka, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—via a sports news feed on my iPhone. The headline referenced “Indiana’s anti-gay law”, but the article did not explain what the law actually stated. Instead, it had quotes from sports commentators gravely uttering banalities and clichés—something, admittedly, they do constantly in their daily work—that also shed no light on the RFRA. Charles Barkley, the Round Mound of Unprofound, stated: “America’s always had a racial problem. Now we have a homophobic problem. Any form of discrimination, you have to check it.” Any, Chuck? Even discrimination against child molesters, KKK members, and looters? Barkley’s logic here is about as sound as the defense he used to never play while starring in the NBA.

• The first dozen news articles I looked at online also managed to say little or absolutely nothing about the contents of the RFRA, and so I finally looked up the actual law and read it. At that point, having seen the approach taken by various “news outlets”, I knew the usual Reign of Gay tactics were already in place:

1). Emote: The use of passion, anger, and outrage is a tried-and-true way of obscuring details and pushing people to make a knee-jerk judgment based on sentiment, not sober, sane thought.

2). Demonize: Insist the law in question is “anti-gay” and then hammer home the point that those who wrote it and voted for it are haters, pure and simple.

3). Harangue and Insult: Don’t argue the actual points in question, but immediately threaten to sanction, coerce, and boycott. Call people names, preferably “bigots” and “homophobes”. (One Reuters blogger, to his credit, wrote, “On the LGBT side, it’s time to stop calling religious people bigots and homophobes.” Good luck with that.) Talk endlessly—often in 140 grammar-challenged characters or less—about people “loving each other”, an example of such being Hillary Clinton’s March 26th tweet: “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love.” (Personally, I find it a bit comical to be lectured on the nature of love by either Bill or Hillary Clinton.)

• President Obama, in his speech at Easter Prayer Breakfast yesterday at the White House, went off script for a moment and said:

On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that’s a topic for another day.

Goodness, whatever or whoever could he be talking about? Tis a mystery. But keep in mind that even before he famously “evolved” on the matter of “gay marriage,” Obama had made it clear that any sort of opposition to the Reign of Gay would not, in the long run, be tolerated. In a 2009 address at a “LGBT Pride Month Reception” at the White House, he said:

Now this struggle, I don’t need to tell you, is incredibly difficult, although I think it’s important to consider the extraordinary progress that we have made.  There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop.  And though we’ve made progress, there are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors or even family members and loved ones, who still hold fast to worn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; and who would deny you the rights that most Americans take for granted.  And I know this is painful and I know it can be heartbreaking. …

So this story, this struggle, continues today — for even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot — and will not — put aside issues of basic equality.  (Applause.)  We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love. …

Now, even as we take these steps, we must recognize that real progress depends not only on the laws we change but, as I said before, on the hearts we open.  For if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that there are good and decent people in this country who don’t yet fully embrace their gay brothers and sisters — not yet.

Not yet. Ah, the inevitability of being on the right side of history and all that clichéd nonsense. Which is not to deny, of course, that many Americans really, really like clichéd nonsense—super sized and with extra whip cream, please! As for Christians who lack love, the President would do well to look at the hate-filled rants of Jeremiah Wright, whose Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago the Obamas attended for several years. (To be fair, Wright explained in 2012 that, for the Obamas, “church is not their thing…”)

• As many conservative (that is, not mainstream) news outlets explained, in varying detail, the RFRA was very similar to the 1993 law passed by Hillary’s soulmate, former President Bill Clinton. From the Weekly Standard site: “The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer, and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.” The law was meant to put into place a “a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases (a standard had been used by the Supreme Court for decades). The same piece summarizes: “The point of RFRA is not to discriminate against gay Americans. It is supposed to prevent the government from discriminating against religious Americans.”

• Which brings me to this simple point: in the Reign of Gay—which I stated a year ago, in the aforementioned editorial —it is always about gays and it is always about what they want. Period. As I stated in April 2014:

The new “morality” is squarely founded on the belief that homosexuality is normal, perhaps even superior to heterosexuality. This means that those who dissent from this “truth” not only distance themselves from the norms of good society, they participate in attacking it. They are, in short, enemies of society, for they oppose what is a sort of religious belief system. … The Reign of “Gay” is proud, loud, and quite unwilling to tolerate dissent or discussion. And until we face that fact and come to grips with the situation as it really is, we will not be able to respond, regroup, and rebuild in any meaningful way.

Which means, again, that a law meant to protect the religious freedoms and beliefs of Americans is immediately and constantly presented as an attack on gays. It’s a one-way street. As one commenter summed it up: “The notable thing about Culture War 4.0 is its consistent rejection of tolerance in favor of government enforced morality.”

• A week ago, Public Discourse published a short statement from Archbishop Chaput, Robert George, Archbishop Lori, Al Mohler, and Russell Moore. An excerpt:

As Americans commemorate their respective holy days, we urge all our fellow citizens to remember the moral roots of their constitutional system, and to engage in a sensible national conversation about religious liberty. Even those who are not religious have a stake in seeing that our “first freedom”—religious freedom; freedom of conscience—is protected in law.

In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant—amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible.

That last sentence is worth pondering a bit: “When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed ‘discrimination,’ our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible.” That is true, and so it raises the question: what next?

• NRO’s Jonah Goldberg—who describes himself as an essentially secular Jew who generally supports “gay marriage”—let’s it rip::

Indeed, this whole ridiculous, insane, paranoid, sanctimonious, bullying, freak-out has me despairing for the country. I don’t know that I can do another stem-winder on the liberal gleichschaltung or the fact that real, meaningful, diversity must be a diversity of customs, institutions, and communities. Civil society is where life happens; we want it to be as rich an ecosystem as it can be. That means tolerating — or even celebrating — hippies and drag queens in San Francisco, but it also means tolerating — or even celebrating — religious and observant people, too. All RFRA was intended to do was to give millions of Americans a little space to be and do what their religion tells them they must. If that faith goes too far, than the common good trumps it. But short of that, let people be for God’s sake.

No one would confuse me for a particularly pious or religious person. If properly compensated, I would happily bake a cake for a gay wedding — or write a special “news”letter for some lesbian nuptials — myself, though I don’t expect there’s a big market for that (but make me an offer!).

But I also believe that in a perfect world businesses should be able to decline service to anyone for almost any reason. I firmly believe in the right of people to exit systems and institutions they do not want to belong to. I’m much less committed to the idea that people must be able to join any institution or group they want to just because they want to. I could have sworn that even liberals believed that freedom means the freedom to create the rules you want to live by, individually and collectively. In a perfect world, campus Christian groups could have rules barring, you know, non-Christians from joining.

This, a bit later, is an essential point:

We teach young people they should be morally heroic, and that is good.

The problem is we lack the ability to think about morality seriously, never mind talk about it seriously. In a world where Harvard — once a Christian seminary! — is now a place where its “safe spaces” aren’t safe enough because the poetry is too offensive, we should not expect a lot of serious conversation.

This is one of the reasons why our moral categories are so content-less. Tolerance and sympathy become moral imperatives without reference to what is being tolerated and sympathized with. All week people on Twitter have been telling me that all discrimination is bad, no matter what. That’s awful news, because I really don’t want to invite pedophiles, Nazis, or complete strangers from the 7-11 parking lot to my Passover seder. Now I’m told such discrimination is wrong, no matter what.

We are, in other words, living in a rootless culture that relies on clichés, sentimentalism, and group think while acting as if we have achieved heights of moral goodness and intellectual brilliance never imagined. We are, in sum, relativistic fools.

• As Prof. Joyce Little wrote (I’m stealing from my 2014 editorial again) in her exceptional book, The Church and the Culture War: Secular Anarchy or Sacred Order (Ignatius Press,1995) in explaining the essential differences between the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the “gay rights” movement:

People intent on exercising total autonomy cannot afford to acknowledge serious ontological and moral differentiations among human beings, because they understand freedom not, as the Church always has, as the power to be and to do the good, but as the ability to do what they want to do do. And they can act this out only if all choices are equal and interchangeable. … This trivialization of all choices rests upon a trivialization of all differences found among people.

• The RFRA, of course, was revised, tweaked, changed—and thus gutted.

The “fix” is bad public policy that explicitly exempts sexual orientation and gender identity laws from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act except with respect to a narrow class of nonprofit religious organizations and their agents. The “fix” specifically targets the millions of other religious Americans who wish to live their lives in accordance with their faith values, free from government coercion. …

It is important to note that this fix does not create new sexual orientation and gender identity privileges in Indiana; it says that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot protect citizens from existing (municipal) Indiana sexual orientation and gender identity laws and ensuing coercion from government.

In other words, it eliminates any balancing test for sexual liberty and religious liberty. It says sexual orientation should trump religious liberty. That’s bad policy.

Shocking. But that’s how the Reign of Gay advances: one gutless capitulation at a time.

• Kevin Williamson points out the problems with said capitulation (in case they weren’t painfully obvious):

There are three problems with rewarding those who use accusations of bigotry as a political cudgel. First, those who seek to protect religious liberties are not bigots, and going along with false accusations that they are makes one a party to a lie. Second, it is an excellent way to lose political contests, since there is almost nothing — up to and including requiring algebra classes — that the Left will not denounce as bigotry. Third, and related, it encourages those who cynically deploy accusations of bigotry for their own political ends.

His conclusion is essential reading:

The ancient rival to étatism in the Western world is the church militant, both in its formal institutional expression and in the relatively newfangled (and thoroughly American) choose-your-own-adventure approach to Christianity. For the culture warrior, bringing these nonconformists to heel is a strategic priority. Gay couples contemplating nuptials are not just happening into cake shops and florists with Christian proprietors — this is an organized campaign to bring the private mind under political discipline, to render certain moral dispositions untenable. Like Antiochus and the Jews, the game here is to “oblige them to partake of the sacrifices” and “adopt the customs” of the rulers. We are not so far removed in time as we imagine: Among the acts intended to Hellenize the Jews was a ban on circumcision, a proposal that is still very much alive in our own time, with authorities in several European countries currently pressing for that prohibition.

• David French hits on similar notes, but with an eye toward the response of various churches:

Given that same-sex marriage has the same level of scriptural support as abortion (none), we’ll see the same phenomenon at work in the contemporary churches. Christians who are already on their way out of orthodoxy will embrace same-sex marriage largely to the same extent that they’ve already embraced porn, abortion, and sex outside of marriage. In fact, churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage are eight times more likely than churchgoing Christians who oppose same-sex marriage to think viewing porn is acceptable, almost four times more likely to believe cohabitation is acceptable, almost six times more likely to think adultery is ok, and almost six times more likely to support abortion rights. The churchgoing supporter of same-sex marriage is much more like the average American than the average churchgoing American.

The cultural and legal forces demanding acceptance of same-sex marriage are every bit as strong as those demanding acceptance of abortion, yet orthodox churches have held firm. In fact, the legal forces supporting abortion have in some ways been much stronger than those demanding acceptance of same-sex marriage. For years, pro-life lawyers have known of the “abortion distortion” in constitutional law, where expressive activity that would be perfectly legal in virtually every other context can be criminally punished when turned against abortion (see, for example Hill v. Colorado). The Left is transparently trying to create the same kinds of legal double standards for same-sex marriage. And while they may temporarily change the law, they won’t change the culture of the church.

• Rod Dreher has a couple of exceptional pieces over at The American Conservative site about all of this. First, there is his piece, “Christians ‘Must Be Made’ to Bow”, which takes on a bullying column by New York Times’ columnist Frank Bruni that flatly states that Christians “must be made” to accept homosexuality as a good and moral thing. Dreher writes:

And just how do Bruni and his militant Social Justice Warriors plan to force us to repudiate our beliefs? We are going to find out. Indiana and Arkansas showed that most Americans don’t much care about religious liberty — and in fact, people like Bruni and the newspaper he works for have contempt for it, at least when it is practiced by “conservative Christians.” …

Can you imagine the outcry if the Times published a column saying that Jews or Muslims must be “made” to quit believing a tenet of their religion? If socialists must be “made” to disavow any of their political convictions?

But not when the target is conservative Christians who persist in their heresy.

In another piece, “The Post-Indiana Future for Christians”, Dreher recounts a long conversation with “a law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools.” The bottom line is this: colleges and universities today aren’t your Grandpa and Grandma’s colleges and universities. Not even close:

It’s hard to say what kind of landscape Christians will be looking at twenty, thirty years from now. Kingsfield says he has gay colleagues in the university, people who are in their sixties and seventies now, who came of age in a time where a strong sense of individual liberty protected them. They still retain a devotion to liberty, seeing how much it matters to despised minorities.

“That generation is superseded by Social Justice Warriors in their thirties who don’t believe that they should respect anybody who doesn’t respect them,” Kingsfield said. “Those people are going to be in power before long, and we may not be protected.”

And I see that Dreher posted another piece, “Pseudo-Debate In Our Time”. I’ll just say that I agree completely with it.

• Finally, from Dr. Robert George:

The lynch mob is now giddy with success and drunk on the misery and pain of its victims. It is urged on by a compliant and even gleeful media. It is reinforced in its sense of righteousness and moral superiority by the “beautiful people” and the intellectual class. It has been joined by the big corporations who perceive their economic interests to be in joining up with the mandarins of cultural power. It owns one political party and has intimidated the leaders of the other into supine and humiliating obeisance.

And so, who if anyone will courageously stand up to the mob? Who will resist? Who will speak truth to its raw and frightening power? Who will refuse to be bullied into submission or intimidated into silence?

I’m not asking, which leaders? Though that, too, would be good to know. Are there political or religious leaders who will step forward? Are there intellectual or cultural leaders who will muster the courage to confront the mob?

No, I’m asking what ordinary people will do. Are there Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians who will refuse to be intimidated and silenced? Are there Latter-Day Saints, Orthodox and other observant (or even non-observant) Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs? Buddhists?

I saw a glimpse of all of this over twenty years ago. That hardly makes it easier to understand or to respond to now. Quite the contrary. I take solace in the words of Saint John Paul II:

As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging “the truth about God for a lie” (Rom 1:25). Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.

But no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator. In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it. (VS, 1)

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.