Our fearless leader, John Stonestreet, likes to use the phrase “the cultural moment” a lot. It’s kind of a corollary to Jesus’ admonitions about reading “the signs of the times.” But while Jesus was warning His contemporaries about missing the fact that the Kingdom of God was in their midst, our fearless leader wants his contemporaries to understand just where Christians stand vis-à-vis the larger culture.
Case in point: a recent story in the Washington Post entitled “NFL Suggests Georgia’s Religious Liberty Bill Could Affect Georgia’s Super Bowl Bid.” The headline tells you nearly everything you need to know: Georgia’s legislature recently passed a bill that “protects pastors from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and individuals from being forced to attend such events. It also allows faith-based organizations to deny use of their facilities for any event they find ‘objectionable’ and exempts them from having to hire or retain any employee whose religious beliefs or practices differ from those of the organization.” (Scare quotes around “objectionable” courtesy of the Post.)
Yet in addition to wanting to protect religious freedom, Georgia also wants to host the Super Bowl. Badly. And there’s the problem. As the headline also makes clear, the NFL is prepared to force Georgia to make the same choice the NCAA forced Indiana to make this time last year: religious freedom or the big event you desperately want to hold.
Now if it were up to me, I’d tell the NFL, using suitably biblical language, “Get thee to Gehenna!” The NFL, like the NCAA, is a cartel of gangsters specializing in holding cities and states hostage, as the people of St. Louis and San Diego recently learned. What’s more, their requirements for holding a Super Bowl in your fair city would embarrass Tony Soprano.
But it’s not up to me, and, while I know next-to-nothing about Georgia politics, I expect the Republican governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, to ultimately side with Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons and co-founder of Home Depot. Blank is spending $800 million to build the kind of stadium that could win the NFL’s Super Bowl imprimatur—if you’re wondering what’s wrong with the Georgia Dome, you are obviously un-American—not including the millions being spent to demolish and relocate two historic African-American churches that were in the way.
As “The Cycle of Time” in the “Sacred Scrolls of Pythia” tells us, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” It wasn’t only Indiana that succumbed to the combination of sports and business interests last year. Arizona did the same in response to NFL pressure. To paraphrase Joshua, the leaders of state and local governments, mostly (overwhelmingly? entirely?) Republicans, when asked to “choose this day whom you will serve,” have answered “Sports! Money!” and not in that order.
(I say “leaders” because there are obviously local and state legislators, many of them Christians who feel called to participate in the political process, who think differently. That’s why those state RFRAs passed in the first place. But they don’t have anything approaching the final say about whether these bills become law.)
So, what can we do about it? Not much, if anything. Rod Dreher called the Indiana RFRA debacle “apocalyptic” in the original meaning of the Greek word: an “unveiling,” or as I prefer, “revelatory.” At this point, we can’t pretend that we (by which I mean small “o” orthodox Christians, be they Evangelical, Catholic, etc.), don’t know where we really stand, not only in relationship to the larger culture but, especially, in relationship to our erstwhile political allies, at least at the executive and leadership level at both the state and national level. Not only will they throw us under the bus; if they had their way, they would attach us permanently to the chassis to save themselves time and effort.
Let’s be honest for a moment: They’re just not that into us. We’ve known this, or should have known this, for a long time. We are like a person in a bad relationship who makes excuses to their friends for the neglect and even mistreatment at the hands of their “significant other.”
Take the HHS mandate. While the House Republicans have found the time for at least 50 completely symbolic votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act/”Obamacare,” they, to my knowledge, have not voted once on any sort of measure that addressed the HHS mandate directly, or as a friend of mine likes to say, simpliciter.
Thus, the fate of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Wheaton College, etc. has been held hostage to the fate of the ACA/”Obamacare” as a whole. It’s like a child who needs $100 for school supplies being told by his parents that he’ll get it just as soon as their AdvoCare dreams comes true.
Or take the case of Christian colleges being “outed” by the Department of Education for requesting waivers from the application of Title IX to “transgender and gender non-conforming students.” You know what would really help these schools? Clarifying Title IX, which is an act of Congress, a Congress that is under the control of our erstwhile allies!
The reason the schools need waivers in the first place is that the Department of Education has interpreted the words “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” to include transgender and “gender non-conforming” folks.
Congress could, if it really cared, clarify the definition of “sex” to make it abundantly clear what it means and doesn’t mean. (This would also spare local school districts the tsuris prompted by still-anatomical males insisting on using the women’s locker room.) Even it didn’t pass the Senate or was vetoed by the President, they would be on the record. After all, it’s not as though any of the 50-odd attempts to repeal the ACA/”Obamacare” stood a snowball’s chance in Gehenna.
Don’t hold your breath. They have no reason to act because we have never demanded something meaningful in return for our support. As Neil Young (not that Neil Young) documented in “We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics,” Christian conservatives were willing to subordinate their goals to the GOP’s from the beginning of their alliance.
As Young writes, after their triumph in the 1980 elections, “Religious conservatives quickly learned their agenda wouldn’t be the first priority of the Reagan White House. Instead, the White House explained Reagan first had to address the nation’s poor economy and tackle the tax burden. But once the president’s tax package passed, it became clear the Reagan administration would give little attention to the conservative moral issues the Religious Right had expected the new president to address. The journalist Lou Cannon, working on a biography of Reagan during his first administration, asked a presidential adviser what the White House planned to give the Religious Right. ‘Symbolism,’ the staffer responded.”
Thirty-five years later, very little, if anything, has changed. Actually, one important thing has: Our erstwhile allies no longer feel the need to even give us symbols.
They’re just not that into us. They never were. This is the nature of our cultural moment. Whatever comes next, we should at least be clear about this.
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