From the first century AD to the present, harassment and persecution of the Church by government or cultural elites have followed a pattern:
- Accuse the Church of obstinately clinging to an unpopular teaching out of hostility and bad will.
- Attack the Church, using a false accusation as justification for unjust treatment.
- Offer to relent if the Church will cede a part of the obedience owed to God to the state.
- When the Church refuses, increase the attacks and use that refusal as “proof” of unreasonableness of the Church and justification for continued mistreatment.
Sometimes these attacks have been overt, cruel and barbaric. Sometimes they masquerade as enforcement of an ordinarily good law but is misapplied. But regardless of how it is done [*], the State using these tactics is abusing its authority and often betraying the principles it was established under. In most circumstances, the Church in a region has two choices: To endure the persecution while trying to convert the persecutor or to capitulate to the State and consent to doing evil or having evil done in her name. The goal of the state is to force the second option. The call of the Christian is to choose the first option.
In the 21st century, the political and cultural elites of America seems determined to continue this cycle. No, it’s not brutal like the overt attacks on the Church in past centuries. Instead of arenas and wild beasts, it is courts and lawyers and instead of executioners and gulags, it is fines and lawsuits. But the end result is the same: The state usurps the power to compel the Christian to give support for what his religion calls evil. In doing so, America betrays the values she was founded upon. The explicit forbidding of the government to pass laws which interfere with the free practice of religion without a compelling interest (meaning vital for the safety of the country and with the least interference when proven compelling interest exists) has been perverted to the point that the state claims the right to coerce religion into abandoning whatever moral teaching is unpopular with the political and cultural elites.
We see this most recently with the vetoing of (and refusing to enforce) laws that seek to protect the freedom of religion from harassment by the state. The term Religious Freedom is put in Scare Quotes and portrayed as discrimination. The goal is to portray Christians who invoke their constitutional rights of freedom from state coercion as if they were calling for the right to mistreat people they dislike—a charge which is entirely false and one that makes use of the antics of a tiny minority to stereotype their behavior as the behavior of the whole group. In any other case, that tactic would be considered gross bigotry (for example, stereotypes like: all Muslims are terrorists, all blacks are felons, all Hispanics are illegal aliens).
The fact is, the Christian must do what is right before God—which is vastly different from the antics of the Westboro Baptists or suicide bombers—and what is right before God also means seeking the true good of our fellow human beings [†] even if we are harassed or persecuted for doing so. That is why we reject the charges against us. Our teachings and moral obligations are not based on the hatred of the sinner. If that were the case, we would have to hate ourselves as we believe we are all sinners in need of a Savior. People ma call us bigots, but that is nothing more than slander aimed at vilifying us for speaking against the popular vices of a society. Our Church absolutely forbids us from interpreting God’s commands as justifying mistreatment of the sinner [§].
So society has a choice to make. It can choose to try understanding the what and why of Church teaching and thus discover that the reason for our teaching is sound. Or it can choose to ignore the obligation to search for the truth and speak falsely against us. But if America should choose the latter option, she should consider this. The harassment of the Church and denial of religious freedom is ignoring the principles of the Bill of Rights. If society should decide that they are justified in ignoring one part as not being important, then they will have nothing to say if another group should use the same reasoning to suppress a different part of the Bill of Rights on the grounds that they don’t think it important.
I’ll leave you here with a section of dialogue by Dr. Peter Kreeft to consider:
‘Isa: But the main argument, the simplest argument, is just this: if no moral values are absolute, neither is tolerance. The absolutist can take tolerance much more seriously than the relativist. It’s absolutism, not relativism, that fosters tolerance. In fact, it’s relativism that fosters intolerance.
Libby: That’s ridiculous.
‘Isa: No it isn’t. Because … why not be intolerant? Only because it feels better to you? What happens tomorrow when it feels different? Why be tolerant? Only because it’s our society’s consensus? What happens tomorrow, when the consensus changes? You see? The relativist can’t appeal to a moral law as a wall, a dam against intolerance. But we need a dam because societies are fickle, like individuals. What else can deter a Germany—a humane and humanistic Germany in the twenties—from turning to an inhumane and inhuman Nazi philosophy in the thirties? What else can stop a now-tolerant America from some future intolerance?—against any group it decides to oppress? It was Blacks in the Southeast over slavery last century; it may be Hispanics in the Southwest over immigration next century. We’re intolerant to unwanted unborn babies today; we’ll start killing born ones tomorrow. Maybe eventually teenagers. They’re sometimes “wanted” even less than babies!
Libby: You’re getting more and more ridiculous.
‘Isa: Then answer the question: Why not? That’s the question. We persecuted homosexuals yesterday; today we persecute homophobes; maybe tomorrow we’ll go back to persecuting homosexuals again. Why not, if morals are only relative?
Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 98.
Christianos ad leones = latin for “The Christians to the Lions!"
[*] A common logical fallacy used here is the fallacy of relative privation, which claims that because your injustice is not as bad as another injustice, it is not injustice at all.
[†] The true good and the popular vices of a society being incompatible.
[§] At this point, someone will point out the punishments in past centuries as a “proof” against my claims. But that is to miss the point. In societies which had less developed forms of government, such practices were not distinct to one religion or culture. I don’t deny that some Churchmen in authority focussed too much on the civil punishments for sins that happened to be crimes as well, but you will never see the formal Church teaching state that being merciless is good.