Christians Gumming up the Works - Liberal Resistance

Christians Gumming up the Works

William B. Turner

According to this article, notorious anti LGBT activist Matt Barber has created a new organization called the Christian Civil Rights Watch, in response to the designation of Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association, and the Family Research Council as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a long standing civil rights organization.

Anyone out there who wants to make the case that Christianity can be at all consistent with liberal/progressive political and policy goals needs to do something about this. It’s tired. These are the people who put the face on Christianity in U.S. politics today, and it’s ugly.

To state what should be obvious, designating an organization as a “hate group” in no way infringes on the rights of any of its members. That is an expression of an opinion that the staff at SPLC have every right to state. This is, of course, standard “conservative” cynicism about civil rights claims. They saw how effective civil rights protest has been in changing politics and policy in the United States for African Americans, women, LGBT persons, and disabled persons, and, being piggy, they want that for themselves, so they adopt the mantle of “civil rights” while missing the key point that civil rights protest, to be fully effective, has to respond to some genuine grievance.

African Americans were fighting racial segregation and the long, sorry history of racial discrimination in the United States more generally. Women were fighting all manner of discrimination on the basis of sex. LGBT persons were fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Disabled persons were fighting discrimination on the basis of disability.

Christians do not suffer from discrimination in the United States. They just think they should run the place and they’re petulant because they can’t. This is not a real policy or political issue. It’s a temper tantrum. To some extent, this particular phase of the war traces back to that wacky county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, claiming that to do so would violate her right to free religious belief and practice.

This was always a ridiculous claim. As the federal judge who threw her in jail pointed out, her name on the form implied no endorsement of any particular marriage, and issuing licenses to same sex couples in no way interfered with her ability to engage in any specifically religious activity, such as going to church or ministering to women at the local prison.

This is not how the issue got argued legally, but conceptually the problem with Davis’ argument is that she sought a position in a republic that explicitly refuses to impose any religious test on her to hold the office (that’s in the Constitution), but then she tried to impose her own, personal, religious test on the citizens who asked for the services that define the office.

This is entirely characteristic of how Christians tend to operate in the public sphere. They think they’re special and want special treatment.

Are there lots of lovely liberal and progressive Christians running around out there? There undoubtedly are. But Christianity is inherently conservative, and very much so. It has been the default, hegemonic ideology in the west for nearly 2,000 years. Whip out your bible and the conservatives will match you verse for verse. Slave owners used the bible to justify slavery. The vast majority of the non Jewish population of Germany were good Christians throughout the Nazi era. The impulse to use Jews as the primary scapegoat had really obvious, 1,800 year old precedent behind it by the time the Nazis took power. It was a no brainer. Christians had been doing that for centuries.

It is obvious that we could materially advance any liberal/progressive policy or political goal, likely to full fruition, easily in the United States if we could just eliminate all of the Christians. Of course, we cannot. A key tenet of western liberalism is the right to freedom of religious belief and practice. Kim Davis’ problem was not that she claimed a right she didn’t have. Her problem was that no one was actually infringing on that right. The people who stand in the way on LGBT civil rights, abortion rights, effective response to climate change, African American civil rights, education policy, foreign policy, all articulate their “conservative” positions more or less explicitly in terms of Christian belief.

This Christian Civil Rights Watch is only the most recent, very pernicious, manifestation of this problem with Christians gumming up our politics.