This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Christians walling themselves off

Miscellany: Items of interest from the broader church and world

In his article “The Great Secession” (The Atlantic, July/August), Jonathan Rauch relates a news story from St. Louis about a Christian-owned dog-walking business that refused to serve a customer who supported legalizing marijuana.

We’ve seen such discrimination in the name of religion often in the news. A Christian photographer refused to provide services for gay weddings.

Hobby Lobby and others refused to offer insurance that covers certain kinds of contraception. And in April, Mississippi passed legislation allowing businesses to claim a religious defense if sued for discrimination.

Religious liberty: Such actions are taken in the name of religious liberty, but they may have unintended consequences. By separating themselves from the secular world (or whatever term you want to use), these Christians are also cutting off their chances of engaging such people (customers, employees) about their faith.

This raises the question, Are Christians more afraid of being influenced by unbelievers than they are confident in their faith to influence them?

Rauch states up front that as a “homosexual atheist” he doesn’t expect religious conservatives to take his advice. But he offers it anyway. He writes, “When religion isolates itself from secular society, both sides lose, but religion loses more.”

With the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, many religious conservatives feel battered and want to be left alone. Rauch asked some people why they felt the need to hunker down.

One reason is “the fear that traditional religious views, especially about marriage, will soon be condemned as no better than racism, and that religious dissenters will be driven from respectable society, denied government contracts and passed over for jobs.”

He tells about an encounter he had after a talk he gave on free speech. A woman approached him and claimed that the school system where she works harasses and fires anyone who questions gay marriage.

“I wanted to point out that in most states it’s perfectly legal to fire people just for being gay,” Rauch writes, “whereas Christians enjoy robust federal and state antidiscrimination protections, but the look in her eyes was too fearful for convincing.”

Around the turn of the millennium there was some hope of a new partnership between our elected and religious leaders, but eventually trust eroded, then collapsed. “Now it’s the ‘war on religion’ versus the ‘war on women,’ and court dockets are full of religious liberty cases,” Rauch writes.

Decades ago, during the divorce revolution, writes Rauch, it likely never occurred to Catholic bakers to tell remarrying customers, “Your so-called second marriage is a lie, so take your business elsewhere.”

Line-drawing: Now we live in a time of drawing lines. Rauch acknowledges that “there is an absolutist streak among some secular civil-rights advocates” as well and that “they are too quick to overlook the unique role religion plays in American life and the unique protections it enjoys under the First Amendment.”

However, associating Christianity with a determination to discriminate “puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred,” he writes.

There is an alternative, Rauch points out, “a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world.”

He warns that “the First Church of Discrimination will find few adherents in 21st-century America,” according to polls. Social secession is “a step toward isolation” that is “bad for society but even worse for the religion.”

Instead Christians can act out of faith rather than fear.

Gordon Houser is associated editor of The Mennonite.

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