Tag Archives: David French

Just A Grain of Incense

In the early Church, pagan authorities would ask Christians to offer a grain on incense to the gods. Sometimes,as it Maccabees, believers were to merely pretend to do so. Many made the compromise but many didn’t and were martyred.

Many of my Christian friends worry about a coming persecution of believers. But what if the problem in front of us right now is not the persecution of Christians by the progressive Left but the moral compromise of Christians to conservative Right?

What brings this to mind is David French’s recent comments on conservative Christians who uncritically support President Trump:

Why does the larger public not see the compromise in the same way Republicans do, as a necessary, (often anguished) transactional embrace of the lesser of two evils? Well, because these same socially conservative Republicans spent years—decades, really—telling the American public that transactional politics was wrong, that character mattered. The same Southern Baptist Convention that will overwhelmingly vote for Trump next fall passed a resolution in 1998 on moral character of public officials that contained this statement, “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.” (Emphasis added.)

Even as someone who broadly shares their policy and cultural concerns, is hard to escape the conclusion many conservative Christians are only concerned about morality and character in politics when they see these as winning issue.

And winning means supporting a man whose character and life is contrary to the Gospel? Well, ifs it’s only a grain of incense, does it really matter?

Yes, yes it does. And so French say

You cannot unring that bell. You cannot maintain credibility with a skeptical culture and say, “Our bad. Politics is really just a transactional, antiseptic evaluation of competing policy proposals.” If you’re going to reinterpret a decisive, theological declaration, you need to show your work. And if you think that public skepticism doesn’t matter, that you can just win anyway, write laws, and change the moral character of a nation, an entire history of public resistance to morals legislation—from prohibition, to bans on contraception, adultery, sodomy, and obscenity—stands in your way.

Christians who support Trump to score a win in the culture wars might want to ask themselves how this is in their best long-term interest. As for the hope to avoid persecution, they might as well this squares with the witness of the martyrs?

Or as French concludes: “From the beginning, the American experiment has been inextricably linked to the virtue of a ‘moral and religious people.’ Embracing an immoral man to save morality is not a bargain that most of the American people understand—no matter how well it plays on talk radio or conservative Twitter. ”

Something to think about.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

We Can’t Handle Normal

Reflecting on the vitriol of contemporary American politics, David French writes that

Increasingly, however, we can’t handle “normal” without escalation, and the reason lies outside politics. We live in a time of normal political stakes and abnormal cultural change. We’re running a large-scale, uncontrolled cultural experiment on the minds and hearts of Americans, combining fracturing families, declining religiosity, economic transformation, and the immense emotional domination of social media into a toxic stew that is deeply (and sometimes mortally) wounding our fellow citizens.

Of all the cultural changes he singles of the “decline of religiosity” as

…an enormous factor in increasing the stakes of political conflict. After all, millions of our fellow citizens are filling the religion-size hole in their hearts with a renewed dedication to politics. The politicization of everything is the devil’s counterfeit version of “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whatever you do, advance social justice. Whatever you do, own the libs.

To borrow from Bob Dylan, you “Gotta to Serve Somebody.”

Sexual Orientation, Religious Faith and Personal Identity

David French at National Review Online draws our attention to what he calls the “mistaken belief” that while “sexual orientation is absolutely core to a person’s identity,” religious faith

…is something else entirely — so superficial that any given person is one Vox explainer or Bill Maher monologue away from enlightenment. Yet only a few millennia of human history demonstrates that religion is core to human identity that countless people have been willing to burn rather than recant their deepest beliefs.

He asks us to consider whether or not it isn’t “also bigoted to believe that a person is incapable of expressing disagreement with a person while also treating them with dignity and respect?”

French understands that “some Christians are bigots” who

…actually do hate others and harbor malice in their hearts. But actual Christian orthodoxy — including orthodox Christian sexual morality — is anything but hateful. It expresses the beauty and intent of creation, it honors both the marriage vow and the single life, and it creates a framework for having and raising children in loving, stable homes. It recognizes that each and every person must put a restraint on their desires, orienting their lives towards the true “chief end” of man — glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

After summarizing the Golden Rule, he asks

All across America LGBT Americans live and work alongside Christians who disagree with their actions and beliefs and also treat them with dignity and respect. It’s not hard to do when you love people and seek to imitate Christ. Should these Christians be muzzled while contrary views be given free rein? Or can we actually be tolerant and realize that disagreement is not mistreatment, and love is not hate?

For at least a small, vocal minority of Americans, the answer to French’s question is clear. Yes, those who disagree with the LGBT agenda most remain silent. Ideally, they should do so voluntarily but if not they should be compelled by social pressure. If need be, they should be compelled by the force of law.

But is it really true that sexual orientation or gender identity is absolutely central to a person’s identity while a person’s religion is merely a superficial add-on?

Thinking about French’s argument, I am reminded of conversations with people about why someone might reasonably (and charitably) refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. What French has helped me understand is that many of those who found such a refusal bigoted likely thought that religious faith was superficial–something that could be put on and taken off as easily as an overcoat with the changing of the weather.

But is religious identity really like this? For some people, no doubt. For others though, religious identity is the core of who they are.

I’ve had several conversations (most notably with psychologists or other mental health professionals) who assumed my Christian faith and/or my priestly vocation were roles I played. Sincerely held roles to be sure but roles nevertheless.

Conversations with these individuals quickly turn abusive as they seek to strip away my Christian “veneer” or my clerical “role.” Or, as one clinician put it “Who is the real you behind your religion?”

What’s noteworthy for me is that these clinicians would never dare assume–much less say–about sexual orientation or gender identity what they assume about me: That Christian faith or vocational commitment obscured my identity.

Just as there are bigoted Christians, there are Christians who use the Gospel as a way to hide from others. Likewise, there are clergy who hide behind their office. For the majority, however, religious faith and vocation are at least as important as sexual orientation or gender identity are for other men and women. It would be good of both sides remembered this.

The other question raised by French’s analysis is important for our life of civil engagement. If disagreement is tantamount to hatred, then LGBTQ advocates are themselves guilty of hating Christians who hold to that tradition’s historical moral teaching.

Such mutual accusations of hatred don’t foster civil discourse or peace between different segments of the population. What it does do is encourage strife as we see our life together increasingly as a zero sum game in which one side can only win to the degree that the other side loses.

Thoughts?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory