I keep thinking about Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. I keep thinking about why she did what she did. She had options. She could have quit her job. As William McGurn pointed out in his Wall Street Journal column, Sir Thomas More did just that over a marriage case that was a pretty big deal in 16th-century England.
Davis could have asked to be reassigned to other duties and made it clear to the world that she was not trying to stop gay marriages from happening. She just couldn’t in good conscience have her name permanently affixed to a gay-marriage certificate.
I keep wondering about U.S. District Judge David Bunning. I keep thinking about why he chose jail as punishment for Kim Davis, when he too had other options. I don’t remember anyone going to jail back in 2004 in San Francisco when Mayor Gavin Newsom directed city clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At that time, gay marriage was prohibited in California.
And I keep thinking about Jack Phillips, the Christian man who owned the Colorado bake shop that made the news back in August. I am a relatively new Christian, and I wonder what I would have done if I had owned that shop. But I know Phillips had options. He could have served that cake at the wedding celebration without endorsing the gay union itself. After all, he offered to sell other products to the gay couple, and that too could be viewed as an endorsement of gay marriage. I
keep thinking about the gay couple in that story, Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The two had been legally married in Massachusetts and planned to celebrate their union in Colorado. I keep wondering how it was that they came to choose Jack Phillips’s shop, and why they chose to file a complaint against him.
Craig and Mullins had options, too. Upon learning that Jack Phillips was uncomfortable with the idea of participating in a gay-wedding celebration, they could have moved on. Are we to believe there weren’t other shops where they could have bought a wedding cake in a place as progressive as Colorado? The gay couple instead hired a lawyer to try to compel the baker to violate his religious conscience.
ADVERTISING “I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
There is also, day by day in America, a growing tolerance of intolerance. A growing sense that to live in America means never having to be offended. Never having to rise above what you believe, and treat people with whom you disagree with decency — and even stand up for them.
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” said Voltaire.
Today, the predominant sentiment is quite the opposite of Voltaire’s. It’s blood sport now, the way Americans attack each other for simply disagreeing.
Paula Deen’s losing her TV show and suffering a great deal of opprobrium for words she had used decades ago was tragic. For the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, to get forced out of Mozilla was disgraceful, too. No one accused him of even a trace of discrimination. He was punished for his private beliefs regarding gay marriage, expressed through a private donation.
In the very same year, in his sitdown with Pastor Rick Warren during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama expressed the very same opinion as Eich did concerning gay marriage. Obama got elected. It was President Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in in the 1990s. No one tried to punish those men.
Liberal intolerance is nearly complete in colleges across America. No one has addressed the issue better than Michael Bloomberg did last year at Harvard’s commencement. He pointed out that during the 2012 presidential race, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. “Ninety-six percent,” he said. “There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.”
He added this: “When tenure was created, it mostly protected liberals whose ideas ran up against conservative norms. Today, if tenure is going to continue to exist, it must also protect conservatives whose ideas run up against liberal norms.”
Bloomberg was right. But it isn’t just liberals who are guilty of intolerance. Back in 2001, Bill Maher made a comment about the hijackers of the 9/11 planes that was taken out of context by conservatives, who saw to it that Maher’s ABC Show, Politically Incorrect, was canceled for being . . . politically incorrect.
When the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, criticized the Iraq War just before the invasion began, conservatives called for a boycott of the group’s records and concerts. This despite the fact that our men in uniform were fighting for our right to express our opinions about matters like war and peace.
Back in 2002, Home Depot — a great American company founded by one of America’s great defenders of free enterprise, Bernie Marcus — was attacked by Christian groups for its decision to extend health benefits to the partners of gay employees. There were calls to boycott the company. Petitions were gathered. The goal of all the activity was simple: punish Home Depot for a difference of opinion.
When the boycotts were being pushed, I remember telling my friends — particularly my Christian friends — that choosing not to shop at Home Depot was their prerogative. But deliberately rallying support to harm Home Depot was another matter.
I took the extra step of going to my local Home Depot and purchasing some home supplies I didn’t need. I did so because it is fundamentally un-American to seek to deprive people of their livelihood for not believing what you believe. It certainly isn’t a great way to recruit new Christians, I told my Christian friends. I wasn’t one at the time.
This May, there was a story in the national news about several hundred people protesting in front of a mosque in Arizona, holding signs that read “Stop Islam.” According to the Washington Post, Jon Ritzheimer, the protest organizer, called it a sign of resistance against what he saw as the tyranny of Islam. “I would love to see more of these events pop up in other states,” Ritzheimer told the Post. “I want fellow patriots standing right here next to me.”
The same kind of story unfolded in Murfreesboro, Tenn., back in 2009. The town’s Muslim population had outgrown their mosque and community center, so they purchased 15 acres of land for a new complex, which was to include such ominous features as a school, a gym, and a swimming pool.
From the beginning, the plan split the Tennessee town of 108,000 apart. Opponents protested, dredging up every imaginable objection, from zoning concerns to worries about Islamic radicalization.
A fire at the construction site, which was later ruled to be arson, destroyed an earth mover and several other vehicles. A sign announcing the new center was vandalized. The new message said it all: “Not welcome.”
Some residents went so far as to file a lawsuit to block the mosque from getting a permit. A local judge actually stopped the permitting process entirely. It took a federal judge to order construction to commence.
Members of the Muslim community in Murfreesboro, some of whom had lived in the area for 30 years, were shocked.
As I read those stories, I wondered what might have happened if some local Christian leaders had shown up and started a counter-protest. There were over 100 churches in town at the time, but only one mosque. What a show of support for the idea of religious tolerance that would have been.
And what, I wondered, might have happened if Franklin Graham or Rick Warren had hopped on a plane and flown in to join that counter-protest? What would that have meant to the Muslims in that town?
To be fair, Warren’s Saddleback Church in southern California took some real heat back in 2012, when its outreach efforts with Muslims sparked a national uproar among Evangelical Christians, with some accusing the pastor of betraying core Christian principles.
A Christian showing of tolerance and love in those towns in Arizona and Tennessee could have changed everything. As it did in Charleston, S.C., just days after the tragic shooting of African-American churchgoers by a white gunman. Black and white Southerners praying together and walking hand in hand — putting aside cultural and political differences — was the living embodiment of Christ’s love and grace.
The most important political issue of our time — the one that dwarfs all others — is the degree to which the state intrudes into our lives. Muslims are guilty of the same double standard — and many have even thinner skin. When someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her very real story about her experience as a Muslim, or when commentators speak their mind about the nature of radical Islam, the very same Muslims who demand tolerance label those critics bigots. So sensitive are some Muslims that President Obama refuses to use the word Islam when talking about the Muslims who commit atrocities in Allah’s name.
The Council on American–Islamic Relations is particularly egregious, hauling out words like Islamaphobe indiscriminately to silence discussion.
But it’s not just religious groups, Christian or Muslim, that are guilty of this sort of behavior. The liberal Southern Poverty Law Center — which bills itself as “fighting hate” and “teaching tolerance” — may be the very worst abuser of smear campaigns aimed at silencing and punishing its ideological opponents. It has an official “Extremists” page that lists the brilliant libertarian thinker Charles Murray alongside white supremacists. It is a disgrace, and the SPLC knows it. Just as CAIR knows it, too.
Our most important founding fathers paved the way on the matter of mutual tolerance. In his letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., George Washington, an Episcopalian, reassured those people, who had fled religious tyranny in Europe, that life in our new nation would be better.
Quoting the Old Testament, Washington wrote, “Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
He wasn’t finished. “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
Washington understood the rancor that divided Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile — and knew it could undermine the American experiment.
So too did Thomas Jefferson, who once noted that “no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.”
Using the force of law to compel people to violate their conscience was tragic when this country forced gay people to live their lives secretly, coercing them to pretend they were something they were not. But compelling Christians to violate their conscience, or face fines or imprisonment, is equally tragic.
Which leads me back to the question I started with. What would I have done if I’d been that Christian baker? The answer would have been easy for me. I would have baked that cake and served it at the couple’s wedding. And wished them luck.
I would have wanted to know them, and let them know me. And let them know what Christ’s love has done for me. And also tell them that the most important political issue of our time — the one that dwarfs all others — is the degree to which the state intrudes into our lives. Will we go the way of Europe, or will we continue to be a nation that values freedom of speech and conscience, and the freedom to live your life as you please so long as you do no harm to others?
Winning that argument is the best way to protect all of us, Christians and non-Christians, gay people and straight people, alike.