So, this is what passes for national news:
The answer’s obvious, of course. National news organizations are populated with people who loathe orthodox Christian teaching on sexual orientation and identity, and stories like this are simply advocacy disguised as reporting. They know news articles ratchet up pressure. They know members of the community respond to negative coverage.
And, sure enough, in the middle of the AP article linked above is this depressing detail:
Several parents say they were surprised and upset at Morffi’s firing, which they learned of in a letter from the school Thursday evening. About 20 parents went to the school Friday morning to demand an explanation.
Over the long term, this is the real threat to religious freedom. It’s not, ultimately, the government. It’s the combination of media and cultural pressure — of external and internal anger — that slowly but surely bends church institutions to its will. Talk to thoughtful pastors and religious leaders, even in ruby-red communities, and they’ll concur.
The media pressure is familiar. Reporters who gravitate to sex and identity beats are often activists in disguise, and the stories that interest them are the confrontations between tradition and sexual liberation. They admire lesbian Catholics. They’re drawn to the narrative of the reformer facing the entrenched hierarchy. They see themselves as “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”
Once the media pressure sets in, the next reality emerges. American churches and religious institutions are often laden with members who don’t truly share doctrinal beliefs. This is a particular problem in religious schools. They appreciate the good SAT scores, the safe environment, and the kind teachers. They love the service opportunities, the sense of community, and the small class sizes. They’re willing to tolerate chapel and Bible classes if it means a better childhood for their kids.
Until, that is, the going gets the least bit tough. Then, in spite of the fact that the school’s religious identity has been open and obvious from day one, they’ll claim to be shocked at the alleged intolerance.
Legal victories preserving our fundamental freedoms are ultimately meaningless if cultural pressures create a dreary intellectual conformity.
Suddenly, the school can face a threat to its very identity without a single government official lifting a finger. Most religious schools operate on small margins, so the loss of even a few families can plunge them into a financial crisis. Capitulate to the angry parents and the traditionalist families may leave. Stand firm in the face of media pressure and the progressive families may start to bail. It takes moral courage and deft diplomacy to emerge intact.
There is a persistent belief among church-goers that a person should be able to get all the benefits of Christian community without any of the doctrines that make religion unpalatable to modern moral fashion. That’s in essence the mission statement of Mainline Protestantism.
And it simply doesn’t work. The Christian community and Christian service that people love are ultimately inseparable from the entirety of the Christian faith that spawned them. Carve out the doctrines that conflict with modern morals and you gut the faith. When you gut the faith, you ultimately gut the church.
It makes sense then that mainline denominations aren’t thriving. They’re dying. Without the eternal truths of the Christian faith, the church becomes just another social club. Why sacrifice your time and money for the same wisdom you can hear at your leisure on NPR?
Here’s the interesting thing: Some of the casual Christians who’ve fled the unsatisfying Mainline are joining more traditionalist churches and schools without changing their beliefs. They don’t become more theologically orthodox, they just crave the benefits of the more orthodox communities. Once in their new religious home, they exert the same kind of pressure for cultural conformity that helped kill the churches they fled. It’s the religious analog of the well-known phenomenon of blue-state Americans leaving their high-tax, heavily-regulated states for red America and promptly working to make it more like the place they left.
Legal victories preserving our fundamental freedoms are ultimately meaningless if cultural pressures create a dreary intellectual conformity. You can win all the Supreme Court cases you want, but if the faithful don’t maintain the moral courage and strength of conviction to tack into the cultural headwinds, it will all be for naught.
I don’t know what will happen at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School. The Catholic Church won’t change its teaching in the face of this controversy, of course, and some institutions do in fact emerge from such tests stronger and more vital. But others fail. Others compromise. And with each compromise, the forces of conformity win, religious “freedom” is further circumscribed, and we learn once again that politics is far downstream from culture.
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— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.