A new cultural orthodoxy

How shall we handle it when the forces of modern tolerance finally shed their sheep’s clothing and begin baring their teeth?  In the last several months this question has moved from the realm of the theoretical to become intensely practical.  Let me explain…

Fifteen years ago, while Hollywood was actively casting a vision for the time when homosexuality was embraced as a fully normative part of life, as far as most of the rest of the world outside of Tinseltown went, sexual orientation was something people should keep to themselves.  The assumption was that a person was heterosexual, but if that wasn’t the case you didn’t really talk about it.  That’s simply the way the culture was and the fact is that a lot of gay people suffered a lot of silent (and not so silent) persecution because of it.  They knew they still weren’t really accepted into polite society and struggled along in silence with few resources available to meaningfully help ease the pain of this rejection. Indeed, Hollywood aside, being told you’re normal when everybody else seems to think you’re not doesn’t really help.

But, a strong cultural wind was beginning to blow.  The normalcy campaign waged mostly on the small screen, but in a number of other places as well, began to have the desired effect.  There was another worldview trend, though, whose billows had grown full enough to fill the cultural sails for many years to come.  This second trend was tolerance.  Not just any tolerance, though.  The liberal virtue of tolerance has been around for a long time.  Classically defined it is a willingness to respectfully engage with the views and opinions of another person all the while disagreeing with vigor and working to see them painted as wrong in the public mind.  May the best ideas win.  This new tolerance was related to the classical version only in that they bore the same name.  Now tolerance was defined not as a respectful engagement with a position you oppose, but rather a dropping of all opposition to that position.  In fact, any opposition to a belief or opinion different from your own rendered you intolerant–one of the gravest sins of our modern age.  And, while Hollywood created the narrative that allowed people to think differently about the issue of homosexuality, it was this new tolerance that…encouraged…them to follow through and act differently.

Today those cultural winds have become a full force gale.  Hollywood, the media, and all who follow on their cultural train including many politicians are convinced that the time for storytelling has ended.  It is now time for action.  This modern notion of tolerance has been set in place as the supreme silent law of the land (silent law being the unspoken, unwritten code that tends to govern behavior even and especially where actual laws do not exist).  No longer is it acceptable to think or act in a way that violates the new cultural orthodoxy.  The punishments for doing so are often swift and severe.  Things have progressed beyond even that, though.  Now, individuals who publicly embody the new normalcy are treated as national heroes, while those who make similarly public displays of their values and beliefs yet whose values and beliefs break from orthodoxy are treated with ridicule and disdain.

Some examples will perhaps help make my point.  Late last year an interview with Phil Robertson became public in which he expressed his beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.  The calls and petitions and protests for his firing and worse were immediate.  A&E quickly announced their shock and disapproval of his remarks and affirmed that he would be banned from future filming.  The family (and a large portion of the country) quickly came to Phil’s defense and A&E quietly backed down (you don’t kill your cash cow when it’s producing) much to the horror of the defenders of the new orthodoxy.

A few weeks ago the Supreme Court announced it would not take the case of the New Mexico photographer who had been fined for refusing to shoot a gay wedding ceremony (which was and is not even legal in the state) thus allowing to stand a decision which held that giving up closely held religious views that depart from this new orthodoxy is a price of citizenship in our great nation.

In March World Vision announced a hiring policy change to include the hiring of gay individuals in state-recognized marriages (an interesting choice of words if you think about it).  This traditionally evangelical organization’s embrace of the new orthodoxy was greeted with both shock and fanfare.  When they reversed course a few days later in large part because of the immense pressure to do so from their many evangelical supporters the accusations of homophobia and bullying couldn’t be flung fast enough or far enough.

Interestingly, shortly after this the now-former CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was forced from his position by the board when it became public knowledge that he gave a donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign.  Soon after this came calls in some circles for what amounted to a witch hunt to root out and drive out others who, like Brendan, had acted in accordance with their non-orthodox values.  For the record then, he was fired because of a non-work related action stemming from a personal belief that had absolutely no impact on his job performance.  Public acknowledgements of this obvious case of bullying were much slower in coming than after the World Vision reversal, reversal.

Last week in the NFL draft cultural commentators waited with baited breath as Michael Sam’s named was not called in draft selection after draft selection until at the tail end of the process the St. Louis Rams picked him up.  Cue the ticker tape.  The kiss shared with his boyfriend was played ad nauseam so that there was no question he was going to be the first, courageous, heroic, openly gay professional football player.  There was talk of a CNN reality show about the whole thing.  The festive occasion was marred, however, when upon watching the kiss, Don Jones, a Miami Dolphins player publicly tweeted his disgust at an act he considers morally abnormal.  He was promptly fined and sentenced to several weeks of what amount to re-education classes.  Now, you may or may not agree with his opinion and the way it was expressed, but that’s a rather draconian punishment for merely expressing an opinion, particularly one that has no bearing on his job performance, don’t you think?

Finally, last week the news also broke that HGTV was cancelling a new show before it even it the airwaves.  The reason?  A couple of gay rights groups wrote a letter to the network complaining that the Christian brothers, David and Jason Benham, hosting the show were racist and homophobic based on the comments one of them made–fully consistent with the faith they profess–at a prayer rally during the Democrat National Convention in Charlotte in 2012.  The irony here?  HGTV already knew about the comments and had originally decided to go with the show anyway.  In spite of a growing grassroots campaign of support, this obvious example of bullying was generally greeted by the media with silence.  Why?  Because the brothers had the gall to break with the new orthodoxy.  They got what was coming to them.  In case you’re keeping score, this situation unfolded exactly opposite of the Phil Robertson-A&E story.  We have seen a full 180 degree turn in the space of six months.

So again, how shall we handle it when the forces of modern tolerance finally shed their sheep’s clothing and begin baring their teeth?  In the last six months alone it’s become pretty clear that the wool is off and the teeth are out.  The way forward for Christians who consider the teachings of guys like Paul on homosexuality to mean what they say?  My suggestion would be a tenacious hold on the truth combined with a radical application of grace; a generous dose of wisdom paired with a liberal scoop of courage.  We live in a post-Christian world.  It’s not going to like us or our positions on social issues.  Our job, however, is still to proclaim the Gospel with winsome boldness and to be ready with a loving embrace when the wheels fall off the wagon.  Let us move forward with all the wisdom of a serpent and all the innocence of a dove.

Jonathan Waits

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Jonathan is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Church Road, VA. He's the husband of one beautiful woman and the father of three active boys. A graduate of Denver Seminary, he loves connecting the dots between the Christian worldview and culture.

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