Many leaders of the Christian Right, from megachurch pastors like Rick Warren to the top prelates in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have repeatedly threatened civil disobedience (and worse) over marriage equality. If they follow through on their claims, a summer of “martyrdom” may be at hand if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage this term.
The prison industrial complex ought to be thrilled by the prospect of the mass incarceration of Christian Right leaders willing to be martyred for their faith. Prison construction will be booming when the tyrannical Obama regime throws all those opponents of same-sex marriage in the hoosegow.
This is, of course, parody. But it is also the logical conclusion of the rhetoric and the beliefs of many on the Christian Right.
It is easy to mock those who talk big but don’t deliver. But it is harder to accept the idea that archaic notions of “Christendom” animate the thinking of present day religious and political leaders. But just because it is harder to accept does not make it any less true.
As civil rights movements advance and succeed, inevitably there is backlash. What form it will take is hard to predict, even though hundreds of Christian Right leaders have repeatedly stated that a pro-marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court is unacceptable. What is less certain is what they actually intend to do about it. Thinkers and leaders of the Christian Right are considering their options, from varying degrees of accommodation and acceptance, to massive resistance and revolution.
Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the prominent Christian Right leaders who signed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration promised mass civil disobedience if they did not get their way on marriage, abortion and their redefined notion of religious liberty. The signers included top conservative evangelical leaders as well as fifty Catholic prelates. These included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and such evangelicals as Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears of the Alliance Defending Freedom, and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
I recently reported here that the fifty Catholic and evangelical signers of a brand new 2015 anti-marriage equality manifesto are drawing a further line in the sand. Unlike with the Manhattan Declaration, the signers of “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” are less specific about “whatever courses of action” may be “deemed necessary.” But they are no less dire in their warning that marriage equality may lead to the destruction of Christendom and the freedoms enjoyed in Western Civilization.
“If the truth about marriage can be displaced by social and political pressure operating through the law,” they declare, “other truths can be set aside as well.” Marriage equality may lead “to the coercion and persecution of those who refuse to acknowledge the state’s redefinition of marriage… ”. Their speech is already being “policed” they say, and their “dissent” is being “assiduously suppressed.”
The situation is “difficult and dangerous” they declare. “The same exaltation of false freedom used to justify abortion… is now at work in the revolution of same-sex marriage.”
Variants of this notion of “false freedom” permeate the manifesto. Acceptance of marriage equality is the result, they claim, of a “deceptive pseudo-freedom that degrades our humanity. Genuine freedom,” they conclude, “is found in obedience to God’s order.”
The notion that freedom is obedience to their particular notion of God’s order is not only a howler, but reveals their theocratic world view and sheds light on their preposterous claim that Christianity is “unanimous” with regard to marriage. Christian denominations, notably United Church of Christ, Alliance of Baptists, and increasingly others (not to mention other religious traditions) recognize and celebrate same-sex marriages all the time.
The conservative Catholics and evangelicals behind this latest and similar manifesto do not speak for all of Christianity—and much to their consternation; they also do not speak for all citizens in our democratic, pluralist society.
Whether or not any of the leaders of the Cristian Right or of their followers actually engage in civil disobedience and/or other acts of resistance, what is being created is a volatile, fear-driven political climate.