by Loren Seibold
I call your attention to a piece in the July-August issue of Atlantic magazine, by Jonathan Rauch, about Christians refusing business from people whom they consider to be sinning. He gives the example of Pack Leader Plus, a Christian-owned dog-walking service in St. Louis that refused to continue serving a customer's pets because the customer supports the legalization of marijuana.
They're not alone in closing doors to what Rauch calls "un-Christian custom." Another case (and one that has made it to the courts) has to do with wedding businesses that refuse to work for gay customers, on the theory that baking a cake for a gay wedding is in effect endorsing gay marriage.
Rauch identifies a useful polarity here, between Christian secession from culture and accomodation with it. He implies that secession is a relatively new current in American religion: "As far as I know, it never occcurred to Catholic bakers to tell remarrying customers to take their business elsewhere." He quotes conservative Ed Whelan that "Those of us growing up in the 1960's and 1970s grew up with an assimilationist ethic… [But] as the culture has become less hospitable to religious beliefs, there is a greater need to be more vigilant." Christians, Rauch surmises, are afraid that discriminatory religious convictions will become as unpopular as racism, and believers pushed out of jobs and contracts. So, ironically, some have reacted by refusing work from those with whom they disagree.
Have lines in the culture war hardened where religion is concerned? I give Rauch (who identifies himself as a gay atheist) credit for recognizing that religious people have the right to accomodation. "There is an absolutist streak among some secular civil-rights advocates. They think, justifiably, that discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated, but they are too quick to overlook the unique role religion plays in American life and the unique protections it enjoys under the First Amendment."
His argument is that Christian secession simply isn't a wise strategy for the church. It "puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred." He suggests that Christians ought to tap into their "missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed."
He adds, "This much I can guarantee: the First Church of Discrimination will find few adherents in 21st-century America." "They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment."
Is Rauch right or wrong? What do you think?