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Minority Lessons

 

Progressivism has little use for the Judeo-Christian tradition. It has even less use for Jews and Christians. Which is tragic in no small part because, in the twenty-first century, Christians are by far the world’s most persecuted religious group; though Jews are targeted disproportionately , there are too few Jews to rival the sheer number of anti-Christian attacks. Traditional adherents of these faiths need each other to combat the progressive onslaught against God, faith, and organized religion. American restorationism needs these two pillars of tradition to unite in the battle for America’s soul.

Genocidal anti-Christian campaigns are brewing in many countries; some have already become a grisly reality. Since mid-2011, Raymond Ibrahim, an American Copt with Egyptian ancestry, has written a monthly column for the Gatestone Institute detailing Muslim attacks against Christians. He’s compiled a long, depressing anthology. And while Muslims may be the greatest perpetrators of anti-Christian violence in the contemporary world, they’re hardly alone. China’s long-running mistreatment of Christians is well known.

Many western countries, to their eternal shame, steadfastly refuse to consider anti-Christian animus in applying their asylum laws. When the Trump administration attempted to give priority to Christians fleeing the intra-Muslim conflicts tearing apart the Middle East, progressives challenged it as an improper violation of the Establishment Clause, an impermissible “religious test” for entry into the United States, and blatantly discriminatory. In what can only be considered a blow against God and His faithful, progressives oppose any efforts to protect Christians.

The progressive refusal to acknowledge that many of the world’s Christians have been singled out for mistreatment solely because of their Christianity is not an anomaly. It stems from a deep disdain for religious institutions, particularly those that have played an oversized role in the development of Western Civilization and the United States. Christianity and any form of church-based organizations necessarily rises to the top of the progressive hate parade.

Progressive antipathy for organized religion, however, runs even deeper than that. It stems from a deep and important dispute about the proper role of government.

In establishing what would become the grand American tradition, the Bill of Rights enumerates “negative” rights that no government may legitimately infringe. Progressives prefer to speak of “positive” rights like housing, food, and health care that someone must provide; many of the progressive EU’s governing treaties reflect that preference. This philosophical disagreement about the nature of rights feeds into a very practical debate about the role of government.

A clear illustration of this difference reached the front pages during the government shutdown of January 2019. President Trump and newly-installed Speaker Pelosi presented their respective cases to the American public. To the restorationist President, government had no job more important than securing the country and the border — as a protector. To the progressive Speaker, the government had no job more important than funding and running the government — as a provider.

Now, you may well be wondering what a philosophical dispute about the role of government has to do with the church, particularly in a country like the U.S. that separates church from state. The answer lies squarely with that separation. It’s impossible to separate any two things without drawing the line between them — securing the border, so to speak. Only a clearly defined boundary between the appropriate province of government and the appropriate province a faith can enable a clean separation. The traditional American emphasis on avoiding government infringement leads to relatively clean lines. The progressive emphasis on an ever-expanding series of government-provided entitlements blurs the boundaries.

The threat to religious institutions, to the free exercise of religion, and to the American concept of God, is real and clear. The centrality of Christians to these domestic disputes has reinforced the progressive hatred of Christianity. Progressive indifference to the plight of Christians abroad reflects that enmity. While progressives don’t cheer genocide, the leading voices of progressivism reflect the conviction that Christians (and Jews) suffering discrimination and attack had it coming. While specific religious victims may have been innocent, their decision to associate themselves with culpable faiths makes it hard for progressives to see them sympathetically.

Look back for a moment at some of the recent domestic disputes pitting progressivism against Christianity. Obamacare created a duty requiring employers to assist employees facing unwanted pregnancies in a very specific way — the provision of abortifacients. Some Christians saw anything that assisted abortion as complicity in murder. They refused to comply with the new law on religious grounds.

That conflict was entirely unnecessary. What proved critical was the regulatory specificity. Had the law simply required employers to assist such employees, each employer would have retained the right to provide that assistance in a manner consistent with his or her own conscience — a burden that Christians would have had no trouble bearing. By specifying the precise nature of the assistance, Obamacare, a piece of progressive legislation, elevated the government’s conscience over that of the employer.

That was hardly the only recent instance of government institutions proclaiming the inherent and necessary supremacy of progressive morality. In fact, it wasn’t even the most blatant proclamation. Justice Kennedy’s reasoning in the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision was a radical assertion of progressive morality — not because of the ruling legalizing gay marriage throughout the country, but because of the reasoning and language Kennedy used to justify the conclusion.

According to Kennedy, marriage — civil marriage, mind you, not marriage in the eyes of God — “has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life.” A refusal to welcome gay couples into the institution of civil marriage deprives them of this dignity without the due process of law. Kennedy, of course, was notorious as the Court’s swing vote. Like most “centrist” Justices, Kennedy’s overall philosophy was marked by inconsistency. While hardly a progressive on all issues, Kennedy’s Obergefell decision broke new ground in asserting the moral and spiritual supremacy of progressivism. Unsurprisingly, the Court’s full-throated, hard-core, ideological progressives (Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor), and its more analytic, measured progressives (Justice Breyer and Kagan), all signed on.

It’s important to appreciate the damage inherent in Kennedy’s insistence upon reading an expansive embrace of progressive spirituality into the Constitution. His radical progressivism had nothing to do with gay marriage, or even gay rights. His radicalism occurred the moment he pushed civil marriage into the spiritual realm. While “marriage before God” may indeed form an important spiritual bond, “marriage before the law” is a legal institution. Nothing more, nothing less. Couples agreeing to wed guarantee that if either is capable of providing familial care, society at large will not have to do so. Civil marriage represents a societal decision to promote marriage by altering the default rights and responsibilities among members of a family. The policy arguments favoring non-traditional marriages and families, however, played no role in Kennedy’s reasoning.

Prior to Obergefell, everyone understood that couples who desired spiritual affirmation, or “dignity,” were free to marry before both God and the law. Much as their marriage before God didn’t dictate the legal treatment of that bond, so too their marriage before the law didn’t dictate its spiritual dimensions. Since Obergefell, that distinction is no longer clear.

Justice Thomas recoiled from Kennedy’s rejection of “the idea — captured in our Declaration of Independence — that human dignity is innate” in favor of the idea “that it comes from the government.” His dissent rang the appropriate alarm: “Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: one’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the state. Today’s decision…will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society.”

The Internet rewarded Thomas’s preference for the view enshrined in America’s foundational documents over that of contemporary progressivism with a torrent of vitriol. Yet his conclusion is unavoidable: The notion of government as provider was always antithetical to the American idea, and it remains so today. It is but one more way that progressivism is a fundamentally anti-American ideology.

When the government occupies both the physical and the spiritual realms, it will delegitimize anything that conflicts with government-approved morality. A fully progressive government empowered to provide for both the material and spiritual welfare of its citizens will thus go far beyond a conflict with the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. In fact, if not in name, such a government will function as an established religion.

The political alliance between devout Christians and observant Jews is long overdue. Because Jews have far more experience surviving as a minority amidst a hostile majority culture than anyone, there are many things they can teach America’s newly-minority Christians.

Christians around the world are dying because of their faith. Reports of new attacks arrive daily — from China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, and any place that falls under Islamist control even momentarily. Yet with a few notable exceptions, those massacres have not generated passionate outcries among America’s Christians. All recent times that sizable numbers of Jews were subject to such brutality — in the Soviet Union, in Ethiopia, and in Iran — the notoriously fractious American Jewish community united in revulsion; the State of Israel exerted every effort to save them. The difference between Jewish and Christian reactions to atrocities committed against their co-religionists is clear.

The Jewish sense of nationhood has guided much of Jewish politics throughout Jewish history. Though it has largely eroded among the non-traditional American Jewish mainstream — who view it as a parochial incursion upon their own universalism — it remains strong in the politics of traditional Jews and in the Jewish State of Israel. America’s Christiansneed to emulate it if they want their own politics to become effective.

There is, however, another reason for Christiansto ally with traditional Jews rather than with the mainstream American Jewish community. To the extent that progressives do challenge Jewish practice, observance, or ritual, those challenges tend to impinge most strongly on the most traditionally observant Jews. In early 2019, Karen Pence — wife of the Vice President — resumed a job she had held many years earlier, teaching at a Christianschool. The school’s code of conduct — based on deeply held matters of Christianfaith — offended progressive morality. The hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools exploded across progressive social media. What was it the twitterverse wanted to expose? The failure of Christianschools to adhere to progressive morality.

That high profile attack on religious education was nothing new. A warning shot at a far more troubling level had come from Albany several months earlier. New York State, which is deeply progressive at every level of government, is also home to many fine Catholic Schools and the nation’s largest collection of Yeshivas — traditional, religious Jewish academies. Working in conjunction with anti-traditional Jewish progressives, legislators in Albany proposed curricular changes for private schools designed specifically to corral religious education. It was a two-pronged attack. Elements of the curricular proposal required schools to teach progressive morality that conflicted with their faith-based traditional morality. At the same time, the sheer scope of new requirements would have impinged significantly on the time available for religious studies.

New York State completely devalued the emphases religious training places on critical thinking, classical languages, history, philosophy, and cultural studies — emphases far greater than those found in non-religious schools — while vastly inflating the importance of trendy progressive views concerning sexuality, diversity, climate, and morality. Even that pales in comparison with the situation in Europe, where many countries — including Germany — prohibit home schooling.

To take a more esoteric example, consider the 2016 campaign of animal rights activists that blocked the Chabad of Irvine’s traditional Kapparot — a ritual performed prior to Yom Kippur as part of the atonement process. Though there’s great flexibility in the performance of this ritual, many traditional Jews harken back to the old days; they transfer their sins to a chicken, slaughter the chicken per the laws of Kosher slaughter, and donate the chicken to feed the poor. Other Jewish communities forego the poultry and donate money to charity. Relatively few non-traditional Jews bother with the ritual at all.

Now, it’s always best to avoid reading too much into a temporary localized ban on one particular mode of a narrowly practiced ritual. Judicial error — or even judicial bias on the part of one specific judge — could explain it. Still, the underlying clash does highlight conflicting priorities. Progressives are more sympathetic to animal rights than they are to Jewish rights. For further evidence of this pecking order, look no further than Europe, where progressive animal rights activists have banned Kosher slaughter outright in a growing number of countries.

Could such a ban survive in America? Under the prevailing constitutional standard, “laws of general applicability” that impinge upon religious practice are permissible. A law restricting the modes of killing animals for meat would be a law of general applicability. If the permissible modes happened to exclude kosher slaughter, traditional Jews who wished to eat meat would simply be out of luck.

Other Jewish rituals face similar risks — and similar attacks. Ritual circumcision is a central tenet of both Judaism and Islam. The practice has raised few eyebrows in recent decades because its numerous health benefits has led to medical circumcision becoming widespread throughout the United States. Yet a progressive “intactivist” movement sees circumcision as a form of genital mutilation. In 2010, intactivists placed a referendum banning all circumcision on the San Francisco municipal ballot. Though a broad coalition of religious groups got California’s courts to remove it prior to Election Day, it did so without championing religious freedom; the courts ruled that it was inappropriate to modify the state’s Business and Professions Code by referendum.

The experience did, however, call to attention an area in which the intactivists have achieved considerable quiet success. Their “Medicaid defunding project” has eliminated Medicaid funds for circumcisions in certain jurisdictions, thereby reducing the number of poor newborn males being circumcised for medical (as opposed to ritual) reasons. Their objective in reducing Medicaid funding is clear: a practice must become uncommon before a ban is possible. Once again, a law of general applicability without a religious exemption would devastate the ability of faith communities to adhere to their faiths — in a manner consistent with the current interpretation of the Constitution.

Not surprisingly, the more traditionally observant the Jew, the more highly attuned to laws of general applicability likely to impede Jewish ritual and practice. That has allowed some devout Jewish traditionalists to begin viewing American Evangelical Christians(many of whom read scripture in a strongly philosemitic light) through new eyes, as potential allies in the war against progressivism rather than as the modern incarnation of the theologically anti-Jewish Medieval Church.

At the end of the day, America’s Christians must learn many of the lessons, and adopt many of the strategies, that have allowed Jewish communities to survive and to thrive in decidedly non-Jewish environments. The Orthodox Union got it exactly right in its press release following Obergefell:

“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals. We are grateful that we live in a democratic society, in which all religions are free to express their opinions about social issues and to advocate vigorously for those opinions…We [] recognize that no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic and we do not expect that secular law will always align with our viewpoint. Ultimately, decisions on social policy remain with the democratic process, and today the process has spoken and we accord the process and its result the utmost respect.”

There is no contradiction between believing that the State can determine who is married in the eyes of the law and that each denomination may determine who is married in the eyes of God. It’s a stark reminder that in any culture war, the libertarian live-and-let-live ethos benefits anyone playing defense. America’s Jews internalized that lesson long ago. America’s Christians now must do the same.

* This is a contributed article by American Restoration Institute

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