defending conscience

Defending Conscience from the Rhetoric of Discrimination – Part 2

on July 15, 2020

An earlier article examined twentieth century decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court that read a right to sexual choice into the Constitution, despite a complete absence of any textual support. This has enabled enemies of traditional sexual morality to establish antidiscrimination categories based on sexual choices and self-definition. It results in requirements that Christians and other adherents of traditional sexual morality be complicit in sexual sin, even in the celebration of it as a good. This article will explore how Christians can respond to the wider world in a Biblical and principled way.

The answer, as already indicated in the first article, is that we must discriminate against personal behavior on the basis of conscience. It is obviously wrong to take an action believed to be evil. And as this writer has repeatedly argued, the party required to take action against conscience is the party imposed on, not the party demanding action. To require the taking of an action a person believes evil is obviously in itself a gross evil.

Further, everyone must discriminate against some behaviors. To hold personal behavior free and equal would be anarchy. To single out certain behaviors as immune from discrimination, as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws do, avoids this, but it can only be done on the basis of sensibility, not freedom or equality. To hold personal behavior immune from discrimination also violates Martin Luther King’s famous maxim that people should be judged by their character (which is shown in their behavior), not by their skin.

In denying that sexual behavior can be an antidiscrimination category in any principled way, one is always confronted with an analogy to racial discrimination. But there is no good analogy. In the first place, there is no plausible appeal to likely religious authority (the Bible, the Talmud, or the Koran) for racial discrimination in supplying goods and services, housing, or employment. On the other hand the basis for discrimination against non-marital intercourse is strong. Beyond that, race is an immutable characteristic, which can be treated as equal even if extremists maintain that racial equality is not the truth. But racial differences are mere varieties of the human species, whereas sexual differences are profound, existing throughout the human species, and indeed throughout nature. Biological sex can be treated as equal, even if it is in fact not equal in observed behavior and inclination. But to prohibit discrimination against sexual behavior and inclination, and now the self-defined sex introduced by transgenderism, amounts to giving a right to mandatory acceptance (which is the goal of civil rights legislation) to subjective states of mind.

Christians must emphasize that objection to complicity in homosexual behavior or transgenderism is not a matter of taste, but of obedience to God. We hold that conscience ought to be determined by the written word of God, which clearly forbids complicity in sin. As I have cited in earlier articles, the natural law proponent Christopher Tollifsen has argued that while the state (presumably a religiously neutral state) may have to forbid a morally required action (although it should make every effort to avoid this), it should never require a morally forbidden action.

And so appeal to conscience is what traditional religious believers must rely on as far as engaging a hostile or skeptical public. Most people understand that it is obviously wrong to take an action believed to be wrong. It is also in agreement with the Bible, which commands that we follow conscience. Nor should we fail to confess that conscience should be determined first by God’s commands in Scripture; we should in fact highlight it to the glory of God.

As is now more commonly noted, the concept of human rights is being debased by extending antidiscrimination law to include more and more categories. Including more categories makes the debasement seem like an extension of freedom, but these categories do not address rights that everyone has (such as the freedom of religion, speech and assembly), but the interests of certain groups (e.g. women, children, the homosexually inclined, the handicapped). They are in fact policy prescriptions masquerading as rights. Every such extension of civil rights law takes away the right of private individuals and organizations to make their own decisions, substituting the government’s judgment for private judgment.

A good example rhetoric claiming civil rights for sinful behavior in recent weeks was advanced by the Center for America Progress. It attempts to claim that various groups deemed oppressed (particularly LGBT identifying persons) are being denied ordinary access to a wide area of life. In fact they are only being denied complicity in religiously forbidden behavior. It is this complicity that LGBT liberation demands in a wide area of life, on pain of causing (emotional rather than material) “harm.” But the right not to be offended is really a right to tyranny. In principle, one could have anything by claiming mental anguish. People would immediately see a requirement to eat pork as a violation of the religious freedom of orthodox Jews and Muslims. Requiring complicity in religiously forbidden sexual behavior is no different.

CAP appears to claim that religious organizations cannot receive federal funding if they require religious standards of their employees. But if they don’t, they are not in fact religious organizations. A particularly egregious claim is that the Trump Administration is seeking to deny transgender identifying persons “safe shelter.” What this in fact means is that shelters for homeless and abused women should be required to allow biological men near the women they serve. It simply cannot be true that religious freedom means “the right to live and worship freely,” but not a right to discriminate. People cannot live freely unless they can discriminate against religiously forbidden behavior.

Although the antidiscrimination threat to religious liberty is widespread in American life, there is a sense in which religious organizations are more vulnerable, in that American law has focused on individual rather than corporate religious freedom. But religious organizations must function on a religious basis, otherwise they are not religious. Individual religious believers are being denied the exercise of their religion if they cannot have organizations functioning in conformity with their religious precepts. In a regime of religious freedom, no one has to be a part of them. Free exercise should mean they can restrict membership to the adherents of their faith and/or require a morality code in line with their faith, and provide services on the basis of their religious precepts. No one has to accept their services, and if there is no other provider, then the services that a religious organization does supply are better than having no services at all.

Reasoned argument can go only so far in engaging rhetoric which feeds off resentment against old American society, the common sexual ethic of humanity that emphasized purity, and traditional religious authorities, and which does so with the help of a false analogy to race relations. But the same Biblical passage that commands Christians to revere Christ as Lord, and so not be complicit in sin according to his commandment, also instructs us to vindicate the faith that we hold in a rational, gentle, and respectful way. Although it may not happen quickly, perhaps not in our lifetimes, it is reasonable to believe that over time, a sincere and sustained defense of conscience will overcome the rhetoric of discrimination.

  1. Comment by Timothy on July 15, 2020 at 5:46 am

    “First, let’s kill all the lawyers,” written by Shakespeare in Henry V1.

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