Last summer the legalization of same-sex marriage set off an apocalyptic firestorm amongst conservative Christians. A cursory viewing of Facebook would have one convinced that the world as we know it was about to end. Similarly, in the last few weeks, Donald Trump becoming the heir-apparent presidential nominee of the Republican Party and the conflagration over transgender bathrooms have set off the apocalyptic firestorm once again. Lots of fear is being promulgated as if to suggest that modern civilization, as we know it, is coming to an end. What’s more, conservative Christians have even gone so far as to suggest that the legalization of same-sex marriage as well as transgender bathrooms will lead to persecution against them. Donald Trump is even prompting some Christians to give up on the Republican Party and take comfort in the reality that Jesus is Lord and in control. To that I say: thanks Donald, you dun good!
But, you know, I have to tell you that I find it interesting that this is where we Christians in America are going to stake our claim: gay marriage, Donald Trump and transgender bathrooms. I would’ve thought that the apocalyptic persecution would have involved such things as actually confessing the name of Jesus and witnessing to his Way, but I digress. Clearly, I don’t know the mind of God. After all, “natural law” is the reason we are so upset, even though Muslims (the very group we have been told to fear), conservative Jews, traditionalists of all stripes, and even some atheists can appeal to such a thing. After all, Donald Trump is unacceptable because he’s a narcissist and not a true Republican, even though he’s simply the product of the re-configuration of the Republican Party that began with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. Remember, though, that President Nixon lied to the American public, used the Vietnam War to his advantage and even used the Drug War as a ploy to undermine his political opposition. I know, that’s different, he was still for traditional American values. After all, cases of sexual abuse will occur more frequently in bathrooms even though they are usually committed by someone the victim knows like a family member or friend. Buy hey, I get it, it’s not right.
But here’s the sad reality: if homosexuality hadn’t become normalized and legalized, if Donald Trump hadn’t become the inevitable Republican nominee, if transgender bathrooms had never become an issue we wouldn’t give a damn about such things. Before the sexual revolution and all this “gay” talk we didn’t talk about homosexuality, quite frankly, I don’t even think we cared. Out of sight and out of mind. Our message was to repress it and to tell those “struggling” with it “to pray the gay away”. Things were better when we weren’t forced to acknowledge it. Better for us, not those gays. The same goes with Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Never mind the fact that he is but the ultimate result of the fear-mongering, the obstructionism and hyper-individualized free market loving Friedmanite Republicanism that we’ve seen consistently year after year. No one seemed to care when President Bush lied his way into war or when President Reagan lied about the Iran Contra Scandal or when, fairly recently, Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy began to see a resurgence. They were “pro-life” and that’s all that mattered (even though they increased our national defense spending considerably). Of course, like the gays it would be nice if the transgender people had just stayed in the West Village and the various “gay” neighborhoods across the country. Life was so much simpler when we could easily relegate them to a particular area and then forget about them. Now, we actually have to deal with the complexity of transgender issues which doesn’t help our dualistic worldview. Transgender people are so inconsiderate. Man, if you had just stayed quiet we would’ve been able to continue on with life as usual. Now we actually have to put in some effort figuring out how to respond to you and your problems.
The problem with all of this is that it really isn’t a matter of persecution as some would have us believe. Rather, a transference of power is happening, the status quo is changing. Those who have been legitimators of the status quo, like say, conservative Christians or traditionalists, are losing their place as such. While there have always been groups of Christians calling for social change in America from the Abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights’ movement to the Peace churches, church bodies such as the LCMS or the Southern Baptist Convention have often served as a legitimators of the prevailing social order. Good ‘ole CFW Walther, the father of the LCMS, had no problem with slavery. The LCMS has always given its blessing to the government and its wars, it was quite uncomfortable with pastors like Andrew Schulze who fought for Civil Rights and with its students protesting the Vietnam War. It resonated greatly with Nixon’s “Silent Majority” message valuing law and order and since then has been mostly conservative Republican. In the last 48 years, only 20 of them have seen a Democratic president. The epitome of this persecution/martyr complex was best embodied by President Harrison of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who claimed that he was glad to be ridiculed by the world after a Congressional hearing regarding the HHS mandate of the Affordable Healthcare Act. It was an odd claim coming from a guy who represents a church body of over 2 million members, makes well over six figures a year, and after testifying before Congress, immediately received tons of praise and acclaim in the months that followed (I actually witnessed a room full of some 300 people give him a standing ovation). I guess we could call this “First World Martyrdom Complex”.
To be sure, this has more to do with the loss of power, control and privilege. We’re not being persecuted, rather we’re losing our place of influence in the culture at large. I’m inclined to agree with Stanley Hauerwas that this is a good thing. We’d do well to remember that Christianity began not in the power centers but on the fringes of society. From Nazareth of Galilee and not Rome of the Roman Empire or, for that matter, Washington DC of the American Empire. We’d also do well to remember that it was the proponents of traditionalism and law and order who lawlessly put Jesus to death. Don’t forget that the religious leaders were afraid that they’d lose their entire nation and way of life if Jesus continued on doing what he was doing.