The fascists and other totalitarians of the twentieth century didn’t treat opponents as wrong but as dangerous. Thus, they felt they did not need to be debated but eradicated. Such a mindset is how you rack up a body count in the tens of millions.
Where was the church during the reigns of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Pol Pot? In his powerful little book How Do You Kill 11 Million People?: Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think, Andy Andrews tells the story of a church which sat next to a set of railroad tracks. When a train packed with Jews. gypsies and fellow Christians like Bonhoeffer passed by, the church would sing their hymns louder to avoid hearing the cries of those speeding toward their deaths. The church was silent as first the culture filled with true intolerance and continued in silence as hate filled leaders fed off the culture to rise to power.
The dust had barely settled over the ousting of the Mozilla CEO for making a $1000 donation to the defenders of traditional marriage in California when HGTV announced they were canceling a TV show because the hosts are pro-life and support continuing to define marriage as between one man and one woman. While conservative pundits and institutions appropriate raised red flags online, the response from the church has largely been “yaaaaaawn.”
Why do I bring up totalitarianism and current controversies over marriage? Do I think proponents of so-called “same-sex marriage” are Nazis or Stalinists? After all, the latter persecuted the former. No, please note I don’t think the current gay rights movement is totalitarian but they do share one thing in common–they believe they are fully justified in silencing and marginalizing their opponents.
There is a movement led by the secular left to persuade the culture at large that the views of social conservatives need not be respected. I had professors at Cornell Law who stated that to disagree with their progressive social views was “hate speech” motivated by bigotry or superstition (i.e.. religion), which contributed nothing to the marketplace of ideas and therefore should not be protected by the Constitution.
The problem with this argument (aside from the fact that this nation’s founders would find it bizarre) is that historically it has led to not just the loss of religious freedom but to freedom of speech and then to the loss freedom of assembly and on and on and on. I hear Christians all the time complain that when people like me fight for First Amendment rights that we are distorting Christianity by creating a culture of entitlement. But this objection misses the bigger point–fighting for the First Amendment rights of Christians historically protects the freedom of speech for all and for freedoms well beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. We are called to love our neighbor as well as celebrate when “peace” is given to the church (Acts 9:31) so that we may freely share the Gospel.
Yet, the church remains largely ambivalent. This is despite the fact that all followers of Jesus are called to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). It is important to remember that in the first century, salt was used as a preservative to prevent food from decaying. The church has largely abandoned politics, Hollywood and academia and, as a result, the decay is staggering.
Conservative Christianity began abandoning the public square following the setbacks of the fundamentalist-modernist divide in the early twentieth century. Brilliant evangelicals like the late great Carl F.H. Henry encouraged the church to once again engage the culture with intellectual vigor. Yet, too many failed to heed that call and continue to act as if the faith is all about individual salvation and praying that we will soon be raptured out of this trailer park. But in her brilliant bookTotal Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey writes that Christians need to vigorously enter the public square to demonstrate that we are not proposing subjective values against facts but true objective knowledge. I agree.
Christians need to speak up, especially Christian theologians and apologists who are trained to do so. We need to educate the public on why disagreement is not hate and why defending our rights blesses everyone. We need to remind the church that we are called to engage the culture by our Lord and that silence is not engagement. We must seek the peace and prosperity of the nation (Jer. 29:7) and that means teaching people to learn to agree to disagree. For in such a culture where all beliefs are welcome into a dialogue, people may grow frustrated and angry but they don’t unduly suffer or die for their world view. Such an approach protects all people and that is part of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.