Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
“Have Christians Created a Harmful Atmosphere for Gays?” asked The New York Times’ opinion page, in the wake of Omar Mateen's deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people.
Mateen was a Muslim who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook and in calls to 911. After the massacre, political and religious leaders, including many Catholic bishops, rightly warned the public not to retaliate by scapegoating people of his faith.
But, instead, Christians were ambushed by allegations that they bore some responsibility for the deadliest shooting in the nation's history. And some LGBT activists and their media allies accused opponents of same-sex marriage who expressed outrage at the attack and called for prayers of being “hypocritical.”
Yet however shocking and even bizarre such claims may seem to many Christians, Mary Eberstadt explains why we should not be surprised by the latest evidence of a mounting witch hunt against U.S. Christians conducted by secular elites and their allies.
In her new book, It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, Eberstadt says that Catholic moral teaching, which bars contraception, premarital sex and homosexual relations, has become the chief target of a powerful secular orthodoxy that elevates sexual rights above all else. In a recent National Review column that echoed a key theme of her book, Eberstadt warned:
Secularists and churchgoers alike need to understand the inner logic of today’s animus against religious believers. If the fury directed at them and their precepts could be pressed into a single word, that word would not be theodicy.... It would not be Pelagianism, Arianism, or other religious casus belli of the past. In the contemporary Western world, that single word would be sex.
Religious freedom advocates have condemned a range of efforts to suppress religious speech and penalize or sideline those who openly adhere to Christian teachings. But drill into the allegations, says Eberstadt, and the source of the conflict is almost always an individual's adherence to biblical teachings on sex, and to marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The new intolerance is a wholly owned subsidiary of [the sexual] revolution. No revolution, no new intolerance.
As Eberstadt sees it, this new orthodoxy took root after the FDA approved the Pill in 1960. More than a half century later, our angry political debates on conscience protections for religious believers, and bathroom rights for men and women who don't identify with their biological sex, confirm that Christians are on the defensive and losing ground.
Though unexpected, the claim that faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage played a role in the Orlando attacks marks a stepped-up 21st-century witch hunt that scapegoats Christians for real and perceived problems in our society.
What can believers do challenge this campaign? Eberstadt has some ideas.
First, we need to begin with an understanding of the source (the sexual revolution) and the form of this new intolerance (a "neo-Puritan" scourge that sows an irrational fear of religious teachings that govern sexual ethics and marriage).
Second, we must press our fellow Americans to reject this intolerance in favor of “what Thomas Jefferson and other Founders developed as an antidote to Puritan destructiveness, namely the shared understanding that one's own liberty isn't safe until everyone else's is protected,” explains Eberstadt in her book.
This means that Christians, like other Americans, must “agree to disagree.”
And finally, the author looks to Salem for further inspiration on how we can call a halt to this 21st-century witch hunt, with its favored labels of “hate” and “bigot.”
The witch trials in Salem came to an end, in part, because the standards for evidence were raised, and the evidence once used to bring up charges against alleged witches was no longer admissible. Further, a “collective moral awakening” also helped to turn the tide.
“No longer did they reflexively see putative witches as dehumanized, cartoonish villains responsible for all manner of alleged transgressions.”
That said, Eberstadt doesn't think it will be easy to counter the witch-hunters who have found a cause they can believe in. Indeed, while partisan groups appear to have dialed down their efforts to blame Christians for the Orlando attacks, the broadside marks a bold move to test the waters—and they will be back soon, with other charges.