A Culture Of Accommodation: Mainstreaming Same-Sex Relationships And Dangers To Religious Liberty

Jan 2nd, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The late Chuck Colson frequently would proclaim, “What was once unthinkable, becomes debatable and then gradually becomes acceptable.”  I have always appreciated this declaration as a succinct summary of cultural accommodation.  Cultural developments that only a few years ago were unimaginable are now mainstreamed as normal and legitimate in American civilization.  Two recent developments illustrate this process of cultural accommodation.  One is profoundly concerning to me; the other is a sign of things to come.

  • First, the Hallmark network maintains three cable television stations and, during the holiday season, bombards us with Christmas movies 24/7 for over two months.  The year 2020 was no exception.  But the 2020 Christmas season marked a significant tipping point for Hallmark: Celebrating same-sex love and marriage.  For Hallmark this programming change comes nearly a year after the #BoycottHallmarkChannel movement exploded over the network’s decision to yank ads for a wedding website showing same-sex couples kissing. That decision was later reversed. This Christmas, the Hallmark movie, “The Christmas House” depicts a gay marriage of two men, who openly kiss and show affection and who are awaiting the adoption of their first child.  Hallmark programming chief Michelle Vicary declared,  “What we wanted to do and what we’ve endeavored to do this year, in particular, is to really create a more diverse and inclusive holiday offering for all of our viewers and so everyone could see themselves and relate to themselves at the holiday season.”  One actor relayed, “Everyone on the crew was crying, and there were some members of the crew that were gay that came up to us and said, ‘Thank you for doing this. You have no idea what this means for us to be a part of the crew that works on the Hallmark movies constantly, and to have this happen, and to get to be a part of it, makes us feel so honored and special that we get to be here.'”   Several other Hallmark Christmas movies this season subtly and positively depict same-sex relationships.  Similarly, the Lifetime network is airing Christmas movies with gay married couples.  One Lifetime actor proclaimed, “It’s our hope that this opens the door for more representation, particularly for queer people of color and trans and gender non-binary people,” he says. “I feel like that’s hopefully the next step in the terms of representation that we’re seeing in holiday movies.”  Christmas movies used to be entertainment vehicles for nostalgia and feel-good escapes that celebrated the sentiments associated with this important season.  What was most common on major network entertainment has now invaded cable networks historically known for wholesome programming.  Ideological programming  of a moral revolution is replacing wholesome Christmas celebrations.
  • Second, on Thanksgiving eve, the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, arising from restrictions New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed by executive order in October that sharply limited attendance at houses of worship in zones designated as pandemic hot spots.  [In so-called orange zones, attendance was capped at 25 people; in red zones at 10.]  The Catholic diocese, along with Agudath Israel of America, which represents Orthodox Jews, sued, arguing that the restrictions amounted to religious discrimination.  As columnist Bret Stephens detailed, “The crux of the matter was that businesses in orange and red zones, ranging from liquor stores to bike shops to acupuncturists, were subject to no such restrictions because the governor had deemed them ‘essential.’”  The Court’s order is a temporary injunction pending review on the merits by lower courts and perhaps eventually the Supreme Court.  The Court’s decision demonstrates how tenuous religious liberty issues are in the United States right now.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Justice Gorsuch argued, “Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.”  Stephens concluded that “there are no second-class rights—and the right to the free exercise of religion is every bit as important to the Constitution as the right to assemble peaceably, petition government for redress and speak and publish freely.  That goes in circumstances both ordinary and extraordinary . . . There is a perennial danger that rights denied or abridged during one emergency for one class of people will ultimately be denied during another emergency for another class.”  Allow me to cite relevant parts of the opinion, for they show how seriously the Court takes this issue.
  1. The majority opinion stated, “Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church and the synagogue . . . It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000 seat church—or a 400 seat synagogue—would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the state allows.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, pointed out, “At the same time, the Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers ‘essential.’ And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians.”
  2. Justice Gorsuch also declared, “Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis. At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available.” Indeed, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued in his concurring opinion, “I do not doubt the State’s authority to impose tailored restrictions—even very strict restrictions—on attendance at religious services and secular gatherings alike. But the New York restrictions on houses of worship are not tailored to the circumstances given the First Amendment interests at stake.”

For now, this decision was a welcome one, but there are warning lights ahead on this critical issue of religious liberty.  Religious liberty issues are coinciding with the moral revolution going on right now in American civilization.  The decision by Hallmark discussed in the first part of this Perspective is illustrative of this moral revolution.  On a broader scale, theologian Albert Mohler’s observations are worth consideration:

  • “The left has developed greater affections for the moral revolution—especially the LGBTQ movement—which eclipses their commitment to religious freedom. The affection for that liberty must give way to the new and greater affections for the moral revolution.  From a Christian perspective, we emphatically declare that government ought not to be vested with the right to determine whether any religion is or is not essential. Government has no responsibility, no power, to decide what congregation is or isn’t necessary for the public. Government should recognize its incompetence to make decisions on religious issues—hence the Constitutional protections of the First Amendment that render government powerless over issues of religion.”
  • “Yet, as is so often the case, when enumerated rights collide with newly invented rights, they are never equal—in the view of the Left, the former must give way to the latter. We have seen this with abortion and LGBTQ issues. We have seen those on the left condemn claims of religious freedom as nothing more than attempts to hide bigotry and racism. They are caricaturing the nation’s first freedom as a veil for discrimination—a veil that needs to be destroyed.”
  • “The erosion of liberal support for the liberties and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution comes down to this: the moral revolution. This revolution encompasses a constellation of issues—everything from abortion to LGBTQ issues, to euthanasia, to personal autonomy—all of which requires the imposition of state power. If the entire moral fabric of a society is to be undone, the state will have to get involved. If you are going to drive a revolution in the culture, you need the state to coerce.”
  • “They are the rights celebrated on the Hallmark channel or trumpeted on college campuses. Freedom of speech and religious liberty must give way to these newly invented rights that are now beholden by the cultural left. The left now worships at the altar of a ‘greater’ set of rights that are fundamentally antithetical to the American Constitutional order.”

The Supreme Court sent a very clear signal that it is not, at this moment, on board with the moral revolution: It is not willing to surrender the Bill of Rights and the enumerated freedoms established in the Constitution for the newly invented liberties evidenced in this widespread cultural accommodation.  For that reason, we should be very thankful.

See Erin Jensen, “Hallmark and Lifetime finally show LGBTQ love in leading roles: ‘It fits in’”

USA TODAY (27 October 2020); Bret Stephens in the New York Times (1 December 2020); Wall Street Journal editorial (27 November 2020); R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “What a Difference One Justice Makes: The Supreme Court Finally Steps Up to Defend Religious Liberty During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and “Why is the Left so Hostile to Religious Liberty?” in www.albertmohler.com (30 November 2020 and 2 December 2020).

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One Comment to “A Culture Of Accommodation: Mainstreaming Same-Sex Relationships And Dangers To Religious Liberty”

  1. Jim Roberts says:

    These rights and freedoms are being upheld by the thinnest of margins, a 5 to 4 SCOTUS majority. It is not at all hard to believe that majority will not stand for very long.