Pyrrhic Politics

By Jeff Laird

Flowers and actors. Cartoons and China. Donald Trump. All useful examples of a six-word adage that needs to be shouted from the top of our digital-and-literal lungs:

Be careful what you wish for.

For my entire adult life, I've counted among my friends persons who identify as homosexuals. The same is true of many others who staunchly support the modern LGBTQ lobby. I don't approve of that lifestyle, or that moral position. I don't condone hate, either, and those who've discussed the issue with me know that. All the same, my view means some of these people I consider friends don't return the sentiment. That's irrelevant to the point at hand, which — for now — has little to do with sexuality in and of itself.

So, with respect to those who are not friendly to LGBTQ activism, what follows is not meant for you. Not viscerally, anyway. The general idea is universal, and needs to be practiced by everyone. But in the here and now, I'm wholeheartedly appealing specifically to anyone connected to the same-sex and alter-sex community.

Stick with me: this is not a discussion of sexual ethics. Nor is it moral, spiritual, religious, or biblical diatribe. You and I fundamentally disagree in those areas, and we aren't going to agree any time soon. That's not the point I'm trying to make, right now. This is about one thing and one thing only: our shared rights. What I'm advocating is a stance which I feel you can legitimately support. My appeal, given in love, concern, and impassioned urgency, is this:

Be careful what you wish for.

Nobody should be more worried by current trends in American politics than those concerned for the civil rights of LGBTQ people. Why, you may wonder, when it seems every social and legal turn is another victory for the rainbow flag?

Because cannons are only safe when you're standing behind them.

Because mob justice is only "justice" for whoever controls the mob.

Because shredding common sense, civil rights, and plain old logic in order to get your way, today, is a short-sighted and dangerous game.

Sooner or later, the cannons turn around. Eventually, the mob picks a new scapegoat. What's happening now is not an advance of freedom: its watching your own boat burn, and celebrating because you hate the rats on board.

First example: flowers and actors. I had a conversation with a semi-professional thespian some months ago, regarding whether businesses who normally serve homosexuals should be prosecuted for not servicing same-sex ceremonies. In his view, this was discrimination. "Tolerance" was part of the price Christians pay for doing business, he thought.

My response was to ask how he would feel, as an actor, if the government forced him to use his talents in support of something he found reprehensible. In his case, the pro-life movement. Without a hint of irony, he claimed a responsibility — indeed, a right — to ensure his creative expression wasn't used in association with ideas he thought were immoral. He had refused such jobs in the past, and would continue to do so.

Confronted with the logical and moral hypocrisy of that stance, all he could do was twist and dodge. Bakers and florists, he claimed, were "public," his services were not. I pointed out that selling tickets to a multi-night show was the equivalent of a baker putting cookies in the display: the "public" customer takes it or leaves it, no association implied. Making a commercial was the equivalent of a custom wedding cake, or floral arrangements. It's direct use of your expression. If expression's not protected for one artist, it isn't protected for any artists.

Why, I asked, was only his expression worth protecting? Was he so short-sighted? So illogical? Apparently so, since all that really mattered to him was the end result: homosexuality wins, Christian bigots lose. Cut. Print. That's a wrap. The ends justified the means.

Be careful what you wish for.

Second example: cartoons and China. Disney recently threatened to boycott the state of Georgia, if it approved a religious freedom law. The law was criticized even by religious conservatives for being too weak. It specifically said that preachers and churches could not be forced to service same-sex events, or hire employees who disagreed with their religious beliefs. In response, Disney and others menaced the governor with a boycott.

In defiance of his own constituents, the Governor vetoed the bill. While doing so, he actually said — with a straight face — that he wasn't going to bow to "threats" or act on "inflamed emotion." I guess multibillion dollar corporations wielding boycotts don't "threaten," but conscientious objectors are scary. How brave.

Please don't miss the profound nonsense involved: Disney used freedom X to protest a law protecting freedom X. Specifically, Disney exercised its moral and legal right, to decline business, if said business made them feel they were condoning actions or attitudes they felt were order to condemn a law specifically aimed at protecting the right to decline business, if said business made people feel they were condoning actions or attitudes they felt were immoral. That's hypocrisy writ large.

Even better (worse?): this year, Disney will open a new park in China. The same nation which recently passed a law forbidding the depiction of homosexuality on television, since it's a corrupting influence. Someone's moral high horse just threw a shoe.

So we have a Governor, and a multibillion-dollar company, totally unapologetic about rank, gut-busting hypocrisy. Why? They know nobody (per se) really cares. All that matters to the modern American mindset is whether the table is tilted "our" way, or theirs. And as long as the rules are in "our" favor, who cares what damage happens to those on the other side?

Even worse, few realize how cynically shallow these acts of "bravery" are. Think tides can't turn? Alliances can't fail? Ninety-nine percent of the corporations and politicians who wave rainbow flags do it for the same reason other businesses wave crosses: people are suckers, and superficial approval is all they really think about.

Ten years ago, these pro-SSM corporations were on the other side of the fence. So were most politicians — including the leading candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination! So was popular opinion. Disney's reaction isn't merely crocodile tears, it's outright lies. If Disney was that passionate about the plight of the gay community, they'd have put the kibosh on Shanghai Disney the instant China passed that law. If PayPal actually cared about homosexual rights, they'd pull business from places like Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are actually put to death, instead of absurdly sniping at North Carolina.

Be careful what you wish for.

That brings up the third, and hopefully most meaningful example: Donald Trump. I know far too many LGBTQ activists who don't give my first two examples a second thought, for one reason: "Winning" is all that matters, and "winning" has nothing to do with rights, it has everything to do with getting their way. Specifically, forcing people to facilitate their moral choices without criticism. And it's not hard to see in those cases. What does Trump have to do with it, then?

(Side note: I'm neither endorsing nor condemning Trump here. The ministry isn't doing any such thing, either, and I'm entirely responsible for the content of this article. Trump, in this case, is simply a vivid example of the point at hand. — Jeff Laird)

Eight years ago, the idea that someone like Donald Trump could be taken seriously as a candidate would seem silly. The same was true eight months ago. But as of now, this close to nominations, he's still a front-runner for a major party's presidential platform. That should scare LGBTQ activists absolutely silly, and not for the superficial reason most people think of first. It's because of those six words:

Be careful what you wish for.

I ask you, my LGBTQ friends, do you think what happened in Georgia was good for civil rights? That the florist who happily served a gay man for years should be punished for declining to service his wedding? That the aforementioned actor's stance is justified, since the "correct" side was being favored?

If you do, great; now, invest that power into the care of a government personified by Donald Trump. To a Supreme Court stacked with people who think and speak like he does. To a vocal and vociferous minority of voters who scare your state's Governor, and Disney's accountants, just enough to screw you over...while pretending they're brave for standing up to you.

It doesn't have to be Trump, specifically. One man is not the concern. It's the fact that there are other people, politicians, and would-be leaders out there willing to take his approach. And lots of people ready to get behind them. Trump is an example of why you can't dismiss this particular warning as paranoid. Or, pretend a candidate "extreme" enough to flip the script can't be elected in this country.

Can you tell me, in all honesty, you're totally comfortable with government, and culture, eviscerating your right to control your own expression, when that guy, and that mindset, might wind up in charge? Or, God forbid, someone just as highhanded, but more politically savvy? If not, you need to do something about it: keep that power out of the hands of government. Tides turn, culture changes. Don't sacrifice your future freedom for the sake of short-term vindictiveness.

Looking at the Georgia law, again, this should be a no-brainer. If a church, of all employers, isn't allowed to hire based on agreement with their core tenets, then "freedom of religion" is a myth. If a pastor, of all people, can't decide what kinds of marriages he'll perform, then "freedom of speech" does not exist. If you don't think those are rights pastors and churches should have, then ultimately, you're saying you shouldn't have them either. And you'll probably regret that, before long.

Please, also keep in mind that many of the laws which the LGBTQ community are protesting are the direct result of legal and social actions taken by the LGBTQ community. Actions intended to force other people to approve of their cause. In other words, X decides Y should be sued for not helping X do what X wants to do. So Y tries to pass laws protecting their right not to participate. X gets such laws rejected. Hooray for X…until later on, when Y is suddenly in power, and X realizes that they've set their own boat on fire. Like so:

Picture a bakery, owned by a homosexual couple, being told they either make a cake celebrating a local church's "pray away the gay" revival, or go out of business for discrimination. Imagine a staunch feminist photographer being told she will photograph a betrothal ceremony for a nine-year-old girl, or lose her license for discrimination. Imagine the actor being told that he either convincingly portrays abortion doctors as depraved murderers, or he can't act anymore. Don't like those? Tough — the way things are headed now, if a future cultural shift deems those morally acceptable, you'll either get with the program, or go out of business.

That's a crucial set of examples, by the way. None are actually happening…yet. The problem is that they're 100% equivalent to what's being forced on Christians in the name of "tolerance" by segments of the LGBTQ lobby. But, if that slice of society gets its way in these various lawsuits, political actions, and so forth, then those won’t be theories anymore. They'll be inevitable when (not if) the cultural tide turns. Trump's tenacious foray into the political arena ought to be slam-dunk, end-of-discussion proof for this kind of legal issue. Especially in a post-Barack Obama culture. Obama's ascendance proved unknowns can go from zero-to-President in a handful of years. What will you do when some future right-wing wunderkind blusters his way into power and gets to use your own tools against you?

As fast as things change, it's dangerous, short-sighted, and (politically) stupid to celebrate when people are coerced to do what they despise. Calling that "tolerance" or "progress" is the kind of Doublethink Orwell would gape at.

So, what am I asking for? What's my point? This entire piece has been addressed to my friends and neighbors who see themselves as allies of the LGBTQ cause. What I'm clamoring for is the basic principle Evelyn Beatrice Hall used to exemplify the beliefs of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In order for that to mean something, you need to be a considerate ally to the LGBTQ cause, not a yes-man.

To protect your freedom to do as you like, you must defend my freedom to not do what you do. It goes further than that, of course, but it's the chief danger we're facing. The core principle we seem to be forgetting is that forcing people to participate in something is not freedom, it's the very definition of tyranny.

Lest someone accuse me of being simplistic, I'm aware of the depth involved in legal policy decisions. I really, truly get that. It's beyond what a single article can cover. All laws are based on moral principles; no exceptions. Society inevitably forces people to do some things they don't necessarily like. If everyone agreed on everything, we wouldn't need laws in the first place. Society is always going to be throwing shade at some belief system or another.

There will always be issues over which we'll argue about how much the government should be able to force participation. The draft. Vaccinations. Taxes. Environmental regulations. Drug use. And on and on. However, this country's take on civil rights has always been slanted towards protecting freedom, not conformity. Where we should tip the balance is not always going to be crystal clear. It's hard to define, in neutral terms, where laws would cross the line from simple non-discrimination into forced conformity.

But, like the famous line about pornography says, "I know it when I see it." And what's happening with respect to Christians and homosexuality is definitely not on the up-and-up. Telling a Christian they'll have to let homosexuals buy flowers off the shelf like everyone else is one thing. Telling the same florist, who served a gay man for years, that she has to get involved in his wedding isn’t about anyone's civil rights. Nor is forcing a wedding hall or church to host an event — not the people, the event — they morally disagree with. Those are vindictiveness writ large.

It's on a completely different level to say, "most people in culture think action X is moral, so you will be directly involved in it." Once again, let's look at the examples of flipped-script conformity given above. Those are absolutely reasonable, if things go as they have been.

Recent developments are far, far more dangerous for the future of the LGBTQ community than they are for anyone else. That may be hard to see, and harder to believe, but it's true. The vast majority of history has been unfriendly to those who live an LGBTQ lifestyle, and while social views can change quickly, back and forth, governments don't relinquish power nearly so easily once they have it.

What I fear is that we're mere moments, and one Trump-esque charismatic demagogue, from seeing the very arguments, illogic, and legal weaponry you're gleefully wielding against Christians turned on you. Ten years from now, twenty years from now, your children could be asking, with accusation in their eyes, "what on earth did you do?" Once the precedents are set, you're at the mercy of whoever's barking orders to the mob. You cannot, should not, must not enable this self-refuting version of "freedom," where the only rights anyone actually has are those the majority likes.

Be careful what you wish for.

Why talk about it, then? Why make this kind of appeal? Why would I specifically speak to those who — we both agree — are ideologically opposed to me on sex and sexuality? Especially if this is not really about sexual ethics? Because I can say it, I can shout it, I can scream until my lungs explode. But, by the very rules of modern discourse, my opinion is going to be ignored. Not because I'm wrong, but because truth no longer matters.

I'm on the "wrong" side, so reason is irrelevant. And, as long as the "bad guys" are losing, nobody seems to care that they've set their own house on fire. The nature of this conversation means the message has to come from you. I don't think the hate-mongering fools at Westboro represent my faith, or the culture I want to live in. I don't support what suicide bombers and Ayatollahs do to poison common perceptions of "religion." So, I take an active, vocal, and purposeful stand — because I ought to, as a "religious" person.

So, too, do you.

I'm asking, directly and sincerely, for those in the LGBTQ community to strongly and decisively condemn this trend. Change the conversation. Share this view. Don't be passive while civil rights are chipped away, just because your side of the rock isn't shrinking...yet. Because it will.

Regarding homosexuality, you and I do not agree. Nor do we align on views of transgenderism or other sexual orientations. We're opposed on the issues of marriage and so forth. You want to change popular opinion to support your do I. And that — nothing more or less — is all the reason we need to defend each other's right to act or not act, to speak or not speak, as the other person sees fit.

As a Christian, I can endure a culture that rejects my views and hates my beliefs. I can accept the reality of a nation that boycotts me for my stance. But neither of us want to live in a culture where you must partake in whatever culture thinks is morally OK. This is civil rights 101. What's taken from one of us will eventually be taken from the other. And we won't get it back without a lot of pain and misery. If you don't like the thought of conservative Christians rejecting cake orders, just wait until Islam is in the cultural driver's seat...and you've handed them the kind of power these examples indicate.

An instance of what I'm advocating recently came via none other than Apple. That company flatly refused to hack a terrorist's iPhone for the government. Why, because they love terrorism? Because they hate the FBI? Because they hope to see more attacks? No, they refused to act because they rightly saw it as a dangerous precedent. As a Pandora's Box. In other words, if something gets a good result right now, hurts the "bad guys" today, but opens up the door for major problems later on, then the wise choice is to say, "no."

I don't know how to make that any clearer.

You and I strongly reject each others' sexual / social / spiritual positions. And that's the point. We may be facing in different directions, but we should do so standing back-to-back. Be cautious what you applaud. Be free, and vocal, in what you condemn. But above all, remember how easy it is for the tide to turn.

Be careful what you wish for.

Published 4-11-16