“Social issues to return to the forefront on GOP trail”
That’s the title of an article in a recent edition of the Washington Post. It discusses the North Carolina legislation prohibiting men from using women’s bathrooms, Donald Trump’s dismissiveness of the issue, and Ted Cruz’s support of the Tarheel State’s commonsense efforts to sustain privacy and security in public accommodations.
What is striking about the article is its title. “Return to the forefront?” First, from the earliest days of the current presidential campaign to the present, social issues – protecting the unborn and their mothers, religious liberty, the radical agenda of LGBT activists, etc. – have been in the top tier of issues the candidates have been discussing.
The debate over the North Carolina measure, as well that over issues like dismemberment abortion and protecting the free exercise of religious conviction, are not sudden intrusions, as if unwelcome and unruly guests had burst into a sedate dinner party. These concerns are at the heart of the kind of country we want to be. Will we honor life at all its stages, uphold religious liberty as our most essential freedom, esteem marriage as the union of one man and one woman, for life, and strengthen families to better enable every child to be raised in a home with a mom and a dad? Or will we exalt radical sexual autonomy, continuously redefine human sexuality, treat the unborn as mere collections of blood and tissue and dehumanize their mothers through abortion-on-demand, and encourage the fracturing of families through laws that foster divorce, cohabitation, promiscuity, and pornography?
Second, secular journalists seem perpetually amazed that issues like abortion and religious liberty are actual concerns of real people. It is natural that like-minded people talk mostly to others with the same perspectives and don’t engage as much with those whose outlook is fundamentally different than their own.
Yet over the past several decades, has it not become apparent that a massive, even preponderant number of Republican voters are socially conservative and that, as the country undergoes profound social turmoil, the convictions of these voters will inform what their party’s candidates discuss in their campaigns?
As Terry Mattingly has convincingly documented for many years, most reporters “don’t get religion.” Mike Cromartie, long-time director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Faith Angle Forum, has spoken of once being called by a journalist at a premier publication who “asked for the name of the author and publisher when Cromartie mentioned the book of Ephesians.”
Christians should not belittle journalists for their ignorance, but nor should journalists fail to recognize the significance of the traditional religious faith of tens of millions of their fellow citizens and its implications for American public life. As the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life documented in a study released last year, more than 70 percent of the American people identify as Christians and many Jews and Muslims carefully observe the tenets of their faiths.
Of course, not all of these self-identified believers share the same convictions about the doctrines and practices and political implications of their faiths. But faith does have implications, real and compelling ones, for one’s beliefs about and conduct regarding the kind of government we should have and the kind of culture we should be. To dismiss them or pretend they are inconsequential shows a certain contempt for one’s fellow citizens and a measure of intellectual dishonesty when reporting about law, politics, social life, and so forth.
Writing of that great 19th century French observer of our then-new republic, Alexis de Tocqueville, historian Alan Kahan argues that “Tocqueville rejected the militant secularism that saw religion as the enemy, and there is no reason to believe he would have changed his mind today. He rejected equally the claim of some religious people that freedom was the enemy of religion. For Tocqueville, the only way for either freedom or religion to prosper in the long run was by recognizing that they were mutually necessary, and mutually beneficial.”
When journalists, on television or in print or online or on the radio, miss this central insight – that religion and liberty are entwined not only in the fabric of our country but the hearts and hands of scores of millions of Americans – invariably they will be surprised by social issues that just keep “returning” to the fore of public concern.
And that should be no surprise to anyone.