Author’s note: On January 1, 2020, Ryan T. Anderson and I published a piece in USA Today on the steep costs—personal, societal, political, legal, and moral—of the so-called “progress” on LGBT issues over the past decade. Rod Dreher responded with an article in The American Conservative. Below, you’ll read an excerpt from his article, as well as my (brief) response, which I originally posted to Facebook. The post has been lightly edited, but the substance remains the same. If you find the exchange interesting, you can read Dreher’s answer to my Facebook post here.
In his deeply thoughtful commentary on the piece Ryan T. Anderson and I published in USA Today, Rod Dreher says the following about the redefinition of marriage, the decline of sexual morality, and the erosion of people’s basic understanding of sexuality:
George and Anderson, and all of us who consider ourselves their allies, failed to stop this thing. But this failure ought to be judged as a loss in a war that was unwinnable. George and Anderson fought harder than almost anybody, and with real moral and intellectual excellence. But they, and their allies (I include myself in this number, though my contributions have been very modest compared to theirs), were the equivalent of the mythical Polish cavalry charging into the face of the Wehrmacht. (This didn’t actually happen, but it’s a powerful symbol nonetheless.) We trads were having to fight nothing less than modernity, with its valorization of the sovereign individual, its technocracy, its abandonment of God and transcendence, and an economic force (capitalism) that is both powered by these factors, and also magnifies them. It obliterates everything in its path.
I don’t agree that the war was unwinnable. (In fact, I don’t believe it is permanently lost; though those of us who believe in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and who uphold basic understandings of sexuality and norms of sexual morality, have been knocked back on our heels—hard.) What has been missing on the “conservative” or “traditional” side is not something that was unavailable to us. Rather, it was something too many conservatives or traditionalists (or whatever you want to call us) failed to muster. People could have mustered it, but too many didn’t.
I am referring, of course, to courage.
Our opponents sensed that many of our people lacked courage, and they did what savvy—and ruthless—people would naturally do in that circumstance: they ran a campaign of intimidation, smearing anyone who opposed their agenda as a bigot and a hater. This campaign was largely successful, its success owing in no small part to what David Brooks (who himself supports the redefinition of marriage) has correctly described as the near monopoly they had managed to obtain on “cultural power.” They controlled the commanding heights of culture: the universities, the news and (very importantly) entertainment media, the arts and their institutions, the major professional associations, mainline religion, even (they discovered) most of the corporate board rooms.
So, when push came to shove, many, many supporters of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and of traditional understandings of sexuality and sexual morality, yielded to the bullying, or simply abandoned the field. While left-wing (and even a few otherwise right-leaning) millionaires and billionaires poured money into referenda and legislative battles to redefine marriage, many well-to-do Christians (fearful of adverse consequences for themselves, and for their businesses, of contributing money to the pro-marriage cause) declined to donate to efforts to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage. Some gave anonymously; but when one or two of these were “outed” and vilified by the left, others became too frightened even to do that.
This was cowardice.
For a long time, the pro-marriage forces won most of these battles, despite being massively outspent. But eventually the huge disparities in funding paid off for the marriage redefiners, and for people who wanted to reorient education in ways that would advance the sexual liberationist agenda.
Since politics is not downstream from culture (or, rather, since that slogan is at best a half-truth), and political and legal developments partially shape culture—by influencing people’s understandings and beliefs—and don’t just reflect it, political victories paid huge dividends. They even paid off on the legal side of things. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy would likely not have pulled the trigger—providing the fifth vote for the absurd idea that the Constitution requires legal recognition of same-sex sexual partnerships as marriages—had the ground not been prepared by political victories and the movement of a significant segment of public opinion in their wake.
The victories that were won leading to the current situation (in which polyamory is being mainstreamed, and physically healthy, thirteen-year-old girls are being subjected to hormone treatments and mastectomies, because they believe they are actually “boys trapped in girls’ bodies”) were not inevitable. They were won because too many Catholics, Evangelicals, and other believers in marriage reality and traditional norms of sexual morality failed to muster the courage to fight. They cowered in fear. They stood on the sidelines. They wanted “other people” to do the work, contribute the money, and stand boldly for what is true and good and right and just.
But there weren’t enough “other people.”
Some might say, “this is no time for recriminations.” I disagree. This is precisely the time for recriminations. Indeed, there was never a better time. Standing boldly for what is true and good and right and just is everybody’s job; it’s not just a job for “other people.” Especially to my fellow Christians, I say it is our job. It comes with the Gospel territory. You say “it’s hard”? Of course it’s hard. But who ever told you that Christian discipleship was not going to be hard? Or risky? Or costly? Certainly not the boss. Jesus told us—in the most explicit terms—that it was going to be hard—very hard—and risky, and costly: “Whoever would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.”
Every time you, or I, or anyone else, fails to muster the courage to do what’s right, what God is calling us to do, there is behind that failure a still deeper failure: a failure of love.
It is critical to understand that moral norms and requirements are not abstract rules or arbitrary commandments. Their content is shaped by the human goods—the basic aspects of human well-being and fulfillment—that these norms and requirements protect, preserve, uphold, and advance. These are the goods of flesh and blood human beings—ourselves and our precious brothers and sisters in the human family—whom we are called to love and serve. We seek to preserve marriage—the real thing—because of the profound respects in which a flourishing marriage culture serves and benefits all members of the community, beginning with children. We need courage, we need to muster the courage, to love as we should—self-sacrificially.