Social conservatives have had a pretty good two years. President Donald Trump was elected in large part because social conservatives cared about the U.S. Supreme Court. His administration has strengthened protections for religious conservatives, enacted pro-life regulations, and reduced the influence of LGBT activists. Religiously conservative businesspeople, pastors, and non-profit leaders can breathe more easily than in years.
Many social conservatives are further gratified that Trump is nominating – and the Senate is confirming – conservative judges.
All of these are good things. But social conservatives cannot sit on our laurels. We have a lot of work to do to make sure these Trump-era victories become long-term cultural and legal victories.
Relying on political leadership isn’t enough
The next two years should continue to bring good news for social conservatives. But who knows what will happen after Trump leaves office and/or if Democrats take Congress in 2020? Social conservatives may face the hostility with which we became familiar under President Barack Obama. Just as Trump reversed many Obama policies with a signature, so could the next president reverse Trump’s.
Having an ally in the White House doesn’t and won’t stop attacks on our values in other areas. State and local governments can still cause great harm to social conservatives’ legal standing and legal goals. The media will still uncritically cite the SPLC and call abortion supporters “pro-choice.” Most of our education system will still push males into girls’ restrooms, and corporations will fund Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, and other socially liberal organizations.
It’s up to Catholics to lead. But in order to move into the future, we must know where we have failed in the past. Otherwise, we may win short-term political fights while losing the overall war.
Decades of mismanagement
In order to make progress, we have to acknowledge that the American people as a whole do not believe in social conservatives’ values. For example, a wide majority of Americans back abortion, especially early in pregnancy. Americans do support marginal pro-life policies like banning late-term abortions, but 90 percent of abortions take place within three months’ gestation. Meanwhile, even many self-proclaimed pro-lifers themselves unwittingly commit abortions by using contraceptives that double as abortifacients. Additionally, there is strong evidence that contraceptive access increases the prevalence of abortion in society.
Grassroots pro-lifers aren’t alone in this inconsistency. National pro-life groups have made it a priority to send Planned Parenthood’s federal dollars to federally qualified health centers. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a great thing. However, part of the argument national pro-life groups use is that these federal centers provide birth control and abortifacients. Those dollars therefore may accidentally fund abortions.
The situation is much the same with IVF. I discovered when writing this piece earlier this month that 12 percent of Americans opposed IVF in 2013. IVF is causally linked to abortion, eugenics, and the growth of government to promote the same-sex “marriage.” Yet most social conservatives stand behind it.’
Marriage is the same way. Many social conservatives believe that the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decision is the moment when it changed in America. As I wrote at Catholic Exchange over the summer, this simply isn’t true. Sex outside of marriage, divorce, and contraception have been widely accepted among religiously-oriented conservatives for decades. And when Christians abandon Jesus’s teachings on sex, marriage, and life, so does the rest of society.
We see this in Jared’s two recent ads highlighting the “engagement” of a same-sex couple and a kiss by a same-sex couple during the Thanksgiving Day parade. As I wrote at The Stream, few social conservatives reacted to the latter; none pushed back against Jared. The fact that Jared and Macy’s openly backed same-sex “marriage” is certainly a sign of our times. So is the fact that Jared’s endorsement of women asking men to marry them drew more backlash than ads endorsing homosexuality.
The Catholic Church tried to stop all of this when Humane Vitae was published 50 years ago. Alas, it was mocked instead of followed, and even many U.S. Catholic leaders turned a blind eye instead of standing tall for God’s Truths.
And as go Christians, so goes the rest of society. Contraception was once widely condemned by all Christian denominations. So were abortion and same-sex sexual relationships. Once Protestant denominations began to switch and Catholic leaders declined to lead, the American public wasn’t far behind.
Thus, we have widespread abortion, divorce, same-sex “marriage,” and use of IVF among Christians. Our children are being told that they can be a boy or girl depending upon their feelings. Young people continue to be less religious and the Bible Belt will continue to have more divorces than the Northeast.
Wise as serpents
It’s going to take more than politics for social conservatives to push back against decades of cultural and legal mismanagement. We are going to have to firmly yet charitably hold ourselves and others accountable. We must use both carrots and sticks with elected officials – praising and critiquing in turn as the situation requires. (This includes Trump, who has many social conservatives wrapped around his finger for his policies even as he personally acts in a non-Christian fashion.) We must continue to support media outlets which provide truth…but also infiltrate and outflank mainstream press on their own territory.
Perhaps most importantly, we must retrench within ourselves. High standards for personal conduct must come first; only then will we be able to see the splinters in other people’s eyes. We must educate our children properly so they are armed against our hostile culture, and seek to engage with our friends and family in a way that effectively shows them truth about matters such as sex, life, and marriage.