The Great Secession

A few months ago, an odd news story out of St. Louis caught my eye. A Christian-owned dog-walking business had fired, so to speak, a customer who supported legalizing marijuana. “We simply said it was against the idea of being clean and sober-minded and treating your body as a temple to the Holy Spirit,” one of the service’s owners told The Huffington Post.
The service, Pack Leader, Plus (motto: “Faith. Family. Dogs.”), is not alone in its determination to shut its doors to un-Christian custom. Religious business owners have declined to provide services for gay weddings and commitment ceremonies and refused to offer insurance that covers certain kinds of contraception (as in the Hobby Lobby case that came through the Supreme Court this term). Mississippi passed legislation in April allowing businesses to claim a religious defense if sued for discrimination; Arizona almost passed such a law (after intense debate, the governor vetoed it); similar measures are in the offing elsewhere. The apparent aim of these bills is to let people like caterers, bakers, photographers, and florists decline to provide services for gay weddings or gay-pride events. But the laws are written broadly and could be used to defend discrimination of many sorts. “We’re trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom,” the sponsor of one such bill told The Kansas City Star.
I am someone who believes that religious liberty is the country’s founding freedom, the idea that made America possible. I am also a homosexual atheist, so religious conservatives may not want my advice. I’ll give it to them anyway. Culturally conservative Christians are taking a pronounced turn toward social secession: asserting both the right and the intent to sequester themselves from secular culture and norms, including the norm of nondiscrimination. This is not a good idea. When religion isolates itself from secular society, both sides lose, but religion loses more.
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