Many religious conservatives are looking to the Trump years with
high expectations. R.R. Reno, editor of First Things,
says Trump’s ascendancy marks a significant defeat for “anti-Christian” elites
while offering religious conservatives an opportunity to speak up and be heard
on behalf of their beliefs and values.
It’s too early in the game to make definitive pronouncements, but
Reno could be right. Certainly we can expect the Trump administration, unlike
its predecessor, to refrain from pressuring religious conservatives to violate
their consciences by collaborating with things like abortion, same-sex
marriage, and the transgender campaign.
On a positive note, moreover, the appearances by Vice President
Mike Pence and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway at the annual March for Life —
to say nothing of the president’s own supportive tweet — carried important
Credit Trump, too, with making a good start by issuing an
executive order barring federal funding for abortion overseas. He has lived up
to his campaign promise to name prolife jurists to the Supreme Court by
nominating federal judge Neil Gorsuch. And meanwhile the Republican-controlled
Congress has been moving forward on pro-life legislation.
But religious conservatives shouldn’t kid themselves. The culture
war isn’t over by a long shot. Aggressive secularism’s efforts to eliminate the
religious viewpoint from America’s public square will resume. The secularist
mindset requires no less.
That mindset has several overlapping components.
Part of it is a fundamental hostility to religion. “There can be
nothing more abominable than religion,” Lenin wrote, summing up a basic tenet
of militant atheism. Religion, in this view, is a dangerous delusion and an
obstacle to human flourishing. The sooner religious faith is eradicated, the
To be sure, not all secularists propose to go that far. Probably
more common is an attitude best described as conditional toleration. For those
who want it, religion is okay in its place — but that place is in church.
Religion has no meaningful role to play in the public square.
There is, however, still another variation on the secularist
theme: religion and religious believers can be accepted as junior partners
provided that they cooperate in promoting secularist values, not least because
church people who toot the horn for abortion or gay marriage function as useful
tools in the ongoing project of undercutting religious conservatives. It hardly
needs saying that some church people feel no qualms about obliging.
But wrong and even dangerous as the secularist mindset is,
religious conservatives shouldn’t demonize the secularists themselves. As long
as no compromise of moral principle is involved, cooperation in pursuit of
goals that truly benefit society as a whole remains a possibility.
Religious conservatives also need to keep in mind the wisdom of
not getting overly identified with one political party or one political leader.
In particular, it would be a serious mistake for the pro-life movement to allow
itself to be stereotyped as no more than a faction within the GOP.
People of faith did a lot to put President Trump in the White
House, and he and his administration have begun taking praiseworthy steps to
keep their promises to those voters. But politicians come and go, and political
coalitions form and dissolve. Individuals are at liberty to make their own
political commitments, but religious conservatism as a whole needs to keep an
eye on the long term and maintain some daylight between itself and the new
At this understandably heady moment, the faithful should remember
that reaching the goal of an authentic, comprehensive culture of life in
America requires that.