Buoyed by the successful Bud Light boycott and Target’s removal of Pride-themed merchandise due to customer backlash, many conservatives are feeling more hopeful than they have in a while. Folks are finally waking up to all this transgender insanity. Ordinary Americans aren’t going to stand for this nonsense any longer. Or so we tell ourselves over a hearty can of Coors Light. But without a return to God-centered, family-first conservatism, the moral and spiritual health of our culture will continue to decline, even if we pull off the occasional victory.
In this light, Sen. Ted Cruz’s recent intervention in the controversy over Uganda’s new laws against sodomy—aimed at curbing homosexual rape and the spread of STDs—is emblematic of a much wider crisis. Instead of using this occasion to call out the West's ideological colonization of the developing world, the Texan senator tweeted that he condemned the African nation's laws: “This Uganda law is horrific & wrong. . . . ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse. #LGBTQ.”
To be sure, the main problem is not that Cruz deems the Ugandan laws too strict. That is a reasonable stance for conservatives to take. The issue here is Cruz's full-throated embrace of an outdated conservatism that idolizes individual autonomy at the expense of the culture's moral and spiritual health. By paying lip service to the powerful gay lobby, which seeks to annihilate traditional values, Cruz is just another symptom of the moral compromise that pervades today's conservatism.
Of course, none of this is surprising. Beaten down by our pagan culture’s evangelism, many of us have been bullied or cajoled into accepting the new status quo. As the historian Christopher Dawson observed, man’s communitarian instinct is stronger than his humanitarian impulse. Human beings love to be liked, and conservatives are no exception.
In this political climate of fear, we face a critical choice. Embrace a half-hearted conservatism that concedes the culture war from the outset, or reject moral compromise and champion first principles. The latter path by no means guarantees success in every battle, but it is the only approach that could win the war. Along with conviction, introspection is needed: If conservatives want to win, they must ask themselves some pertinent and uncomfortable questions.
For instance, they should consider that maybe the reason the same-sex marriage debate was lost before it began was due to the hypocrisy that is the trademark of the mainstream conservative stance on marriage and family: offer flowery platitudes about the value of children here, allude to the importance of tradition for tradition’s sake there. But under no circumstances state the truth: that no society can flourish in the absence of a healthy marriage culture that privileges the rearing of children within the lifelong union of their biological mother and father.
Stating the truth means accepting that a child deserves a mommy and a daddy; and, moreover, that daddy can’t be a mummy, and a mummy can’t be a daddy. But it is also more than that. It means understanding that a little girl deserves not just her mummy and daddy, but an entire culture dedicated to giving her parents the best possible chance of staying together for life and remaining faithful to their sacred task of ensuring her health and well-being.
It means recognizing, too, that the law occupies a profoundly pedagogical role in our lives, and for this reason should discriminate between those unions that are essential for the formation of the next generation and those that are not. The truth includes the acknowledging that introducing no-fault divorce was a travesty, and in many ways redefined marriage more drastically than Obergefell vs. Hodges.
None of this is even on the radar of many of today’s conservative elites. As often as not, they have been through a divorce themselves, and the compromise that marks their personal lives renders them reticent about standing up for traditional marriage. The consequence has been that most conservative influencers seek to move on from same-sex marriage as quickly as possible. Battle lines have been redrawn, the tent broadened, and now—they loudly proclaim—we can get back to promoting the free market and taking on the really crazy leftist proposals. Sure, the institution of marriage might be an unfortunate piece of collateral damage in the fight, but at least we won’t give an inch on this transgender nonsense.
Or will we? As it turns out, when you don't defend the bedrock of civilization, your attempts to safeguard the rest of the culture become less effective. The transgender movement's erasure of sexual difference is merely the continuation of a much older project—a project in which many conservatives have been complicit, whether through their reluctance to discuss divorce, their acceptance of Obergefell, or their approval of the (so-called) Respect for Marriage Act last year.
Gay commentators on the right—eloquent but ultimately compromised figures such as Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin, and Spencer Klavan—are therefore not the originators but the heirs of this mainstream “conservatism” that rejects the truth that God made us male and female with a creative intent that affects our sexuality and how we are to live our lives. With its careless acceptance of the breakdown of marriage culture and its casual celebration of gay unions, this new conservatism has helped usher in societal confusion about human nature.
One of the results is that the trans activists smell conservative blood. They intuit what we fail to see, which is that the LG cannot so easily be separated from the BT. They instinctively sense that today's conservatism is, more often than not, compromised to its core. This conservatism argues with a straight face that mommies and daddies are interchangeable while simultaneously ridiculing people who claim to switch genders; this conservatism has undermined family, abandoned faith, ignored first principles. In short, it is ripe for destruction.
We must learn the lessons of a bruising last few decades. We are all fallen and we all mess up. It is by the help of divine aid that we pick ourselves back up and begin anew. Instead of pride, we should celebrate humility instead: that radical virtue that seeks wisdom in tradition, learns from past mistakes, and bends the knee before the Almighty.
Clement J. Harrold is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
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