Picture this: You are a vulnerable African-American woman living in the racially charged and publicly segregated Montgomery Alabama in 1955. You work as a seamstress and use the public bus system to taxi you back and forth from home to work. Maybe today was a particularly exhausting one, or perhaps you suffered through one too many racial epithet that you had just had enough. You board the bus and sit in the designated “colored” section, but as the bus fills up with white passengers the driver decides to move the section back further and tells the black people to give up their seats. Fed up and tired, you decide you’ve suffered through enough and refuse to move. The driver promptly calls the police and has you arrested. This kicks off a boycott that begins the long journey of tearing down the laws that imposed segregation on the citizens of Alabama.
Now picture this: It is 1963 and you are getting dressed for church. Children’s formation is scheduled before the service so you must be there early. Dressed in your Sunday best, you pack up your family and head to church. Only this Sunday is different. Before the service begins, there is a bomb blast that sprays brick and mortar into the classroom killing four girls and injuring many others. This church happens to be a meeting place for civil rights leaders to coordinate various marches throughout the city and a perennial target of the KKK. This is what life looked like for black Americans in the South who survived chattel slavery, and now must convince their fellow citizens that they are humans too with inalienable rights.
These are the extreme cases where systemic racism had gone wild, but for the average day to day life of an African American the examples were often subtler but still as dehumanizing. Martin Luther King Jr. reflected in his Letters From Birmingham Jail on his many interactions with white peers who requested that he be more patient; they believed civil rights would happen on their own and requested he stop agitating the situation and instead be patient. But for King, this mentality was regressive and destructive to his cause, it ultimately lacked the full scope of understanding exactly what the black community suffered in the post slavery South:
I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”;—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
The New Civil Rights
Many people today claim that the successor to the racial civil rights movement of the ’60s is that of gay rights. Many claim that same-sex marriage is no different than heterosexual marriage and that the LGBT community faces the same discrimination as Jim Crow-era blacks in the South.
But now picture this: you are an average gay couple who have decided to exercise your newly discovered license to get married. Just by virtue of your demographics, statistically speaking, you are in another orbit in regards to wealth than your straight counterparts, the media caters to the narrative advanced by special interest groups that represent your lifestyle, there is not a Fortune 500 company in the West that thinks twice about proudly waving the rainbow flag at any opportunity, and in every meaningful metric your identity group has obliterated the culture war. Even the most dyed in the wool Republicans will avoid what constitutes a legitimate marriage like they are a combat veteran in Vietnam dodging a mortar.
Well, this identity group has won every meaningful metric except one. There is a small subset of Christian artisans who devoutly believe the anthropology of their faith, and for every one of them in any city in America there is about thirty who do not share their views. This anthropology is neatly weaved into the Ontological claims of their Christian worldview; animated by an understanding of the Trinitarian God in which they worship. That is to say that the purpose of marriage is to reflect this image of the One God in Three Persons whose act of reciprocal love created the entire universe. This means a marriage that, by its nature, does not reflect the procreative image of God is not a marriage. This view is not bigotry. It is instead ontology. Mind you these artisans are willing to sacrifice their entire livelihood on living out their beliefs in a time where the public has overwhelmingly expressed sentiments that run against their worldview, but since totalitarians will not stop until everyone kisses their rings the small subset of working class Christian artisans are being caricatured as the oppressor.
A small victory was handed down by the Supreme Court last week to Jack Phillips who has been suffering at the hands of this powerful “oppressed” class for the better part of six years, but it was a small victory precisely because the SCOTUS ruling deliberately skirted the larger picture of the general rights of Christian artisans and instead chose to consider the narrow path of Phillips personally. But what makes this whole movement teetering on the brink of pure nonsense is they purport themselves to be the next generation of Martin Luther King’s despite the vast differences in affluence and power between the two movements. The original civil rights movements sought a seat at the proverbial table to partake in the festivities of what has made America uniquely great. The new “Civil Rights” groups are more interested in tearing down the last vestiges of cultural institutions that help Americans order their lives towards the good. It is not a movement about dignity. If it were, maybe they could stop their rampage for a moment to see the artisans they seek to coerce into public service have more in common with Dr. King than they ever have?
The true Civil Rights movement sought to cash a check that the United States had long defaulted on. It was a check that guaranteed them the same rights to life, liberty, and property as everyone else. Today’s “New Civil Rights” movement wishes only to solidify their preferred status by using lobbying groups and complicit media to market themselves as the oppressed class while wielding their unchecked power like a sledge hammer to anyone who crosses them. To suggest it’s the Barronelle Stutzman’s and Jack Phillip’s of the world who serve as the oppressors in these situations is to view our cultural moment from a supremely myopic perspective. If anything, the middle class Christian florists and bakers are the actual citizens in this era whose rights are being infringed.