Extremism Requires Courageous Witness
The photos are heartbreaking. A statue of the Pieta, with Mary holding the body of Jesus, lies abandoned in the street. The head of Mary has been smashed off. The background is a blur of smoke, teargas, flames, and masked men and women. Another photo shows two masked women carrying a statue of St. John Vianney through the streets, obviously with malevolent intent. Yet another shows a large, beautiful reproduction of a painting of the Blessed Virgin holding the child Jesus being hauled out of a church by a crowd of masked protesters.
The photos are from Chile, where, in recent weeks, several Catholic churches have been looted and desecrated. Catholic News Agency reports that on Nov. 8 protesters entered La Asuncion Parish in Santiago, where they removed pews, confessionals and statues. After defacing the statues, they built a barricade with the objects, and “sprayed anti-Catholic graffiti on the walls, pillars, and altar of the church.” At another church in Talca, the protesters not only destroyed artwork and used the pews to build a barricade, but they also desecrated the tabernacle.
The cause of the unrest in Chile is complicated. The church desecrations are part of larger anti-government protests, in which 20 people have died. However, I couldn’t help but look at these images and see in them a sign of the times, and a warning. People do not desecrate Catholic churches, and deliberately target the Blessed Sacrament, because they are angry that the government has increased fares for public transit (one of the precipitating causes of the Chile protests). They do it because they loathe the Catholic Church with every fiber of their being and are willing to use public unrest as an opportunity to express that hatred.
In North America, we are not (yet) seeing the sorts of violent lootings of churches that are happening in Chile. But we are seeing an increasingly emboldened radical secularist movement striving to wipe out the remaining vestiges of the Judeo-Christian worldview, and demanding with greater and greater virulence that Christians step in line with leftist ideology or suffer the consequences. The question for those of us in the rapidly secularizing West to be asked: As atheistic secularism grows in strength, and as hatred for age-old Christian doctrines on family and sexuality grows along with it, what stands between our churches and those who hate the Church?
In a thought-provoking series of recent columns, pro-life and pro-family journalist Jonathon Van Maren has asked this exact same question. This question was prompted by events surrounding a recent speech by the founder of Feminist Current, Meghan Murphy. A group called the Radical Feministe Unite-Toronto had rented a room at a Toronto library for Murphy to speak about the issue of transgenderism.
It is important to emphasize that Murphy is no social conservative, to put it mildly. On the contrary, she is a deeply committed pro-abortion, pro-LGBT radical leftist feminist. When Ireland voted to legalize same-sex “marriage” in 2015, for example, she wrote a bizarre column blasting the “misogynist, homophobic Catholic Church,” arguing that legalizing gay marriage is no great victory because marriage itself should be completely abolished as a patriarchal, oppressive institution, and criticizing Ireland’s pro-life laws. In other words, Murphy is at the very vanguard of “woke” progressivism.
However, there is one area where she disagrees with the current progressive orthodoxy: she thinks that biological men who claim to be women shouldn’t be allowed into women’s “safe spaces,” like bathrooms, change rooms, etc. As a feminist, she argues that allowing men unfettered access to women-only spaces poses a safety threat to biological women. And because of this opinion, she has become a pariah in progressive circles, lambasted as a bigot, and protested wherever she speaks.
News that Murphy would be speaking at the Toronto library was greeted with outrage by the very people who should, by all accounts, be her natural allies. Leftist, LGBT activists launched a concerted campaign to get Murphy’s speech cancelled. To her credit, Toronto city librarian Vickery Bowles firmly stood by the library’s decision to rent the space to Murphy, on the grounds of free speech. As a consequence, Bowles herself had to endure extreme vilification, including an infuriatingly one-sided inquisition conducted by a “journalist” with the government funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), who compared Murphy’s views on transgenderism to white nationalism. Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory (who, Van Maren notes, celebrated Mother’s Day this year by attending a drag queen strip show) expressed his disapproval of the library’s decision to allow Murphy’s speech to go forward. Other politicians joined suit.
On the day of the speech, a crowd of hundreds of protesters gathered outside the library. Some of them were masked. Chants and signs accused Murphy of peddling “hate” and “transphobia.” Some of the protesters attempted to enter the building, and were detained by police. Upon watching the videos of the protest, Van Maren writes that he felt “a distinct sense of unease.” What struck him was the “sheer rage” on the faces of the protesters, who were “shouting for the head of a feminist woman who has been on board with every manifestation of the Sexual Revolution except the most recent one, the idea that biological men can become biological women.” Van Maren’s unease, he said, came from this thought: “If this is how much they hate a pro-gay feminist, and these are the lengths they will go to in order to ruin her life, what will they do to us when they get the chance?”
In another column about the issue, he wrote:
When I watched the video of the furious activists outside the library (one Meghan Murphy supporter was told to ‘go kill yourself, go bleed out and die’), I wondered: What stands between our Christian communities and that mob? What is standing between their legislative agenda, which includes condemning our beliefs as hate speech and removing our right to educate our children, and us?
A sober analysis of the trend of things leads Van Maren to conclude, not much. In the space of a few short years, transgenderism has gone from a fringe issue that almost no one (even on the left) gave a moment’s thought to, to a central (if not the central) issue being pushed by LGBT activists, and one that is increasingly being used as a litmus test for progressive orthodoxy (as Meghan Murphy has learned the hard way). With a breathtaking swiftness many of our politicians, courts, and media have leapt to outdo one another with displays of fealty to the bizarre and wholly improbable claims of the transgender movement. For example, in the space of a few short years, practically every single media outlet in the West has introduced policies to refer to biological males who claim to be women as “she” and “her,” or biological women as “he” or “him.” Even many (if not most) so-called “conservative” publications do this. They know that failing to do so – to “misgender” someone – could result in being targeted by the LGBT mob and potentially lead to crippling lawsuits or other legal ramifications.
Speak Up Now Before it’s Too Late
Van Maren is right: if this is how progressives will treat a radical leftist pro-abortion, pro-LGBT feminist, simply because she calmly and thoughtfully disagrees with them on one single issue, then we have every reason to believe that they would gladly do as much, and quite a bit more, to faithful Christians. We have already seen this reach the highest level of politics, with Democratic presidential candidates vowing to target the tax-exempt status of any church or charity that opposes same-sex “marriage” (So much for the claim that same-sex marriage would never affect the lives of ordinary citizens). There is every reason to believe that, given half the chance, LGBT activists would gladly make preaching or teaching the Biblical view about sexuality a “hate crime,” and therefore forbidden in churches, schools, and even in the privacy of one’s home.
I don’t say these things to scare you. Or rather, merely to scare you. I say them, because by all accounts this is the true state of things. The most radical segments of the progressive, LGBT movement have taken control of the public narrative, and the momentum is firmly on their side. They are enforcing orthodoxy by being louder, more aggressive, and more merciless than their opponents. And as a result, most people, even those who may secretly disagree with the claims they are asked to endorse, are kow-towing, either by remaining silent so as to avoid drawing attention, or even giving lip service to progressive dogmas. Better to acquiesce and avoid trouble then speak up and draw down the wrath of the “woke” cultural warriors. (As one sign at the Meghan Murphy protest warned Toronto politicians: “Tell the Chief Librarian to resign TONIGHT. Or face unrelenting wrath.”)
There is a famous line in a poem by William Butler Yeats, called The Second Coming, in which he writes: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves right now. Those advocating ideas that are, prima facie, absurd and dangerous – i.e. the notion that little children should “transition” to another gender – are full of “passionate intensity,” and as a consequence are bending social institutions and culture to their whims. Meanwhile, many of our religious leaders, “conservative” politicians, and many ordinary Christians, have allowed themselves to be frightened into silence, or have even compromised with the spirit of the age.
However, as Van Maren warns, speaking of the kinds of LGBT activists who protested Meghan Murphy:
These people do not believe in freedom of speech. They do not believe in freedom of association. They do not believe in religious liberty, or parental rights in education. They desire only one thing: total cultural dominance, where everyone must either bend the knee to the rainbow flag or face the fire, whether it is an abortion-supporting radical feminist or a free speech–supporting city librarian. Their blitzkrieg has cut through our institutions at breathtaking speed—and we need to understand that they are just getting started.
The burning churches in Chile can stand as a sign of the times, and a warning of how bad things can get, if we are not careful. As much as we want to believe that we live in a modern, ‘tolerant’ and ‘open-minded’ culture that protects free speech, we do need to be aware that as we abandon the Christian foundations of that culture, something else must rush in to fill the void. And right now, that something else is a progressive extremism that is most decidedly not tolerant or open-minded but supported by carefully nurtured grievances and a conscientious rejection of Christianity.
In order to make a difference, we do not need to act with the fury and rage of LGBT extremists. Indeed, we must not. But we do need to reject the temptation to remain silent. The Christian view of family, marriage, sexuality, and indeed the meaning of life, is the true view. It is the view that, if followed, leads to human and cultural flourishing. It leads to spiritual and mental health. And it protects the innocent and vulnerable from exploitation and suffering. We have a duty not to hide our lamp under the bushel. We have a duty to protect our right to speak the truth and to raise our children in the truth. And we have a duty to truly love our enemies by charitably, but firmly, opposing their errors.