America: The Embarrassed-Shuffling-of-Feet Society

By David Mills Published on May 4, 2018

The chaplain did what he should, and got sued anyway. Army chaplain Jerry Scott Squires, a Southern Baptist, rescheduled a marriage retreat so a lesbian could attend with another chaplain leading it. His faith and the church he represents don’t allow him to treat that kind of arrangement as a marriage. The federal law governing military chaplains protects his right not to do it.

But neither his courtesy nor the law stopped the woman from charging him with violating her civil rights. Nor did it stop military officials from proceeding with the case. As my friend Joe Long observed on American Greatness, moral progressives will bully and abuse those who disagree with them. Many demand that others not only accept or tolerate their life-decisions, but that they approve of them. They eagerly use the law to coerce people into at least acting as if they approve.

Joe explains: “Of course, she didn’t want Southern Baptist marriage teaching at all; she wants to be able to require a chaplain who doesn’t share her beliefs, to preach her beliefs, to her.” And if he doesn’t do it, she wants him punished. For letting her have what she wanted but getting someone else to do it. 

A Good Bit of Tolerance

Ours is a classically liberal and pluralistic society. America encompasses in its 330 million people an astonishing variety of cultures, races, religions, creeds, ethnicities, identities, even sexualities and genders. Even Yankees fans and cat-lovers — that’s how tolerant Americans are. Most Americans happily leave others to do as they wish, within surprisingly broad limits. They feel, as the actress said, that it doesn’t matter what other people do, as long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.

This kind of diversity requires a good bit of tolerance on all sides of nearly every issue. We want people who profoundly disagree about fundamental questions to get along. Picture a card game whose rules didn’t always tell you which hands win. You can only negotiate or just go on the next hand (the American ideal) or (as the lesbian soldier and her allies are trying to do) bully the other players into letting you win.

And we don’t only want everyone to get along, We want them to work together for each other’s good and the good of their shared society. The doctor treats the person of whose life choices he deeply disapproves. That person cooks meals for someone whose politics he rejects. That person works in the soup kitchen with people whose politics he dislikes. All those people join at the town council meeting to make their community a better place.

No Clear Rules

There aren’t really any clear rules for this. A people who want that kind of society have to accommodate a lot of disagreement. That means putting up with a lot of discomfort. 

Making things even tricker, we don’t even agree on the fundamental questions. Some questions appear fundamental to some but not to others. Everyone has their lines they can’t cross. Americans have to say, “I don’t see the big deal, but he cares about it, so I’ll give it to him.”

Except when we can’t say it. We fight over some substantive questions that we think can’t be left to individual choice. Everyone thinks restrictions and directions must be matters of law. Abortion is the obvious case. It’s a matter of fundamental human rights. The pro-abortionist may say, “Leave me alone. It’s my body. I can get rid of the fetal product if I want.” We have to say, “No, it’s not. It’s someone else’s body. You can’t kill him.” These questions make getting along even harder.

The Embarrassed Shuffling of Feet Society

It’s the embarrassed shuffling of feet and looking at the floor way of living together. Picture a bunch of 23-year-old male tech nerds put in a room with Beyoncé. Or any pretty woman. That’s the way most Americans feel sometimes when they want something someone else doesn’t want at all. Or when they feel they have to say no to something someone else really wants. It’s not a happy feeling.

A diverse society serious about living together allows a chaplain of traditional moral beliefs to compromise by getting someone else to do a retreat. It expects the lesbian couple to compromise by going to the other retreat. Especially as it makes no difference to them. No one’s exactly happy about it, but they find a way to get what each wants without violating each other’s commitments.

Or usually do. Moral progressives don’t always play fair. Their bullying and abuse of the legal system threatens this delicate and unstable arrangement. Which is unwise. They’re the ones the breakdown of this system will most likely hurt.


Follow David Mills on Twitter here.

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