I’ve been a California resident for more than a decade, long enough to remember when a Republican was governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and when 52% of Californians voted against the redefinition of marriage, not that I’m nostalgic for those days. California is a state that is weird and wonderful and unpredictable. Driven by trendiness and fashion du jour rather than history or tradition, California is necessarily a fast-moving state (It’s been less than a decade since Prop. 8 and less than two years since Caitlyn Jenner was a man!). California is about change, newness, discovery, pioneering. This creates fertile ground for Hollywood creativity and Silicon Valley innovation, but it also has downsides. California’s disdain for tradition and apathy about old things often leads to a dangerous void of perspective, pacing and logic.
California is about the NOW and the NEW, a real-time feed of chaotic fragments of expression and opinion (California is the Twitter of states). California is where supposedly open-minded, progressive people go. It’s where dreamers and outcasts and immigrants and refugees flock. It’s where Don Draper finally found his happy place. It’s a state that celebrates every culture and all ideas. Diversity, inclusion, pluralism and tolerance are its mantras.
Or so we thought.
A pernicious bill (SB 1146) now moving through the California legislature would force Christian colleges and universities into submission when it comes to their beliefs and policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Sec. 1 of SB 1146 would remove an existing religious exemption and narrow it so that faith-based institutions (including Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, etc) could no longer think and behave differently on these most central human questions. What Sacramento says is true about SOGI is now what every knowledge institution in California must acknowledge in practice (if not in belief) to be true.
So much for valuing diversity.
How ironic that the state that leads the nation in “tolerance” is moving to impose a “one size must fit all!” policy on SOGI orthodoxy for the very institutions (colleges and universities) who contribute the most to the state’s ideological diversity.
Welcome to the new liberal intolerance. SB 1146 is a blatant example of it, and the contentious debates about the bill in the California legislature have raised this concern. As state senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said in the California Senate debate about SB 1146 in May, “Sometimes you can become what you hate, and you can become intolerant if you’ve been the victim of intolerance.”
SB 1146’s author, Senator Ricardo Lara, insists that he is not becoming what he hates. But he is. He insists that he values all forms of diversity. But he doesn’t. His bill makes it clear that the only diversity he values is diversity with an asterisk. And the asterisk is: you are part of the diversity we champion unless you dare to believe and live according to your traditional religious convictions about sexuality and gender.
That’s faux diversity. Faux tolerance. It’s discrimination. It’s exactly what Lara and the anti-discrimination police are fighting against. They’re becoming the enemy they used to fight against. Lawmakers in the Golden State have clearly forgotten the Golden Rule.
The “we’re becoming what we hate” nature of this is something wise liberals are recognizing and starting to decry. Take Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, blasting the “liberal poppycock” of faux tolerance and blatant discrimination toward conservatives:
When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose… Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z. So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.
California has forgotten what pluralism and tolerance are and why they are valuable for democracy. It’s not about everyone agreeing about everything. It’s about the value for society when the opposite is true: when there are varying perspectives and strong institutions that respect one another even while they hold distinct (and often mutually exclusive) beliefs. Civil disagreement and principled pluralism are foundational to a healthy democracy. Sadly America at large is forgetting how to do this and why we should.
California especially, prone as it is to quickly forget history and dispense with the wisdom of tradition and the guardrails of time-honored values, should recognize that the role distinctly religious institutions play is vital as a societal preservative.
In such a rapidly changing culture, religious institutions that maintain classical understandings of religious teaching are crucial. With a bigger picture and (much) longer view, these institutions function as preserving agents and safeguards against an ephemeral, disposable culture that would just as soon cycle through ideas about human flourishing as soon as they can come up with them or feel them to be true.
On the issues of marriage and sexuality, for example, the Christian colleges targeted by SB 1146 are seeking to preserve the church’s 2,000+ year teachings. The church hasn’t changed; culture has. We forget how rapidly American opinion on marriage and sexuality has changed in recent years. As recently as five years ago both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton publicly sided with traditional understandings of these issues.
In a world as sped-up and forgetful and post-truth as ours is now, conservative religious colleges and universities should be more than just tolerated. They should be supported and invested in, protected from the inertia of change and the Orwellian intrusions of government. When these agents of conservation and preservation are no longer tolerated, what or who in our world will serve as conservers and preservers?
When these religious institutions are made to give up the very beliefs and practices that make them valuably distinct, who will be left to speak clarity into our confused culture? Who will be left to offer truth claims that are backed by centuries of wisdom rather than seconds of whim? Who will be left to lead in selfless love when all the culture can think to do is please and protect the self? Who will be left to tell the Californias of the world to slow down and ponder the logic of their “tolerance with an asterisk” philosophies?