Over the past few years, social conservatives have found their lifestyles (and in some cases, their livelihoods) under full assault by a very vocal, activist minority in the left. Progressive ire directed at the pro-life, pro-family, etc. crowd is nothing new, but with the advent of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it’s easier and faster to sling mud with few consequences.

The Sunday Edition of the Dallas Morning News republished an essay by National Journal and Atlantic editor Jonathan Rauch about conservative Christians’ “great secession” (his words, not mine) from the culture. Via the Dallas Morning News:

I am someone who believes that religious liberty is the country’s founding freedom, the idea that made America possible. I am also a homosexual atheist, so religious conservatives may not want my advice. I’ll give it to them anyway. Culturally conservative Christians are taking a pronounced turn toward social secession: asserting both the right and the intent to sequester themselves from secular culture and norms, including the norm of nondiscrimination. This is not a good idea. When religion isolates itself from secular society, both sides lose, but religion loses more.

Jonathan Rauch is a liberal. A gay, atheist liberal who writes for mainstream media outlets. But this article isn’t about Jonathan Rauch, and it doesn’t matter what he believes. The important thing to glean from articles like this one—even if something strikes a well-tuned nerve—is that there are people out there who aren’t as gay, liberal, or faithless as Jonathan Rauch who are noticing these things too.

In America in 2014, everyone has an opinion about everyone else. Texas has her guns, California has her gun shows (no, not that kind of gun,) and the east coast has its high society clam bakes and the tendency to embrace terrible things like “small plates restaurants” and the New York Rangers. The South is racist, the North is rude, and Colorado is high. The Christians hate the gays, the Feminists hate Hobby Lobby, and conservative bloggers tend to not like anybody very much. We embrace this state of affairs because it makes it a heck of a lot easier to advocate for our brand of social change when we have a list of talking points we can use against the other side.

The problem with relying on talking points to exact change is that there are millions of Americans who exist outside of our 24-hour political bubble who are given exactly zero context. I don’t agree with everything in Rauch’s article, but what struck a chord with me is the fact that Americans who exist outside the bubble may be feeling the same way as Rauch, and we’re not engaging them.

Why the hunkering down? When I asked around recently, a few answers came back. One is the fear that traditional religious views, especially about marriage, will soon be condemned as no better than racism, and that religious dissenters will be driven from respectable society, denied government contracts and passed over for jobs — a fear heightened by well-publicized stories like the recent one about the resignation of Mozilla’s CEO, who had donated to the campaign against gay marriage in California.

The rub is that these fears are completely justified. The case against Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation run by a single family, went to the Supreme Court over the company’s failure to cover exactly four types of birth control known to cause accidental miscarriages. Family owned bakeries are being forced to provide their employees with “sensitivity training” after refusing to bake a wedding cakes for gay couples. As Nicolle Martin, an Alliance Defending Attorney said about the wedding cake case, “[progressive activists] are turning people of faith into religious refugees,” and it doesn’t seem like this concerns the free-minded liberals in this country at all.

Still, that’s no excuse to disengage, especially since conservatives aren’t the only ones drawling lines and digging foxholes:

I must sadly acknowledge that there is an absolutist streak among some secular civil rights advocates. They think, justifiably, that discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated, but they are too quick to overlook the unique role religion plays in American life and the unique protections it enjoys under the First Amendment. As a matter of both political wisdom and constitutional doctrine, the faithful have every right to seek reasonable accommodations for religious conscience.

We’re missing a fantastic opportunity to stop talking and start engaging with people who don’t roll out of bed thinking about the latest power play in the Senate. These are the people who get their news from the first outlet that manages to slap them in the face with a promoted post on Facebook. These are the people who changed their Facebook photo to the Human Rights Campaign’s “equality” logo during the Supreme Court’s deliberation over the Defense of Marriage Act not because they’re hardline activists, but because they have a gay friend who felt very strongly about the rulings and wanted to show support.

The moral of the story is, the politically disengaged are not going to come to us if we stick to the talking points that get the base moving. The Republican Party—and by and large the conservative movement—has been portrayed by the mainstream media as the creepy house at the end of the block that turns into a monster and eats kids (especially gay kids and little girls) after dark on Halloween. Nobody in their right mind is going to approach a party that refuses to step outside and have a conversation about why its policies are better for actual human beings than are progressive policies.

The “actual human beings” thing is key here. Messaging is targeted at various demographics, but the content of the message should be 100% focused on who we’re talking to. This is a conversation, not a sermon: people have questions, and comments, and we need to be prepared for that. “Why should I listen?” is a valid question, not a challenge or a rejection of conservatism.

But the message that mainstream Americans, especially young Americans, receive is very different. They hear: “What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear. Heck, against your dog.”

It’s possible to reach out and change minds, especially now that President Obama’s approval rating has dropped below 50%, and even mainstream outlets like the New York Times are publishing editorials criticizing his tactics against conservatives. To reject this opportunity in favor of the comfortable status quo is to put the political future of conservatism at risk of rejection and eventual destruction by a very savvy, vocal, and dedicated minority of progressive activists who don’t have to follow the rules to win the argument.


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