Do Liberals Really Despise Christianity?

(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)A protester dressed as a copy of the Bible joins groups demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014.

"Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?" liberal columnist Damon Linker pondered Wednesday.

In citing two recent examples, Linker was not writing about despising Christians, although that could be part of it, but despising Christianity as a belief system.

In the first example, Brian Palmer wrote for Slate, a liberal news website, about the discomfort he feels over the fact that missionary doctors are helping people in developing nations, motivated by their Christian faith. Palmer believes that their medical work should be separate from their religion, even though they are engaged in the medical work, at great personal sacrifice, because of their religion.

Palmer's distaste for religion leads him, Linker wrote, to an illiberal notion of separating religion from health care.

In the second example, Gordon College, a Christian college in Massachusetts, is being investigated by its accreditation agency for upholding a Christian understanding of sexuality. More specifically, it forbids homosexual practice. (It also forbids all sexual activity outside of marriage, and those with same-sex attraction are welcomed to be part of the Gordon College community.)

"The accreditation board is not so much objecting to the college's treatment of gays as it is rejecting the legitimacy of its devoutly Christian sexual beliefs," Linker wrote.

Linker is a former conservative. He previously edited First Things, a conservative Catholic magazine. After rejecting conservatism and becoming a liberal, he wrote The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege in 2007, a book critical of the Christian Right.

Many of his recent articles have dealt with the recent trend of illiberal liberals, or, as he wrote in July, "how liberalism became an intolerant dogma."

Linker and a few other liberals have raised concerns about those on the Left who have begun to treat some conservative viewpoints, especially those related to homosexuality, as akin to racism, and thus must be driven from the public square.

In other recent examples, Brendan Eich was forced out of his position as CEO of Mozilla, the Benham Brothers lost a reality show with HGTV, attempts were made to force A&E's "Duck Dynasty" off the air, Intervarsity can no longer be a student organization on any California State University campus, as well as a slew of speakers who have been disinvited from college campuses.

What is missing from Linker's article is that there are many Christians today who are liberal, and whose liberal views are inspired by their understanding of scripture. There are active liberal movements in all the main branches of American Christianity — Catholic, Mainline Protestant and Evangelical Protestant. This was true in the past as well. Christian beliefs motivated those in the Abolitionist Movement, Suffrage Movement, Progressive Movement and Civil Rights Movement, for instance.

Where do these Christian views fit with the new liberalism? Will they continue to be welcomed into the fold?

Linker acknowledges that he still has a lot to learn about the new illiberal wave among American liberals that is rejecting skepticism, pluralism and diversity, and believes it important to understand where that wave is headed.

"What matters is that we acknowledge that something in the liberal mind has changed, and that we act to recover what has been lost," he wrote.