Since The Benedict Option was published, I have heard from a number of Christian readers on the European continent, wanting to know more about it. These believers are far ahead of us Americans in having to deal with what it means to live in a post-Christian culture. As I reported here last year, though the US still remains far ahead of Europe in terms of religious affiliation and practice, but the sociological data show that we are now on the same steady path of decline. This is something very, very hard for American Christians to wrap their minds around. The harder we fight recognizing it, the more vulnerable we are going to be. A reader of this blog told me that the people who run his conservative church insist that the congregation’s young people are merely going through a “phase” with their unbiblical views in certain areas. They don’t grasp the magnitude or the essence of the change.
Ellinor Grimmark didn’t set out to wage a campaign. In 2007 the 40-year-old mother of two quit her catering job to become a midwife. She studied for years, dreaming of bringing life into the world. But Ms. Grimmark was professionally blacklisted in Sweden for her opposition to abortion. Now she is at the center of a yearslong legal dispute whose outcome will have implications for freedom of conscience in Sweden and across Europe.
Despite a reputation for stellar health care, Sweden faces an acute midwife shortage. Eighty percent of the county councils that run local hospitals reported having trouble recruiting midwives last year. An older cohort is retiring faster than its members can be replaced, and the perception that midwives are overworked dampens enthusiasm for the profession.
Local governments in many areas provide prospective midwives with a monthly stipend while they complete their certification. Jönköping County, in southern Sweden, agreed to pay Ms. Grimmark $1,900 a month during the year-and-half she studied.
Ms. Grimmark, a devout Christian, knew that some midwives participate in abortions, but she assumed that hospitals would offer conscience carve-outs for practitioners like her. “There is so much to do as a midwife,” she says in an interview at her lawyer’s office. “So I just thought, ‘OK, that’s one part, but I will do everything else.’ ”
It turns out she was right. Over one-third of Swedish midwives have never had anything to do with abortion, and very few of them take place on a maternal ward of hospitals, where she wanted to work. More:
But Ms. Grimmark underestimated the authorities’ determination to root out antiabortion sentiment. In spring 2013, with one term left in her studies, she asked supervisors at the hospital where she planned to work to accommodate her conscience rights.
She received a furious call from one manager. “How could you even think of becoming a midwife with these opinions?” Ms. Grimmark recalls the manager screaming. “What would you do if a patient who’d had an abortion came to you bleeding?” Ms. Grimmark tried to answer that she would help a woman in that condition, but the voice on the phone kept screaming. Ms. Grimmark was told she wasn’t welcome. A few days later a text message informed her that her stipend would be cut off.
On and on it went. Grimmark was denounced by Sweden’s former antiterrorism chief as being like Islamic extremists — this, for holding pro-life views. A show on national television characterized her as part of a global war on women. This is all being sorted out by the courts now. A Swedish lower court ruled against her, but this week, an appellate court will have its say. And it could end up in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Journal piece points out that both Norway and Denmark protect abortion rights and freedom of conscience, with no problem. Sweden is doing what it’s doing out of spite: to shut down any and all opposition to abortion.
Because Norway and Denmark are highly secularized countries, and even they don’t go this far. It is not inevitable that the US will end up as Sweden. But it’s important for Christians to keep in mind that as we continue to secularize, we should expect challenges of this sort to participation in public life, and in professions. They may come over abortion. They may come over euthanasia. They may come over LGBT issues. They may come over all three. But they’re going to come, and we had better be ready for them. From The Benedict Option:
I have talked to a number of Christians, in fields as diverse as law, banking, and education, who face increasing pressure within their corporations and institutions to publicly declare themselves “allies” of LGBT colleagues. In some instances, employees are given the opportunity to wear special badges advertising their allyship. Naturally if one doesn’t wear the badge, she is likely to face questions from co-workers and even shunning.
These workers fear that this is soon going to serve as a de facto loyalty oath for Christian employees—and if they don’t sign it, so to speak, it will mean the end of their jobs and possibly even their careers. To sign the oath, they believe, would be the modern equivalent of burning a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar.
It will be impossible in most places to get licenses to work without affirming sexual diversity dogma. For example, in 2016 the American Bar Association voted to add an “anti-harassment” rule to its Model Code of Conduct, one that if adopted by state bars would make it simply discussing issues having to do with homosexuality (among other things) impossible without risking professional sanction—unless one takes the progressive side of the argument.
Along those lines, it will be very difficult to have open dialogue in many workplaces without putting oneself in danger. One Christian professor on a secular university’s science faculty declined to answer a question I had about the biology of homosexuality, out of fear that anything he said, no matter how innocuous and fact-based, could get him brought up on charges within his university, as well as attacked by social media mobs. Everyone working for a major corporation will be frog-marched through “diversity and inclusion” training and will face pressure not simply to tolerate LGBT co-workers but to affirm their sexuality and gender identity.
Plus, companies that don’t abide by state and federal antidiscrimination statutes covering LGBTs will be not be able to receive government contracts. In fact, according to one religious liberty litigator who has had to defend clients against an exasperating array of antidiscrimination lawsuits, the only thing standing between an employer or employee and a court action is the imagination of LGBT plaintiffs and their lawyers.
“We are all vulnerable to such targeting,” he said.
Says a religious liberty lawyer, “There is no looming resolution to these conflicts; no plateau that we’re about to reach. Only intensification. It’s a train that won’t stop so long as there is momentum and track.”