Liberty Doesn’t Automatically Mean Gay Marriage

Does religious freedom equal gay marriage? Some people think so. I didn’t want to say anything else about gay marriage any time soon at this point. I feel that, for the most part, more than enough has been said on each side in the last three days. But watching Facebook (and a few other places), there has been this particular idea which I think deserves a response from a blog like mine (i.e. a blog which mostly reaches a few common folk the author knows).

See, some Christians have been suggesting that, even though they agree that homosexuality is wrong, the SCOTUS decision is still a win for liberty. After all, we have religious freedom here. So if gay marriage is only wrong from a Christian point of view, shouldn’t the government still allow it for people in general? Wouldn’t restricting marriage to a Christian view violate the religious liberty which Christians so enjoy? We don’t want the government forcing people to worship Jesus, so why should we want them forcing people to respect a Christian view of marriage?

I think there are a few problems with such an argument. The first is that it assumes something about marriage which should not be assumed, namely that it is something which can apply to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It assumes that it means something for a male to “marry” another male, for example. Yet this cannot be a given. Someone must first question what marriage actually is and is about before we can assume that it makes sense to speak of two men or two women as married. An an analogy, we know we cannot speak of men as pregnant. Nothing a man can experience counts as pregnancy. If the government wished to pass a law which allowed some kind of male circumstance to be legally recognized as pregnancy, it would be absurd and everyone would know it. I suggest we should think twice before assuming that marriage does not work in a similar way when it comes to different or same-sex relationships.

Secondly, we have to ask, “Why does the government recognize marriage?” After all, most people still would think you can be in some way married even if there is no government. Marriage has a legal side and another side. So why is there a legal side? Once we ask that question, we can compare the answers to see if it even makes sense for government to recognize “marriage” in same-sex relationships. These days, people tend to assume that marriage is about nothing more than twue wuv and personal fulfillment. There is no significant reason for a government to care about such a union whether gay or straight. Legal marriage, if love is all marriage is about, has no purpose. But if there are other important matters which it makes sense for the government to support by recognizing marriage and giving it legal benefits, then we have to ask whether they apply equally to gay and straight couples.

As well, from a specifically Christian point of view, the original argument I’m countering smacks of Gnosticism. To say that marriage only needs to be heterosexual for religious reasons, but not in the rest of the world, is basically to say that what is right and designed by God has no important impact on the real world after all. We would be promoting a theology which separates God’s moral law from the way the real world works. Can we really say that homosexuality is only wrong for an arbitrary spiritual reason and has no tangible consequences? But if a Gnostic moral worldview is false, and homosexual unions are wrong, then we must admit that they do cause tangible problems. And if homosexual unions do cause tangible problems, then for the government to legally recognize and privilege them is for the government to promote what damages human society, which of course should not be done.

In fact, this all ties in to the silly idea that legally recognized marriages are a right. That’s simply wrong. To marry is a right, and the government must protect it, but the government is not obligated to legally recognize marriages and give them benefits. They have reasons to do so, but ultimately legal marriage constitutes a government privilege, not a right. If the government is to have legal marriages, they should do so because they have some vested interest in promoting marriage. And in that case, it is not a right they are dealing with. They are choosing to promote certain relationships for the benefit of society. This means that some form of discrimination is necessary, as not all relationships can serve that goal (certainly, for example, pedophilic, incestuous, or polygamous relationships we all agree do not serve that goal, and thus can be justly barred from government recognition). If we moved legal marriage from the category of “right” to “privilege,” where it belongs, then all of this nonsense about equality would be less powerful.

I may have rambled some, but I hope one point remains. As Christians, we do not need to agree that legalizing gay marriage is a good idea for the sake of religious liberty. There are various reasons that, religion aside, the definition of legal marriage can still in principle reasonably be restricted to heterosexual unions without violating any principles of religious freedom. The separation of church and state can still exist without gay marriage, and I daresay it should.

Liberty Doesn’t Automatically Mean Gay Marriage

An Obligatory Post in Response to the Legalization of Gay Marriage

I spent quite some time this morning working on my last blog post, and the moment I shared it on Facebook I noticed something else in my newsfeed. There was #MarriageEquality, and within moments the message was clear: after all this time and to absolutely no one’s surprise, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is a Constitutional right and is therefore legal in all 50 states. My immediate response: “Darn, I just finished a big blog post and now I have to write another today!”

On a more serious note, this is a pretty big event. June 26, 2015 will definitely be in the history books. Already there have been tons of extreme reactions on both sides of the main aisles. And of course this issue has occupied my thoughts for most of the day, even though I’m not worked up over it. I don’t have a major theme for my response. So here are my miscellaneous thoughts on the national legalization of gay marriage.

First, this battle was lost years ago. Nothing that new is happening. Public opinion has been moving steadily for decades towards acceptance of homosexual relationships as equal to heterosexual ones. More than that, the idea of gay marriage works perfectly as part of the conception of marriage in the modern world. The West started a very long time ago moving marriage from the sphere of commitment, responsibility, reproduction, social stabilization, etc. to the sphere of “twue wuv” and personal fulfillment. Once that became the dominant paradigm, which happened well before I was even born, gay marriage was a natural and reasonable outcome. To undo the damage, we would have to completely reformulate society’s understanding of what marriage is all about and for. Maybe that will happen, but politics won’t be enough and such a worldview change will take generations.

Next, real marriage is still untouched by legal fictions. If marriage is, as I believe, something with a distinct nature and a specific ontological shape, then it exists before and apart from any legal recognitions. This means that the government may be redefining “marriage” for legal purposes and as an example to society, but it still can’t change the leopard’s spots. The new legal unions between gay couples may be called “marriage” by our society, but that doesn’t make them in any way a real marriage. This means God, too, is unhurt. He will only recognize the marriage covenant as He pleases, whatever government may say.

As well, nothing has changed in our nation to invite God’s judgment. This legal decree is just the latest symptom of existing moral faults in society and government. Those are what fall under God’s “No,” not the enactment of a policy most of the nation was already in agreement with. If God at all intends to bring America down, it will be on the basis of many preexisting faults which led to this act. There is nothing new happening in the Supreme Court decision to affect God’s response to us for better or for worse.

For these reasons and more, Christians don’t need to panic or decry the end of the world. The truth is that, as I mentioned, America has been on this path for some time, so panic now isn’t necessary. Moreover, God’s purposes and the Church have survived far worse. The Church in Germany made it through Nazism. When the first Christians burst onto the scene of the Roman world, their society was even worse than ours was. Yet just in that place God turned the world upside down and Jesus was proclaimed everywhere with great results. Even the atrocious conflicts between Catholics and the Reformers, an evil which grew up within the Church, did not spell the end for God’s people. For God is faithful, and the gates of Hell will not prevail over those who share the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead.

What Christians must do is prepare to address the new challenges for the Church. First and simply, we must prepare for churches and any Christian organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. That’s very likely at this point. Moreover, it’s not inconceivable that Christian colleges could lose accreditation from federally recognized agencies. Christians in many occupations, if they have any voice, may find themselves fired, suspended, or penalized in pay for opposing gay marriage. But most of that isn’t what I want to focus on. After all, if Jesus is Lord and the government is not we should expect such things. What concerns me far more is the challenge coming to the Church from within. For years there have been people within Christianity arguing that homosexuality isn’t actually condemned in Scripture. Some of them have decent arguments and are serious scholars. Voices for this belief will only grow louder now that gay marriage is a fact of American existence. This means that Christians will have to deal with people within the Church disagreeing on this issue moreso than ever before. Many of these people even have a genuine belief in the authority of Scripture and are convinced that this position is Biblically faithful. How should we handle that? Will we excommunicate them? Will we ordain them or not? Can they serve as deacons? Must we treat them all as unbelievers? To what extent should we feel the need to respond to their arguments, and how do we decide if they are “too wrong” on this matter of Biblical interpretation? We will find this issue confronting most congregations, even the more conservative ones. We need to be preparing answers now.

It is more important than ever for believers holding to the traditional view to live quiet and respectable lives full of grace. We are now, more than we even were before, on the “wrong side of history” in the eyes of most of society. As we go on, it’s probably time to focus on living peaceable and upright lives. If we are modest, reserved, and blameless, we cannot be faulted on character charges. If we are quiet (not silent!) respectful, we will earn a better hearing. But more than anything, if we show radical, unconditional love to all people as we try to live these unassuming lives, our actions will speak the loudest. We must in every way defy the stereotypes of people who believe in traditional Scriptural marriage by being too approachable and easy to get along with for anyone to get away with calling us “bigots” or accusing us of hate.

There’s probably other stuff I might say, but I can’t remember anything else right now. Nonetheless, I think these points are enough for today. We’re dealing with a major change, and who knows what all will happen but God? So these are my 2 cents. Feel free to spend them as you wish.

An Obligatory Post in Response to the Legalization of Gay Marriage

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not

“Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.” This quote from N. T. Wright (among others) reflects what he sees as a major subversive political message throughout the Gospels and the New Testament in its entirety. The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead despite the agreement of Jewish and Roman political leaders to kill Him means that the authorities of this world have no real power. The greatest power of tyrants is death, and Jesus undid death. This reality of resurrection is a threat to all world powers. Christ’s people are therefore free to live as citizens of the kingdom to come and not the kingdoms of this world.

Of course, this sounds rather irrelevant to modern life for the most part, at least in the Western world and America. We don’t live in a dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy, or a police state, or any recognizable kind of political tyranny. Instead we pride ourselves on being a free country. So the significance of “Jesus is Lord, [insert political power here] is not” can be lost on us. 

But at the same time, there is something slightly subversive even now in saying, “My allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not the United States of America. My country is from above, and in this nation I live as a foreigner. The President, Congress, and the courts can say what they like, but if I obey them it is to better serve Christ, and not for their sake.” After all, we look to the government to affirm right and wrong, do something about our national problems, and maintain order among the people. So a statement like this grounded in Jesus risen Lordship can’t help but strike lots of people as at least a bit rebellious and dangerous.

But what brings me to this topic? I know this will get me a facepalm from my more liberal friends (both politically and theologically), but it’s of course about a certain Supreme Court case. Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you probably know that Obergefell v. Hodges is set to determine the future of gay marriage in all 50 states. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for 50 years, you can probably guess how this will turn out. Given the status of public opinion on gay marriage, and the spirit of the age, it seems likely enough that this case will result in the determination of a “Constitutional right” to gay marriage in the entire nation.

Obviously, the mere existence of gay marriage won’t hurt me or others who oppose it, but the real issue comes in the affect unanimous government approval of gay marriage would have on churches and Christian schools. As it stands, most churches can choose to only hire straight pastors and other staff members and to only marry straight couples. Generally, Christian schools are not obligated to hire gay teachers or enroll students in gay marriages. We have moral standards based on traditionally solid readings of the Holy Scriptures, and we can for the most part honor those beliefs in how we run schools and churches.

This may very well not continue following the Supreme Court’s ruling. If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you may have seen the comment by Solicitor General Donald Verrili in the case arguments. Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked him about the tax exempt status of religious schools who oppose gay marriage. Bob Jones University was previously stripped of their tax exempt status for banning interracial relationships, and the Chief Justice asked if the same would happen to places with policies against homosexuality. The response:

You know, I—I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I—I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is—it is going to be an issue.

So we have from the mouth of an important political official that there will be some kind of problem with the ability of Christian colleges to oppose gay marriage if the ruling enforces its recognition. That is dangerous to Christians, since here we have the legitimate possibility of the government wielding taxation as a weapon to make believers conform to the mindset of the world at large. If this happens, it will be the declaration, “We are Lord, your Jesus is not.”

This problem can also be seen in the statements of various politicians around the nation. Most recently Hillary Clinton comes to mind. Here’s what she said about abortion “rights”:

Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced…Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper…Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.

There’s no trick or quote mining here. Hillary’s record on these matters speaks for itself. For Hillary Clinton, one of the foremost representatives of the Democratic Party and half the country, religious convictions are an obstacle to be overcome so that people can have abortions. Disagreement cannot be tolerated. The law must spite religious belief and move the people towards liberalism’s goals. 

Unfortunately, beliefs like these are all to common and seem to be the trajectory of the government. Soon Christian schools and churches are likely to be faced with a choice: obey Christ or country. Let your judge be God or government. And of course if you choose to believe that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, there will be consequences. They’ll likely start out purely within the economic sphere (taxes and fines), but do not be surprised if they move on from there. Christian schools could potentially lose accreditation. Churches could lose their buildings. And there’s always the possibility of more “hate speech” laws leading to jail time for Christian pastors, professors, and bloggers.

Of course, I’m not here simply to scare anyone or complain about the victories of some conspiratorial liberal elite. I’m simply making the point that our government is reaching a point where it considers itself the “father” of church. Religions are like rambunctious children who must be corrected and disciplined so that they will do what their parents want. The state is to keep the church in line, not the other way around. This is dangerous and points ever so subtly towards an innocent-looking, nearly accepted totalitarianism. 

We know, however, that Jesus is Lord and the U.S. government is not. Whatever they say, we must continue to follow Christ. For we don’t obey the laws of this world for their own sake, as though they had any real authority. We obey them for the Gospel, so that by submitting to the institutions God has given power for the sake of maintaining order we may live quiet, respectful, and peaceful lives which witness to God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ.

This means that when it comes down to it on issues like abortion and gay marriage, or anything else which comes up, we will not waver but follow the faith we have received. We trust that whatever the fallout, we will be vindicated and restored by our Father, if not in this life then in the resurrection. But this also means that we should not go out of our way to cause trouble. While we should stand our ground, we should avoid being feisty, aggressive, or rebellious. These are not Christian virtues and will only unnecessarily hinder our respectable witness. 

I suppose I’ve rambled a bit, so here’s my main point: the U.S. government is coming to a place where it thinks it can control the Christian religion. But it cannot. Whatever authority it presumes to have is undermined by the victory of Jesus. So if they try to oppose us in whatever ways, we are already on the winning side. Because of Christ, we need not fear or get feisty, but can be bold, brave, and also respectably self-controlled. For Jesus is Lord, and the U.S. government is not.

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not

Rare Steak and the Death Penalty

Execution. Such an awful and yet, according to many people, necessary thing. Where one life was taken, another must be. When dealing with death, people usually get touchy, so there’s no mystery behind the death penalty being controversial. I mean, some of the most heated issues in popular debate involve death (abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, police shootings, and war come to mind off the top of my head). So that the death penalty is also so divisive is no surprise.

What may be a surprise to some Christians is that even within Christianity, the death penalty is very controversial. Even though I grew up with almost exclusively pro-execution believers, I soon found out on getting older how much variety there is. Christianity even has hardcore pacifists, and apparently most of the early church fathers were anti-capital punishment. I found this quite surprising, so I’ve done a little debate and investigation.

Personally, my mental jury is still out. Both sides have plausible arguments, and I find some from each side compelling. But I just wanted to address here one particular argument I used to use, which I’ve realized is flawed.

In my old death penalty debates, the Old Testament Law would often come up. Even though the Law required the death penalty, my opponents said, we are no longer under the Law, so we do not need to execute anyone. The death penalty was abolished for us with animal sacrifices and food regulations.

While I responded with multiple arguments, one I used was that the death penalty came from God before the Mosaic Law, and so couldn’t have simply gone away along with the Law. When was this? Some of you may be familiar. In Genesis 9, the Flood is over and God is establishing a covenant with Noah and his family. On God’s part, He will never destroy the inhabited world again. On humanity’s part, God says this:

I will require the life of every animal and every man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life. Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.

Genesis 9:5-6

Here God sets up the death penalty way before Moses. So when the Law became unnecessary for believers, the death penalty probably did not because that law came from a covenant made before the Law with every human being who still lived.

But, there is a wrinkle in this argument. Immediately before giving the death penalty, God commands Noah, “However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it” (v. 4). So in the same breath that God set up capital punishment in His covenant with people, He also restricted eating meat which still has blood inside as part of that same covenant.

This regulation obviously poses a problem. If we use this passage to maintain the validity of the death penalty, should we also forbid eating really rare steaks, and any other meat which still has blood inside? Both of these laws go back before Moses. They are both part of the covenant made Noah and his family, and we are all their descendants. So these two laws seem to be inseparable. The text seems to imply that if we accept one, we must accept the other, and if we say one is obsolete, we must say the other is, too.

This doesn’t prove that the death penalty is out, though. Even if we think the covenant with Noah no longer applies to us, we might find another reason for capital punishment. But this revelation certainly takes some of the bite out of the Biblical evidence for the death penalty.

Or does it? There is the uncomfortable possibility that these laws do still apply to us. After all, they were never revoked. The New Testament never says they are obsolete like the Law of Moses. Plus, God’s end of the deal (never to destroy all the human world again) is apparently still in force. Even more uncomfortably, the New Testament might actually tell us that the blood law still applies. Consider this: one of the first decisions of the apostles was the Jerusalem Council, which addressed the question of whether Gentile believers (that’s us) have to follow the Law. Here’s part of what they said:

For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.

Acts 15:28-29

We all agree that at least two of the things the council said—namely that we do not have to obey the Law and that we must abstain from sexual immorality—still apply to us today. So what about the commands related to food? Well, Paul seems to indicate that we are allowed to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as we understand that idols are nothing and as long as this does not violate our conscience (Rom. 14:13-23, 1 Cor. 8). So apparently at least one of these restrictions doesn’t apply anymore. And for the rest? Who knows?

My point in all this is that the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants definitely complicates the death penalty debate, even though I myself used to use that covenant for this very purpose. In this particular covenant, separating the law against eating blood with the law requiring the death penalty seems impossible. Moreover, there is at least some possibility that both do apply. So all of this warrants more careful research. In everything, we have to make sure that we are “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV). What all applies to whom? When, where, why, and how does every verse and law apply? May the Spirit lead us into all wisdom on these matters.

By the way, even if the blood law does apply, we don’t have rule out all rare meat. Based on the way meat was handled then, the point of the law appears to have been that the blood in an animal has to be drained before eating. Getting every last drop of blood out was not necessary, or all that feasible.

(As a concluding side note, this issue is particularly interesting to me because there are immediate, albeit not major, practical applications in our diets and politics. Should we support or oppose the death penalty when we vote? Are we allowed to steaks that are really, really rare? These questions need answering for us to do certain parts of life in accordance with God’s will.)

Rare Steak and the Death Penalty