“If God doesn’t judge America, He will need to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah” – Billy Graham
I received an email just this weekend from a friend and evangelist who runs a local Christian drug treatment center. (I haven’t responded to the email yet, but hope to soon – time permitting.) In the email, he expressed shock and sorrow over the president’s recent statements regarding “gay marriage” and the ongoing controversy. While I find that I agree with much of what he said (in fact, everything he said in regards tomorality) I don’t view these statements by the president as some manner of watershed moment for the country, precisely because I believe good morality and public policy are not the same thing.
Side note: Newsweek just came out with the cover to the right, declaring Obama to be the “first gay president” (much like prior declarations of Bill Clinton being the first black president). For the record, I don’t think Obama is a homosexual (though Eric Rush does hint at it pretty strongly in negrophilia). Newsweek is probably having circulation problems like most other print media outlets and is trying anything they can to sell copy. I suspect it may work, and I also suspect it will keep the issue alive for just a few more news cycles – then the euro crisis will erupt and we’ll be on to more pressing matters. But now, back to the topic at hand.
Gay marriage – just so we’re clear
The Bible doesn’t say anything about gay marriage. It doesn’t have to. Homosexual acts are declared a sin and an abomination. There really is no need to consider gay marriage at all. The two are utterly incompatible (yes, that’s a double entendre).
The problem that my friend appears to have is that legality implies morality, and that allowing homosexuals to marry would imply acceptance of homosexuality in general. To this I would say two things. First, we have to get away from this notion (otherwise we are stuck, in a democracy, with “morality of the majority” – which is no morality at all). Second, it is a mild form of self-delusion to feel that the country can trend as far as it has toward acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle (and many other sins) and hold that as long as the law is in place we still have an “out” with God.
All or nothing …
If we are going to legislate Biblical morality we have to ask “why” and “how much.” The argument for “why” seems to most often take the form of “God will bless us, as a nation, if we are in line with His word.” Now, I can’t really argue with that line of reasoning. I will, however, note that God’s relationship to men is shown to be one of free choice on both sides. Legislated morality would seem to be of little value. Folks who do the right thing kicking and screaming the whole way are hardly representative of a nation whose heart is given over to God.
Now, about that second question. If one intends to legislate morality on the basis of the blessings of God, then one would presumably need to legislate the whole of Biblical morality. Even if we don’t legislate the punishments for sin found in the old testament, the list of things that need to be addressed is longer than homosexuality.
For starters, fornication and adultery must now be illegal. Those teenagers that have sex on the couch while Mom & Dad are out? Just as illegal as murder.
The theocrats who have “advocated” for the poor and needy (at the expense of others, not themselves) finally have their wish. We can and should legislate care for the widows and orphans and those who are incapable of doing for themselves. Of course, there’s another step to this legislation. In 2 Thess 3:10 we see that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat.” This is not a suggestion on how to apply “tough love” to lazy folks. As long as we’re legislating, we have to make this a command. It should now be illegal for you to give money to able-bodied beggars.
The list goes on and on. The point is, if we’re going to legislate morality, we have to get the whole thing, not just pick and choose this sin or that. The downside of this approach is that, while the word of God never changes, theology does. Common acceptance of various behaviors changes along with it. We used to accept slavery. Well, maybe not everybody, but certainly a “majority” accepted it once. And therein is the difficulty. A majority may or may not rightly grasp biblical morality at any point. Our preachers should work tirelessly to preach and teach (and they do). Getting just over the 50% mark isn’t enough. Nor is it enough tostop preaching and teaching and just push the legislative morality agenda.
… or something
At this point we have three choices. We can advocate for a legislation of the entirety of Biblical morality – which I haven’t seen from many theocrats, not yet anyway. We can take the “Mitt Romney / John Kerry” approach of holding that religion is a private affair and we should not, cannot let moral leanings influence public policy. These two, by the way, are the only options the theocrats and secularists recognize, because they fully accept the right of one man to rule over the life of another. They will accuse each other of either wanting to legislate every moral inclination or legislate the absence of morality.
What I promote is neither of these. We can legislate against immoral assault on the life and liberty, the personhood, of others. We can legislate against slavery, abortion, rape, murder, assault, theft, and all the ways that one man oppresses another. But we cannot successfully legislate the offense against God. While we’re at it, we’re going to have trouble legislating sins of omission – sins nonetheless, but difficult to legislate. To do so one has to judge the degree to which a man has an obligation to his neighbor, and the majority misses this all the time.
So I Owe My Friend an Email
Morality is still morality, legislation cannot and will not change this … and we ought to stop acting like it does. The church has a mission here, and it is above and beyond the ability to sway a majority to enact this or that legislation. We can’t stop preaching just because the laws have a more-or-less moral bent. Nor can we hold that the battle is lost if the laws accept immoral behaviors. The battle happened long before the law.
A kingdom not of this world …
In parting, I’d like to offer a simple observation. It’s one I’ve made before, I’m sure. If we intend to legislate right and wrong in terms of personal choices (that don’t assault the rights of others), then what is our text? Presumably Christians would push for the Bible, just as Muslims would argue for the Quran. We run the serious risk of having our argument deteriorate into “we have the right book” – which I believe is both true and a really weak argument.
What delineates the two sides of this argument has to be more than “we’ve backed the right horse.” Christians believe in a kingdom not of this world. Attempts to enact a moral society by fiat, based on a religious text, have led to quite a few instances of oppression. But we are citizens of a different kingdom. Our ability to enact full morality in this world is really a rather short-sighted goal, and one that has plenty of competition.