Following the vote on the Marriage Amendment, May 8, I received the following comment from a man named Matthew. I have attempted to address his questions and comments in this post since many others are talking about the same kinds of issues. Thanks Matthew for caring enough to ask!
“I greatly appreciate this post. I am a follower of Christ and I am up in the air about this amendment. Granted the polls are closed and the amendment passed but I am not clear that this is not a violation of law given rights. The amendment was not an affront to the church. It is within the walls of the state. How is this declaration loving our gay community? Please in simple terms, as if I am a seven year old, I would love to here your thoughts. I know you address this with your fourth point and maybe that should be enough.”
Here is my response.
Matthew, forgive my delay! You raise several questions and make a few comments to which you have invited a response so I will do my best to do so! First of all, the violation of “law-given rights” has emerged in the debate quite often as a point of contention. However, to give the benefit of the doubt, I think it is not “law-given rights” that are the issue since no laws are in danger of being violated. In fact, the laws as written would only be violated if marriage were expanded beyond that of a man to a woman.
I think what you mean, and I may be incorrect so feel free to let me know, is a violation of civil rights or some other form of rights not yet offered by law or protected by the constitution. To that issue, I will address a couple of brief comments.
1. As you noted correctly, point four in my article from April 10 speaks to the issue of rights. There has never been a legitimate question about the rights of a society or government to limit what people have a right to do or not do. The example I gave suggested multiple prohibitions regarding marriage which have no advocates–polygamy, under-age marriage, marriage to close family members, etc. If we use fairness as the prevailing measure, it would be unfair to “violate the rights” of anyone by prohibiting such things. Yet we all understand that no one is concerned about that in the present discussion. When then do “rights” become so?
Well, rights become so when they represent the values of the people making the laws and those who elect them to do so. Sadly, in a democratic process, the strength resides in the power of the majority to determine which values prevail. In the same way, the weakness resides in the power of the majority to mandate values, even when they are not shared by those who will be influenced and affected by the laws. Each is a strength or weakness depending on whether the values you hold dear are upheld by the majority. So, ‘rights’ are not universal entities existing absolutely in a pluralistic culture. They shift with the tide of human opinion unless there is something anchoring them to more substantial moorings.
Therefore, the amendment to the NC Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates no rights at all but merely reflects the historic and contemporary standards and values of those governed who cast their votes according to the values they hold dearest. Does that always work out well? History proves that not to be the case, but the issue of “rights” is not violated in the least regarding marriage. Since none have been established for any other kind of marital union than the one affirmed by the majority vote of the citizens, there is therefore no existing legal or civil right to be violated.
2. Regarding the statement that the amendment was not an affront to the church, you are exactly right. However the rejection of the amendment would have been. How? You suggest that the matter is “within the walls of the state” by which I assume you mean that it does not matter within the church. The church does not speak with one voice on this issue…or few if any other issues for that matter! But for churches that affirm the authority of the Bible as true and who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, there is much greater clarity.
Since as followers of Christ we are under His lordship, we submit to His truth and follow His will and ways as we find them addressed in His Word. No one has tried successfully to make the case that the Bible is in favor of homosexuality. Some have tried to advocate that point of view but do not get very far with anyone who happens to own and read a Bible! But the church does have a primary concern in upholding the standards of righteous behavior Jesus calls for from His disciples. When given the opportunity to speak to the values embraced and made into law within our rights as citizens, we can and should make our voices known about what we believe regarding godly and good values.
Our values are every bit as important as those who hold views that are the exact opposite of ours. So when a challenge comes before the followers of Christ and we are asked to vote our conscience, biblical values and righteous standards inform our conscience and we must vote accordingly.
We already live in a culture where our conscience is violated by the laws of the land. For example, since 1973, abortion laws have been on the books which offend those who value life before birth as many followers of Christ do. So when the opportunity to speak up for values from a biblical point of view presents itself, it does involve the church-goer just as it does the atheist just as it does the mindless person who does not even know that he/she has values (or where they came from!). The biblical point of view does not demand silence from those who disagree. Neither should those who disagree demand silence of those of us who have biblical convictions as strong as their secular convictions.
So it is a church issue…and a ‘secular issue”…and a values issue regardless of where and how the values happened to be shaped.
3. The last question you ask if very important…how is this loving our gay community? In the hands of many, it is decidedly not loving because it is used as a club to pound homosexuals and dehumanize them. But for those who do love people in the gay community, the marriage amendment merely defines one set of issues. At the same time, it should open the door for dialogue on other issues. We cannot alter what the Bible says about the sin of homosexual behavior any more than we can negotiate what it teaches about adultery in a heterosexual context. But we can ask questions and learn what life’s issues are like for the gay man or woman who wants to love God and live for Him, but feels trapped and abandoned and unwelcome by those who are supposed to be loving them in Jesus’ name.
The amendment made no attempt to answer that dilemma. It remains for the followers of Christ to be intentional in listening and learning how we can love without compromising truth, how we can offer help without being condescending, how we can reach out without giving the impression that we are somehow reaching down. Love is complicated and messy, but it is an essential element of being a follower of Christ.
Giving up on God’s standard of righteousness and holiness is never acceptable. We cannot wink our eye and declare that homosexual behavior is no longer a sin. But neither can we give up on the high value God gives to loving others in His name and put conditions on who we will and will not love. We say “love the sinner, but not the sin.” Our culture does not understand that distinction. Unfortunately, many followers of Christ don’t either! But we have to learn!
Summary? Rights and values in a democracy are affirmed by majority vote and end up shaping the language of the law. That does not satisfy those who stand resolutely on biblical truth, nor those who even reject the existence of any truth. We have every right and responsibility to make our voices known, and exert whatever righteous influence we have to speak up for what we believe and value. But loving people is not up for a vote. So followers of Christ must lead the way in demonstrating the love of Christ–not by caving in to demands for the rejection of his standards of righteousness, but by showing a better way–His way, by living it winsomely in the power of the Holy Spirit in the joy and love of Jesus’ name. I pray for a better day to come when we live what we believe…and speak the truth, but always in love.