separation of church and state
On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote on an amendment that would include the following in Article XIV of the state constitution:
“Sec. 6 Marriage. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
On the ballot, voters will be asked to choose for or against this proposal:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State.
As debate becomes more heated over the next few weeks, there are several things you can count on. In the following pages I want to help you sort out some of the issues and be more conversant with what you will hear and read. I wanted to wait until there was less than a month remaining before the vote to present this article so that it would not get lost in the rhetoric of the past month.
First, there will be more heat than light generated by the nature of the discussion. Honest deliberation of the facts of a moral issue like this seldom enjoys much of a chance. Already I have heard and seen some rather caustic remarks that make my point! In one meeting, a supporter of the proposal rose to speak quite harshly and accusingly about anyone who would not approach the matter in what he perceived to be the only right way–attack and demand that the voting population simply understand that to vote against the proposal was to vote against the Bible. His vehemence in manner left no room for further consideration without incurring his wrath and certain condemnation by him of all who disagreed with as ‘liberals.’ On the opposition side, anyone who dares to vote in favor of the amendment has been painted as homophobic, hopelessly intolerant and dangerously narrow. According to these two voices, your choice is not very promising–you must be either an ungodly liberal who hates God or a homophobic troglodyte who believes the world is flat! Not much room for discussion of the issues when the heat reaches that level!
Second, both sides will spend extraordinary amounts of money to place their positions in the best possible light and gain as much public sympathy as they can. Since our culture has not yet figured out reasonable forums for debate of issues, the victor is often the one who can buy the most publicity. Because the primary antagonists in the debate come from the homosexual community and it’s advocates, and because that community is relatively small as a percentage of the population (however powerful their lobbying is and expansive their support base may be beyond their community), funding for their campaign in North Carolina will likely come from other parts of the country. To make a guess, it would probably be fairly accurate to trace the gifts to zip codes on the political map which are blue, not red. That would be largely from the major metropolitan areas. Already the money trail has made its way to the state and backers of the opposition continue to plow funds into a campaign to convince North Carolina voters that it is in their best interests to allow them to explain what and how we should think. Persuasive arguments will be presented in slick, expensive advertising campaigns that ask us to bury our convictions unless we can reach them without reference to our beliefs.
The supporters of the amendment will face a huge challenge to meet the budget of the opposition, but will try to match fire with fire and you can watch for ads that try to create a warm, happy picture of family life in the traditional context. At the end of the day, millions will be spent to try to gain the upper hand–not with information, mind you, but to create “impressions” that will stick in people’s minds as they sort out how they “feel” about this issue.
Third, opponents of the amendment will seek to strip the issue of any moral context by insisting that no “religious perspective” belongs in the discussion, that it is an amoral matter unrelated to personal beliefs. Such a notion should be patently absurd to any thinking person, but great pains will be taken to promote such a bizarre point of view. But since our culture operates more out of reaction based on feelings than positive action based on sound thinking and solid information, the opponents will do their best to paint this as a church/state issue in order to silence the voices of believing people all across the state.
If it is allowed that everyone enters the fray shaped by their values and beliefs, it will force opponents of the amendment to own their values and identify the sources from which they have drawn them. Christians and people of other faiths have already been told to keep religion out of the debate, presuming that people who approach the issue from a secular perspective have no compelling beliefs or prevailing values driving their thinking. However, the truth is that everyone determines how they stand on this issue based on some personal belief. It may be belief in the authority of Scripture, or it may be belief in recent scholarship, or it may be belief in the essential goodness of human beings, or any number of other possibilities.
Everyone believes something based on some authority they have come to trust as credible. So why should Christians be asked to leave our beliefs out of the deliberations when everyone else gets to bring their beliefs and values to the table? We need not be cowered into the silly notion that because our advocacy is rooted in Judeo-Christian teaching and an ethical/moral framework based on Biblical teaching we should be marginalized and our perspective prohibited. In a kind way, we may simply remind folks during the coming weeks that biblically-based convictions are not invalidated because the laws of the state are at stake. I cannot think of any laws of the state that are not the result of someone’s conclusion that one way is right and another way is wrong–a belief informing a value system giving rise to a legal determination.
Fourth, the scope of the impact will be grossly exaggerated by both sides. Some will predict the demise of marriage as we know it, while others will claim blatant discrimination and an unconscionable violation of human rights.
Those predicting the end of marriage, or at least irreparable damage to it, by allowing the possibility of a day when the current laws defining marriage as a unique relationship between a man and a woman will be overturned by the courts, have not yet explained in a convincing way how the current state of marriage would be adversely impacted. What has been noted is that the indirect impact has resulted in a gradual disregard for the institution of marriage among the general population. Ironically, as the homosexual community is clamoring for the right to be married, an alarming percentage of the culture seems to be abandoning it in favor of living-together arrangements that see little value in it. Passing a constitutional amendment in support of marriage between a man and woman is important for the preservation of traditional, biblical reasons but it does not address the bigger problems associated with the general decline of marriage in the culture at large!
Opponents of the amendment have been persistent in insisting that what is at stake is a human rights concern by which a group of people are being denied what other groups of people have available to them. In other words, by denying the right to marry a partner of the same sex, the charge is that we are creating a human rights dilemma and refusing their access to a right granted to those who choose to marry partners of the opposite sex.
Yet, this right is not absolutely affirmed for all circumstances. Practically speaking, we all agree that denying that right in some cases has long been an acceptable restriction. Even from the opponents to the amendment, I hear no advocacy for the removal of all limitations, just the ones related to same-sex marriage. But to be fair in our logic, what then protects the other assumptions behind other laws applied to marriage? Daughters cannot marry their fathers…sons their mothers…children under a specific age are protected from marriage at too young an age…brother and sisters cannot marry each other…close relatives of specified relations are forbidden…polygamy is not presently up for debate…so certain “denial of rights” are acceptable but same-sex marriage should be excepted and accepted.
Is this kind of discussion absurd? Of course it is, but logically applied, if the same thinking follows, if we choose to relax legal restrictions regarding the right to marry in one case, must not the same considerations be applied in every case currently on the books?
Everything gets tossed into the air if we are looking at the issue only in terms of fairness. But we are not. Everyone agrees that some things are just not right, even if restricting them appears to be unfair. But the argument may be raised, there is no group significant enough in size and influence crying out for change in those categories.
That opens up a question of principle…does the group affected only get its way when it reaches a certain size or wield a certain degree of influence? Then it perhaps would serve us well to understand just what the actual scope of the concern actually is. Are there thousands of gay couples in North Carolina awaiting the defeat of this amendment, the ruling of an activist judge to overturn the current laws on the books, and other such revisions of the law to sanction gay marriage…are there that many who will actually be affected? Will there be changes in divorce laws to accommodate the inevitable marital failures among same-sex couples? How will they be different from current ones, and if different, how will that be fair?
The question does not depend on how many advocates, but on whether marriage will be defined specifically or allowed to depend on the whims of the voting public, their elected officials and/or the rulings of activists in the judicial branches of government.
Exaggerations of damage should not be allowed to sway the decision we are called to make. Honest assessment of principles and evaluations of the real issues should lead the way.
Fifth, in all the rhetoric about homosexual marriage and its implications, little attention will be given to the gravest enemies of marriage–rampant divorce made more accessible with laws written to make it easier to bring a marriage to an end, children born out of wedlock at unprecedented rates to parents with no incentive to legitimize their offspring, a moral climate which assumes sexual activity outside of marriage as the norm (and the fascinating, yet abhorrent, shift of the word ‘virgin’ to a negative rather than positive characteristic!), and a series of other cultural drifts away from the whole idea of marriage. Inconsistency marks the trail of marriage advocacy over the years.
The epidemic of broken marriages and shattered lives brought on by the indifference to the damage brought on by an expanding culture of divorce has not produced sufficient outrage to take action to address an institution that is clearly not working. Homosexual marriage concerns notwithstanding, heterosexual marriage stands at the brink and may in time become a relic of the past except within the culture of the church. The value of this life-long commitment to unparalleled intimacy between husband and wife has fallen to new lows and each year seems to reset the bar even lower. Since this is not the time or the place for full discussion of this subject, we cannot afford to delve into the level of detail necessary to do it justice. However, we cannot allow it to recede into the recesses of our consciousness and disappear from the growing list of social ills that must be corrected. Healthy portrayals of marriage have virtually disappeared from the entertainment industry and in place of marriage is a steady diet of couples living together, or singles riding a sexual roller coaster of encounters with no relationships or commitments expected or even desired. Focusing our attention only on the sensationalistic topic of gay marriage does nothing to do the heavy digging required to unearth society-wide, revolutionary new initiatives to recover ground long lost in the field of marriage. **
Sixth, when the weight of the arguments appears to be less persuasive than desired, the speech will become more vindictive, the name calling more intense and reason will give way to emotional appeals based on anecdotal accounts recounted for no other purpose than to tug on heart strings. Rest assured, both sides will resort to the same practices if they consider the result more important than how the result is reached. As noted in the first point above, heat is more evident than light in the way people treat one another when they cease to become persons and degenerate into an impersonal enemy to be dismantled and destroyed. Much grace and sweet reasonableness will be essential if we do not want to become shrill-voiced and mean-spirited in how and what we say.
Seventh, determining the will of the people is not the intent in the voting process on a matter like this–limiting the number of people going to the polls always serve the underdog more than the front-runner. Legislators have done all they could for years to keep this issue off the ballots in North Carolina for as long as they could because they could not count on the will of the voting public to support their point of view. Democracy operates with a very tenuous premise when it comes to majority rule. A minority can prevent the majority from ever speaking its mind, as has been evident in the way the marriage amendment has been systematically buried in committee in the legislature without trusting the people of the state to vote the idea up or down.
Eighth, the will of the people has been under constant barrage from amendment opponents for the better part of a generation now as media, academia, government and yes, religious institutions, have determined that there they can and should radically change the way homosexuality and sexuality in general is viewed by society.
Social engineering in unprecedented proportions of aggressiveness has now succeeded in revising the way a once aberrant behavior can now be viewed as normal, and this agenda has made extraordinary gains in a little over a decade. A new generation has been schooled to believe that their perspectives on this matter are more enlightened, more informed and more accepting than previous generations. Surveys among twenty-somethings indicate a shift of thinking that reflects a change in values based on feelings and impressions, not core life convictions and anchored beliefs in unchanging truths.
The breadth of the effectiveness of this experiment in social engineering can be detected in media, education, religious tolerance (with little conviction), and government policy. Mandating hiring practices that do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation seems very noble, as does preventing clubs and organizations from doing the same. But when that becomes the primary criteria, conflict arises when religious conviction butts up against government regulation. A church may not in the minds of some decline an applicant to work in its pre-school, to serve as its organist…or on the university campus, a Christian organization should not deny membership to someone whose lifestyle and beliefs contradict the basic tenets of what they believe. And who could have imagined in their wildest thoughts that our relationship as a nation with some African nations would depend upon them aligning their point of view about homosexuality with the current administration’s anti-discrimination policies?
Conclusion. The church has given up too much ground on moral concerns, both in teaching and practice. What an issue like the present amendment on marriage does is emphasize the need to teach, train and disciple followers of Christ to learn what pleases Him, what holy living looks like without falling into the trap of legalism. To recapture the ground lost will take more than a successful passing of the marriage amendment. But perhaps that will be the line in the sand we have needed to wake us up and force our hand to do what we should have been doing all along–show people the reason for faith, the beauty of faith-living and the richness of holding up the integrity of Jesus’ name by doing all things and believing all things for His glory!
So to make it completely clear (as if you could have missed it!)…I support the North Carolina amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.
** An article by Peter Hitchens in the 17 March, 2012 edition of the British magazine, The Spectator, presents a surprisingly cogent thought about what is going on regarding this issue in United Kingdom politics. Although I disagree with some of his presuppositions, his main point rings true. The main point of difference is his conclusion that moral conservatives need not get too worked up over the matter of legalizing gay marriage. His reasoning is what I find to be so interesting.
“Why was I bothering with this? Why should anyone? The number of people involved is tiny. Alfred Kinsey was wrong. Ten per cent of the population are not homosexual. Except in 2006, when they had just been introduced, there have never been more than 10,000 civil partnerships a year. There is no important difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage, and changing the name will alter nothing substantial. As critics have rightly pointed out, there is no great demand for it…It is, or ought to be, a war without any combatants.”
Obviously the latter part of that assessment differs dramatically when “civil marriage” expands to include all kinds of marriages, especially the kinds sanctioned and blessed by the church, yet authorized and given legal status by the state. Add to that the fact that there is much more at stake than just tax and insurance benefits for everyone who holds a higher view of marriage than a social contract, as those who hold a biblical view of marriage certainly do. But his observation that this is a minority issue being foisted on the public as if it were a major civil rights issue is right on target. Only because of the perceived fear of censure and ridicule are there as many supporters of gay marriage as there are purported to be. The marriage amendment in North Carolina seeks protection for the institution of marriage as it is best understood by the majority of its citizens.
However, Hitchens goes on to make a point that concerns me far more than potential legalization of gay marriages, and that is as has already been noted, the vast array of other attacks upon marriage that largely go unchallenged. (For another discussion, charges of “homophobia” have some merit in that homosexual marriage raises loud voices of concern among those who cannot be bothered by what appear to be other more serious long-range issues facing marriage. Churches that teach heresy and practice what amounts to syncretistic religion instead of biblical Christianity are allowed to continue with only occasional resistance from their larger bodies, epidemic rates of divorce, couples living together outside of marriage, abusive relationships in marriages–none rise to the level of impeachable offense, but somehow homosexuality stirs the troops like few other issues can. One church with which I am familiar was ousted from its official association with others of its denomination for performing wedding ceremonies for gays, but no one protested when the same week they were ousted they were hosting an inner healing seminar with a swami from one of the branches of Hinduism right in the same church! The core problem is the same–once abandon biblical truth as the source of authority for the church in its faith and practice and literally anything goes. But somehow, more sentiment arises when the deviation from Scripture concerns homosexuality…hence the merit to some allegations of homophobic motivations behind some of the outcry in the present deliberations.
Well, I digress, so here is the balance of Hitchens’ comments.
“The real zone of battle, a vast 5000-mile front along which the forces of righteousness have retreated without counter-attacking for nearly 50 years, involves the hundreds of thousands of marriages undermined by ridiculously easy divorce, the millions of children hurt by those divorces and the increasing multitudes of homes where the parents, single or in couples, have never been married at all and never will be. If we are to have a Coalition for Marriage…this would be territory on which it might fight with some hope of success.
Why should we care so much about stopping a few hundred homosexuals getting married, when we cannot persuade legions of heterosexuals to stay married? It is a complete loss of proportion.” [“The Gay Marriage Trap,” Peter Hitchens, The Spectator, 17 March, 2012]
The key weakness in his argument is his presumption that this must be, or should be, an either/or proposition. From a convictional standpoint, biblical faith shows no partiality in making allowance for some sin and condemning others. So as the weeks slip by, think and discuss in a civil manner without apology for your point of view. If you don’t have one already, plenty of folks will try to convince you of theirs! In fact, that is exactly what my intent is here! Do not rely on others to set the course of history by neglecting to vote, and prepare yourself well with good information before you go. Then your responsibility will be clear…vote for the cause of righteousness. That way, you will never go wrong!