jasonbwatson

November 7, 2015

The right thing to do

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was in the news yesterday after the announcement on Thursday that the church will now consider those in same-sex marriages to be apostates. The policy change also declared that children of same-sex parents will not be blessed as babies and cannot be baptized until they are 18 years old. Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the LDS church, was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “Church handbooks are policy and procedural guides for lay leaders who must administer the church in many varied circumstances throughout the world. The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”

The church had, according to the Post article, left the discipline of same-sex couples to local leaders prior to making the change on Thursday, a change the church decided was necessary because of the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage across the country. The article further clarified that the LDS church defines an apostate as “people who renounce their faith. If someone is believed to be acting in an apostate way, it triggers a disciplinary council, which can have different outcomes, from counseling to potential loss of membership.”

Interestingly, the new policy puts homosexual marriage into the same category as polygamy, which the LDS church officially renounced in 1890. I am on record as arguing long before last summer’s SCOTUS decision that redefining marriage to include homosexual unions would open the door to polygamous marriages, as well.

As of Friday afternoon there were more than 1,200 comments on the Post story. Not surprisingly, most of them were not supportive of the policy change. The daughters of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said the church had gone too far. I wonder, though, of perhaps the real problem is that other faiths have not gone far enough. A number of Christian denominations have gone the other way, saying that they welcome homosexuals and believe that homosexual marriage is okay. This despite the fact, of course, that the Bible clearly states otherwise. If a church firmly believes that the Bible teaches that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, why wouldn’t that church consider those who reject that core tenet of their faith to have rejected the faith? If a church expects its members to accept and agree with its statement of faith, why would it allow members who directly contradict and oppose a fundamental element of that faith? Churches that practice infant baptism expect–require, I imagine–the parents of those infants to be members of their church and to profess faith consistent with the church’s teaching. Why then would the LDS church not hold that infants of same-sex couples will not be blessed? I do not know what the LDS position is on when an individual becomes old enough to become a member of the church, but the Post article says that children are typically baptized around age 8. While I do not know this for certain, of course, I cannot imagine there are many churches that would baptize an 8 year old without the consent of the child’s parents. The LDS position here is that even if the parents consented, the child is being raised in a home that by its very existence contradicts the teachings of the church. Accordingly, I do not consider the LDS position change to be too severe or even inappropriate. Instead, I see a church willing to take a clear, public and unambiguous stand for what it believes in the face of a culture that has decided it does not agree. That is not easy to do, it will not make the church popular and there is little to gain from doing it. Little, that is, except the one thing that really matters–standing firm on what that church believes is the truth. There is not much I agree with when it comes to Mormon faith or teaching. In fact, I do not even agree with all LDS teaching on marriage, given that the Mormon faith teaches that marriage is an element of salvation. On this issue, though, I both agree with and applaud the church for standing boldly and firmly for God’s design for marriage. I might handle some of the details differently or change some of the details of how the children of homosexuals are treated, but the details of my church practice and ordinance are different than the details of the LDS church.

My hope is that other churches, those churches that claim to hold to biblical inerrancy and authority, would likewise take an unequivocal stand for God’s Truth and His design for marriage. Homosexuals need to be treated with respect, need to be shown the love of God and need to be prayed for consistently. Homosexuals are loved by God, but God hates their choices when they engage in homosexuality and they defile His design for marriage. Softening the truth of God’s Word is not a loving act. Saying God condones something He clearly does not is not a loving act. Standing for unpopular truth will not win many friends, but it is the right thing to do.

November 13, 2014

Good news for marriage

Believe it or not, there may be some good news for those of us who believe in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In late October, United States District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez upheld the Puerto Rican law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled, 2-1, that measures in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee limiting marriage to one man and one woman were constitutional. In both instances, the decisions held that the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, allows for states to define marriage.

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The Windsor opinion did not create a fundamental right to same gender marriage nor did it establish that state opposite-gender marriage regulations are amenable to federal constitutional challenges. If anything, Windsor stands for the opposite proposition: it reaffirms the State’s authority over marriage, buttressing Baker‘s conclusion that marriage is simply not a federal question.”

Baker v. Nelson, the other decision cited above, was a 1972 case in Minnesota in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a Minnesota law limiting marriage to a man and a woman did not violate the Constitution. Baker appealed, but the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question.” Because of the way in which Supreme Court cases work, the Baker case went to the Supreme Court by way of mandatory appellate review. The refusal of SCOTUS to hear the case therefore became precedent because the refusal to hear the case was considered a decision on the merits of the case. This is important, because Perez-Gimenez explained that the Windsor case did not overturn Baker but rather complements it. “Windsor and Baker work in tandem to emphasize the States’ ‘historic and essential authority to define the marital relation’ free from ‘federal intrusion.'”

The Sixth Circuit decision came after a refusal by SCOTUS on October 6 to hear appeals from states that have had their traditional marriage laws struck down by courts, making it an important decision and one that has received considerable attention and no doubt will continue to do so.

Perhaps even more encouraging to defenders of traditional marriage than either decision in and of themselves, though, is the fact that both decisions take aim at the position of those who argue that homosexual marriage is a constitutional right. Perez-Gimenez wrote, “It takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance–this Court does not venture an answer here–to interpret Windsor‘s endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage.”

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote the majority decision in the Sixth Circuit case. He stated early in his decision that recent decisions are mostly ignoring a very, very long history of defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world,” Sutton wrote. Sutton also wrote that it is not the place of the judges of the Sixth Circuit to make policy decisions for the citizens living in its circuit; rather, its purpose is to interpret laws vis-a-vis the existing laws and precedents, of which Baker still is one. This is a breath of fresh air coming from a federal bench, especially since so many courts seem more than happy to assume the role of making, rather than interpreting, laws. Sutton went on to write, “A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.”

This element of Sutton’s decision is a unique perspective on the issue, as far as I know, and I think it is going to prove to be a very important component of future cases dealing with the definition of marriage:

What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g. with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. This does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring. This explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning.

The reason why this is so important is that is establishes that states do have a compelling interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman–something that others have argued is not the case. If states have no compelling interest to define marriage as between a man and a woman, the argument goes, then states have no reason or justification for restricting marriage to a man and a woman other than legalized discrimination. So keep an eye on this rationale, because it is going to be extremely important.

Sutton went on to reinforce his point by writing this: “If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage.” This is, of course, one of the keystone elements of the argument I have been making against homosexual marriage all along; if we change the definition of marriage to be other than between a man and a woman we eliminate any justification for prohibiting any definition of marriage, whether male-male, female-female, adult-child, human-animal, multiple spouses, etc. Albert Mohler included this observation in his blog post on the Sixth Circuit decision: “He [Sutton] also recorded that in the oral arguments the attorneys arguing for same-sex marriage had been unable to answer his question [as to why marriage should be defined in terms of monogamy]. They could not, he stated, because the only argument they could advance was moral tradition. They could not cite moral tradition as the authority for monogamy because they argued that moral tradition was not a rational basis for law when it came to limiting marriage to a man-woman union.”

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not.” Similarly, Sutton wrote, “The theory of the living constitution rests on the premise that every generation has the right to govern itself. If that premise prevents judges from insisting on principles that society has moved past, so too should it prevent judges from anticipating principles that society has yet to embrace.” In other words, both judges are taking a stand for courts restricting themselves to interpreting law and letting the people make the decision about how marriage is defined. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Windsor decision meant, as well.

Mohler closed his blog with this statement: “Sometimes the right argument just has to be made, even if it does not win at any given hour. The truth will stand the test of time, and Judge Sutton deserves our gratitude and respect for making an argument in defense of both marriage and the Constitution–and for making it so well.” I echo his sentiment, and would add Judge Perez-Gimenez to that, too. In the words of Galatians 6:9, let us not grow weary in doing what is good–and in this situation, it means continuing to take a stand for marriage as God defined it, and praying for those judges who are courageous enough to defend the right of the people to make that determination.

April 17, 2014

The Uselessness of Stigma

An interesting article appeared recently on the web site of The Atlantic. The article, written by Conor Friedersdorf, was posted on the morning of April 10 and is entitled “Why Gay Marriage Opponents Should Not Be Treated Like Racists.” It was interesting both because of the way in which it addressed this issue and because of where it was published. I am not a regular reader of The Atlantic but I have certainly read its pages numerous times over the years and I have to confess I was a bit surprised–pleasantly–to find this article there.

Friedersdorf begins his article this way: “Liberals generally think of themselves as proponents of tolerance, pluralism, and diversity. Some liberals are also eager to stigmatize and punish opponents of gay marriage.” He then asks if this stigmatization is a betrayal of liberal values. Excellent question, that. In response, Friedersdorf writes that if it is a betrayal it is one that most liberals find justified, one that “is no more problematic than the decision to exclude white supremacists from polite society.”

In support of this position Friedersdorf cites an e-mail correspondent who said that objecting to a boycott of a company whose CEO gave financial support to California’s Proposition 8 (which defined marriage as between a man and a woman) was akin to finding the Montgomery bus boycott objectionable. Friedersdorf went on to cite Will Oremus who said, in Slate, “Opposing gay marriage in America today is not akin to opposing tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s more akin to opposing interracial marriage: It bespeaks a conviction that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.”

Interestingly, Friedersdorf agrees with Oremus that homosexuals should have the right to marry. He disagrees with him, however, in the comparison of gay and interracial marriage. Why? “Opposition to interracial marriage was all but synonymous with a belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another,” Friedersdorf writes. But, he continues, “Opposition to gay marriage can be rooted in the insidious belief that gays are inferior, but it’s also commonly rooted in the much-less-problematic belief that marriage is a procreative institution, not one meant to join couples for love and companionship alone.” The end of that sentence is followed by an asterisk which refers to this footnote: “One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians—that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”

Now it will not come as surprise to anyone who has read my opinions on this issue before that I absolutely disagree with Friedersdorf on the matter of gay marriage. I am wholeheartedly opposed to allowing marriage to be defined as anything other than the union of one man and one woman. I appreciate Friedersdorf’s recognition, though, of the fact that homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue and is certainly not akin to segregation of public buses in Montgomery or interracial marriage. Friedersdorf believes just as passionately as I do that I am wrong, as are those who think like I do. Refreshingly, though, he recognizes that we can disagree for legitimately held beliefs and we can disagree without calling each other names. Referring to those who believe as I do he writes, “But it’s not credible to argue that they’re in the same moral category as the bigots who sustained Jim Crow, or that the narrow right they’d withhold has done similar harm and thus warrants the same response (even if you believe, as I do, that withholding the name marriage is wrong and harmful).”

Friedersdorf–again, refreshingly–also makes the point that the idea “that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others” is a position held by many people based on many factors and characteristics yet somehow only those who oppose gay marriage seem to be vilified by the political left. Why?

As he wraps up his column Friedersdorf makes a couple of very astute observations about the use of stigma as a strategy in what should be intelligent debate. First, “What I think, in fact, is that stigma is an overrated tool for effecting change, because once you’ve gotten to a threshold within a community where lots of powerful people will stigmatize a behavior, the point had already been reached where it would be defeated without stigma.” I don’t know that I agree with him that the behavior in this case–the opposition to homosexual marriage–would be defeated without stigmatizing it but I certainly agree that stigmatizing is not an effective means of achieving meaningful change. What I think is that stigma tends to be used most often and most loudly when there is no legitimate and coherent argument to be made in opposition. Thumper famously said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Those who wield stigma tend to abide by a different adage, one that goes like this: “If you can’t say something logical and effective to counter their argument, call them names and compare them to horrible people of the past instead.”

Second, Friedersdorf writes, “Those who rely on stigma are tied to a tactic that is employed most when needed least, often against groups already marginalized within a community; no wonder stigma is correlated more strongly with signaling self-righteousness than effecting change. That isn’t to say stigma is never appropriate—just that engagement and persuasion is almost always the better option, as it is on gay marriage.” Again, I disagree with Friedersdorf that those who oppose gay marriage are “already marginalized” but I agree entirely that engagement and persuasion is the better option. Not just with gay marriage, either. You will see the stigma attack unleashed by liberals in the evolution versus creation debate, too, among other examples.

So…what’s the bottom line? Conor Friedersdorf and I completely disagree on the issue of gay marriage. But we disagree respectfully and without calling each other names or attaching stigma. We might even, if we had a sit-down face-to-face chat, find other areas in which we agree. One thing we definitely do agree on is this: stigma is a wimpy weapon, one that brings nothing valuable to any discussion and, in fact, does more to demean and belittle those who employ it than those again whom it is being employed.

March 27, 2014

Blurred Vision

On March 24 Christianity Today ran an article in which World Vision made clear that it is now hiring homosexual Christians in legal gay marriages. Interestingly, the charity’s policy against sex outside of marriage is still a rule.

World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns granted CT an exclusive interview in which he explained the policy change. According to the article, “Stearns asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

Before I go any further I need to stop right here and state that very few things I have read or heard recently trouble me so much as someone simultaneously stating that abandoning a long-standing policy that is consistent with the Bible is a “very narrow policy change” and that this change is “symbolic…of [Christian] unity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This “narrow policy change” rests on the belief that what the Bible makes clear about homosexuality and marriage is not correct or, at the very least, has been traditionally misunderstood. It is not possible to pursue Christian unity by redefining the Bible.

Franklin Graham, in a statement on the World Vision decision, said, “World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.” Graham is exactly right; you cannot unify the church by embracing sin!

The CT article continues, “In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently ‘tearing churches apart’ over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.” I read that to mean that Stearns hopes that Christians will ignore World Vision’s trampling of one part of Scripture in order to join forces in adhering to another part of it. The reality is, of course, that that makes no sense. After all, if what the Bible teaches about homosexuality or marriage need not be adhered to why should its teachings on caring for the poor stir me to action?

Stearns stated that the policy change is nothing more than that. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Stearns. A decision to hire and accept individuals who are living a life that is contrary to what the Bible teaches absolutely is an affirmation of that choice–whether you say it is or not.

Because of World Vision’s size–it had revenue of more than $1 billion last year–and the scope of its ministries, “other Christian organizations look to World Vision for leadership on defending faith hiring practices,” Christianity Today reported. That is true…and scary. When one of the largest Christian charities in the world accepts this kind of compromise it will surely lead other ministries to consider doing the same.

For that reason it is imperative that churches, parachurch organizations and other ministries, as well as individual believers, take a stand for biblical truth and against the compromise of World Vision. Franklin Graham is but one evangelical leader who was quick to denounce the decision. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission issued a statement that included this observation:

But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper said this: “This is a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition – and therefore, the cross – and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.” Piper goes on to highlight the idiocy of the stated position of World Vision:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

There are no doubt many other individuals and groups that have issued and will issue similar statements affirming the biblical position on marriage and challenging the foolishness of the World Vision position. When they do we must echo a hearty “Amen!” and join in their willingness to stand on the wall to defend the truth.

Russell Moore concluded his statement by suggesting that a refusal to stand firm for the Scripture, a refusal to call sin sin and to also share the Bible’s message of forgiveness is nothing more than “empowering darkness.” May we never be guilty of empowering darkness. May we, instead, follow the exhortation of Paul to the church at Ephesus when he wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11, ESV).

February 26, 2014

It doesn’t make any sense

You may not have noticed, but we are in the midst of an age in which laws are being selectively enforced and upheld. President Barack Obama famously announced early in his administration that his Justice Department would no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act or even defend it in court. Republicans in Congress took on the task of defending the law but last summer the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional. When they did so, however, they also left the matter of defining marriage to the states. With increasing frequency, however, states that have attempted to do just that have had those laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman struck down as unconstitutional.

Today Texas became the most recent victim of activist judges overstepping their authority and completely reinterpreting the Constitution. Judge Orlando L. Garcia of United States District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the amendment to the Texas constitution passed by voters in 2005 and defining marriage as between a man and a woman violated the United States Constitution. Why? Because, he said, it demeans the dignity of homosexuals “for no legitimate reason.”

Part of Garcia’s ruling reads like this: “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” According to a article published today by the New York Times, however, the state of Texas had reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “The [state’s] lawyers denied that Texas’ laws were rooted in prejudice, linking the bills instead to the state’s interest in protecting traditional marriage to promote procreation and child-rearing by a mother and a father in ‘stable and enduring family units,'” the article said. Apparently Judge Garcia does not consider those to be “legitimate governmental purposes.”

The Times also reported that the two gay and lesbian couples who sued the state insisted that the state’s ban “perpetuated discrimination and put a financial, legal and emotional burden on homosexual couples.” Texas Representative Warren Chisum responded to that assertion by saying, “I’ve never made any statement that this bill did not discriminate. This bill does discriminate. It allows only for a man and a woman to be married in this state and be recognized in marriage in this state.”

Chisum is right on the mark. The problem is, discrimination is not automatically wrong. Almost every piece of legislation discriminates. “To discriminate” is simply another way of saying “to distinguish.” There are laws all across the country discriminating against people driving 90 miles per hour on the interstate or even 45 miles per hour in a school zone; laws discriminating against people who want to take merchandise from the store without paying for it; laws discriminating against people from buying alcohol before turning 21 or voting before turning 18; and, for now anyway, laws discriminating against people who want to be in government-sanctioned relationships made up of one man and two women or one person and one animal or one adult and one child. In other words, laws discriminate all the time; if they did not discriminate there would be no reason to have laws at all.

I have not read the case’s briefs so I do not know exactly how the homosexual couples who sued claimed to have experienced legal, financial or emotional burdens as a result of the Texas law, but I cannot imagine their reasoning would hold up under much legitimate scrutiny. Fortunately Judge Garcia was wise enough to stay his ruling pending the appeal that will no doubt be coming forthwith. Hopefully the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, where the appeal will be heard, will actually read the Constitution and realize that it does not protect or entitle homosexual marriage.

The other laws you have no doubt been hearing about lately are those state laws that are allowing the recreational use of marijuana. Interestingly, the New York Times also has an article on that subject today. Rick Lyman’s article begins like this: “A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use.”

What few people seem to be commenting on (though the Times did mention it) is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Article 6, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, often called the Supremacy Clause, reads, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” There are many court decisions over the years that uphold the principle of the supremacy of federal law.

Why do I bring marijuana into the marriage discussion? Simply because both are examples of states making their own laws and in one instance they are permitted to violate the federal law without consequence and in another they are being told that the Constitution prohibits them from making their own laws even though it does not and even though nothing in the Constitution protects the right of homosexual marriage. Indeed given the absence of any federal definition of marriage the states clearly have the right to define it according to Amendment 10 of the Constitution.

In other words, states are permitted–even encouraged, I might say–to pass their own laws allowing what the federal law explicitly prohibits because the behavior being permitted is considered to be in line with a progressive or liberal change that those in power support. When states pass laws upholding or enforcing more traditional or conservative behaviors (like marriage) they are told they cannot do so. Here’s the bottom line: federal law prohibits the use of marijuana but states are allowed to permit it and federal law permits the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman but states are prohibited from thus defining it. We have a very real problem on our hands; laws no matter mean anything beyond what those in power want them to mean.

President Obama has, by way, provided additional evidence for his own impeachment in his handling of the state marijuana laws. Despite the clear federal prohibition of the use of marijuana the New York Times reports that the “Obama administration has said it will not interfere with the rollout of legal marijuana in the states, as long as it is kept out of the hands of minors.”

Interesting, is it not, that Judge Garcia denied that the people of Texas have a right to define marriage as between a man and a woman even though they said it was in part an effort to protect children, yet President Obama has invited states to ignore federal law so long as they protect children when they legalize marijuana.

Don’t try to make any sense of it…it simply doesn’t make any sense.

March 16, 2013

A sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal

If you follow the news you have probably already heard that Ohio Senator Rob Portman has very publicly changed his position regarding gay marriage in recent days. Portman has always been a staunch opponent of gay marriage; in 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1999 he voted for a measure that would have prohibited same-sex couples in Washington state from adopting children; in 2011 hundreds of students at the University of Michigan protested having Portman speak at the school’s graduation ceremony because of his position on gay marriage. In response to that protest, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”

So what changed? Well, two things. One, Portman’s son “came out,” informing his parents in 2011 that he is gay. Two, this revelation caused Portman to “think of this issue from a new perspective,” he told Ohio reporters.

Senator’s Portman’s son’s sexuality is none of my business; it is a private matter–or at least it was, until his father brought it into the public square to explain his own sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal on the issue of gay marriage. And I do not choose those descriptors lightly. Allow me to explain….

The reversal is sad because, based on his own explanations, Portman has allowed the circumstances of his life to cause him to reinterpret Scripture, and to do so inaccurately. Here’s how it worked: Portman believed the Bible was clear in its opposition to homosexuality and its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman (he was right on both counts); Portman’s son informed his parents he is gay; Portman loves his son; Portman faces moral dilemma; Portman solves moral dilemma by deciding Scripture means something different than what it does, and what he had previously believed it did.

The reversal is sad because Portman decided that it was easier to embrace a false understanding of the very Word of God than it would be to stand firm in his convictions. It is easier to say God is love, and must surely want people to be happy than it is for Portman to tell his son that he loves him, but he hates his sin.

Yesterday Portman wrote a commentary in The Columbus Dispatch. In it he states that his son’s announcement has caused him to think about this issue in “a much deeper way.” Translation: I was opposed to gay marriage until I found out my son is gay, but my love for my son trumps my adherence to the Word of God. Portman writes that his son told him that “his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it is simply a part of who he is.” I am sure Portman’s son may believe that, and Portman may believe it, too. I have written here before about the issue of “homosexual orientation,” and I am not going to rehash that now. (Desire and Deceit, an excellent book on the subject by Albert Mohler addresses this issue, too). According to Portman, “At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”

Every parent wants–or at least should want–their children to love “happy, meaningful lives.” But part of tough love–in other words, part of being a parent–means standing firm when the way in which a child wants to live that life is contrary to what is God-honoring. Portman’s reasoning is exactly the same as that that I have challenged here repeatedly regarding the slippery slope that is the issue of gay marriage. Portman wants his son to be happy, Portman’s son is gay, so gay marriage should be okay? That’s absurd. What do we do when someone’s else’s son claims that what makes him happy is having sex with children? What do we do when someone’s daughter says that what makes her happy is the challenge of stealing and exploiting someone’s identity? What do we do when someone’s child says that what makes him or her happy is taking the lives of other humans whom they find to be unattractive, undesirable, or just plain irritating? Yes, yes, I know…those are not the same things, many will say. They are not the same actions, true–but they are all choices people make.

Portman continues, “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” There’s nothing wrong with such a wrestling match. What is wrong is realizing that the two cannot be reconciled and so deciding that the “Christian faith” should be reinterpreted in order to make it work out alright in the end. Does the Bible have an overarching theme of love and compassion? Yes. But only because the Bible also has an overarching theme of justice and holiness. We cannot accurately understand the love of God without accurately understanding the justice and holiness of God. Because He is a God of holiness, He cannot tolerate sin or have it in His presence. Because He is a God of justice, sin has a penalty that must be paid. Once we understand that, we can understand God’s love–His incredible, indescribable, truly awesome love that caused Him to send His only Son to pay the price for the sins of humanity because none of us can pay it ourselves. What the Bible clearly does not teach, Senator Portman, is that God’s love and compassion means God wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Are we all the children of God? In so far as He made us all, yes. In so far as we will all go to heaven? Not even close.

As far as I know all three of Portman’s children are grown, but can you imagine sitting down to tell them that what they had been taught and raised to believe was God’s Truth was actually wrong? “Well kids, your mom and I made a mistake. So did the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher, and, well, most of the Bible teachers we have respected over the years. Remember what we taught you about homosexuality? Turns out we were wrong. See, your brother is gay. Yes…that’s right. Your brother…our son. And he surely did not choose to be that way. It is just the way he is. It is the way God made Him, apparently. So, we have been wrong. Now that we know your brother is gay we can see it all clearly. We just never understood before. But gay people really love each other, and they deserve to happy just like everyone else. Just because your brother is attracted to men does not mean that he should be denied the right to marry when he finally finds the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with…..” You get the idea. Do you see it, though? Portman is saying that because his son is gay, God must surely think it’s okay.

Portman goes on to make one of the more idiotic statements on gay marriage I have ever heard: “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.” Uh, yeah…that’s one way to look at it alright. One very wrong, misguided, and–sorry, Senator–stupid way to look at it.

Portman’s lack of conviction (lack of spine?) is further evidenced in the following paragraph of his commentary, when he writes this: “Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” So, since most people think the idea is okay, it must be okay then. Sure. Another ridiculous argument. God’s Word does not fluctuate with the opinions of the people in America (or anywhere else). God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, and it is absolutely clear on the fact that homosexuality is sin, it is an abomination. Of course, we do live in a representative democracy in the U.S., so the opinions of the people can change the law. If that does happen it will not make it right, though, and Bible-believers need to do everything we can to oppose such a change.

And herein is why Portman’s reversal is so poorly timed: the Supreme Court will soon be hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and Portman joins the rising throng of people advocating it being overturned. The only thing Portman gets right in his commentary is his suggestion that the courts, and right now the Supreme Court in particular, should not decide this issue. “I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.” I agree with that statement. The Supreme Court needs to find only that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed lawfully and is constitutional, and leave the rest up to “we the people.” The Supreme Court must not legislate from the bench and declare gay marriage to be constitutional.

January 23, 2013

Which one doesn’t belong?

Do you remember those puzzles you would do as a child, where there was a sequence of pictures and you were supposed to determine which one did not belong? There might be a glove, a baseball, a hockey stick and a bat, for example; clearly the hockey stick does not belong because it is not related to baseball. Well, I felt a bit like I was doing one of those puzzles as I listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. In it, he said this:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

The president’s alliterated reference to defining moments in the fight for equality likely went either unnoticed or not understood by many who heard it–especially those of younger generations. As a student and teacher of history, though, it did not escape me.

Seneca Falls is where the first convention focused on women’s rights was held in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the most notable names involved probably, but the Declaration of Sentiments that emerged from the convention made it abundantly clear that women wanted the right to vote. Years later, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified these women were up in arms since, for the first time, the Constitution now included the word male when addressing voting rights.

Selma, of course, is the town in Alabama that is usually considered to be the launching pad of the civil rights movement.

But what about Stonewall? Most of us thinking of Confederate general T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson when we think of any historical significance to that term, but the is certainly not what the president had in mind on Monday. Instead, he was referring to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where a riot occurred in 1969. The riot was sparked by a police raid on the bar, apparently one of the few bars in the city where homosexuals could gather. Not only were gays openly discriminated against at the time, but it was a crime to serve alcohol to homosexuals. Police were there with a search warrant to investigate reports on the illegal sale of liquor. The result was a riot in which the bar’s patrons began throwing just about anything they could find at the police officers, four of which were injured in the melee. Rioting continued for the better part of a week.

According to Martin Duberman, a professor, author and gay-rights activist who founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York, Stonewall became symbolic for the gay rights movement. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

My contention is that Stonewall doesn’t fit with Seneca Falls and Selma. I am not suggesting that discrimination against homosexuals is okay in the areas of basic rights–making it a crime to serve alcohol to them, for example–but the connection that President Obama was trying to make was that because gay marriage is still not permitted, homosexuals are still being discriminated against. Not too long after the excerpt above, Obama said,

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Notice he said nothing about housing, employment, voting, even drinking alcohol. I do not know anyone who reasonably and rationally believes that homosexuals should be denied any of those rights. Rather, the president was focused on gay marriage–“the love we commit to one another” he called it. And for it to “be equal as well” he wants marriage to be redefined to include homosexual marriage.

I have addressed this issue in this blog before; homosexuality and gay rights is not the civil rights issue of our day, as so many people like to assert that it is, and as the president seemed to be suggesting in his speech. Why not? Because gay marriage is not a civil right. Homosexuality is not the same as gender or race. Homosexuality is not an irreversible fact of life over which individuals have no control. Even if I were to grant the argument that there is such a thing as a “gay gene” and homosexuals are born homosexual (something I do not grant, by the way) engaging in homosexual behavior is still optional; being a woman or being black is not optional.

Perhaps it should not surprise me, but it does, that Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, had this to say in response to Obama’s remarks:

In his speech, I think the president did ultimately what he does best, which is to really speak to the commonality across so many different groups in our society, the commonality across so many different struggles for rights, and get right down to the core that at the end of the day, what we’re all seeking to do — and what the freedom fighters at Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall are all trying to do — is just simply move our country towards the realization of its own pledge, that this be one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

We need to wake up. The “commonality across so many different struggles for rights” is no commonality at all when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Gay marriage is not included in the founder’s embrace of “liberty and justice for all.” Gay marriage is not a right, it is not a civil rights issue, and if it ever becomes the law of the land it will result in a fundamental redefinition of the basic unit of humanity. Oh, and it will throw wide open the doorway to redefining just about anything else, too; if homosexuals are granted the right to marry, after all, how can we deny polygamists the right to marry multiple wives? That is but one example of where that doorway might lead; the others are addressed elsewhere on this site, and for the sake of time and space and climbing out of the mud I will not elaborate here.

Bottom line…Stonewall does not belong, and never will belong, with Seneca Falls and Selma.

August 2, 2012

“A Culture of Hate”?

Unless you live in a remote location with no access to television or Internet (which you obviously do not, since you are reading this!) you surely knew that yesterday was proclaimed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by former Arkansas governor, GOP presidential candidate and current FOX News contributor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee launched the idea after the media circus surrounding Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy’s comments confirming that he and his (privately held) company support the biblical definition of marriage, and thereby do not support homosexual marriage. I addressed this issue already in a previous post [see “Tolerance (Again)”] so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about Chick-fil-A directly. Rather, I have to address another example of intolerance and, in fact, ignorance, announced to the world today on The Huffington Post.

Noah Michelson, editor of HuffPost Gay Voices, posted a column today entitled “Chick-fil-A: This Is Not a First Amendment Issue.” Now, I want to begin by saying that, given his position, it will not come as a surprise to you that Mr. Michelson and I disagree on the topic of gay marriage. However, I am not even going to address that, specifically. Instead, I need to address several specific comments Michelson makes in his post.

Note first of all that he states early on, “I fully support [Dan] Cathy’s right to say whatever he wants (and, in fact, so does the ACLU).” On this, we–Mr. Michelson, the ACLU, and I–agree. I support Mr. Cathy’s right to say that he supports the biblical definition of marriage, and I support Mr. Michelson’s right to say that he does not. As I have stated in this space before, the right to state our opinions, whether or not they are popular, whether or not many others will agree, and, indeed, whether or not they are even correct, is a large part of what makes America great. And the freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Why then, does Michelson argue that this is not a First Amendment issue? He feels so strongly that it is not that he began his column saying that if he heard one more person state that the Chick-fil-A brouhaha was a First Amendment issue, “I’m going to jump out of one of the Huffington Post’s fifth-floor windows and swan dive into oncoming traffic.”

So how does Michelson go about suggesting that Cathy’s statement, Chick-fil-A’s position, and Huckabee’s day of support is not a First Amendment issue? By suggesting that all of the above is actually hate speech. Immediately after stating that he supports Cathy’s right to say whatever he wants, Michelson writes, “But just because someone can say something doesn’t mean they should — or that we should celebrate him or her for doing so, especially when what they’re saying is, at its core, promoting a culture of hate against a group of people.”

Wow! Promoting a culture of hate? By openly and unashamedly stating that he supports the biblical definition of marriage–meaning that marriage is between one man and one woman–Dan Cathy is promoting a culture of hate? Against whom? Apparently, according to Michelson, against any gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered individual. Apparently it is promoting hate to say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but it is not promoting hate to say that marriage–as it has been defined for the entirety of human history–should be redefined so that men can marry men, women can marry women, or any one of however many other combinations there may be within the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, though, Mr. Michelson does not stop there. He continues, and in doing so he plunges headlong into the uninformed and in-no-way-accurate suggestion that homosexuality is the equivalent of race, or that the denial of the right for homosexuals to marry is the equivalent of supporting female slavery. Find that hard to believe? Read his column for yourself. Furthermore, Michelson claims that Cathy’s and Chick-fil-A’s financial support of organizations that support traditional marriage is the equivalent of donating “millions of dollars to white supremacist organizations.”

Again, I have argued here before that sexual preference is in no way equivalent to race. Our race is genetic; we cannot change it. And while I do not agree that sexual preference is in one’s DNA, even if I were to grant, for sake of argument, that it is, sexual activity is still a choice; the color of one’s skin is not.

Michelson isn’t finished yet, though. He continues by stating that those of us (and I say “us” because I am in the category of people to whom he is referring) who support the biblical definition of marriage, ” still thinks [sic] that it’s OK to treat us like we are, at best, just not quite as worthy to have all the rights afforded straight or cis-gendered people or, at worst, just plain evil.” Now, I don’t even know what “cis-gendered” means, and neither does dictionary.com, so maybe it is a typo in Michelson’s post, or perhaps it is some sort of slang I have never seen, but it is safe to state that it somehow refers to those in the LGBT community. And the truth is, Mr. Michelson, I think you are every bit as “worthy” of the right to marry as I am, or as anyone else is–just so long as you do it within the legally defined limits of marriage. And as for evil, that’s just not true. I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but I certainly do not consider homosexuals, or those who support the redefinition of marriage, to be evil. I consider them to be misguided, yes, and even wrong. But they are no more evil than I am. After all, Scripture makes it quite clear that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that little word “all” includes me, too. It may be cliche, but I hate the sin, not the sinner.

Oh, and speaking of Scripture, that is the next target in Michelson’s piece: “Many of these statements are bolstered by religious arguments using the Bible as ammunition, but, as it’s been pointed out time and again, the Bible demands we do or don’t do a lot of things that we no longer do or don’t do (like that we should own slaves and we shouldn’t eat popcorn shrimp), and Jesus himself never uttered a single word about being queer (and if he wanted us all to be “traditionally married” so badly, you’d think the guy himself would have gotten married).”

Okay, one step at a time here. The Bible, specifically in the Old Testament, does contain a lot of instructions that the Israelites were commanded to follow that we no longer need to, both because we are no longer under the Law, and because of improvements in preparing food that make laws against eating popcorn shrimp no longer necessary. Next, Jesus never explicitly referenced homosexuality, but He did say, in Matthew 19:4, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ “and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'” That’s a pretty clear embrace of God’s design for marriage. Furthermore, the Bible is explicitly clear in several places that homosexuality is a sin (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27 among others) and Jesus never refuted that; everything He ever said was consistent with every other portion of Scripture.

Michelson continues by saying, “When you buy food from Chick-fil-A, you’re basically saying, “Here, take this money and see to it that queer people can not only not get married, but that they also can’t adopt, can be fired simply for their sexuality and/or gender identity and continue to live in a society where they are regularly terrorized, mutilated, murdered and driven to suicide.” Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. First of all, it’s not as if every penny that Chick-fil-A makes goes to groups that support traditional marriage and/or oppose gay marriage. Second, supporting traditional marriage is not the equivalent of supporting terror, mutilation, or murder. I suspect Mr. Michelson would be hard pressed to find a single group that Chick-fil-A supports that explicitly or even discreetly supports or in any way does anything but oppose violence, harassment or intimidation of homosexuals.

So, sorry to say Mr. Michelson, but you’re wrong–there’s just no other way to say it. Supporting traditional marriage and advocating violence toward homosexuals are not the same thing. Opposing gay marriage and hating gay people is not the same thing. Eating at Chick-fil-A or contributing financially to groups that support traditional marriage and supporting or rejoicing over violence toward homosexuals such as you suggest at the end of your article is not the same thing.

So just how is, exactly, that those who hold a position different from yours are promoting a culture of hate? That’s a bold and dangerous accusation to make, and I’d like an apology.

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