In an appearance before a crowd of college students in New Hampshire yesterday, Rick Santorum was jeered and booed in response to his opposition to same-sex marriage. The exchange, which at one point degenerated into a back and forth over whether or not allowing same-sex marriage would open the the door to polygamy, highlighted a recurring problem with the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage: their approach is wrong.
Bloomberg quoted the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination saying this in response to the criticism: “Because I believe we are made the way God made man and woman, and man and woman come together to have a union to produce children, which keeps civilization going, and provide the best environment for children to be raised.” While there is arguably some merit to the claim that children do better when raised by a man and woman living in a married relationship, Santorum (and the conservative evangelicals to which he is marketing his views) either don’t realize or aren’t concerned with the fact that the government is not an extension of the Christian Church.
Often, Christian opposition to gay marriage sounds like this: “The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong; therefore, we don’t think gay people should have the legal right to marry.” Well, that’s all well and good, but people who disagree are perfectly legitimate in responding, “So what?”
Before going further, it might help to provide a bit of context.
As I mentioned before, the United States federal government is not an extension of the Christian Church–indeed, the same is true of all governing authority in the United States. True Christian faith is in fact antithetical to government. Whereas the Old Covenant involved attaining righteousness through adherence to the law, the New Covenant is centered on righteousness by faith in Christ. Government is a secular institution that exists in response to the need to provide stability in human society and establish boundaries as to what is acceptable conduct for members of that society.
Regardless of what some might say, there is a real separation of religion from state in the United States. The writers of the Constitution realized (and knew from experience, in some cases) the dangers associated with religious government. For a modern example, one need only look to the government of Iran, an Islamic theocracy. While human government arose out of a need to regulate relation and interaction between people of a society, religion is a vehicle through which humans connect to the divine. When the two are mixed, the purposes of both become twisted and grotesque.
History testifies to terrible atrocities that were committed and went unpunished when governing authorities claimed their legitimacy from a god and not from the people they govern. Such a society only functions so long as it’s people maintain their belief in the governing authority’s divine legitimacy or their belief in the divine being itself.
Granted, the United States was, for most of its early history, dominated religiously by various manifestations of the Christian Church. However, in the past century, people from all over the world and of many religious beliefs were attracted to the (mostly) tolerant and (mostly) free society that had been created in America and the nation became a multicultural stewpot. Christians, for their part, have largely yet to accept this fact. Sorry to disappoint, but America is not now nor has it ever been a “Christian nation.” In actuality, I’m somewhat confused as to how a nation can be “Christian” anyway.
What does this shift mean?
It means Christians can no longer rely on the Bible as a basis of argument in public policy debates.
Because the people they’re arguing with don’t accept the Bible as a legitimate source of truth.
So, this means that arguments like the illustration I used earlier simply don’t work except through application of brute force (i.e., ramming legislation through legislatures or using ballot initiatives to impose a “Christian” way of thinking on non-Christians). That, I’m sorry to say, is both un-American and un-Christian. I wonder if it’s ever occurred to culture-war Christians that all their efforts are actually having the opposite intended effect? Instead of doing their job of spreading the Gospel, they carry signs that say denigrating and hurtful things about gay Americans (I’m not just referring to Fred Phelps) and spend their time attempting to legislate Christian morality.
All this to say that unless conservative evangelicals can come up with legitimate and compelling reasons as to why gay marriage is detrimental to the health of society (and by that I mean more than fear-mongering and Bible-thumping), they stand to lose this fight in a way that will do lasting harm to the Church’s ability to appear as a welcoming place for believer and non-believer alike.