Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Righteous Indignation Going Wrong?

Sometimes, it seems we evangelicals thrive on righteous indignation.

Especially when it can be deflected towards somebody else.

This whole argument over gay marriage offers an ideal case study in plucking the speck out of our neighbor's eye when we've got a beam of wood in our own.

In Denial?

Not that I support gay marriage, or that its discussion in our society is some trivial matter.  To the extent that marriage has been ordained by God as a holy institution, we need to respect His parameters for it, which include monogamy between a man and a woman.  Although Christ's church has franchised, if you will, the administration of marriage to governments, it's not up to governments to change the parameters for marriage which God has decreed.  If governments want to duplicate the covenant and carry over its legal rights and obligations to a similar type of relationship, I suppose it has the right to do so, but that new type of relationship can't be called marriage.  Many people call it a "civil union," and I'm cautiously resigned to considering the feasibility of such a phenomenon if our democratic republic presses for it.  Which seems almost inevitable.

Indeed, even in the face of mounting evidence that more and more Americans are open to broadening the interpretation of marriage to include legalized homosexual unions, some evangelicals refuse to participate in our national dialog.  It's as if they're looking for every which way to try and pretend as though society hasn't really morally devolved as much as it has.  On his blustery blog, FreedomOutpost.com, Presbyterian theologian Dr. E. Calvin Beisner posted a rant by Tim Brown on how our Founding Fathers considered sodomy to be an abomination.  Apparently, Beisner and Brown view their beliefs regarding homosexual behavior - combined with the fact that our 13 original colonies outlawed sodomy - sufficient for the task of proving why gay marriage is unConstitutional.

Granted, up until 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state, but liberalism was slowly overturning those laws, state by state.  In 2003, any remaining states with laws criminalizing sodomy saw those laws invalidated with the Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.  Basically, the court interpreted our Constitution's "due process" clause as extending personal privacy rights to one's non-commercialized, consensual sexual behavior.

Which meant that sodomy was now legal.  However, it's interesting to note that while today, we generally associate sodomy with homosexuals, it's a term that applies to heterosexuals as well.  Several states used to outlaw sodomy between men and women, and even married couples.  Legally, what we for millennia have viewed as deviant behavior has been penalized regardless of one's sexual orientation.  Which means the sexual activity itself is not sufficient enough of a proof for determining whether its participants are eligible for marriage benefits.

Which, if you think about it, is something most evangelicals affirm:  marriage isn't so much about sex, as it is a covenant.  Which wouldn't be so benign an argument if evangelicals weren't as cavalier about the sanctity of their own marriages.  Divorce, after all, is almost as frequent among churched people as unchurched people.

Some evangelicals want to compare the fight against gay marriage to William Wilberforce's fight to end slavery.  But the crucial difference between the two is that gays generally don't see their sexual orientation as something from which they need to be freed.  The problem isn't with them, it's with those of us who see it as an unBiblical activity and lifestyle.

It's almost like the legalism we bristle at being confronted with ourselves is something we're nevertheless eager to dump on other people who we figure aren't like us and will require too much work for us to like, let alone love as Christ does.

Ignoring Reality is No Strategy

And then there are the folks - some of them not even evangelical - who continue to insist that the idea of legalizing gay marriage isn't nearly as popular as the media keeps telling us it is.  Right-wing blogger and Mark Levin promoter Jen Kuznicki, as well as evangelical activists Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed, say the polling math is wrong.

But is it?

According to Gallup, 2011 was the first time in history when, at 53% of Americans, polling results shifted in favor of gay marriage.  This wasn't a one-time aberration in the trajectory of gay marriage, but the result of a steady decrease in opposition to the concept.  In 1996, by comparison, 68% of Americans opposed gay marriage.

More recently, a Washington Post - ABC News poll found that 58% of Americans now support gay marriage.  And if you look at age as a contributing factor to whether a person supports gay marriage, the overwhelming majority of voters 34 years old and younger stand in opposition to the sincerest wishes of Levin, Bauer, and Reed.  According to Gallup, the percentage is 70%, and according to Washington Post - ABC News, it's 69%.  And those voters will be around for a while, unlike their older counterparts who may disapprove of gay marriage.

So how does it behoove our testimony if we keep sticking our collective head in the sand?  Pretending something doesn't exist when we've got pretty good proof that it does hardly speaks of a faith grounded on eternal truth, does it?  Besides, what is there, ultimately, to fear about gay marriage?

After all, isn't fear a major component in the general evangelical activism against gay marriage?

Hey - I know a lot about fear.  Fear is a big part of my life.  I fear what other people think of me, so I'm vain.  I fear the pain of injury, so I avoid extreme forms of physical activity.  Well, that; plus, I'm mostly a couch potato!  However, my point is that just because fear is something with which most of us struggle, that doesn't mean we should let it convince us bad things aren't happening around us, in our society.

Gay Marriage Won't Kill Society

God doesn't tell us that gay marriage will be the downfall of humanity.  Sin is the downfall of humanity, and that sin comes in forms ranging from gay sex to extramarital sex to gossip and greed and gluttony and everything - everything! - that fails to honor God and His holiness.  Yes, to a certain extent, having righteous indignation against sinful behavior helps us put various aspects of our lives into a proper perspective, but that proper perspective isn't achieved while we're trying to eradicate the sin from somebody else's life, while we're not dealing with our own.  Let's face it:  there's a lot more sin contributing to the downfall of humanity in which we evangelicals rigorously participate than the percentage of civil unions our government could grant to same-sex partners. 

That's not to say that we evangelicals should let popular culture walk all over us - even though you'd have a hard time telling that, but the way many churches capitulate so brazenly to our culture.  But it does mean that Christ's Kingdom won't come any faster if we try to legislate it into existence.  Behind every sin is a person committing that sin.  Do we care more about the sin, or the sinner?

And are we confident enough in the salvation God offers us through His Son to be realistic about the depravity in our world?  And the extent to which we contribute to that depravity?  Fortunately, God has redeemed us from the penalty of our depravity.  So shouldn't our message start with what God has done for us?  Instead of how the sins of the world could impact the Christian lifestyle we enjoy here in America?

Meanwhile, all this misguided talk about gay marriage in the abstract is interfering with what we evangelicals have a clearer mandate from God to be doing:  being His disciples in societies that have been desecrating His holiness since the Garden of Eden.

The battle to preserve the sanctity of marriage is not wrong.  But how we're waging it could be.

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