papa_will (papa_will) wrote in marriage_debate,

Faith and Politics: Why we cannot legislate morality

A funny thing happened to me at work today. After being away for so long, I thought about my friends and respectful sparring-mates here at marriage_debate. Very fondly. And I felt like I wanted to help you out.

See, it's not enough for me if I can get you to stop doing things that restrict my rights as an American as they relate to my sexual orientation. I want you to have a reasoning you can agree with, even if you never like who I am or what I represent.

Since many here would choose to use faith to justify banning marriage equality, and the faith generally cited in Christianity, I wanted to speak in your language. It's one I am familiar with, one I was raised in. And one I respect as complex and enriching.

I began thinking back to my days as a sunday-school teacher, thinking back to my days as a child essayist for a local religious newspaper. And two scriptures in particular stuck out... :

Matthew 22:21 "Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."


Romans 14 "2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables...."/ "13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way...." (though I knew I needed to read the chapter carefully, as I had not in some time.)

It was my intent to apply Matt. 22:21 to today in that Jesus taught keeping matters of faith and politics as distinct entities (though of course faith would take priority for believers). But before I could even find the verse number, my search brought me to the following article:
...which says what needs be said, far more eloquently than I would have:
"Conversely, Christians should never expect to further the cause of Christ through the political process. We do not have a divine mandate to use politics in the work of God."

Setting laws in ways that make people act in ways more conforming to ways that are appropriate to your beliefs will not make them more spiritual, religious, holy, or righteous. Forced obedience, in matters of faith, is a poor offering compared to freely-given obedience through belief. Uphold the laws of God in your own life, and in your own faith community. And uphold the laws of your nation in your nation.

But making religious law legally binding is a fool's errand. Avoiding using God's name in vain is an important tenant of Christianity. However, making it illegal to use God's name in vain would be censorship, and would not make anyone who would choose to blaspheme any more clean. Romans 10:9 says "If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved." Tomorrow, if over-zealous people made it law that everyone had to declare "Jesus is Lord" --even for their own well-being -- it would not change what anyone believes, only create a theocratic society that forces the outward appearance of Christianity. If tomorrow, some Christians took 1 Corinthians 11:2-6 too seriously, and tried to impose rules about women's length and style of hair, it would crush rights of women throughout the nation, and do nothing to advance the faith of anyone. And likewise, if at any point in American history, a Christian chooses to apply Biblical lessons (well-understood or not, well-meaning or not) to American law, that Christian is in error. That Christian is not "paying unto God what belongs to God" -- righteousness. That Christian is imposing the outward signs of faith on another, ultimately a poor choice. Earthly laws ought be built on utility in earthly life, just as Religious/Church/Faith Law is built on higher things. If Jesus separated these, why shouldn't you?

Earthly law forbids murder, not because murder is a sin, but because murder eliminates and destabilizes earthly life. Earthly law forbids treason because it destabilizes nations, requires taxes so that government programs can benefit earthly causes (national security, helping the poor, compensating government officials for their time serving us). Earthly law forbids perjury, not because lying is a sin, but because lying to the government reduces the reliability of testimony, and makes justice harder to carry out. If a place restricts the drinking age, it does so to protect younger members of the society from doing (bodily) self-harm via immoderation, or harm to others under the influence. If a place restricts gambling, it does so to protect the (earthly) wealth of those who might not control themselves. If a government were to restrict sexuality to prevent STDs, I could respect that, but to restrict the issuing of marriage licenses to well-intentioned couples is to attack the stability of those families, and encourage promiscuity. If the stereotypes were to be believed, there is enough promiscuity in the gay community, why ought any earthly government make it any worse? There is no benefit.

From a faith standpoint, for many this is different. For many, it is quite damaging. May your leaders never officiate a gay wedding; may you never express your love in a way contrary to your beliefs. May you follow the Bible with all your faith and all your heart, to the best of your understanding. Make church laws that protect followers from transgression, and express utility in being the best believer each of you can be. But, as we will see, Paul recommends that you keep this in your own heart. (Romans 14:22)

Romans 14 is more internal in nature, it is about restrictions between believers. I share these thoughts in honor of the many who continue to be Gay Christians, and the many who have been turned away. For reference purposes, I used the NIV version, thanks to

Paul is saying that believers fight over faith-actions (eating meat, celebrating holy days) and I believe that these lessons apply to all the laws our Churches and faith communities would put on us. Paul is also saying that judgment is not ours, it is God's. Squabbling with each other over it makes people lose faith, and should be avoided: "So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves."

The weakest link in this particular explanation of mine is whether it applies to the topic in question ("homosexuality"). We would not expect Paul to list all 613 mitzvot (laws) of which early believers (mostly Jewish, many of the others required to convert first) may have felt they still had to follow -- no, not even all 356 negative mitzvot (thou shalt not... or "don't"s) to be referenced in the chapter. By referencing meat (many rules regarding meat slaughtered the wrong way, or mixed with milk, or sacrificed to idols, all "don't"s) and holy days ("do"s) Paul encompasses The Law, re-affirming that Christians were freed from The Law, and applying this lesson to all 613 mitzvot.

Christians are forbidden from judging each other's faith from their religious behavior, that it may create a stumbling block. In that sense, I cannot think of any issue today that Romans 14 is more relevant to than homosexuality. How many believers have you driven away, in pursuit of sexual purity? How many would be Christian today, but are locked in a cage of bitterness and trauma at your words, and the words of other well-meaning believers? That organizations like Dignity International exists today is a testament to both the marginalization of Gay Christians, and to their strength in remaining affiliated with communities that reject and despise them, for the sake of their faith, for the sake of Jesus. When rigid rejection of homosexuality becomes such a central tenant of American Christianity (way out of proportion, I may add) you present them with either/or ultimatum: be Christian, or be Gay. Some reject it, and find communities that will let them serve God, and be answerable unto Him. Others believe this divisive lie, and turn away from one or the other. You may cheer for victory when that choice is to deny their sexuality (at least until they hurt themselves, or act compulsively in a means more harmful than if they could have accepted their sexuality) --but at what cost to those souls who turn from God because of your hard-hearted, judgmental approach?

I say that from what I understand from the Bible, it is better that a thousand should be Gay and Christian, and perhaps have to answer for that as believers on Judgment Day, than a single soul burn in Hell because of the illusory ultimatum issued by gay-condemning Christians today. Not only is this a matter of reaching one more soul, which is all-important, but it is absolutely in accordance with Scripture. But no, many will read this, and reject it. Many will read this, and be too attached to their Laws, their Traditions, to see the harm being done, and the stumbling they cause. And for that, I am sad.
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