Today and tomorrow, the Supreme Court is hearing testimony on a couple of cases which will influence the rights of homosexual couples, and thus some conservative Christian alarmists are casting aside the example set by the biblical character of Jesus to voice their profoundly irrational fears on the subject. If these individuals are to be believed, the fate of the country hangs in the balance between the issues of marriage for homosexual couples and reproductive rights for women. Among other tactics, some of these representatives of Christianity are publicly praying for God's will to be done, sowing the seeds of fear through absurd slippery slope arguments, encouraging civil disobedience, and appealing to an antiquated perspective of sinfulness as a basis for modern-day legal decisions. Since I began this writing experiment a year and a half ago after an essay on marriage rights for same-sex couples, it seems appropriate to revisit it during a significant time in the life of our country.
I must confess that I am puzzled when a person prays for God's will to be done and
then asserts what God's will must be in a given situation. If God is believed to be omnipotent, or at least exerting some amount of control over reality, what does one hope to accomplish by encouraging God to do what he will presumably do anyway? If God is in control, isn't everything that happens his will? Yet, if the Supreme Court decides in favor of same-sex marriage in a few months, there will no doubt be some Christians who will claim that God's will was not done. The people I admire are those who recognize the need to occasionally reorder their impression of God's love for humanity. People who claim to have a corner on the market of understanding God's will are revealing a profound egotism and immaturity, demanding that reality should shift to fit their perspective rather than the other way around.
Hoping to gain collusion for their prejudice and spread panic and self-righteous indignation, some of these individuals have equated homosexual people with child molesters and animal abusers, claiming that it will only be a short step from legalizing marriage for homosexual couples to legalizing bestiality, child abuse, incest, and polygamy. Obviously, condoning a relationship between two consenting adults has nothing to do with putting children or animals at risk. On the one hand, the fear-mongering tactics are blatant, but on the other hand, the envisioned dangers of this slippery slope attack the very foundation of the argument. Some famous biblical heroes committed incest and polygamy, and God didn't seem to mind at all. If the Bible is to be used as a credible source for condemning homosexuality, why is it not a credible source to approve marrying one's half-sister or taking multiple wives?
The whole slippery slope concern is fallacious from the start, however. As things currently stand, relationships between homosexual couples exist. Although the GLBT community is still in the process of obtaining equal treatment in our society, they are able to openly present themselves to society as homosexuals with ever-increasing acceptance. Homosexual couples can adopt children, and potentially raise them in a more loving environment than some heterosexual couples manage to create. The propriety of homosexuality is not the issue in question. The question is whether married adult homosexual couples will be granted the same benefits as married adult heterosexual couples. Even if the Supreme Court decides in favor of restrictive and intolerant laws, there will still be people in homosexual relationships in America.
Presumably, the concern is that such "sinful" acts should be condemned by the law, even if people choose to engage in them. This, too, seems like an indefensible position. Homosexuality is not even significant enough to be addressed in the Ten Commandments, and in the United States, national laws permit the breaking of several of the Big Ten. Not only are people allowed to work on the sabbath, our culture and economy have come to expect it to a large extent. There are no national laws against idolatry. There are no longer any national laws against blasphemy. Although we expect people to give honest testimony before judges, there are entire career fields based on deception. And although adultery is illegal on the books in some states, there is no national law prohibiting it. In fact, according to a recent study, 23% of Christian pastors in America admitted to committing adultery. Apparently it is easier to condemn other people than it is to live blamelessly in one's own life. The Bible claims that Jesus even said something about this.
Even though homosexuality isn't mentioned in the Ten Commandments, it is clearly included in a larger set of "sinful" behaviors articulated in the Bible. While the laws of the United States may not outright condone many "sinful" behaviors, there doesn't seem to be a community of people who are being persecuted for wearing mixed fabrics, gossiping, or eating the wrong foods (all of which are sinful according to the Bible). This has become a legal issue specifically because an intolerant segment of the Christian subculture has claimed unjustified and imbalanced influence on the American legal system. For whatever reason, some Christians believe that they must impose their worldview on other people, and they are willing to use an array of intimidation tactics to get their way, even though this represents a very different way of treating people than what was taught by their namesake.
While it seems logical to suggest that no one is going to be forced into a homosexual relationship, some people insist that their religious rights are being trampled if anyone is allowed to engage in a homosexual relationship with the blessing of the national government. This reflects a grievous misunderstanding of how religious freedom works. Religious freedom means that I have the right to believe what I want to believe and engage in whatever religious activities seem appropriate to me, provided I do not bring harm to any person or animal or break any other laws. Religious freedom does not mean that I can dictate what other people do. If someone decides to be Christian, and I am offended by that, I cannot call foul and demand that the government do something about it. Likewise, if my religious beliefs do not allow for the use of an automobile, I cannot demand that everyone else stop driving around. If a person's religion prohibits consuming alcohol, that person should refrain from consuming alcohol; if a person's religion prohibits homosexual behavior, then that person should refrain from homosexual behavior. That is the extent of religious freedom. Somehow, when money is perceived as being in the mix, however, people start getting twisted.
Since the whole reproductive rights issue has been in the public eye because of its inclusion in the national health care plan, some Christian organizations have been threatening civil disobedience. The rhetoric goes something like, "We will not be forced to pay for abortions," followed by whatever absurd and idle threats seem to pack the most punch at the time. As they see the issue, if any money a Christian organization pays into a health care system is used to pay for abortion, then the organization is essentially supporting abortion, even if no one in the actual organization ever has an abortion. It makes sense on the surface. Now, the battle cry is easily converted to, "We will not be forced to support marriage rights for homosexuals." While I'm not sure what that means, exactly, since I cannot imagine that any members of the clergy will suddenly be forced to perform marriages, the assumption seems to be that an organization should be able to decide to be a conscientious objector to a national policy. This reflects either a stunning
or a very ballsy bluff.
Here's a secret that these folks may actually not realize: We are already paying for things we don't want to pay for. Imagine that I disagree with cigarette smoking and I decide that I don't want to pay for a smoker's cancer treatment. If their behavior brought about the disease, then they should bear the brunt of paying for treatment. Harsh perhaps, but reasonable. If I have health insurance, however, the cost of my insurance is not just based on my personal medical expenses. An insurance company spreads its expenditures out across all its policy holders. So, if I look at things the right way, I am paying for a small piece of a lot of other people's medical procedures, whether I want to or not. I appreciate the benefits of having health insurance, though, so I have to come to terms with the fact that some little portion of my premiums payments will pay some miniscule portion of many smokers' cancer treatments.
Similarly, let us consider taxes for a moment. As American citizens, we have a great amount of freedom, but as individuals we do not get to determine how our country spends the taxes we pay. Some of us may disagree with wars because of the innocent lives that are inevitably lost. We do not get to allocate our tax dollars toward education instead. I can issue statements of protest and disapproval. I can contribute personal money toward organizations that seek to broker peace. I can volunteer my time and energy toward anti-war efforts. But my tax dollars will, in some small way, support the decisions of elected officials, whether I agree with them or not. That is how our democracy works.
As for how Christianity works, there are now many differing views. Some would say that Jesus proclaimed a new way of living in harmony with one another, through a profound love that surpassed our tendency to compete and condemn. Some would say that there is no fear in such a love as Jesus taught, that such a love dismantles fear. Others apparently believe that they must fight with every breath to force others to behave a certain way. This winds up looking a lot more like fear than it does love. I would suggest that Christians are capable of reading their scriptures with more open eyes and hearts. Even as Paul condemns sexual immorality in the letter to the Galatians, for instance, he reminds Christians that they are not slaves to a set of behavioral rules. He asserts that the Christian community is free from such concerns, so that it might love more fully.
I am grateful to be in a country where there can be a national debate about loving, honoring, and respecting all people equally. I envision a time when there might be no reason to debate policies of equity and justice. For now, I stand on the side of love. And if an atheist humanist can do that, surely believers in a God of love can find a way to put aside fear and see people more fully, if they choose.