Christianity, homosexuality and the law

I am repeating in full a post from August, 2008 regarding religious arguments for the separation of church and state. I do this in response to the calls from Stephen Langa, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively to maintain laws criminalizing homosexuality in Uganda (and elsewhere). First the post:

Sally Kern, with help from my friend and colleague at Grove City College, T. David Gordon provides today’s open forum discussion.

Mrs. Kern is in the news today about a speech she gave in Norman, OK about her entrance into government and her role as a “culture warrior.” She says:

“I started praying about whether or not the Lord wanted me to run,” Kern said. “And the more I prayed, the more I felt He did.”

Kern said she expected to “run, lose and just be a much better government teacher.”

“But lo and behold I won,” she said. “And so here I am, and I’m not the typical legislator. The Lord showed me right off the bat that I’m not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, my Lord made it very clear to me that I am a cultural warrior. And you know I tried to say ‘no’ to that, too, ’cause that’s pretty hard. But, anyway, that’s where I am.”

I cannot discern however, what Mrs. Kern believes government should do. On one hand, she talks about preserving the founders reliance on “one true religion” and on the other she indicates that

“Government cannot force people to change, and yet we see that’s what government is doing,” she said. “Every time government passes another law, they are taking away some of our freedoms.”

I do agree that government cannot force people to change, but I am unclear how government is making people change. If homosexuals pursuing the democratic process to elect legislators and pass laws is more threatening than terrorism, then what would winning the culture war against homosexuality look like? I have a clearer picture in my mind about winning over a foreign aggressor would look like. But if homosexuals are using the democratic process (elections, laws, courts) to pursue their interests, then how will the Christian culture warriors win? What will victory look like?

I fear that many colleagues on the religious right want the coercive power of the state to enforce a particular view of morality, one that comports with their understanding of Christianity. I might like others to believe like me but I surely think it is futile to seek the state to bring it about. Closer to the therapy world, where I usually labor, I do not believe that counselors should use the coercive power of the counseling relationship to attempt to inculcate religious fruit. We can provide information but the results are not in our hands.

On this point, last school year, Religion prof at GCC, T. David Gordon presented a paper titled, “Religious Arguments for Separating Church and State” at our annual Center for Vision and Values conference. I was edified by this presentation and link to it here. A couple of excerpts gives the tone and direction of the paper:

In the so-called “culture wars” of the late twentieth century, one commonly hears allegations that the separation of church and state reflects and promotes a “secularist” agenda. It is certainly true that most secularists (such as Paul Kurtz, in the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II) wish to separate church and state. However, many religious individuals and societies favor such separation also; therefore it is misleading to refer to separation of church and state as a secular or secularist idea. The purpose of this brief survey is to list some of the religious arguments that have been presented in favor of separation, so that religious people may consider those arguments as “friendly” to their faith-commitments, rather than hostile to them.

and regarding individual liberty:

For Protestant Christianity, the doctrine of the conscience plays a very important role. Unlike the Baltimore Catechism of the Catholic Church, where conscience normally appears only in sections dealing with Penance or Confession, some Protestant confessions have an entire chapter devoted to it, such as the Westminster Confession’s chapter on “Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience.” Within this understanding, an action or belief is only morally approved when it is a sincere act, an act that accords with conscientious faith. The conscience is thus “free” from false authority to serve God, the true Authority. Any professed faith or outwardly religious act that is merely done to avoid civil penalties is not an act of any true moral worth. When the beliefs and practices of the church are prescribed by the State with its coercive powers, this does not promote true religion, but hypocrisy. For many Protestants, therefore, one of the best ways to preserve true liberty of the individual conscience is to leave that conscience entirely free, in religious matters, from considerations of civil consequences.

Some laws which coerce moral behavior are needed to protect us all from each other. I am very glad when going to my car at night at the mall that the threat of punishment from the state might prevent some would be attackers from carrying out the desires of their evil hearts. However, as T. David states so well, some (many, which ones?) matters of personal liberty should be off limits from the state.

With that background, I will turn it over to the forum. I encourage you to read Dr. Gordon’s well-crafted paper. What is the proper role of a Christian in governance? How are legislators to govern in a plural society? Given that Christians were so involved in the founding of the nation, why did they create such protections for pluralism of belief, including the ability to believe nothing and pursue happiness via that worldview? How do we best advance the mission of the church? In which vision of governance is personal and religious liberty best achieved?

Here is another quote from Dr. Gordon’s paper which speaks to how religious people ordinarily confuse criminality and immorality.

Confusion on this point often centers around a misunderstanding of Paul’s comments about the civil magistrate in Romans 13, where he refers to the magistrate as one who is a terror to evil conduct. Many religious people conclude, therefore, that the magistrate’s duty is to punish all evil conduct, as the Bible describes “evil”. In its historical context, however, this interpretation is unlikely. The particular magistrate to whom Paul refers is the Roman authority, who knew nothing of the law of Moses or the commands of Christ, and yet Paul referred to this pagan Roman magistrate as a “minister of God for your good.” The “evil” spoken of by Paul is societal evil, evil of a public nature that threatens the well-being of the commonwealth or its

individual citizens. From what we know of first-century Roman law, it appears that Paul rightly assumed that the magistrate would punish crimes against persons and crimes against property. If the magistrate did this, Paul was content that he was serving his divinely-instituted role fine.

Many other behaviors might well be sinful and immoral, but they are not and need not be criminal. In the late eighteenth century, John Leland, the Massachusetts Baptist, addressed this important distinction:

What leads legislators into this error, is confounding sins and crimes together — making no difference between moral evil and state rebellion: not considering that a man may be infected with moral evil, and yet be guilty of no crime, punishable by law. If a man worships one God, three Gods, twenty Gods, or no God — if he pays adoration one day in a week, seven days or no day — wherein does he injure the life, liberty or property of another? Let any or all these actions be supposed to be religious evils of an enormous size, yet they are not crimes to be punished by laws of state, which extend no further, in justice, than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.

Leland reflected common views in his day: That states exist to preserve the natural or inalienable rights of humans, frequently considered to be life, liberty and property as referred to by Leland. Thus, an act is criminal when it harms another’s person or property, or restrains his liberty; but other acts are tolerable by the state.

It will not impair the Church for homosexuality to be legal but nations which attempt to coerce moral sexual behavior will impair the free exercise of conscience by same-sex attracted people. To repeat from Dr. Gordon’s paper:

Any professed faith or outwardly religious act that is merely done to avoid civil penalties is not an act of any true moral worth. When the beliefs and practices of the church are prescribed by the State with its coercive powers, this does not promote true religion, but hypocrisy. For many Protestants, therefore, one of the best ways to preserve true liberty of the individual conscience is to leave that conscience entirely free, in religious matters, from considerations of civil consequences.

  • jayhuck

    I TRULY wish people would stop placing Christians and Gay people in separate camps.

  • Michael Busseed

    If homosexuals pursuing the democratic process to elect legislators and pass laws is more threatening than terrorism, then what would winning the culture war against homosexuality look like?

    Hmm… Nazi Germany comes to mind…

  • Ann

    Michael,

    If we took out the word “homosexuals” and just used the word “individuals”, it might diffuse all the reasons to limit “anyone”. Referring to an individual by a label or term only separates us and diminishes our ability to see each other as equals who are all seeking and deserve the same thing.

  • Michael Busseed

    Ann, I must respectfully disagree! There is nothing wrong with labels or terms. In fact, they can be descriptive and uplifting. Woman is a label. So is orchid. Or Irish, It’s not the word that divides. It’s the prejudice of the speaker.

  • Mary
  • Debbie Thurman

    What does “coerce moral sexual behavior” mean? Does it mean to restrict certain sexual behaviors on the basis of their perception of being immoral alone? Does “criminal” enter the picture (pedophilia, incest, rape, wanton spreading of disease), all of which are certainly both immoral and criminal? Criminal is immoral but immoral is not necessarily criminal — is that it? What about public health and sexual immorality?

    Can one even coerce moral behavior? One can coerce behavior to an extent. But changing the morality of the person behaving is another matter. That’s an inside job. Uganda succeeded in recent years in dramatically lowering its rates of HIV/AIDS through teaching the ABC method — abstinence, being faithful and condoms. Not sure how coercion was employed. The ends must have justified the means.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Debbie Thurman: The quote by Leland addressed the distinction between immoral and criminality.

    And the Uganda situation has been worsened by Langa and Ssempa. The Ugandan AIDS rates were going down but with Langa and Ssempa’s emergence, the C part of the ABC has been curtailed. And these Ugandan pastors do not want to expand their efforts to gays since being gay is illegal (aka immoral).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Debbie – The pedophilia etc slippery slope claims do not follow from decriminalizing homosexuality. These are crimes against children or non-consenting people. Despite what Scott Lively and other Dominionists say, the Scripture does not treat the church as the reincarnation of Israel. We are not to establish a theocracy. If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves, etc, I will heal their land is a promise delivered to Israel not to the church or to America. We are not called to create the Kingdom on earth – at least that is my view of things – we are called to be salt and light, pointing to the Gospel.

    Aaaahhh, thump.

    Fell off my soapbox.

  • Ann

    If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves, etc, I will heal their land is a promise delivered to Israel not to the church or to America.

    Dr. Throckmorton,

    I really appreciate you writing this. The promise delivered to Israel is unique and sacred and not to be confused or diluted.

  • Debbie Thurman

    Warren — wow, you used the term “Dominionists.” That took guts. Mel White would love you. Maybe instead of being what has been coined dominionist, Lively, et al, are “replacement theologists” (not sure the latter is a word), believing the Church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. I don’t believe such a thing for a minute, but I know some otherwise sensible people who do.

    Here’s a thought for you: Since Christ, the Word Incarnate, always was and appeared in Old Testament history before the incarnation, can we say with 100 percent assurance that 2 Chron. 7:14 might not apply to all God’s people, including the grafted-in root of the olive tree? Believing that does not make one a dominionist, in my opinion. Many Christians see that as an intercessory prayer mission, for both the Church and the Jewish race. We are linked. I enjoy reading Romans and Hebrews, which reminds me of this.

    I read Leland’s quote, and I get what he said. I was being rhetorical.

    I’d have to study up on Uganda some more to see where things got off track (with regard to ABC and AIDS).

    Still not sure what you mean by “coerce moral sexual behavior.” I was not associating homosexuality with the “slippery slope” of sexual crimes. Adultery should be criminal in Uganda (is it?) if homosexuality (sodomy?) is to be.

  • Roger Williams

    It will not impair the Church for homosexuality to be legal but nations which attempt to coerce moral sexual behavior will impair the free exercise of conscience by same-sex attracted people.

    I’ve just seen this discussion and, while concerned by the fact that its participants may be overly “intellectualizing” an issue that is clear to everyone (the emperor’s new clothes), this seems to be as good a point as any to jump in.

    The above comment seems to forget that the “legality of homosexuality” has usually been achieved at the expense of “the free exercise of conscience and dissent by heterosexual Christian, Muslim and/or atheistic citizens.”

    Can we begin by considering Melanie Philips’ “How Britain is Turning Christianity into a Crime?

    There’s more … and here I am thinking about the very basis upon which “same-sex attracted people” became “normal” in the everyday American/Western context … especially when much of their scientific, legal, medical and moral codes shouts otherwise. Did the change come about because of some sea scientific discovery? Or are you you pandering to a hoax, a deception, of truly enormous proportions?

  • Pingback: Ugandan travelogue from Caleb Brundidge and the International Healing Foundation — Warren Throckmorton


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