Currently in Houston there’s a mayor doing some major backtracking due to some subpoenas. Without diving into the issue too much, Houston issued subpoenas for five pastor’s sermons and correspondence for all issues related to homosexuality, transgenderism, HERO, and the mayor. It was all part of discovery in an ongoing case. Now, there’s nothing wrong with putting a subpoena on most sermons as they’re available to the public anyway (via church websites), but it still seems icky. After all, it would seem odd to do the same for an Imam’s messages, or a Rabbi’s teachings; while it’s available to the public, forcing a religious institution to hand over its religious teachings to be used against it in a court case just seems wrong. Regardless, the subpoenas were far too broad and the city is limiting their scope (when they should just dismiss them).
Meanwhile, in Idaho, a Christian couple who are ordained ministers are facing a fine and jail time for refusing to officiate a same-sex marriage. From a purely legal point of view, what’s happening in Idaho is a direct violation of the couple’s freedom of religion and will more than likely not be held up in court. It would truly be shocking if it were upheld because then one must ask what’s the difference between someone performing weddings as a wedding chapel and someone getting paid to perform a ceremony elsewhere? If a pastor accepts a donation to do a wedding – since he must take time out of his schedule to do it – or even charges for it, is he subjected to the same laws? What if the court rules that while the couple doesn’t have to officiate the wedding, since the building is used for weddings it must be open to all marriages? In such a case, does this mean churches should stop hosting weddings, which would then inhibit their freedom of religion?
Whether you agree or disagree with the Christian (or Islamic, or Jewish, or most religions) stance on the act of homosexuality, certainly one can see the problems by removing the freedom to practice one’s religion, even if wrong. It establishes a precedent where only that which is agreeable is allowable; you have the freedom to do what you wish so long as I agree with what you wish to do. Such a sentiment is great until you find yourself in the minority. It would appear that in attempting to cease being oppressed, the oppressed have happily become the oppressors. Under such a system rights are not guaranteed, nor do they mean anything in any real sense; your rights are determined by the majority. Welcome to the end of democracy, as Plato predicted and as we’ve seen acted out numerous times in history, where the tyranny of the majority destroys the rights of the minority.
Yet, in many ways, the church in the United States is merely reaping what it has sowed. For too long churches used the political realm as a way to “further the kingdom,” not by winning people over to Christ, but instead by forcing them to live in a “holy” way. For whatever reason, Christians honed in on homosexuality as the chief of sins above all other sins and then sought to fight every legal battle they could against it. Now, we could say that it’s because there was a “movement” and an “agenda” that Christians had to fight back. But what about the sexual revolution in the 60s? What about the lax divorce laws that came from it? How come Christians didn’t fight to repeal them or to push a cultural war against such advances? Is it because the sexual revolution offered benefits to members? Maybe Christians ignored that the real battle for marriage is within the home, not the court room.
I’ve argued consistently that the government should absolve itself from the marriage debate. Stick to civil unions that can only be obtained through the county court; no pomp, no ceremony, nothing. You go in, sign a legal document, get it witnessed by an officer of the court, and leave. Sadly, the Religious Right wanted to continue to define marriage for everyone through a Christian lens. It led to a legal battle, one in which someone was destined to lose and have their religious liberty squashed. The homosexual Episcopal couple for whom marriage is both allowable and a sacrament lost with the anti-gay marriage amendments in various states; the minister couple who makes a living off wedding ceremonies lost with the pro-gay marriage rulings. The Religious Right created an environment in which there was a winner and loser, not a compromise, and now they’ve lost. For doing so, many of us “non-combatants” who had no desire to wage a culture war will become victims of their blunder.
See, even if the court rules against the city ordinance (and with the 9th Circuit, nothing is ever a guarantee), it shows there’s a precedent to challenge ministers to perform wedding ceremonies against their will. What is tossed out of court today will become common place tomorrow, a common challenge, to the point it would be unthinkable not to toss a minister in jail for refusing to conduct a marriage ceremony. Perhaps the Religious Right could make their new anthem, I Fought the Law and the Law Won. They used secular means to achieve a secular goal, they used the world’s system to try and advance their message, and in doing so the system failed for them and now they’ve trapped themselves – as well as other Christians – in a messy and potentially backbreaking situation.
Some will say that they were standing for the Gospel, standing for what’s right, but they weren’t. Contrary to what people try to claim, homosexuality (even long-term, monogamous relationships) were known to the ancient world. The Greeks believed a relationship between a man and a man was the highest form of love, because it occurred between equals. It’s why women were viewed as property and child bearers and why divorce was so common; once a woman could no longer bear children, she was of no use to her owner. That’s not to say men didn’t love women, just that actual monogamous relationships were known. Looking to the Celtic peoples who’s culture dominated Europe prior to Germanization and Latinization, multiple historians remarked how even though they had beautiful women, the men preferred to form relationships amongst themselves.
It’s into this environment that the Church came to life, yet they didn’t “stand up for marriage” by trying to get the Roman government to outlaw homosexuality. Rather, they lived a life honoring Christ and pursued holiness. The Romans didn’t hate the Christians for speaking out against moral failings (in fact, some of the Stoics agreed with the Christians), but rather because the Christians refused to follow the Imperial cult (treating the emperor as a god). They didn’t persecute Christians for trying to change the law, but for trying to change the population through one-on-one contact.
While sometimes it is necessary to stand up to unjust laws, we must do so on secular grounds (by “secular” I mean we cannot appeal to Scripture, a belief in God, or anything of the sort; it’s an argument that, regardless of one’s religious persuasion, one could agree with it). Standing against abortion is a secular issue (so long as someone believes humans have intrinsic value). Standing against economic injustice is a secular issue. While we can have religious reasons for our beliefs, we must be able to present a secular case, and ultimately our stand must not rely on the government. Our battle must take place in the hearts of the people. When William Wilberforce fought to eradicate slavery, he did so for religious reasons, but used secular logic in his arguments when debating the law. Yet, the majority of his battle didn’t take place in Parliament, but on the streets with citizens. He did what Christians have always done; challenge the people to where the laws naturally follow.
When Constantine finally legalized Christianity, he did so because it was inevitable. In just a short time, the Christians had grown from a small population to taking up a large portion of the Empire’s populace. While the majority of the Empire (and later, former Empire) was pagan up until the end of the 5th century (after the West fell), the people embraced Christianity, which led to a change in the law. What the Religious Right never did, or at least put a focus on, in all its activism in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, was seek to help people on a personal level. They never sought a way to end bullying against homosexuals or invite them to church, to seek them out as friends and to find ways to minister to them. They, instead, praised AIDS as a curse upon homosexuals and then fought in court to eradicate any rights homosexual couples could enjoy. Over 30 years after embarking on their crusade, they’ve lost and are routed, but in doing so leave many Christians who disagreed with them vulnerable.
The church within America failed America by ceasing to act like a church and instead acting like a lobbyist group before lobbyists were the “in” thing. Even if the law backs down and never rises again against Christians, we’re called to change people through personal interaction, not the law. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, he didn’t instruct his disciples to go into all the world, changing their laws and getting elected to high positions. He didn’t tell them to become lawyers and enforce a Christian view upon the world. Instead, he said to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perhaps it’s best to follow the Gospel rather than try to squeeze the Gospel into a legal framework; that approach has never worked and has always led to persecution of some form for Christians.