Photo credit: americanfreedomlawcenter.org
by Rick Plasterer (@RickPlasterer)
As arguing for Biblical sexual morality, especially with respect to homosexuality, has become increasingly beyond the pale with much of the general public, and in some jurisdictions legally risky; social conservatives now focus on protecting marriage and the natural family, with the very good claim that traditional marriage between one man and one woman is the only real marriage and is the superior basis for society.
Marriage is certainly extremely important, and arguments for it should be developed; the divinely ordained family is important and part of what Christians are trying to defend, and it is something positive to talk about. But the most intense conflict threatening Christians today remains the moral status of homosexuality. The traditional position on that cannot be changed without abandoning the clear doctrine of scripture, and on that we are in deep trouble, because more emphatically than it had in the earlier Romer (1996) and Lawrence (2003) decisions, the Supreme Court has again condemned traditional morality as cruel and therefore immoral in constitutional law in its June 26 ruling, invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Law very properly follows morality. First moral principles are made clear, and then those principles are enacted into law. The condemnation of Biblical morality already has been, and we can reasonably expect that it further will be, enacted into law, with criminal penalties, denials of conscience in business and the professions, restrictions on religious education, and other infringements on religious freedom.
Of course the court did not directly assert that “Biblical doctrine is immoral,” but it referred to the Defense of Marriage Act as having been enacted in “essence” to achieve “interference in the equal dignity of same-sex marriages” in the interest of expressing “moral disapproval of homosexuality” and support for “traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” This, the court thought, is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of liberty, which the court apparently believes includes radical moral autonomy in sexual matters and the right not to be offended. Thus, as Justice Scalia emphasized in his dissent, DOMA’s objective of protecting Biblical and other traditional morality was condemned in strongly moral terms, such as “demean or degrade,” “impose inequality,” “write inequality into the law”, “humiliate” children in the custody of same sex marriages whose families should be in “concord with other families,” and defeat the purpose of state governments who attempt to make homosexual marriage “dignified and proper.”
One can only gasp at the extrapolation by which meaning of “liberty” is expanded to include a requirement that dignity be given to individual choices that ignore not only religious precepts and long human experience, but contemporary evidence of what is best in physical and psychological health, and the best outcomes for children and society at large. While the court may profess neutrality about religion, it is not at all neutral about Biblical sexual morality. With the social harms it claims, the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality cannot be anything other than evil.
While Justice Scalia’s dissent stated that the accusation of “animus” will be used against supporters of traditional marriage in the 38 states where it remains the only state sanctioned marriage, it is not on the marriage issue that the DOMA decision will have its most devastating impact. It is in the accelerating issue of liberty of conscience. This is under attack in all areas pertaining to the sexual revolution, but in the area of homosexuality, it is most vulnerable and its weakness is the greatest danger to Christians. Generally speaking, orthodox Christians do not object to serving homosexuals in business or the professions, but they do object to providing goods and services that facilitate homosexual behavior. A photographer required to photograph a lesbian ceremony, bakers required to bake cakes for the homosexual ceremonies, bed and breakfast owners required to accommodate homosexual couples, counselors required to counsel homosexual couples on the sexual aspects of their relationship, even religious associations in their rental of facilities all are at risk and have not done well in court, because the homosexual community insists, and courts seem to have agreed, that declining these services is an attack on the dignity of homosexual persons. This tendency will likely be enormously reinforced by the Supreme Court’s passionate declaration that opposition to homosexuality is “demeaning” and therefore immoral.
In criticizing the court’s opinion and its implication for Christians, we need to remember the sharpness of the moral conflict, and in what respect opinions like that of the Supreme Court are right and in what respect they are wrong. To say (NIV translation) that the men of Sodom “were wicked and were sinning greatly” (Gen. 13), homosexual acts are “detestable” (Lev. 18), and that homosexual desire consists in “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1) is indeed mortifying. Whether it is “degrading” or “demeaning” depends on whether it is true. And if Biblical morality does express the truth, it expresses justice however painful it might be, and claims of equality can be no more than a legal fiction.
One would think the priority that the Constitution gives to the “free exercise of religion” in the First Amendment would give religious freedom priority over other freedoms; often it is referred to as “the first freedom.” But the Supreme Court has long interpreted religious freedom as applying in an absolute sense only to belief, not action (despite the expression “free exercise,” although in practice it has been interpreted more broadly, and liberty of conscience for certain purposes, such as objection to abortion or military service, is specifically provided for in law). Even the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) will be of limited help, applying as it does only to federal law (although a number of states do have their own RFRAs). Its standard is that religious freedom cannot be “burdened” (requiring people to violate their consciences) unless there is a compelling state interest applied in the least restrictive way. But here it will be held that there is a compelling state interest in protecting the dignity of homosexuals as homosexuals, and no least restrictive way to apply the burden, because to decline to provide goods or services that are immoral in Christian doctrine is offensive to personal dignity.
This bottom line seems quite a stretch, however. Religious persons also have the “liberty” of the Fifth Amendment, which surely is informed by the liberty of the First Amendment. Is not their “dignity” harmed by the requirement to take action in violation of their religious conscience, since this is their most important commitment, not their own personal autonomy? Where action is required of a person to violate their conscience, this consideration should make religious liberty prevail, especially since no action is required of the person or persons requesting the goods or services. But don’t count on this with courts, bureaucrats, and professional associations convinced in the passion of the moment that the Supreme Court is correct in judging Biblical morality immoral.
The real neutrality that the state should apply in the area of liberty of conscience it should also apply in education. To insist that children be taught in all schools, public, private, and home school, that homosexuality is normal rather than sinful, is really to impose the government’s own judgment of sexual morality, rather than allowing education and discipline to rest principally with parents, where it naturally belongs. But again, don’t count on legislators, courts, and any other government authorities with authority related to education to recognize this.
There is no course of action that will resolve this problem in the foreseeable future. The only question for a Christian is obedience to God. Any action that is in itself sinful we cannot engage in, and that includes actions that facilitate sin. The resulting loss of talent and service to society (as in the case of the excellent service provided by Catholic adoption agencies) should be blamed on the loss of religious liberty, but of course will be blamed on irrational religious dogma. When true pressure is brought to bear on an individual or organization, they may in fact behave differently than they expect to. But whatever reason a Christian or Christian organization has for violating Biblical morality, it is wrong, and continuing to do so over time will likely have the effect of changing belief, which of course is an important result the advocates of the sexual revolution are seeking. If Christians do stay faithful to God and avoid facilitating sin, then without accommodation they will become an underclass. But this result is absolutely to be preferred to sinning.
To the world, Christians may emphasize it is simply wrong to require people to violate their consciences for fear of offending other people, and that it is the religious believer required to take action to violate his or her conscience, not the party requesting service, that is being imposed on. As Charles Colson said shortly before he passed away, it may take a generation for the general public to understand Christians, just as it took the homosexual movement decades to communicate its message. But it is absolutely important to recognize the refusal to compromise is not a strategy to gain accommodation, but is a requirement in obeying God, whom we must obey in all things.