Defining Our Terms: “Marriage” and “Religious Liberty”

You may or may not have seen this headline somewhere recently:
Tenn Bill would permit student counselors to reject clients based on religious beliefs 

This article discusses a problem which previously made national news in Michigan when a student in a counseling program refused to accept homosexual couples as clients. The bill being proposed in Tennessee will protect the rights of students in counseling programs who reject clients because the goals, outcomes and behaviors of the prospective clients conflict with the religious views of the counselor. 

Or this headline:
Florist refuses gay couple’s wedding due to her ‘relationship with Jesus Christ’ 

This article includes a comment by the state Attorney General for the state where the florist shop is located. The AG says, “If they sell flowers to any other opposite sex couple, they must sell flowers to a same-sex couple.”  

Maybe you saw this headline:
New Mexico Supreme Court hears appeal by photographer in gay bias case 

A photography studio refused to photograph a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple on the grounds that the union conflicted with the religious convictions of the owners and that to be compelled to produce such images would violate their right to express their convictions through their art. 

Perhaps you saw this one:
RI marriage equality bill may hinge on extent of religious exemptions

There is general agreement that the law may not compel clergy or religious leaders to officiate at a ceremony that conflicts with their religious convictions. However, opponents to same-sex marriage are proposing  a religious exemption that would permit private businesses as well as religiously connected organization to decide for themselves if they will recognize gay marriage or not. The inclusion of private employers makes this exemption unacceptable to most supporters of gay marriage. 

These four articles are selected from what is becoming a blizzard of cases and legislation arising because of political activism by the LGBT community. (I normally avoid initials and acronyms with a passion, but this is the way this community identifies itself. If that is their preference, then I will accede to it.) The four articles look at two terms that are at the center of the rising pressure from the LGBT community. The terms are marriage equality and religious liberty.

The LGBT community wants to use the term marriage to mean the union of homosexuals as if it were the normal definition of marriage. According to this community, they have a right to redefine marriage this way because marriage is a civil right, and that is at the root of their activism in the name of marriage equality.

The LGBT community includes Christians as well as atheists and other religious persuasions, but the community, including its Christian members, uses a completely secular definition of religion in its attitude toward religious liberty. The HHS definition of “religious employer” in the regulations enacting the Affordable Care Act best states where the LGBT activists draw the line for the religious liberty to reject and refuse to participate in the homosexual agenda. In that narrow view, religion is what happens in houses of worship where the acts of worship and the teaching of how to do it take place. This very secular view of religion disallows any notion that a Christian commits to a way of life by virtue of simply being a Christian. The idea that a Christian who runs a store or a doctor’s office is obligated by his faith to act according to Christian values is rejected by secular thinkers.

If someone believes that marriage means whatever we choose to say it means, and if someone believes that marriage is a civil right, then it follows as night follows day that it is okay to say that an agreement by two homosexuals is a marriage and that in the name of marriage equality they should be granted all the same rights, the same benefits, and the same privileges any other married couple has. If someone believes that religion only happens within a church building where one might engage in worshiping a deity or in learning how to worship the deity, then it just makes sense that one would say that a for-profit business such as a flower shop, a photography studio or a corporate board of directors does not engage in religion and does not express religion.

Not one of the men who served in the Continental Congress or who helped to write the Constitution would agree with anything in the paragraph above. When they wrote the First Amendment, they believed that religious principles permeated the lives and work of believers. It certainly permeated the lives of those men. They would be completely dumbfounded to hear that the federal government says that nothing religious happens in a for-profit enterprise. They would be shocked to discover that not only are homosexuals allowed to marry in the chapel at West Point, but that the academy requires that the chapel host homosexual weddings if asked.

On March 26 and 27, the Supreme Court will host oral arguments on two cases that will have immense impact on all these stories. The Supreme Court may or may not take ownership of the definition of marriage. The two cases cover the issue of the constitutionality of a state’s attempt to prevent gay marriage and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act which attempted to prevent any redefinition of marriage in the federal realm. This case is very important for the definition of marriage, but it will not likely speak to the issue of religious liberty. There are a number of lawsuits in the works relating to the exercise of religious principle relative to the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and relative to the rights of business owners who reject being any part of a homosexual ceremony or union. The cultural and legal battles will likely continue for years.

Today the Denison Forum reported on the issue of the negative portrayal of Christians in the media, and Jim Denison asked what Christians should do about this. His question applies just as appropriately to the questions about marriage and religious liberty. What are Christians to do? He proposed prayer and even kicked off a prayer campaign among his commenters. This is exactly the right way to think about this problem. First we pray.

Too often Christians wait until they have tried everything else before they pray. They engage in social and political activism, they tell their neighbors, they tweet, they phone, they email, and when the problem continues to escalate and they cannot think of anything to do, then they pray in desperation, “Oh, God, Help us!”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a great little book about Psalms in which he reminded his readers that Psalms was Jesus’ prayerbook. What’s good enough for Jesus is good enough for us. One way to change your perspective on a psalm is to look at a problem in the culture, for example, the assault on marriage and family, and pray the psalm the way Jesus might pray it if faced with the same problem. You can enter into the psalm, pray the psalm and learn from Christ as you pray.

 

Try praying Psalm 53 below as your prayer for guidance in the culture war to save marriage and family from destruction. Substitute your state name and “USA” for the words “Jacob” and “Israel.” Remember that if Jesus prayed this psalm, he was perfect, but we are not. We are made righteous by Christ’s righteousness which we receive because of his death on the cross. Humbly acknowledge where your righteousness in this conflict comes from, and think of all parties to the conflict as Jesus would. Jesus is the one, you remember, who prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” as he was being nailed to the cross. If you are not comfortable with this psalm, find a different one.  

 

1     Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
2     God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3     They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4     Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?
5     There they shall be in great terror,
in terror such as has not been.
For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly;
they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6     O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. 

Leave a comment please and let me know what this experience meant for you. Or let me know any other thoughts God gives you about what we can do to participate in God’s work of preserving his plan for marriage and family and for preserving the right he gave every person to live by faith.

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