Tag Archives: Supreme Court of the United States

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.

Equality Might Not Mean What You Think

Image Courtesy of Stuart Mileshttp://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles

One of the magical qualities of a word is its ability to defy definitions. The world is full of dictionaries, and we use those dictionaries to help us understand words. Yet no dictionary ever quite captures every nuance of the meaning of a word. The magnificent human mind exceeds the ability of words to transmit our richest meanings. Dictionaries help us, and we constantly tweak the dictionaries to assure that they get closer to the truth. Yet the meaning of a single word in human speech in any language is never exactly what we think it is.

Take equality, for example.

That word has a storied past, rich in service for the good of mankind. Yet, as soon as you read the word mankind in my sentence, many of you will flinch at the gender implications of the word and wonder if I am insensitive or simply ignorant. Women around the world have fought for gender equality, yet I, a woman, use the word mankind to speak of all human beings! The uproar surrounding the use of the word mankind is precisely the sort of uproar that surrounds the use of the word equality, yet those who protest its misuse and abuse are rarely heard above the cacophony of campaigns and agendas to achieve equality according to a definition that has been severely warped.

The word equality used in mathematics has an undisputed meaning. For example: 2+2=4 because mathematically speaking, no other answer is possible. Equations use symbols for mathematical concepts and measurements, and an equation states an equality that can be verified in the physical world: E=mc2. Mathematical equalities are truly equal to the last decimal point. Using such equalities allows architects to design skyscrapers that do not fall down, rocket scientists to put men on the moon, and homemakers to bake angel food cakes. There is no dispute about what equality means in mathematics.

Not so in the world of political and social justice. In these realms, which have merged into a single bitter stew in recent years, the meaning of the word equality depends entirely on the usage of the speaker or writer. It is not at all uncommon to hear an argument in which two people use the word equality with equal fervency to mean two completely different things.

Why do Christians care? We care, because each of us lives in that bitter stew every day. The social and political changes being proposed and even wrought in the name of equality blindside us daily. We must be prepared to address these issues, because the changes affect our lives in profound ways. The agendas which use the word equality to advance their causes are changing the face of our culture in ways most of us could not have imagined as recently as June of 2008.

Less than two weeks ago, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases that will include a great deal of rhetoric using the word equality. One case looks at the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while the other examines a state act, California’s Proposition 8. Both cases center on the meaning of the word marriage, but the thrust of the arguments will likely be that both acts breach the concept of equality before the law.

This post will not address the issues of defining the word marriage, but the use of the term equality has been the most subtle part of the campaign to lead our culture to accept the idea that two people of the same gender can marry. The term equality coupled with the word marriage has slipped under the radar of a lot of people. Gay marriage may sound offensive to some ears, but who can argue with the idea of marriage equality? The use of this term implies that the definition of marriage is not the issue. The campaign to legitimize the concept that a union of two people of the same gender is a marriage has leaped over the definition of marriage altogether and seized upon something almost everyone admires – equality. Even religious leaders who might have previously choked at the idea of a wedding of two men or two women have swallowed the idea of marriage equality.

The deep basis for using the term equality yoked with the word marriage is to lead the argument down the path of civil rights. In this context, the word equality is used to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It seizes upon the phrase “equal protection of the laws” as a basis for arguing that homosexuals are being denied “equal protection of the laws.” (The argument for “equal protection” also requires acceptance of an unfounded assertion that science has proved that homosexuality is congenital rather than a choice. This post does not encompass the refutation of that argument, but this writer rejects the hypotheses offered in lieu of actual proof.) This argument only has meaning if the definition of marriage has been changed. No such change has taken place, but by focusing on equality, the whole argument assumes a common agreement on the definition of marriage. If the proposition of equality is agreed upon, the definition of marriage is transformed as the inevitable consequence of equality.

In the realm of Christian faith, the word equality likewise sidesteps the issue of the Bible’s teachings about marriage and sexuality. Before the throne of God we are all equally sinful. What made homosexuals more sinful than anyone else? Those who willingly accept speculation in place of real science will assert that if homosexuality is congenital, then God created some people homosexual and some people left-handed. If that is true, then Christians who reject homosexuality and homosexual unions, are judging God’s own handiwork and marginalizing people who are simply different. Proponents of marriage equality ask, did God really say that homosexuality was wrong? (Do you hear Satan in the Garden of Eden whispering to Eve, “Did God say …?”) Some Christians actually believe that humans have learned so much about science and human relationships that they have outgrown the Bible. In the name of marriage equality they absorb contemporary social and political agendas and assert that we must not discriminate against homosexuals who want to marry like everybody else. God loves homosexuals, too.

Of course he does. He loved the thief on the cross. He loves murderers on death row. We are, indeed all equally sinful in his eyes. We are all saved by grace through Christ. But this salvation does not justify theft, murder, or perversion of God’s highest institutions. The biblical teaching that marriage is a time/space copy of the eternal/infinite relationship between God and his church cannot be simply ignored by redefining our universal unrighteousness before God.

Satan must be very happy about this. Satan is always pleased when human beings believe any lie. The lie that our equality before God as sinners one and all means that God blesses and honors a form of union that he universally rejects throughout the Bible is hard to accept. Can we really believe that Scripture is our divinely inspired source for guidance in all areas of faith and life and still believe that God just made a mistake when he proscribed homosexuality. Did God think ancient writers and readers could not handle the truth? Or worse, do we believe he merely failed to give us a complete revelation? Did God simply mess up?

Equality is a wonderful thing, but just like the gift of sexuality, it can be perverted. Every Christian must engage in the disciplines that nourish a mature faith and pray for deep discernment in order to see the many ways Satan daily contrives to deceive us about the truth. The deceptive manipulation of the meaning of the word equality is only one example.

Your Testimony in the Court of Public Opinion

When Trayvon Martin was shot, there was a media rush to announce the public opinion that George Zimmerman was a murder, and a racist murderer at that. Many of the slurs against Zimmerman that passed for actual charges of which the reports convicted him have since been debunked. The court of public opinion is not a very good place for achieving justice.

There is not much justice in the court of public opinion for Christians either. Christians are under fire for being narrow-minded and disconnected from reality. They are accused of meddling in things that have nothing to do with Christianity, and they are accused of not being Christian by people who do not know what a Christian is. Christians often feel rejected and belittled, at the very least. Sometimes they feel positively oppressed. The court of public opinion is not rendering much justice any case involving Christians.

Let’s look at the charges.

Christians are narrow-minded and disconnected from reality.

A prime example of this accusation is found in the ongoing discussion of whether an adoption agency can be compelled to place children with gay couples. Advocates of the LGBT agenda contend that it is illegal and immoral for Christian adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay couples. They accuse Christians of narrow-minded bigotry in their unwillingness to approve gay couples as adoptive parents. LGBT advocates believe that Christian agencies have no right to implement rules for adoptive parents based on the Christian view that homosexuality is a sin. (It should be noted that Christians today are not of one mind about this. However, acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate sexual expression by any Christian group is very recent, and the vast majority of Christian groups continue to classify homosexuality as sin.)

Christians like to meddle in things that have nothing to do with Christianity.

Even though the Supreme Court decided in favor of the church in Hosanna-Tabor public opinion considered the decision unjust. The core of the case was a question about the employment contract between a teacher and a church. The teacher signed a hiring contract that included a requirement that she submit any disputes about the terms of her employment to arbitration within the church. This contract amounted to a prohibition to go outside the church with any such dispute. However, when the church ruled against the teacher in a dispute, the teacher went to the EEOC with her complaint against her employer. The terms of the contract into which the teacher entered of her own free will led ultimately to the determination against the government. In the court of public opinion, there was considerable dismay that the contract was not set aside in the courts, because public opinion did not like the idea that the church was able to enforce such a contract. Public opinion felt that terms of employment are precisely the sort of thing churches ought to stay out of and leave to the government. What do terms of employment, the public asks, have to do with Christianity?

Christians are accused by non-Christians of not being Christian when Christians assert moral principles at odds with popular political and social agendas.

This problem is expressed on a broad range of issues. Non-Christians seize on a Christian teaching such as “Love your neighbor,” and accuse Christians of not loving their neighbors when they call their neighbor’s behavior “sinful.” It is likely that Christians contribute to the problem when they react with anger and outrage, but non-Christians do not understand that Christians can reject the behavior without hating the person. Christians can call homosexuality “sin” while simultaneously inviting homosexuals to church or while continuing to befriend a homosexual neighbor. A Christian can rejoice in the birth of a baby to an unmarried couple without condoning the fact that they live together without marriage. Non-Christians seem to believe that we cannot love people with whom we differ. More important, they believe that we DO NOT love our neighbors who engage in behavior we call “sin.” We probably need to work on our behavior and speech, but we probably also need to accept the fact that most people will continue to call us bigots for not approving and accepting all behavior we consider to be sin.

In the court of public opinion, these charges are made and the media reports conclusions without much published testimony from Christians. How are we to offer a defense against the accusations?

It is not likely we will ever refute these arguments once and for all. The arguments do not spring full-blown from the thinking of human philosophers. These arguments are the same arguments our enemy Satan has leveled against us from the beginning. When you boil all the accusations down to their essence, Christians believe they should listen to God, and Satan wants us to stop listening to God. It is the argument Satan used against Eve when he asked, “Did God say that? Well, he lies.” (My free paraphrase of Genesis 3:1-5)

Probably the touchiest issue is to be able to disagree respectfully and sustain love for the person with whom we disagree. Our opponents do not make it easy. In public discourse there is a lot of completely illogical speech. Too many people have been called “racist” or “bigoted” simply because they disagree with public opinion. It would be wonderful if that sort of thing could be ended. It can’t. If you speak or act to defend Christian teaching or Christian values in the court of public opinion, you need to be ready to cope with mindless name-calling.

Our only real defense against these accusations is to live lives that faithfully demonstrate the love of Christ for all people. When people say terrible things about us, when people lie about us, when people make fun of us and act as if we are immature children who believe fairy tales, it is easy to become angry. Satan loves it when that happens. It simply proves his point. The big challenge before us is to trust Christ completely. If we remember that he said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” then we will be able to respond lovingly to name-calling and public scorn. We don’t need to be doormats. We do need to be loving at all times. When we don’t quite know what to do, we need to ask ourselves what will show Christ to those who see us.