Two issues converged this week to get me thinking about a concept that I’m going to call “inalienable morals.” First, one of the young adults in my congregation sent me an email with a question about “rights” for homosexuals and how many people think this is an issue that should be divorced from religious considerations (i.e. an individual might call themselves a Christian and while they disagree with homosexual marriage morally, they suggest that we shouldn’t take away the “rights” of a homosexual to marry). The other issue this week is a general feeling of patriotism as we approach the 4th of July, and some reflection on the “inalienable rights” that are promoted in our country’s Declaration of Independence. Here’s the final product of those two thoughts meeting head on…..
Late Friday night New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will legalize gay marriages in New York state, making it now the 6th state in our country to do so. While not the first, New York is arguably the most influential state to adopt gay marriage, for a number of reasons. Its population is quite large. It has deep ties to the history of gay rights. It also is A) a major tourist location, and B) has no state law requiring residency for obtaining a marriage license. What that means is that New York City is likely to become the world’s epicenter of all gay marriage.
Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Pink, and Cyndi Lauper weighed in publicly with comments of rejoicing over the passing of the new law (no one with normal names, normal hair, or clean drug records could apparently be reached for comment). Nonetheless, these individuals are reflecting more and more the public consensus and comfort in redefining marriage.
Whether we realize it or not, this law change is probably as impactful of legislation as we’ve seen in a while. Coming off the relatively recent heels of Congress’ repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, it has to be perceived as clear evidence that unless something drastic occurs, this is the direction that our country is likely moving in to define a “family unit.” None of this should be that much of a surprise to anyone because all signs have pointed to this being the future norm in our country for quite some time now. The reason: while our country proudly holds to the concept of inalienable rights, we’ve given up on the notion of inalienable morals.
Our founding fathers’ ideas of “life, liberty, and property” (what came to be called “natural” or “inalienable” rights) came largely from the writings of John Locke, a 17th century English philosopher who argued that these fundamental human rights could never be forfeited in the social contract, the relationship and responsibilities held between a government and its citizens. These rights truly are a wonderful thing. In a general way, it’s one of the reasons why we enjoy so many blessed freedoms in our country that citizens of other nations can’t begin to imagine.
However, while inalienable rights were explicitly stated in the Constitution, inalienable morals were merely implied. Our country started, to a large degree, as an experiment in religious freedom by devout Christians. Biblical morals were assumed. No, not every founding father was a faithful Christian, but as much as we can tell without being able to look into their hearts, it appears that most were. At the inauguration of George Washington, for instance, he got on his knees and kissed the Bible before leading the Senate and House of Representatives to an Episcopal church for worship. According to the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (by Dr. D James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe), about 34% of all the founding fathers’ citations in their recorded works were from the Bible. These men clearly had a decidedly biblical worldview. The truth is that the majority of Americans for the first several hundred years of our country’s history had a decidedly biblical worldview. From the time the Puritans landed and started schools in the early 1600s until 1837, almost all of American education was Christian and even largely funded by taxes. Obviously this sort of general public embrace of biblical doctrine is nowhere near the case anymore. We’re at a point where lots of people still like Jesus of Nazareth, maybe even consider him such a wonderful guy and, largely due to family history, they’ll label themselves as Christians, but exercising that faith on any sort of regular basis in any sort of day-to-day kind of way is all but gone save for about 20% of the American population. Today, statistically speaking, the majority will not let many of their personal feelings be affected by Christian doctrine. We’re predominantly a people who, quite ironically, recognize the Lordship of Jesus without buying all of what he taught. (I’d encourage you to check out the research found in George Barna’s 7 Faith Tribes if you disagree).
Since a very, very large percentage of our citizenship no longer is familiar with Biblical text or acknowledges a desire to adhere to the teachings of the Bible, a biblical worldview is going away. If a biblical worldview disappears in our country, then what expectations should we realistically have that any legislation is going to reflect God’s desire for mankind? I would suggest very little.
The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 2:14-15, teaches something called the Natural Knowledge of God. He says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” What Paul is saying is that everyone inherently knows that some things are universally morally right or wrong. And when we violate that internal code of ethics, we experience a feeling of trepidation and guilt laid upon us by our consciences – this is a feeling that points us to the justice and holiness of God. According to the Bible, everyone has this. I can even prove this – I could go down the street and ask people one after another if it’s wrong to murder someone or to steal something or to cheat on your spouse and almost invariably each person would say that it is. Where do notions like “good” and “evil” come from except the fact that God has tattooed a distinction on each human heart. The problem, however, arises when a conscience is lied to repeatedly by self, society, and Satan. It can become so confused that it then has no clue what is right or wrong.
How does this pertain to gay marriage? Human hearts also have been tattooed with God’s design for human sexuality – one man connected to one woman in a lifelong, faithful commitment is God’s blueprint for marriage. It’s obvious. It’s natural. It’s biblical. However, when Satan has woven into the fabric of our society the philosophy that truth (even inherent moral truth) is all relative and you couple that with a society that has lost its desire for biblical guidance, you have a nation that will undoubtedly move in a direction for marriage that isn’t what God designed. And in a democracy, whatever society’s conscience suggests is right will eventually win.
You see, this isn’t all merely a human rights issue. Since all worldviews are affected by religious beliefs (even from those who claim to be “non-religious”), then you can’t totally divorce religion and human rights. Human rights issues are absolutely moral issues and therefore religious issues.
The state should not be allowed to define marriage since the state didn’t start marriage, it was merely given the power by God to manage marriage. God alone reserves the right to define marriage. However, if people are not united in a belief of God and the absolute truth of his Word, you run into a bit of a quandary. Then, the basic premise in democracy is…….the majority rules. As the majority of our country increasingly drifts from active Christianity, again, unless something drastic happens, I can’t see every state in our country not eventually adopting complete equality for homosexuals – marriage, adoption, tax breaks, etc. Without recognizing inalienable morals, Constitutionally, I don’t know how we’d be able to withhold certain “rights” from some people. Logically, you probably can’t.
While our country holds “inalienable rights” of humans for life, liberty, and property, the majority is no longer grounded with a moral base. Collected wisdom from history, science, and religion would seem to indicate that gay marriage and parenting should not be legal. BUT, if there is no true agreed upon basis for morality, then it’s merely whatever the majority says. And as legislation like what we just saw in New York continues to pass, it becomes so abundantly apparent where our countries heart currently lies.
My goal here today is merely to take some of the surprise or the “what’s happening to our country?” debate away from Christians in all of this. Personally, I’m almost surprised that this legislation is not happening faster. While I don’t have an immediate or easy answer to the situation, I would offer that while this might appear to be a legislative issue, this is really a spiritual issue that’s been a problem for a long time. Let’s not expect citizens to vote on the basis of morals that they no longer have.
Simple as it sounds from a Conservative Lutheran, about the only thing that would return a healthy respect for godly morals and biblical truth to our culture is Law and Gospel. A return to the reality of sin against a holy and righteous God who indeed has standards and expectations. A return to Jesus as a Savior and not merely or even primarily an exemplary do-gooder. A return to the truth about sexuality that God offers in Genesis 2, Genesis 19:1-4, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10. If the Holy Spirit is afforded the chance to do his work and Bible teachers have the guts to proclaim biblical truth while knowing that some listeners are going to fight, scream, and leave, then maybe something as simple and beautiful as marriage, the first human relationship, will become much clearer .
Until then, people will vote whatever is currently in their hearts. Encouraging people to get out and vote might be helpful, but they can only vote for the conviction of their heart. In the long run for our country, encouraging people to get involved in a Bible-based, Jesus-centered church is much more helpful. Introducing them to a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness without watering down his just, holy, and righteous plan for them is what alone can change their hearts and lives…….and our nation.
“Furthermore, every man is responsible for his own faith, and he must see it for himself that he believes rightly. As little as another can go to hell or heaven for me, so little can he believe or disbelieve for me; and as little as he can open or shut heaven or hell for me, so little can he drive me to faith or unbelief. Since, then, belief or unbelief is a matter of every one’s conscience, and since this is no lessening of the secular power, the latter should be content and attend to its own affairs and permit men to believe one thing or another, as they are able and willing, and constrain no one by force.” (Martin Luther, Concerning Secular Authority, 1523)