Monday, June 13, 2005

Response to Charles Darrell's Star Tribune opinion piece "Christians ought to do more in this debate"

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:28 PM |  

Charles Darrell writes in yesterday’s Star Tribune (“Christians ought to do more in this debate”) that the sign of a dysfunctional church is one that can't defend the obvious. The current debate over same-sex marriage is a perfect example.

Darrell argues that in a pluralistic society Christians must make every attempt to translate biblical truth into secular arguments that are not explicitly rooted in theology. Yet, he notes, a marriage protection amendment is unlikely without returning to spiritual foundations because without theology Christians do not have enough secular arguments that work. He writes --
The truth is that secularists have stolen the moral high ground from Christians through some ingenious rhetorical manipulation. Marrying the "civil rights" argument for same-sex partners with the unfounded insistence of "separation of church and state," they have succeeded in intimidating and confusing many Christians on the issue of same-sex marriage. Equipping themselves with the equally phony "helmet of open-mindedness" and "breastplate of tolerance," these secular ideologues have silenced a core of the Church with charges of "intolerance" and "hatred" toward homosexuals.
In form this is the same argument used by critics of Ronald Reagan that attributed his effectiveness to the fact that he was a “great communicator” without giving him credit for the substance of his ideas. Darrell accuses those advocating same-sex marriage of being disingenuous rather than acknowledging them as individuals believing, as do Christians, in the self-evident moral correctness of their point of view.

I infer from Darrell’s piece, that a Christian that supports same-sex marriage must be “dysfunctional” and to hold the view that same-sex marriage is the morally correct path to pursue makes one disingenuous. That attitude -- not a lack of conviction on the part of Christians -- is what hurts the case against same-sex marriage.

In essence Darrell is admitting that unless one accepts the most temporal interpretation of Christian theology, there is insufficient evidence to prohibit same-sex marriage. Regardless of one’s religious faith, Darrell’s argument raises the specter of a theocratic state in the same way that same-sex marriage raises the fear of polygamy and any other conceivable form of union.

Although I support movement toward same-sex marriage, I disagree with Darrell that without Christian theology there is no case to be made against same-sex marriage. But that case must be made to a wider audience than simply evangelical Christians, and it must be made in a language that they are comfortable with.

Doug of Bogus Gold puts it very nicely as a preface to his disagreement with my column on a conservative approach to support of same-sex marriage.
One of the outstanding features of it to me personally was that it was true to its billing – it truly was framed as a conservative argument. Where I disagree with it, my disagreements have nothing to do with a rejection of the reasoning, but rather concern some asserted facts.

Underlying the framework of Carpenter’s argument is this:

My own conservatism is rooted in Edmund Burke. For Edmund Burke, “conservatism” did not mean we never change anything. It meant that we don’t change things rapidly. We change things incrementally. And we don’t change things in light of abstract propositions. We change things in light of our actual lived experience. So it’s about pace and direction.
In this Professor Carpenter and I are in absolute agreement. This has been one of the major points of disagreement I have had with the vast majority of gay marriage proponents. Professor Carpenter approaching the issue from this perspective is speaking to me in my own language, allowing the key areas of dispute to be discussed in the clear.
Doug then continues to disagree with Carpenter and me on the basis of certain assumptions underlying the conservative argument. I submit that Doug’s response to the “ingenious rhetorical manipulation” of same-sex marriage advocates is far more productive than the theocratic and divisive approach that Darrell is advocating.