Thursday, November 24, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Westover bogs down in moral incoherance

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:37 PM |  

Director of communications for Minnesota for Marriage/Minnesota Family Council Chuck Darrell’s anticipated response to my column on the Grace Church Pastors’ Summit appears in today’s Pioneer Press. It was not unexpected, nor is his position surprising, although I am a bit confused by “moral incoherence” --
Craig Westover's Nov. 16 column, "Same-sex marriage should be a conservative objective," is beset with moral incoherence, ignores the social revolution in Canada and disregards the fundamental rights of children.
I’ll tackle “moral incoherence last, because it is by far the most interesting argument. Canada and children are rehashes of old themes.

On Canada. Chuck makes the point that same-sex marriage has been “devastating.” I might cry hyperbole, but I find myself far too much in agreement with Chuck’s position on same-sex marriage in Canada to convincingly make the charge. Same-sex marriage in Canada is shaping up to be a disaster -- not unlike their healthcare system, but we aren’t about to pass an amendment banning healthcare.

That point is not facetious. Gay conservatives make the point that the two worst things that could happen to same-sex marriage in the United States are a constitutional amendment banning it or a Supreme Court ruling mandating it. Both are “liberal” actions (in the sense of getting government to mandate an action rather than doing the hard work of building public consensus).

Like its healthcare system, Canada’s implementation of same-sex marriage is a “liberal” implementation based on a perverted notion of “equality” as government guaranteed outcomes. It’s not equality based on freedom, and therefore can only lead to tyranny to enforce it. Bishop Henry is right --
"The human rights tribunals have become like thought police," he says. "In Canada, you can now use the coercive powers of the state to silence opposition."

Once same-sex marriage achieves the same legal status as traditional marriage, homosexual activists can then use the courts, anti-discrimination laws and eventually tax laws to intimidate churches that stand for traditional marriage.
That consequence, however has less to do with same-sex marriage than it does with a generalized liberal (in the sense above) attack on traditional society in the name of “equality.” It’s the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The battle we should be fighting is not against same-sex marriage, but against the liberal philosophy that perverts implementation of same-sex marriage as it has ruined healthcare. In that battle, gay conservatives can be a powerful ally.

Chuck’s conclusion on this point is wrong --
By strengthening the legal definition of marriage, the Minnesota Marriage Amendment would help to block this route of attack in Minnesota state courts.
Attempting to define marriage in the constitution -- legislate through the constitution -- would rightly solidify opposition to the fundamentalist political position and ultimately relegate marriage to an institution too weak to stand on its own without government support -- the very sin that conservatives attribute to liberal efforts. A much more effective approach -- and more constitutionally valid -- protection of traditional marriage is an amendment that explicitly makes clear that authority to define marriage is the specific duty of the legislature, not the courts.

Chuck goes on --
Westover also ignores the welfare of children. There is a mountain of sociological evidence that the best environment for children is in a home with a mother and father — male and female. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the urban African-American community.
This is an argument that simply does not stand as relevant to the same-sex marriage debate. The question on the floor is not whether married, opposite-sex, loving parents are the best environment for raising children. Take that as a given. However, if society is not going to, and no one is suggesting that it will, remove children from same-sex households, then the question becomes what is the better situation for children in those households, not what might be the best “what if” situation. The political question becomes is it better for those children to have same-sex married parents or unmarried parents?

My Bible tells me the good shepherd leaves the ninety and nine and searches for the one that is lost. The pastors seem to be saying they are willing to marginalize the “lost” child living with a same-sex couple to protect the ninety and nine in traditional families. I have more faith in both the Bible and in marriage to believe that to be true.

That brings us to this idea of “moral incoherence.” Chuck finds it troubling that I “refused to acknowledge the Biblical foundations of marriage while proselytizing a vague spiritual individualism.”
Perhaps by accident, the column posits its own hierarchy of beliefs by asserting that "fear begets abandonment of spirituality in favor of dogma."

"We don't defend marriage in a spirit of fear, but in loving obedience," says Pastor Gordon Larson of Grace Baptist Church in Austin.
Let’s take that last quote as a starting point to look at "moral incoherence." If one holds that in one’s own church, despite the pressures of society, homosexuality was, is, and always will be a sin, that is loving obedience to one‘s beliefs. When one takes that view to people outside the church and attempts to convince them that homosexuality is a sin, that is missionary work also done in loving obedience. When one asks government to enforce a mandate against that which one cannot convince others is a sin, that’s acting out of fear. There is neither spirituality nor virtue in using the power of government to coerce “moral action.”

That said, let’s look at the Biblical definition of homosexuality as an “abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”

Again, a liberal/conservative distinction is worth noting. This post at clever peasantry fisking Katherine Kersten and taking on the Biblical argument against same-sex marriage exhibits the liberal case as best as it can be presented. I find this argument more than a little shallow and disingenuous, but it must be debunked before one can get to more serious discussion.
It is not enough to simply say that one’s beliefs are protected simply by labeling them “Christian”. Like the penumbras that provide our civil right to privacy, Christianity has its share of blurry edges. For instance, do you think Happy Kate pursues Timothy 1 2:11-12 with the same amount of verve and passion as she does Leviticus 18:12?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these versus, here they are:

1 Timothy 2:11-12 (New International Version)

11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

Leviticus 18:22 (New International Version)

22 " 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

So, by her reasoning, are we bigots for saying that women have no damn place writing columns in major metropolitan newspapers? Are we bigots for saying that Michele Bachmann should heed the words of Timothy 1 2:15 and stay the hell at home?

Would Mr. Sponge be a bigot for demanding that his brother in law’s widow immediately cast aside what she is doing, marry him and engage in sexual relations in accordance with Genesis 38:6-10?

6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death.

8 Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also.

After all, the main reason for opposing gay marriage is to preserve the great institution of heterosexual marriage; something that many people believe has gone unchanged for 6,000 years. We here at CP are all for the full implementation of biblical marriage laws and traditions. For instance, we want what Abraham, Sarah and Hagar had:

1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her."

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.

(On a quick side-note, for those of you in favor of stem-cell research, this verse should be a boon to your position. If you come across anyone who opposes stem cell research in fertility clinics for “religious” reasons, agree with them and demand the legal acceptance of sex slaves.)

We want all women to remain virgins until marriage…or, according to Deuteronomy 22:13-21, else:

20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.

We want what Lamech (2), Esau (3), Jacob (2), Ashur (2), Gideon (too many to count), Elkanah (2), David (once again…many), Solomon (hundreds), Rehaboam (3), Abijah (14) and so on and so forth had: multiple wives.

We want what is coming to us according to Genesis 21:10:

10 and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."
That would be Sarah telling Abe to get rid of his whore and illegitimate son.

Say, here’s a biblical version of marriage that our men and women in uniform are sure to support:

11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

But who would Lyndie England take home if not for...ah, that's right, thanks to Timothy, she should never have been allowed out of the house.

Ahhhhhh…the great unchanging institution of heterosexual marriage.

The bible even gives a marriage shout out to rapists:

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. [a] He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Where’s the constitutional amendment for that one? Happy Kate? Michele Bachmann? Rick Santorum? James Dobson? Bill Frist?

Folks, Happy Kate wants it both ways on damn near everything. She’s against the extension of civil rights except when she’s not; she’s for the “biblical” view of homosexuality but not the full biblical view of the institution of marriage; she’s for the strict interpretation of the constitution except when she needs to misuse it to make an argument…the list goes on and on.
This line of argument defines “morally incoherent.” Not only does it argue using a source the author believes is false, it uses the fundamentalist reasoning to negate fundamentalist reasoning. It’s an informally fallacious argument that proves nothing. Hypocrisy does not negate values not honored. Internal contradiction does not mean that both of two statements are false. As an argument -- again in traditional liberal fashion -- it tears down a point of view without making a positive case. It rejects objective truth and offers only the emptiness of moral ambiguity.

On the other hand, a conservative and a “morally coherent” argument (in Chuck’s sense of “morally coherent” being based on Biblical foundation) can be made in support of same-sex marriage.

Let’s start with a premise that Chuck would accept -- the Bible is the word of God faithfully transcribed by men as God spoke it to them. From that premise, using the intelligence God gave us, we can draw some conclusions.

We can conclude that when God speaks to man, He speaks so man can understand Him. He uses words, images, and metaphors that men of the time can relate to. We can also conclude by a careful reading of the Bible that there is a distinct difference in the words, images and metaphors between Old and New Testament (although both condemn homosexuality) and within the New Testament among the four Gospels themselves and between the Gospels and remainder of the New Testament, particularly the narrative of the Gospels and the more philosophical letters of Paul.

The Old Testament focused on the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, and how they interpreted God’s law, which distinguished them from the “uncircumcised Philistines.” There was no sense of inclusion outside of the people of Israel, no commandment from God to preach the word to all men and all generations. The latter is the tone of the New Testament -- Paul takes the teachings of Christ to the Gentiles. God’s “chosen people” are no longer defined by race and ethnicity.

We’ll get back to that. Another feature of our premise that God “spoke” the words of the Bible to men -- I don’t know if Chuck would agree with me here -- is that God continues to speak to men today, although many of the pastors at the summit claimed God had "spoken" to them on the subject of same-sex marriage. Indeed, as God warns several places in the Bible, there are many false prophets; however, the existence of false prophets does not negate the presence of true prophets of God. One can also reason that as God’s words, images and metaphors changed between Old and New Testament they might also change as God speaks today -- change not to accommodate man, but so that man might understand the essence of God’s commandments beyond their mere form.

Might, as the Spencer Tracy character suggests in "Inherit the Wind," Charles Darwin be a prophet of God? Might not God have whispered in his ear that evolution is how “literally” God brought forth man from the earth? Might not He be whispering that the principles underlying the law are more important that man’s interpretation; that the sacramental nature of marriage endowed by the Creator is more important than the form defined by man? Or has God stopped speaking to mankind?

Indeed, sorting out true from false prophets is not easy. Did not the Pharisees constantly take the actions of Christ as breaking the old traditions? And did not Christ constantly rebuke them saying he came to fulfill prophecies and uphold the law? Is it not possible that God is speaking to men today in the spirit of Christ, asking men to look beyond dogma to the essence of spirituality? Might not the pastors be like the Pharisees looking at the “laws” rather than God's essence behind them?

As I found the liberal/fundamentalist “Bible Gateway” approach morally incoherent, so to is a reading of the Bible that reads for support rather than understanding, that leads to government mandates rather than the risk implied by a dynmaic faith that seeks understanding rather than refuge in the certainty of dogma.

God gave man reason and the freedom to use it. To refuse to use that reason and enslave ourselves to dogma is what is morally incoherent.

Category: Reader Response, Same-Sex Marriage

Update: The following is from an email I received soliciting contributions to defeat anti-same-sex marriage legislators. Notice the association of anti-gay with “right-wing” politicians. One might be a fiscal conservative, but this literature puts one on the defensive vis a vis homosexuality and by extension all “civil rights” issues. Notice the (mis)use of the word “equality” to good effect. Read these excerpts from the perspective of a conservative homosexual or conservative/libertarian, limited government conservative -- how do you respond as a conservative?
I am fed up. I am tired of right-wing politicians who demonize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. I am through with bigoted lawmakers who continue to push for constitutional amendments to deny GLBT people the right to marry. And I'm tired of watching this vocal minority act as though they set the agenda for the American people.

Starting today, you and I can be an integral part of shutting these zealots down. Next November, we have a chance to unseat some of the most vigorously anti-gay legislators and bring fairness and balance back to Congress. . . .

The right wing is already out there raising campaign war chests funded by extremist organizations to maintain their stranglehold on Congress. That's why it is critical that we . . .

Start NOW with a groundswell of individuals who care about equality to take back Congress from the extremists.
The point is, legislating through the constitution as the Pastors’ Summit advocated, rather than a constitutional amendment defining legislative authority over the definition of marriage, plays into this kind of argument. It alienates otherwise conservative individuals and drives the uninformed into the camp of government enforced “equality“ of outcome. It hurts, rather than helps the conservative cause.