This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
October 17th, 2008
In the world of anti-gay activism, there are those who will say or do anything to advance their anti-gay agenda. Integrity has long since been discarded and honesty always take a back seat to insinuation, innuendo, and sometimes blatant lies.
Take, for example, a recent outing by first graders to celebrate the marriage of their teacher to her wife. The bare facts, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, are these:
This story has delighted the anti-gay industry. Writers have distorted the story and passed it on for others to take it even further from the truth.
OneNewNow falsely states:
For the school-sponsored trip, 18 first-graders — ages 5 and 6 — were taken to San Francisco City Hall to witness the wedding of their teacher and her lesbian partner.
Yes on 8’s Chip White told CNSNews:
“The other side claims that we’re lying (when we say) that same-sex marriage will be taught in schools. This field trip shows not only will same-sex marriage be taught in schools, but it already is being taught in schools,” he said.
Concerned Women for America’s Leslie Smith claimed
Conservative and liberal critics alike are decrying the use of taxpayer money to bus the students to the ceremony under the auspices of “education.”
CWA’s Wendy Wright went beyond getting the facts wrong and blatantly lied when she said
And it didn’t take long for activists to go straight to children to advance their agenda, as if other people’s children are merely pawns.
Consistent through out the repeating and retelling of this story is a need on the part of anti-gays to create a situation that did not occur. Their desire to win an election has vastly overpowered any instinct towards telling the truth.
But there are some individuals with whom I sharply disagree but who also try to keep their claims this side of fraudulent. They may take positions that I find contrary to both Christian principle and American philosophy, but their words are not generally dishonest – or at least not blatantly so.
One such person is Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Mohler has also reviewed the story about the San Francisco children and found it disturbing. But Mohler’s distress is not based in bogus taxpayer bus expenses or in the pretense that the will of parents was disregarded. He does not rant about “exposed to the ceremony” or other misstatements of fact. Dr. Mohler has a broader concern.
Human society is a complex reality, but certain constants have framed that reality for human beings. One of those constants has been the institution of marriage. The respected status of the heterosexual pairing, set apart for exclusive rights and respected for its functions for the society, is among the most important of those constants. Even where deviations from this pattern occur, they are of interest merely for the fact that they are deviations from this norm.
The legalization and normalization of same-sex marriage undermine that constant. What had been a clear picture now becomes confusing. Marriage had been universally understood to be heterosexual. Now, it is something else. The picture is further confused by alienating the heterosexual breeding and parenting function from marriage. Not only does marriage appear now to be what it never was before, the essential functions of marriage are up for grabs.
The pictures in the mind change.
What Dr. Mohler rightly notes is that this battle is not truly over first grade field trips. It isn’t really over parental rights or churches being sued.
What the battle over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is about is the cultural recognition of same-sex unions as part of the definition of marriage. It’s a reflection of a society that no longer views gay persons as objectionable or inferior and which no longer gives preference and privilege to the institution of heterosexuality.
Those of us who favor equality emphatically state that the State cannot treat citizens dissimilarity. And that marriage is a civil right which cannot be eliminated to meet the demands of some churches’ doctrines.
But although Mohler is talking about Proposition 8 and encouraging its passage, that isn’t really at the heart of his complaint. It isn’t so much that a state has allowed marriage as it is that a society has rejected his moral argument.
The battle over Proposition 8 is a struggle over some of the most fundamental principles of life, society, and meaning. In the eyes of same-sex marriage advocates the battle is for equality, dignity, and respect for homosexual relationships. In the eyes of same-sex marriage opponents, the battle is for the preservation of an institution essential for human happiness and thriving.
Both sides in this debate understand that issues right at the core of human dignity are at stake. Each side understands that the decision on this question will shape the future of our civilization.
And though Mohler writes his piece to rally the troops, I think he knows that even if he wins the battle that is this proposition, he has lost the war. Mohler knows that his church, and many others, have for years appealed to the people. They have preached sermons. They have staged rallies. They have knocked on doors and done good works and even reverted to cries of hellfire and damnation.
And society has listened to their “good news” and found it neither good nor news. Their appeal to tradition and a literal interpretation of Genesis, their insistence on sexual rules that seem to be based on nebulous morality rather than on pragmatic approaches to pregnancy, disease, and emotional health, their conflation of religion and partisan politics, and their efforts to control those around them have caused conservative evangelical Christians to become viewed with hostility and distrust.
If their brand of Christianity is to be relevant to the world around it, they need to find a message that most will find to be helpful and useful to their lives. Because today’s youth have access to more information and shared experiences than ever before, appeals to ignorance or baseless dogma will doom a church for future generations.
Insistence on anti-gay dogmatism in a culture that is coming to value and respect their gay neighbors may alienate an entire generation. And I find within Mohler’s writing a suggestion that he may on some level recognize that Southern Baptists run the risk that it may be too late.
As he noted:
It turns out that parents had the right to use an “opt out” provision to keep their children at the school, and not at the ceremony at City Hall. According to the paper, two families did just that. Two. Eighteen students participated in the field trip. This, you must understand, is the new normal.
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