May 23rd, 2012
In the midst of fighting it can be easy to confuse a battle with a war and struggle over a battlefield can be so predominant that it appears to be the goal. And so it is in the Great American Culture War. With so much emphasis in fighting over issues involving homosexuality, it can seem as though denying gay people equality is the primary goal of many conservatives. But I believe that the battle over marriage, adoption, and even simple social equality for gay people is not driven so much by objection to homosexuality. Rather, a larger issue is at stake: who will be the voice of The Church in America.
It is no small prize. Tremendous influence is wielded by those who are considered the arbiters of morality and the defenders of faith and godly society. And while the United States has no official sanctioned or supported church, public perceptions about what The Church believes holds tremendous sway not only over the faithful but over voters in general.
For most of our existence, The Church has been Protestant Christianity with denominational differences relating primarily to economic or social status or ethnic tradition (with all falling under the mantle of “Mainline Christianity”). Usually (with some significant historical exceptions) broad leeway was granted to Catholics and others, but as far as “what Americans believe”, it was driven by Protestant ideology. Mormons, Pentecostals, and other fringe groups mostly kept to themselves.
Today’s culture war is a battle for the right to dominance and to have a different ideology shape the culture. Catholics, Pentecostals, and Mormons have formed an alliance to replace the Mainline Christians with their own brand of Christian thought, and the difference is significant.
Mainline Christianity’s underlying principles could be expressed as “work hard, be a good neighbor, live responsibly, and care for the less fortunate”. While individual morality is important, and social pressure is used to encourage moral behavior, it is generally considered to be in bad taste to publicly shame those who do not live according to a list of rules and coercive morality-based laws are not a primary focus.
The coalition of other faiths that seek to replace this message all place a great deal more importance on conformity, doctrinal purity, and a society that reflects and adheres to the teachings of The Church. Caring for the physical needs of your neighbor falls a far far distant second to caring for your neighbor’s spiritual needs, and there is an underlying presumption that The Church – not the neighbor – can best determine what such needs may be.
I would like to be generous and say that this is purely ideological, but it is to a large part a power-grab.
The Catholic Church always has, and will continue for the foreseeable future, to hold itself out to be the highest authority on all matters, be they religious or civic. They would love nothing more than for the United States to become “a Catholic nation”.
The Mormon Church, also a top-down hierarchal institution, is every bit as autocratic in their realm of influence as is the Catholic Church and a natural ally. Their desperation for social acceptance as a “real” Christian church seems to be achievable through such an alliance.
What the Pentecostals, non-denominational churches, and other conservatives think that they are getting out of this is beyond me – perhaps they are really are driven by doctrinal ideology. And exactly where and how the Southern Baptist Convention eventually stands will to a large extent determine the success or failure of the effort.
Because I view the Culture War from this perspective, I see the battles a bit differently from many bloggers. For example, I see the latest attack from Republicans in the House of Representatives as not being, necessarily, an effort to hurt gay Americans (which it might seem on the surface) but as an effort to hurt Mainline Christianity. It is the boldest and most brazen attack on specific denominations that I’ve ever seen.
Specifically, the House Republicans included the following measure into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013:
SEC. 537. USE OF MILITARY INSTALLATIONS AS SITES FOR MARRIAGE CEREMONIES OR MARRIAGE-LIKE CEREMONIES.
A military installation or other property owned or rented by, or otherwise under the jurisdiction or control of, the Department of Defense may not be used to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.
Initially, this looks like an attack on gay soldiers. And it is. Indeed, it is specifically the marriage of gay soldiers which will be disallowed on military bases or other military property.
Yet I think that the greater targets of this provision are the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Friends (Quakers) – all of whom allow their chaplains to offer same-sex marriage sacraments – and the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – who are either considering or allow for some measure of marriage-like ceremony.
If we look at the language, we see that this is not about governmental recognition of legal structures. It doesn’t say that the Military will not recognize same-sex couples structurally or legally. Rather, this is SOLELY about the practice of religion.
For the first time in my lifetime, a house of government has dictated what is acceptable theology and has banned sacraments from its properties that do not meet the religious beliefs of legislators.
I think that this is so obviously a violation of the First Amendment that it cannot withstand legal challenge. Telling a chaplain that he need not conduct sacraments that violate his faith (another provision added) is a protection of religious freedom. Telling a chaplain that he cannot conduct sacraments that are provisions of his faith is a blatant attack on his religious freedom.
Conservatives are giddy at the idea of dictating to the military (and the culture) what sacraments are accepted, believing that finally they speak for People of Faith.
They are fools.
I was a teenager when the Christian Coalition really got going. And while my Dad wasn’t a big supporter, the idea of Christians having a stronger voice was tempting.
But I asked my holy-roller, divine healing, fasting and praying, speaking in tongues, Jericho marching, anti-makeup, anti-television, women in long skirts, men keeping their shirt on, ‘Baptists are too liberal’, Pentecostal pastor of a father, “Dad, when the government decides what religion should be the right one, do you really think it’s going to be yours?”
He looked at me funny and said, “No, son. No, I don’t.”
And that was the end of mixing religion with politics for him.
I would ask the same of people of faith today. Do you really believe that selecting which sacraments may be conducted on Military owned property will lead to greater freedom for your church down the road?
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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