The (ahem) Marriage of Faith and Politics

I recently came across the Twitter feed of Dan Haseltine, front-man of the Christian band Jars of Clay (one of my favorites in high school). Over the past few days, he has been tweeting a lot on the subject of same-sex marriage. He raises some thought-provoking questions, and also voices skepticism over the validity of some conservative/biblical arguments against it. His tweets generated a lot of negative feedback from evangelicals, and he has since posted an apology/clarification on his blog. I applaud him for taking the time to work through the arguments on both sides, and I hope that he continues to do so.

In an effort to help fellow believers (and also nonbelievers) reach clarity on this admittedly difficult issue, I’d like to humbly offer my own thoughts. My concern here is mainly to address the underlying presuppositions that give rise to the debate over gay marriage. In particular, I would like to explore the proper relationship between faith and politics by proposing the following points:

  • There is no such thing as a secular ethic. Another way of stating this is that every ethic is in some sense “religious.” This is not the same as saying that secularists are unethical, or that they have no knowledge of right and wrong. Rather, it is to say that all valid ethical judgments ultimately derive from the character and will of God, whether or not one acknowledges it. To claim anything as a moral absolute is to appeal to an authority higher than any individual, culture, or nation. Therefore, we should not suppose that the realm of civil government is an ethical “neutral ground.”
  • Every law is a moral law. Related to the first point, it needs to be acknowledged that no laws are morally neutral. For example, laws against murder or manslaughter are intended to uphold the value of human life. And laws against stealing or copyright infringement are intended to uphold the right to personal property. Therefore we should dispense with the argument that it isn’t the job of the civil government to “legislate morality.” Nor is it helpful to appeal to the libertarian principle of a supposed “right to self-harm,” as I have discussed here. Choices that harm ourselves will inevitably cause harm to those around us (just ask any family member of an addict).
  • Bringing faith into a political discussion is not the same as wedding the institutional church to the state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This clause has set the foundation for our separation of church and state. And rightly so. It shouldn’t be the job of any church or denomination to run the state, or vice versa. But it is one thing to respect the distinction between these two institutions, and another to press that distinction into the realm of one’s convictions about ultimate reality and justice. On a practical level, no one can do this. And on a theoretical level, no one should have to. Many secularists talk as if we must assume the role of an atheist before entering the political sphere. But I fail to see how this is not a double standard.
  • There is no such thing as a “right to love.” Love (as well as sex and marriage) is a gift, not a right. As a matter of fact, I think we should impose a moratorium on such emotive buzzwords as “love,” “bigotry,” etc. in this debate. When we use these terms without first defining them, we commit the logical fallacy of poisoning the well, which has the effect of prejudicing the whole discussion.

I offer these thoughts as the beginning of the discussion, not the end. I am still working through them myself, and I would welcome any feedback.

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