Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Because it's a Sin! (What isn't a sin?)

My question is this: 'Are you suggesting that we withhold constitutional liberties from sinners?'"

Get government out of the church's business

I'm always amazed as well as perplexed by how concerned some of my fellow Christians are with what other people choose to do with their genitalia. This wouldn't be a big problem if it were simply benign disapproval. Instead their concern has become an obsession with passing laws to criminalize behaviors the Christians find sinful.

Recently I found myself in a discussion about gay rights with some of my Southern kinfolks and friends. They stated their objections by citing Scripture. This is to be expected because, in fact, there is no objection whatsoever to gay rights that is not based on religious belief, and it has always struck me that the gay-rights discussion inevitably gets stuck in one group's versus another group's interpretation of the Bible. But this misses the point altogether.

"This is not about the Bible," I told my friends and relatives. "It's about the Constitution. Let's suppose that I agree with you that homosexuality is a sin. I don't believe it is a sin, but I'm not a Biblical scholar and can't quote Scripture to back up my position, so let's just say, for the sake of discussion, that I agree with you that it is a sin. My question is this: 'Are you suggesting that we withhold constitutional liberties from sinners?'"

This put a giant pause in the conversation, because this is the fundamental question, after all.

I continued: "Because if that's what you're suggesting, consider the ramifications. The Scripture says, 'We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,' so if we withhold constitutional liberties from people because we judge them to be sinners, then none of us will have constitutional liberties, right?"

As with most of these conversations, my folks just got angry.

I believe that the issue of gay rights is the most intense church/state issue facing the country today, and yet it rarely gets framed in that way. Clearly there may be "sinful" behaviors that should also be illegal (murder and theft come to mind), but to selectively pass laws in support of our religious beliefs about other people's behavior is to make us vulnerable to any number of encroachments on the wall of church/state separation.

Which brings me to the hot potato of gay marriage. Again, relying on the concept of separation of church and state, I believe we need to separate the two aspects of marriage, one of which is the business of the state and one of which is the business of the church.

One of those aspects is the contract of marriage, the other is the covenant of marriage.

Clearly the contract part — property rights, tax issues, inheritance rights and so on — is an appropriate concern of the state. But the covenant part — love, commitment, emotional, psychological and spiritual bonds and support — is not an appropriate concern of the state.

Thus I believe we should separate the two aspects and call the contract part a civil union, and call the covenant part a "marriage."

The state can legitimately continue to issue licenses for civil unions, but let the churches address "marriage" as a sacrament of the church and in accordance with the churches' own policies.

As our churches, even many progressive congregations, struggle with gay rights within the community of faith, they should assert, loud and clear, that even if they themselves withhold certain rights and privileges and even sacraments from gay men and lesbians, the state should stay out of it.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Wow, brilliant argument if I do say so myself. Stealing for my own blog! :)