Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, published in 2008, and Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
By Rick Plasterer
News that the United Church of Christ is preparing a campaign to promote homosexual marriage in three states, Illinois, Rhode Island, and New Jersey is hardly surprising for this denomination, but the burden of what a church has to say in support of establishing a civil institution of marriage between persons of the same-sex does merit comment. The denomination’s website announced the campaign earlier this month, carrying the perennial message that what is Biblically and historically thought to be immoral is in fact required by universal ideals of justice and equality, and is a natural and inevitable next stage in progress to a better future.
Like the Episcopal Church, the UCC has chosen to depart from Biblical doctrine regarding marriage after decades in which theological and social liberalism was dominant. Its basic message is the good news of liberation in this life, not obeying God in the light of compelling Biblical statements. Freedom for sexual fulfillment is an inevitable result of the message. Having moved toward support for homosexuality as a “civil rights” issue since the late 1960s (and thus implicitly treating acceptance of homosexuality as a moral issue binding on everyone), the UCC’s 1985 General Synod endorsed affirmation of homosexual persons throughout the denomination, with no admonitions to repentance or chastity. Another General Synod action in 2005 called for the institution of homosexual marriage by civil governments. That the UCC believes “gay rights” should include action against opposition to homosexuality is evident in 2003 actions recommending dissociation from the Boy Souts, and a 2009 statement decrying opposition to multicultural, pro-LGBT public education. Noteworthy with these pronouncements is the fact that the UCC considered its liberal theological gospel a legitimate basis for advocating social policy for society at large, something that social liberals often oppose for conservative churches and their leaders.
As has been widely noted, homosexuality as both a civil rights issue and a marriage issue has had devastating consequences for religious freedom, with what many religions consider to be the divine revelation of the sinfulness of homosexuality being classed in law as illegal discrimination. The Witherspoon Institute recently reviewed the results of ten years of experience of homosexual marriage in Canada, showing that for an innovation accounting for a tiny fraction of marriages, and itself not commonly involving the raising of children, it has resulted in a drastic reduction in freedom, with religious exemptions interpreted as narrowly as possible. Likewise, the Family Research Council, in its incisive analyses of claims homosexual “equality,” has shown in data from the early 2000s that homosexual couples differ markedly from heterosexual unions in the key areas longevity of relationship (less common), promiscuity (much more common), and involvement in raising children (not common), as well as in use of new legal provisions (marriages or civil unions) to legally establish their relationships (in jurisdictions where this was possible). It has also reports problems in homosexual parenting found by the more recent research of Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, which precipitated a firestorm of controversy. So while advocates of redefining marriage hold religious doctrine to be the only (and unconstitutional) reason for opposing it, the evidence is otherwise. Assuming a hypothetical neutrality about homosexuality itself, there is no need for the state to alter the institution of marriage, and in fact good reason to oppose it.
But the object is, of course, not neutrality, but social and legal repudiation of Biblical morality and affirmation of homosexuality as a state interest, now confirmed by marriage. Activists are then in a position to claim, through lawsuits and political pressure, that the state should penalize opposition to homosexuality. The right to liberty of conscience can then be trumped by the right not to be offended; opposition to homosexuality, and conscientious refusal to facilitate homosexual activity, can be construed as an imposition of religious beliefs on others (even if it is the traditionalist who is required to take positive action against his or her conscience).
And yet the case will be presented, both by those running the same-sex marriage campaign, supporters such as the UCC, and the news media as an advance of freedom. While actual legal strictures will vary by jurisdiction, the same threats always accompany the homosexual agenda. Same-sex marriage will be “legalized” (although no one may refuse to accommodate same-sex activities if that service is requested). Same-sex adoption is “allowed,” (although religious providers are not exempt). Instruction in the virtue of same-sex relationships in schools is “permitted” (although no teacher may decline to do so as a matter of conscience). Nor may anyone plead that, besides the right of conscience being violated, opposition to homosexuality is in fact rational, supported by substantial evidence. While the rhetoric of the homosexual civil rights movement at one level claims that science and reason is on its side, most basically it centers on the claim that Biblical morality is “demeaning,” and therefore cruel. As this claim has long had the backing of the Supreme Court (in its Romer and Lawrence decisions, which really would mandate homosexual marriage if literally implemented), it is the advocates of same-sex marriage, not their opponents, who have the advantage in the ongoing conflict, which is not about marriage but about mandatory acceptance of homosexuality.
This returns us to the UCC’s participation in the same-sex marriage campaign as a natural part of its gospel. From the standpoint of the liberal interpretation of Christianity it has adopted, it is the Bible, and its hard demands concerning sexual behavior, unmediated by any doctrine of liberation, which is in need of moral correction. Human beings are not ultimately creatures accountable to God, but victims in need of liberation. Continuing to advance a gospel of sin and salvation which makes hard and possibly painful demands, as traditional Christians continue to do, is not an topic about which people may disagree, but oppressive, and therefore, immoral. No state is legitimate without claiming in some measure to be based on morality, so from viewpoint of the civil rights movement the UCC is supporting, violations of the correct morality of oppression and liberation ought to be punished.
Classical liberalism has always tolerated a fairly high degree of disagreement about ultimate things. Catholics and Protestants historically held each other to be heretical, under the eternal wrath of God. The entrance of Islam into the western world presents a religion claiming the same thing about all Christians. But it was essential to classical liberalism to tolerate these differences, giving the various religious parties equal rights at a legal level, while at a social level such doctrinal differences were held to be acceptable within society. But for the same-sex marriage campaign, disagreement is not to be tolerated, because immorality is not to be tolerated. No wonder the UCC is on board with the campaign. Its theology of liberation, and that of similar churches, is becoming a state religion.Google+