Social Conservatism

First published 01 February 2005.

    For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians II 16, KJV

Mr. Damian Brooks weighs in on the same-sex marriage debate with “Time to redefine the question“. He raises some interesting questions about what sorts of civil unions should be embraced, tolerated, or prohibited.  While I have nothing but the greatest respect and esteem for Mr. Brooks, I think he misses the mark with his straw-man characterisation of social conservatives here:

    “I don’t feel like I have a dog in the same-sex marriage fight, to be perfectly honest with you. Oh, the so-cons will say I need to man the bastions against the onslaught of immorality poised to overrun Christendom, and the Jack Layton crowd will say everyone has a vested interest in seeing the victory of human rights over homophobic bigotry. I think they’re both full of bunk.”

As the proverbial card-carrying Christian social conservative, I am not in the least worried about immorality overrunning the ramparts of Christendom.  The Christian faith does not, as I am sure Mr. Brooks is aware, reduce one to the state of a metaphysical clean-freak, feverishly scrubbing away every speck of immorality and vice that invades one’s life, environs and society.  Christianity is above all things the restoration of a relationship; the reconciliation of ordinary men and women with an awesome, ineffable God.

One of the challenging aspects of this Christian faith is having to constantly interpret the will of God, as expressed in Scripture, and apply it throughout one’s daily existence.  I do not hear the Lord audibly, like the prophet Samuel; instead I must rely upon the Bible and my conscience, guided by His Spirit.  Most of the time, it is fairly easy to discern the right thing to do, because the Bible focuses largely on human relationships.  First and foremost our relationship to the triune Creator, then our relationship with fellow human beings, and to a lesser extent our relationship with government structures, civil society, and the natural world.  Things get interesting when you have to reconcile your interpretation of Scripture with the direction of social policy for the whole nation.  The furor over same-sex marriage is one of these instances.

    Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians IV 11-12, NIV

Seems fairly libertarian, no?  At its heart, I think this verse hints at (in a subtle way) a Very Big Truth.  The Christian faith is not something that can be imposed upon anyone; it is entirely voluntary.  If it isn’t freely chosen, then the choice has no value.  Our “Great Commission” is to inform everyone we can, and let them make up their own minds — and in order to have that opportunity, we must first earn their respect through our own example.  The nature of this faith, I think, says a lot about the character of God.  He certainly places a very high premium on character and personal liberty.

Since God Himself allows us liberty to embrace (or not embrace) a restored relationship with Him, it stands to reason that He would probably want us to allow non-Christians the same sort of freedom.  This is why I find the same-sex marriage debate rather tedious.  Unless the entire country (or a supermajority of it) are adherents to the Christian faith, then asking the entire country to abide by Christian social conventions and sacraments is pointless.  The thing that motivates people to observe Christian conduct is the faith — that is the essential thing.  If they lack it, then there is no point in a rote adherence to it, however sentimentally pleasing that might be to those of us who are religious.

Put more succinctly, if Almighty God gives us liberty enough to embrace or reject Him (and therefore His Will for our lives), by what authority do Christians compel a majority of non-believing citizens and their government to observe a specific, exclusionary, and very Christian ethos of the marriage compact?

    Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.

Revelation XXII 11, NIV

I would, as the verse states, rather let the religious do their thing, and the non-religious do theirs.  I know the language isn’t very nice or complimentary, but it’s blunt and to the point.  It’s not an injunction to let crime skyrocket, it’s a reminder that no one can be browbeaten or argued into the Kingdom of God.  Do not run off trying to shoehorn the world into the Christian worldview.  They will get there voluntarily or not at all.

The SSM problem, I think, is exacerbated by misinterpreting personal directives in the Bible as prescriptions for public policy.  As an example, let’s take a very well-known commandment, “Thou shalt not kill“.  This is clearly a commandment aimed at individuals.  It does not cover state-sanctioned killing, such as war or judicial punishment.  How do we know?  It’s addressed a little later, in the New Testament.

    For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Romans XIII 3-4, NIV

Now of course we can disagree on the nature and degree of government intrusion into our lives, but this should be sufficient to see that there are two separate principles at work here.  First, that individuals should not (under most circumstances) take it into their own hands to kill people.  Second, that the state can kill certain people (wrongdoers) in pursuit of justice.  If there is any confusion about Biblical passages, it is most often due to an incorrect reading.  My interpretation may be faulty, too, for that matter, although I think the Scriptural evidence supports it unequivocally.

I take the scriptural injunctions against homosexuality as personal direction.  In other words, if I ever had any sexual attraction toward the same sex, I would be prohibited from consummating it.  And since I cannot have sex outside marriage, that rules out same-sex marriage as well.  For me.  For notional non-religious gay neighbours, it would be a different story.  I have no desire to deprive them of the physical aspect of their relationship.  It’s none of my business, and as far as I can tell none of the biblical injunctions against it have the state as their intended audience.  The notional gay neighbours will answer to God for their own spiritual condition, and I have no desire nor scriptural basis for policing it.

Yes, God’s design for marriage appears to be one man and one woman.  Christians embrace this concept whole-heartedly, as we should.  I’m not entirely convinced why anyone else who is not Christian should abide by that, though.  Quote Leviticus all you want.  That book concerns priestly duties, and ordinances for sacrifices and ceremonially purifying oneself.  I know there are specific commands against homosexuality.   Again, directives for individuals, most particularly the Levite priesthood of the Israelites — hence the name Leviticus.  Sorry to you radically Orthodox Jewish GLBTs descended from Aaron or Levi — no priesthood for you.  And no crustaceans either.

Now you may say that this is not truly a socially conservative argument, and I would disagree.  I am socially conservative within appropriate bounds — my own life, and the lives of those I have direct responsibility for.  I believe that Christians should behave according to Christian standards of morality and ethics.  I have no illusions about whether my fellow citizens (albeit non-Christians) should do likewise.

Category: Fidei Defensor
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