I originally wrote this post in August of last year. I thought and prayed a lot about posting it at that time, but in the end I chose not to because I was on staff at a church and it directly contradicted the position of my senior pastor, a man whom I love and respect very much, and would have caused a lot of strain and controversy. There’s less on the line in posting it now, and it’s something I think is worth saying—particularly in the wake of gay marriage becoming legal in Minnesota last week. My position on this issue will make people on both extremes of this ongoing debate unhappy, but I hope some will consider it and perhaps reconsider whether or not their Christian faith requires them to sign up for the kind of political action the Marriage Amendment push represented. I hope for better in the future for Christian engagement with the homosexual community and the public square.
The marriage amendment vote happening in November needs no introduction. Perhaps no legislation in Minnesota history has been as infamous and contentious. This is going to make the stadium bill debate look like patty cake.
So, assuming no further introduction is needed, I’d like to explain why I will be leaving the box blank on November 6—even though I know my abstention will be counted as a “no” vote. I think, as an evangelical in America, I’m called to sit this one out.
I’ll start with a prediction. As my graduate school adviser often said when he was about to make a prediction, “I’m neither a prophet nor a son of a prophet.” So, I could be completely wrong. But I don’t think I am. After the prediction I’ll try to explain why I’m refusing to vote on the marriage amendment, even though I believe that the Bible—a book that I believe is the very word of God—clearly teaches that homosexual behaviors are not within God’s design for human sexuality, and marriage is by God’s design a one-man-and-one-woman relationship.
Prediction: The Marriage Amendment Will Fail
And it will be by a bigger margin than expected. Not much more than 40% will vote “yes.” I think the conservative coalition has badly misread the cultural winds of change.
There seems to me to be three main categories of voters on this issue. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but at least oversimplifications are simple. First, there are the homosexual rights advocates, who actively fight for what they believe to be a basic human right for LGBT individuals. Obviously, they’ll be voting “no” on the amendment. Second, there are staunch conservatives—the vast majority of whom are religious—who believe that marriage is by definition a union between one man and one woman. By and large they are not opposed to LGBT individuals being in committed relationships, and maybe even having some of the same rights and privileges granted to married couples. But they believe that gay marriage is a contradiction in terms and therefore will be voting “yes.”
Then there’s the third group of voters. This group constitutes the majority of voters, and they may vote “yes” or may vote “no,” but truth be told they have very little substantive reason for voting the way they do. Most of them haven’t thought it through. They haven’t heard and reasoned with well-articulated arguments from either of the extremes. They’re just voting their “feelings.” Some of them will vote ‘yes’ because they “just think marriage should be one woman and one man because that’s how it’s always been.” Fine. And many more will vote “no” because it’s trendy right now to be in favor of gay marriage and “as long as it doesn’t affect me, let people do what they want.” Fine.
This post isn’t about criticizing people for being simplistic in their political views. But I am trying to point out what seems obvious to me: There will not be enough votes. The cultural wind has obviously turned. So, if there aren’t enough votes, why are evangelicals continuing to press for this? Are we trying to make some sort of point? Are we trying to “let the gays know how much we oppose this” (in case they hadn’t noticed)? Moreover, the turning wind is still blowing. If the Marriage Amendment passes in November it will be repealed next November. Or the November after. The tide has turned and it’s not turning back.
Another prediction: The defeat of the amendment will result in a wild surge of momentum to give full recognition to gay marriages in short order. It’s going to backfire in the “Yes’s” faces.
This drive for the amendment is accomplishing nothing. Except one thing: It is painting evangelicals once again as “those people that are against everything.” Everyone knows what we’re against. No one knows what we’re for. It’s been a long time since they have. And that really frustrates me. Because I love the gospel. And I want it to be the banner at the front of the parade. And it’s just not right now. So, I’m not voting on the amendment. I don’t want to be a part of a political action group. I want to be a part of a movement of gospel-tellers.
The Marriage Amendment Represents Selective Moral Legislation
I’ve heard more sermons than I can remember on political issues. Gay marriage, abortion, immigration, the death penalty, euthanasia, even gun rights. And most evangelicals are fine with that because they believe the Bible has something to say about these things, and therefore they have something to say to our government about them. They think biblical morality should be reflected in our country’s laws. After all, God knows best, right? And, isn’t this a “Christian nation”? Why shouldn’t it be governed by Christian moral codes?
Here’s my question about that: Have you ever heard a pastor, Christian leader or politician pound on the podium and raise their voice to get people charged up to make gossip illegal? No? Why not? Too hard to enforce? Is that a good enough reason?
What about adultery? Disobedience to parents? I’m actually kind of in favor of that one.
How about divorce? Why have I never, ever heard a single sermon from any pastor at any time in my 14 years as a regular church-goer on why divorce must be made illegal? On how the family is such an important and basic institution to the fabric of our society that it cannot be allowed to be threatened by divorce?
Why have I never heard that sermon?
I think (I don’t know, but I think…) it’s because Christian leaders know it would never pass. Christian leaders tend to pick targets of opportunity. They know they can’t get a divorce bill passed (or a gossip bill, or a greed bill, or a child disobedience bill) but they know they might get a marriage bill passed, so… Let’s take what we can get.
Well, that’s just not good enough for me. I don’t want to pick a fight with a slightly smaller kid just because he’s smaller and I think I can probably take him. If gay marriage is the slightly smaller kid and divorce and greed and gossip and consumerism are bigger kids that I probably can’t take, I guess I’d rather pick a fight with them anyway because they’re bigger and they deserve it more.
But I don’t think people ask those questions. So let me ask you: How much of the Bible’s morality do you want legislated? What parts don’t you want legislated? Why those parts? Be honest. Don’t get offended. Just think about this: Is it because you don’t want your sins legislated against? Or sins you can see yourself committing? Well, that’s just not good enough. So, I’m not voting. I don’t like targeting people just because they’re easier to target. And I doubt that it’s the government’s place to legislate who can and can’t be married. After all, if (as evangelicals often say) marriage is God’s idea, what do we care what the government has to say about what is and isn’t marriage anyway?
I doubt our country was ever truly a “Christian nation,” as evangelicals like to claim. The best evidence doesn’t seem to support that idea. I do know that it was founded on the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And I think that should be the sniff test for laws. If someone isn’t infringing on someone else’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I think an American should want their behavior to be legal. Do I believe gay marriage is something God is “just fine” with? Of course not. I believe the Bible is God’s word and the Bible (contrary to the opinions of a vocal minority of liberal scholars—oh, so brilliant at tap-dancing around what the text actually says) is crystal clear on the issue. But do I believe gay marriage infringes on anyone else’s right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness? Of course not. So, I’m not voting.
Evangelicals Too Often Lead With Morality Instead of Gospel
Jesus makes a very strange and often misunderstood statement in Matthew 7:6. He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” What’s that mean? What is he telling us not to do, exactly?
Jesus is reminding his followers not to try to toss moral lessons out to people who aren’t ready to hear them. He’s reminding us not to lead with morality in our engagement with unbelievers, but rather with the gospel. Why would an unbeliever adhere to the ethics of a believer? The ethics of the Kingdom make zero sense. Unless Jesus has, in fact, risen from the dead and brought the kingdom, in part, into our time and place. But unbelievers don’t, well… believe that. So why would they adopt the ethics of the Kingdom?
Evangelicals have done a terrible job articulating to the public why they should be opposed to government endorsement of gay marriage. And I think I know why. I think it’s because most evangelicals have no idea why they think the public should listen to what we have to say about morality and ethics. Throwing the Bible at people doesn’t work. We haven’t led with the gospel. We haven’t made our primary message clear. We’re not speaking to people who have ears to hear. Talking louder isn’t going to help. And so they’re trampling what we have to say under their feet and tearing us to pieces. Just like Jesus said would happen.
A Rambling Conclusion to a Rambling Post
I don’t begrudge anyone who votes either way in November. I think I understand the motives on both sides, and I think both sides are doing what they think is right, from good motives, and yet both have quite a bit of sloppy thinking. And I should throw myself in with them. I’m sure I have some sloppy thinking as well. But we will each act on the thinking we’ve done—however much more we should have done. And my thinking leads me not to vote on the Marriage Amendment. I think the right thing for an evangelical to do is to stay out of it. At least until we get our own house straightened out. At least until we think through our view of government and morality a bit more. At least until we speak more loudly about the gospel than about anything else.