2016 is an election year, and as evangelical voters are usually linked particularly to social issues such as abortion and marriage, I wanted to take a minute to weigh in on these two very important issues. Hopefully, it goes without saying that this is my own opinion and is not intended to be representative of any Presbyterian denomination.
Regarding abortion, I am against taxpayer funded killing of unborn children and am therefore against Planned Parenthood, which is largely funded by the U.S. government. If the government has any function at all, it is to defend human life, including the most vulnerable—the unborn. The government can’t “stay on the fence”. Inaction is itself taking a side. That said, even the position of the Libertarian Party—my party of choice—would still require defunding Planned Parenthood, seeing as how helping to fund the nation’s largest abortion provider is hardly the government “staying out” of the abortion business.
Roe V. Wade in 1973 was an example of the U.S. Supreme Court vastly overstepping its bound, imposing something at a national level that up to that point had been handled by the states. The government “staying out” would, at the very least, require Roe V. Wade being overturned. Those who construe this as a women’s rights issue, implying that prior to Roe V. Wade women were forced to die, rather than terminate a pregnancy that would prove fatal to them, misconstrue history. Prior to Roe V. Wade, doctors already had liberty to terminate a pregnancy if the mother’s life was at stake, and overturning Roe V. Wade wouldn’t prohibit doctors from continuing to exercise such discretion. What is crucial to remember, though, is that when it’s a choice between the mother’s life, and the baby’s life, two human lives are involved, just as if there were two people in a sinking boat and only one life preserver. This is a human rights issue. It’s a matter of justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Regarding marriage, I believe that marriage between male and female is something that humans didn’t create or invent, and therefore it is not something the government can re-define. The government can no more alter what marriage is than it can alter the laws of gravity. Ryan T. Anderson, a winsome Roman Catholic defender of traditional marriage, was once pressed to answer if he was “against gay marriage”. He said it was like being asked if he was “against” square triangles. Just as a triangle, by definition, cannot be square, he said marriage can’t be other than what it was designed to be by the Creator.
Marriage, as it has historically been understood, is not a uniquely Christian institution; it is a human institution. Had the Supreme Court affirmed marriage to be what it has historically been understood to be, this would hardly have been an example of the government “shoving religion” down people’s throats. It could be argued that traditional marriage, and the traditional family model, is what best fosters human flourishing, and that it is therefore the government’s responsibility to promote traditional marriage, not because of a religious bias, but simply because it is what’s best for men, women, and children alike. Tax laws that penalize marriage and incentive cohabiting are bad for society. That is the standard “conservative position” and I admit I’m very sympathetic towards it.
Unfortunately, conservative Christians are sometimes stereotyped as people who want to micromanage and police individuals’ decisions, imposing their own morality on those who adhere to different moral standards. I don’t believe that the average Christian wants the government telling people what their sexual behavior should or shouldn’t be. That’s not the U.S. government’s business. Evangelicals simply do not want the government to officially endorse homosexual behavior (such as by issuing same-sex marriage licenses). A federal marriage amendment, when it’s all said and done, gives more power to the government than they ought to have. Such an amendment would still communicate that the marriage and family structure is something the government has the authority to define. Government has no such authority.
Evangelicals’ biggest concern over the legalization of same-sex marriage is not that people are now allowed to make bad choices, whereas the government should strong arm them into not making those bad choices. The biggest concern is that the legalization of same-sex marriage will spell the criminalization of Biblical Christianity. In Canada, it is currently a hate crime to condemn homosexual activity from the pulpit. We’ve seen numerous similar overreaches in the U.S. where the government tells Christians that they can’t follow their consciences on this issue. If they do wedding photography or catering, they have to participate in same-sex weddings, conscience be damned. This sort of government bullying, not the homosexual couple next door, is what is so concerning to evangelicals. A fair government, one that is truly liberal in the best sense of the word, would let people follow their conscience on this issue.
If the government would stay out and let both conservative Christians and those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender follow their own consciences, then this issue wouldn’t be half as volatile as it’s become. It’s a government-fueled problem. The same thing applies to the controversy over gender identity. Christians are not advocating for the criminalization of people living as “transgender”; they merely want to retain the right to, as a matter of conscience, not endorse the transgender lifestyle, since it is a violation of their most deeply held religious beliefs. Similarly, religious adoption organizations that cannot in good conscience work with same-sex couples shouldn’t be bullied by the government to ignore their religious convictions.
Perhaps the time has come for the government to just get out of the marriage business altogether, meaning marriages would be sanctioned, not by the state, but by whatever institutions support a particular person’s own position. Churches that have rejected the Bible’s teaching about marriage could issue marriage licenses to whoever they deem appropriate while Christians that affirm Biblical marriage could issue licenses to couples that want to be married in the Biblical sense of the word, and everyone could just live and let live. At any rate, young people who are pondering marriage should at least consider not bothering getting a state-issued marriage license. If they are married in the eyes of their church, they are, I believe, married in the eyes of God, and the state has nothing to add. Marriage, after all, is what God, not the state, joins together.