Gloom and Doom
In the wake of the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, and in particular the striking down of much of The Defense of Marriage Act, there is a great deal of gloom and doom among supporters of traditional marriage. They almost all say that the clock is ticking toward the day when same sex marriage is legally accepted in the entire country. Whether you think that is a good or bad thing, they are probably right in that assumption.
It is their second gloomy assumption that intrigues me. Again almost unanimously, they see step two in this change being the fact that supporters of gay marriage, or as those supporters call it, marriage equality, will turn on traditional marriage proponents with vengeance in mind. These folks suddenly see themselves more or less at the mercy of those they have opposed. Says Ross Douthat:
“Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters.”
They clearly expect no such magnanimity. Denny Burk:
“Can we really expect the sexual revolutionaries to be magnanimous toward those they regard as bigoted? Probably not. It’s probably even less likely now that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in the DOMA case renders a similar moral judgment upon traditional marriage supporters. Why would anyone want to be magnanimous toward those who seek to “demean,” to “impose inequality” and a “stigma” on gay people, to deny gay people “equal dignity,” to treat them as “unworthy,” and to “humiliate” their children? That’s how the Supreme Court describes traditional marriage supporters. As that opinion moves into the cultural mainstream, it’s difficult to imagine why the majority would make accommodations for the consciences of those they regard as bigots.”
So, are they right? Predictions of calamitous results range from churches losing tax exemption all the way to people going to jail. Burk again:
“Private citizens may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions on marriage. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration.”
But I doubt they are right. For one reason, as far as I know the first amendment to the Constitution is still in place. While some fear this will be circumvented through legal maneuvers, and there are some cases where restrictions on religious liberty have been accepted, I tend to doubt it will happen here. While some will undoubtedly call for such actions I feel confident that they are in a tiny minority. Christian pastors and churches refuse to marry all sorts of people now and there is no evidence to support that they are being persecuted for it.
Secondly, among gays I know, all they talk about is the right to marry if they choose. There will be lots of places, including some Christian churches, ready to accommodate them when the day comes. I don’t fear hoards of marauding gay couples banging on the doors of evangelical churches demanding to be married.
Nobody can know the future and while there will no doubt be an inflammatory article or two, perhaps even a rogue lawsuit; I think fear of a “conflagration” is a bit overdone. The key question is, given this social shift, what should supporters of traditional marriage do?
– Put aside dramatic language like “conflagration.” This is “enemy” talk; the assumption that those who differ with us are the enemy instead of, well, people who differ with us. There is no surer way to turn someone into an enemy than to keep calling him one.
– Keep distinct what the Supreme Court has actually done. They are talking of a civil matter, not declaring a particular religious belief to be the law of the land.
– Express our beliefs with grace and be the first to criticize when others who agree with us do not. There has been heated rhetoric on both sides of the issue. Be the first to turn down the heat.
– Be careful when playing the “religious freedom” card. People who had no problem using the legal system to deny marriage rights to same sex couples, and who didn’t mind infringing on the religious liberty of churches that wanted to marry them, need to carefully examine their use of this term.
– Recognize that the church historically thrives when real persecution happens. I doubt any church is going to lose tax-exempt status but even if they did, so what? Don’t be too quick to equate uncomfortable happenings with “bad” just because we don’t like them. Maybe God is doing something really special.
We are living in a time where, on this issue, culture seems to be changing right before our eyes. My choice is to be excited to see how God glorifies Himself as it happens.