Homosexuality: Voters versus Judges

On November 4, voters in California approved a measure that limits marriage to heterosexuals. This trumped a ruling of their state Supreme Court which granted homosexuals the right to marry. This sets up a confrontation between the voting booth and the judicial chamber. Who has the right to decide?

As I think about this situation I meditate on the 1963 decision by the United States Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the reading of the Bible and the saying of prayers in public schools. This decision was, in my judgment, the correct one. Even though Christians are the majority in this country, we live in a religion-neutral state, one that is commissioned to defend the rights of the minorities—especially religious minorities—when they are overwhelmed by the preferences of the majorities.

Baptists especially have been sensitive to this. For most of our 400 year history we have existed on the margins of the Christian world; for most places in the world this is still true. This experience has made us strong advocates of religious freedom and minority rights.

Only in the American South have Baptists risen to cultural power and social prominence. In that sense, the Baptist experience in the American South has been a test of our convictions. Are we still defending the rights of the minority? Or are we demanding our privileges as the majority?

Had the matter of prayer in public schools been put to a ballot vote in the United States in 1963 no one can doubt that the people would have rejected the Supreme Court and reaffirmed the role of prayer in the classroom. Certainly this would have been true for the South, among Baptists especially.

The same could be asserted for the year 1954 concerning the integration of public schools and also for the year 1973 when the issue was abortion. Other examples could be cited but these suffice to make my point: a popular vote is not the best interpreter of the constitution, not the best gauge of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and not the best indicator of what is best for our nation. In fact, we elect representatives and install judges to think through these things rationally, morally, and legally, and do so in a way free of mass hysteria and popular prejudice.

Twenty years ago a popular vote would no doubt have barred homosexuals from equal access to housing and employment. There are many examples of this prejudice against demographic groups, including those with disabilities. Judges and legislators pulled us into a more just and open society, and most of us recognize the righteousness of these difficult transitions.

A ballot vote by the majority is never the safest way to guard the rights of the minority; that is true for religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities. We are seeing this played out again on the issue of homosexuality in California. I for one will not be surprised if the Supreme Court in California—dominated by Republicans—takes a stand against the popular vote and reasserts what they see as a matter of equal treatment before the law.

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7 comments so far

  1. Carl Peters on

    Hey Dwight,
    This is a thoughtful and thought provoking article. I have two questions for you. First – What do you believe is the Scriptural definition and purpose of marriage? Second – As Christians, do we have any responsiblity to attempt to influence our culture if the Scriptural view of marriage is rejected?

    Thanks,
    Carl

  2. dmoody on

    Carl,
    One: It is difficult to describe the “biblical” position on marriage because of the evolution of the idea during the biblical period. The Hebrew Bible, for instance, clearly states that men had multiple wives. The Christian Testament reflects the Jewish Christian practice of one woman married to one man. This, of course, has been the tradition of western culture, and what I have taught and practiced.
    Two: The purpose of marriage, throughout the Bible, is human fulfillment and companionship, caregiving, procreation, and pleasure; this also has been my belief and practice.
    Three: Christians should always seek to influence our culture, sometimes through public laws and policies, sometimes through ministry and service, sometimes through more personal example. There is a more complicated question: should Christians seek to impose Christian practices on non-christian people through legal process or public policy?
    Dwight Moody

  3. Carl Peters on

    I suppose my question was too general concerning the “Scriptural” view of marriage. Perhaps a better question would be, “What is the orthodox Christian definition of marriage (classic definition of orthodoxy: that which has been believed, everywhere, always, by everyone)?”

    Christians should not seek to impose their Christian practices, but we are responsible to vote and articulate our positions clearly. We are responsible to speak the truth IN LOVE. In Scriptural terms we are to be salt and light in the world. Both of these elements change their surroundings. Jesus showed us the true power of change is not in military confrontation but in the expression of godly love.

    If a Christian is elected to office, if she bound to govern or legislate from a morally neutral position? Should her decisions be informed by a Christian worldview?

    Last question: Does the TRUTH change over time -adapting to cultural changes? For instance, should the church accomodate homosexuality because the culture has embraced this orientation? What is our responsibility to Christian orthodoxy? Paul was quite interested in passing on the faith just as he had received it. Do we have that responsibility?

    Thanks,
    Carl

  4. dmoody on

    Carl,

    Your response above raises so many questions.

    First, there is a nice but necessary tension between “orthodoxy” and “dissent”. The majority position in the Christian tradition has frequently been in error; and just because a majority of Christian bishops or preachers agree to something does not make it true or right or Christian. There are a thousand examples of this.

    As a Baptist preacher and theologian, appeals to Christian orthodoxy are always suspect to me.

    Second, we often overlook the role of Christian community to influence the wider society: community as opposed to either legistlation or personal action. If Christian communities would be more faithful in Christianly ways, there would be more justice and righteousness in the culture. Read “Jesus for President” to get a peek at what I mean.

    All people in office, not just Christians, must govern from a moral position. A moral perspective helps an elected leader be honest, faithful, wise, fair, and courageous.

    The question about truth is difficult: in science, history, philosophy, religion, etc. Does truth change? Of course, in the ultimate sense, no. but Certainly our understanding of truth is constantly changing. In science, the truth for many centuries was that the sun moved around the earth; until somebody proved otherwise. In culture, the truth is that men rule adn women submit, or kings rule and people submit; but not any more. Truth can be understood as ‘what is’ or ‘what ought to be’. Certainly, the Christian community has been behind the curve of truth in several areas (slavery, evolution, etc).

    Our task is to be faithful to God and Jesus, not to any received orthodoxy. God is often at odds with orthodoxy!

    Dwight

  5. LaMon Brown on

    Hey Dwight,

    Your article is on target. It does raise a number of other issues. For example, if popular vote is not the best way to protect minority rights (and opinions for that matter), where does that leave our cherished Baptist ideal of congregational decision making?

    Peace,

    LaMon

  6. Greg Magruder on

    Dwight:

    You said, “There is a more complicated question: should Christians seek to impose Christian practices on non-christian people through legal process or public policy?” Reverse the question.
    Should non-Christians seek to impose non-Christian practices on Christian people through legal process or public policy? Given that we live in a pluralistic society that has diverse views and equally diverse opinions about the way a society should go, the answer to both questions is “yes.” Christians should not only seek to influence society by their lifestyles and local Christian community but they should also actively seek to advance their values through their voting rights as citizens and the political parties of their choice. That is part and parcel to living as an American citizen. How you do that and the spirit in which it is conducted is basic to living as a Kingdom citizen.

  7. Camille Haggard on

    This is a very perplexing issue. We are to love all people regardless of sexual orientation. I think it’s how we respond to “different” people whether homosexuals, Muslims, Catholics, etc., that we will answer to God about. If we love them, we need to embrace them in our society and also teach them about God’s love (which they MUST see in us first) before they can conceive of any change in their lives. I certainly hope every Christian can point out the significant changes that God made in their lives after accepting him. If we can’t see some important changes in our lives we should examine whether we are truly Christians. The boldness of attacks against people who stand up for God’s word is sometimes overwhelming for a Christian. I continue to witness and maintain relationships with many gay people. We have one person who has been in our Bible study group for over a year. We love him just the same as we love the guy who comes who is a black muslim who follows Farrakhan. Or the alcoholic … Our group is a mess but we love every one of them! Yes, the founding fathers provided just the right balance between democracy and republic govt. to keep the majority from being a tyrannic force in America. And yes, we have always been a secular govt with much Christian influence. I have often thought that the person who has an abortion is exercising her free will that God has given us all and that each person will be accountable to God for their sins (abortion is one of many sins and I think we often forget that). Prejudice against another race or homosexuals is a sin as God loves and created us all. We have to be Christian examples and show our love to change society one person at a time. But I do know that God’s word shows us that he does punish sinful nations. How long will he tolerate America’s gross sins? I urge all Christians to pray for our nation daily and maybe do the Abraham thing–God, don’t forget how many Christians are in this land!!


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