[This post is the third in a series of four offering this Christian’s heartfelt response to the debate over gay marriage. If you have not yet read the first post, I would encourage you to start there and read through this series with both humility and grace.]
In the months leading up to the infamous shots being fired at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, tension between the loosely “united” states of America was at an all-time high. By March of that year, seven of the southern states had already declared their secession from the union, urging several other states to follow suit. The arguments for secession largely centered upon the issue of states’ rights, specifically over the right to own slaves. The southern states that bordered what would become the line of demarcation between the Union and the Confederacy were the slowest to agree that secession was the best solution for their state, largely because they knew that their lands would host the bulk of the fighting that was sure to ensue. In June of 1861, Tennessee became the final of eleven states to declare their secession from the Union. America was in full-fledged civil war.
But not all the counties in these border states agreed with the decision their respective states made concerning secession. Many counties, usually the poorer ones, had no ties to owning slaves and therefore less interest in the ensuing war. These counties were actively vocal against secession leading up to their state’s final decision, but largely conceded to the decision of their state government once an official position had been made. A few counties, however, did not cave so quietly.
In June of 1861, Scott County in northeastern Tennessee took a stand. Having no ties to the slave industry and no desire to become the stomping ground of the first Union army to pass by, Scott County declared its own secession from the state of Tennessee, forming the Free and Independent State of Scott, an enclave community with loyalties to the Union.
Throughout the war, the people of Scott County lived completely surrounded by a government with whom they could not agree. Both the state government of Tennessee and the Confederate government, however, refused to acknowledge Scott’s independence (ironically, so did the Union, but that’s a different story). But because Scott posed no threat to either side of the conflict, they remained largely untouched throughout the war.
I can only imagine the tension the people of Scott County must have felt during this time. They existed in a land that was surrounded by a government they did not claim. Yet despite their loyalties to the Union, they were still expected by the Confederate government to abide by their ‘laws of the land.’
Over the past few days, we’ve been looking into the complexity of the debate over same-sex marriage. And if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t done a whole lot over the course of the first two posts to actually address the issue at hand. I recognize that and intend to change it over the course of this and the next post.
I started this series because I recognized a very real tension in my feelings regarding same-sex relationships. This tension arises largely out of the same circumstances that led to Scott County becoming an independent state. The warring feelings inside of me erupt from the seemingly competing demands for a Christian to be in the world while not being of the world. We are expected to be active, loyal citizens under the governments to which God has entrusted us, yet we are expected to be ultimately loyal to a greater government in that far country for which we continually long.
As a Christian, I feel a great tension inside of me. I believe that the Bible clearly presents homosexuality as sin. I also believe wholeheartedly that we as Christians have handled that sin very poorly in our relationships with the homosexual community by turning homosexuality into the marquee sin of sins [for more clarity on that, please check out my heartfelt apology and response at the first Sincerely event here]. Because of how the Bible presents homosexuality, it is very difficult for me to think I should ever be in favor of voting for the state to recognize any type of homosexual union.
Then there is another part of me that thinks the issue isn’t quite so simple. I believe there is a clear distinction between what the church can demand of its members and what the state (henceforth used to refer to the national government) can demand of its citizens. This is one of the foundations upon which our country was formed.
According to our First Amendment, as citizens of the state we are entitled to the exercise of religion without interference from the government based on that exercise of religion. As a religious person, I see this as a great freedom offered by the state. It is easy to forget, however, that this freedom is to be universally applied. If I, as a Christian, am to enjoy free exercise of my religion in this country, then other rightful citizens should enjoy the same freedom. According to the Supreme Court, this includes the right to practice no religion at all. In addition, the Fourteenth Amendment offers the guarantee that citizens shall not have their rights or privileges abridged by the state without due process of law requiring it. As long as individuals are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of the state, they are just as entitled to all the benefits of the state as any other law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.
Herein lies my conundrum. Since deciding to actually spend some time investing my effort in an informed opinion on the issue of same-sex relationships recognized by the state, I noticed a glaring inconsistency in my original trigger-happy response to the issue. My disapproval of same-sex relationships is largely a religious disapproval. The question I kept coming back to was, “Is it fair for me to push my religious disapproval of an issue onto other, non-Christian citizens of the state?”
To do so is to argue that one set of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens are entitled to a set of state privileges that another set of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens are not entitled to based simply on my Christian worldview and its standard of right and wrong. There are a couple of glaring problems with this expectation.
For one, we Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God asking non-citizens to abide by the laws of the Kingdom while those people live in their own kingdom. It would be like an American traveling to China and demanding that a Chinese citizen live by the American Bill of Rights there in China. It really isn’t fair. As Christians, we must recognize that we live in a land that is not our own. We, like the Free and Independent State of Scott, are surrounded by another land with other laws and other expectations. As citizens of the spiritual Kingdom of God, we cannot expect a kingdom other than ours to abide by the same laws set forth in our Kingdom. Yet that is what we are asking for when we fight to protect our idea of spiritual marriage in a very secular society. In our fight, I fear that we have furthered the loss of a clear definition of spiritual, biblical marriage. In our knock-down, dirty fight for the concept of marriage, we have only further muddied the waters that we so vehemently fight to clarify.
What really caused the tension inside me to surface was the realization that to lobby against the state officially recognizing any homosexual relationship (which seems to fit within my Christian worldview) means that I would have to lobby for the denial of equality in dispensing state privileges based on my religious beliefs (which seems to go against my Christian worldview). The question I kept asking myself was, “What gives a law-abiding, tax-paying heterosexual couple more right to a state offered privilege than a law-abiding, tax-paying homosexual couple?” If homosexual relationships break no laws of the land, what dictates that they should be denied a privilege that is offered by the state in which they claim citizenship?
So I was torn. As stated in my second post, I believe a biblical concept of marriage is definitely worth fighting for. But I also believe that I have no right to deny a good citizen of the state certain state privileges in order to accomplish that goal.
One way or another, I am convinced that denying homosexual couples the privileges of the state is certainly NOT the best way to go about defending the biblical concept of marriage. So if this is not the best way to go about it, what is? In my next post, I answer some legitimate concerns about this recognized tension and offer one possible solution that would satisfy my seemingly opposing values and possibly even give both parties in this debate exactly what they want. Too much to ask? Read on.