Religious Motives

There’s a surprising, and specious, argument being used by some proponents of homosexual marriage in California–they’re saying that those who are in favor of traditional marriage have religious motives, and this somehow invalidates the cause. If you believe in religious liberty, they say, you must be against anything that arises from religious motives.

Under this sort of reasoning, lovers of liberty should have opposed the American Revolution, because the revolutionaries claimed religious motives:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. …

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Under this sort of reasoning, lovers of liberty should have opposed the abolitionists who sought the liberty of the slave, because they, too, appealed to the justice of God. But, alas, so did those who wanted to preserve their own “liberty” to hold slaves. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural, pointed out the discrepancy in a speech full of religious language that these “lovers of liberty” must also renounce:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Under this sort of reasoning, lovers of liberty should have opposed the civil rights movement, driven as it was by protesting pastors such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who summed up their demands and their methodology thus:

We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live. …

Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.” …

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

People with religious motives support and oppose many things. How dare they say we must oppose something just because people with religious motives support it?

And in this case, ironically, there are religious motives on both sides. Many people with religious motives support traditional marriage–Christian and Jew, Muslim, and Hindu. But there are some who promote homosexuality because of religious motives–Unitarians and UCC and MCC and atheists who reject the Bible’s teachings and want to impose their new version of morality on the nation and its children. But these lovers of liberty do not complain about that (nor do they see their own hypocrisy, because they, too, have “religious motives”).

The “laws of nature and of nature’s God” both tell us that we humans are made male and female, complementary, and that the purpose of this sexual complementarity is so that we may reproduce. It is to the benefit of the state that this union has the protection of law, so that the family is stable, and that children may be raised in a secure setting. This is the fundamental building block of all human societies, and states have interfered with it to their own peril. Those who use religious liberty arguments to undermine this foundation know not what they do.

9 thoughts on “Religious Motives

  1. I wonder if you haven’t misinterpreted this argument. My own faith, Unitarian Universalist, is a strong supporter of marriage equality as a reflection of our religious values and core beliefs. Speaking for myself, as one example of that side of the debate, and as a deeply religious person, I would only argue that we need to respect ALL religious viewpoints, and not impose the views of one/some faiths on all faiths. I was listening to a radio interview with the Catholic theologian Karen Armstrong yesterday, and she reminded listeners of St Augustine’s teachings that we must always interpret scripture on the side of love and charity. Episcopal bishops just announced their support of same sex marriage. The United Church of Christ supports this as well. Let each faith determine its own sacraments– would you have it any other way? If so, which faith gets to impose their beliefs on the others?

  2. Ms. Raughley is District Executive for the Pacific Central District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

    I’m responding to a particular argument that is no doubt different from the arguments that you would make. Some liberal Seventh-day Adventists, opposing the position of the Pacific Union Conference, suggest that Adventists should oppose Prop 8 because it is driven by “religious motives.” I think as your post shows, its opponents also have “religious motives,” which is my point.

    I don’t think that liberal churches should impose their particular dogmas on us–which is what I think is happening here. If liberal religions want to have a religious rite for homosexual unions, that is their prerogative–they just shouldn’t try to change society to accommodate their own beliefs, and deprive others of their religious freedom when they disagree (e.g., refusing to allow Christian adoption agences to restrict adoptions to married couples, demanding that religious organizations give spousal benefits to homosexual partners, etc.).

  3. You and I agree on more than we disagree here. That’s good, right? By all means, let’s support freedom of religion across the board and not impose our beliefs on one another. Beyond that, let’s respect one another’s beliefs as well.

    Let’s allow each faith to determine their own sacraments, and respect that some will perform same sex marriages and some will not. Some Christian adoption agencies will continue to welcome same sex parents and some will not. (I have to add here that I know many same sex couples who are parenting their own bio-children and adopted children, and they are truly amazingly wonderful parents!) Some religious organizations will grant spousal benefits to homosexual partners and some will not. We must respect one another’s religious beliefs and practices.

    As a civil contract, however, let’s get religion out of the equation. Civil marriage should be available to all couples.

  4. But California law is not respecting the religious beliefs and practices of those opposed to homosexuality, or abortion, or contraception, or any of a number of issues, as we see in the demands that have been made upon Catholic Charities to 1) not distinguish between gay and straight couples in making adoptions and 2) to provide abortion and contraception coverage to their employees. I haven’t seen the UUA complain about this abridgment of Catholic religious liberty–perhaps I’ve just missed your amicus brief.

    Marriage isn’t available to brothers and sisters, or to parents and children, or to multiple partners, or between adults and minors. Clearly the state discriminates–and for good reason. All cultures have also understood that marriage is between a man and a woman. This has been agreed upon by Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Atheists, and, yes, Christians. Clearly they aren’t reading the same text–but they do understand human biology.

    Thank you for your input, however.

  5. You raise a good point, but I think the facts are a little off. Catholic Charities is still alive and doing great work in Massachusetts. It is true that they are no longer providing direct adoption services, but that is not linked to the legalization of same sex marriage.

    Same sex couples in that state won the right to adopt children in 1993, more than ten years before they won the right to marry the person they love. Further, at least as the newspapers reported the story at the time, the pressure on Catholic Charities did not come from the state, but from the Vatican. They were also pressure by United Way, I believe, who was going to withdraw over a million dollars in funding if CC were to discriminate in adoptions (but surely donors have the right to fund the organizations of their choice).

    In California, same sex couples are already allowed to adopt children (as are singles), and Proposition 8 does not extend this right, or even mention it.

    Catholic Charities in San Francisco has been on record since 2006 saying they are not concerned about this, with their Executive Director Brian Cahill saying of same sex parents, “God loves them all.”

    Thanks for the respectful conversation. It’s your blog, so you should get the last word. 🙂

  6. Catholic Charities of Boston stopped its adoption services in 2006 because of the demands of the state that it do adoptions for gay couples. News story. The only pressure they got from the Vatican was to hold firm to church teaching and not compromise. It was not directly related to legalization of gay marriage, true, but it was still related to court mandates related to homosexual couples.

    Catholic Charities of San Francisco followed them a few months later. The issue in both cases was state funding and licensing.

    Documentation here of the 2004 Supreme Court of California decision ordering the Catholic church to violate its teachings and provide contraceptive coverage for all its employees. This case involved the state defining what is and what is not religion.

  7. Just want to point out, Bill, that on Sep. 3 the conference presidents, college/university presidents and the union officers of the Pacific Union Conference asked the Church State Council to continue to inform members but to do so without advising members how they should vote on Proposition 8. Many feel that Alan’s website is misleading about the position of our Union. As I understand our Union president, saying that the Pacific Union supports Prop. 8 is not correct.

    As I pointed out earlier, Catholic Charities of Boston was actually adopting children to same-sex couples until the Vatican jumped in. Thus it seems – like with contraception – it’s less a question of religious liberty and more of a question of intra-church dogma interpretation and how a church chooses to prioritize: follow the example of Christ and care for the least of these or treat every sperm as sacred.

    In light of your litany of progressive reforms above, several of which conservative Southern Christians – also highest % rejectors of LGBT rights) did not embrace including manumission and civil rights for Black Americans – I found your demand strangely aware:

    Liberals. . .”just shouldn’t try to change society to accommodate their own beliefs.”

    Without liberal Christians, you wouldn’t have this blog post and in 20 years folks will look back on your separate but equal arguments like we look back on the ol’ segregationists today.

  8. 1. While I have no doubt some of those you name may be upset by the stand itself, the administrators may have simply wanted to keep the distinction between the union and the Church State Council as a PAC.

    2. Regarding Boston (and San Francisco), yes, Catholic Charities (like many aspects of the Catholic bureaucracy in other places) was in the hands of dissenters. The Church insisted they follow church teaching. The state said, “If you do that, you can’t adopt.” As to the example of Christ–it is inseparable from his teaching, and his word is quite clear and consistent in its support of marriage as he created it, as a union of a man and a woman, blessed and called to fruitfulness, and in its condemnation of homosexuality as a perversion of God’s intent.

    3. Wishful liberal thinking, showing that indeed, you’re not interested in religious liberty*, but in promoting acceptance of homosexuality. But the Word of God will stand. And human biology can’t be changed by the decrees of liberal judges.

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    *Alex is the person behind Adventists Against Proposition 8.

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