The Church and Prop 8: Losing by Winning

In spite of this week’s setback in the California courts, legal approval for same-sex marriage is building steam. The domino theory many right wingers and religious conservatives worried about when Massachusetts turned in favor of same sex marriage five years ago is becoming reality.

Besides the Bay State, same-sex marriage is now law in Vermont, Iowa, Maine, and Connecticut. New Hampshire and New York are likely the next tiles to fall, and supporters have promised to continue the fight both in California and federal court. No doubt the momentum will build and more states will tilt in the direction of the prevailing political wind.

Yawn.

That’s not to belittle anyone for whom legal recognition of a unified relationship is an important matter. I yawn because I fail to see why this is even an issue anymore.

A year ago, while gay marriage made its way before the people of California, I addressed the church’s political stand on gay marriage, writing about the evangelical community’s failure to conduct themselves in a biblical manner. That failure was – and is – symptomatic of how the church has lost its way. We cheer a legal victory upholding a state ban on same-sex marriage but, blinded by that win, we lose sight of the eternal picture, pushing away tens of thousands of people we have been called to love.

As an evangelical, I understand the reason behind all the hand-wringing and brow-furrowing. For me, the Bible is clear on the issue – homosexuality is sin. But here’s a memo to my fellow believers: so are many other behaviors that we’ve winked at over the years without the same level of consternation. Divorce, for example. Current statistics suggest that marriages within the evangelical church fail just as often as they do among non-believers. Sex outside the institution of marriage seems rampant as well, not to mention all the other apparently minor (based on the church’s reaction) transgressions enumerated among the Ten Commandments.

I’m not suggesting that bad behavior excuses bad behavior, nor am I suggesting we evangelicals change our standards. To the contrary, I think the responsibility is squarely upon the shoulders of the evangelical church to rise above the debate over same-sex marriage, or any other behavior we see as sinful, and set a unilateral example by adhering to a standard of moral behavior as defined by the Bible. So here’s another memo to my fellow believers: We cannot force others to live by our standards, nor should we expect our government to impose those standards by legislative fiat. We are individually responsible to live the lives we are called by God to live, no matter how those around us choose to live their own lives. It’s a speck in your brother’s eye kind of thing.

Evangelicals like to point out that the Apostle Paul took a hard line against sexual immorality, including homosexuality. They point to his letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth and take those writings as a mandate to social activism, conveniently forgetting that those letters were not written to address the behavior of those outside the church. They were intended to correct immoral behavior within the church.

Paul’s concern was that Christian communities were acting in a manner inconsistent with their beliefs. He wanted his fellow-Christians to examine and correct their behavior in order to develop a closer relationship with God and demonstrate God’s love to the world by their example. Whenever we find the Apostles, Peter and Paul especially, addressing non-believers in the Book of Acts, they are never condemning. Instead, they preach God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ. Far from being aggressive, they willingly submit themselves to abuse and even imprisonment (and eventually death) for the sake of delivering their message – by the examples of their behavior.

When the message is delivered to Christians, it’s a different story. When Paul writes in I Corinthians 5, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges,” he makes it clear that the church should not worry about the world’s behavior. That’s God’s job. We need to spend our own time and energy keeping ourselves on the narrow path. We’d do well to heed Paul’s advice today.

Believers are called to be salt and light, a living witness of the love of God at work in the world. Ours is not a political battle, but a spiritual one. Even if our hearts break at what we see happening in our country, we are called to demonstrate a better way by living to a standard that has not changed since Christ walked the earth. No law can change that mandate. No court can set it aside.

# # #

Follow Mike Spinney as Spinzo on Twitter.

Big Brother’s Riding Shotgun

I live in Massachusetts where the governor and state legislature seem bent on giving new life to the moniker “Taxachusetts.” Our local news headlines lately have been all about turnpike toll increases, gas tax increases, sales tax increases, and a new kind of road use tax assessed through the use of a GPS tracking device that tallies the miles a car travels over state asphalt.

Sadly, Massachusetts isn’t the only place considering such a tax – known as a VMT (vehicle miles taxed). Following a pilot program, Oregon officials concluded that a VMT was a “viable” option for that state, and although the U.S. Transportation Department has said a VMT program “is not and will not be Obama administration policy,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made conflicting statements, including, “We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled.”

Now, I’m not a black helicopter, Trilateral Commission-Star Chamber conspiracy theory kind of guy, but I don’t like the way this is headed. So this isn’t just an anti-tax rant. Rather, it’s a warning about giving state and federal agencies the authority to track the comings and goings of individual citizens. Little thought is being given to the negative implications on privacy, liberty, or peoples’ faith in government.

To date, the clear trend favors unfettered tracking. Government use of GPS is being tested on a number of different fronts in the courts, and the government is winning. In many states, sex offenders’ movements are monitored by the use of a GPS ankle bracelet, and while a judge in Massachusetts recently ruled that a suspected sex offender cannot automatically be required to wear such a device, their use was lawful in specific instances. Meanwhile, a Wisconsin appeals court just this week ruled in favor of the warrantless attachment of GPS devices to automobiles in order to track individuals suspected of crimes, athough that court did offer the caveat that it was “more than a little troubled” by the practice. Other jurisdictions are using the devices to ensure compliance with court orders restricting the movements of offenders in domestic violence cases.

As use of GPS tracking devices moves into the realm of revenue collection, spokespeople for the state and federal agencies involved have offered verbal assurances that citizen privacy would be a primary consideration. Such acknowledgements and caveats are cold comfort for anyone who is concerned by steady governmental encroachment on individual privacy and liberty.

Some would explain away these developments as necessary in an age where the people require more protection of their public servants. Threats both foreign and domestic, they argue, lurk in every shadow and safeguarding from such dangers costs money. Technology, of course, is the cure for both ailments. It’s easy, it’s getting less expensive and tagging your car or boat is only nominally intrusive – until you consider where the information about where you go and what you do ends up.

I very much doubt that I am the only person who – even in a post-9/11 world – is more troubled by the imminent prospect of having Big Brother as my constant driving companion than I am at the remote chance of becoming the next victim of al Qaeda or a more mundane villain. Nor am I interested in making it any easier for Uncle Sam to gain access to my wallet.

But I also get the sense that this relentless but nevertheless quiet assault on personal liberty and “creative revenue enhancement” has inflicted a kind of societal post traumatic stress disorder on the American people. We’re in a stupor and don’t know how to respond, nor do we have the collective strength to respond. We’ve been bombarded by overhyped fear of terrorism, economic collapse, environmental disaster, and social crisis to the point where we barely put up a fight even as Congress demands trillions of our money without a clear reason why. I have to wonder: do we even care anymore?

In his Barr Code blog, former GOP congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr recently wrote of the public’s waning faith in government and of how recent studies show the country is growing increasingly suspicious of its public agencies. That’s, in part, Barr concludes, because the politicians and bureaucrats who staff these agencies conduct themselves as if they are above the laws they have sworn to uphold.

The many tax cheats nominated (and confirmed) for cabinet positions within the Obama Administration, along with the previous administration’s penchant for secrecy, illustrate Mr. Barr’s point.

When the message coming out of Washington is, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and all the while the hands and eyes of government continue to probe into the personal affairs of the average Joe, it is clear that there is a disconnect between the citizens and our elected officials.

No taxation without representation was once a rallying cry against tyranny. Today it seems the Sons of Liberty have lost their voice.

An Evangelical’s Goodbye to Dr. Dobson

I believe I have a duty as a citizen to follow my conscience and faith on political issues, but regard this as a matter of personal choice, not religious obligation. I resent being told by anyone, let alone a religious figure, that I have a moral responsibility to act in a certain way and I will continue to speak out against influential Christians like Dobson who use their position to manipulate the political process.

Continue reading