Friday, February 17, 2012

Render Unto Caesar

During my morning run to Starbucks, I was listening to an interview on a news radio station between two pastors in Maryland regarding their views on pending legislation regarding same sex marriage.  One of the pastors (both were protestant and both were African American as a point of disclosure) was in favor of marriage/civil unions and the other was not.

The pastor who was opposed to the legislation granting marriage equality took an ecclesiastical stance relative to his position and indicated that marriage was between a man and a woman as a dictate by God according to scripture.  He felt that he as a representative of God was committed to 'teach' God's message and that while he certainly had compassion for gays who wanted to marry, it was expressly prohibited by scripture.

The other pastor took a more secular view of the discussion and framed his support of the legislation on the position of equal liberty.  His view was that rights afforded to some of us should be afforded to all of us. 

Each pastor was sincere, both of them claimed that the love and grace of Jesus Christ formed their opinions on the matter.  So, why such diverging opinion on the topic?  We're not talking about nuanced differences such as one being opposed to sectarian marriage but supporting civil unions, we are talking about polar opposite opinion.   Now, the pro-marriage equality never mentioned scripture as a basis of his position, he was just as staunch in his belief that it was his faith that got him to where he was on the topic.

The one other point that I would make from the interview is that the anti-marriage equality pastor indicated in his discussion that democracy went hand in hand with theocracy, in that our rights to be democratic were given to us by God, therefore you can't separate the two.  Oh, boy. 

So, as I was sipping my Grande Coffee I started thinking about the topic of separation of church and state, and scriptural commandment, ostensibly given to us from God.

I need to disclose here from what perspective I write this next segment of the post, because there will be bias in it.  I am not a Christian.  I was raised a Christian in a Southern Baptist Church, and when I was 13 professed my faith and was baptized.  However, it was a false conversion.  I realized shortly after my profession of faith I had serious trouble with the Christian doctrine and even more problem with the idea that there was one "correct religion or faith".    So, I'm an agnostic.  I don't say I'm an atheist, because atheists are devout in their disbelief.  I cannot prove that God doesnt' exist, nor can I prove that God does exist, so I'm a skeptic and an non-believer. 

Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about the point of this post, which is separation of church and state.  Our aforementioned pastors, both admirable men who seemingly are full of compassion and care about their flock and this country very much are diametrically opposed in their positions on marriage equality.  One used scripture as his basis of opposition.  The other, pro-marriage equality, while not citing scripture to support his position basically said that this is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of societal liberty. 

Who is right?  Well, it obviously depends upon your perspective.   If, however you look to the Bible to find direction on the topic, sadly you will walk away confused.  The most famous prohibition against homosexuality is found in Leviticus 18:22, that says "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind, it is an abomination.  Defile not yourselves in any of these things."  Other admonitions, essentially of the same message, can be found in Deuteronomy, Kings, Romans and Hebrews.  So, it is easy to see how the "anti-marriage equality" can make his case for biblical prohibition.  

On the other hand,  the "pro-marriage equality" pastor, while not citing specific scripture, could have just as easily supported his secular separation argument by saying as Jesus allegedly did in  Mark 12:17, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's".  To follow up, after the inevitable argument that Jesus was referring to taxes in that verse, he could have come back with Luke 6:31 where Jesus said:  "Do unto others as you would have them do to you".

Both men are genuine in their beliefs and thoughts that God is guiding them through their lives and helping them to preach his word to their flocks.  Both of them have completely different points of view on what God is saying on this topic.   This is the danger of mixing religion with government.  Commands issued by a god, whether a Christian one or not, should not be the primary driver of our societal rules we codify into law.  The reasons for that are many, but most importantly you have to decide which God's rules will be codified.  The example above shows that even Christians have stark differences in determining what is and what is not God's law.

Marriage equality laws are progressing rapidly across the country.  There are now 8 states that have passed them whereas 10 years ago there were none.  Society is evolving in our perspective on same sex marriage or unions and I believe eventually the issue will die as marriage equality will be the law of the land.  I think this is a good thing in the main, because like the laws banning inter-racial marriage that were on many state's books just 50 years ago, these laws banning same sex unions are based on fear and some view of what "normal" is.  We know, and have known for some time that same sex couples can be just as committed and loving to their partners as heterosexuals.  We also know, as evidenced by the facts that same sex marriages is not a danger to traditional marriage or the country at large.    The Republic still stands long after Vermont voted in favor of Civil Unions almost 10 years ago. 

I believe what is more threatening to the country is a small group of people so sure they are right in what society should look like and they base this on traditions tied to a specific deity, that they will do almost anything to keep us from progressing forward out of this folly that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry or have civil unions.  Need an example?  I give you Westboro Baptist Church. These people, claiming to be Christian have the temerity to show up at military funerals and hold up signs like this moron is doing because they believe our tolerance of gays is causing soldiers to die.

Well,  I think most people would think this is an aberration of the Christian faith. It certinaly was not what I was taught, and if I was still a believer I would have a massive problem with the idea that God is killing anyone because we are tolerant of gays.  But, (there's always a but right?) remember, that it was only a 150 or so years ago that "The Christian Church", or some members of them, thought there was biblical sanction and support for owning slaves.  The irony of the fact that the two pastors speaking about a civil rights issue such as marriage equality were both African American was significant.

I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe. I have severe problems if they attempt to enforce those beliefs on me, my children or my country at large.  We need to be a country, devout in our various religious beliefs or lack thereof, but just as faithful to the Constitution and our secular precepts that we should be working for all of us for "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

Render unto Caesar, indeed.

Tell me what you think,

regards,
Dennis

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