Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Bible in the public square

Should Jews and Christians appeal to Biblical norms when debating homosexual marriage?

Some advocates of traditional marriage think we should confine ourselves to natural law arguments. Now, I have no objection to using common ground arguments in the marriage debate. Here’s a useful collection of articles that reflect that strategy:

However, as Albert Mohler and Denny Burk recently observed, the moral status of homosexuality has suddenly dropped out of the current debate, as if that’s irrelevant or out-of-bounds.

Let’s consider some stock objections to using the Bible in political discourse:

i) Only fundamentalist Bible-thumpers resort to Scripture when debating public policies issues

To begin with, even if that were true, so what?

However, that’s not true. For instance, consider Richard Bauckham’s The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically (WJK, 2nd ed., 2011).

Bauckham is not a fundamentalist. And he’s center/left on the political spectrum.

Or take Daniel Carroll’s books: Thinking Christianly About Immigration; Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible.

Since he’s using the Bible to promote a position liberals agree with, his appeal to Scripture doesn’t generate the same outcry.

ii) Appealing to Scripture violates separation of church and state

I’m not a Constitutional scholar, but I’ve read Constitutional scholars who argue that the purpose of the Establishment Clause was to prevent the Federal government from instituting a national church. That’s it.

In fact, it doesn’t take a Constitutional scholar to recognize the fact that many modern judges are promulgating very innovative rulings. Discovering things to be unconstitutional which the generation of the Founding Fathers and states which ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights never deemed to be unconstitutional. The very notion of a “living Constitution” is a frank admission that many modern judges flagrantly disregard original intent.

iii) If you allow the Bible to dictate public policy, then theocracy is the logical outcome

a) To begin with, this objection is a double-edged sword. Suppose the Bible does obligate Christians to promote a theocratic state. If that’s the case, then that’s what faithful Christians should work towards, assuming it’s politically feasible.

b) However, different Christian traditions have different positions how much of OT social ethics carries over into the new covenant, or church/state relations. Take Baptists, Anabaptists, and Lutherans. Take confessional Presbyterians who operate with a “general equity” principle. Take Richard Hooker’s Anglican position in contrast to the Puritans.

c) An appeal to Scripture is not ipso facto an appeal to Biblical law. When Christians cite Mt 19:4-5, Rom 1:24-27, or 1 Tim 1:10, that’s not an appeal to Biblical law. These passages don’t belong to the legal genre. An appeal to these passages doesn’t transplant Biblical laws into modern American jurisprudence.

Rather, these involve general truths about the nature and moral status of human sexuality. Shouldn’t our civil and criminal law code be based on truths about human nature? Be based on true moral judgments?  

iv) Appealing to Scripture begs the question when debating non-Christians

a) First of all, we can distinguish between defensive and offensive appeals to Scripture. If a Christian is defending his personal view of homosexual marriage, then he’s justified in appealing to Scripture. The fact that his opponent denies the authority of Scripture is irrelevant, for the Christian is giving his own reasons.

b) When going on the offensive, appealing to Scripture would only beg the question if the Christian simply took the authority of Scripture for granted. But, of course, his commitment to Scripture is defensible. It’s quite possible to argue for the authority of Scripture. Indeed, that’s a standard topic in Christian apologetics. A Christian can give reasons for why everyone ought to believe the Bible.

c) In addition, proponents of homosexual marriage have their own burden of proof. What is their source and standard of social ethics? How do they ground objective moral norms?

d) Likewise, if they espouse naturalistic evolution, then what makes human animals property-bearers of human rights or civil rights? Isn’t a human being just a fleeting and fortuitous arrangement of matter?


  1. Bryan Cross and Bill O'Reilly should read this article with the peace of Christ as their attitude.

  2. People have different levels of knowledge about different subjects. You could be informed enough about homosexual marriage to oppose it, yet be undecided on other matters where Christian beliefs have governmental implications. A Christian who opposes homosexual marriage may not know whether he would want a theocracy, just what type of theocracy he'd want, whether he'd want some sort of religious government that wouldn't be classified as a theocracy, etc. It doesn't follow that he shouldn't oppose homosexual marriage on religious grounds. The idea that somebody has to have a fully-formed view of church/state relations in order to oppose something like homosexual marriage on a religious basis doesn't make sense.

    The extent to which we seek to incorporate Christian principles into public policy can vary depending on the factors that are in place in a given context. How practical would it be for a state to enforce something? Is there enough public support for something to make it worth pursuing at this point in time? In the case of homosexual marriage, we know that not giving state recognition to such marriages is something that's practical. We've been doing it for hundreds of years, and it's the ongoing practice in most of the United States. Opposition to homosexual marriage is still popular. Even when it's been a minority in the polling of recent years, it's been a large minority. On the other hand, the same can't be said for something like state enforcement of church attendance or imprisoning heretics. Even if somebody thought that doing such things would be a good idea in principle, he could consider it a bad idea under our current circumstances. It doesn't follow that he should therefore abandon his support for governmental opposition to homosexual marriage. Or somebody could think that something like imprisoning heretics is always a bad idea, perhaps because it's always impractical (much like trying to get the government to imprison everybody who lies, everybody who loses his temper, everybody who dishonors his parents, etc.), whereas the same isn't true of governmental opposition to homosexual marriage. It's not just a matter of having the government enforce laws against everything the Bible opposes. Few Christians hold that position. Rather, we're more selective, based on factors like the ones outlined above. That isn't anything new. Christians were taking that approach long before the controversy over homosexual marriage became prominent. Similarly, non-Christians take the same sort of practical considerations into account that I've described above.

  3. So Jason- you're saying that imprisoning heretics is only a bad idea because so many people are against it? Are you planning to reinstate slavery too as soon as it becomes popular enough?

  4. steve- how is that an answer to my questions?