As the Los Angeles Time’s author David G. Savage observed
last weekend, the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage, the voting rights
act, and affirmative-action admissions policies stem from a single legal
principle. They aim to ensure that all parties receive equal treatment, whether
they are individuals (in the case of marriage and university admission) or
states (in the case of voting rights).
Equality is one of this country’s founding principles and
“Equal justice under the law” is carved into the Supreme Court building’s
façade. Whether or not we agree with the specific decisions, on this July 4th
weekend it is fitting to observe that equality still guides our country’s
How did the nation’s religious groups respond to the
decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)? Their reactions
have varied. Some welcomed it. The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America and both the Reformed and Conservative branches of Judaism
welcomed the decision.
The more conservative branches of Christianity and Judaism
were condemnatory. Evangelical and Catholic leaders strongly criticized the
ruling, while the LDS Church was predictably disappointed about the striking
down of California’s Proposition 8 i. While Judaism’s Orthodox Union strongly
disapproved, it also included the tolerant comment, “Judaism teaches
respect for others and
we condemn discrimination against individuals.”
The national media have largely portrayed the opposition to
same-sex marriage as religious. Following its typical strategy of giving a
“balanced view” by citing pro and con positions, the news services have
characterized the opponents of gay marriage as almost exclusively religious.
And religious leaders have certainly cooperated in giving
this view. Cardinal Dolan of New York called the decision a “tragic day for
marriage and our nation.” A similar thought was expressed by Southern
Evangelical Seminary President Richard Land. “Today is a devastating day for
traditional marriage and religious freedom.” Pastor Jack Graham, a former
president of the Southern Baptist Conference, used Twitter to say, “The attack
on the family continues. . . Don’t give up the fight.” Mike Huckabee, former presidential
candidate, called it an “unholy pretzel.”
This characterization should be worrisome for religious
leaders. How does it look when the secular Supreme Court comes out in favor of
equal rights and it is religious organizations and leaders who condemn
This portrayal could be taken as just a momentary phenomenon
that will disappear when the next big story comes along. But perhaps not. The
same religious groups are attempting to deprive people of other rights. For
example, Catholic and Evangelical leaders (including presidential candidates)
argued during last year’s presidential election that all women should not have
equal access to health care, particularly maternity health care and birth
control. Legislation at state and national levels has since been introduced to
enshrine that view in law.
It is beginning to appear that the Christianity these
leaders and groups bring to the public is one that restricts the rights of
others. Is this how Christianity should be seen?
The central message of Christianity is of course salvation
for all. Jesus came to save all humanity and Christianity’s evangelizing over
the millennia has emphasized that everyone can avail themselves of God’s saving
grace if they choose.
But now the loudest voices in American Christianity are
saying that even though everyone is equal in God’s eyes, they should not be
equal in the government’s eyes.
The future is not set in stone and there are a variety of
ways to move forward. It is time for all religions and denominations of the
United States reconsider their strategy for incorporating this new reality into
the way they present themselves to their community and the nation.
Religious organizations do not need to change their beliefs,
but rather how they express those views in public forums. It is important to
have clearly stated theological positions, but it is also important to respect
others and to act with respect towards others.
If Christianity truly “hates the sin but loves the sinner,”
as is commonly said, then it is time to show that love through tolerance and
acceptance of all America’s citizens rather than sound a call to battle. After
all, isn’t that what the message of universal salvation is about?