Friday, July 3, 2015

How Should We Then Fight?

The great problem in American life is the progressive success in advancing the public sphere into the private sphere. The proper counterattack advances the private into the public. Church authority over marriage is the normal state of affairs in Western civilization, not the aberration. Only the last two centuries have seen the civil authority take over that responsibility. So let's just take it back. It would not even require passing any laws.

Private contracts with arbitration clauses are already perfectly legal. Why not designate your local church the arbiter over a marriage contract? An arbitration style contract would basically give the church arbitration board authority to decide whether a couple could get a divorce or not. The church would be allowed to do so on the basis of their own judgment, which could include whatever criteria you want, including religious criteria. The important thing is to insert a church board into the process of couples who might be considering a divorce. A church arbitration board might consist of a lawyer, an elder and a marriage counselor, all ideally volunteers and members of the church. Perhaps the church could put its most enthusiastic matchmaker on it as well to sell the idea to younger couples. And if you don't have one of "those", just put the singles group leader on the board. We all know why everyone goes to those singles groups. Might as well make it explicit.

Statistics show that the vast majority of church-going couples will never need an arbitration. But we should do this anyway as a political statement that God, not the government, defines marriage. It would also serve as an example to younger couples considering marriage, and young people in the church, so many of whom end up leaving. The problem with church relevance in American life is not going to be solved by skinny jeans and rock music. Making the church actually relevant, with real authority, just might make young people see that church is serious business rather than a social club.

When the CEO of Chick-Fil-A made a statement in support of traditional marriage, he instigated a nation-wide controversy. Mike Huckabee responded to the controversy by asking people to celebrate August 1st, 2012 "Chick-fil-A" appreciation day, and the public responded. Earlier this year the left began a massive social media campaign against an Indiana pizza store when the owner told a gay couple she would not provide a pizza for their wedding. The business began to suffer, but the owners started a crowdfunding campaign and raised almost $850,000 from sympathetic people all over the country. We turned potential defeats into victories. Conservatives have to learn how to do this more often, and in more important ways.

Imagine a response to the Supreme Court ruling just like that. Imagine local churches forming marriage arbitration boards, formulating a generic marriage contract that designated the arbitration board as the arbiter over marriage disputes, and Christian couples all across the country coming before the church to put God in authority over their marriage instead of the government. Obviously I don't have the public profile to start something like this, but somebody like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum does. How much bigger of a statement would that make then buying a bunch of chicken sandwiches? You believe God is the authority over marriage? Even the demons believe that. How about putting your marriage where your mouth is?

I was too harsh with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton yesterday. I did not mean to attack them. I think they are doing what they can, but we must all recognize that they have to present the best case possible. What they are trying to do is use religious liberty as a protection for county clerks, judges and justices of the peace who don't want to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The theory goes that they don't have to if they have a religious objection. It's worth a shot I suppose. But lawyers don't publicly state problems with their own case, and these two lawyers and the others working on this must know that this is not going to win in court. The scenario that Abbott and Paxton are laying out here is encouraging low level public officials to refuse to issue a license if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. The inevitable result will be a court case where the ACLU or somebody else sues a county clerk who has done so. Abbott and Paxton are encouraging somebody to put themselves in the line of fire that they must know is a near certain defeat. But hey, maybe it will accomplish something. Just putting somebody up for a firing squad might turn public attention against the ones doing the firing. Even supposing they do win, and a few clerks here and there refuse to issue marriage licenses, gay couples can just go to the next clerk over. They can even go to the next county over, in fact, even the next state over, and get exactly what they want since the Court's ruling requires states to recognize marriages performed in other states. There are better things we can be doing.

Texas State Representative Matt Rinaldi has started a movement to ask governor Abbott to call a special session of the state legislature to deal with the marriage issue. He lists four priorities:

1) eliminate the requirement for individuals to obtain a government marriage license prior to undergoing a religious ceremony;

(2) remove the authority for government officials to issue marriage licenses or conduct marriage ceremonies;

(3) pass an expanded religious liberty protection bill that protects not only pastors, but private actors, as well; and

(4) address changes to our existing legal framework which would be necessitated by such changes.

The state of Alabama did something similar recently, but it was much more muted. From what I have read, all they did was change the word "shall" to "may" in reference to issuing marriage licenses, and then a lot of local clerks have decided not to issue licenses on their own initiative. There has been a lot of talk recently about ending marriage licensing by the states, especially among libertarians who have reasons other than protecting marriage for wanting to do that. I think it would be a positive step, but let's take a step back for a second and look at what that would actually accomplish and what it would not.

Marriage was not suddenly recognized in the law when governments began issuing marriage licenses. Marriage presents unique legal issues within our judicial system, and simply ending marriage licensing doesn't eliminate those legal issues. Parents still need special parental rights, and will still get them. Divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, hospital visitation rights and the myriad other laws governing marriage are not going anywhere because couples don't get a marriage license. And perhaps most importantly for our current purpose, simply ending marriage licensing doesn't end the state's recognition of gay marriage in the law. Ending marriage licensing is something libertarians want anyway. They would have supported it with or without the Supreme Court ruling. There's an element of political opportunism going on here. I'm not saying I'm against it, I'm just saying it's not exactly predicated on protecting marriage. It doesn't go far enough.

If the Supreme Court's rulings on Obamacare have taught conservatives anything, it's the importance of the meaning of words. The Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate by interpreting the word "penalty" as "tax". More recently it upheld subsidies in the federal exchanges against the plain meaning of the text. Defending the meaning of words is important to the conservative cause. C.S. Lewis wrote that " have killed a word you have also...blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say." The biggest cultural impact of the gay marriage ruling has gone largely unnoticed in the aftermath. That is the meaning of the word "marriage". If we do nothing, in fact, even if we do all the things I have already outlined here, we will still face the future problem of being unable to speak about marriage in a way that we understand it. We have to do something about this, and we have to do it before we lose the political power to move anything on this issue, which will happen if the polls are any indication. This is part of the reason why I was so harsh yesterday. Refusing to admit defeat means failing to take steps like what I am proposing. If we believe that we can still win on this issue, there is no reason to do this. But if we are going to lose, or have already lost, it becomes necessary to protect what we still have. Military history is full of examples where armies overextended themselves and tried to defend too much. The price of a strategy to defend the indefensible is the failure to defend the territory that is defensible. When you are overrun, you have to make choices about what to leave behind and what to defend. Marriage is just a word, but words are important in the fight that we have ahead of us. We can no longer defend marriage in the law, but we can defend it's meaning in the language.

I propose we strike the word "marriage" from our civil and criminal law entirely. Go through the entire law line by line and remove the word "marriage" completely. Replace it with "civil union". This can be done in such a way as to have zero legal effect, and it will serve the purpose of separating the institution bent and twisted by the government from the true meaning of marriage which can then be defended in the church. Do I want civil unions? No, but we no longer have a choice. We must scorch the earth we leave behind. If we don't do this, the very term "marriage" will be irreversibly changed to include homosexual relationships. Future generations will grow up understanding marriage in terms foreign to us. It will become impossible to even explain to younger generations that when the pastor talks about marriage or they read about marriage in the Bible, that this does not mean homosexual marriage. Words are important. If we really want to protect marriage, we need to take steps to protect the meaning of the word from the deviancy of the judiciary. There should not be a legal problem doing this, because it does not involve any sort of discrimination against homosexual couples. Under the state law, everyone will have a civil union. The church sanctioned marriage I proposed earlier is voluntary and overseen by the church, where religious liberty can be maintained legally. We can call this "marriage", call the government version "civil union" and maintain the meaning of biblical marriage. This requires admitting defeat in the law, but we have already lost. If we don't do this, we will lose even more. We will lose the language. Arguably, that is more important than the law in the future.

Now that's whack.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Definition of Insanity

Last Friday I posted a chapter from my book called The State of Union, but that was written three years ago. I feel like I need to write some more on the topic, although I still stand by what I wrote then. The simple fact then, as now, is that gay marriage is a political reality in the United States. We cannot change that in a short time, just as we couldn't change abortion in a short amount of time. The pro-life position has slowly but inexorably gained ground in the forty years since Roe v. Wade, but it took forty years to get to where we are, and where we are is probably somewhere about halfway to where we need to be. In my book I predicted we would win on abortion and lose on gay marriage, both for the same reason.

Our culture has adopted a moral system based on empathy and feelings rather than on God. That means anything which makes anybody feel bad is wrong, while anything which makes us feel good is right. The rhetorical options available to the pro-life position are very favorable under those terms, while those available to the gay rights movement are also very favorable under the same terms. The political argument against abortion almost writes itself. We are killing innocent, defenseless babies. Regardless of the rational or evidential content of the argument, the emotional thrust is very powerful. Likewise, the gay rights movement rhetoric revolves around discrimination and equality. Especially potent is the comparison to slavery. Again, regardless of the rational or evidential content, the emotional momentum is with them. It is difficult to make an effective emotional argument in favor of abortion, just as it is difficult to make an emotional argument against allowing people to get married. Killing babies makes us feel bad. So does telling people they can't "love" each other. Abortion restrictions and gay rights are both the inevitable policy outcomes of our current moral climate.

If we are dissatisfied with that outcome, it would be behoove us to examine the moral climate itself, and ponder how to change it. That is the real issue, not gay marriage, not abortion, nor anything else. If we are going to spend another forty years fighting abortion and another century fighting gay marriage, perhaps we might consider spending all that time and effort fighting to replace the underlying moral system which renders these outcomes inevitable. Over and over again, I'm reminded of an old cartoon I grew up seeing all the time.

In the cartoon, the Humanism castle basically represents the moral system I'm talking about. Morals are based on human feeling and empathy. The Christianity castle represents a moral system based on God. The balloons are the more visible causes and policies which are natural outgrowths of the humanist moral system. The cartoon points out that fighting against these causes in the public sphere is pointless when the enemy is attacking our foundation. You see one of the humanist soldiers just blowing up another balloon to replace every one that Christianity destroys. You see Christians pointing cannons at each other and ignoring the cracks in the foundation. You also see that Christianity has three times the firepower of Humanism, but is still on the verge of losing because the firepower is aimed at the wrong targets. It is a sad but accurate portrayal of how American Christians fight the cultural and political battles of our time. Every defeat is followed by repeated calls to continue pursuing the failed strategies that got us into this situation. The Supreme Court rules against school prayer? Let's bring more litigation! The Supreme Court rules for gay marriage? MOAR LAWSUITS! Popping enemy balloons while our foundation is crumbling, threatening to send the whole shebang tumbling into the sea.

It is not that I am against efforts to pop the balloons. It is just difficult to be an intelligent Christian watching other Christians fail over and over again for the same reasons that no one seems to remember or learn from. Some people seem to be aware that the battle over gay marriage was lost long ago, but I still see no attempt to find a new strategy. It's almost as if we don't recognize that winning and losing these things is important business, and maybe it's time to reevaluate our strategy and whether our efforts have been well spent. For instance, Concerned Women for America put out a statement that admits bluntly:

"I think we have to be honest and acknowledge that this didn’t happen overnight. The culture has been on this journey since the 1960’s with a huge acceleration in the early 60’s and again in the last five years. How did this happen? Well, I think a recent Pew poll gives us some insight. The summary stated, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing."

Being "honest"? How about being obvious! But the statement then goes on to ignore the real problem and focus on all the same things organizations like this have always focused on: registering more evangelicals to vote, passing another law, speaking boldly on issues, etc. Several paragraphs are spent advocating a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment! When sixty percent of the American public favor gay marriage, yes, by all means, let's go for a hopeless constitutional amendment. What a waste of time. This is not "once more into the breach". It's once more off the cliff. It's almost the definition of insanity. Why do conservatives constantly act as though the law is the cause of social change rather than an effect?

Why? Why has religion been declining in America? Oughtn't we to address that issue as the one of first importance? Is there anyone out there who wants to win? To turn the tide? To stop fighting a hopeless rearguard action and start counterattacking? I hear all the chickens running around with their heads cut off, apparently taken completely by surprise by the Supreme Court ruling, as if none of them understood this is where we've been headed for decades, as if they suddenly pulled their heads out of the sand, looked around and saw what's really happening for the first time. And then the heads go right back in the sand.

When I was a part-time youth pastor, a friend of mine who was in it for life gave me some advice about the youth ministry that I'll never forget. He told me it's not about the events, the programs or the summer trips. It's about who you are. The most important thing a youth minister can do isn't an action. It's being like Christ. Kids see that and look up to it. They want to be who you are. Children learn how to be an adult by watching other adults, and it matters a great deal who the adults are. Children cannot be fooled. They will find out who you are, what you care about, what you believe, and then they will emulate it. When adults rail about "kids these days", they are railing against the sort of people they themselves created by being who they are.

When adults believe that love is a feeling, kids will intuit that love is a feeling, and feelings are legion and without restriction. A fifty percent divorce rate is not something that just happened to us out of nowhere. It happened to us because we replaced our Christian moral system based on God with a moral system based on what makes us feel good. When love is a feeling and the feeling goes away, so does the love, and so does the marriage. If a couple gets married because they "fall" in love, meaning it happened completely out of their control and without rational reflection, it means they can "fall" right out of love again at any time and that is also completely out of their control. The fading of the reason for the marriage destroys the marriage. It also means that any feeling a person has for another could become the basis for sexual attraction. If feelings, rather than religion or even just basic biology, are the basis of sexual relationships, then the feeling is all and the religion and biology is meaningless. Legitimate homosexual relationships are perhaps an innovation of the younger generations, but it's only a logical extension of the humanistic ethic where everything, including sexual relationships, is based on human feelings. When you look at younger generations engaged in this, you are looking in a mirror, and they know it.

If we don't recognize what the problem is and fail to deal with it, we are accomplishing nothing. If CWA's statement is any indication, we do have some recognition of the problem, yet we are still accomplishing nothing because we aren't attacking the source of the problem. We are reacting to anything popping into our vision. We are not seeking the enemy to do battle and wipe him out. We are waiting for his every move, every innovation, every affront and whining about it, then wondering why we lose and are forced into retreat every time. It is extremely frustrating, yet we show no sign of having any understanding of the enemy or any idea how to proceed. The battle is lost and it was lost a long time ago.* Instead we are attempting what is in fact a rearguard action, and a rather poor one at that, without admitting that's what we are doing.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a statement I initially thought was a prelude to armed revolt. I assumed this because Abbott is a lawyer, and I thought he must surely understand that what he said was not legally defensible and could only be defended through force of arms. As events transpired however, it became clear that either he did not understand the implications of his initial statement or he wasn't serious and was effecting an attitude of rebellion for political reasons. Understand that this legal strategy by the state of Texas will fail miserably and quickly in the courts. It barely qualifies as a strategy at all. It is a recipe for the scattering and reduction of an army in catastrophic, full-fledged retreat. Instead of being proactive, gathering the troops together and retreating to an actually defensible position, we are currently attempting to stand and fight on ground that is already overrun. Militarily, I would call it suicide. Culturally and politically, it is a recipe for giving our side false hope quickly turning to despair and defeat.

Yesterday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement claiming that the decision by the Fifth Circuit was consistent with his prior opinion. I looked everywhere for a second decision by the Fifth Circuit, but apparently Paxton is referring to the first decision which, responding to the Supreme Court's ruling, struck down gay marriage bans in states that had pending litigation. Paxton's statement references some part of the decision which references the First Amendment and religious liberty protections, but all the Fifth Circuit Court said was that these competing rights have to be balanced in accordance with our system. Surely Paxton knows exactly what that means. Either he is in denial or he is fronting a legal strategy he knows will fail because that's his job and he doesn't know what else to do. I saw Paxton speak on this issue in person a couple of months ago. He did not give the appearance of a man who thought he could win. In fact, he looked as if he had already lost and knew it.

I don't understand this suicidal tendency on the right. There is no honor in refusing to admit defeat when it is upon you. I know I have previously complained about prematurely giving up, but this issue, homosexuality, is already lost in the public sphere. It is, I think, the only political issue we have actually, really lost. However, there are things we can be doing that might actually work in providing us with some defensible terrain to which we can retreat, where we can regroup and continue the fight. This terrain centers around the Church.

The Church is the one place in American life where religious liberty is still completely defensible and also provides a moral alternative to humanism, the actual root cause of the problem. There may be other places where religious liberty is defensible, like privately owned businesses, but the Church is the only place where the root cause can be confronted successfully and on our terms. Statistics I have seen show that among married couples who regularly attend church, the divorce rate is close to zero. This is encouraging, indeed, cause for celebration. It means the American Church has not been overtaken by the political and cultural forces sweeping the public sphere, as has, for instance, the Russian Orthodox Church. It means we have successfully defended this position. It also means that not only can we retreat to it, we are in fact prepared to advance from it in new directions.

Stay tuned...

*Orson Scott Card is a Mormon science fiction author who has been fighting against legalization of gay marriage with everything he has. He risked his career and public reputation by issuing strident statements about gay marriage. His position inspired boycotts of his books and movie and certainly he has lost money and professional opportunities because of it. After the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, Card admitted that the battle was already lost and it was only a matter of time before gay marriage was legalized in all fifty states.