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Gay Marriage and the Imposition of Morality

Earlier this month, the citizens of the state of North Carolina voted to amend their state constitution to further codify a prohibition against gay marriage.[1] One of the main groups that supported this amendment, Vote FOR Marriage NC, supported this amendment based on a religious definition of marriage. Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the group, said that, “you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design based on the demands of a group of adults.” This vote on the part of the citizens of North Carolina touched off a media firestorm on the question of gay marriage that engulfed even the President. Partially in response to the events in North Carolina (and some accidental prodding from Vice-President Biden), President Barack Obama, publicly stated his support for civil gay marriage. His announcement, despite the fact that it had no policy ramifications, sparked the predictable response from conservative religious groups, who lambasted the President for his opinion. However, there are two things that we as Adventist Christians should consider before we are quick to criticize the President’s beliefs and judge them to be against the principles of the Bible.[2]

The first thing to remember is that the Bible generally speaks against the imposition of morality and in favor of freedom of conscience. The Christian faith, in virtually all its iterations, is based on freedom of conscience. Human beings, who have been separated from God by sin, must choose to return to God and live by his precepts. God gives each person the ability to choose their morality and He does not force right decisions on us. In 1 Sam 8, God allows the Children of Israel to have a king, despite the fact that their request is a refusal of god as their King. In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah, the prophet of God, is exasperated with Israel’s lack of a decision, not that they have made the wrong decision. Neither does God attempt to cajole them into choosing Him.[3] At other times in the Bible, God miraculously saves those who exercise their freedom of conscience in order to choose to worship Him.[4] God respects the right of conscience, the right of sinners to choose sin over Him, and He does not use His power to impose His way on anyone. Those who seek to prohibit gay marriage for religious reason (and make no mistake – the vast majority of objections to gay marriage are ultimately based in some form of Christian morality) are imposing their beliefs on those who disagree and are restricting the consciences of those whose morality finds gay marriage acceptable.[5]

The second thing to remember is that Ellen G. White made some strong statements on the issue of the imposition of morality and the use of civil power to inculcate Christian morality. In Acts of the Apostles, she makes a clear statement regarding those who would attempt to force others to follow God.

It is no part of Christ’s mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated by his spirit, who seek to compel the conscience. Under a pretense of zeal for righteousness, men who are confederated with evil angels sometimes bring suffering upon their fellow men in order to convert them to their ideas of religion; but Christ is ever showing mercy, ever seeking to win by the revealing of His love.[6]

At other times she was equally disparaging about those who would use civil power to impose Christian morality. In the Review and Herald, January 10, 1893 she said,

The spirit that instigates accusation and condemnation in the church… has manifested itself in seeking to correct wrongs through the civil power. This is Satan’s own method for bringing the world under his dominion; but the Lord Jesus Christ has given us no such example for thus dealing with the erring … In following Satan’s cruel proposals, in becoming his agents, men become the enemies of God and his church…”[7]

I think anyone who supports the prohibition of gay marriage for religious reasons would be hard-pressed to argue that they are not “seeking to correct wrongs through civil power.”

In Desire of Ages, White makes what is probably her strongest statement against the use of civil power. In so doing, she also gives guidance on the role of human beings in changing the hearts and minds of others. She writes,

But today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and marketplaces. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority… Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men . . . but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit . . . Here is the only power that can work the uplifting of mankind. And the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the word of God.[8]

How true.  If we spent more time teaching and practicing the Word of God, then there would be no need for civil laws to impose God and His precepts on others. Instead we would show Christ to others and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts, minds, and behavior.

[1]I say further because North Carolina already had laws prohibiting the practice.

[2]At this juncture it is important to note that I am not making any statements regarding the morality or immorality of homosexuality or homosexual conduct. Such a judgment is not necessary (or even germane) to the point being made here.

[3]Jos 24:15and Gen 3:1-6are other examples of instances where choice was given, or where God did not impose His will on human beings making wrong decisions.

[4]Dan 3and Dan 6are examples of this point.

[5]It is important to note that this is not only an imposition upon the consciences of homosexuals themselves, but also upon ministers of any sexual orientation who do not find gay marriage repugnant and are currently prohibited from performing such ceremonies.

[6]White, Acts of the Apostles, 541.

[7]White, Spirit of Prophecy Counsels Relating to Church-State Relationships, 21-22; Review and Herald on January 10, 1893

[8]  White, Desire of Ages, 508.

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