On June 27, R. Albery Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted this article to CNN’s Belief Blog. In it, he laments last year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and, in effect, made marriage equality legal. He also praises Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him a “prophet,” while also expressing his commitment that the marriage of two gay people is a “moral impossibility.”
I have to hand it to Mohler, his tone is remarkably even-keeled. There is no histrionic whining or the type of vile anti-gay language that those who take his position are noted for. Of course, it has to be that way. He loses easily otherwise, for our country has lost its taste for bigoted catch phrases like Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags.” He has to make his position appear logical so that he doesn’t risk being identified with WBC’s inane extremism.
Nor does Mohler couch his argument in scriptural citations. This is an obvious attempt at credibility. Mohler knows that the First Amendment both gives him the right to express his views, but it also prohibits the U.S. government from favoring any one particular religion. Therefore, any Biblical arguments would fall either on the ears of the choir, or on entirely deaf ears. To sway public opinion, he must appear logical outside of scripture, at he makes a good stab at this.
The trouble is, if you look behind Mohler’s slick words you find that his actual arguments depend upon the slippery sands of terrible assumptions, vague definitions, and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be married. What at first appears to be a reasonable person’s defense of denying fellow Americans essential rights (as if there really could be such a thing) turns out to have about as much substance as damp cotton candy.
Christian ≠ Anti-Gay
The essential question Mohler asks is, “Where does that leave committed Christians?” In starting his argument this way, he walks a tightrope of assuming that all “committed Christians” dislike both homosexuality and marriage equality. This is simply not true.
Just this month, the Presbyterian Church of the United States changed its definition of marriage to include “two people” rather than a man and a woman. Their change allowed Presbyterian ministers to perform gay marriages in states where those marriages are legal if they choose to.
The post just below Mohler’s discusses the Catholic Church “softening its tone” toward the gay community. While the Church remains doctrinally opposed to homosexuality, they are shifting toward a loving agreement to disagree rather than the vile antagonism it, for example, advocated here in California during the Proposition 8 campaign.
Many other Christian sects are decidedly pro-gay. They focus on Christ’s message of love and forgiveness rather than the Old Testament’s litany of laws against everything from homosexuality to eating shrimp. I know a number of “committed Christians” who are perfectly fine with gay people, advocate for equality, and believe in equal rights for all Americans. I know gay Christians. They are just as “committed” as any other Christian, even those who choose to try to impose their beliefs on everyone else. It is presumptive and just plain incorrect to assume that all “committed Christians” are bigoted against the gay community.
Marriage ≠ Sex
Mohler makes two statements that reveal a profound misunderstanding of what marriage is. While speculating about government forcing churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies, he worries about our country crushing his religious liberty in the name of “erotic freedom.” Later, he wrings his hands about how his fellow anti-gay folks can possibly be good people when they see the rest of society hurting “human flourishing in the name of sexual liberty.
In this section, Mohler takes a giant step backward in time. We are not arguing about sodomy laws and other unjust statutes that ban homosexual sex acts. That argument ended long ago, a fact he acknowledges early in the article. Today’s arguments, and the argument he had been discussin up to this point was about same sex marriage, yet he clouds his point by discussing “erotic freedom.” Based on his own words, I can only conclude that Mohler is equating marriage with sex.
Marriage is about a lot more than sex. Marriage is a lifetime partnership. Marriage is about companionship, mutual love and support, and commitment. Marriage is about being by a person’s side through thick and thin, in the words of the traditional vow, “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Married people lend a shoulder to cry on, a party for happy times, a loving ear in troubled times, and financial support when money is running thin. Marriage, any marriage, is not simply about “erotic freedom” to have sex with your partner.
Besides, people are having sex whether they are married or not. Heterosexuals are not all waiting to put a ring on it before sleeping together. The gay community is exactly the same, except that, if Mohler were to have his way, there would be no marriage to “legitimize” their sexual behavior. That wouldn’t stop gay sex. It’s not like same sex couples suddenly started having sex as marriage became legal. Marriage equality only allows those couples a legal opportunity to commit to each other and enjoy the many other benefits of marriage that we heterosexuals enjoy. Plus, when a couple chooses a monogamous marriage, they’re actually limiting, not expanding their “sexual freedom.”
What exactly is “Human Flourishing”?
Central to Mohler’s article is his argument that “human flourishing” requires the “honoring of marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman” and any other definition of marriage is “a grave threat to human society and human happiness.” He never defines this term “flourishing,” nor does he explain how allowing other people to marry will somehow magically harm humanity, yet he continues to base his views upon this nebulous concept.
The idea of “human flourishing” is a weasler, a concept with no definition that can get the author out of jams in logic. As long as he never specifically define it, he can go on to alter his definition and his argument to fit any situation. You can’t challenge his premises if he never nails down a specific definition of his primary point. Mohler continues the slipperiness when he goes on to say that he does not believe that any damage to society inflicted by two guys loving each other will not be “immediately apparent.” He must have been relieved when he though up that one! Now, when he is asked to point out the awful damage gay marriage has done to the country in the last year, he has a quick and easy way out – “Some random flourishing is not occurring, and I never said we’d actually be able to see the damage,”
So what might he mean by this chimeric idea of “human flourishing”? Certainly he isn’t referring to reproduction. There is no lack of humanity in this world. Our earth is overpopulated and already struggles to provide enough resources to support everyone who depends upon it. More couples in happy relationships who are fulfilled in life but unable to reproduce could actually be exactly what our planet and humanity in general need to “flourish.” We don’t need to multiply and consume more resources to be happy. We aren’t viruses.
As a married heterosexual who has no children, I take offense at the suggestion that happiness depends upon reproduction. But there’s another note in Mohler’s article that is even worse. When he says that our his undefined concept of “flourishing” depends upon outlawing same sex marriages, what seems to be suggesting is that our human happiness relies on discriminating against our fellow human beings. According to Mohler, we can’t be happy as a species unless we can maintain a class system in which those who love others of the same sex are systematically and constitutionally denied the same rights we heterosexuals enjoy.
No. My marriage and my happiness absolutely do not depend upon denying others rights. No, our ability as a species to “flourish” is not dependent on keeping our heels grinding into the backs of the gay community. Quite the opposite, my happiness is enhanced when I know other people are happy. It makes me unhappy to see others in pain. It certainly does not make me “flourish.”
It must be hard to be on the wrong side of history. It must be difficult to have beliefs that pin your “flourishing” to keeping other people oppressed. It must be hard to see the rest of your country move toward justice and equality all around you. I’m sure those who fought to stop interracial marriage felt the same way at one time, and they used scripture to support their arguments as well.
Justice is justice. Religious beliefs do not play into it. That was the guarantee made by the Bill of Rights when our country began, and as we continue to work toward achieving that goal there will always be those who stand alone against the tides of reality. As we learn to treat each other equally, there will always be stalwarts against “equality and justice for all.” Fortunately, they are becoming ever more isolated and their arguments begin to sound ever more desperate.