Editor’s Note: RetroPost is a weekly repost of an older Christ and Pop Culture that has some relevance to current pop culture events or releases.

This Week: On June 8 of last year, Charles Jones wondered whether the initiative, and the attitude behind it, was such a great thing. This week, we found that a federal judge had more concrete reservations, striking down the Proposition as unconstitutional.

California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative making same-sex marriages illegal, just nicked by in November. I’m pretty sure that outcome, and everything that flows from it – starting with this week’s filing in federal court – is going to lead a lot of Christians to regret what they engaged in during the campaign.

Last fall I was of the mind that Christians in California needed to be politically engaged, but abstain from the Proposition 8 vote. I read (and heard) plenty of arguments on either side, and looking at the situation I saw that no good could come of it. Either we look like closed-minded bigots, who just want to exclude people who aren’t like us, or we endorse something most of us recognize as sin.

The church had no place in this fight, and it has no place in the fights to come in California and other states. That’s not because I think the we shouldn’t be involved in the discussion, it’s because of the way the question is framed.

As it stands now there are two options: give a right to marriage, or deny a right to marriage. As long as there are only those two ways, Christians have no good choice. Luckily there’s a third way. There are three facets to marriage: legal, social, and religious. The legal facet deals with governmental recognition. The social facet deals with the recognition of society. And religious is pretty well self-explanatory. There’s really no way the church can win through the legal facet.

The social recognition of marriage exists on a number of levels from family and friends to society-at-large. This is the place where, for most people, the recognition of their relationship is really important. And in the social arena recognition is all but guaranteed. Two people can have a ceremony that includes vows to each other and their families and friends, which – as far as they are concerned – renders them married.

Legal recognition is a complicated issue, which also exists on many levels from hospital visitation and survivor benefits to licenses and joint tax returns. I’ll be getting into that soon at A New Kind of Politics.

It is, of course, religious recognition that is of true importance to the Church. Unfortunately – from my perspective, anyway – there will always be churches that support same-sex marriages and perform the ceremonies. And while we can open dialogue with them, it is unlikely either will convince the other. So the tension will remain. But whatever happens legally and socially, churches can maintain their positions.

The real benefit in abstaining is that staying away from emotional, hostile campaigns – especially those based on soundbites and picket signs – allows us to demonstrate what it means to love a person regardless of his sin, without condoning it. There was a great opportunity to demonstrate opposition to sin without condemnation, and we threw it away, instead opting for the much easier path of passing a law. In the process we sacrificed any opportunity for respectful disagreement.

Some wear the accusations of homophobia as a badge of honor. “If they ain’t shootin’ at ya, you must not be doing it right.” That may be the case for a prophet, but there’s nothing prophetic about “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve.” There’s nothing Christian about it, either.

We need to approach these questions like we’re talking about real people. In fact, we need to approach all questions of sin that way. So next time there’s a vote about something like this, do what I do: vote “present”.


  1. I respectfully submit that the Charles cannot be more wrong in his assessment. I, for one, as a citizen of the United States, cannot imagine myself “giving up” on voting my conscience. (The legal aspect.) As for your framing the problem in “As it stands now there are two options: give a right to marriage, or deny a right to marriage,” I think you are wrong again. Everyone in the USA has the right to marry. Who is being denied the right to marry? I will fight for anyone’s right to marry. If you frame the discussion like this, then you are correct, we cannot win. The question at hand is whether or not same sex unions can be called “marriage” at all. It isn’t, and you know that. Are you content to let people keep playing house without speaking a word of warning about their folly?

  2. Brad,

    I respect your desire to vote your conscience regarding the legal aspect. I can’t recall precisely what I intended to convey when I wrote this last summer, but (at this point) I don’t mean the actual casting of the vote. Voting “present” in this context means staying out of the campaign and the emotional debates that surrounded it.

    The main reason is that the question was already framed. There are a lot more layers to the issue than giving or denying a right to marriage, but, in the context of Prop 8, that’s the way it was setup. I see that you understand the position in which that framing puts us – it’s a lose-lose situation. I suggested another way to look at it above.

    I’ll speak plenty of words of warning about their folly, but there’s no chance that anyone is actually listening in a debate like this. It would be better to wait until tensions aren’t so high, but you lose credibility by engaging in this kind of thing.

  3. Charles,

    I didn’t notice that this was a re-post because, obviously, I am a lousy reader. :)

    Also, I don’t wish to argue with you about this issue because I’m fairly confident that we probably aren’t very far apart on it.

    However, I don’t agree that we should be concerned with our credibility. I’m not sure what you mean by that. I think it is simply our duty to inform. The truth is that my rejection of homosexual unions is purely religious. There is an overlap of law and gospel in this regard. (Not secular law, but the Law of God.)

    Here’s the problem we face: The Word of God clearly states that homosexual conduct is perversion and that it is shameful. How, I wonder, are we to articulate that truth without losing credibility? That isn’t exactly winsome. What is happening here is the legitimization of sin in the most absurd way: cloaking it under the guise of legitimate marriage. If they can do that, then how can we speak the truth of God’s law in order to get to the grace of the gospel. If they reject that it is sin, they will see little need for repentance.

  4. We shouldn’t be worried about our credibility if we are speaking truth in love. The key to that is “in love.” But as “ambassadors of Christ” we have a responsibility to represent him as well as we are able. We speak the truth, but we do it with respect to the person we’re speaking to. They might not accept it, but we are responsible for getting out of the truth’s way.

    And what difference will a law make? The advocates have already legitimized homosexuality in their own minds without it, and opponents won’t suddenly change their minds because a law was passed. It doesn’t work that way. They’ve rejected the position of the Bible, and not only do they not see a need for repentance, they think we are sinning against them. Do we really think they’ll change their minds if we talk louder and pass a firmer law?

  5. Charles,

    Did the law of God ever change your mind before you became a believer? Law convicts the conscience, and what they are attempting to do is to put away the offense of what they are doing. If they are successfull and gain the recognition they seek, did we help them or hurt them?

  6. Whether or not they accept the truth isn’t the issue; the issue is how we behave in expressing the truth. I don’t believe we can change many minds through this issue, if any. I do believe we can defame God through our attitudes regarding it.

    “If they are successfull and gain the recognition they seek, did we help them or hurt them?”

    I don’t accept the premise of the question, which seems to be that if we don’t prevent same-sex marriage from become a legal reality, we’ll be somehow driving people away from God, or being indifferent as they go on their own. The question I ask is this (the premise has been thoroughly laid out in the post and our comments): If we bitterly, angrily, and compassionlessly (not a word, I know) engage in the protesting, sloganeering, and dehumanizing that is inevitable in a debate like this, does the outcome even matter?

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