I’m struggling. It’s been over a month, and I still don’t understand how we as humans – we as Christians (and yes, there are many different “versions” of Christians) – could take a class of people and send a message of “less than equal.” You aren’t living your lives correctly, so you can’t have the freedoms that others have. That’s what Prop 8 says. How does that “protect” marriage? If “marriage” isn’t ok, but “civil unions” are ok – if “they” shouldn’t complain because it’s “just a word” – what if nobody get’s the word “marriage?” What if we’re all engaged in “civil unions?”
But to be honest, I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want to talk about the backlash.
I’m beginning to hear more and more about the anger at the faith-based organizations that actively and even financially supported Prop 8. The cry I’m hearing more and more is to “take away their tax-exempt status!” Or, “what happened to the separation between church and state?”
I’ve only done a little research on the separation clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” How I read that is that there won’t be a nationally established or declared or financially supported religion. I don’t read it as a law that faith-organizations don’t get to have a voice. I don’t read it as saying that persons of faith can not or should not be guided by that faith even if they’re in elected or appointed positions in government.
So what might the founders have thought? Keep in mind that all the founders were Christian and even Protestant, and – although they were rebelling against a nation that had proclaimed a national religion – I’m not sure they ever envisioned divisions beyond the various denominations within Christianity. And even in that context, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
If we look even deeper into history, I argue that even Jesus himself spoke out politically. I think that in speaking out against the scribes and pharisees he was making political statements. I think that in setting aside the purity laws when he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, he was making political statements. I think that in preventing the murder of a woman for committing adultery – completely appropriate according to Jewish law of the day – he was making a political statement.
Now, some would argue that this had nothing to do with government but with religion. But remember, at this point in Jewish history, the secular and political structure were combined! Yes, the Romans occupied the area, but much of the social and political decision-making was left to the Jews themselves (which was common throughout the Roman empire; it’s how they maintained control).
So with this in mind, do we argue that faith-organizations should not have voice in politics simply because we disagree with their theology, because we disagree with their conclusions, because they’re flat-out wrong? Keep in mind that shutting down all political voice shuts down both sides of the conversation. I myself attend a church that organized phone banks and had a sign out front all that spoke against Prop 8. Should this church lose tax-exempt status too?
I don’t have an easy answer to this. I invite dialogue. Please share your thoughts…