Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Defining Issue

I wrote on June 1st and 8th about the recent decision of the California Supreme Court to strike down a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. I expressed my deep misgivings about this decision and suggested it would have far-reaching negative social implications (see I want to finish addressing this topic today by talking about what I see as root causes and related issues.

I see three primary causes of this escalation of pressure in Western democracies to redefine the institution of marriage. The first is the cultural battle, if you will, between those who would like society to reflect less of its Judeo-Christian heritage and those who would like it to reflect more. The former believe that religion is a corrosive and sometimes oppressive public influence and should be practiced as a private and personal lifestyle. The latter believe that religion is meant to be a public influence, even within a society committed to the separation of church and state, and that the premises upon which the constitution and the laws of society are constructed, especially those of the United States, draw heavily on its religious heritage. The former aspire to a more secular society, the latter to a more religious one.

The second primary cause is inextricably linked to the first, and it is the belief that gender differences are primarily socially constructed, are often harmful, and should be minimized. This viewpoint asserts that a child benefits as much from having two mothers or two fathers as he does from having a mother and a father, that there is little difference between the genders, that there is nothing especially significant about a mother’s presence or a father’s presence, and that they are not complementary. We see this battle being played out in the business world, the military, and throughout society.

The third primary cause is our confusion about compassion. We are becoming ever more hyper-sensitive about excluding anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings. Consider: a recent law proposed in Colorado opens all public accommodations, including restrooms, to anyone who wants to use them, male or female. The rationale is that transgendered people should be able to use the restroom they feel most comfortable using. Thus, a group of people comprising, let’s say, one half of one-percent of the population has its feelings protected despite the possible and obvious discomfort of much of the rest of the population! Consider: a Christian couple in Albuquerque who operate a photography studio politely declined, on religious grounds, to photograph a lesbian “commitment ceremony.” This is their first amendment right. They run a private business. There are other photography studios. But they were forced to appear before a New Mexico human rights commission and fined more than $6,600! The push for tolerance has become the push for acceptance has become the push for normalization.

Some protest, why single out gays and lesbians from getting married? But that’s the point; no one is being singled out! Refusing to redefine marriage simply declares that marriage will remain between one man and one woman. Many are excluded, including adult/minor couples, brother/sister couples, and polygamous unions. The same argument for allowing gay couples to marry can be used for any of these other arrangements. That’s why this is a defining issue.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seize the Significance

I have many roles in my life (preacher, friend, son, brother, nemesis) but the ones I treasure most are my roles as husband and father. I am not exaggerating or being melodramatic when I say that I delight in being a dad to my two daughters. They, and Angela’s and my love, care, guidance and protection of them, are one of the great joys of my life.

It definitely helps that I have had a positive and strong relationship with my own father, and I realize this is a blessing not everyone has enjoyed. I am often pained by the lack of fulfillment people express in this regard. Maybe their dad wasn’t there for them, or didn’t seem to love them, or hurt them, or was indifferent towards them (and indifference is often more painful than hostility). Both men and women often carry wounds caused by painful relationships with their dads. I was inspired and touched by a recent essay by Rick Reilly, a sportswriter whose own Irish father was alcoholic and abusive (“Life of Reilly,”, 6/5/08).

Reilly’s father was an avid golfer, a mean drunk, and an absentee dad. “More than once, he asked me, ‘What grade are you in again?’, Reilly recalls. Because of the frequent beatings and tirades when his dad got home, Reilly acknowledges that to this day, “the sound of (golf) spikes on cement sends a shot of ice through me. That was him coming up the sidewalk.” The son eventually took up golf “at least partly to understand what was so wonderful about a game that would keep a man from coming to his (four) kids’ games and piano recitals and birthday parties.”

Then one day when Reilly was in his 20’s, his father went to an AA meeting and quit drinking. Completely. Five years later, the son invited his dad to attend the Masters golf tournament with him, and they had a heart-to-heart on the road. “He told me his life story, how he drank and fought to get the attention of his own distant father, how he’d kept from us that he’d been married before, and how sorry he was to have let his family grow up while he was holding down the 19th hole with his elbows. He apologized and cried. I forgave him and cried. I never dreamed I-20 could be that emotional.”

Reilly’s father then went home and apologized to his wife and his other three children. He let them express how much he had hurt them. He wrote the family a poem about his love for them and his shame at how he had lived. All this happened late in the dad’s life, after most of the damage had been done. But he admitted his failures and found a semblance of reconciliation, blessing his wife and children by the effort of doing so.

Friends, it’s never too late to ask forgiveness or to forgive, to admit mistakes, to make the phone call, to write the note, to offer the explanation, to express the pain. There are wonderful dads and rotten dads, good kids and rotten kids. But there are few father-child relationships that are insignificant. Seize the significance.

Reilly concludes, “As I looked at him (on his deathbed) I realized that for better or worse, he’d shaped me. I think I’m a good father borne of his rotten example. I’m a storyteller out of surviving him. I’m a man with more flaws than a 1986 Yugo, but I try to own up to them, because a very good Irish tenor showed me how. And that’s what I call a very good save.”

Fatherhood is powerful. Handle it with care.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Last week I lamented the recent decision of the California Supreme Court to strike down a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. The decision declared that sexual orientation, like race or gender, “does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.” I suggested that this will have significant and far-reaching negative social implications. I will expound on that today.

First, it is disingenuous to equate sexual orientation with race or gender. Gender is fixed (gender-change operations notwithstanding), and race is fixed for most people, though to be sure there are many people of blended races, which leaves them some latitude for self-determination in this respect. But sexual orientation is a continuum that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with many places (e.g., bisexuality) in between. Societies, by their mores and laws, have channeled this polymorphous human sexuality towards heterosexuality primarily through the institution of marriage (see Dennis Prager, “California Decision Will Radically Change Society,”, 5/20/08). By limiting marriage to one man and one woman, societies have explicitly declared that this was the most desirable and effective mechanism for social cohesion and for the bearing and nurture of children. This, of course, has excluded from participation in the institution of marriage some people with different and less common sexual orientations, including man-man, woman-woman, polygamous, and incestuous relationships (In most western societies, homosexual and lesbian couples may still enter into civil unions). This indeed reflects a preference for heterosexual behavior in these societies.

At this point we need to distinguish between “tolerance,” “acceptance,” and “normalization.” A few decades ago, gay advocates urged society to tolerate homosexual behavior. This primarily meant not to attack it or be hateful towards homosexuals. Then society was urged to accept homosexual behavior. This meant primarily not to discriminate on the basis of it. Now society is being urged to normalize it. This means to consider it equal to and equally desirable to heterosexual behavior.

This third step is huge. One can easily envision the following if same-sex marriage is normalized: “Schoolbooks will not be allowed to describe marriage in male-female ways alone. Companies that advertise engagement rings will have to show a man putting a ring on a man’s finger – if they show only women fingers, they will be boycotted just as a company having racist ads would be now. Films that show only man-woman married couples will be regarded as ‘heterosexist’”(Prager, 5/20/08).

People who express these kinds of reservations often are labeled “homophobic,” which is an intellectually lazy charge. I have tremendous empathy for people dealing with same-sex attraction on any part of the sexual continuum. I treat gay people with dignity and kindness. To disagree is not to be phobic. I am particularly dismayed by the conservative church’s general lack of ministry to such people. But I cannot and will not consider this latest development “harmless” or “inevitable.” I will write again on this and talk about what I see as root causes and related issues.