Monday, November 03, 2008

Framing the Conversation: Reset Button

Jon asked (in the comments section of the blog):

I can see that it would be surprising if God redefined marriage. However, why does it matter if the government redefines it? I don't recall a single instance in the Bible where marriage is defined by the government.

There isn't one. (Ding - first point goes to Jon.)

But what government chooses to legalize & support does make a difference. (Ding - point to me.)

If it doesn't, then why are so many people getting ready to pop a vein over whether we elect Senator Obama or Senator McCain as president tomorrow? Each one of them will make decisions & sign legislation that will make legal or illegal a variety of activities. They will implement policies that support various causes & industries... and will set the agenda not only for what we discuss about those issues but also how we discuss them.

Historically, we can look at certain government decisions & see the powerful effect of what state or federal government chooses to legalize or support.
  • Our discussions about welfare & taxation are completely different now than they were in the 1920's, prior to Roosevelt's New Deal policies.
  • The choice of then-Governor Reagan to sign "no-fault divorce" into law created a very different world for the stability of marriage.
  • Brown v. Board of Education & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced vast reforms not only in the South but throughout the country - and the various ways we have attempted to implement that enlightened view of race continue to permeate our political discourse (affirmative action, racial quotas, school busing, the over-representation of African-Americans in our prison population, etc.)
So, while I understand your question, I think the two points you've made are not connected. The fact that the Bible does not speak to the redefinition of marriage by another society is not germane to the plain fact that government action can (and in some cases should) reset the public agenda.


Jonathan said...

Thanks for the answer, Mark, but my bigger point is that God is apolitical. My pastor said that Christians should vote for who Jesus would vote for. The problem is, from what I can tell, Jesus wouldn't vote. Earthly governments were totally unimportant to him. Should we take the same attitude?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Sorry the answer took so long to arrive, Jon.

I think the bromide "Christians should vote for who Jesus would vote for" is probably inadequate for helping Christians in a democratic republic.

Jesus was the resident of a conquered nation-state whose day-to-day life was run by puppet Jewish governors appointed by the Romans with the added complication of Roman overseers who were responsible to the Empire. He did not have the option of voting.

I think you overstep the bounds of speaking where the Bible is silent when you suggest that "Jesus WOULDN'T vote" (emphasis mine) or "earthly governments were totally unimportant to him." This is the same guy who told us to "render unto Caesar what is Caesars"... and who inspired Paul to write about our relationship with governments as believers... and who had Samuel anoint kings... you get my drift.

WWJD is a good idea, but to assume what Jesus would or would not do when the Gospels don't speak to a particular issue isn't wise.

Jonathan said...

I'm puzzled then on why you believe that government should determine morality then. Do you have a biblical basis for this? Or is it based on something else?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

I don't think the government should determine morality - but I do believe when the government legislates or rules (the courts), it has great power to set the tone of the moral/ethical conversation.

The Biblical basis for this is by implication - when the leaders of the nation of Israel were serious about following God, then it was much more likely that the people at large did the same. OTOH, when the leaders indulged in sinful behavior & idolatrous practices, so did the rest of the nation.

As citizens of a nation where we have a say in what our government does & does not legislate, it is our right & responsibility to do so.

That said, law does not necessarily compel behavior - an easy example is the speed limit. We should not assume that prevailing in the legal or legislative arena will cause people to choose moral/ethical positions we agree with.

But we do not have to abdicate our right to speak on those issues just because someone is scared that I might get my religious peanut butter into their chocolate government.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Mark! I wholeheartedly agree with your last comment.