The sign of a dysfunctional church is one that can't defend the obvious. The current debate over same sex marriage is a perfect example. Although polls show a super majority opposes same sex marriage, attempts to define marriage as between one man and one woman have met with failure. The responsibility for that failure falls squarely on people of faith, because too many of us have eschewed our responsibility to participate intellectually and spiritually.
In our pluralistic society Christians must make every attempt to translate biblical truth into secular arguments. For instance, Brian Fahling of the American Family Association states that to become effective, Christians "need to develop the intellectual capacity to argue for moral solutions that are not explicitly rooted in theology." While Fahling's proposal is not without merit, we are unlikely to see a marriage protection amendment without returning to our spiritual foundations. That is because, as Joel Belz writes in "Leaving Out the Lord," without our theology we don't have enough secular arguments that work.
For example, explains Belz, "Let the People Vote" is an effective argument as long as public opinion polls support traditional marriage. Likewise, arguing that same-sex marriage represents a slide down the "slippery slop towards societal decadence" is impossible to prove (at least without a crystal ball). Even "the right of a child to have a mother and father" falls short because, notes Belz, "there is no shock value in a society with single parents regularly depriving their children of another parent of the opposite sex." It seems, adds Belz, "that God is saying, 'See how persuasive you can be. See how many typical Americans you can convince based only on logic, history, tradition, and poll numbers.'"
The truth is that secularists have stolen the moral high ground from Christians through some ingenious rhetorical manipulation. Marrying the "civil rights" argument for same-sex partners with the unfounded insistence of "separation of church and state," they have succeeded in intimidating and confusing many Christians on the issue of same-sex marriage. Equipping themselves with the equally phony "helmet of open-mindedness" and "breastplate of tolerance," these secular ideologues have silenced a core of the Church with charges of "intolerance" and "hatred" toward homosexuals. No where is that silence more deafening than on Sunday morning.
Clearly, this is a spiritual issue that must be addressed from our nation's pulpits. However it seems that many pastors have remained silent at a time when millions of believers are in need of their leadership. Recently, the Family Research Council stated that "our society no longer recognizes ...the leadership of pastors. As a result, pastors have all but limited their influence and leadership to the local church. They have abandoned a rich history of leadership and influence that was afforded the recognized clergy for generations."
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) estimates that there are some 50 million eligible, evangelical voters, but less than half of them vote and very few contribute insightful political analysis. In his brilliant study The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind , Mark A. Noll writes that evangelicals have replaced concern for political involvement with "an almost exclusive focus on personal evangelism" and, replaced "political analysis and reflection" with interpretation of "current events as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy."
Such self-absorption wasn't always true of the Church. "We have a long history of distinguished political engagement...that has...deeply shaped history, promoting freedom and justice around the world," writes the NAE's Rev. Richard Cizik, Project Director of the just released draft statement For the Health of the Nation: A Call to Civic Engagement. "It's time for our community to draw on this glorious heritage and write another important chapter." Adds project co-chair Diane Knippers, "We want to encourage evangelical citizens to be involved in political parties and activities, including an unabashed advocacy of biblical principles and positions."
The soul of our democracy depends upon the "iron sharpens iron" relationship between church and state. Therefore, people of faith are obligated to participate in the public square. Millions of Christians, lead by their pastors, active in political parties and activities, rededicated to the responsibility of informing public policy with faith based arguments, is just what our nation -- and traditional marriage -- need.
Charles H. Darrell is a free-lance writer living in Woodbury, Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.