Religion on trial

Andy Pugno has been giving regular updates on the Perry vs. Schwarzenneger trial in San Francisco. I found his summary from last Wednesday to be quite interesting and to have some important implications for the future of religious freedom in our country. Note the mention of Southern Baptists within the plaintiff’s evidence…

Today, the legal challenge to Prop 8 took an ugly turn as religion itself was put on trial. Plaintiffs’ witness Gary Segura, a Stanford University political science professor with expertise in the area of the political power of minorities including homosexuals, summed it up when he said “religion is the chief obstacle for gays’ and lesbians’ political progress.”

In trying to make the case that homosexuals are a vulnerable minority with no ability to achieve and secure success in the political system for their interests, Professor Segura blamed hostility, political opposition and even violence towards gays and lesbians on the teachings of major religious denominations. He further testified that there is no more powerful organization in the United States – save the government – than the church. Particular scrutiny was given to the official religious doctrines of the Catholic Church and Southern Baptists about marriage, family and sexual relationships. Therefore, according to his logic, gays and lesbians must be given special legal protection by the U.S. Constitution against religion itself.

If it weren’t such a serious and troubling matter, their line of attack against people of faith would be laughable. To suggest that the people of California cannot consider their own political, moral and religious views when casting their vote on Prop 8 is preposterous. Every election, many issues are presented to voters that involve moral issues, including stem-cell research, the treatment of animals, assisted suicide, the death penalty, health care reform and so on.

In any event, religion has taken the stage, front and center, in the battle over the constitutionality of Prop 8, and is being portrayed as an illegitimate basis for supporting traditional marriage. Religious bigotry surely found expression in today’s presentation by the plaintiffs.

The trial testimony also swerved way into “irrelevant” territory today when plaintiffs called to the stand a young man who was, as a child, forced by his Christian parents to undergo conversion therapy by a therapist because of his sexual attraction to men. No matter that this witness has never resided in California, was wholly unfamiliar with the Prop 8 campaign, was not a willing participant in his conversion therapy, and emancipated himself from his parents as a minor. What the personal experience of a person from Colorado who experienced a deeply troubled family life has to do with the constitutionality of Prop 8 is beyond me. What is clear is that today, however, the plaintiffs put the role of religion clearly in their sights and are likely to fire away at the legitimacy of religious and moral views, as well as the votes and voices of those who hold them.

It is true that Southern Baptists firmly believe in the traditional, biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman. We took a stand (despite great criticism) in 2000 by declaring in our Baptist Faith & Message,

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

This may be construed as discrimination, but it is in fact a statement of loving obedience to Christ and to our neighbors, both homosexual and heterosexual (Matt. 19:4-6). It would be deeply wrong for us to ever show hostility or violence toward a homosexual (cf. Luke 6:27-36), but it certainly would not be wrong for us to speak the truth to them in love, vote our conscience before God, and exercise our first amendment rights. It will be interesting to see if Judge Vaughn Walker comes to the same conclusion.

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