There was something brilliant about President-elect Barack Obama's choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration next month. The preacher and best-selling author is pro-life and anti-gay marriage, making Obama, who leans considerably to the left on these issues, look like a uniter, not a divider. He must have a keen enough radar to know that religious folks have been feeling marginalized from politics of late; Obama's choice caps off an election season that hit churchgoers hard.
Proposition 8, the successful initiative in California that limits the legal definition of marriage to a rite occurring between a man and a woman, has been the most obvious example. Churches have been threatened. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a prominent supporter of that controversial initiative, has been made a scapegoat by 8's angry and vociferous opponents. And the media, having sided with the proposition's detractors, is leading the intolerance campaign.
Yes, I know: The conventional wisdom has it that the opponent of gay marriage is the intolerant one. But can "tolerant" really be the right word to describe this excerpt from a recent Newsweek cover story on religious conservatives and the gay-marriage debate?
"Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife, Sarah, was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women...? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel -- all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better... The apostle Paul... regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple...turn to the Bible as a how-to script?"
I happen to be a Christian who opposes gay marriage, but I have never tried to make a case for, say, a federal marriage amendment based on the Bible. Nor, to my knowledge, has a leading proponent of traditional marriage (who is also a Christian) Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage. Her arguments focus on natural law, family and the future.
For years now, once the weather turns cold and the days short, we've had a debate about Christmas. Is there a "war" on that holiday? Attacks on nativity scenes and silly prohibitions on religious symbols have long drawn the most attention. But there's something more serious afoot. It's hostility not necessarily to religion itself -- for many on the left are regular churchgoers, and some oppose abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds. But the conventional wisdom as dictated by Newsweek suggests that there is something downright unacceptable about allowing voters to submit to a higher power who, if truly listened to, probably isn't going to change with the times. At some level, true faith demands obedience to a rock-steady core of beliefs and rules, despite what the efforts of some religious temporizers who pretend they can legitimately rewrite doctrine on Sunday morning talk shows would have you believe.