I heard Bill O’Reilly’s arguments last night about gay marriage and was frankly impressed — especially with his point about why marriage should only change for gay marriage. This is another way to express concern about what people see as the slippery slope for any and every kind of marriage. O’Reilly’s point seemed more concerned to suggest that the federal government should stay out of the marriage debate.
But O’Reilly kicked up a bit of storm when he cautioned against using the Bible to build a case against gay marriage. People misunderstood O’Reilly’s point. In so many words, he simply suggested that discussions of the common good in the public square cannot be built on exclusively religious viewpoints. O’Reilly is right!
A few people were (IMHO) wrongly offended by Bill’s comments. But I don’t believe for a minute that he intended on attacking or bashing the Bible. This wasn’t his point. I am not even bothered by his use of the word “thumping” because some people do that with the Bible.
Bill’s point (pure, simple and emphatic) is that in a pluralistic nation you cannot use the teaching of one religion to insist on public policy. This really shouldn’t be too confusing and it shouldn’t even be controversial.
This morning I received a link to an article on reformation 21 by Rick Phillips titled, Bill O’Reilly, Gay Marriage and the Bible. Phillips insisted on the opposite of what O’Reilly suggested. He wrote, “apart from God and his Word, the only moral consensus possible to man is an evil pagan idolatry. It is precisely because the Bible has been excluded from public discourse that our nation is so aggressively pursuing a debauchery…”
While I certainly appreciated Phillips desire to honor and defend the Bible, I think he’s advancing a misguided and, more importantly, unnecessary viewpoint.
O’Reilly would likely take a pragmatic view on his opinion and just say, “Alright, you can try to advance a ‘more militantly biblical’ approach but it’s doomed to failure out of the gate!” And O’Reilly would be right (pragmatically) when it comes to pursuing a consensus on the good that forms the public policies.
In the case of the marriage debate, however, we have the opportunity to argue for a biblical view of marriage by simply arguing for the historic view of marriage in our nation (at least on the one man and one woman viewpoint).
It’s crucial to recognize that there are many ways to stand for God’s truth without saying, “The Bible says….” This is partly why Phillips concerns (at least as I understand him) fall short. I am also not favorable to framing the concerns as a “culture war.”
Phillips appears to work off a false dilemma – either explicitly use the Bible to argue or exclude the Bible from public discourse. This is precisely where we need to exercise more wisdom as followers of Christ in cities of exile.
We are called by God to be agents of common grace who are deeply committed to the welfare of the city. And such callings and concerns have profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life between redeemed and unredeemed alike.
- Common origin: God’s ownership and image as a universal reality.
- Common Concerns: stewardship of the earth as our shared dwelling place
- Common Connections: Universally accessible truth about God, moral order and transcendence.
Concerns for human flourishing and (in this case) the good of marriage as a divine gift are built on truth about the Imago Dei. But the Imago Dei is also part of a theological case for believing that, “God has lawfully ordered his creation in a way that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness.” (Richard Mouw).
Romans 2:15-16 validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture. This is the realm of common grace and presupposes an ability to have rational conversations about the common good.
Obviously in some political structures believers must accept limitations because they are not permitted to influence laws and policies. But as long as we live in a system (unlike any during biblical times) that allows us to sit at the table to pursue understandings of the good behind laws and policies, we must wisely participate and we don’t need to put forth our case by always saying, “In the Bible….”
If our worldview and ethics are deeply shaped by Biblical truth, we can find ways to articulate that truth without insisting that America becomes a Christian nation. We must not fall for an either/or dilemma on this matter.
Yet I wholeheartedly agree with Phillips concern that the pulpits of our nation loudly proclaim “the truth and grace of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
See also: Responsible Citizenship