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In status confessionis: Indiana's blow for religious liberty and the leftist lies about it

The Left's war on the First Amendment continues with the national firestorm over Indiana's new law protecting the freedom of religion of individuals whose consciences and religious convictions tell them that homosexual behavior is wrong.

Here is a concise summary of the law. Here are some basic facts about the controversy. Here is a thoughtful article on the misinformation we're being fed by the media about the Indiana law. Here is an article on Apple CEO Tim Cook's distortion of the law, and his own history of bigotry. And here is the text of the law itself.

Gene Veith is pessimistic about the prospects for individual consciences to be respected in the full-court press liberal opinion-makers are mounting to force acceptance of homosexual behavior on precisely the same basis as heterosexual behavior. I think that even Dr. Veith, however, misses a key point- a point which lies at the heart of the entire debate over marriage redefinition and other aspects of gay "rights" legislation.

It's simply not intellectually honest to present the present controversy as analogous to the civil rights movement of the '60's, as the media and the cultural Left stubbornly insist on doing. In the case of racial discrimination, the problem is people being treated differently from others on the basis of who they are. People were discriminated against, not because of their behavior, but because they were African-Americans. To an unacceptable extent, in many areas of American life they still are.

But contrary to the carefully-nurtured lie, the prohibition of marriage and other areas in which the law "discriminates" against homosexuals do so, not on the basis of who they are, but of what they do. The controversy is over differing ethical beliefs. To present it as a matter of prejudice or- worse- "hate" is simply dishonest, a deliberate manipulation of the facts in order to present the issue in a false light.

Gays have not traditionally been allowed to marry, not because of a belief that homosexuals were ontologically inferior (though sadly such a false belief has and still does afflict some narrow minds), but because the social and legal purpose of marriage has always, from the earliest days of Western society, been the bearing and raising of children. Justice Sotomeyer's objection that we do not forbid men and women who are medically incapable of marriage or past childbearing age to tie the know is a red herring. We have never felt a need to dot all the "i's" and cross all the "t's" in a compulsive effort to avoid anybody getting married who isn't prepared to immediately start popping out kids. There is no particular social reason why we should.

But to extend marriage to a class of people who, in principle and by definition, are incapable of child bearing would be to change the entire legal rationale for the institution of marriage which has obtained since the very beginning of Western society. The prohibition of marriage for same-sex couples does not treat them as different because of some benighted, elusory prejudice against them. It treats them as different because they objectively are different-  different in such a way as to disqualify them from the activity which is the foundational purpose of the institution of marriage.

Relatively little attention has been given to the tiny percentage of gays and even lesbians who take advantage of the legal opportunity to "marry" in jurisdictions in which it is available. The fact is that the marriage redefinition movement isn't about civil rights; there is no particular clamor among  gay males especially to get married, and never has been. The significance of same-sex marriage legislation- like other such legislation- is not to guarantee gays and lesbians rights they have hitherto been wrongfully denied. Rather, it's to change societal attitudes toward homosexuality. It's to achieve by main force full acceptance, not of homosexual persons but of homosexuality itself, as what it intrinsically is not: of equal social value to heterosexuality and to the bearing of children which has always been the underlying purpose of marriage.

It's not about who gays and lesbians are. It's about what they do. Despite extraordinary instability in gay and especially lesbian relationships, there is no particular reason why a gay or lesbian couple cannot have a loving, long-term, and socially positive relationship. But their ability to do so does not require the redefinition of marriage. Civil unions- or, better, the development of their own institutions which would not burden the values of monogamy and stability which have traditionally been central to marriage and which are so rare among gay and lesbian couples- would facilitate such relationships just as effectively as "marriage," and without undermining the central obligations which society has traditionally placed upon marriage and are so central to the raising of well-adjusted children.

It's not about who gays and lesbians are. It's about what they do. And the fact is that, rightly or wrongly, Western culture has traditionally looked upon their sexual behavior as morally wrong. It would certainly violate the values of this nation to proscribe such behavior, as the law in various places admittedly and inexcusably has done in the past. But that is a different matter from holding a personal belief that certain behavior is morally wrong- especially when that belief is argued consistently and forcefully by the dominant religious traditions of America.

Make no mistake; the Bible is clear on the matter. Jesus, though He didn't address homosexuality directly, clearly did define marriage as between a man and a woman in Matthew 19:4-5. and Mark 10:6-9. He also explicitly endorsed the moral code of the Old Testament which forbids homosexual activity in Matthew 5:17-20, among other places (and lest the usual intellectually dishonest argument arise here, neither the rabbis nor the Church have, by and large, had any trouble distinguishing the moral law from the civil and ceremonial laws which Jesus taught were not binding on believers, and from which even Judaism excuses Gentiles).  Paul's rejection of homosexuality is emphatic and repeated. Despite revisionist churches and theologians more interested in a political and social agenda than in the revealed Faith, there is simply no intellectually honest argument with the premise that Christianity- and Judaism, by the way- have always taught that homosexual behavior without distinction is morally wrong.

And the First Amendment is equally clear: "Congress shall pass no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." And the Courts have traditionally held that this prohibition also holds for state legislatures and for the courts themselves. Constitutionally, it's a no-brainer: especially since the "discrimination" involved would have to do with one's own behavior and conforming it to not only one's own religious beliefs but the clear and consistent teaching of our consensus religious tradition, laws such as Indiana's merely spell out in clear language what the Bill of Rights already establishes. One cannot be forced to behave in a way which violates one's religious beliefs without a pretty substantial reason- and the possibility that someone's feelings may be hurt doesn't qualify. Such "discrimination" is in no way comparable to racial discrimination, and in and of itself constitutes religious discrimination. But a difference in ethical beliefs and a decision not to behave in such a way as to violate one's own conscience by seeming to endorse or enable specific  behavior which one regards as ethically wrong is simply not the equivalent of treating other people in arbitrary and prejudicial ways. Contrary to the central tenet of modern "progressivism," behavior is simply not the same thing as ontological identity. And a disagreement over the ethics of specific behavior does not amount to- and cannot amount to- discrimination.

Peter told the Sanhedrin when ordered to stop preaching about Jesus that "we ought to obey God rather than men." Jesus said to "render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's." My own Lutheran tradition teaches that even when it might be permissible to comply, when the law compels behavior in matters which ought to be left to individual conscience we have the obligation to refuse. In Article X, the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord states:

10] We believe, teach, and confess also that at the time of confession [when a confession of the heavenly truth is required], when the enemies of God's Word desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire congregation of God, yea, every Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the leaders of the congregation of God [as those whom God has appointed to rule His Church], are bound by God's Word to confess freely and openly the [godly] doctrine, and what belongs to the whole of [pure] religion, not only in words, but also in works and with deeds; and that then, in this case, even in such [things truly and of themselves] adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries, or permit these [adiaphora] to be forced upon them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry.

11] For it is written, Gal. 5:1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled in the yoke of bondage. Also Gal. 2:4f : And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.

12] [Now it is manifest that in that place Paul speaks concerning circumcision, which at that time had become an adiaphoron (1 Cor. 7:18f.), and which at other occasions was observed by Paul (however, with Christian and spiritual freedom, Acts 16:3). But when the false apostles urged circumcision for establishing their false doctrine, (that the works of the Law were necessary for righteousness and salvation,) and misused it for confirming their error in the minds of men, Paul says that he would not yield even for an hour, in order that the truth of the Gospel might continue unimpaired.]

13] Thus Paul yields and gives way to the weak as to food and [the observance of] times or days, Rom. 14:6. But to the false apostles, who wished to impose these upon the conscience as necessary things, he will yield not even in such things as in themselves are adiaphora, Col. 2:16: Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day. And when Peter and Barnabas yielded somewhat [more than they ought] in such an emergency, Paul openly reproves them as those who in this matter were not walking aright, according to the truth of the Gospel, Gal. 2:11ff

14] For here it is no longer a question concerning external matters of indifference, which in their nature and essence are and remain of themselves free, and accordingly can admit of no command or prohibition that they be employed or omitted; but it is a question, in the first place, concerning the eminent article of our Christian faith, as the apostle testifies, that the truth of the Gospel might continue, which is obscured and perverted by such compulsion or command, because such adiaphora are then either publicly required for the sanction of false doctrine, superstition, and idolatry, and for the suppression of pure doctrine and Christian liberty, or at least are abused for this purpose by the adversaries, and are thus viewed [and are believed to be restored for this abuse and wicked end].

15] Likewise, the article concerning Christian liberty also is here at stake, which the Holy Ghost through the mouth of the holy apostle so earnestly charged His Church to preserve, as we have just heard. For as soon as this is weakened and the ordinances of men [human traditions] are forced upon the Church with coercion, as though it were wrong and a sin to omit them, the way is already prepared for idolatry, and by this means ordinances of men [human traditions] are afterwards multiplied and regarded as a divine worship, not only equal to the ordinances of God, but are even placed above them.

16] Moreover, by such [untimely] yielding and conformity in external things, where there has not been previously Christian union in doctrine, idolaters are confirmed in their idolatry; on the other hand, the true believers are grieved, offended, and weakened in their faith [their faith is grievously shaken, and made to totter as though by a battering-ram]; both of which every Christian for the sake of his soul's welfare and salvation is bound to avoid, as it is written: Woe unto the world because of offenses! Also: Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea [Matt. 18:6, 7].

17] But it is to be especially remembered what Christ says: Whosoever therefore shalt confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven, Matt. 10:32.

18] However, that this has always and everywhere been the faith and confession, concerning such indifferent matters, of the chief teachers of the Augsburg Confession, into whose footsteps we have entered, and in whose Confession we intend by God's grace to persevere, is shown [most clearly] by the following testimonies drawn from the Smalcald Articles, which were composed and subscribed in the year 1537:

If Dr. Veith is right- if religious exemptions are not allowed to laws which would force them to treat homosexual behavior (as distinct from homosexual persons) as equivalent to heterosexual behavior and traditional marriage, Christians need to make some careful distinctions. I personally, for example, don't see how a photographer would violate his orthodox religious beliefs by taking pictures at a gay "wedding," though I suppose circumstances in which this might occur could theoretically arise. Nor do I see how a Christian baker would have to compromise his or her beliefs by selling a cake to a gay couple, even if it has an inscription like, "Congratulations, Ron and Jim." Putting a little statue with two men or two women on top of it would be another matter.

Certainly we ought to treat all people with the dignity they deserve as human beings created in the image of God, and not forget that we, too, have that image distorted within ourselves in various ways. Christians should conduct relationships with our gay and lesbian neighbors- including business relationships- with respect and charity.

But when we are forced to compromise our beliefs even by the State, we have an obligation to refuse. We have the obligation to refuse even if it means being fined or sent to jail. And for the first time in the history of the Republic, we are facing a situation in which it might be necessary for Christians, perhaps in large numbers, to precisely that.

One thing is clear: as Peter said in Acts, we ought to obey God rather than human beings.

If the government seeks to compel us to violate our Christian beliefs, defiance- no matter the consequences- is not simply an option. It is an obligation.

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