Mars Hill Forum #118: Religion, the ACLU and Controversial Topics; June 19, 2006, Union League Club, New York City, Guest: Jeremy Gunn of the ACLU.
John C. Rankin (prepared comments)
Good evening. Our topic is occasioned, at least for me, by how often the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and biblically professing Christians end up on opposite political sides on a range of issues.
I am an evangelical minister, a disciple of Jesus the Messiah. In philosophy there is a term known as “the metaethics of language.” This means it is not so much important that we understand what we mean by what we say (though I hope we do), but rather, what our hearers, and especially our skeptics understand. For example, how many people in American political life see the word “evangelical” as a subset of religionists who want to impose a “theocracy” on others?
The word “evangelical” from the Greek [euvaggeli,on] means “to announce good news.” Thus, I am accountable always to demonstrate that my agenda is positive and proactive, not negative and reactionary; it is to articulate “good news” accessible to all people equally.
This can be done by defining what I call the six pillars of biblical power. I can also translate this into the six pillars of honest politics. The first four are found in the biblical order of creation, that is, Genesis 1-2, that which is declared as “good.” The last two are located in the order of redemption, designed to repair the original good broken by sin, and the most accurate definition of sin is “broken trust.”
First is the power to give. The nature of Yahweh Elohim, the Creator, the God of the Bible, is that he is greater than space, time and number, his power is unlimited and it is the power to give blessings to all of us. Yahweh Elohim is the only Source who gives us the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property; hence the power to give is at the root of the Declaration of Independence.
Second is the power to live in the light. In the physics, ethics and spiritual domains of biblical profile, the contest between light and darkness is revealed. By definition, darkness flees the presence of light. Thus the power to live in the light means complete transparency in the sight of God and one another. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see politicians embrace the same?
Third is the power of informed choice. The first words of God to Adam are words of freedom, given in the metaphor of an unlimited menu of good choices on the one hand, versus a singular poisonous choice on the other. With the terms of life and death, of freedom and slavery, defined honestly – a level playing field is given. We are not free to say yes without the power to say no, recognizing the consequences of either choice. Politically this means that I do not desire one inch of greater liberty to say what I believe than the freedom I first honor for those who might disagree with me. This freedom for dissent within civil order is crucial.
Fourth is the power to love hard questions. The rabbinic nature of teaching is that we must first learn to ask questions before we can understand the answers. This is the warp and woof of biblical fabric from the outset. Integrity means that we run toward the toughest questions, not away from them, and it is the raison detre of the Mars Hill Forum series. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see politicians actually seek out the toughest questions instead of fleeing them? That would be radical.
Fifth is the power to love enemies. This is the apex of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, and exemplified as he died for us when we were still his enemies, thus empowering us to become his friends. This means that even the harshest of political enemies share a common humanity, and are to be treated with respect.
Sixth is the power to forgive. The power to give and the power to forgive equal the bookends of the Bible. The power to forgive is the trajectory of the Lord’s Prayer; it is the power to give even to those who have broken trust, so they can be empowered to return to trust. Politically, we have much need for forgiveness for past horrors done against us or our ancestors, and vice versa; without it, we all sink in a downward spiral of tribalistic revenge, and we all drown in the same miserable soup.
In a nutshell, an evangelical articulation of the “good news” in the face of controversial political debate means the desire to see all people maximize their religious, political and economic liberties; it is to create a level playing field for all ideas to be heard fully and equally, in the conviction that truth will always rise to the top, and especially so since the Creator is the Author of unalienable rights to begin with. It is the opposite of the imposition of a “theocracy;” indeed, the only two theocracies in the Bible, from Moses to Jeremiah, and when Jesus returns, are communities of choice.
[1): Religious liberty in the U.S. and other countries.
The British Colonies were rooted in the pursuit of religious liberty. However, it was still a “freedom from” persecution, not a “freedom for” the religious liberty of all people equally. After 150 years of beating up on each other, and by God’s providence, the greatest political fruit of the Reformation was produced in the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment – religious liberty became a positive and a given. By appealing to the Creator, our founding fathers reached back to the beginning, with much historically informed intuition – to the biblical order of creation, to the power to give and the power of informed choice.
In its international role, the United States should model its constitutional freedoms. Wherever religious, political and economic liberties are respected or sought after, the U.S. is free to join in mutually appropriate relationships. Where these freedoms are not respected, the U.S. is free to restrict any diplomatic relationships; in so doing the U.S. should also reject any means to impose freedom, an oxymoron as it is, on such or any nations – apart from justifiable matters involving national defense, i.e., to protect our own liberties or those of our allies.
Our two biggest challenges are the atheism in Communist North Korea, and the intrinsic nature of outward jihad in worldwide Islam. As the Soviet Union collapsed, and while the Communist government in China is but a Nietzschean shell in a state of collapse as economic liberties expand and people demand religious and political liberty as well; so too are the days of North Korean atheism numbered, recognizing too the wildcard of its nuclear weapons.
Arabic Islam is rooted in shame tracing back to Ishmael, a shame defined by suffering through no choice of his own, i.e., the folly of an attempted surrogacy by concubinary. It is a shame that craves honor. But Arabic Islam has little sense of guilt, and the post-Christian West is greatly weakened with its sense of guilt minus the power of forgiveness to overcome it. Thus, Islam does not worry about hypocrisy when it attacks Jewish and Christian “infidels,” and the West’s anemic attempt to seek “dialogue” gets us nowhere. Thus, the way to serve religious liberty in the Islamic world is to show true honor by challenging it at the level of its inner jihad or “struggle.” If we pose the question, “Is Islam strong enough to handle freedom?” we give Muslims the honor of an honest challenge they seek, not the weakness of trying to be merely “nice” in the hope their terrorists will be mollified. Ideas are more powerful than the sword. Islam believes it is strong enough to handle anything, and the human spirit craves liberty, so let’s serve the aspirations of Muslims who protest Muslim tyrants; including the Iranian people’s pursuit of freedom in the face of their nuclear-crazed president and Mullahs.
: The nature of the First Amendment.
The primary nature of the First Amendment is to protect religious liberty from state interference. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The “free exercise thereof” is secured as Congress gives no preference to one church denomination or religious organization over another; as it refuses to establish churches, and as it is free itself from being established by a church. By precluding Congress from establishing religion, which means to establish a national church, the First Amendment sets all citizens free to participate in “the consent of the government” according to their express religious or philosophical persuasions, including non-religious people as ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision, and 1963 U.S. v. Seeger decision.
To put it another way: the first freedom is that of religious liberty, and only when it is secured is there freedom of speech, press, assembly and redress of grievances. Without the freedom to believe as we choose, we have no freedom to speak what we believe, publish what we believe, assemble on the basis of our beliefs, or to redress our grievances to the government based on what we believe.
In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Everson v. Board of Education decision, used the words “wall of separation between church and state.” In so doing, it exalted not a constitutional idea, but lifted a clause from a letter of President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 to the Danbury, CT Baptist Association, which contextually was purposed to assure the Baptists of their religious liberty. Since then it has been used wrongly to restrict religious liberty, often interpreted as meaning much religious expression in public life is unconstitutional. This has been needless source of much conflict in the nation, and the ACLU has been part of the problem, some say a leading part.
A biblical response is to best exemplify religious liberty by creating a level playing field for the inclusion of all non-religious people, and to challenge them intellectually to produce any historical source for religious, political and economic liberty apart from the nature of the power of informed choice given in the biblical order of creation.
: Government funding of religion and school vouchers.
Our federal government is designed to be rooted in “the consent of the governed.” And as Article First, Declaration of Rights, Section 2 of the Connecticut State Constitution boldly puts it: “All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit; and they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such manner as they may think expedient.”
It is a non-sequitur to say that government can fund religion – it is our tax-dollars to begin with. Rather, government should ensure that all public space is equally accessible to all religious and non-religious expression, so long as none of it injures the life, liberty or property of others.
I argue that the education of children is the primary responsibility and liberty of parents or legal guardians. As such, government must serve this prerogative, and serve local liberties to define the nature and relationship between private and public education. This freedom of choice in primary and secondary education is the foundation for a vibrant higher education, for this nation’s commitment to a genuine liberal arts discipline in all the sciences, and thus for preparation of leadership in all sectors of the culture.
Free public education is excellent and is rooted in the Sunday School movement of the late 1700s. However, the federal and state governments have grossly ill-served parental freedom by mandating “public” schools where religious and political liberties are restricted; as well, government has helped to trample inner-city poor and minority children especially by seeking to deny them vouchers where parents can choose the best education for their children. The wealthy and sacrificially working middle and upper-middle classes can overcome the double jeopardy of paying taxes for public schools their children do not attend, while additionally paying tuition for private education. The poor cannot do this, and it is an evil crying out for redress. School vouchers are a simple matter of justice.
: Public schools, prayer and intelligent design.
If we had an understanding that public schools were truly public, and accountable to the consent of the governed at the local level, then this debate would not be with us at the national level. And if then at the local level, religious liberty as the first freedom were understood, we would not have this problem at all.
A biblical worldview, rooted in the power of informed choice, says no to any compulsory religion at all – thus even in the most ideal public school setting, no prayers would be required of any person. By the same token, teachers would be free to lead willing students in prayer, in concert with parental permission, and students to initiate likewise; whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Native American or otherwise – with oversight for appropriate place in the school day, time and a truly level playing field. Religion should be taught, age appropriate, with a focus on a historical understanding of each given religion on its own terms, and teaching students the discernment skills applicable to all truth claims, religious or otherwise. For myself, I was once asked to lead a prayer in a civic setting, where not all people were Christian. It turns out I could not make the event, but if I had, I would have prayed in concert with thanksgiving for the unalienable rights we all share, and I would have had the freedom to conclude, “I pray this in the name of Jesus.” Not “we pray,” for that would be an unfair assumption. I would honor the same freedom for others to pray in the name of their deity in a similar setting. If we believe God is God, then God will settle the matter as to which prayer is effective and which one is not. If there is no God, then atheists should not sweat it while believers pray into thin air; and they can likewise be invited to convene or conclude a public event with something in lieu of a prayer – all at the initiative of the local sponsors.
In terms of the debate over intelligent design, there should be the freedom to teach it in public schools alongside Darwinian evolution, giving the religious history of the debate as well, and defining what true scientific inquiry is all about. Here are some of my understandings: 1) the singular and most ancient source for scientific inquiry and the scientific method (i.e., the principle of falsification) is located in the biblical order of creation and the standards required of Hebrew prophets; 2) Charles Darwin, in On The Origin of Species, was intellectually dishonest in arguing for common descent over and against common design, for he never discussed the latter while his adult life was dedicated to disproving it – his argument gave birth to tautology; 3) as cause and effect are understood in the universe, the question of what preceded the Hot Big Bang cannot be dismissed as non-germane without being intellectually dishonest; 4) Darwinian evolution, specifically what is called macroevolution, cannot be tested by the scientific method given its time requirements, and thus slips easily into an article of blind faith; 5) Darwinian evolution, traced back to the question of cosmology, requires originally that nothing produced something, that non-life produced life – two hypotheses without evidence; 6) the comprehensiveness of information theory, whether in speaking of astrophysics, engineering, computer science, microbiology or the relationship between the mind and the brain, cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution; and 7) if the Creator cannot be talked about with proper pedagogy in public education, then how can unalienable rights be taught our children, since unalienable rights come from the Creator? Without such information being taught our children, the non-transcendental religion of secular humanism becomes the state established church, enforced through public education, no dissent is allowed, and thus the power of liberal arts inquiry, of a true education, is stunted.
: Religion, law and abortion.
The Bible is unique in affirming the complete humanity and personhood [nephesh] of the unborn child from conception on forward. By the same token, the science of conception is clear, and the Bible is the unique source for science and the scientific method, namely: when the haploid spermatozoon fertilizes the haploid ovum, the diploid nature of the one-celled zygote emerges, a biologically discrete and whole human being that did not exist until that exact moment. We are genetically no different today then when we were conceived. If you ever have reason for discouragement, just remember that the sperm from which you came won the race against a half-billion other spermatazoa to fertilize the egg. You have a solid history of winning from before you were conceived – shades of Psalm 139. When abortion is made into a religious issue, in the pejorative sense, it traces back to one simple reality – the Bible treats the unborn consistent with scientific reality. This is upsetting to those who support human abortion, as they seek to define a subsequent point as to when society confirms humanity on the young child, that is, an “achievement ethic,” not an argument of intrinsic humanity.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing human abortion made two major erroneous assumptions apart from the question of personhood in the Fourteenth amendment. First, it cut the biological father and/or husband completely out of the picture; and second, it is rooted in a statement of ignorance, an “I don’t know” argument concerning biological origins which traces its psychology to Cain avoiding accountability to God, and to the Pharisees chickening out of an entrapping question they posed Jesus, which ended up entrapping them.
82 percent of all abortions are upon unmarried women; of the remaining 18 percent, three-quarters are due to adultery and one-quarter due to the imminent departure of the man from the marriage. Almost never does a healthily married couple abort their child unless the life or health of the mother or child is said to be in play. In other words, abortion is not as woman’s right, but a male chauvinist’s right. Irresponsible men get women pregnant and take off in most abortion decisions (there are exceptions which prove the rule). When I argued this at Smith College in 1994 in a Mars Hill Forum with Patricia Ireland, then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), in the presence of 550 people, most of whom were abortion-rights feminists, I was interrupted with 17 seconds of raucous applause. And here I had six strikes against me to begin with – I was a white heterosexual male, an evangelical pro-life minister. Yet I treated Patricia with respect, and my agenda was not to accuse women, but to hold men responsible first, as they should be. Our laws should do the same.
In 1988 I led the largest non-binding public policy petition drive in Massachusetts history, posing a simple multiple-choice question: “In biological terms, when does an individual human life begin?” There were four choices – conception, viability, birth or a write-in option. We knew that some 80 percent of the voters would answer conception, so the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (CLUM) and Planned Parenthood filed lawsuit against us, claiming that among other concerns, the question violated the “separation of church and state” because it was a religious question. This is interesting – we asked a question concerning biology and they insisted it was religious. Does that mean biology should not be taught in the public schools? The Attorney General unconstitutionally blocked it, first trying to coax us to add an “I don’t know” option, then arguing wrongly that multiple-choice was not permissible, and this from a political position that calls itself “pro-choice.” This question should be posed in the U.S. Congress, in every state legislature and on every state ballot. And if there is a consensus, law needs to reflect that. Women and their unborn children deserve full and equal protection from the scourge of male chauvinism.
: Religion, law and homosexuality.
I have a proposed non-binding resolution for the U.S. Congress to consider:
Human Sexuality and Civil Rights
- All persons hold the unalienable rights to life, liberty and property, and therefore they hold equal dignity and protection under due process of law;
- The historic family unit, rooted in heterosexual faithful monogamous marriage and the raising of children, is the basic institution in society;
- There are those persons, whether by choice, circumstance or the brokenness of adversity, who are unable to participate fully or partly as members of the historic family unit;
Therefore, we affirm:
- Marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman;
- No punitive laws shall exist to restrict private association – whether heterosexual or homosexual; and
- All persons shall accept accountability for the public consequences of their private associations and actions, and they shall in no way deprive others of life, liberty or property.
This reflects a biblical and pro-life libertarian ethos that maximizes people’s private freedoms so long as they do not injure other persons in the process, and applicable to all people equally regardless of sexual identity. However, it crucially undergirds the definition of man and woman in marriage. And this raises the debate over same-sex marriage.
Last year, 700 ministers in Connecticut published an “Affirmation on Marriage” in the Hartford Courant, which I had been ask to write initially in 2003. Nobody in the top leadership of the state’s same-sex marriage movement has been willing to publicly criticize it. The core of the argument begins with four suppositions:
- In the United States, the civil rights which we all enjoy are rooted in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” in the unalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
- The unique source for unalienable rights is the Creator, the God of the Bible.
- The Creator defines true marriage as one man and one woman in mutual fidelity. The health of society and well-being of children are rooted in this foundation. Thus, the Source for unalienable rights also gives us the true definition of marriage.
- In human history, no society rooted in the approval of homosexuality has ever produced unalienable rights for the larger social order.
Then we posed four questions, so far essentially unanswered:
- Are civil rights being redefined?
- If so, why?
- If so, what is the new basis for these rights?
- What are the consequences?
When the 2004 Goodridge decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage is closely read, it redefines civil rights. Same-sex marriage is elevated to that of a “basic” and “fundamental right” absent any constitutional precedence. It is also lifted to a level parallel to being an “unalienable right,” putting it in direct conflict with the Source and nature of unalienable rights. If such a redefinition prevails, it will ultimately devolve into a “might makes right” ethos which will imperil all people, including most homosexual persons, those not a part of the elite culture. Already we see where the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing sodomy, as it paved the way for Goodridge, is impinging on religious liberty. Look at how the Boston Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church has been forced to withdraw from the adoption business because they were not given the religious liberty to say no to homosexual adoptive parents, thus depriving many children of an excellent adoption service. The homosexual rights community, instead of using adoption agencies friendly to them, sees the need to force their own “religion” on those who believe otherwise. What will happen when a homosexual couple goes to a minister, priest or rabbi in Massachusetts, asking to be married in their church or synagogue by such a clergyperson? If the minister says no, will not a lawsuit follow in Superior Court, claiming that a “basic,” a “fundamental,” indeed, “an unalienable right” has been deprived? Thus the minister, priest or rabbi could be a) fined, b) compelled to do the wedding, c) face the loss the state-given right to perform legal weddings and/or d) have his church threatened with loss of tax-exempt status. The handwriting is on the wall apart from grassroots reform.
: The Ten Commandments, Pornography and Hate Crimes.
The debate over the Ten Commandments is muddied by the fact that it has devolved into a question of symbol, not substance. When then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore installed a monument to the Ten Commandments in the Rotunda of the Court in 2001, he gave the “metaethical” sense that the Commandments were being imposed. He should have consulted his fellow justices, argued it with them privately and publicly if need be, and won the argument as to why the Ten Commandments can be properly displayed in such a public building. Such a level playing field of public debate would have well served his concerns. Instead, by appearing to “impose” the monument on the public, it also gave rise to the lie that the Ten Commandments by nature can be imposed.
But the Ten Commandments cannot be imposed. How many people know the words that precede the giving of the Ten Commandments by Moses? “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 21:2). In other words, the Ten Commandments are given by the One who gives freedom, and for the sake of preserving freedom; also, it was ratified at the end of both Deuteronomy and Joshua where entrance into the laws of Israel was an invited choice. Those are a free people who alone worship Yahweh Elohim the Author of freedom; who worship no pagan deities, all of whom are slavemasters; who make no idols of the same; who do not abuse the name of Yahweh Elohim who gives freedom; who know the power of the Sabbath cycle which produces physical and economic energy; who honor their parents, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness and do not covet what is not theirs.
There should be the freedom to display the Ten Commandments in any and all public contexts according to the consent of the governed; and as well, any other parts of our national history and influences, regardless of the religious or philosophical nature. A level playing field.
The real horror for me is a friend who, as a public school teacher, was fired for the mere mention of the Ten Commandments in a proper pedagogical context. She had horrible legal representation, yet I won her case in a non-legal appeals process; but sadly, due to prior legal malpractice (in the opinion of other attorneys), her appeals process was thereafter stymied. We will continue to pursue her case for justice. The teacher used the Ten Commandments, a topic raised by the student, to teach the student that it is wrong to lie. But the school superintendent sought to have the teacher sign a dishonest affidavit, and then started the dismissal process because she would not lie by signing it. We need the Ten Commandments.
The word “pornography” is from the Greek for writings or pictures that incite lust [porneais and graphos). Whenever a link can be evidenced between the use of pornography and actions against the life, liberty and property of others, there is just cause to have laws against pornography. And I believe the evidence of such a cause and effect reality is overwhelming – especially in homosexual and heterosexual child abuse.
The language of “hate crimes” is redundant, and identifies victims not by the crime they have suffered, but by the objective or subjective group they belong to – it equals a Balkanization of civil rights by pitting one group against another in a competition for victim-hood, and it creates a “thought police.” In Great Britain, where laws against firearms have led over the decades to the most violent nation in Europe, thousands of known acts of burglary, assault and other felonies go unchallenged, while police resources pursue “homophobia” at the top of their list. Who can measure the heart and determine the motivation of a crime? Thomas Jefferson said that the law applies to actions not opinions. Thus, if a crime is committed against another person, the person should be punished accordingly, period. People are people, regardless of other identities, and deserve uniform protection of their lives, liberties and properties. In April, 2002 at a Mars Hill Forum at Wesleyan University, a “hate crime” was committed against me via chalked epithets on the campus sidewalks, calling for me to be homosexually raped. The university was scared I might file a lawsuit, and what an irony that would have been, for the hate crime rules were written essentially by pro-homosexual groups. But I did not do so. Why? I am a free man, it was not a real crime, and I used it as a teaching moment instead. The power to forgive reactionary ignorance is far more powerful than “getting even.”
The best way to resolve these issues is by creating a level playing field for all ideas to be heard fully and equally, a unique contribution of biblical ethics.
Here are the opening words of the Constitution as presently rewritten, radically faithful to the original document and its assumptions:
The people of Connecticut gratefully acknowledge the good providence of God which has permitted them to enjoy a free government. In order to most effectively define, secure and perpetuate the liberties, rights and privileges derived from their ancestors, they establish the following revised constitution and form of civil government.
Article One: Declaration of Rights
In order to honor the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property as given to all people by the Creator; and to recognize and establish the great essential principles of liberty and a free government, it is affirmed:
- When people form a social compact, all are equal in rights, and none are entitled to special or hereditary privileges from the community; all people are made in God’s image, and are to be protected by due process of law for the entire natural duration of their lives.
- The social compact is dependent on the prior integrity of man and woman in marriage insofar as attainable, and on the fullest presence possible of both father and mother in the raising of children.
- All political power is inherent in the people, all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and the people have at all times an undeniable right to alter their form of government as they see fit.