The Correlation Between Gay Rights and Religious Liberty

I grew up in a conservative Evangelical home, attending a conservative Evangelical church.  While my tribal allegiance is a moving target, I am a person of faith who values both religious freedom and gay rights, and I think there is a correlation between the two.

Our present notion of religious liberty was not a foregone conclusion when the Founding Fathers met in the State House of Philadelphia in 1787.  For the most part, the tradition of forcing morality on dissenters was common place.  The established churches of Europe forced out the Puritans, and then they forced out people that they disagreed with; people like RogerWilliams who championed religious freedom and fidelity to conscience. It was Williams who insisted on buying land from the Native Americans rather than simply taking it, and who in contrast to the Puritans, embraced religious diversity when he founded Rhode Island.

One hundred years later, as the Founders debated exactly what religious freedom would look like for the young republic, a surprising coalition emerged which included both the irreligious and the forerunners to today’s Evangelicals.  Together they conceived of a religious liberty that both freed the church from the dictates of the state, and freed the conscience from the dictates of the church.  The less religious did so for reasons that are fairly self-evident.  Those that were more religious sought religious freedom from the state, both because they were often in the minority, Baptists and Catholics for example, and because they understood that in the religious context true faith flowed from a free conscience.  However not everyone agreed.  Many in the religious establishment believed that a state sponsored church was directly tied to state sponsored morality, and both were paramount.

This religious freedom was one of the things the community I grew up in valued most, the freedom to worship God as we saw fit.  While there is not a one-to-one comparison between the freedom to marry the person once chooses and the freedom to worship as one chooses, (for example the legal arguments are different, one being based on Due Process, and the other on the First Amendment) the underlying principle is the same.  Freedom.  More than once growing up I heard people discussing the disastrous affects of government regulation or the fact that you could not enforce morality.  They argued that people should be free to make their own decisions, both in business and their personal lives.  While some argued that there are limits to our freedoms, and they were right to an extent, today I believe those limits should focus on those things that directly impacts others.  We should not deny people public benefits because of their private beliefs or actions.

A second conservative value I learned growing up was the golden rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  When we as a society fail to take this approach, we often go the other direction, taking an eye for an eye.  That is what is happening in today’s culture wars, wars primarily about power.  Parties on both the left and the right are using the power of the state not only to enforce their own version of morality, but to exact revenge on their counterparts.  Increasingly, more of us are feeling pushed into one camp or the other because we feel like we have to take sides.  People of influence on both sides claim that not taking sides is wicked, foolish, or indicative or our utter and total lack of a vertebra.

Another reason we become radicalized is because we feel attacked.  Many of us know friends on one side of this issue or the other who feel like their freedoms are under attack by the other side.  Some of them have specific examples of being sued, or called names, disparaged or otherwise attacked.  No one wants to be disparaged either because of what they believe or who they are.  And in particular, no one wants to be told what they can or cannot do by the government.  Conservatives feel that their personal freedoms are under attack by the anti-discrimination narrative.  Progressives feel attacked by the very real legislative and judicial efforts to actively deny them over 1000 state and federal marriage benefits that their strait counterparts receive.  When some of our progressive friends have the opportunity to sue those they feel are discriminating against them, they sometimes take that opportunity, understandably paying back an eye for an eye, because conservatives have actively sought to deny them access to marriage.

This impulse that both left and right have, to enforce morality and take revenge, it is in contrast to our better impulses—the desire to live free, and the desire to give to others what we want for ourselves.  As long as both the left and right continue to force morality on others, there will continue to be a culture war.  The better approach is for us to respect the convictions and freedoms of the other, embracing both religious freedom and gay rights, even as we disagree about the wisdom or morality of our opponent.

I'm not suggesting we stop advocating for our various potions in the battle of ideas. I am suggesting that both sides should stop using the power of the state to limit freedom and enforce morality. 


Priscilla said...

Nice post, David. I'm glad you're starting these discussions. I can't agree with several points: (1) You said, "We should not deny people public benefits because of their private beliefs or actions." But one of the core purposes of gvmt is to "enforce morality" -- encouraging certain behavior and discouraging others, for the good of the polity. However, I do agree with you that my opposition to "marriage equality" is based on fear. I care much, much more about the church's stance on homosexuality than the State's. My fear is that the public trend toward embracing homosexuality that is overrunning our political system will eventually overrun our church communities. Next, I don't believe their fight is about tax benefits. Gay people want acceptance. They want the public to EMBRACE their behavior, not just TOLERATE it. We've seen that they also want the church to embrace their behavior. But this MUST NEVER HAPPEN. If it does, then the church is lost forever. We will have elevated public opinion above the teachings of the Apostles and Christ. We will have rejected Christ, and the proposition that human desires should be subjugated before him. Human beings fight for social acceptance of whatever behavior they think will satisfy them. But none of it ever will. They are lost sheep serving false gods. They should not be encouraged. And the church is close to re-labeling their sin as righteousness. When sin is accepted and embraced, the church is undone, because Christ is not the Head anymore. If you, as a member of the church, do not fight against this (not with violence or disrespectful signs and protests) but with the public speaking of the Truth, then you are not doing your duty as a Defender of the Faith. I believe that the public speaking of the Truth is the only thing that will save the church from the lies of the hypocrites.

David Best said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I think the crux of our disagreement is this, I do not think we need to depend on the government to create or enforce morality.

Nor do I think gay rights endanger the church any more than promiscuity and broken marriages. I believe that divorce is far more damaging to children and our faith communities than two loving adults being granted access to the legal benefits of marriage.

In a civil context, in a large and diverse nation like ours, the people of Las Vegas do not have the moral authority to say to the people of San Francisco, "no, you are the immoral ones."

In Matthew 19 Jesus addresses divorce. When the Pharasees pushed him, saying, "why then did Moses allow it." Jesus' response was that it was allowed only because of the hardness of the people's heart. But it was allowed. In our present context, it should be the same for gay marriage.

Mark Pupeza said...

If I feel the need to point out the sins of others and set them straight, I will never finish and never win any to Jesus.
Rom 14:4

Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.