An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans

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MARRIAGE AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:

Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together

An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans

Released January 12, 2012

Dear Friends:

The promotion and protection of marriage—the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife—is a matter of the common good and serves the wellbeing of the couple, of children, of civil society and all people. The meaning and value of marriage precedes and transcends any particular society, government, or religious community. It is a universal good and the foundational institution of all societies. It is bound up with the nature of the human person as male and female, and with the essential task of bearing and nurturing children.

As religious leaders across a wide variety of faith communities, we join together to affirm that marriage in its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society. We also recognize the grave consequences of altering this definition. One of these consequences—the interference with the religious freedom of those who continue to affirm the true definition of “marriage”—warrants special attention within our faith communities and throughout society as a whole. For this reason, we come together with one voice in this letter.

Some posit that the principal threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility of government’s forcing religious ministers to preside over such “weddings,” on pain of civil or criminal liability. While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that the First Amendment creates a very high bar to such attempts.

Instead, we believe the most urgent peril is this: forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct. There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result.

These conflicts bear serious consequences. They will arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once. By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage. That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others.

So, for example, religious adoption services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly “married.” Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex “married” relationships. Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex “spouses.” Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action—no matter how modest— against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil “marriage” with a member of the same sex. This is not idle speculation, as these sorts of situations have already come to pass.

Even where religious people and groups succeed in avoiding civil liability in cases like these, they would face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits.

For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex “wedding” there. San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex “domestic partnerships” in its employee benefits policies. Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds.

In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists. These punishments will only grow more frequent and more severe if civil “marriage” is redefined in additional jurisdictions. For then, government will compel special recognition of relationships that we the undersigned religious leaders and the communities of faith that we represent cannot, in conscience, affirm. Because law and government not only coerce and incentivize but also teach, these sanctions would lend greater moral legitimacy to private efforts to punish those who defend marriage.

Therefore, we encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined. We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens in this country. Marriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation.

May we all work together to strengthen and preserve the unique meaning of marriage and the precious gift of religious freedom.

Sincerely Yours:

(signatories on the original document)

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans — 30 Comments

  1. Therefore, we encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined.

    Why don’t we just ask God to protect the most current definition of marriage? If he does, then problem solved. If he doesn’t then I guess it’s not an issue he cares about.

  2. God cares about a lot of things that He doesn’t seem to “protect”, from our POV.
    E.g., Christians in Africa (one of many places around the world) who are being attacked and killed by Islamic extremists. [Perhaps taking them to heaven sooner than we might expect is “protective” for them.]

    I’m sure He cares about every child, including those who are aborted. He doesn’t stop the abortions… [It may be that He expects us to do that.]

    He cares about everyone in hospital, not just those who are there to get better and go home but also [believers] who are terminal. Perhaps He cares especially for them!

    He cares about my son, His Under-shepherd, and took him out of this LCMess at 44.

    God’s methods of “caring” are not always ours. Sometimes when we resist what He clearly wants, He leaves us to wallow in the mudholes we make for ourselves….

  3. Signatory:
    Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison
    President
    Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

    Glad to see he’s drawing a line in the dirt for something.

  4. Why does the government need to recognize any type of marriage? If marriage is the joining of a man and a woman in the sight of God (or god) and others then is the government essentially just the “others”? If marriage is purely religious then the government should probably not recognize any (including heterosexual, polygamous, etc) and just treat everybody as individuals for its purposes but if marriage is purely a legal term to describe two people who are close to each other (by what definition of “close” I’m really not sure) then letters like this still don’t make sense as there is no description of stopping immoral behaviors. Seems like the fusion model can’t work unless the population is entirely homogenous.

  5. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

    However, Jesus did say; “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:7-8)

    When you look at that it brings to mind; “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:” (Acts 19:11) Now think about the hitler years, and after them, the fact that good did overcome evil.

    However, if the Lord decides to settle it in the following manner, he will do so forsure if the people don’t cry out to Him.

    “And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” (Leviticus 26:15-16)

    Perhaps we need to step up on the prayers to prevent this.

  6. What do joint tax returns, joint property ownership, partner benefits on insurance policies, etc. etc. have to do with marriage? In truth – nothing! If we are serious about the first amendment, the state ought to get out of the marriage business and the church ought to get out of the business of validating civil unions.

    If two people want to get married, let them go to their faith community – with no marriage license – for a blessing on their union. If the couple has no faith community or their faith community does not recognize the union, so be it – they can’t get married.

    If two people want the partner benefits that our various statutes have established for married couples (aka civil unions), let them go the the courthouse and file the necessary paperwork. Recognition of that union ought to be based on the couple’s request, not on any spiritual definition of marriage.

    As people of faith, if we think it is inappropriate to grant the benefits of civil unions to homosexual couples, we should be willing to also give them up for all people who are in traditional marriages.

  7. Keep traditional, civil marriage just as it is. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are creations of wicked hearts. No to the cry babies who think their perversion and fornication deserve approved legal status and to the kings-of-smart who’s friends and relatives are engaging in these relationships (which is why some want to create a ‘gray’ area) – in order to make themselves feel better and pat themselves on the back for their ‘tolerance’.

    There’s no need to accomodate or fix anything for fools. As proven, in the article, the goal is ultimately to diminish religious freedom. Undermining and redifining marriage is a start.

  8. The article is correct, and the probable changes in church/state relationships and laws are pretty much inevitable. The horse is out of the barn, folks.

    If you are willing to stand for what is right at this point in time, you will suffer rejection, humiliation, false accusations of bigotry, and perhaps within a few years the charge of participating in a hate crime.

    We have been silent. We have not wanted to get involved outside of the pew.

    Welcome to the result of keeping our opinions within the walls of the church.

    Chatting about it on BJS isn’t going to change anything in our culture. Change takes the willingness to stand on the corner down the street and say something. Or at least it might have done so a decade ago.

  9. #8: “Chatting about it on BJS isn’t going to change anything in our culture. Change takes the willingness to stand on the corner down the street and say something. Or at least it might have done so a decade ago.”

    I’m not so sure that churches demonstrating 10 years ago would have changed anything. The homosexual lobby is pretty determined and powerful. (Did you know that more people die of diabetes than AIDS and breast cancer combined? It’s the homosexual lobby — and of course the feminist lobby — that leads us to assume otherwise.)

    But we shouldn’t cave in and these discussions and public letters go a long way in encouraging us to stay faithful to the Word.

  10. I support Biblical Marriage. That’s why I think we need to make divorce illegal. I also don’t see what consent has to do with it- that isn’t Biblical. If a father wishes to give his daughter to a man she doesn’t love that is totally fine. Also- if I think my 6 year old is ready for marriage to a 40 year old man. That is Biblical, so the state should recognize it.

    As somebody above mentioned: we should not change the definition of marriage to benefit fools- but it isn’t the gays who are the fools. It’s you people who insist on your specific highly interpreted definition of marriage.

    Also- most cultures in human history did not have 1man/1woman heterosexual exclusive marriage as a norm…… check facts.

  11. “donna,” one of the things causing your frustration is the distinction between the moral laws of God and the civil laws in the Bible that pertained to a particular people at a particular time.

    Regarding what most cultures in human history did or did not do, it only matters what God would have us do.

  12. @helen #2

    Helen, I’m just not convinced God is interested in this issue. I mean look, he’s supposed to have magical powers. And so you would think that if he cared he would do something about it.
    But he hasn’t and so our cult religious leaders, who (Pat Roberson like ) presume to know his will, are instead asking us to deprive gays from the same rights that we enjoy.

  13. @#4 Kitty #12
    Helen, I’m just not convinced God is interested in this issue. I mean look, he’s supposed to have magical powers. And so you would think that if he cared he would do something about it.

    First, God has all the power, to do anything.
    He’s not a magician or any other kind of fraud,
    so cease with the “magical powers” talk, would you, please?

    God did do something about it.
    He came down from heaven, was born a man, grew up without sin, died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven… for the forgiveness of our sins.
    But as John the Baptist preached before Him and Peter preached after the resurrection, to receive the forgiveness, people must repent of their wrongdoing.

    To say, “What I’m doing isn’t a sin” won’t cut it with God, no matter what the politicians and judges make ‘legal’ for the country. You “have a right” to disbelieve God’s Word. That “right” will sooner or later take you to hell.

    “Kitty”, do you also say that “God isn’t interested” in tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfire (such as we had in Texas last summer and could have any day) or anyone who gets murdered, or dies of disease, “because He doesn’t appear to ‘do anything’ about it”?

    Why do you think so? Is God “interested” in you? Why do you believe that, if you do?
    How do you know what God is “interested” in, if you don’t believe what He has said?

    donna,
    There is no doubt that marriages were negotiated with parents in a large part of our history. That wasn’t all bad, if the parents wanted the best for their son or daughter. It would be helpful to cite sources when you say that child marriage is “Biblical” because I have not seen that.

  14. Ted Crandall :
    “donna,” one of the things causing your frustration is the distinction between the moral laws of God and the civil laws in the Bible that pertained to a particular people at a particular time.

    It is curious that folks who insist on a strict, literal interpretation of selected passages, still rationalize their way out of others. It is also curious that folks who profess to be steadfast Lutherans are so focused on the proclamation of “moral laws” and, in the process, contradict the proclamation of the message of justification, by grace, through faith.

  15. Actually, Johan, the Bible itself makes it clear when God is presenting laws for all people of all times and when He is recording civil laws.

    Regarding your implication that you are all about the Gospel, while folks like me are all about the Law, you don’t seem to realize that God’s Word is both Law and Gospel and both are necessary. The greatest challenge for a pastor is figuring out in each situation when it is best to apply which…

  16. Ted Crandall :
    Actually, Johan, the Bible itself makes it clear when God is presenting laws for all people of all times and when He is recording civil laws.

    It seems to me that the criteria for drawing such distinctions are more in the mind of the person doing the interpretation than in Scripture.

    Ted Crandall :
    Regarding your implication that you are all about the Gospel, while folks like me are all about the Law, you don’t seem to realize that God’s Word is both Law and Gospel and both are necessary.

    I did not say and I don’t think I implied that I am all about the Gospel. I did say/meant to imply that the doctrine of justification by grace, through faith is central to my understanding of God’s relationship with me. And, implicit in the Lutheran understanding of justification is the Lutheran teaching regarding Law and Gospel.

    I also did not say, or mean to imply, that you are all about the Law. I did say that the way you have talked about moral laws seems to contradict the message of justification. To be more specific, it almost sounds as though you are suggesting that we need to be sanctified before we can be justified. And, please understand that I said, “sounds like” – i.e. I am not suggesting that I think you believe that way.

  17. @Matt B. #4

    @Johan Bergfest #6

    Marriage properly falls to the kingdom of the left. God did command marriage, but not exclusively to the church. Rather, he commanded marriage from creation, in Genesis 2:18-24. It applies to Adam and all his descendants, not just to those who are members of the Church. If it were exclusively the property of the Church (a la the proclamation of the Gospel), then no one but Christians would marry or even care about marriage.

    The reason that this issue is important is because marriage certainly has ramifications for the Church: Marriage creates the family, which should be where primary religious instruction takes place. Many wedding ceremonies take place in the church as a way of asking for God’s blessing on the newly married couple and acknowledging that “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” Marriage is also where many of the sins take place which the Church has the power and responsibility to forgive. Pastors are called on to act as servants of the State in performing wedding ceremonies, and they are also called on in their vocation as shepherds of God’s flock to counsel those contemplating marriage, struggling in their marriage, or contemplating ending their marriage. But this does not make marriage an exclusively religious institution.

  18. @ Ted C
    I agree with much of what you say, but I fear that there is a tendancy in the Confessional churches to assume that we are to let the Holy Spirit do all of the witnessing, pleading, moving, and inspiring sinners (us included) into the pew where they can hear the truth.

    My concern is that as we do not stand firmly and publically for what is right–what is God’s will (even if no one listens)–then we increasingly marginalize not only God’s truths, but marginalize Christianity itself. In fact, we fail to do our job.

    The passage that comes to miind at the moment is from Jeremiah 6: “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.”

    Ezekiel (in 33:6) is also called to be the watchman at the tower, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.'” [praise God that we will not be held accountable since Jesus has saved us from our sins of ommission!]

    Now, I’m sure the argument has been made, especially by unbelievers, that we are not a theocracy. However, God makes it clear that He is the ruler of all nations, whether they like it or not. You are right, the Christians of the nation might not have been able to overcome the lobbyists and the liberal leanings of our nation. And we surely do NOT want to become those congregations who become hatemongers, but that does not excuse us from our place in the telling of God’s message.

    Nor can it be shown clearly in Scripture that these actions are solely for pastors; God’s commands (execpt when specifically addressed to a pastor, such as Timothy) apply to all disciples, not just the apostles–it is relatively rare that the 12 are the only believers to whom Christ and Paul speak. We must stop pretending that only pastors have the gift of sharing the truth (spiritual, social, or even the common sense of Christianity).

    Christians changed the world in the first centuries of the church–those days are back and again needed, if they ever left.

    Thanks again for your comments. As I said, I agree with just about everything you said.

  19. @#4 Kitty #12

    I’m just not convinced God is interested in this issue

    It just happens that, in the one year lectionary, in yesterday’s Gospel text, Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana. On that text, my grandfathers bishop in Norway, Nils Jakob Laache, wrote for the morning in Book of Family Prayer, as follows:

    “Jesus performed His first miracle before the disciples’ eyes at a wedding, and it was changing water into wine and changing the bridal home’s emptiness into joy. Marriage is the foundation of human society, planted by God at creation and sanctified from the beginning. But ever since it was corrupted by the fall into sin, the devil still rages against it, for he knows that when he spoils marriage, he undermines all order of society, and makes us like Sodom and Gomorrah. … Why was His first miracle to help a young bridal couple? He came to drive the devil out of the house and created for Himself not just individuals who are holy, but holy people.”

    In the way of demanding that God “do something” about it, is it trifling that God did do something? Is it trifling that He instituted marriage? Is it trifling that He gave us his Word on it? Do you demand of God more than his Word? Why seek a sign rather than his Word? Would a sign be less ambiguous, or more, than his Word?

    Could the problem with what Bishop Laache says about Jesus at Cana be, not his interpretation, but his faith that any such person as Jesus ever existed, his faith that the events, before we consider their meaning, ever happened? Do you believe that Jesus existed, that he went to Cana, and that he changed water into wine at the wedding? If the answer to any of that is negative, then we’ve identified what it is that you really don’t think God cares about, his Word.

    Apart from the Word, how do you know anything about God?

  20. @donna #10

    Texts like Proverbs 19:14 seem to be directly contrary to that. The formulation of that text, that houses and lands are from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord, seems to have as its point the contrast between such matters as houses and lands on the one hand, and marriage on the other. It seems to separate the view we should have of wives from our view of houses and lands. It takes the parents out of it in the most powerful imaginable way, but putting the Lord directly into it. (Though a man still would be foolish not to ask his parent’s loving counsel.) The text seems to point directly back to Eve, who was a direct gift from God to Adam.

    Were men to think more on this, their treatments of wives would be altered. As despising a gift is the depising of the giver, so a man who despises his wife despises God.

    While in Jewish history, there were eras or regions where arranged marriage was common, that was something of a declension, a defection from Moses, the Prophets, and the Writing.

    There is a very small class of things at the apex of the Devil’s strategy. Chief amongst his hatreds are Chist, him crucified, the Word, the Sacraments, catechetical instruction in the home, and … Marriage.

  21. #19: “sue wilson,” I’m not sure what parts of what I said you don’t agree with. Perhaps we simply have different opinions on what we guess would have happened if only… I hope I didn’t give the impression I think we should not speak out against evil. I do wish Christians were more vocal in condemning evil. I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when shacking up was seldom mentioned in sermons. It was a cover story in TIME magazine when college kids started shacking up openly and defiantly, instead of being discreet like my parents’ generation did when they shacked up. It was so shocking that it was a cover story in TIME, yet Christians watched it happen and seldom spoke up about what God thought about sex outside of marriage. Then we did it again with the homosexual lobby and with abortion. Will we be mute when NAMBLA has its way — legally — with young boys? I pray not!

  22. Concerned Seminarian :

    … Marriage properly falls to the kingdom of the left. God did command marriage, but not exclusively to the church. …

    CS, I believe I take your point. Allow me a hypothetical: suppose the state begins to redefine life, let’s say, as beginning at 1 week and ending at 90 years.

    Would you agree that “life properly falls to the kingdom of the left. God did command life, but not exclusively to the church”?

    In our vocations as citizens, perhaps we owe a duty to our neighbors, to protect–for the good of us all–something as minor as, oh, merely the Land o’Goshen foundation of society itself?

  23. @ Ted C
    I think you are right. Same thoughts; different semantics. Sounds like we both worked our way through the 60’s. I remember the first time I heard that 1968 was the great formative year of the century (or some such thing). I was too busy with a new baby, new marriage, husband in Viet Nam, and working at the gas station on base to notice I guess.
    Life goes on and we just keep on trying to get people to understand the reality of Christ.
    Hope to chat again soon!
    Blessings on your day and your ministry!

  24. @Joey #23

    You are correct in saying that “In our vocations as citizens, perhaps we owe a duty to our neighbors, to protect–for the good of us all–something as minor as, oh, merely the Land o’Goshen foundation of society itself” (emphasis added). It is important for us as citizens to protest actions by the government which damage the fabric of our society.

    If you look at the comments to which I was responding, they were arguing that the Church has exclusive rights to the institution of marriage, and the government should stop sticking its nose in our business. That statement is absolutely false. The church certainly has a stake in the institution of marriage, and as such it is the duty of our leaders to take a stand on behalf of marriage when the government attempts to undermine it, but marriage is not the exclusive property of the Church.

  25. @T. R. Halvorson #21
    Proverbs 19:14 (ESV)
    14 House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
    but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

    The text seems to point directly back to Eve, who was a direct gift from God to Adam.

    Were men to think more on this, their treatments of wives would be altered. As despising a gift is the depising of the giver, so a man who despises his wife despises God.

    Never thought of it quite like that, but it does explain something for me!

  26. @Concerned Seminarian #18
    God commanded marriage. The federal government commanded partner benefits. The religious leaders who signed to open letter confused the two.

    There is a Kingdom of Grace and there are kingdoms of power – the distinction clear from Jesus’ conversation with Pilate. The open letter has obvious implications for promoting political purposes with the kingdom of power. It is less clear how the letter proclaims the Kingdom of Grace. More disturbing is the fact that religious leader who are prone to sign letters like this one are also content to put a gag on Amos – a prophet whose voice has obvious things to say about the how people become disefranchised in kingdoms of power, including the United States.

  27. @Johan Bergfest #28
    While there are indeed two kingdoms, we live in a republic where the people are represented in the Government. Therefore, every citizen, organization of citizens and those who represent them have not only a right but also a vocation to speak to the business of the kingdom of the left.

  28. @Johan Bergfest #28

    From what I see, the religious leaders who signed the open letter are merely looking at the logical results of gay marriage- the benefits of marriage being applied to homosexual relationships. They are not specifically addressing gay marriage as such; they are addressing the affects that gay marriage benefits can, do, and will have on religious institutions. How did they confuse marriage for partner benefits?

    As far as the relationship between the left-hand and right-hand kingdoms, you are correct that there is a clear distinction. If the Church attempts to take over the State, then the Holy Roman Empire results; if the State attempts to take over the Church, then the European state churches result. The two are distinct. However, it does not follow that they can/should/must have no dealings with each other. What the state does affects the church, no matter what. If the state permits gay marriage, it is entirely possible that in the future the church will be required to embrace it, whether they use tax incentives as a reward or prison sentences as a punishment to bring it about. As it is, the signers of the open letter seem to recognize that gay marriage (and the government-mandated “partner benefits” associated therewith) pose a very serious threat to the church. It is important for the Church to take a stand on this issue, because it affects the Church. It is also important for the Church to recognize that it cannot dictate anything to the State.

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