Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is it good enough to quote the Bible when discussing public policy issues?

In a recent post, I stated my view that holding up signs with Bible verses on street corners was a foolish way to argue against homosexuality and legalizing same-sex marriage.

Marshal Art wrote this in response:

It might be much better to have scholarly spokesmen, but can we wait about until they show up, are sought out by the media and left-wing enablers or can command the same level of attention as the activists? I don’t think so. The fact is that we need everyone who opposes the sanctioning of this attraction as normal and the attendant behavior as morally benign to speak out often and loudly. The problem with the goofs, like Fred Phelps for example, is that they are among the few who are vocal about their position, without more rational people risking blowback by being outspoken opponents themselves.

And then Lindsay Harold replied to me, and this is the one you need to read closely:

Exactly. People who make a public case against same-sex marriage (or abortion, etc.) solely on religious grounds are basically painting a big target on everyone who holds the same position. They make it easy for people to ridicule them and ignore the facts by saying that the only opposition to these things is religious in nature – that conservatives just want to “force their religion” on others. That’s a difficult charge to overcome precisely because, in many cases, there is a lot of truth to it. Too many people only want to stop same-sex marriage and abortion because they believe they are wrong according to the Bible.

The problem is, that’s not sufficient reason to make something illegal. There are plenty of things that are wrong (coveting, lust, not remembering the Sabbath, etc) that are not and should not be illegal. Thus, if you are going to make a case for why something should or should not be legal, you must have more than religious reasons. Making only a religious case in such a situation is indeed attempting to force religion on others. And it hampers the real work of using evidence and logic to make the proper legal case by painting all the others defending marriage or fighting abortion with the label of “religious fanatic.”

Probably the hardest part of defending traditional marriage or arguing against abortion is convincing the other side to listen to the facts and logic rather than dismissing you as religiously-motivated. The reason for this is that there are too many well-intentioned, but ignorant and misguided, people out there making things harder for their own side with their faulty arguments.

She actually wrote a similar post on her blog, “Lindsay’s Logic”, but on the abortion issue on her blog recently, and here’s a snippet:

You see, laws in this country are not based on religion. In fact, our Founding Fathers specifically planned to create a nation where religious freedom was protected. In order to do that, one must have a secular country based on logical principles, not a theocracy. History has shown that government based upon religion inevitably persecutes those who disagree with the religion in power. Many, if not most, of those who came to America and founded this nation came to escape religious persecution. They knew firsthand the dangers of living in a church state. They wanted to ensure freedom for all, so they set up a secular government and laid out basic principles to limit the government’s power and prevent oppression of the people. Their principles were based on the concept of inalienable rights – rights that are innate in every human being and which government cannot grant or take away. These rights include the right to life, liberty, ownership of property, religion, a fair trial, and many others – all developed from basic logical principles. And, in this country, laws are to be made by the people, but only in accordance with these principles so that no one’s rights will be violated.
Of course, these logical principles are quite consistent with a Biblical worldview – and not by accident. The concept of inalienable rights, for example, comes from the view that mankind is the product of a Creator who has endowed them with these rights. Religious freedom is also consistent with the Bible. After all, even God Himself does not force Himself upon anyone, but gives all people the free choice to choose Him or not. But one cannot enforce every doctrine from the Bible in a secular society. There are things that are wrong, according to the Bible, which cannot be made law. How would one, for example, make lust or coveting illegal? And while the Bible commands us to remember the Sabbath day, one cannot enforce this on all people within a society without violating their freedom of religion. Thus, not everything that is wrong should be illegal.

It looks to me like Lindsay’s logic is pretty sound. My own view is that I get my moral views from the Bible, and then when talking about those views with people in the the public square, I use secular arguments (unless they happen to be evangelical Protestants like me – but then they probably would not need convincing?!)

What do you think? Is Marshal Art right or is Lindsay right? Although both of them are good people and mean well, which approach do you think will actually solve the problem?

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19 Responses

  1. jweaksnc says:

    Lindsay is right. And you know… whenever something is true and good it comes from the God of Bible anyway. All truth is God’s truth. A truth-filled secular argument will get to the same place.as a truth-filled Biblical argument. Choose the wise one for the audience.

  2. Carnun says:

    “when talking about those views with people in the the public square, I use secular arguments”

    I wonder, is there a reasonable secular argument against gay marriage free from scriptural/religious undertones? If so, I will listen to it, weigh it up, and decide whether or not it presents a good enough case.

    I’m willing to change my mind that there isn’t, so long as you – or anyone else – can give me a sound logical reason to oppose gay marriage (despite all of the ‘pros’ it offers against perceived ‘cons’).

    I’m looking forward to hearing back.

    Carnun :)

  3. Will S. says:

    Probably best to go with both, in the public square; that way, one witnesses for the Faith AND shows that the Faith’s teaching are sound and rational, and that nonbelievers ought not be afraid of our policy prescriptions, because we don’t only believe in our positions due to our Faith, but for good reasons, too. Win-win!

    • That sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, when someone uses both religious and secular arguments for public policy, they weaken their position in the public square by giving ammunition to the other side. No matter how many times you insist that you have secular reasons also, the mere fact that you even brought up what the Bible says at all will lead them to ignore everything else you say and label you a religious fanatic. They won’t even listen to your secular arguments.

      How do I know? Hundreds of discussions with people on the other side who do precisely that. I spend probably 85-90% of my time defending myself against strawman arguments that I’m just a “fundamentalist” or “Bible-believer” that wants to force my religion on others. It takes pointing out over and over and over that there is nothing religious in my arguments before they will even start to listen (and not all will listen then). It’s hard enough to get these people to think logically without giving them an excuse to totally ignore everything you say as religious dogma.

      We do need to be defending our faith in the public square. Don’t get me wrong. But the proper time to do that is NOT when we are discussing the making of laws. If our goal is to make laws to stop abortion or defend traditional marriage, then we have to do what works to influence those around us. Secular arguments work. Religious ones don’t. It’s as simple as that.

      • Will S. says:

        If not when we are discussing making laws, when DO we otherwise get to bring our faith into the public square, for discussion? What other opportunities do we get, apart from on political issues? Oh yeah, that’s right – NEVER.

        We’ve let our spritual and political enemies frame the terms of the debate long enough; time for Christians to stand boldly for the truth of God’s Word and His teachings, regardless of how the chips fall. At least, then, we won’t have been found to have squandered opportunities to witness for Him, when He returns.

        • There are many opportunities to share the Christian faith besides a discussion of lawmaking. I didn’t say that religion should be kept out of politics. I don’t think that at all. I said that religion shouldn’t be used as a basis for making law. But there are many ways that religious views can and should play a part in politics.

          For one thing, every person has the right to vote according to their own conscience. And the faith of a politician running for office is a valid thing to consider. I believe politicians should be vocal about their faith and the reasons for it – but they should, as public figures, take care to do so responsibly, which means having evidence, not blind faith.

          I think people should stand boldly for the truth of God’s word in public. When they stand at the door of an abortion clinic, it is entirely appropriate to pray and to tell people of God’s love and mercy and to share what the Bible says about the unborn. When they speak to homosexuals it is entirely appropriate to pray and to speak of God’s amazing love and redemption and His design for human sexuality.

          But it is not a good idea to say that BECAUSE the Bible says abortion is wrong, it should be illegal. Not all wrong things should be illegal. There must be some other reason that abortion should be illegal, and it is this reason that we should be using because it is the true reason abortion should be illegal (not just punished by God, but also by government).

          It is not a good idea to say that BECAUSE homosexuality is a sin marriage should not include same sex couples. A person’s sin has nothing to do with whether or not government should grant them benefits or not. Government doesn’t check for sin before giving tax breaks to married couples. That is not its job. Thus, there must be some other reason that marriage should be for a man and woman only, and it is this reason that we should be using.

          • Will S. says:

            It’s not merely because abortion is wrong that it ought to be illegal; it’s because it is murder, and because of Biblical principles, murder is not permitted; Biblical principles undergird Western law. That is historical; it is truth, and we should own it. It’s ours; or, more to the point, His.

            Same thing with homosexuality. It’s not just that it’s wrong; it’s that it’s grievously against God’s order, and part of the duty of the State is to support the good, the right, the true, and oppose anything that undermines proper order; again, all laws are based on morality, i.e. it’s wrong to steal, ergo we have laws against theft. Because homosexuality is wrong, the State should not provide for gays officially ‘marrying’ one another, and having the State officially recognize such as equally valid to true marriages. That’s all. And just because we don’t try to positively legislate good behaviour, or try to outlaw all immoral behaviour, doesn’t mean our laws forbidding theft, murder, etc. aren’t based on moral principles about which there was a social consensus (and hopefully still is) based primarily on our shared western cultural heritage as Christians. We have a right, as Christians, to insist that the State continue to uphold those same principles it long has; one of which is, marriage is the joining of a man and woman, and only they are entitled to the benefits therein.

            Frankly, it shouldn’t matter to us whether we ultimately win or lose; we are called to ‘preach the word’ and ‘be instant; in season, out of season’, (2 Timothy 4:2), and stand for what’s right, whether or not it’s popular – and if why we hold certain positions that laws should be changed is due to our faith, as well as well-thought-out reasons, we shouldn’t be afraid to witness and articulate all of that, whether or not we lose because of the ungodliness of this wicked generation. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

            “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) As Paul reminds us, our battle call as Christians is first and foremost a spiritual one, and only after that, a political one. Should we hide our light under a bowl? (Luke 11:33) Or should we instead be the ‘light of the world’, as Christ called us to be, following Him (Matthew 5:14)?

  4. Seth says:

    I agree with Lindsay that we don’t have to use the bible to backup views that are sympathetic with the bible. I don’t understand why people who want to only use the bible to defend their public policy views get so frustrated at Christians like us who don’t have to quote the bible for advancing public policy.

    Do “bible-onlyists” not realize that we humans live in what John Calvin called a “theater of natural revelation”? Do they not realize that we can say “reason,” “wisdom,” “logic,” etc. are “verses” of natural revelation? Quote those verses next time you want to backup public policy bible-onlyists! :D

    Seriously though, I wonder if that kind of Christian forgets about natural revelation and that being made in the image of God means human beings are rational and moral creatures? We can reason from our surroundings and discover truth. All of creation (written\mental and physical) is God’s revelation to us right? If so, neglecting to quote a verse form the KJV or any other translation of the bible to backup or advance public policy doesn’t mean we are embarrassed of the bible or Christianity. What it means is that we are using tools all properly functioning human beings are aware of such as reason, logic, and experience. Not every properly functioning human being knows every verse of the bible, the background of the bible, etc. because it’s not natural revelation that is common to every man; it’s *special* revelation that must be read and studied to understand. So, using common methods of knowledge to backup or advance public policy eliminates unnecessary steps of appealing to the bible.

  5. Duane says:

    All opposition should be encouraged. I agree with lindsay on much of what she wrote, also disagree with much of what she wrote based on historical fact. I believe the best point to make is this: the more well educated about the topic the arguer (apologist) is,the greater force their words and actions will carry (hopefully). As we have seen in many instances of the “lifestyle choice”, the more logical and persuasive use of facts that show how injurious that choice is, the less logical and reasonable the words and behavior of those who espouse that choice. I think that many would have no problem if people of the same sex joined in legal partnerships, but traditionally marriage has been a religious and spiritual bonding. Pardon me for being politically incorrect, but how many times has does the Bible tell us that God finds this type of behavior as detestable, and what does that tell us about the inherent “health” spiritually and physically in this choice?

  6. Wintery, thanks for linking to my blog. Glad you liked my comment and my post. It’s nice to find people in cyberspace who think like me. You’re one of very few.

  7. Depends on the setting.
    In a secular setting – no.
    However, use the Judeo-Christian “morality standard”. The Judeo-Christian morality standard is de-facto written into Constitutional law( Constitutional law rules the field) in addition to science, medical, nature/biology, and social studies.
    All of the laws and sciences support / point to Judeo-Christian morality and this cannot be denied.
    As you mentioned WK, use de-facto established benchmarks. By doing so, any opposition will default to “fold”, use a ad-hominem, or unlawfully use force.
    Shalom

  8. marshalart says:

    I think you have misunderstood my point, WK. But first, this:

    “Too many people only want to stop same-sex marriage and abortion because they believe they are wrong according to the Bible.”

    I’m sure I know what Lindsay means by this statement, but as worded is quite wrong. There cannot be “too many” people who want to inhibit same-sex marriage and abortion because of what the Bible says. The fact is that there are incredibly too few.

    But my point was directed towards the notion that there are not enough scholarly arguments being made. OK. I agree with that for sure. Now take away the religious arguments and what have we got? NO ONE arguing against homosexuality on ANY grounds at all.

    It really doesn’t matter what the activists say so long as they continue to argue without facts, without honesty and without any evidence that the benefits to society and the culture they claim will manifest is possible or likely.

    I insist that reminders of what Scripture has to say on ANY subject that might come before a politician who is compelled to act on his religious convictions will be worth preaching in the public square and that includes proclaiming a desire that laws follow suit. The politician can easily find secular backing to explain his vote to go along with his religious reasons, just as we try to do the same on our blogs.

    In the same way, those voters who are sincerely desirous of pleasing God can be held to account in such matters and their votes, too, would be impacted without a secular reason being necessary.

    The main reason, as I see it, that this is even an issue at all is because the morality of the behavior, as has the morality of a variety of sexual behaviors, has not been held up by moral people as the bad behavior it is. Our culture has allowed the relativists to dictate morality as ambiguous and totally personal rather than the objective truth that it is. Now, we are left in a position where if any hint of religious influence, or even simply talk of “right” vs “wrong”, is assumed, it is rejected as theocratic oppression.

    I’ll take whatever argument for truth I can get. And don’t forget: the best defense against activists insisting we’re forcing our morality is to state the truth that what they are doing is exactly the same thing.

  9. Water Rat says:

    the last discussion I had with an atheist regarding this particular issue ended when I asked him to provide his rationale for figuring out what truth is. He never responded. And that, honestly, is what the whole thing hinges on. I’ve never had a response to that question from any non-religious person beyond “you can’t tell me what to do.”

    The pro-homosexual crowd would have you believe that their feelings trump all, that they cannot change them (which honestly has an aspect of truth in it), and therefore we should not object to the exercise of their feelings. My response is that no wise person uses their feelings to determine truth, because their feelings are inherently selfish. Feelings are a good way to determine where to eat or what suit of clothes to wear or where to vacation. They are a horrible way to determine right or wrong.

    If your feelings were that important, you’d call in every day that you don’t feel like working. And, quickly, you’d find yourself out of a job. So clearly feelings are not the be all end all and have to be subjected. If your feelings were that important, you would engage in road rage antics every time something bad happens to you in traffic (some people do but most people don’t) and quickly find yourself in jail or dead.

    I really think that one of the biggest things we have to get beyond is thinking that what you want determines reality. That is not true and has never been true. You have to bend what you want to fit reality and truth. Feelings don’t follow immediately – there is an aspect to which we cannot control which feelings we feel, even when we know it is wrong to feel that way. Feelings can inform your decisions in certain areas, but they have to be subordinate to what is right and necessary. Otherwise, you’re a brat who never grew up. Honestly, I cannot believe that we live in a society that tells people that there are no limits to what they can do, that never penalizes bad behavior, puts athletes on a pedestal, and underscores the importance of getting what you want above all else,and is still shocked that so many young boys think it is ok to rape a girl a la Steubenville.

    I agree with Lindsay for what it is worth. We should not expect religious arguments to have any sway with the irreligious. Nor should we be surprised when the unGodly act unGodly. Scripture must underpin everything I believe as a Christian, but I have to establish that I am a thinking man who knows how to argue, use logic and see the pluses and minuses in any position before it can have any sway other than the negative. Typically this means showing the unGodly the errors in their thinking before you can do anything else; at least in American culture it does.

    • Josh says:

      “Feelings are a good way to determine where to eat or what suit of clothes to wear or where to vacation. They are a horrible way to determine right or wrong. ”

      Sorry to pick out such a small portion of what you wrote, but I actually have something to add that was on my mind the past few weeks about feelings.

      Beyond what you mentioned, I think our feelings can do something great for us: They can be used to determine how conformed we are to what is true and good and beautiful. If we do wrong and feel good about it, we know we have more work to do on whatever wrong it is we are doing. Our aim should be to have good feelings about good things and bad feelings about bad things. It will never be perfect because our emotions are not always logical or rational, but it at the very least provides some clarification for us.

  10. By the way, here is what I would recommend to Bill Whatcott as an effective tactic. Instead of holding up signs with Bible verses and trying to deliberately insult the opposition, I would recommend that he get a PhD and then get articles about or by him into CNN, the Washington Post or the New York Times.

    Tall order? Take a look at Ryan T. Anderson TODAY in:

    1) CNN

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/20/opinion/george-gay-marriage/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter

    2) The Washington Post

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/in-defense-of-traditional-marriage/2013/03/20/d19a0c08-915a-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html

    3) The New York Times

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/us/politics/young-opponents-of-gay-marriage-remain-undaunted.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

    He’s not holding signs insulting people. He’s not throwing out Bible verses to people who don’t believe in the Bible. That’s why THOUSANDS of people who are not Christians are now reading his arguments and shifting their views accordingly, towards the Biblical position. It’s not enough to mean well, then do harm, because of foolishness. We need to mean well, and then DO well, because of wisdom, discipline, industry, study and good will. Whatcott hurt the cause, but Ryan T. Anderson helped the cause.

  11. Josh says:

    I use religious arguments when I talk to fellow Christians on these topics and secular arguments when I talk to non-Christians. Christians are commanded to rebuke and hold each other accountable. However, in interacting with a world that hates God, those sorts of things aren’t effective at accomplishing what they set out to accomplish.

    Part of the problem is that the world has prioritized feeling over reason, which means that phrases that cause emotion (homophobe, anti-woman, sexist) are more powerful than arguments. People are so adjusted to being advertised what they think is true instead of reasoning about what is true that they have a very hard time with the latter. Still, I think it is important to try to reason with people as best we can.

    What is inherently convenient about beliving in the Truth in religion is that it is also the Truth elsewhere. The Truth transcends all categories of knowledge, so that one can argue about what is biological, historical, legal, natural, etc, and make the same case using different information than one would use in making a religious case.

    Ultimately, if someone asked me what my religious views were, I would not be afraid to tell them or explain them, but I also wouldn’t be afraid to call them out on things themselves if they chose to make a mockery of my beliefs simply to feel better about their own.

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