American moral values: narrowed or prioritized?

By Richard Land
Nov 27, 2007

It’s a cheap shot to criticize socially conservative American “values voters” for narrowing the political litmus test to abortion and same-sex “marriage,” because “narrowing” and “prioritizing” are two different things. Can there be a higher priority or a more compelling moral issue than three thousand six hundred babies dying every day? If a child is born poor, he at least has some chance of escaping poverty. If he is killed before he is born, he doesn’t have a chance of escaping his mother’s womb.

We lose more babies through abortion every year than the total fatalities in all of the wars in which we have ever participated, commencing with the French and Indian War and including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, and Gulf War II. What’s wrong with religious people who are not making this their paramount issue?

Again, I would contend that supporting traditional marriage is not narrowing, but prioritizing. Marriage is the basic building block of human society. A couple of years ago, I was lecturing at Harvard. During the question-and-answer period, a student asked me the following question concerning my opposition to same-sex “marriage”: “You seem like a nice guy. Why would you want to interfere in the personal, private relationship of two individuals?”

I answered that marriage is anything but a personal, private relationship. That is one reason the state requires a license to get married. Marriage is a social and civic institution with profound social responsibilities, obligations, and impact. Every society in human history has severely regulated who may get married to whom, and under what circumstances they may dissolve the relationship, precisely because of this institution’s enormous importance to the entire society. Same-sex “marriage” is a cultural and social issue with profound moral, social, and public policy implications.

I am stunned when someone isn’t concerned about the threat of further unraveling the nation’s already frayed social fabric by redefining marriage through judicial fiat against the will of the people. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, probably the current Supreme Court’s most liberal justice, has criticized Roe v. Wade as a misguided attempt to rewrite and liberalize the nation’s abortion laws through judicial imposition rather than through a democratic movement to liberalize abortion through legislation.

Had such a popular movement succeeded, it would have built a more lasting consensus on social policy. Instead, the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion made the issue far more divisive than it otherwise would have been. If the courts try to force same-sex “marriage” on America, their judicial overreach will be equally destructive of the social fabric.

Criticizing social conservatives for prioritizing opposition to abortion and same-sex “marriage” is like criticizing Martin Luther King Jr. for being “preoccupied” with racial reconciliation and social justice. Did Dr. King have other concerns? Yes. And so should we. But, like Dr. King, we should understand that some moral issues take precedence over other issues in times when grave injustices are being committed. By the way, when Dr. King said his dream was a country in which people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, he wasn’t exactly espousing a secular, relativist vision.

What was his focus? He kept the main thing the main thing. The abolitionists in the nineteenth century kept the main thing the main thing. The twenty-first-century pro-lifers are keeping the main thing the main thing. The Bible specifically condemns the pagan practice of sacrificing children, and I’m happy to be criticized for taking on the issue of abortion as a grave moral crisis.

The bottom line is that one’s view of human life impacts (prioritizes) how one regards other serious social issues, such as the sex trafficking of women and children, the genocide in Darfur, and the grinding poverty that grips many in Third World countries and in sections of our nation. If innocent human life is indeed precious, then it deserves protections at all ages and in all places.

This article is adapted from Richard Land’s book The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match! (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007), available at local bookstores and at


1 On Dec 3, 2007, at 7:21pm, Nicole P. wrote:

It has become painfully obvious that vilifying Christians for prioritizing their belieifs is an effective way of MINIMIZING these legitimate concerns to the masses of people who are less informed of the impending threat.

2 On Dec 4, 2007, at 4:48am, James Patterson wrote:

I am afraid that abortion is not a priority, nor is the sanctity of marriage, even for “conservative” Christians. Conversely, the plight of the poor, the suffering of the illegal immigrant, or unjust implications of the war in Iraq isn’t a priority for “liberal” Christians. Writing a blog, or democracy wont fix the world, but The Savior, Prince of Peace, president of illegal aliens, father to the fatherless and aborted, husband to the single mother, Riches of the poor,  who was crucified, for all of them, two thousand years ago, and then arose, will fix it. If these issues are “priorities”, shouldn’t we first embody Christ before we appeal to a democratic process? If you want to end abortion, adopt children from mom’s who consider abortion, if you want to protect the sanctity of marriage, show disdain for divorce, if you want to fight poverty, give what you have to the poor. If you say it is a priority, make a sacrifice. Will we die for the world and our priorities too?

3 On Feb 26, 2008, at 6:14am, Greg wrote:

“Same sex marriage is a cultural and social issue with profound moral, social, and public policy implications.”

Helping the oppressed was what Jesus taught. Gays are oppressed in American society. You don’t have to approve of the “lifestyle” in order to see the morality of helping the oppressed have equality of opportunity, a basic American value. Gay kids are being killed just for being gay.

Marriage is already in trouble, and you can’t blame gays for that since they can’t get married. Divorce rates are actually higher in bible belt regions. Furthermore, divorce rates didn’t change in Canada as a result of the legalization of gay marriage.

Public Policy:
There are over 1,100 federal laws that accord special status to married individuals. Laws that are currently denied to gay couples.

4 On Feb 26, 2008, at 6:24am, Greg Zahner wrote:

Furthermore, for the record, as to not distort Dr. King’s message, he believed in equal treatment of all Americans. Before her death, his wife, Coretta Scott King advocated for marriage equality, because she believed it was what her husband would have wanted. Another activist, John Lewis, has similarly has championed the cause of gay rights, as have other civil rights leaders. Oppressing African Americans through the letter of law isn’t all that different from oppressing gays by similar means. Even if you don’t approve the “lifestyle” you must realize that American is a land of free people, to be treated equally under the law. Nothing is equal about restricting equal rights to gays. Show, regardless of your religious beliefs, that you are a compassionate, benevolent, loving American citizen and when you vote, vote with the belief, in your heart, that all Americans are created equal, regardless of their sex, religion, race, ethnicity, class, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

5 On Mar 4, 2008, at 10:05pm, Louise Newell wrote:

I agree that abortion is a terrible way to handle an unwanted pregnancy.  But I believe the priority should be on preventing the unwanted pregnancy to begin with.  Making abortion illegal is like making driving illegal for teenagers because it causes death.  Instead we have driver’s ed classes in the schools to teach safe driving and traffic laws that help control the safe operation of vehicles.  Likewise, we should have detailed sex education in the schools to teach teens to make smart, safe decisions about when (not how) to have sex and how to prevent pregnancy and disease.  Of course abstinence is the best birth control, but if that is all that is taught, it would be like giving someone the keys to the car at age 21 without ever teaching them safe driving.  As a teen I took a vow with God in a church to save my body for the man I would marry, but that did not prevent my unplanned pregnancy and shot gun wedding.

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