Reflections on Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty

September 8, 2014

In 2012, Dan Cathy—son of Truett Cathy, who founded the much-loved Chick-fil-A restaurants—answered honestly and affirmatively when asked whether he opposes gay marriage. “Guilty as charged,” he replied. Although there was an immediate reaction against Chick-fil-A, comments by the mayors of both Boston and Chicago to the effect that Chick-fil-A might be barred from operating in their cities provided the spark that lit the fuse of counter-protest. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, seized the moment to make a call for a show of support for the Cathy family. At the grassroots level, customers flooded into the restaurants to provide a measure of protection for the company. Publicly, the message was clear: There were many Americans who did not want to see Chick-fil-A suffer for the sincere statement of values offered by Dan Cathy. The demonstration of solidarity with Chick-fil-A offered the company shelter and perhaps led the company’s critics to wonder whether they had overplayed their hand.

The reaction of secular statists toward Chick-fil-A suggests that Cathy’s opinion is not one that will be tolerated for long. Cathy’s opponents believe his opinion is not merely deserving of their disagreement, but, what is more, that it should be viewed as a clear evil, which should be extinguished by political means if necessary.

Some will say that the critics of Chick-fil-A were correct in their moral intuitions because the company stands in the same place as segregationists of the Old South. This type of argument must be faced in order to successfully maintain the viability of religious liberty defenses against an indiscriminate and aggressive assault.  If the conclusion of American law and policy is that resistance to gay marriage is essentially equivalent to a preference for slavery or segregation, then religious liberty will serve as no shield at all because there is no respect for those invidious points of view. Thus, it is necessary to respond to the assertion that opposition to gay marriage is morally equivalent to support for slavery or segregation or both. Throughout the following discussion, keep in mind that the goal is not to convince the reader of the case against gay marriage. Instead, the goal is to convince the reader that opposition to gay marriage is neither invidious nor unworthy of respect.

Rather than beginning with the idea of traditional marriage as a structure that opposes the future of what marriage could become, we should instead see traditional male-female marriage as the tremendously good institution that it is and has been. It is an answer to the problem of human loneliness and incompleteness. This relationship is also fruitful. While marriage gives the man and the woman a companion in the form of each other, it also leads to the reproduction of human beings such that we have families, clans, villages, towns, cities, and, ultimately, states and nations. Interestingly, Aristotle did not identify the individual as the basis of political society. Instead, he viewed the family (based on the man and the woman) as the fundamental unit. It is easy to see why. Without male-female procreation, society literally has no future. Traditional marriage sets forth an ideal in which the man stays with and supports the woman both while she is most vulnerable during pregnancy and later while they both care for children. Marriage recognizes that the man and woman are both necessary to the creation of the child as well as the process of child rearing. It is important to note that marriage follows biology. Marriages rose out of the physical and reproductive complementarity of men and women. Without sex and reproduction, there would likely be no such thing as marriage. It is, therefore, no surprise that many theists view marriage as God’s design.

It is also the case that we have known for several years now that as a group children who grow up in traditional, two-parent homes have better experiences than their peers from single-parent or divorced homes in virtually any social statistic one might wish to name. There is inadequate evidence with regard to children in homes with same-sex parents, though it is interesting to note that the sociologist Mark Regnerus performed such a study and was made the subject of an investigation by the University of Texas (his employer) for his efforts.

Given the facts of biology and the practical realities of raising children, male-female marriage makes a tremendous amount of sense. So, with both reason and revelation in mind, many Christians and others have insisted that marriage should continue to have its traditional shape. This is not some bizarre, novel, aggressive position. In fact, this was the position of President Obama until a few years ago.

It is illustrative to consider views from antiquity on slavery versus those on gay marriage. While the history of slavery is as long as human history itself, there is evidence that it was always something of a live issue. Aristotle included a discussion of slavery in his Politics.  The text dates back to the 4th century B.C. It is clear that there were people who thought slavery was wrong and who gave reasons against the practice. To my knowledge, there is no such record of advocacy for gay marriage in antiquity.

Where gay marriage has prevailed in courts, jurists have treated the case against it as though it were completely irrational. But is it really so?  There is an exchange from Plato’s Republic in which Thrasymachus challenges Socrates to defeat his highly empirical argument on justice:  “Justice is the interest (or advantage) of the stronger.”  It’s a pretty good argument, really, though Socrates gets the better of the sophist.  At the beginning of the exchange, Thrasymachus tries to prohibit the use of certain arguments by Socrates.  Socrates replies that his brash interlocutor has done something like trying to prevent him from arguing that six times two or three times four is twelve.  When I look at the public debates over gay marriage, I see something like that dynamic.  The proponents of gay marriage say to the defenders of traditional marriage, “You may not argue from the physical complementarity of the sexes.  Okay, proceed.”  To set up the playing field in such a manner is to rule out three times four and two times six by way of arriving at twelve.

Remember that one may find the opposition to gay marriage rational and still disagree. To affirm that the opposition is rational merely means that one can see how the opponents justify their position and that their reasoning does not resemble the words of a person who thinks the moon is made of green cheese.  Arguments against gay marriage are not of the “green cheese” variety.  It is important to note, though, that arguments advanced in favor of something such as race-based segregation do take on the quality of “green cheese” assertions.  They partake substantially of irrationality.

Given this background, it would seem that to insist that members and institutions of the Christian church should suddenly reject the essentially unanimous testimony of history (and Christian practice and scripture) regarding marriage as an opposite sex arrangement demands too much. The key point here is that their opposition to changes in marriage is not invidious or at least not necessarily so.  To attempt to compel the agreement of Christians and others on the matter of marriage means to compromise integrity rather than to achieve a triumph over hatred and superstition.

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of how gay marriage will affect families.  I do not know the answer to that question.  But the potential impact on religious liberty is a clear and present danger. If it becomes normal to view opposition to gay marriage as basically akin to racism, then tremendous damage will be done to Christian institutions. The engines of the secular state will roll right over them. They will lose the right to participate in the public life of our country.

One precedent to consider is the situation of Bob Jones University, which lost its tax exemption because it forbade interracial dating. Although I affirm that the university’s policy was racist and ugly, will it similarly come to pass that Wheaton College or Franciscan University of Steubenville will lose their tax-exempt status because they refuse to recognize gay marriage or hire those who have same-sex spouses? Will the writers of laws and regulations try to prevent students at such places from obtaining federal loans or other aid on the basis of some discrimination perceived as unjust? Many will argue that such action against Christian colleges and institutions is exactly the kind of initiative that should be taken. But if it is true that opposition to gay marriage is different in kind rather than in degree from various race-based discriminations, as I have argued above, then the ability of Christian and other religious institutions to participate in public life should not be threatened.

Rights such as religious liberty have traditionally been protected by constitutions for exactly the reason that they are highly vulnerable to democratic intrusion by majorities.  Without some renewal of appreciation for that fundamental dynamic in our law, we will see both incursions and corresponding resentment increase.  A refusal to tolerate differences rooted in conscience and religion makes enemies of people relative to the state.  The error is an unforced one.  We should hope that future policymakers and jurists work by clear light in this regard.

Note:  This essay is excerpted and adapted from the text of his book The System Has a Soul (2014).

Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is the dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Union University. He is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul). He is also a research fellow of the Ethics … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24